Posts Tagged ‘Dorothy McGuire’

My Classic Movie Pick: The Enchanted Cottage

The Enchanted Cottage is not a fairytale film for children.  There are no princesses needing rescued by a prince, no evil fairies or witches out to spoil all the fun.  No cute, talking animals.  This 1945 film, made by RKO Studios, is a fairytale for adults, set in the real-time of 1945.   Featuring the skills of Robert Young, Dorothy McGuire, and Herbert Marshall, who serves as the film’s narrator.

The Enchanted Cottage poster 1

 

WWII  has ended and John Hillgrove(Herbert Marshall), who was blinded while fighting in the war, is playing the piano for a party that he is hosting for newlyweds Oliver and Laura Bradford.    As the film opens with this scene, Hillgrove tells his guests the love story of Oliver and Laura, via a long flashback.

Years ago there had been an estate built by an English nobleman, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in  New England.   A fire had occurred, burning most of the great house except for one wing.   The nobleman has that wing rebuilt to be a new, cottage-styled home.  The nobleman decides to begin renting out that wing as a haven for honeymooners.  Years go by and now a widow, Mrs. Abigail Minnett(Mildred Natwick-excellent as always) runs the cottage for honeymooning couples.  It is to this cottage that Laura Pennington(Dorothy McGuire) applies to work as a housekeeper.  Laura is a very plain, shy young woman.  With the recent death of her mother, and having no other relations to fall upon for help, she decides to go out and seek her forturne.   Mrs. Minnett likes Laura and does hire her.    Mrs. Minnett  tells her that there is a legend attached to the cottage, that when honeymooners etch their names onto the glass of one window, their union will be especially blessed.

Laura being interviewed by Mrs. Minnett.

Laura being interviewed by Mrs. Minnett.

Oliver Bradford(Robert Young) soon arrives with his  fiancee, Beatrice(Hillary Brooke).  Oliver is from a wealthy family, and a pilot in the Army Air Corps.  He has rented the cottage and as soon as he and Hillary see the Justice of the Peace, the honeymoon will begin.  Hillary isn’t impressed with the cottage, thinking it too simple.  Laura overhears her and steps in to tell the couple about the cottage’s legend.  Oliver takes Hillary’s engagement ring to etch their names on the window’s pane and the diamond falls out of the setting!  Then, Oliver is contacted by his air group-he must fly out immediately, so no wedding yet.   Soon, Mrs. Minnett receives a telegram from Beatrice cancelling the couple’s  lease.

Oliver and Hillary arrive at the Enchanted Cottage

Oliver and Hillary arrive at the Enchanted Cottage

A year goes by and Mrs. Minnett receives a telegram from Oliver Bradford, asking to rent the cottage for himself for an indefinite period of time.  When Oliver arrives, Laura and Mrs. Minnett see that his face is disfigured and his arm is disabled, from a horrific plane crash he survived in the war. Oliver is bitter, his egagement to Hillary was broken.  He is mad at the world and has decided to live as a recluse.  Laura is heart-broken that he has become this way and with her common sense, gentleness, and compassion, Oliver begins to return to his old self.

Laura and Oliver, having one of many discussions about life

Laura and Oliver, having one of many discussions about life

Oliver befriends the narrator at this point in the film, Hillgrove, who happens by the cottage one day.  He encourages Oliver to learn to live again despite the disabilities.  He also tells Oliver that the war left him blinded but he has adapted and life has gone on.(An interesting side-note, Herbert Marshall who plays Hillgrove, was a soldier for the British during WWI and lost a leg, and yet resumed his acting career after the war.)

Giving Oliver advice on living with a disability

Giving Oliver advice on living with a disability

Conflict arrives in Oliver’s life in the form of his mother, Violet(Spring Byington).  Byington had a long career, often playing fun and understanding mothers so it was a surprise to see her play such a rotten mother in this film!  Violet and Hillary arrive to talk to Oliver but he refuses to see them.  3 weeks later, Violet sends her son an ultimatum: if he doesn’t return to the family home she will be moving to the cottage to live there with him!  Oliver doesn’t want that at all, so he quickly proposes marriage to Laura.  Laura, who really loves Oliver but hasn’t told him, agrees to marry him. When the couple returns to the cottage for their honeymoon the enchantment happens.  Laura sees Oliver without the disfiguring burn on his face and no disabled arm.  Oliver sees Laura as a beauty.  They etch their names onto the window’s pane.  Mrs. Minnett reassures them that their true love for each other lets them see each other as perfect, despite the meddling of Violet and her cruel words when she discovers they have married one another.

How love lets them really see each other

How love lets them really see each other

Then Enchanted Cottage was a 1922 stage play, written by Arthur Wing Pinero, a play about a returning WWI Vet with a disability.  It had been previously filmed as a silent film in 1924 that starred Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy.   Harriet Parsons, a  producer at RKO, aquired the rights to the play to remake a newer film, set in WWII and in New England.  Parsons hired DeWitt Bodeen to write the screenplay and she chose John Cromwell to direct. For a lovely, romantic movie with a 91 minute running time, seek out The Enchanted Cottage.  It airs from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.  It is available to buy from Amazon,  and a kind soul put the trailer clip on Youtube.  The OV Guide has it listed as a a film to watch online for free.  Can’t beat that! .

My Classic Movie Pick: The Spiral Staircase

I enjoy suspense movies and not the slash and gore films that seem so popular with the younger generations.  I like a suspense film that doesn’t show all of  the violence or the evildoer immediately,  but simply hints at the fact that something bad is going to happen or is happening.  Of course, the suspense films I like also have a  good triumphs over  evil ending and the main character, who has been in danger, will now be safe.The Spiral Staircase opening shot

The Spiral Staircase is my kind of suspense film.  In the beginning of the film, the audience is swept into a local hotel that also shows silent films.  It is in this audience that we meet heroine Helen(Dorothy McGuire) who is thoroughly caught up in the plot of the silent movie that she is watching. ( The silent film shown is D.W. Griffith’s The Sands of the Dee.)    As the movie plays for the audience, we are taken upstairs where  a young woman is looking out her window.  She then walks to  her closet and we notice that she has a noticable limp.  She takes a dress out of her closet and what we see, but she doesn’t see,  is that a man is hiding in her closet!  The camera zooms in on just his eye and we see his pov,  watching the young woman dress.   With her arms over her head and the dress about her, the camera again zooms in on her hands as they clutch the air and show signs that the young woman has been grabbed.  We hear her groans, and then the scene cuts to the hotel’s movie audience.  They are happily getting their coats and hats and preparing to leave when above their heads they hear a loud thud and the sound of  breaking glass.  The hotel owner rushes upstairs and with the help of another hotel guest(character actress  Ellen Corby, aka Grandma Walton from the 1970s tv show, The Walton’s) he goes to the young woman’s room and finds her strangled to death.

Helen enjoying the silent movie.

Helen enjoying the silent movie.

The killer hiding in the closet!

The killer hiding in the closet!

Victim #3, the poor crippled woman.

Victim #3, the poor crippled woman.

Something evil has recently begun in this quiet, small New England town near Boston.   We learn that two young women  have been murdered for no apparent reason other than the fact that they both had a physical defect.  One of the victims had a facial scar and the other was described as “simple-minded”.  Now we see that the third victim was crippled in her leg.  Soon we learn that Helen, a maid at wealthy Mrs. Warren’s (Ethel Barrymore) home, is a mute.  That can only mean one thing, Helen’s life is in danger!

We don’t know a lot about Helen’s previous life.  We do know that she used to be able to speak but when coming home from school one day as a youngster, she discovered that her home was on fire and her parents died in the fire, the local firefighters unable to save them.  This horrific event has caused Helen to not be able to speak.  Who she stayed with until she reached adulthood we don’t know and we also don’t know how she came to be in Mrs. Warren’s employ.  We do learn that she is in love with kind Dr. Parry(Kent Smith), the young, handsome, new doctor in town and he also loves Helen.  He wants her to go to Boston and be evaluated by a team of doctors who, he believes, will be able to help Helen get her voice back.  There is a scene in the film where Helen daydreams about dancing with Dr. Parry and then she is at the altar to marry him and it breaks her heart that she can’t utter the words, “I do” during the wedding ceremony, with all eyes upon her.

Dr. Parry telling Helen about the doctors in Boston who could help her.

Dr. Parry telling Helen about the doctors in Boston who could help her.

Helen, frustrated that she can't utter the words, "I do."

Helen, frustrated that she can’t utter the words, “I do.”

Since we, the audience, know the killer is a man, the movie’s script cleverly introduces 4 male characters who could possibly be the killer.  There is Professor Albert Warren(George Brent), his younger brother Steve(Gordon Oliver), Mr. Oates(Rhys Williams), and even Dr. Parry.

Professor Warren seems very preoccupied, dislikes his younger brother, Steve,  immensely, and keeps intruding whenever his brother is trying to grab and kiss the Professor’s secretary, the very beautiful Blanche(Rhonda Fleming.)   Turns out Blanche and the Professor also had a past relationship so it really sticks in his craw to see his former girlfriend in the arms of his younger brother!

The constable asking the Warren brothers where they were when the 3rd murder happened.

The constable asking the Warren brothers where they were when the 3rd murder happened.

Steven and Blanche

Steven and Blanche

Mr. Oates, the caretaker of the Warren mansion and grounds, is seen entering the house in a dark raincoat and hat, which we saw the killer wearing earlier when he was stalking  Helen on her way home to the mansion from the hotel.

The killer, following Helen to the mansion.

The killer, following Helen to the mansion.

Mr. Oates answering  the constable's questions.

Mr. Oates answering the constable’s questions.

Steven seems to be a lazy, layabout, with no job.  He’s just returned from a tour of Europe with nothing but time on his hands when he decides to embark on getting closer to Blanche.  Later in the film, he cruelly scoffs at Dr. Parry’s suggestion that doctors in Boston could help Helen speak.  Why does the thought of a person with a disability getting help make him so angry?

How the killer sees Helen and her lack of a voice.

How the killer sees Helen and her lack of a voice.

Even Dr. Parry, so kind to Helen, is he really who he seems to be or could he be  hiding  an evil side, ala Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

The women in the film are also just as interesting as the men.  Mrs. Warren, cold to her two stepsons,  reveals that their father thought them both weaklings and wastrels.  She is insistent to Helen that she must get out of the house that night, that something bad will happen to Helen if she doesn’t get away.  She is also a concealed carry believer!(This performance earned Barrymore a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.)   Mrs. Oates(Elsa Lanchester) is the cook with a penchant for sneaking a drink.  Her husband’s scoldings about her habit she ignores and unfortunately, that “little nip” while washing up the supper dishes will prove to be unhelpful to Helen later that night!  Then there is Blanche, the dutiful secretary, drawn to bad boy Steven, and a search in the basement for her suitcase will prove to be a deadly decision on her part!  Of course, hats are off to Dorothy McGuire’s portrayal of Helen.  She has to emote and convey so much with no words being uttered.  A truly remarkable performance.

Mrs. Warren has a gun and she knows how to use it!

Mrs. Warren has a gun and she knows how to use it!

Blanche knows who the killer is!

Blanche knows who the killer is!

Professor Warren reminding Helen to stay indoors and to go to him if she needs any help.

Professor Warren reminding Helen to stay indoors and to go to him if she needs any help.

Mrs. Warren urging Helen to get out of the house!

Mrs. Warren urging Helen to get out of the house!

Mrs. Oates waiting to sneak a bottle of brandy.

Mrs. Oates waiting to sneak a bottle of brandy.

The Spiral Staircase does an excellent job of showing the twists and turns of very complicated people and it leaves one guessing as to who the killer is until the last 10 minutes or so of the movie.  I also enjoyed the photography shot by Nicholas Musuraca.  Lots of lights and darks, shadows where a killer could be lurking in the old mansion, and a large mirror on the first landing of the grand staircase is used for quite a few interesting shots and views.  If I ever had a basement, it wouldn’t be as dark and dank and creepy as the one in this movie, I can tell you!!

One can find The Spiral Staircase at Amazon.com, but I warn you, it’s really pricey.  I was shocked at how high it’s price is!  It’s not available at TCM’s shop, only a remake which was done in 1975 starring Christopher Plummer, Jacqueline Bisset, and Sam Wannamaker.  It is available on Youtube, however, in its entirety.  A Spanish or Portugese(sorry, I cannot tell the difference between the two languages) fan of the film put it on Youtube, with subtitles for the Spanish or Portugese viewers.

The Spiral Staircase was made in 1946 by RKO Studios, produced by Dory Schary and directed by Robert Siodmak.  The screenplay was written by Mel Dinelli, adapted from the novel Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White.  I also discovered that the killer’s eye seen in the woman’s closet at the film’s beginning belonged to the director, Siodmak!

For a wonderful suspense film that I think younger filmmakers could learn a lesson or two from, seek out The Spiral Staircase!  The Spiral Staircase poster 3

When Rosalind was Robbed!

                                                                                                                             

Instead of my usual Friday Classic Movie Pick I am submitting my blog post for the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon which is being hosted by 3 wonderful classic film fans.  You can visit their blogs via wordpress: Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and Paula’s Cinema Club.  At these blogs you will find interesting and fun articles about the Academy Awards through the years, from 1928 to the present.   Read about the backstage stuff, who won, who was snubbed, Oscar fashions of the past, it is all there.

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon  My post for the blogathon  is  about  the 1948 Academy Awards and  the shock that awaited actress Rosalind Russell.    She was the hands-down expected winner for Best Actress that year and she didn’t win!  How did this happen?  Several theories are out there, but I will be focusing on only one as the most likely reason for her to have  lost the coveted Oscar statuette.

Joan Crawford 1948 Susan Hayward 1948 OscarsDorothy McGuire 1948Rosalind Russell 1948Loretta Young 1948

Variety, the entertainment newspaper, decided to publish a poll, showing who most people thought would win the awards in the major categories at the Academy Awards that year.  The nominees for Best Actress were: Joan Crawford, Susan Hayward, Dorothy McGuire, Rosalind Russell, and Loretta Young. Crawford was nominated for the film Possessed, playing a woman driven to madness over an unrequited love for a man.  Susan Hayward was nominated for the film Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman, playing a woman who turns to alchohol to solve her problems.  Dorothy McGuire was nominated for the film Gentleman’s Agreement, playing a woman who has to confront her bigoted attitude towards those of the Jewish religion.  Rosalind Russell was nominated for the film Mourning becomes Electra, playing a woman who discovers shocking family secrets and decides to rain down justice and revenge on her mother.  Loretta Young was nominated for the film The Farmer’s Daughter, playing a nursing student who  takes a job as a maid for a political powerhouse family and changes their attitudes for the better.  Variety began to trumpet the poll’s picks and Rosalind Russell was their announced winner for best actress for 1948.

How did that happen?  Well, Henry Rogers, a publicist who had helped Joan Crawford and Olivia de Havilland win their best actress Oscars two years prior, contacted Russell’s husband to inform him that he could help put Russell out there into the public eye, and that that would help her to win the Oscar.  Russell and her husband agreed to Roger’s plans.  First, he got a casino in Las Vegas to post their betting odds on the Academy Awards, showing that Rosalind Russell had 6-5 odds .  Second, he had local Los Angeles groups give out their own “awards” or endorsements to Russell:  Los Angeles PTA said she was the Actress of the Year, a UCLA sorority said Russell was Hollywood’s Best Actress, and a USC fraternity hailed Russell the Outstanding Actress of the 20th Century!  Third, Russell did win the Golden Globe for best actress and Rogers made sure that was announced a lot, and fourth, Rogers made sure that newspapers printed remarks by movie critics across the country hailing Russell’s performance in Mourning becomes Electra .                                                                                                                              

                                                     mourningbecomeselectra (1)

The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles  was the site that  evening of March 20th for the Academy Awards.   The show was to begin at 8:15 p.m.,  and the fans had lined up for hours before to see their favorite stars emerge from their limousines and take their walk on the red carpet.  It was a cold night that March, with high winds and a temperature of 30 degrees.  The actresses appeared, many in strapless gowns and fur wraps, smiling and seeming unaffected by the cold.  Joan Crawford wore a white crepe dress covered in silver bugle beads.  Susan Hayward was wearing a very expensive dress with a long train that her husband had to protect all evening from others shoes!  I couldn’t find out what Dorothy McGuire wore, but Loretta Young chose an emerald green silk taffeta dress.  Rosalind Russell had hired Paramount Pictures Studio Costume Designer Travis Banton to make her gown of white with shocking pink highlights.  ABC  broadcast the show via radio, with an estimated audience of  45 million listeners.

The order of the awards was mixed-up from their usual order on purpose to make each award seem more  special.  Variety wrote that this was done “so that there won’t be a rush for the exits when the big awards are made.”  The last award of the night was finally  presented and it was for Best Actress.  So far, Variety’s polls had been dead-on, with all of their projected predictions coming true.  Many in the audience decided that Russell was probably the winner and some began to vacate their seats in order to head to their limos and get a head start on all of the after parties.  Actor Fredric March approached the microphone, envelope in hand, to make the big announcement.   As he began to read the name on the card, Russell began to get up from her seat.  March suddenly did a double-take and announced in a surprised voice that the winner was Loretta Young for The Farmer’s Daughter!  There was an audible gasp in the auditorium and Young went on stage, in shock herself, to accept her Oscar.   As Variety wrote,”…the gasp that arose from the audience when Miss Young’s name was read by Fredric March just about matched the heaviest gust whipping around the Shrine Auditorium!”

Loretta Young with her OscarFor Oscar Blogathon

Rosalind put on a good face about it all, telling her husband that they would indeed hit all of the after parties.  She spent quite a bit of time consoling her dress designer, Travis Banton, who was crushed that she didn’t win and that the dress wouldn’t be getting as much publicity.  Russell and her husband went to the party that Darryl Zanuck, studio head at 20th Century Fox was hosting at Mocambo and there the press had a field day with photographing Russell hugging Young for her win.  The next morning, Young spoke to the press about her win and she added in her statement,” My only regret is Rosalind Russell.  And don’t say ‘poor Roz’ because she will go on to win an Academy Award and then some.  But it was cruel for the polls to come out and say that she was going to win.”   No hard feelings between the two actresses existed and later when Young had her popular television show airing in the 1950s,  she twice needed a guest host and she chose Rosalind Russell, who agreed to do so both times.

Rosalind hugging Loretta at the Oscars, 1948

I have seen both movies, The Farmer’s Daughter and Mourning becomes Electra.  Both Young and Russell gave outstanding perfomances in their roles.  I think that the reason Young won over Russell was due to the content of the films.  The Farmer’s Daugther is a charming little movie, about a Swedish-American young lady, on her way to the Capital City to enroll at a college for nurses.  Her name is Katrin Holstrom and she is the only girl in a family of boys.  She  is a hard worker and despite being robbed of her savings enroute to the college, she diligently finds another job as a maid for a family whose  matriarch is a political boss of sorts, and whose  son is a  congressman.  Katrin is smart, full of common sense, good will, and very pretty to boot, which doesn’t escape the congressman.  It is a drama, comedy and a romance all rolled up into one movie and audiences loved it.   Mourning becomes Electra was a play  penned by Eugene O’Neill,  and it appeared on Broadway in 1931.  O’Neill took the Greek tragedy of Orestes and set it in Post-Civil War New England.  Russell played Lavinia Mannon, who adores her father and brother, who are both now home after fighting in the war.  She tolerates her mother who dotes on her son, Orin(Michael Redgrave in another outstanding performance and he was nominated for Best Actor that same year), to the point of smothering him with her mother- love.  Since it is a Greek tragedy, there is murder, adultery, that mother-son complex, and revenge.  It is a serious drama, nothing light, funny or bright.  I think that audiences appreciated the lighter fare of The Farmer’s Daughter and that that is why Young ultimately won the award and not the expected Rosalind Russell.

For further reading about all of the Academy Awards, from the beginning up to the mid-80’s, check out the book Inside Oscar: The Unofficial History of the Academy Awards, by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona, published by Ballentine Books, 1986.  I found it a fascinating read and it was wonderful for the research of this blog post.

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