Archive for April, 2018

For the 1961 Blogathon: The Hoodlum Priest

Classic Film Fan(and Jane Russell fan) Moviemovieblogblog celebrated his birthday yesterday, April 27th.  He decided that a fun way to celebrate this year was to host a blogathon entirely dedicated to movies made his birth year of 1961.  As it happened, on my dvr list was a movie made in 1961 , The Hoodlum Priest.  I contacted my blogathon host and he said yes, write about that film! So, here it is, and fascinatingly to me, it was filmed in St. Louis!!    

Actor Don Murray was in St. Louis in 1959 to help promote a film he had starred in with James Cagney, Shake Hands With the Devil, when a priest approached him at the film’s screening to tell him of another compelling story Murray may want to tell.  The priest, Father Charles Clark, met with Murray the next day and told the story of his life as a priest. Father Clark was a Jesuit who taught at St. Louis University High School, but his real calling was reaching out to ex-cons and trying to get them back into society as successful citizens.  Father Clark had a plan, and with the backing of a St. Louis criminal defense lawyer, a foundation had been formed and Father Clark had been able to bid on a former St. Louis elementary school that was vacant on Cole Street.  Father Clark’s vision was to fully rehab the school and turn it into a home for ex-cons to live at as they learned job skills, received counseling, meals, and clothing.  An office would also be there for state parole officers.  The cons could live there until they were able to live on their own and away from the lure of returning to a criminal life.  What we today would call a “Halfway House”, this was Father Clark’s vision and if it could happen, it would be the first in the nation.  Father Clark told Murray that if a television story could be made and shown about the cons and Dismas House(Clark’s name for the house) that it would help bring in needed donations for the cause.  Murray was so entranced by Father Clark’s story that he decided to make a movie about Father Clark’s story.   After getting his pal Walter Wood to sign on as producer, and getting United Artist’s promise to fund the film if they liked the screenplay, Joseph Landon was hired to write the screenplay.  Murray  rewrote  the first screenplay himself under the pseudonym Don Deer.  When UA gave the greenlight to make the film,  Murray and Wood hired Irvin Kirshner to direct and Haskell Wexler as cinematographer.  Murray decided to make the film in St. Louis and to also shoot some scenes in Jefferson City at the state prison.

The film opens with a young man, Billy Lee Jackson(Keir Dullea) exiting the state prison in Jefferson City, catching the train to St. Louis, and being greeted by  hoodlum buddy Pio(Don Joslyn) who jumps on the train as it departs the train station.  Back in the Lou, Pio introduces Billy to Father Clark.  Father Clark is able to befriend Billy, who at first wants nothing to do with the priest or the church.  Father Clark is able to get Billy a job with a produce wholesaler market owned by the Marziotti family.  Father Clark also speaks at a socialite’s garden party in an effort to raise funds for Dismas House and since Billy attends the event as an example of Father Clark’s work, Billy meets the hostess’s lovely daughter, Ellen(Cindi Wood), and they soon begin dating.  All looks right with Billy’s life as he begins to re-enter society until money turns up missing at the Marziotti’s business.  Billy is wrongly accused and fired from his job.  Angered, he and Pio decide to rob the business.  Spoilers: Billy and Pio are confronted by one of the Marziotti brothers, and as the man tries to attack them with a crowbar, Billy shoots him and kills him.  After a chase by the police and a stand-off in an abandoned house, Father Clark is able to convince Billy to give himself up.  Tried in court and found guilty of murder, Billy receives the death penalty.  Father Clark visits Billy in the prison and is there with him until the end of his life via the gas chamber.  Depressed, Father Clark returns to St. Louis and Dismas House, to find a drunken Pio, who trashes a room in the house before collapsing and weakly admitting he needs help.

Billy’s first meeting with Father Clark

Billy in the gas chamber

The real Father Clark helping Murray with his collar

Dismas House in 1961

A short film yet told in a powerful way, especially the last moments of Billy’s life, The Hoodlum Priest is an interesting film.  United Artists assumed they had bankrolled Murray enough money to make a B movie, but as the film went over its originally set schedule, and needed more money, and dealt with a typical hot and humid Missouri summer, and an accidentally injured Keir Dullea, and extra costs due to a St. Louis union muscling its way in for jobs  for more crew workers not really needed, Murray was despairing over his first time as a movie maker.  However, at the first full-screening only for UA executives in NYC, the little film brought tears to their eyes and they knew this was no longer a B movie but an A.  Indeed, in 1961, The Hoodlum Priest, was hailed by critics and made many top ten film lists for 1961.

For many, it is an obscure film but it shouldn’t be that way.  Seek it out and give it a view.  Having lived in St. Louis County, specifically Florissant, for almost 20 years, I was especially delighted that the majority of the movie had been shot in St. Louis.  Incidentally, I was curious about the name “Dismas” and according to church legend, he was the criminal crucified next to Jesus who scolded the other criminal who insulted Jesus, asking Jesus to remember him when he died; Jesus answering Dismas that he would be with him in paradise.

For more information about this film, and to give credit to it as a source for providing research for this blog post, please visit this article from The Riverfront Times.

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For The Great Western Blogathon, 1953’s Hondo

portraitsbyjenni

Today’s blog post is for The Great Western Blogathon hosted by classic film fan and blogger Thoughts All Sorts.  Be sure to click on the link to read what other classic film fans have written!

I  remember many Saturday evenings as a kid, sitting with my parents and younger brother,  watching a Western on one of the three networks that at that time, in the 1970’s, were the dominant television channels an American could tune into.  My memories seem to tell me that it was NBC that usually aired these Westerns, and of course, the best ones starred John Wayne.   I have seen a lot of Wayne’s Western films over the years, but four years ago on Turner Classic Movies, they aired one I had never heard of before, 1953’s Hondo.   This technicolor movie was directed by John Farrow(father of actress Mia, husband to actress Maureen O’Sullivan), with…

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For the Bette Davis Blogathon, Bette’s Guest Starring Role on Perry Mason

The Perry Mason tv show, which aired on CBS from 1957-1966, was a top performing show.  The plot was straightforward, as defense lawyer Perry Mason would defend some unlucky fellow or gal who looked very guilty of murder and after nimbly battling with the prosecutor, Hamilton Burger, Perry would usually win the case, with the helpful confession of “I did it! I killed Sam!” emanating from another witness for the prosecution or witness in the courtroom.  With this show on the air, CBS had a ratings hit for a number of years, so when 1963 arrived, the producers and the network had a dilemma.  Star of the show, Raymond Burr, had to have a dental procedure done and was going to miss 4 episodes.  What a disaster! The network didn’t want to show reruns, so it was decided to cast special guest stars to take on a case for Perry, who was in the hospital; scenes with Perry checking in with his secretary, private investigator, or the guest stars, via the phone in his hospital room were filmed prior to Burr’s absence.

Bette, as lawyer Constant Doyle, arriving at the jail to meet her client.

Constant with her client, hoodlum Cal Leonard(Michael Parks)

The first guest star turn was done by none other than Academy Award winning actress Bette Davis.  For her role, Bette played lawyer Constant Doyle, a recent widow.  She takes the call from a potential client, a hoodlum, who was arrested after trying to steal goods from a factory.  He was stopped by the security guard but his two pals got away.  Somehow, this hoodlum knew of lawyer Joe Doyle and calls him for help.  What he doesn’t know is that Doyle died two months ago and his widow and fellow lawyer in the Doyle Law Firm, Constant, will be the lawyer who calls on him while he’s in jail.  Here’s a shot of that lawyer-client meeting, courtesy of YouTube.

Bette working with Della Street, Perry’s loyal secretary, played by Barbara Hale.

With the arrival of the medium of television, and a cadre of aging film actors and actresses, it was a logical next step for many in Hollywood who wanted to keep acting to accept roles in tv shows.  Davis, imho, did a great job on this episode of Perry Mason.  Even when Co-star Michael Parks, the young method actor playing the hoodlum got too loud or hammy, Davis stood her ground and brought the needed gravitas to the scenes.

Perry Mason cast: Barbara Hale as Della, William Hopper as PI Paul Drake, Raymond Burr as Perry Mason, William Talman as Prosecutor Hamilton Burger.

I know that the Perry Mason episodes are out there for the public to buy.  If you have access to ME-TV, FETV, or possibly some other cable or Dish or Direct tv channels, there’s a good chance one of those channels may be airing Perry Mason, it’s still that popular of a show!  So try to find season 6, episode 16, for a treat: Oscar winning actress Bette Davis guest starring on Perry Mason.   This post has been for the 3rd Annual Bette Davis Blogathon.  Be sure to read more wonderful posts about Bette and her fantastic acting career, at In The Good Old Days of Hollywood.

 

Bette was a huge fan of the tv show, Perry Mason., and was quite happy to fill in as the guest lawyer.

 

For the End of the World Blogathon: 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers

I hadn’t seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers in a long time, last time having viewed it as a high school student.  When I saw the post about this blogathon, hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog and Midnite Drive-In, I decided to participate  with a look at the 1956 film.  Be sure to visit either of the two hosting blogs to read more interesting  entries about the End of the World in films.

The plot of the film is simple, yet pretty fantastical to try and believe it could happen.  In fact, that is the main problem of the protagonist, Dr. Miles Bennell.  At the film’s opening scenes, we discover a frantic, hysterical Dr. Bennell, trying to explain what has happened in the town of Santa Mira, CA.   He is trying to explain the strange happenings to the police who have called in a psychiatrist and no one will believe what Dr. Bennell is trying to explain to them.  If they won’t believe him, it could prove to be the end of all humankind!

Dr. Bennell trying to get the psychiatrists to believe him.

The film then jumps to a long flashback to show us what Dr. Bennell has witnessed and  has caused him to become so hysterical.   Dr. Bennell was away at a medical convention and is greeted by his practice’s nurse,Sally, who picks him up at the train station and drives him back to his office.  On the drive, a young boy runs out in front of the car, crying and yelling at the adult woman who is giving chase.  Dr. Bennell stops the car and he and Sally get out to ask the woman what is going on?  The woman explains that her son has been acting hysterical saying that she is not his mother and refusing to go to school or to stay in the house with her.  Dr. Bennell finds this very odd and advises the mother to bring her son by the office when she gets a chance.  After getting to the office, Dr. Bennell finds a lot of the appointments made for that day have all been cancelled by the potential patients, and then his old girlfriend, Becky, arrives.  She tells him that her cousin Wilma is insisting that the uncle she lives with,Uncle Ira, is an imposter! Dr. Bennell agrees to make a housecall to talk with Wilma.  A bit of a side plot: Becky lets Dr. Bennell know that she has just returned from Reno and a fast divorce.  Dr. Bennell reacts with surprise and gladness and welcomes Becky to the club, he himself recently divorced.   Becky agrees to a dinner date with the good doctor and we can tell that they have a lot of “chemistry” with one another.

Glad that Becky is back in town.

Giving the distraught Jimmy a sedative, as he keeps insisting his mom isn’t his mom.

Wilma is close to becoming hysterical when she explains to Dr. Bennell and Becky why she doesn’t believe Uncle Ira isn’t Uncle Ira.  Dr. Bennell sees Uncle Ira in action, mowing the front yard and doubts what Wilma is telling him.  At the restaurant for dinner with Becky, Dr. Bennell runs into Dr. Dan Kaufman who says the same: he has had a rash of patients cancel appointments, and there has been an “outbreak” of patients claiming family members aren’t really their family members.  Dr. Kaufman shrugs it all off and sums it up as a  “mass hysteria”.  As Becky and Dr. Bennell are about to sip their martinis, there’s a phone call summoning Dr. Bennell to his friends’ home.  Off he and Becky go, to discover a hysterical Teddy(Theodora) and a worried Jack.  On the pool table is a human body, covered with a sheet.  Teddy and Jack don’t know who this person is but found it lying on their property.  The unknown person appears to be dead and  the body has no finger prints.  With assurances that Dr. Bennell will think of something before the police are to be called, he and Becky leave.  Teddy and Jack decide to keep watch over the body and sometime during the night they discover that the body  has turned into an exact copy of Jack!  This is just to much to stand so the two of them flee for Dr. Bennell’s house.

Examining that weird body at Jack and Teddy’s

Santa Mira has become a secret hiding place for giant seed pods.  If a pod is examined closely, it will contain a human form that will end up looking exactly like a resident of Santa Mira.  The duplicate can’t take over for it’s human counterpart until the human is asleep.  Dr. Bennell and Becky decide they have to get out of town to a bigger city to warn the authorities and the rest of the film is suspenseful as the plot follows the couple’s frantic escape attempts as the alien pod people have overtaken Santa Mira.

Those horrible seed pods!!

Running for their lives!

I was going to try and compare this first version of “Body Snatchers” to the version made in 1978, but as preparing for an overseas trip took up more of my life, I had to put that other film version on hold and hope to view it when my jet lag is gone!

For a well-crafted and great sci fi classic film, with a type of end-of-the-world motif, seek out The Invasion of The Body Snatchers.  Cast: Dr. Bennell-Kevin McCarthy, Becky-Dana Wynter, Dr. Kauffman-Larry Gates, Jack-King Donovan, Teddy-Carolyn Jones, Sally-Jean Wiles, Wilma-Virginia Christine, Uncle Ira-Tom Fadden.  Directed by Don Siegal, screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring.  The actual story idea was written by Jack Finney, for a Collier’s magazine serial.