Archive for May, 2013

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

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“Oh, We’ve got Trouble!”

Welcome to RollaMy blog today is about a business that is relatively new to Rolla, Missouri.   A young entrepreneur by the name of Josh Noe, wanted to open up a  business in Rolla.   From articles that appeared in the Feb. 20th, 2013 Rolla Daily News, and an article in The Guidon, a military newspaper at Fort Leonard Wood, Mr. Noe emphasized that he wanted to open up a Family Entertainment Complex with a restaurant, fun indoor games for the whole family, that there would also be a concert stage to bring in bands, and a small bar area for  those 21 years and older.   Time marched on  and the troubles began for Fat Cats, the name of Mr. Noe’s business, using one of his grandfather’s nicknames.

I have  lived in Rolla for almost 2 years now, and from doing some  reading, I discovered that Fat Cats, located off of Highway 72 and behind The Family Center store, is located in the former Magic Lantern Skating Rink.  How long the rink was in operation I don’t know, and how long that  building sat empty until Mr. Noe came in with his business I don’t know.  Mr. Noe doesn’t own the property or the building, it is owned by the Charlotte Barrack Trust  and Mr. Noe is renting space for his business from this Trust.  Surrounding Fat Cats is a residential neighborhood and therein lies the problem.  From 9:00 p.m., until closing, Fat Cats only allows 18 year olds and older into its Family Entertainment Center.  It becomes a bar at that point, and on Friday and Saturday nights live bands perform.  The neighborhoods surrounding Fat Cats are upset by the noise.  I happened to catch the public cable access channel 2 weeks ago and it was a Rolla Zoning Commission Meeting  and they were discussing Mr. Noe’s request for new zoning to allow his business to be designated as a tavern/bar.   I watched as a few of the residents told the Commission about the noise problems they have been enduring.  One family has to send their small children to sleep at a grandparent’s home on Friday and Saturday nights because the noise is so overwhelming!  Another gentleman got up and said how he has called the police department about the noise  and the officers heard the noise from the gentleman’s home, they could see how it was having a negative impact. Another gentleman spoke how he has to rise very early for his job and the noise is interfering with his trying to get a good night’s sleep.  Only one lady spoke in defense of Fat Cats at this meeting.  She shared how she had taken out of town relatives with children there and all had had  an enjoyable time.  She said Fat Cats is wanting to add ping pong tables and she hopes the next time she is there that she can enjoy a cocktail while she plays ping pong.  I chuckled at that because ping pong games and cocktails don’t exactly come to my mind  as ” go together”  activities!  Also, according to Fat Cats’s  rules, alcoholic beverages are not to be in the game playing areas when children are there, so the lady who spoke would only be allowed to enjoy her cocktail and ping pong after 9:00 p.m.

The neighborhood has said they don’t wish Mr. Noe and his business venture ill will, but to  state that it’s going to be a Family Entertainment Center, restaurant, (which it was noted at an April 27th, 2013 Rolla City Council meeting that there is no restaurant at Fat Cats as there is no kitchen, only a microwave, so to claim there is a restaurant is false,) and to learn that the main focus seems to be on getting upgraded to a bar/tavern and to continue to promote concerts, seems like false advertising.

The Rolla City Council, at it’s May 8th, 2013 meeting told Fat Cats  that it cannot be rezoned for the bar/tavern, but that if Mr. Noe and the Charlotte Barrack Trust  file, in 2 weeks time, the proper paperwork that falls in line with the city’s new ordinance regarding Family Entertainment Recreation Complexes, than Fat Cats can keep on serving alcoholic beverages as it has been doing since it opened.  Currently Fat Cats falls under C-7 Zoning that the serving of alcohol is allowed as long as the sales don’t exceed 50% of the restaurant’s gross income.  To me, it shouldn’t have received that zoning as there is no restaurant at Fat Cats!  There is a snack bar or concessions stand, but that is  a far cry from a restaurant.

At the Zoning Commission meeting that I watched on tv,  discussions about a high wall around Fat Cats was brought forth,  to help with the easing of the noise problem.  I couldn’t  find  any information if a wall has been built or not; the city’s fire chief did say that if a wall is built it would have to meet fire code requirements.   Not being one to study zoning ordinances and business codes, it does seem to me that this situation hasn’t been a win-win for anyone.   The facts as I see them:  First, a  family owns a property that formerly housed a family entertainment business that was compatible with the surrounding residential neighborhood.  Second, that business closed and the building was empty until a young man had an idea for putting a new business in the building.  Third, the new business wants  to provide good, clean, family-friendly entertainment and have a restaurant, and  there would be concerts  on Friday and Saturday nights and alcohol would need to be served.    Four, the business doesn’t have a restaurant and  the noise from the concerts on Friday and Saturday nights is unbearable for the residents living near the building.  Six, this type of business isn’t compatible with a residential neighborhood.

It seems to me that whoever gave Mr. Noe the okay to operate his business was in the wrong.  I am not saying that his business is bad, but the location is.  A bar/tavern in a residential neighborhood? If his business were just Family Entertainment, as the former skating rink was, no concerts and no alcohol being served, than there wouldn’t be any problems.   What’s going to happen when any of these residents want to sell their houses  in the future?  Do you think they’ll be able to find many buyers who want to live next door to Fat Cats?  Mr.  Noe should have been encouraged to seek out other empty buildings away from residential neighborhoods as better places to host his business.  In summing up my musings, I think of that song from The Music Man, “Well, you’ve got trouble, my friends, right here in River City, with a capital T that rhymes with P that stands for pool!”…but this time the T in Trouble isn’t the specific business, it’s whoever said it was okay to allow it to happen in a residential neighborhood.

From Shirley Temple’s nemesis to Josephine the Plumber: Jane Withers

My blog today is a part of the Children in Film Blogathon hosted by the wonderful Comet Over Hollywood, May 24-26, 2013.  I decided to focus on Jane Withers, who is still alive and thriving and who herself is a fan of classic films.   I was most familiar with Jane from her tv commercials as the bubbly,  helpful plumber, Josephine, extolling the cleaning virtues of Comet Cleanser.  I was not as familiar with Jane’s early beginnings in the entertainment industry and here is what I discovered.Children in film blogathon Jane Withers was born in Atlanta, Georgia on April 12, 1926.  She was an only child, much loved by her parents, Walter and Ruth Withers.  By the age of 3, Jane was achieving local fame on an Atlanta radio station as “Dixie’s Dainty Dewdrop” with her singing and imitations of famous movie stars.   Soon, it was on to Hollywood to try and make it into show business and Jane did child modeling and won a few bit parts in some movies in 1932 and 1933.   Her big break came in 1934, co-starring in the movie Bright Eyes, with Shirley Temple.  Jane was glad to be cast in the movie, but worried about playing a character who is mean to Shirley Temple!  She was concerned audiences wouldn’t like her and that that could be the end of her career.  In Bright Eyes, Shirley is the daughter of a maid for the rich and mean Smythe family.   Jane played Joy Smythe, the rich family’s daughter.  In one of her meanest scenes, she told Shirley’s character,” There aint’ any Santa Claus because my psychoanalyst told me!”  David Butler, the movie’s director, told Jane years later that she stole that film from Shirley.  Mrs. Temple, an ever present person on the movie’s set, must have sensed how good Jane’s acting was  because she limited how much time Shirley could spend with Jane and she also ordered that Jane wash her hands before and after all scenes that she had with Shirley!   Jane adored Shirley and they did manage to become friends in their teen years and are still friends today.

Shirley and Jane, still friends today.

Shirley and Jane, still friends today.

Jane being mean to Shirley in Bright Eyes.

Jane being mean to Shirley in Bright Eyes.

Bright Eyes was a box office hit and Jane received many positive notices from movie critics.   20th Century Fox took notice of Jane and she was signed to a long-term contract.    In 1935 she starred in the films Ginger and The Farmer Takes a Wife.  1936  arrived and Jane starred in the film Little Miss Nobody.  She was also listed as one of the Top 10 Box Office Stars for 1937-1938. In the 1940s, Jane was in 16 films, produced by Fox, Columbia, and Republic Studios.  In 1943,  Jane was in the cast of the film The North Star and received excellent notices for her role  She also wrote the screenplay for the 1941 film Small Town Deb. As I read about Jane, and looked up pictures from her career, I saw that her persona was used to sell children’s clothing, Jane Wither dolls, and as she arrived in her teen years, she was featured in many movie fan magazines.  Whitman Publishing Company even created  Authorized Editions which were 16 books, published from 1941-1947, featuring famous actresses in mystery adventures, similar to the popular Nancy Drew books.  Jane was featured in three of these books: Jane Withers and the Hidden Room, Jane Withers and the Phantom Violin, and Jane Withers and the Swamp Wizard.The Swamp Wizard!

Jane on the cover of a fan magazine.

Jane on the cover of a fan magazine.

In 1947,  Jane married Texas oil man William P. Moss, and they had  three children: William, Wendy, and Randy.  Sadly, the marriage ended in divorce in 1955.  That same year Jane wed for a second time, to Kenneth Errair, one of the singers in the group The Four Freshman.  This marriage was successful and produced two children, Ken and Kendall Jane. With her roles expanding as wife and mother, Jane’s acting career took a bit of a back seat at times.  She did appear in the 1956 film, Giant, starring Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean.   Jane played Vashti, a good friend of Elizabeth’s character, Leslie.  During filming, Jane got to be very good friends with James Dean.  Dean had a favorite pink cowboy shirt that he was hesitant to have washed as he was worried that the studio’s laundry would ruin it or lose it.  Jane offered one day to wash the shirt for Dean and from then on, he had her wash that shirt for him.  One afternoon, she washed it as usual, not realizing that Dean would never wear it again; he tragically died in a car accident that evening.  Jane still has that pink shirt and keeps it as a very special reminder of a great friend.  Jane’s parents were christians, active at their church in Atlanta, helping to teach Sunday School classes, and Jane has said that that strong, spiritual faith has helped  her through many personal challenges.  I would like to add how refreshing it was to read about  a child actor who made it successfully to the level of adult actor, without any bitter comments or experiences to share.  Her parents were loving and supportive of Jane, not conniving to spend all of her earnings, not negative “stage parents”,  which sadly seems to be the case for a lot of child actors.

James Dean on the set of Giant.

James Dean on the set of Giant.

Throughout the 1960’s, 70’s, 80’s  Jane appeared on many television shows.  She has also done voice work for animated features in the 1990s.  Check out Jane Withers at IMDb for a  full list of her acting work.  In 1979, Jane was  honored by the Young Artist Foundation with its first Former Child Star Lifetime Achievement Award.    I would be remiss in not mentioning another blog, Journeys in Classic Film.  Kristen, who writes this great blog,  was able to attend Turner Classic Movies Film Festival  in Hollywood in late April and she got to meet and interview Jane Withers!  Click on the link for that interview and some more pictures of Jane at the festival.  I’ll close with some more great photos I found of Jane from her career.

Jane Withers today.

Jane Withers today.

Jane as Josephine the Plumber.

Jane as Josephine the Plumber.

Jane and Carol Burnett

Jane and Carol Burnett

Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and Jane.

Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, and Jane.

Colorized shot of Jane from Bright Eyes.

Colorized shot of Jane from Bright Eyes.

I Earned a Nomination!!

A big thank you to Movies, Silently,  an excellent blog that I like to read which explores silent films(did you know that Hopalong Cassidy was a silent film hunk before he was a cowboy hero to baby boomers?)  Movies, Silently has nominated me for the Super Sweet Bloggers Award!  I was very surprised and humbled to receive this nomination.  It’s a nice affirmation to know that other bloggers are reading your work and appreciating it.Super Sweet Bloggers

There are 5 steps involved in accepting this Super Sweet Bloggers Award.  I need to post the  award on my blog, answer 5 questions about myself, thank the blogger who nominated me, nominate 13 (a baker’s dozen) bloggers that I read for the award, and also notify the 13 that I have nominated them.  On to my 5 questions!

1. Cookies or cake?  Cookies would be my choice, either with a glass of milk, a cup of coffee, or a cup of tea.cookies

2. Chocolate or Vanilla?  Chocolate, of course!

US Military ad praising Chocolate!

US Military ad praising Chocolate!

3. Favorite Sweet Treat?  Snickers bar, every time.  I love those Snickers ads, where someone who is cranky-the touch football player acting like Betty White-gets a Snickers bar to eat and then they’re back to their normal selves.Snickers bar

4.  When do you crave sweet things the most?  I do have more of a salt tooth actually-popcorn, chips, doritos, nuts,  but I do enjoy the sweets at holiday times: Christmas, Easter,  and Halloween.

5.  Sweet Nick Name?  When I was little, my dad called me “Pumpkin”.  Awww!

A sweet baby receiving kisses from Mom and Dad.

A sweet baby receiving kisses from Mom and Dad.

Time for me to send the Super Sweet Bloggers  Award on to the following blogs that I enjoy:

Classic Film and TV Cafe

Grand Old Movies

Riding the High Country

Knitted Notes

Film Noir of the Week

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

Caftan Woman

Pioneer Woman

Tales of the Easily Distracted

MacGuffin Movies

Classic Movie Night

Do I Get a Redo

My Love of Old Hollywood

Pioneer Woman lives on a ranch and  is a blogger, photographer, cooking show host on The Food Network, and  homeschooling mom.   I enjoy her site-especially for the recipes!    Do I Get a Redo is by a friend sharing her journey as a wife, mom, and how her faith is growing and impacting her life.   Knitted Notes is written by a lady in Italy, who writes about classic movies she loves, her knitting creations, and politics in Italy.   The other sites I posted links for are dedicated fans of classic films; for some reason, my link wouldn’t let me highlight My Love of Old Hollywood, but do search the site out via google, bing, or whatever search engine you like.

My Classic Movie Pick: White Heat

1949 and James Cagney’s independent movie production company wasn’t faring so well.  Warner Brothers came calling, and he agreed to let them help produce and distribute a movie that they had the rights for and wanted him to star in, White Heat, a film noir and one of my favorites of this kind of film: gangsters, criminals, cops, untrustworthy women, and justice for all at the end.White Heat

Cagney plays Cody Jarrett, a criminal leader of a gang.  Cody is married to Verna( Virginia Mayo), his gorgeous and  younger wife.  Also in Cody’s life is his  Ma( Margaret Wycherly).  She is the most important person in Cody’s life, the one woman he always turns to when he has problems as she can usually come up with good solutions.  She is fully supportive of her son’s criminal ways, and when he is hit with those terrible headaches, only Ma can help him through them.

Verna not too happy that Ma Jarrett is a part of her married life to Cody.

Verna not too happy that Ma Jarrett is a part of her married life to Cody.

Ma Jarrett helping Cody as one of those headaches comes on him.

Ma Jarrett helping Cody as one of those headaches comes on him.

Cody and his gang, living in California,  rob a train, killing the engineer and 3 other railroad employees.   The police eventually close in and track Cody and his gang.  Cody wounds Philip Evans(John Archer) a US  Treasury agent  on the chase to bring down Cody Jarrett.   Cody is tricky and smart, despite his ruthless ways and his psychotic antics, and he knows that an acquaintance has committed a robbery in Chicago  the same day as the train robbery in California.  Cody is able to use the robbery in Chicago as his alibi, claiming he did that crime.  He pleads guilty to that crime and gets 1-3 years in an Illinois state  prison.   Evans knows Cody is lying, so he sends in federal agent Hank Fallon(Edmund O’Brien) to pretend to be a criminal newly arriving at the prison and to be Cody’s cellmate.  Fallon is  to try and find out who the “fence” is on the outside, who is Cody sending money to for Ma and Verna and the gang.

Fallon undercover in the prison, trying to get to know Cody.

Fallon undercover in the prison, trying to get to know Cody.

Meanwhile, Verna is tolerating Ma, barely, and  spending time with Big Ed(Steve Cochran), one of Cody’s gang members.  Big Ed tells Verna that he will one day run the gang and to do that, he has someone on the inside at that Illinois prison who will kill Cody for them.  Then they can be together, and get rid of Ma, too.  Unfortunately Big Ed’s plan goes awry, and Fallon sees Cody about to be killed by a prison workplace “accident” and saves Cody in the nick of time!

Verna and Big Ed making their plans.

Verna and Big Ed making their plans.

This film has several memorable scenes and in the prison is one of the best: Cody’s complete psychotic  breakdown when he gets the news that Ma has died.  Cagney didn’t tell the actors in the scene that his big breakdown was coming and the look on Edmund O’Brien’s face is priceless-he is truly shocked and astounded at Cagney’s going berserk in the prison cafeteria.

Here comes that breakdown!

Here comes that breakdown!

After Cody is hauled off to the prison’s infirmary because of  his breakdown,  he sneakily manages a prison breakout, taking Fallon with him.  Cody utterly trusts Fallon, not knowing that Fallon is really a federal agent with the US Treasury Department.  Big Ed learns that Cody is alive and has broken out of jail, and he is very afraid as is Verna.  They try to plan what to do if and when Cody reappears.  It is a great scene when Cody does reappear and confronts Verna, who lies to him about Ma’s death.  Big Ed gets his ultimate reward from Cody and then it is off to the next caper, robbing the payroll of a petroleum plant in Long Beach, California.

Cody gets a criminal pal to steal a tanker truck that picks up products from the petroleum plant.  He tells the gang that they will all hide in the truck, like a Trojan Horse, and be driven into the plant.  From there, they’ll rob the payroll office, and escape in the truck.  Fallon manages to get a message to Evans and a police ambush is set up at the plant, awaiting Cody and the gang’s arrival.  But darn the luck, the driver of the truck recognizes Fallon as an agent who arrested him several years ago!

Fallon manages to escape to the cop side of the oncoming battle at the petroleum plant and  Verna is immediately arrested.  It is now down to a shootout with Cody and his remaining gang members.  The last scene is memorable and Cody’s final line, “Made it Ma!  Top of the World!”,  is a tribute to great screenwriting, direction, cinematography, special effects,  and acting.

"Top of the World!"

“Top of the World!”

I just can’t praise this movie enough.  Yes, some of the characters are horrible people, and you are glad when they get punished.  The acting is so good in this film, and James Cagney is just magnificent as Cody, an  evil criminal with a deep love for his Ma, and those terrible headaches!

White Heat was directed by Raoul Walsh, one of Hollywood’s best, and the screenplay was written by Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts.  The story came from Virginia Kellogg.  Max Steiner created the fantastic music that accompanies the action on the screen.  Kellogg, Goff, and Roberts were nominated for Best Screenplay at the 1950 Academy Awards.  In 2003, White Heat was admitted to the National Film Registry and it is in the top 100 of one of those AFI lists.

White Heat isn’t available on Netflix, but is available to buy or watch instantly on Amazon.  Tuesday, May 21, at 11:45 a.m. (CST) it will be shown on Turner Classic Movies, so set that dvr!

French movie poster for White Heat.

French movie poster for White Heat.

Rolla Public Schools: Opinions Wanted

As I have mentioned in some prior blogs, we have two students in the Rolla Public Schools.  So, far we have been pleased with the education our sons have been receiving, and very pleased with the  communications, via emails, that we receive Monday-Friday from the high school and the junior high.  The emails  help alert and inform the parents about  school news, athletics information, band and choir information, scholarships to apply for, messages from teachers about specific classes, dates approaching for school functions, etc.

Rolla High School

Rolla High School

Recently, we received information that the Rolla Public Schools, beginning on April 26th, would be making phone calls throughout the district to ask citizens for their opinions about the Rolla Public Schools.   Questions would be about the quality of education, communication between the district and citizens, possible technology updates, and possible building updates.  Even if a household in Rolla doesn’t get the phone call, one’s opinions can be expressed by visiting Rolla Public Schools website and taking part in the Patron Survey.  That is what I did and what I read on the survey gave me something to muse about pertaining to the Rolla Public Schools.

The survey takes about 10 minutes to complete and the first few questions establish whether the person taking the survey has students in the Rolla Schools, or whether a citizen has no children enrolled.  At no time did the survey ask for my name, age, address, etc.  It is set-up to keep the survey’s responders anonymous.

After establishing that I have students enrolled, the next set of questions were about my opinion on  the quality of education the Rolla Public Schools provide.  Then there were a set of questions about how well the school  district communicates with the citizens.  The third set of questions began a bit of my musings.  Technology…should the Rolla School District, in the future, raise a bond to update technologies at the schools?  Then there was a list of three levels of bonds that could be raised, and how much each would  affect property taxes.  In this uncertain economy, I am not in favor of raising taxes for anything, so I said “not sure” about improving technologies, and “no” on bringing up a new bond.  This question on “technologies” was very vague.  Specific technology examples weren’t listed.  Did it mean updating elevators in buildings(I am assuming there are elevators for the schools with 2 or 3 floors)? Updating the computers in the schools? Do they need updating? Smart boards for all the classrooms?  Or even that radical idea of using ipads for all students in the classroom instead of textbooks? (I had heard of some private schools doing this 3 years ago in the St. Louis area.) New copier machines for the secretaries? New microwaves for the cafeteria and/or teacher lounges? Those last technologies might not be on the list of improvements, but since the category on the survey was so vague, I feel like I can list all of the technology ideas that came to my mind!

Rolla Junior High School

Rolla Junior High School

The fourth category is the one that really got my brain to musing.  Should the Rolla Public Schools undertake building an auditorium for the high school?  That might be a good idea.  Currently the middle school’s auditorium is used for the high school’s plays.  The gymnasium is used for the band’s Christmas concert and Leach Theatre on MS&T’s campus is used for the Spring concerts.  So I can see an auditorium for the high school possibly happening in the future.  However, the next idea got a “no” from me.  Should the Rolla Public School’s undertake the  running of  a full-time preschool?  If the district does this, a bond would need to be raised, and then the three different levels of bonds and how they would affect property taxes were listed.  One option mentioned on the survey would be to build a brand new building to house this preschool.  Another option was to make one of the three existing elementary schools the new preschool, and then make the other two elementary schools house only 2 grades each: elementary school A would have grades 1-2 only for the entire district, and elementary school B would have grades 3-4.  Kindergarten wasn’t listed, so I assume it would be housed at the new preschool.   I looked in the yellow pages of the Ft. Leonard Wood/Rolla/Lebanon phone book.  For Rolla alone, there are 8 private preschools up and running and there is also HeadStart.  Does the Rolla Public School district really need to get into the preschool business?  If it does this, it will have a negative impact on these private preschools, many who have been up and  running for quite a while and doing a great job of educating preschool aged children.  The ages for this proposed preschool weren’t mentioned.  Ages 2 up to kindergarten?  Ages 3 up to kindergarten?

My hometown in Ohio is about the same size as Rolla and 5 years ago the school board and administration got the idea to sell off the 4 elementary schools, and build a new building near the high school that housed all of the elementary grades K-4.  According to the administration, it was going to cost too much money to improve the 4 elementary buildings, so building one new building was the solution.  From what I have heard, parents still don’t like having all of the elementary grades at one building because they miss having their kids at the old elementary schools that were much closer to their neighborhoods.  I think that parents in Rolla won’t like  a new rearranging of their elementary children by grades and schools, either.  The existing elementary schools in Rolla all serve specific parts of town and to tell all of the parents who live near Wyman and Mark Twain elementary schools that in the future their first and second graders must go to Truman, which is farther away from their homes, I don’t think that is a hassle worth pursuing.   I just don’t think that the Rolla Public Schools needs to get into the  full-time preschool business.  The phrase, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” comes to my mind.

Whether or not you have children enrolled in the Rolla Public Schools, and if you are a citizen of Rolla, please go to the Patron Survey on the district’s website and give them your opinions on the 4 categories on the survey.  As a citizen and a voter, you need to let your opinion  be heard.

Wyman Elementary

Wyman Elementary

Truman Elementary

Truman Elementary

Mark Twain Elementary

Mark Twain Elementary

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