Posts Tagged ‘Jeanne Crain’

My Classic Movie Pick: Pinky, for the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon

In  December, as I was reading blogs that I enjoy, I found out about  an upcoming blogathon, The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon.  The three ladies hosting it, their goal was for bloggers to focus on the history of  films during the time frame from 1915 through 1950.  I signed up for the year 1949 and decided to focus  on one specific film, one film that dared to tackle a topic that Hollywood hadn’t really looked at in much depth.  Be sure to visit these awesome hostesses’  blogs  to read about the films that encompassed these specific years: Ruth at Silver Screenings, Aurora at Once Upon a Screen, and Fritzi at Movies Silently.

  In 1949  America’s economic prosperity was on the rise, television had started entering  American households, and a book that had been written in 1946 that looked at racial issues in the South caught the eye of producer Darryl F. Zanuck at Twentieth Century Fox.   The book was titled Quality and was  written by Mississippi native Cid Ricketts Sumner.  A screenplay was ordered which was  written by Philip Dunne, Dudley Nichols, and with collaborations by actress Jane White, who’s father, Walter White, was the Executive Secretary  of the NAACP.   The movie that evolved was Pinky.

The plot of Pinky is pretty straightforward.  A young black girl,Pinky,(Jeanne Crain) who could pass for white due to the lightness of her skin, is raised by her black Grandmother Dicey(Ethel Waters),  a laundress, in a sleepy, little Southern town.    Dicey saves enough money to send Pinky  north where she can attend a convent school.  Pinky graduates and then enrolls in a  3 year nurse training school in Boston.  She also  meets a young doctor, Tom Adams(William Lundigan) and they  fall in love.  Tom wants to marry Pinky, who has gone by the name Patricia while living in the north.   Pinky doesn’t know what to do so she hops the next train and travels back to her hometown.  Dicey  is overjoyed to see Pinky again and assumes that she’ll use her nursing training to help the poor in their community.  She is disappointed when Pinky firmly tells her that she is only home for a visit and that she’ll soon be going back to Boston.  Pinky is at a crossroads.  She knows she is disappointing Dicey and she knows she isn’t being honest with Tom, as she hasn’t revealed to him that she is really black.  She also hasn’t told Dicey about Tom.    Back in her hometown, she isn’t welcomed by the black community, who view her with distain for passing as white, despite the respect that they all have for her Grandmother.  Pinky needs guidance as to who she really is, how she wants to live her life, and then more  complications set in.

Dr. Tom Adams, who wants to marry Pinky, and doesn't know the truth about her background.

Dr. Tom Adams, who wants to marry Pinky, and doesn’t know the truth about her background.

Pinky back home with Dicey

Pinky back home with Dicey

Pinky Dicey is a laundress

Dicey gave money that was to be sent to Pinky’s school to local con artist Jake Waters(Frederick O’Neal) and he didn’t send all of the money as he was supposed to do.  Dicey has found out about this dishonesty and Pinky decides to confront Jake and get the money back.  He does give Pinky what he can, $15 of his wife’s money, and his wife, Rozelia(Nina Mae McKinney), comes home as Pinky is walking out with the money.  There is an altercation between the two women in the street and the local police happen to be in the area.  The two officers(one played by an uncredited Arthur Hunnicutt) treat Jake and Rozelia with disdain and disrespect and treat Pinky with utmost respect.  When Rozelia tells them that Pinky is “colored”, the officers immediately treat Pinky with disrespect and rudeness.  After a meeting with Judge Walker(Basil Ruysdael), Jake and Rozelia promise to not to get into trouble anymore, and they are dismissed.  Judge Walker keeps Pinky behind to inquire about her education, to tell her how much respect he has for her Grandmother, and to  remind  Pinky that she  needs to be a credit to her Grandmother.

Being treated rudely by the local police.

Being treated rudely by the local police and Rozelia laughing at her.

When Miss Em(Ethel Barrymore), the wealthiest woman in town,  has a heart attack, Dicey talks with Dr. Joe(Griff Barnett) and learns that a nurse will be needed to sit with Miss Em  until she has made a strong recovery.   Dicey insists Pinky do this job as a payment of a debt since Miss Em cared for Dicey the last time that  she was ill.  Pinky dislikes Miss Em, who was rude to her when she was a child and has always  treated her as an inferior person.  Pinky finally agrees to do the job for Dicey’s sake  and also tells  Dicey  that as soon as the nursing job is over she’ll be  traveling back  to Boston.    Miss Em has a way with challenging  Pinky’s doubts about herself and through a Will, and the challenge of its legality by an odious relative of Miss Em’s(Evelyn Varden), Pinky has to fight for her rights in a courtroom, learns more truths about  Tom and herself, and at the end of the movie, makes her decision of what to do with her life that is true to herself and  true to her own identity.

Ethel Barrymore as Miss Em

Ethel Barrymore as Miss Em

Pinky and Miss Em

Pinky and Miss Em

Evelyn Varden playing an evil lady intent on stealing property from Pinky

Evelyn Varden playing an evil lady intent on stealing property from Pinky

Pinky giving Tom her final answer

Pinky giving Tom her final answer

John Ford was the original director for Pinky, but he didn’t get on with the cast, he didn’t grasp the storyline as producer Zanuck envisioned it, and after watching the rushes and being disappointed with them, Zanuck fired Ford after one week on the job.  Elia Kazan had made a name for himself by directing dramas on Broadway, and for directing a  Best Picture Oscar for Gentlemen’s Agreement and for winning Best Director for that film too, all of which helped  Twentieth Century Fox’s coffers.  Zanuck hired Kazan to take over the directing for Pinky.  Kazan has stated how he found a demoralized cast, unsure of their acting abilities after one week of working with John Ford.  Kazan came in and decided to do many read throughs of the script, to get the cast more at ease with the story and with their acting abilities.  Kazan wanted to travel to the South for the filming but was told no by Zanuck.  With the talent of Joe MacDonald, Director of Photography and Atillio Gabani operating the camera , the movie  really looks like it was filmed in a southern town and not a Hollywood backlot and soundstage.

 Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge both  wanted to play the lead role of Pinky, but due to Hollywood’s  censure board that stated there couldn’t be any interracial kissing scenes, the part of Pinky went to actress Jeanne Crain.  Ethel Waters was cast as Grandma Dicey, Ethel Barrymore was cast as Miss Em, and William Lundigan was cast as Dr. Tom.  The film impacted critics and audiences alike.  Crain was a nominee for Best Actress for the Academy Awards in 1950, and her co-stars, Waters and Barrymore, were both nominated for Best Supporting Actresses.

Why did I choose this movie for my pick? Up until 1949, racial issues in movies weren’t explored.  With the end of WWII, President Truman appointed advisors to evaluate desegregating the US military and from my readings on that topic and others about race in America, the late 1940s and early 1950s would prove to have watershed moments and issues that would ultimately lead to the end of Jim Crow laws and the theory  that “Seperate but Equal” was a fine solution to racial issues in the US.

When I first saw Pinky, I was a college student and I stumbled upon it by accident one day, perusing the cable channels.  The unusual topic matter, being made in the 1949, held my attention.  What was this lady going to do?  Marry the man who says he loves her?  Turn her back on her Grandmother that raised her?  Turn her back on her community who clearly could use her talents and skill set at training nurses in her town?  Accept her fiance’s idea of both of them moving to Denver and a new life where no one would have to know of her background?  The movie posed a lot of questions that wouldn’t show the answers until the final scene.  I felt sorry for Pinky as I watched the movie, and grew irritated and angry as to how she was treated by some of the movie’s characters.  Pinky was a startling movie for 1949 and the majority of the critics praised it and audiences flocked to see it; it wasn’t shunned at all in Southern cities and towns across the US as some at Twentieth Century Fox feared would happen.

To see Pinky, it has been put on dvd and is available at Amazon.com, it is available to purchase from Turner Classic Movies, and some kind soul has put the entire movie on Youtube!  With a lilting, moving score by Alfred Newman, excellent directing by Elia Kazan, and an excellent cast, please seek out Pinky!  A daring movie for 1949.  Pinky poster 1

My Classic Movie Pick: Leave Her to Heaven

In 1944, author Ben Ames Williams saw his novel, Leave Her to Heaven fly off the bookstore shelves.  The popular book soon caught the attention of Daryl Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox movie studio and in 1945 they released a technicolor treat, Leave Her to Heaven.  The film starred Gene Tierney(who would receive a Best Actress nomination for her role), Cornell Wilde, Jeanne Crain, Vincent Price, Mary Philips, Ray Collins, Chill Wills, and Darryl Hickman.  The title of the book was taken from Shakespeare’s play Hamlet; Act 1, Scene 5, the ghost of Hamlet’s father urges Hamlet to not take out any revenge on Queen Gertrude, but to “…leave her to heaven, and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her.”Leave her to heaven The film begins at a beautiful lake in Maine.  Glen Robie is at the dock, ready to welcome Richard Harland(Cornell Wilde) back from a 2 year prison sentence.  After the greeting between the two friends, Richard gets into a row boat and heads off across the lake to his family’s cabin, which is fondly called Back of the Moon, due to a crater-shaped lake nearby.  Glen walks away from the dock and proceeds to sit at an outdoor cafe near the docking area, and has some coffee while sharing with another friend the sad, strange story that caused Richard Harland to spend 2 years in prison. Richard Harland is a writer, a successful one.  He is on a train  to New Mexico to visit his good friend Glen Robie.  Glen owns a ranch house in the New Mexico mountains and it is a gorgeous retreat-I want to visit New Mexico after seeing its beauty displayed in this film!   In the train car is a beautiful woman, Ellen Berent(Gene Tierney.)   She just happens to be reading Richard’s latest book.  After a bit of bumbling hello’s on Richard’s part, he is in awe of such a beautiful woman, Ellen just stares at Richard until a feeling of awkwardness permeates that train car.   Ellen finally apologizes and purrs to Richard that she stared at him because he reminds her of her father in every way!  At this point, Richard should have gotten up from that train car and insisted on riding up front with the engineers!  Guys, if a woman ever tells you that you remind her of her father, I don’t care how beautiful she is, run for the hills!!!

Richard and Ellen getting to know one another on the train.

Richard and Ellen getting to know one another on the train.

After the train arrives in New Mexico, Richard exits the train and so does Ellen, and her traveling companions, her mother(Mary Philips), and her cousin, Ruth(Jeanne Crain.)  Glenn Robie arrives to take all four of them to his ranch.  It turns out that Ellen and her father were also friends of Glen’s and often vacationed at his ranch.  During dinner that evening, Richard unknowingly asks about Ellen’s father,  wondering if he’ll ever get to meet him and learns that Ellen’s father had recently died and that they are there to scatter his ashes among the New Mexico mountains.  The next day there is a remarkably dramatic scene of Ellen on a horse, riding over the hills, scattering the ashes of her father, while Richard watches from afar.

Ellen scattering her father's ashes.

Ellen scattering her father’s ashes.

Days go by, and Richard and Ellen fall in love, despite the fact that Ellen is wearing a diamond engagement ring!  Her fiance is an up and coming lawyer back home in Bar Harbor, Maine, Russell Quinton(Vincent Price.)  One morning as Ellen challenges a swimming race with Glen’s children-and Glen subtly warns Richard that Ellen will win the race as she always has to be first-Ellen lets Richard know that she has taken off her engagement ring, taken it off forever!  A couple of evenings later, during a rainstorm, there is a knock at the door, and it is Russell Quinton!  He has come to confront Ellen about ending their engagement.  It is always interesting to see Vincent Price play a non-horror part.  He comes off as an austere intellectual, hurt by Ellen’s ending their engagement, and vows that he’ll always love her, then departs.   Richard goes to see Ellen after Quinton’s exit, to see if she is all right and she immediately embraces Richard and suggests that they marry immediately and they do.

Falling in Love with Ellen.

Falling in Love with Ellen.

Russell confronting Ellen about their broken engagement.

Russell confronting Ellen about their broken engagement.

Ellen tells Richard that she's not engaged anymore!Ellen tells Richard that she’s not engaged anymore!The newlyweds seem happy, and the film turns to focus on Richard’s only living relative, his teenage brother, who is a polio victim and lives at Warm Springs, Georgia, the treatment facility made famous by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s visits.   Danny Harland(Darryl Hickman) is a neat kid, never complaining about his affliction, loves and looks up to his big brother Richard, and with Ellen’s daily visits and encouragement, begins to practice walking with crutches instead of being confined to a wheelchair.  All seems quite blissful until Richard lets Ellen know that he’ll soon want to move them from Warm Springs to the family cabin, Back of the Moon, in Maine.  Richard wants Danny to come with them.  Ellen seems to agree to this, but she is secretly sick of Danny and tries to get his doctor to agree with her that taking “that cripple” away from Warm Springs and its care would be a bad idea.  Ellen’s way of spitting out the word “cripple” is a shock to the doctor because of her seeming warm and loving visits with Danny and her negativity is disturbing and shocking to the doctor.  Seeing that the doctor is now wary of her, Ellen tells Richard in the doctor’s presence that Danny should come with them to the cabin!

"But he's just a cripple!"

“But he’s just a cripple!”

Life at the cabin is cozy at first.  There is Thome(Chill Wills), family friend of Richard and Danny’s and the cabin’s caretaker.  But Ellen is growing increasingly grumpy as she wants to be alone with Richard at the cabin and not have Danny and Thome there at all. She is fit to be tied when her mother and cousin, Ruth, arrive at the cabin, a surprise for her planned by Richard and Danny.  It is soon evident to all that Ellen is not a nice person and that she  resents all of the people that might enter  her and Richard’s life.  Mom and Ruth get the hints and soon depart for their home in Bar Harbor, and Thome decides to seek out  some new  work in town.  That just leaves Danny for Ellen to deal with.   Before her departure, Ruth tells Richard that she and her mom would be glad to have Danny stay with them in Bar Harbor and attend a school there for kids with special needs; if only Richard had agreed to their offer!   I won’t go into anymore details of Ellen’s plan, but Tierney plays it absolutely chillingly, and in  bright sunshine, not hiding her crime under the cover of darkness.

Oh, poor Danny!  He shouldn't have ever gotten into that boat!!!

Oh, poor Danny! He shouldn’t have ever gotten into that boat!!!

Her evil plan against Danny is now in motion!

Her evil plan against Danny is now in motion!

By this point in the movie, we know Ellen is evil, and crazy.  A bad combination!  Richard is growing very disillusioned with the marriage, he is very depressed about his brother, when Ellen announces that she is pregnant!   Disillusionment and grief turn to hope as all are getting ready for the baby’s birth, all except for Ellen.  She is not happy and even blurts out to a shocked Ruth that she is tired of carrying “the little beast”!  Ellen comes up with another evil plan to deal with the unborn baby.

Ellen plotting about what to do to stop the baby from being born!!

Ellen plotting about what to do to stop the baby from being born!!

Ellen’s delusions grow and she is convinced that Ruth is trying to steal Richard from her.  In a last, desperate act, she writes a letter to her old fiance, Russell, now a prosecuting attorney.   Her letter accuses Ruth and Richard of plotting to run away together, that she has told Ruth that she won’t divorce Richard, and that Ruth has threatened to kill her.   Ellen’s plan is full of schemes  and lies to paint Ruth as a murderess and Richard as a cheating scum of a husband.  Price is great as the prosecuting attorney, grilling the witnesses at the trial.  Back at the lakeside cafe, Glen sums up why Richard had to serve a 2 year prison term, and says that Richard should have reached Back of the Moon cabin by now.  The film cuts away to Richard  climbing out of the boat and getting to the dock, with Ruth there to embrace him and  a lovely Maine sunset surrounding them.

The lovely Jeanne Crain as Ruth.

The lovely Jeanne Crain as Ruth.

Why is this movie  so good?  A movie about a beautiful woman who turns out to be evil and mentally unstable?  The acting is great, especially Gene Tierney  in the main role, the “Her” of the title.  She is so beautiful in the technicolor medium, her wardrobe is great, and she is able to convey the complexity of Ellen so thoroughly with just her eyes, with just a purse of her lips.  A lesser actress would be tempted to portray Ellen’s problems with histionics: shouting, flailing around arms, stomping out of rooms, but Tierney plays Ellen with a quiet, icy menace.  I am not surprised that she earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination.  Cornell Wilde is great as Richard.  Besotted with a beautiful wife, showing his growing worry over her negative attitudes to everyone in their life together, confusion as to why his wife would do the things she has done.  Jeanne Crain, as Ruth, is a warm and good character, the antidote to Ellen.    Crain doesn’t throw her Ruth at Richard, but she does show her character’s growing love for Richard in small ways.  Mary Philip’s, a veteran stage actress in New York City, plays Ellen’s mom as  cold and distant towards Ellen.  We aren’t given a lot of detail about their relationship, but we get an inkling that mom had tried to be loving to Ellen, but due to years of Ellen looking down on her mom and blatently favoring her dad,  mom is cold to Ellen  to keep a  protective wall around herself from all of Ellen’s bitter slings and arrows.  Vincent Price is very good as the jilted fiance and later as the prosecuting attorney.  He gets to be over the top in the courtroom scenes, but he does that so well and it works nicely.  Chill Wills and Ray Collins provide their usual strengths as dependable character actors.  Darryl Hickman, the teenaged Danny in the movie, plays his part with sincerity.  When he has to roll out of a rowboat, to practice his swimming, he moves like a person with  paralysis would do it and I wondered if he did any research with actual polio victims in how to conduct his movements.  I purposely didn’t reveal  all of the movie’s plot points as I want it to be a surprise to viewers who haven’t seen Leave Her to Heaven before.   John Stahl directed this classic, Jo Swerling wrote the screenplay, Leon Shamroy was the cinematographer(and won the Oscar for his work-the technicolor is really stunning in this 1945 film,) and Alfred Newman composed the music.  I noticed while watching the film that there are many  scenes where no music plays but  Newman came up with a dramatic theme for the film that plays over and over at key times for great dramatic effect.

Leave Her to Heaven is available to buy from Amazon or Turner Classic Movies and it is available on Netflix.  Clips have been put on Youtube.  I just watched it on Turner Classic Movies last week, so check out their schedule for the summer months as it may be re-aired then.Another shot of LHTH

My Classic Movie Pick: A Letter to Three Wives

Cover of "A Letter to Three Wives"

Cover of A Letter to Three Wives

Want to view a  great romance-drama  that keeps one guessing at what the outcome will be  until the end?    20th Century Fox’s 1949  film A Letter to Three Wives is that movie!  It was based upon a novel, A Letter to Five Wives, that appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine in 1946, written by John Klempner.    Fox bought the rights to that novel  and Joseph Mankiewicz  wrote the screenplay and cut down the number of wives facing a dilemma in the movie from 5 to 3.   Mankiewicz also directed the film, for which he won Best Director at the Academy Awards.  The movie also won  Best Writing, Screenplay, and it was a nominee for Best Picture.

The three wives are Deborah Bishop(Jeanne Crain-the reddish-haired actress on the film poster), Rita Phipps(Ann Sothern-the blonde), and Lora Mae Hollingsway(Linda Darnell-the brunette.)  The movie opens as the three friends have arrived at a local boating launch by the river as the charity group these three ladies volunteer  for is taking a group of poor children on a river boat ride and picnic.  The three ladies are friends and are awaiting their fourth friend, Addie Ross, to appear as she  also volunteered  for the outing.  Addie doesn’t appear( and in the film she never does, but her voice is in the film and it is supplied by Celeste Holm, doing an excellent job of taunting her three friends with her words.)   A letter is delivered to the three friends at the river’s edge and the letter is from Addie.  She has written  to inform her friends  that she has run off with one of their husbands!  Her letter doesn’t reveal who’s husband she has managed to snag and it is at this point that the movie goes into a flashback, explaining how the three marriages became troubled.

First we see  Deborah’s marriage.  Deborah grew up on a farm.  Her first real contact with the outside world was through her experience as a WAVE in the U.S. Navy during World War II.  There she met her husband Brad,(played by Jeffrey Lynn.)  Brad is from an upper-middle class family and after their wedding, Deborah is uneasy trying to adapt to her husband’s upper crust social circle of friends.  Adding to Deborah’s unease is the fact that all of Brad’s friends expected him to marry Addie Ross!Jeanne and Jeffrey Lynn

Second in line of troubled marriages is Rita’s.  She is not only a wife and mother, but  she has a career,  writing stories for radio soap operas.  Her husband, George,(a young Kirk Douglas in an early movie role), is a school teacher and it doesn’t sit well with him that his wife earns more money than he does.  He is also frustrated with Rita as she has a very demanding boss who Rita can’t seem to ever say no to.   Rita also remembers that she forgot her husband’s birthday due to a dinner party she had to throw for her boss, and the only reminder for Rita came in the form of a lovely present for George from, guess who?  Addie Ross!Ann and Kirk Douglas

The third marriage in peril belongs to Lora Mae.  She grew  up poor, right next to the proverbial railroad tracks.  She manages to get a job as a secretary working for  one of the wealthiest men in town who owns a statewide  chain of department stores.  He is older than Lora Mae, and is divorced.   Mr. Porter,(played by Paul Douglas), falls for Lora Mae and she does become wife #2 for him.   Lora Mae remembers that after one of her and Porter’s dates, she saw a picture of Addie Ross on his piano and she demanded it be removed, that she wanted her picture on Porter’s piano.Linda and Paul Douglas

There is a dance at the Country Club  later in the evening where all three couples are scheduled to meet for  dinner,  and it is there that the reveal is made.  I won’t make that reveal, of course, as I want my readers to seek out this film.   A Letter to Three Wives is shown on Turner Classic Movies from time to time and it is also available to rent through Netflix and Amazon’s  instant rent feature.  There is also a trailer for the movie on Youtube and a couple of scenes from the movie, too.  If you do watch the trailer, it is depicted as a comedy but as I have seen the movie, it is much more of a drama, leading the audience to wonder just who’s husband has Addie run away with?

A Letter to Three Wives is a great classic film, with gorgeous cinematography, an intelligent plot, excellent acting all throughout not only by the leads but also by the supporting actors and actresses, too.  Seek this movie out!

                                                                                                                     alettertothreewives_1949_lc_01_1200_072620110505 Lobby Card                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

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