Archive for May, 2016

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.

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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