Posts Tagged ‘John Carradine’

My Classic Movie Pick: The Shootist

Today’s post is for the great James Stewart Blogathon.  Hosted by an excellent  blog that I enjoy reading, Classic Film and TV Cafe.  Be sure to click on the provided link to read other bloggers’ posts about Jimmy Stewart and his various  acting  roles.   T J Stewart Blogathon     When I saw that Classic Film and TV Cafe was going to host this blogathon, I thought for a while as to which  role of Stewart’s to write about.  I decided on  The Shootist, a  movie that came in the latter days of Stewart’s movie acting.   The Shootist, movie poster The Shootist, originally a novel written by Glendon Swarthout  and published in 1975, was sought out by Paramount Pictures and Dino De Laurentiis Company to be made into a movie.  The author’s son, Miles, and Scott Hale wrote the screenplay.  Don Siegel was tapped to direct.   The movie’s plot is about an aging gunfighter, John Bernard, J.B. Books, who learns he has  cancer.  He also learns that despite liking this new town of Carson City, Nevada to live in, he only has 2 months at the most before the cancer will kill him.  Word gets out that the famous Shootist, Books, is in Carson City and old foes and friends appear, all wanting to cash in on the fame that surrounds this dying gunman or to just get final revenge.  It is Books’ dilemma, how to die with dignity amidst the turmoil that is happening around him due to these malcontents and fortune-seekers who are looking for him in Carson City.

Who better to portray the aging gunslinger than John Wayne, the most famous of Western heroes in film?  In 1964, Wayne had surgery to remove a cancerous lung.  Now, in 1976, when The Shootist was made, it would become  an ironic fact that Wayne would act the part of the dying gunslinger,  and he himself  would also die of cancer in 1979. Wayne had to lobby for the role of J.B. Books since the producers originally wanted George C. Scott!  Wayne did get the part and then proceeded to request that former cast members of other films he had made be cast in this film.  He specifically requested James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Richard Boone, and John Carradine.

James Stewart, by the 1960’s, was taking on more paternalistic roles.  He had played opposite Wayne  in another great Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, released in 1962.  Although the two actors didn’t run around in the same circle of friends, they both admired each other’s abilities in conveying characters on screen and had a great respect for one another. Stewart, in The Shootist, plays Dr. Hostetler who J. B. Books makes an appointment with in order to get a second opinion about his back pains.  The clip of that scene can be viewed here.  It is a warm and friendly scene of two old aquaintances re-meeting one another again.  Then the cold, factual Medical Man emerges as Dr. Hostetler gives Books the bad news: the back pains are a symptom of cancer.  Then there is more bad news, that Books only has 2 more months to live.  The doctor tells Books that when it’s time, medicines can be given to him to help ease the pain.

Stewart’s voice is still strong in this film, not quavery as one might expect with an aged actor.  The hair is white, the movements of his body as he walks across a room or sits in a chair are slower than that of a younger man, but it doesn’t distract one iota from his role as Dr. Hostetler.

The Shootist is a great ensemble piece.  All of the cast brought their A-Game to this movie.  Lauren Bacall is Mrs. Bond Rogers, the widowed landlady who rents a room to Books.  She tells him that she doesn’t abide with guns, and yet there is a growing fondness between her and Books.   Ron Howard(former child actor, teen actor, and now movie director) plays Gillom Rogers, son of the landlady.  He looks up to Books because he is a famous gunslinger and Books becomes a mentor/father figure for Gillom.     Richard Boone is Mike Sweeney, out to kill Books in order to get revenge for a brother’s death.  Hugh O’Brien is Jack Pulford,  a gambler and keen shot who wouldn’t mind taking Books down in order to promote himself.   Sheree North is an old flame, Serepta, who shows up hoping to get Books to marry her so  later she can have a book written by a ghost writer about her life with Books and make money off of his notoriety and death.  John Carradine is Carson City’s undertaker Hezekiah Beckem and he pesters Books about having a headstone made.  Scatman Crothers is Moses Brown,  the livery worker who cares for Books’s horse.  Richard Lenz is Dan Dobkins the local newspaper reporter, wanting to write sensationalized versions of Books’s killings.  Harry Morgan is Marshall Thibido, who is anxious to have Books leave Carson City.

The Shootist is available via Amazon to either buy or view through Instant Rent.  It is also available through TCM’s Shop.  To close out my post, here are a few more shots of John Wayne and James Stewart, from The Shootist.

Giving Books the diagnosis.

Giving Books the diagnosis.

TS, arguing with Wayne

 

 

The Shootist, Wayne and Stewart

 

 

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick and for the Mary Astor Blogathon: The Hurricane

In 1936, writers Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall published their 7th adventure novel, The Hurricane.  Their 4th novel, Mutiny on the Bounty, published in 1932, had been  such a literary sensation that MGM turned it into a film in 1935 starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton.   This time around, studio mogul Samuel Goldwyn wanted to make a movie based on a Nordhoff and Hall novel  and he hired John Ford to direct this tale of wrong-doing, injustice, and  love, amidst the onslaught of a South Pacific hurricane.book cover for The Hurricane

Goldwyn made a promise to Ford, that he could make the film in the actual South Pacific and even wait for a real hurricane to come along and use footage of it in the film!  With Ford’s love of the sea and his penchant for realism in his films, he jumped at this chance.  Unfortunately,  only a few weeks after agreeing to make the film, Goldwyn contacted Ford and said he’d changed his mind about filming on location.  He told Ford to just put wind machines on a back lot at the studio and film it there.  That  caused Ford to lose interest in the film but thanks to a strong cast, script improvements by Ben Hecht,  and outstanding special effects by James Basevi, The Hurricane was a hit  and it still holds up to today’s audiences.

The two main characters are Dorothy Lamour as Marama, this being only her second film, and Jon Hall as Terangi.  Coincidentally, Hall was the nephew of James Norman Hall, one of the novel’s authors.  Mary Astor is Madame De Laage, the govenor’s wife and Raymond Massey plays the govenor.  C. Aubrey Smith is Father Paul and Thomas Mitchell plays Dr. Kersaint.  John Carradine plays a sadistic jailer and Jerome Cowan plays Captain Nagle.The_Hurricane_Trailer_screenshot_Mary_Astor

The setting is the beautiful island of Manakoora.  Terangi is first mate on Captain Nagle’s trading ship.  Terangi also marries Marama, the daughter of Mankoora’s chief.  There is an elaborate and beautiful wedding ceremony and feast sequence where Governor and Mrs. De Laage are honored guests, and lovely leis are placed upon Mary Astor.  Father Paul is there to pray a blessing of thanks for the trading ship’s safe arrival and to perform the wedding.   The newlyweds happiness is short-lived.  While on a trading ship excursion to Tahiti,  a white man who is bullying Terangi gets a deserved punch in the jaw.  Unfortunately, the bully is a man with influence and he gets a Tahitian official to sentence Terangi to 6 months in prison.  Terangi’s friends go to Governor De Laage, the French Governor of Mankoora.  He is a hard-nosed, no nonsense, follow the letter of the law kind of guy.  He refuses to have Terangi brought back to Mankoora to be pardoned.  Even when Madame De Laage pleads with him to relent and bring Terangi back because his wife is expecting a baby, the Governor won’t listen.  After many escape attempts, Terangi manages to do so, but accidentally kills a guard in the process. He arrives back in Mankoora as a terrible hurricane is heading towards the island and in a selfless act, he ties his wife and daughter to a tree, then he ties a rope from that tree to the church, where  Mrs. De Laage, Dr. Kersaint, and Father Paul are sheltering, along with a large group of islanders.  Governor De Laage is out on the ocean on a schooner, hunting for the escaped Terangi.  Dr. Kersaint manages to head out to a canoe where a woman is in labor and he delivers that baby during the hurricane!  Terangi leads Mrs.  De Laage to the tree and ties her to its upper branches as he has done for his wife and daughter.  Father Paul won’t leave the church behind and tells all of them not to worry about him.  After the hurricane has blown through and utterly destroyed the island, we learn that Terangi and his family have survived, as well as Mrs. De Laage, Dr. Kersaint, and his tiny patient and the mother.  Governor De Laage can see with binoculars that Terangi is still alive, and that he has also saved Mrs. De Laage.  She, in turn, urges Terangi to grab a canoe and sail away with his wife and daughter.  When the Governor arrives at his wife’s side, he sees the canoe in the distance and she tells him it is just a log.  He knows it is Terangi, but embraces his wife and agrees that it is just a log.

In reading about Mary Astor and her career, I learned that she began acting in silent films in the 1920s.  She easily made the transition to talkies and was adept at playing in comedies or dramas.  Her role in The Hurricane was not that of the lead, but one of the co-starring parts.  With her elegance, and calm demeanor, she was the perfect choice to play the warm-hearted wife to a hard-hearted governor, such as the one Raymond Massey portrayed.

Mary Astor as Madame De Laage with Raymond Massey as Governor De Laage.

Mary Astor as Madame De Laage with Raymond Massey as Governor De Laage.

Director John Ford was known to choose one actor or actress to be the one that got “picked” on during the entire production run of a movie.  For whatever reason, Mary “won” that title during the filming of The Hurricane.  She reportedly took his jabs and comments with good humor and later said, “I think ‘laconic’ is a good word for John Ford and for his technique of direction”,…”No big deal about communication with John.  Terse, pithy, to the point.  Very Irish, a dark personality, a sensitivity which he did everything to conceal.”1

For the actual hurricane scene, Special Effects director James Basevi was given a $400,000 budget.  He spent $150,000 to build a native village on a back lot and then spent $250,000 to destroy it! The planning of the scene, the production of it, and the filming took 4 months.   Usually Basevi didn’t like to discuss how he made his special effects magic on any film, but The Hurricane was one film where he was quite open as to how he got that great scene completed.  His village set was 600 feet long with wharves, huts, a church, and palm trees.  The beach ran into a lagoon, which was actually a 200 yard-long tank. Across this tank were put up airplane propellors, mounted on towers to create the fierce winds.  Water from 12 fire hoses streamed in front of the propellors’ blades to send water and spray over the actors and the set.  Wave machines churned up the waters of the lagoon.  To show a tidal wave, Basevi let loose 2000 gallons of water down chutes topped by big tanks.2

A very kind soul has put the hurricane scene up on Youtube and  I have watched it over and over.  Those are really all of the main actors in that scene.  Mary Astor is soaking wet and trying to grasp that rope to safely get from the church to that giant tree, with Terangi leading her to safety.  It is a very impressive scene, and I am delighted to report that Turner Classic Movies will be showing The Hurricane on Wednesday, May 29th, at 11:00 p.m. CST.

To see an exciting film directed by John Ford and one of Mary Astor’s subtle and warm-hearted performances, set your dvrs and  don’t miss The Hurricane!

Terangi attempting to save Madame De Laage!

Terangi attempting to save Madame De Laage!

Thomas Mitchell as Dr. Kersaint, delivering that baby!  Mitchell was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Hurricane.

Thomas Mitchell as Dr. Kersaint, delivering that baby! Mitchell was nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in The Hurricane.

The De Laage's elegant dining room.The De Laage’s elegant dining room.

This blog was written in conjunction with The Mary Astor Blogathon, hosted by two great classic movie bloggers: Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings.  If you visit their sites, you will read other wonderful blogs all about the wonderful Mary Astor.

Sources sited for this blog: 1 Davis, Ronald L., John Ford: Hollywood’s Old Master, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman and London, 1995. Page 88.

2Zinman, David, 50 Classic Motion Pictures:The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of: Vintage Films From Hollywood’s Golden Age, Limelight Editions, New York, 1992.  Pages 112-113.

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Father Paul(C. Aubrey Smith) and Madame De Laage

Father Paul(C. Aubrey Smith) and Madame De Laage

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