Dunstan Checks In: The Animals in Film Blogathon

I received a kind invitation to write a post for The Animals in Film Blogathon, by Crystal at In The Good Old Days of Hollywood.  Please be sure to visit Crystal’s blog to read other wonderful posts by classic movie bloggers, about all of the many animals that have appeared in films.

 

Animals in film blogathon

When I started to think about  animals in classic film,  I immediately thought of Lassie, Trigger, Toto, and Cheetah.  I figured that since I was not as quick as the other invited bloggers to join and announce the animal that they’d be writing about, I decided to pick a film that my own children had greatly enjoyed,  a film probably not considered a “classic”, which featured an ape as the star of the show, 1996’s Dunston Checks In.   Based upon a story by John Hopkins, screenplay by Hopkins and Bruce Graham. Directed by Ken Kwapis.  Released by 20th Century Fox.

51746X37BFL._SY300_Dunston Checks In

This film has a simple main plot, and a simple subplot, due to the main audience of this film was children, and then their parents; a confusing film with intricate plots wouldn’t work for this audience demographic.  The main plot is about a hotel manager gearing up for a huge social event, The Crystal Ball, to be held at the hotel he manages.  The hotel owner is demanding that they impress a hotel critic who will be a guest at this event; hotel owner has a 5-star hotel, she wants to earn a 6th star.  The hotel manager, a single dad, works hard at his job, but his two sons are rambunctious boys and  get into mischievious adventures at the hotel, that threaten to ruin their Dad’s efforts to run a wonderful, classy hotel.

Hotel manager Robert and his two sons.

Hotel manager Robert and his two sons.

Faye Dunaway as hotel owner Elena Dubrow

Faye Dunaway as hotel owner Elena Dubrow

 

The subplot involves a suave jewel thief, posing as a “Lord” from England.  In his employ helping him steal jewels is an orangutan, Dunston, whom this thief  raised from infancy but isn’t a good caregiver.  The hotel owner, awed by this thief’s manners and charm, thinks he is the hotel critic, so she  demands he be treated well by the manager and staff.

Lord Rutledge noticing a guest's jewels.

Lord Rutledge noticing a guest’s jewels.

Of course, the two boys find the orangutan, rescuing him from the jewel thief, and inform their father about who this Lord really is.  This Lord discovers that the boys have taken his orangutan from him and he is determined to get him back, and nab some of the Crystal Ball guests fabulous jewels.  Hotel manager Dad is determined that Dunston be found by  the animal control officer he has called, all the while not letting his boss, the hotel owner, know about this creature in her hotel.

Telling Dad that they have to help Dunston!

Telling Dad that they have to help Dunston!

The animal control officer Dad has hired to find Dunston before the Crystal Ball begins.

The animal control officer Dad has hired to find Dunston before the Crystal Ball begins.

There is a lot of slapstick humor, of course, which appeals to a broad audience.  The cast of humans in this film  are great in their presentations of their characters:  Jason Alexander as Robert Grant, the dedicated hotel manager.  Eric Lloyd and Graham Sack are his adorable sons, Kyle and Brian.  Faye Dunaway is superb as the haughty hotel owner, Elena Dubrow.  Rupert Everett is the charming and sneaky jewel thief, Lord Rutledge.  Paul Reubens(PeeWee Herman!) as Buck LaFarge, animal control expert and officer, and Glenn Shadix as Lionel Spaulding, the real hotel critic.

The boys often put Dunston in disguises as they sneak him around the hotel.

The boys often put Dunston in disguises as they sneak him around the hotel.

Dunston, from what I could gather, was played by one orangutan, named Sam.  He had a lot to do in this film, and I cannot fathom how many people it takes to film an animal required to do one thing, let alone several things in a scene!  In trying to find out a bit more about Sam, to see if he had been in other films, tv shows, commercials, etc.  I stumbled upon a piece written by Zach Sokol, who decided to find out about some of the beloved animals he loved to see on tv or in films when he was a kid.  If you click on his highlighted name, the article is there.  Spoiler, it’s a downer, but sort of tongue in cheek, too.

When Dunston Checks In hit theatres, some film critics were hard on the film and some were not.  I recall watching it with my kids, we rented it probably in 1999, and we all enjoyed it very much.  The kids laughed at the antics of the two boys and Dunston.  I was glad to see the tale reveal that in the end, the good folks are rewarded and the bad people get their just desserts.  For a fun, family movie seek out Dunston Checks In.  Since it came out in 1996, it probably won’t be too difficult to rent, and perhaps it is being streamed somewhere.

The Great Villain Blogathon: George Macready

Rhode Island’s own native son, actor George Macready, didn’t set out to be an actor.  After graduating from Brown University, in 1921, he worked in the banking industry and then moved to NYC to work for a newspaper. The acting bug must have been lurking and while in NYC he decided to give acting a try.  It didn’t hurt that Macready spoke with excellent diction all the time, and that he had a nasty scar on the right side of his face.  Due to a car accident,  crashing through a Model T’s windshield, Macready’s right cheek suffered a nasty gash that began an inch below his right eye, and then ran across the middle of his cheek and down below his jaw line.  That scar gave him the look of a villain, which he was often cast as, so I decided that for this blogathon I would  focus on Macready’s 3 most famous villain roles in classic films.

GV Blogathon 2016

1945: My Name is Julia Ross – a fast-paced film noir with a touch of gothic eerieness.  Made by Columbia Pictures, directed by Joseph H. Lewis.   Set in England, this film stars Nina Foch as the Julia of the title, Dame May Whitty as an alternating doting and demanding mother, Mrs. Hughes, and George Macready as Mrs. Hughes’s son, Ralph.  In this film, Julia is hired to be a secretary for Mrs. Hughes, who on first meeting with Julia, seems so sweet and her son Ralph is very polite and charming.  Julia agrees to take the job.  The Hughes’s are most anxious to hire a secretary who is female and who is an orphan, or with very few relatives, and no young man in the girl’s life, either.   Julia fits their wishlist nicely and  is whisked away to the Hughes’s country estate.  After a cup of  drug-laced tea which leads to a long sleep, Julia awakens to find the Hughes’s both insisting she is Ralph’s wife! While Julia was asleep, Mrs. Hughes ordered that Julia’s purse, papers, and clothes all be burned  to hide evidence as to who Julia really is.  We get our first inkling that all is not right with Ralph when we see him calmly and methodically, slashing through Julia’s silky nightgown with a knife!!  Mrs. Hughes yells at Ralph to stop that and takes his knife away from him, locking it in a desk drawer that contains various knives of all sorts.  She is momentarily distracted and doesn’t catch Ralph sneaking another knife out of that drawer!! Macready gives an excellent performance as the crazy and evil Ralph.  Seeming to be a man of utmost charm and politeness when in public, but alone in the house with mother and Julia,  the craziness begins to ooze out of him.  It’s an interesting power struggle to watch between he and Dame May Whitty as his mother.  A kind soul has put the entire movie on Youtube, and it’s there for the viewing.  I’ve also included the trailer for the film-note the crazed look in Macready’s eyes when Julia(Nina Foch) gives him a well-deserved slap across the face!

Gripping Julia's arm so she can't run away.

Gripping Julia’s arm so she can’t run away.

Ralph is caught cutting up Julia's nightgown!!

Ralph is caught cutting up Julia’s nightgown!!

My Name is Julia Ross

1946: One of Macready’s best known roles, as the evil entrepreneur and gambling casino owner, Ballin Mundson, in Gilda.  This film was also made by Columbia Pictures, directed by Charles Vidor.  Top-billing went to Rita Hayworth as Gilda, Glenn Ford as Johnny Farrell, and then to Macready.  The plot is a straight-forward love triangle, set in Buenos Aires, Argentina.   Mundson owns a casino and one evening as he is strolling the streets of Buenos Aires, he comes upon an American who has just won a bundle from gambling dice players.  Mundson steps in when it looks like the American is about to get mugged of his winnings.  With a flourish of his cane, he sends the muggers running.  The American, Johnny Farrell(Glenn Ford) is thankful to this stranger who saved him.  Mundson utters cryptically to Farrell, who makes a comment about the cane, “It’s silent when I wish to be silent.  It talks when I wish to talk. I make my own luck.  It’s a most obedient friend.” ( We later learn that this cane contains a hidden knife!) Mundson then hands Farrell one of his business cards and disappears into the night.  Farrell heads to Mundson’s casino the next night, and is hired to work at the casino, rising to second in command of the gambling floor.  Mundson reminds Farrell that women and gambling don’t mix and to work successfully for him, Farrell is to have no women in his life.  Then, weeks later and with no explanations other than “I’m mad about her, mad!”, Mundson summons Farrell to his mansion to introduce him to his new wife, Gilda!  Gilda is a knock-out, and we soon learn she is Farrell’s former lover!  While the film concerns itself mostly with Gilda and Johnny and their love/hate relationship, we do learn that Mundson had some shady business dealings with Nazis, having to do with tungsten, lots of money, and patents.  One man tries to kill him, and he tries to explain to Johnny that his business dealings have to do with his wanting to “control the world…it’s full of stupid little creatures!”  Mundson also begins to have his suspicions about Gilda and Johnny, and one evening, he grabs Gilda by the arm and with that perfect diction tells her in an ominous way, “Hate can be a very exciting emotion.  Very exciting!!  Hate is the only thing that has ever warmed me!!”  Once again, Macready excells at playing an aloof man, in charge of his world, with mental instabilities tucked neatly away and only peeking out when he lets them peek out.  He’s a narcissist in that he only cares about his business and his money.  He seems to only consider Gilda as a beautiful object to own and to show off to his customers.  His Mundson is not a sympathetic character and at the film’s end, we can’t help but be content with his fate.

Publicity still that is a nice summing up of the plot of Gilda

Publicity still that is a nice summing up of the plot of Gilda

gilda poster

1957: Paths of Glory, a film by United Artists, directed by Stanley Kubrick.  Kirk Douglas as the heroic, Col. Dax, George Macready as the self-serving and evil Gen. Mireau, Adolphe Menjou as Gen. Broulard, Ralph Meeker as Cpl. Paris, Joseph Turkel as Pvt. Arnaud,  Timothy Carey as Pvt. Ferol, and Richard Anderson as Maj. Saint-Auban.  A sad film and based upon an actual event that happened during WW I in France.   Paths of Glory was a book written in 1935 by Humphrey Cobb.  The book was  the account of 4 french soldiers chosen to be killed by a firing squad for cowardice after their division, pinned down in trenches, couldn’t advance upon a German strong hold.  Even after a higher up commander ordered shells to be dropped into his soldiers’ trenches(and thank goodness that order was ignored)to get them to move out of the trench, 4 soldiers were still put on trial and executed for cowardice, to be set as an example for the rest of the soldiers in their division.  Director Kubrick had read this book as a youth and wanted to make a film version of the book by Cobb.  After buying the film rights, which had been bought years earlier but shelved, Kubrick set about making his film.    Paths-of-Glory_poster_goldposter_com_17

The film opens with Gen. Mireau(George Macready) at his headquarters, a gorgeous chateau.  It is 1916 and the war is pretty much at a stalemate; French troops in trenches, German troops in the other trenches, neither side doing a lot as far as battling is concerned.  Into the chateau marches Gen. Broulard(Adolphe Menjou), with a plan.  He urges Gen. Mireau to have the men in his division take the Ant Hill, a ridge where the German army has a stronghold.  If the Ant Hill can be broken by the French Army, it will be a huge victory and a huge boost in morale.  Gen. Mireau is very skeptical and points out that his men are tired and that they just finished up a long skirmish and need to rest.  The Ant Hill is to be attempted in 2 days time.  At this early juncture, we feel sorry for Gen. Mireau, and think he’ll stand up for his men and turn down this request, which he knows is a futile endeavor.  Gen. Broulard is wily and begins the flattery campaign, adding that Gen. Mireau is up for a promotion which will mean another star to add to his medals.   The promise of promotion clouds Gen. Mireau’s common sense, and he becomes obsessed with his men conquering the Ant Hill so that he can earn that promotion.  From this point on in the film, Mireau transforms into an evil leader.

Broulard flattering Mireau into taking the Ant Hill

Broulard flattering Mireau into taking the Ant Hill

Gen. Mireau is off to visit the men in his division, chatting with random soldiers as he marches down the wooden planks set into the bottoms of the long trenches that his men are huddled in.  One soldier can’t answer his question if he has a wife and another soldier tries to explain that the man who can’t answer has shell shock.  Gen. Mireau is outraged by this information and caustically announces that there is no such thing as shell shock and immediately slaps the soldier hard in the face and orders him to be removed from his division!  I am wondering if actor George C. Scott studied this scene in preparing for his moment as Patton, slapping a soldier who is recovering in a hospital?

Gen. Mireau visiting the division

Gen. Mireau visiting the division

Gen. Mireau then marches himself into Col. Dax’s quarters(Kirk Douglas) and informs him that the division is to take the Ant Hill.  Col. Dax tries to explain how tired the men are and how impossible that effort is to attempt.  The numbers of men who will probably die, given out in cold facts by Gen. Mireau causes a look of despair and defeat to cover Col. Dax’s face.  As predicted, the Ant Hill is an utter failure.  Gen. Mireau is incensed, and calls for a meeting with Col. Dax and Gen. Broulard.  It is at this meeting that the cruelty of Gen. Mireau is revealed in that he wants a large number of men from the division to be court martialed and executed for cowardice.  Gen. Broulard uses humor to calm Gen. Mireau down, and Col. Dax uses sarcasm to suggest why not executing the entire division or just him, since he failed at getting the men to leave the trench to take the Ant Hill.  Gen. Mireau finally agrees to letting 3 men from each part of the division be put on trial and he agrees to let Col. Dax act as their defense attorney.  He then tells Dax after the meeting that he intends to utterly crush him after the court martial trial is over!

Threatening Col. Dax

Threatening Col. Dax

The trial is an utter sham and despite Col. Dax’s spirited defense,  the men are found guilty(Timothy Carey, Ralph Meeker, and Joseph Turkel.)  The only just dessert at the film’s end is that it is discovered, and written testimonies are recorded, that Gen. Mireau had ordered his own men in the trenches to be shot at in order to get them to move out of the trenches and on to the Ant Hill.  Gen. Broulard suggests an inquiry be made about this but Gen. Mireau knows his promotion isn’t going to happen and he storms out, spouting that he cares about the army.  Good riddance!!

In the making of this film, Macready’s scar is deep and very visible, with the dark line hard to take one’s eyes off of.  I was left wondering if that is how his scar really looked, or if it was made to look more intense by the make up department?  Paths of Glory will be airing on Turner Classic Movies on July 3rd at 4:30 est/3:30 cst so set your dvr!!

The scar deeply emphasized in this shot

The scar deeply emphasized in this shot

Be sure to read about more classic movie villains at this blogathon’s hosts’ sites: Speakeasy, Shadows and Satin, and Silver Screenings.  You’ll find enjoyable reads, I promise!!!  Here are a few more pics of Macready from these films:

Oops! Ralph being scolded for cutting up a sofa!! My Name is Julia Ross

Oops! Ralph being scolded for cutting up a sofa!! My Name is Julia Ross

Mama Hughes calling the shots as Ralph meekly sits by

Mama Hughes calling the shots as Ralph meekly sits by: My Name is Julia Ross

Cementing a business deal with the cane/knife gadget-foreshadowing perhaps?

Cementing a business deal with the cane/knife gadget-foreshadowing perhaps? Gilda

As Ballin Mundson in Gilda

As Ballin Mundson in Gilda

Playing harmonicas together on the set: Macready and Foch

Playing harmonicas together on the set: Macready and Foch

 

Coming Full Circle with Special Education

After homeschooling our kids from kindergarten to grade 7, and with child #4 graduating high school and going off to college this year, my husband informed me that our budget needed for me to go back to work.  So I dusted off my teaching certificate, and have begun the process of securing a Missouri teaching certificate. In the meantime, I also began to substitute teacher for our local school district.

 

My going back to work  meant the end of homeschooling our youngest child.  For various reasons, we chose to homeschool our kids for grades K-7, and then let them begin attending school in the 8th grade and continuing on until graduation.  Our youngest was going to begin public school for the first time in the 7th grade, and the Middle School requested he take some tests to establish his grade equivalencies.  We agreed and were a  bit downhearted when the testing showed our son was behind in one subject area.  It was recommended he repeat the 6th grade, which we didn’t want him to have to do.  We countered with we felt he could succeed in 7th grade with our help, and if the school felt he needed Special Education in that one subject, then we would agree to that plan.  Thus, our introduction to the world of Special Education began.

 special ed chalkboard

I discovered that the Special Education teachers and their assistants genuinely care for the students put into their charge.  The IEP(Indidualized Educational Program) created for our son  worked excellently for him.  At the last parent-teachers conference for the school year, I learned that having our son attend Special Education class was a nice “cushion” for him to fall back upon as he became acclimated to the ways of how a public school runs.  The program also proved beneficial in that our son aquired new skills in this subject and is now on grade level.  In fact, I was told that he probably doesn’t need the extra help when he enters 8th grade.

A couple weeks ago,  I received a phone call asking if I was available to substitute in  one of the elementary school’s Special Education classrooms.  I agreed as it meant now I would get to observe a Special Education class in action.

The classroom I was directed to was two classrooms; they were entered by two doors on two  connected hallways, and there was a doorway between the two classrooms.  The two classrooms also shared their own bathroom.   Instead of individual desks, students sat at tables with chairs around them.  Colorful posters decorated the walls, some with inspiring messages, and some reviewing the points of good manners.  There were colorful, cloth covered baskets containing picture books, grouped according to reading levels. There was a  bookcase containing chapter books of award-winning children literature books and  another containing all of the teacher textbooks and a student textbook for the main curriculum used at the school for each grade.   Ipads and headphones, were in evidence, to be used for rewards if assigned work was completed; since the majority of students coming to the Special Education room for help were boys, the popular ipad game was sending a motorized  vehicle into outer space, and then watching it land.

After helping with some lunch and recess duties, it was officially time to work with a Special Education student.  The boy walked in presently, probably of average size for his grade.  He walked stiffly, a bit slowly, I noticed.  I wondered if he had a slight case of cerebral palsy, which may have explained his stiff movements.  As he walked into the room, he introduced himself to me, and before I could tell him my name, he flung his arms around me and gave me a strong hug.  What a sweet child, I thought.  He selected a book from a basket and asked me to help him read through it.  The other Special Education aide reminded him that he had to read it mostly by himself, and then that when he finished it, one of us  would read it with him.  Then, if there was time, he could take his comprehension test on the book.  His  reading of the book was fine, and I only had to guide him on a few of the longer words; I told him what the unfamiliar words meant.  Soon it was time for this student to go back to his regular classroom.  I did get to see him once more as he had to get ready for an early bus pick up, and since part of my job was to get the early bus riders to the foyer of the school building, this student suddenly needed to visit the restroom and he immediately grabbed my hand and asked me to walk him to the bathroom in the Special Education classroom.  While he was in that bathroom, I got to observe the main Special Education teacher work with a kindergartner who was pacing the room and probably unwinding from his day, and watch her aid another student with a vocabulary worksheet.  It struck me that in the Special Education room, the teacher and the assistants work one on one with only a few students, which in a way is similar to a homeschooling lesson in that a homeschooling mom often is teaching her students one on one, or in a small grouping.

As I walked down the hall with the boy who had had to visit the bathroom, he once again reached for my hand.  He peppered me with questions, as we walked the halls back to the foyer to await his bus.  He mainly wanted to know if I’d be back at his school the next day, in the special education room.  I explained to him that since I was a substitute teacher, I went to a lot of different schools and that perhaps I’d be back another day, but I didn’t know if I’d be back as soon as the very next day.  As he waved good bye to all of us Special Education aides in the foyer, and walked stiffly to get onto the bus, I began to think about this  boy’s future.

Young girl wearing a dunce cap.

Young girl wearing a dunce cap.

When public education began in the United States (1821, in Boston, Massachusetts), students who struggled with learning were probably punished and/or ridiculed; teachers hitting students with rulers across the opened hand, or the dunce cap worn by the student as they were made to sit in the front of the classroom, facing their classmates.  My guess is that many of these students dropped out and their obtaining a full education didn’t happen.  Jumping to the mid-1960s, President Johnson(a former teacher himself) signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which established the beginnings of Special Education, however it really didn’t begin to take off and expand until the 1970s.

So, on  one hand, this boy that I worked with, will have a stigma to battle at school.  That stigma placed upon him by his classmates of being one who has to leave the regular classroom daily and get special help.  However, on the whole, it means he is being given a chance to succeed, which many years ago, wouldn’t have been possible for him in a school setting.

With this week being known as National Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States, my hats are off to all teachers and especially to the Special Education teachers who with immense patience, diligence, and caring, are giving their all so students can succeed.   Special Education teacher

Number 4 Child Will be Flying Away Too Soon!

May 27th, 2016, will be an exciting and monumental day for our family.  Baby #4, our 3rd son, will be graduating from Rolla High School.  The maroon graduation robe is hanging in his room, hooked on top of the curtain rod, and every time I walk by his open bedroom door I am startled, as it looks like a figure is standing there, from what my

peripheral vision is seeing!   HS Graduation

Memories of this son’s childhood come flooding back to me a lot lately.  Without getting too personal, he was the easiest delivery, he potty-trained himself, and taught himself to read at age 4!  He just picked up our collection of Dr. Seuss books, and while I was homeschooling his 3 older siblings, he’d sit with those books on his lap and just figured out reading.   I also remember how this child liked to be a contrarian.  If the sun was shining and I said, “What a nice day out,”  he’d be quick to retort that it was a cloudy and stormy day!  When his siblings couldn’t wait to get out into the snow and sled or make a snowman, he was content to stay in the warm house.  I’ve always told him it won’t surprise me at all if he chooses to live in the Southern U.S. where snow and frost and ice are rare.

Truman State

Truman State University is his future spot for higher learning.  He wants to be a doctor and with the hard work he has put in at school to earn all A’s, plus all of the extra curricular activities where he has helped lead, the scholarships have been a wonderful reward.  He has mentioned wanting to work in the future with Doctors Without Borders, but for a pre-med student, that goal is a long ways off.

Fox and the HOund

This is my son who loved to watch Disney’s animated movie, The Fox and The Hound.  Over and over and over again, he’d ask to watch this dvd.  Of course, I’d let him as it meant a chance for me to tackle household chores uninterrupted, but I did get a bit tired of hearing it play on the tv.  I think a few days before he departs for college, I will have to pop this dvd in and watch it with him, and add in a big bowl of popcorn, and I might need the kleenax box nearby, too.

Before the final good-byes as he departs for this next chapter of his life, I hope he will know how proud of him his father and I are, how much we love him, and how rich our lives have been from God blessing our lives with him 18 years ago.

Beyond the Cover: Books to Film Blogathon: Kings Row

I live in Rolla, Missouri, which is in the south-central part of the state.  1 and 1/2 hours northeast of Rolla is the city of Fulton, Missouri.   Fulton has two  claims to fame, as fame goes.  It’s the place where Winston Churchill, on March 5th, 1946, made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College.  Fulton’s second claim is that in 1940, former hometown boy, Henry Bellamann, published a novel titled Kings Row, which readers in Fulton soon figured out was based upon their town.   The novel angered the community because despite Bellamann’s disclaimer that Kings Row was a fictional place, and all of the characters were fictional, Fulton readers could depict their town from Bellamann’s descriptions, and also the citizens he described.  Bellamann’s novel was about a midwestern town, near the turn of the century, where outsiders perceive it as an idyllic place to live and raise one’s family, but in reality, the town contains evil people, hiding their evil secrets, and where the wealthy families mistreat the poorer ones.

Kings Row sign

After the anger lessened on Fulton’s part, Hollywood announced that Warner Brothers studio had bought the  film rights to Kings Row and in 1942 the movie reached America’s box offices.  Despite the lurid tale, Kings Row was a smash hit, and some film buffs say it contains the best role President Ronald Reagan ever played when he was an actor.  The film was also nominated in 1943 for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography, Black and White. Let’s dive into the film’s plot, shall we?    kings-row-ann-sheridan-ronald-reagan-everett

The film concerns itself mostly with a group of children, ages 10-11, who are occupied with most things 10 and 11 year olds would be occupied with: having fun, playing with their friends, school, and trying to please their parents and/or guardians(two of the boys are being raised by relatives, since both are orphans.)  There is Parris(Robert Cummings), Drake(Ronald Reagan), Cassandra(Betty Field), Randy(Ann Sheridan), and Louise(Nancy Coleman.)  We only see the children for half an hour into the film, and then it jumps ahead to their young adult years, when they’re in their late teens.  When we meet the children we learn that Parris is polite. sensitive, and curious.  Drake is a jokester and thinks he’s a lady’s man.  Randy is a tomboy.  Louise is obedient to authority.  Cassandra is weird and moody.  The change to late teen years brings about the fact that all five are good looking people with varying degrees of wondering what to do with their lives.

Cassandra and Parris

Cassandra and Parris

Randy and Drake

Randy and Drake

Parris has been raised by a wealthy grandmother(Maria Ouspenskaya) who immigrated from the Lorraine area of France.  Her husband began a successful nursery business outside of Kings Row, and she, Madame Von Eln, carried on with the business after she was widowed.  Owing to her ancestry, she has made sure Parris can speak and read and write in French and German, and she’s also raised him with excellent manners.  She has also insisted on his taking piano lessons.  When Parris is a teen, he begins to grow infatuated with Dr. Tower’s (Claude Rains) daughter, Cassandra.  Cassandra is pretty, and seems to be able to only open up and really talk when she’s with Parris.  However, her father is very strict with her and always keeps her at home, even pulling her out of school and homeschooling her when she turns 12.  Due to his actions, Cassandra really has no friends in Kings Row, other than Parris.   Cassandra’s mother(Eden Gray) is considered very odd by the townsfolk, as she never leaves the house, and can be seen in the living room sitting in a chair, or peeking out at passerby’s from curtained windows.  Parris cares deeply for Cassandra, even declaring he loves her.  He and Cassandra begin to secretly see one another under Dr. Tower’s nose; Parris had gone away to Europe for medical school, and came back to Kings Row, to study psychiatry with Dr. Tower’s help.

Mysterious Dr. Tower

Mysterious Dr. Tower

Drake, always the merry prankster looking for love, raised by an aged aunt and uncle, is very wealthy when they pass away and leave him the full of their estate.  Drake wants to marry Louise, but her father, Dr. Gordon(Charles Coburn) a severe man, doesn’t like Drake, thinks Drake is immoral, and tells Louise she can’t marry him.  Louise is too weak to stand up to her father, so Drake breaks off his engagement to Louise and after a while, begins to date Randy, the girl descended from Irish immigrant railroad workers, who lives on the wrong side of the tracks, literally.

Drake telling Dr. Gordon what he really thinks of him.

Drake telling Dr. Gordon what he really thinks of him.

Randy is very likeable, and very pretty.  She is full of common sense, has a good sense of humor, and is a hard worker; Drake couldn’t do better to date  and woo her.  Tragedy hits Drake twice: he finds out an unscrupulous banker has swindled him of his inheritance, and having to work for a living and getting a job in the rail yard, he is accidentally crushed by a boxcar.  SPOILER!!!   When Dr. Gordon, Louise’s father, is called in to treat Drake, he decides to punish Drake for all of his past moral failings and needlessly amputates Drake’s legs!  It is as Drake awakes from his surgery, feels for his legs, and realizes they’re gone, that Reagan’s most famous line was uttered, “Where’s the rest of me??!!”  (Reagan felt he owed so much to Kings Row and that line that he used it as the title to his autobiography.)

Where's the rest of me??!!

Where’s the rest of me??!!

Robert Cummings is winning as Parris, the fresh-faced naive boy turned the same, even as a young adult; naive until he discovers what Dr. Tower did to his wife and to his daughter.  The naivete is gone and  Parris decides to study psychiatry, which at the turn of the century, was a new medical field.

Ronald Reagan is great as Drake.  One can tell by watching Reagan that he was enjoying the fun of the character and that he was probably having the time of his life playing Drake.  A lot of credit has been given to director Sam Wood, for working with Reagan on his part, but once again, Reagan was also from a midwestern state, Illinois, and a small town, so I am sure he could see some of the same points of distinction or similarities the screenplay was bringing out about life in a small midwestern town.

Ann Sheridan is superb as Randy.  Her efforts to display Randy’s character come shining through.

Betty Field is eerie as Cassandra.  She goes about with her eyes wide-open, as though she is expecting a ghost around every corner.  One can feel that Cassandra is living under a large amount of stress, but one doesn’t know why.  It will be revealed later in the plot of the film.

The adults in the film are some of the greatest character actors and actresses to ever grace a film: Claude Rains as the strange Dr. Tower, Charles Coburn as the stern Dr. Gordon, Dame Judith Anderson as Mrs. Gordon, Harry Davenport as Colonel Skeffington, Maria Ouspenskaya as Parris’s grandmother, and, I must confess an unknown to me actress, Eden Gray portrays the reclusive Mrs. Tower.

I don’t want to reveal too many more spoilers for Kings Row, but I will say that after all the evil deeds are exposed and the topic of mental illness is discussed,  there is a happy ending, or at least a hopeful ending!!  Turner Classic Movies will be airing Kings Row next week on Tuesday, April 12, at 8:00 est/7:00 cst.   The film is also available to view on Amazon’s instant rent and there are various clips on Youtube, but not the entire film.

I decided to read Kings Row prior to writing this blog, and went to Rolla’s library 3 weeks ago to get the book.  Alas, it wasn’t available so I ordered it through their interlibrary loan program, and 2 weeks later, Kings Row arrived for me, coming in from Sedalia, Missouri’s library.   I have read 1/3 of  the book and it is a good read.  Bellamann wrote a very descriptive picture to give the reader a mental image of Fulton, er Kings Row.  There are a lot of characters and good character development in the book, but as is so often when a book is turned into a film, many of the characters in the book were cut from the film’s screenplay.  Some of the  taboo topics in the book didn’t make the screenplay either due to the Hays Code: premarital sex, homosexuality, and incest.  The topics of mental illness, sadistic malpractice, murder, and suicide were acceptable for the screenplay.

Many have speculated as to why Henry Bellamann would have written such a negative novel about his hometown.  There are several theories, but at last, Fulton seems to have accepted it’s place in literary and film history.  Here’s a link to an interesting piece I read about the book and the film from a 1987 article in the  LA Times.

My post today is for the Beyond the Cover: Books to Film Blogathon, hosted by two excellent bloggers who know their classic movies: Ruth at Now Voyaging and Kristina at Speakeasy.  Be sure to visit their blogs to read about other bloggers contributions in the world of literary art being turned into visual art via film.

Beyond the Cover

For the Bette Davis Blogathon: A Stolen Life

Actress Bette Davis, if she were still alive, would be turning 108 today, Tuesday, April 5th.  To honor her memory, blogger and classic film fan Crystal at  In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood created a blogathon for this purpose. Be sure to visit Crystal’s blog to read all of the other great posts by other classic film fans about Bette Davis and her outstanding career.

blogathon-bette

 

 

I decided to focus on one of Bette’s lesser known films, 1946’s A Stolen Life, a film that Bette actually produced as well as starred in for Warner Brothers.  It’s a film that is intriguing to me as Bette gets to play identical twins, and as a mom of twins, I am always interested in seeing how Hollywood handles the concept of twins, and how  did the scenes look where the actor or actress  in dual roles are in the same scenes at the same time?!

A Stolen Life

In A Stolen Life, we get the “good” twin and the “bad” twin plot.  It may seem stale but in the hands of director Curtis Bernhardt and actress Bette Davis, the concept of the dual twins with wildly varied personalities turned out well.  Davis had been wanting a better contract with Warner Brothers, and studio head Jack Warner was not going to let his leading female star go, so the studio agreed in 1944, that Bette could make 5 pictures for them and get to be the producer too.  A Stolen Life was Davis’s first time as a producer.   Producing was a big task and Davis ably carried it out.  A Stolen Life was based on the best selling novel Stolen Life by Czechoslovakian writer Karel J. Benes.  His novel had been made into a movie in England in 1939 and Davis wanted to make a new version of the film in America.  Catherine Turney and Margaret B. Wilder wrote the screenplay and I think it was a great idea of Davis’s to get women to write this film’s screenplay, since the two main characters are sisters, and the story revolves around love, and what one wants out of life.  Davis had seen Barbara Stanwyck’s 1946 film, My Reputation, and had enjoyed it immensely.  She decided she wanted that director for her picture and that is how Curtis Bernhardt came on board.

Bernhardt, along with cinematographer Sol Polito, devised the intricate shots needed to really show Bette as twin sisters.  Using matte shots, a double for Davis, and then reshooting with Davis’s head or face on another matte shot, a scene such as one sister lighting the other sister’s cigarette could be done.  The film did receive one nomination at the 1947 Academy Awards for Special Effects.   The always great Max Steiner composed the music for the film, and Orry-Kelly designed the costumes.  For the leading man of the film, Warner Brothers wanted Davis to consider Dennis Morgan, but she said no to that choice.  She then agreed to sign Robert Alda, but actor Glenn Ford caught her attention.  He had just gotten out of the Marines, where he’d been serving during the war.  Jack Warner didn’t want to hire Ford, as he was at Columbia Pictures and that meant Warner Brothers would have to pay Columbia a loan out fee.  Davis wanted to see if Ford could do the role, so she had him secretly brought on to the Warner Brothers lot and do a screen test.  Ford did so well, that Davis gave him the part and Jack Warner grumblingly complied.  Ford impressed Columbia Pictures so much in this Davis vehicle that they cast him in Gilda, for his next role, and that really got his acting career moving forward.

Bette Davis plays identical twin sisters Kathryn and Patrica Bosworth.  Independently wealthy women, due to inheriting their family’s wealth, and being that their parents are deceased, the only family the two has is each other and one cousin, Freddie(Charlie Ruggles.)  Kathryn, or Kate, is the quiet twin.  She is an artist, lives in NYC, and is introspective and thoughtful.  Patricia, or Pat, is loud, flamboyant, and a flirt.  As the film opens, Kate is rushing to catch a steamer that is to sail out to an island off the coast of Massachusetts-she’s spending the weekend there with her sister and their cousin, Freddie.  Kate misses the boat, but luckily finds a man with his boat who agrees to take her out to the island.  The man is Bill Emerson(Glenn Ford), an engineer, and he and Kate hit it off as they sail to the island.  Bill does tell Kate that he has to stop at another smaller island on their way, to pick up the old lighthouse keeper, Eben Folger(Walter Brennan.)  Kate decides that she wants to get to know Bill better, so she asks Eben if he’d agree to sit for his portrait to be drawn and painted, which means Bill would be the one to sail her out to Eben’s lighthouse.  Eben agrees, and Bill and Kate get to know one another better through the portrait sittings.

Bette Davis as Kate and Pat Bosworth

Bette Davis as Kate and Pat Bosworth

Kate and Bill getting to know one another.

Kate and Bill getting to know one another.

As we know, since this film is a drama, Bill meets Pat by accident one day at the dock, and he assumes she is Kate.  Pat decides to let him think she is Kate, takes him to lunch, and bedazzles him with her personality.  Kate does appear and the trick Pat played on Bill is revealed.  Bill tells Kate he has to go to Boston for his work for a few weeks, and Pat overhears this info, and hops the same train to Boston for a shopping trip.  She continues to charm Bill on the train, and in Boston, and when Bill returns to the island where Kate is, he admits that he and Pat are in love and will be married soon.  Kate sadly resigns herself to this fact, and soon her sister and Bill are wed.

The conniving Pat working her magic on Bill

The conniving Pat working her magic on Bill

Kate returns to NYC to resume her art career.  She meets an intense artist, Karnock(Dane Clark) who criticizes her work as too stiff, too boring.  He encourages her to be more expressive with her art, and then tells her he loves her.  She realizes that she still loves Bill, and tells Karnock that her heart belongs to another man.  Still despondent, Kate returns to the island for some self-examination and planning for her future.  Pat arrives, telling Kate that the marriage to Bill was a huge mistake.  Bill is in Chile working on some project, so Pat decided to come to the island and stay there while he’s away.  One day Kate and Pat decide to sail in their boat, and a storm erupts, crashing their boat onto a reef.  When Kate comes too, she sees Pat is drowning and tries to save her sister.  Conveniently as Pat sinks under the waves, her wedding ring pops off and Kate grabs it.  At that moment, Kate decides to put on the wedding ring, pretend to be Pat, and try to save the marriage to Bill.

Kate with fellow artist, Karnock.

Kate with fellow artist, Karnock.

Bill arrives back in Boston, where he and Pat live, and Kate is waiting for him trying to pretend she is Pat.  Bill coldly tells her that he’s going to file soon for a divorce.  It is then that Kate learns that Pat was a very unfaithful wife to Bill, having numerous affairs with quite a few men, one who even divorced his wife for her!

Will Kate be able to convince Bill that she, pretending to be Pat, can become a new, and better Pat?  A Pat who loves him unconditionally and one who will now honor their wedding vows?  Will Bill believe this new Pat?  Cousin Freddie starts to have his doubts that this is really Pat.  Will he spill the beans?

Luckily, Turner Classic Movies will be airing A Stolen Life on Sunday, May 1, at 10:00 pm est/9:00 pm cst so be sure to set that dvr and watch it.  If you don’t have access to TCM, you can watch it via Amazon for a fee.

Lastly, here is the scene expertly filmed showing one twin lighting a match and handing it to her twin sister, courtesy of Youtube.

An article on TCM’s website, written by Margarita Landazwi was immensely helpful in my research for this blog post.

Book Review: In the Field of Grace

I love to read books and when I was a kid, I could easily read a book and finish it in a week’s time.  In 1991, when motherhood came calling, my time to be able to read a book greatly diminished and even though I still love to read, it takes me a lot, lot longer to finish a book.  My favorite type of books to read are books based on historic events or people, and books that blend historical facts with fictional characters.

I was perusing the shelves at the Rolla Public Library in February and came across In the Field of Grace, a  historical fiction novel based upon the wonderful bible story about Ruth.   I have said for years, to anyone who might be listening, that the story of Ruth would make a wonderful movie, if done correctly and not taken out of character, or taken far from the truths the story imparts.  Hollywood? If you’re interested, this book should be the basis for a screenplay!!!

Field of Grace book cover

Tessa Afshar, the author, has taken the story of Ruth and added so much richness to the story.  The reader is allowed to ponder many what ifs that ring true to the biblical story.  Such as, perhaps Ruth was not loved by her biological family and that caused her to easily fall in love not only with her first husband but his mother as well, who treated her as a beloved daughter, who treated her with great kindness.  That would help explain why Ruth would be so willing to travel to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, when both were now widows, to be willing to live in a new town and new country despite that country having such different customs and worldviews than her native Moab. (Which is actually modern day Jordan.)

Afshar has done her research well: we delve into customs, foods, how homes were set up and cared for, the daily chores and seasonal tasks one had to do in bibilical times. We also get some great behind the scenes looks at Boaz’s life pre-Ruth.  Boaz is the strong, heroic man of the story.  He is fleshed out wonderfully with emotions and a strong faith in God, and all of these attributes help in giving his character a deeper sense in who he might have been; more than just the man who saves Ruth and Naomi from starvation.

I highly recommend this book, In the Field of Grace.  I had a hard time putting it down!  It really is a well-written, well-researched, and one can tell, lovingly crafted story.  For more information about the author, Tessa Afshar, here is a link to her online information page.

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