Posts Tagged ‘Raymond Massey’

My Classic Movie Pick: The Woman in the Window

Poor Edward G. Robinson.  He reached stardom playing evil gangsters, mob bosses, when in reality, he was a good stage actor who could play drama, comedy, and tried at various times in his Hollywood career to break out from the “gangster” label.  Fritz Lang, an Austrian-German director who had arrived in Hollywood in the 1930s to get away from the Nazi’s, who had banned one of his films in 1932, gave Robinson a chance to play a role that wasn’t a gangster part.  The film was 1944’s The Woman in the Window. The Woman in the Window Robinson plays middle-aged  Professor Richard Wanley, a professor of Psychology.  His wife and kids have recently gone on a vacation and he is alone at home.  He decides to hang out at his club one evening, spending time with some good friends at their Men’s Club: District Attorney Frank Lalor(Raymond Massey) and Dr. Barkstane(Edmond Breon).  As Professor Wanley walks to the club, he notices a painting of a beautiful, young woman in the window of a nearby shop.  He stops to admire the painting and when he meets his friends, they spend some time discussing the beautiful woman in the painting.   On his way home, Wanley again, stops to admire the painting and the subject of it appears hauntingly, her reflection in the window, catching Wanley off guard.

Prof. Wanley noticing the painting.

Prof. Wanley noticing the painting.

Prof. Wanley having fun with his pals at their  Club.

Prof. Wanley having fun with his pals at their Club.

The beautiful Alice Reed's reflection in the window.

The beautiful Alice Reed’s reflection in the window.

The beautiful, young woman is Alice Reed(Joan Bennett) and she knows that this middle-aged man is entranced by her beauty.  She decides to demurly take adavantage of Professor Wanly.  She invites him to have a drink with her at a local bar.  Then she invites him to her apartment for more drinks.  As Wanley admires more works of art in Alice’s apartment, an angry man bursts in accusing Alice of cheating on him and he tries to attack her.  Alice grabs a pair of scissors and tosses them to Wanley, who the angry man has turned his attack on and Wanley stabs the man in the back, killing him!  So much for a quiet evening of drinks, art, and talking!

Looking at paintings with Alice at her place.

Looking at paintings with Alice at her place.

Prof. Wanley being attacked by a very angry friend of Alice's!

Prof. Wanley being attacked by a very angry friend of Alice’s!

In shock after murdering a man.

In shock after murdering a man.

The mild-mannered professor is in a state of shock.  What should he do?  Here, he thought he’d just enjoy a nice evening with the beautiful woman in the painting and now a murder has happened, a murder he committed in self-defense, but a murder none-the less.  Robinson does a wonderful job portraying a middle-aged man, who despite having a wife and two children, a satisfying job, and good friends, is just a tad bit lonely.  He feels a tad bit vulnerable due to the fact that he is aging.

Joan Bennett is good as the femme fatale of this piece.  She is beautiful, she knows it, and she’s more than ready to make Professor Wanley her fall guy.  What her hard-boiled, hidden persona doesn’t expect is to develop true feelings for the professor.  I wouldn’t call it love, but she does care about him and starts to feel guilty for how she is manipulating him when the mastermind behind the money-making plot via blackmail, Heidt(Dan Duryea) enters the scene, demanding that they get more  money from the professor.

Heidt and Alice discussing getting $5000 from the Professor.

Heidt and Alice discussing getting $5000 from the Professor.

Duryea is so excellent as the real baddie of this film.  In real life, Dan Duryea was a very nice guy.   A married man with kids, acting was his talent and he supported his family with his skills.  For some reason, he made his mark as playing bad guys but instead of not taking those roles, he took them and ran with them.

Behind the scenes shot of Duryea and Robinson.

Behind the scenes shot of Duryea and Robinson.

The Woman in the Window airs from time to time on Turner Classic Movies and I’ve put the movie’s trailer here for viewing.  The film is available to buy through Amazon.  It was also available at one time on Netflix and may still be available.  Lastly, some kind soul has put the entire movie up on Youtube! For a great film noir with a twist of an ending, seek out The Woman in the Window.

TWITW ending hint

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 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.


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

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

My Classic Movie Pick: A Matter of Life and Death

The Archers logo from A Matter of Life and Death

The Archers logo from A Matter of Life and Death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A Matter of Life and DeathIn September 1945, Michael Powell and Emeric  Pressburger began production on  a new movie for the studio that they created, The Archers.  The film, written by Powell and Pressburger, was called A Matter of Life and Death in the United Kingdom.   For the U.S. audiences, it was re-titled Stairway to Heaven.   This film was one of the more unusual ones that the team of Powell and Pressburger ever created.  A romance, with a history lesson, and a fantasy, all rolled into one concept.  The British cast members were led by David Niven, Roger Livesey, Marius Goring, Robert Coote, and Kathleen Byron.  American actress Kim Hunter was the female lead and Canadian actor Raymond Massey also starred in the movie.

The plot centers around RAF pilot Peter Carter(Niven) desperately trying to land his damaged and burning airplane after a mission over Germany on May 2, 1945.  His crew has already bailed out as he had ordered them to do, not revealing that his own parachute was all shot up.  He manages to contact June, an American radio operator based in England.  He talks with her movingly as he knows his life is about to end, and he makes the decision to jump from his plane without a parachute before it crashes into the sea.  By all accounts, Peter should have died but Conductor 71(Marius Goring, dressed as a very pompous French Aristocrat, circa the French Revolution) misses Peter due to the thick fog over the English Channel on the night of May 2nd.  Thus, Peter wakes up on a beach in England, instead of being led to Heaven by Conductor 71.   The next morning, after Peter awakens on the beach and realizes he is alive, he happens to meet June, who is bicycling back to her home for some sleep as her shift has ended.   As Peter and June spend time talking to one another,  so surprised and relieved that Peter survived the jump, they fall in love.  Conductor 71 finds Peter and is able to freeze time, in order to greet Peter and tell him that Peter should really be dead and that he must take Peter to Heaven now.  Peter demands that there be an appeal, after all, it’s not his fault that the Conductor messed up.  Now that June is in his life, he doesn’t want to go to Heaven.  The Conductor has a consult with his superiors who agree that Peter can make an appeal.  The Conductor returns to Earth to tell Peter that he has three days to prepare his case for staying on Earth.  He is allowed to pick a defense counsel from anyone who has already died, but has a hard time deciding on who to choose.

.Roger Livesey Stairway to Heaven

Meanwhile, June has a friend, Doctor Reeves,(Roger Livesey), who is fascinated by Peter’s survival, and thinks that the visions of this Conductor are a result of a brain injury; chronic adhesive arachnoiditis from a slight concussion Peter suffered two years prior.  Reeves schedules Peter for surgery to correct the problem and to rid him of the visions.  Unfortunately, Dr. Reeves is killed in a motorcycle accident before the surgery is to take place, but now he can be Peter’s Defense Counsel in Heaven.   With Dr.  Reeves in place for the defense, Heaven chooses its prosecutor for this unusual appeal and Abraham Farlan(Raymond Massey) is picked for the task.  Mr. Farlan was the first American who died in the American Revolution and there is no love lost between him and England.  He even admits he is shocked and saddened that an American maiden, such as June, and a Bostonian too, could fall in love with an English man!  As Peter is given anesthesia and is unconscious for his surgery, the court trial in Heaven begins.   Immediately, Dr. Reeves challenges the make-up of individuals in the jury, which are individuals who hate the British.  The judge agrees to let this jury be replaced with a mixture of modern day Americans.

Events from World History and British History are cited by Reeves and Farlan, and finally Reeves requests that June be allowed to take the stand.   This poses a problem as she is still alive, not a resident of Heaven, so Conductor 71 solves that problem by causing June at the hospital, awaiting the outcome of Peter’s surgery, to fall asleep so that she can then give her testimony to the Heavenly court.  Reeves proves that June truly loves Peter as she shows that she is willing to take his place in Heaven so that he can go on to have a longer life on Earth.   “…nothing is stronger than the law in the Universe, but on Earth, nothing is stronger than love,”  says Dr. Reeves in his summation.  I won’t reveal anymore about this movie’s end as I want anyone who reads this blog to search out the film on their own to see it!  The production team made a very creative decision to film all of the Earth scenes in rich technicolor and all of the Heaven scenes in black and white, a reverse of what was done for The Wizard of Oz.   Jack Cardiff, an Oscar-winning cinematographer, shot this film for The Archers, and his love of the craft shows.  It is a beautifully lensed  film.   To convey that it takes a while for the characters to travel to Heaven, a huge escalator was built by a team of engineers.  They dubbed the project “Operation Ethel” and it took 3 months to build it and cost 3000 pounds.  The escalator had 106 steps, each step being 20 ft. wide, and it was driven by a 12 horsepower engine.  Unfortunately the noise from that engine was so loud that all the dialogue for those scenes had to be re-dubbed in studio.  There was also a 9 month wait for the film stock and Technicolor cameras because they were in use by the U.S. Army to make their training films!

A Matter of Life and Death was chosen for the first ever Royal Film Presentation on Nov. 1st, 1946, then it went out to the general public in the U.K. on December 15th, 1946.  It had it’s first showing in America, under a new title: Stairway to Heaven, on Dec. 25th, 1946, in New York City.   The Archers Studio, aka Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, made wonderful movies to view, usually filmed by Jack Cardiff,  with very interesting plots and this is one of my favorites that they produced.  Other films in their canon that I have seen and enjoyed are: I Know Where I’m Going, Black Narcissus, The Red Shoes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Contraband, 49th Parallel, and  A Canterbury Tale.  A Matter of Life and Death is available at Amazon and Turner Classic Movies will air it on April 18th.


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