Posts Tagged ‘George Brent’

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

My Classic Movie Pick: My Reputation

My blog today is for the Barbara Stanwyck Blogathon, being hosted by a great classic movie blogger, The Girl With the White Parasol.  July 16th would have been Ms. Stanwyck’s 106th birthday and in her honor the Blogathon was created.  If you click on the link The Girl With the White Parasol, you will be able to read other blog tributes to the late actress.stanwyckblogathon3

My Reputation, a 1946 Warner Brothers film,  happened to air on Turner Classic Movies this past winter and I recorded it with our family’s dvr system.  I have always enjoyed Barbara  Stanwyck’s work as an actress.  Whether the film be a  drama or a  comedy, Stanwyck could deliver her roles with intelligence and energy.  Since I had also recently viewed her in Sturges’s comedy  The Lady Eve, I decided to see her in a drama and My Reputation fit the bill.  Mr poster 3

Barbara plays Jessica Drummond, recently widowed with two sons: 14 year old Kim and 12 year old Keith.  They live in a rich suburb of Chicago( I loved the exteriors  of her  ranch style home!) Jessica’s husband died from a long illness and he was her high school sweetheart.  Fortunately for her and her sons, her late husband’s will was set up well, and the family will not want for anything monetarily.  The only other  thorn in Jessica’s side is her mother, imperiously played by Lucille Watson, who seemed to specialize in either playing irritating mothers or aunts or wise and kindly mothers and aunts.  Jessica also has a faithful housekeeper and cook in Anna, played by Esther Dale, with a dash of common sense and spunk.

Esther Dale, as dedicated servant Anna.

Esther Dale, as dedicated servant Anna.

Jessica with her two sons.

Jessica with her two sons.

Jessica dwelling on her new life as a widow.

Jessica dwelling on her new life as a widow.

It isn’t explained too well as to why Jessica’s mother is so bossy, but when she demands that Jessica must continue to wear black the rest of her life because she is now a widow, one can’t help but cheer for  Jessica when she politely but firmly tells her mother that no, she’ll wear other colors when she wants to.

Lucille Watson, as Jessica's bossy mother!

Lucille Watson, as Jessica’s bossy mother!

Jessica has a new would-be suitor, the family friend and  lawyer, Frank Everett(Warner Anderson) who lets it be known that when she is ready to date again, he’d like to be the one to court her.  Jessica’s mother approves of Frank heartily, which will not help his cause in Jessica’s eyes.  Frank is nice and a gentleman, but so boring!!!

As Jessica begins her new life without her husband,  she busies  herself with volunteer work; her sons are back east at their boarding school.  One evening, she reluctantly agrees to go out on the town with other couples, couples that she and her late husband were socially connected with.  One husband, George Van Orman(Jerome Cowan), drives Jessica back to her house after he has dropped off his wife,  and he promptly grabs Jessica in the car and  makes a pass at her!!!!

Jerome Cowan, as Van Orman, not ashamed of his antics!

Jerome Cowan, as Van Orman, not ashamed of his antics!

Jessica is so upset by Van Orman’s behaviour that she calls her good friend, Ginna Abbott played by Eve Arden,  her wit and candor shining through in her small part.  Ginna and her husband Cary,(John Ridgely) invite Jessica to leave with them in the morning and  spend a week-long vacation with them at Lake Tahoe, in a cozy cabin they’re renting.   Jessica hesitates but at Ginna’s urging, she does go with them for a nice break from her routines.

Of course, out skiing one afternoon, Jessica has a “meet cute” with a tall, handsome fellow, one Army Major Scott Landis, played by George Brent.  Major Landis is also skiiing solo, and sees Jessica with her broken ski, and after he falls into the snow, she helps him up.  As it is getting late, he convinces her to get on the back of his skis, and together they swoop down the hills to the cabin where Ginna and Cary are waiting.

Ginna and Cary, Major Landis and Jessica, at Lake Tahoe.

Ginna and Cary, Major Landis and Jessica, at Lake Tahoe.

The skiing rescue scene.

The skiing rescue scene.

George Brent plays Lt. Major Scott Landis

George Brent plays Lt. Major Scott Landis

Skiing mishap results in meeting a handsome guy!

Skiing mishap results in meeting a handsome guy!

As the week goes on, Major Landis is obviously attracted to Jessica and she is  also attracted to him, but she isn’t sure if she wants to start dating another man yet.  She definitely likes him a lot more than  Frank!   When the end of the week at Tahoe is up, Jessica and the Major say good-bye and wish each other well.  Some weeks go by and one evening at home, when Jessica is having dinner with Frank,  a phone call comes from Ginna.  She tells Jessica  that she and  Cary are at a Chicago hotel bar/ball room and Major Landis has just walked in!   Jessica rushes off to dress and gets poor Frank to drive her to that hotel, not telling him that a certain Army Major is there.  Frank figures it all out and Jessica and Major Landis begin seeing one another as he has been assigned to a duty post in Chicago for several months.

One of bossy mother's friends sees Jessica enter the Major's apartment, thus the rumors begin!

One of bossy mother’s friends sees Jessica enter the Major’s apartment, thus the rumors begin!

Jessica and the Major have a chance meeting in Chicago.

Jessica and the Major have a chance meeting in Chicago.

Tongues start wagging, rumors start flying, Jessica’s mother is quite unhappy with Jessica, and then more vicious rumors start to swirl about Jessica and the Major and those are overheard by Jessica’s two sons, who are home for Christmas break.  Jessica finds out who her true friends are, confronts the rumor mongers, deals with her mother, and finally has a long heart-to-heart talk with her sons.  After all of this  happens, we still don’t know if a future for Jessica and Major Landis will occur.  I’m also not going to tell so potential viewers will have to find this out for themselves!

Christmas Eve and not wanting to say good-bye!

Christmas Eve and not wanting to say good-bye!

I only have a few bones to pick with My Reputation, but none of them are with Barbara Stanwyck.  She is great as Jessica.  She is  shell-shocked in the movie’s beginning, like she is in a mental fog, and that makes sense as her husband has died, and now this new life has to begin, one which she didn’t ask for or want.  She is a warm and loving mother to her two sons.  There is a genuine camadarie between the three of them in all of their scenes. She also has that same relationship with her maid, and with her dear friend Ginna.  Her mother is a pill, and Jessica, at first, looks like she’ll let mother call the shots with her life, but Jessica stands up to her, in small bits at first and then in larger amounts as her relationship with Major Landis grows.   My bones of contention?  Eve Arden should have been in the movie more, and the movie posters.  I don’t know who makes the advertising decisions for a movie, but most of the posters depict Jessica as a  tawdry  woman with tag lines  telling folks to get off her back about her reputation.  The posters make one think the movie is about a loose woman and all of her man problems, instead of portraying Jessica as a widow with two sons.  If the  movie going public in 1946 went to see this movie based on what the posters were advertising, they were in for a surprise!

Here's one of the "trampy" My Reputation movie posters, Spanish version.

Here’s one of the “trampy” My Reputation movie posters, Spanish version.

Wishing Eve Arden had had a bigger role in this film.

Wishing Eve Arden had had a bigger role in this film.

Here's the French poster, with some extra men thrown in for good measure, I guess.

Here’s the French poster, with some extra men thrown in for good measure, I guess.

My Reputation has great music by Max Steiner, was lensed by James Wong Howe, and the screenplay was adapted by Catharine Turney from Clare Janes 1942 book, Instruct My Sorrows. Its  available to purchase through Amazon, appears from time to time on Turner Classic Movies, and is also available to rent throught Netflix.  My Reputation is a woman’s picture, with Stanwyck giving  it her all and for her fans, a movie not to miss.

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