Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

Ida Lupino Centenary Blogathon: 1947’s Deep Valley

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films is the blogging site for Maddy, a classic movie fan.  When I saw she was hosting a blogathon set for today, I asked to participate and she kindly accepted my request.  Maddy was wanting to honor an actress who also directed for tv shows and movies, Ida Lupino.  Be sure to visit Maddy’s blog site to read more excellent posts about Ida Lupino and her career.

I didn’t pay much attention to old movies when I was a kid.  Sure I enjoyed watching reruns of  The Three Stooges, The Little Rascals on tv afterschool,  and late on Saturday nights one of the tv stations I could access would air the old Flash Gordon serial.   When I was a college student, one summer, the PBS station out of Toledo, OH (Channel 30, I think?) would air old movies beginning at 1:00, M-F.  I began tuning in and that is where I first met Ida Lupino, in a drama that whet my appetite for more of these old movies.  I credit Lupino’s performance in this film with giving me a reason to begin to try and find more old movies, turning me into a classic film fan.   The Ida Lupino movie was Deep Valley made at Warner Brothers Studio hitting American movie theaters in 1947.

Deep Valley was based on a novel written by Dan Totheroh.  The novel sold well enough with the reading public for Warner Brothers to take notice and acquire the rights to turn the novel into a film.  Jean Negulescu was hired to direct, Salka Viertel, Stephen Morehouse Avery, and William Faulkner(yes, that William Faulkner!), were the screenwriters.  The soaring music was by none other than Max Steiner.  Cast: Ida Lupino, Dane Clark, Wayne Morris, Fay Bainter, Henry Hull, Willard Robertson.

Lupino plays Libby Saul, a young woman who lives with her parents north of Big Sur, California.  Libbie and her parents(Fay Bainter, Henry Hull) are pretty isolated, working their small farm to make a living.  We assume Libbie is a high school graduate but she doesn’t leave the farm for a job in any town that may be nearby, and she’s certainly not enrolled in any college.  She is the “wall” between her parents.  For some reason, her parents won’t communicate with each other and use Libbie as their communication method.  Married, but in name only, it’s a miserable home to live in and to get away from this choking, negative environment, Libbie often likes to roam the nearby woods and a deep valley with her dog.

Libbie dealing with her parents

Libbie seeking solace in the valley

A highway construction engineer and his crew of workers, prisoners from San Quentin, come to the area near the Saul’s farm, to continue working on a state road project.  Libbie can watch the men working from the woods, and she notices one convict, Barry Burnette(Dane Clark).  The engineer, Jed Barker(Wayne Morris) and the convicts come to the Saul’s farm one day to ask for water.  Libbie’s father, at first seeing a chance to make some money, agrees to sell the men water.  As Barker decides to walk away from this ridiculous offer, Saul changes his mind and lets them have the water for free.  Noticing how Barker notices Libbie, Saul invites the engineer to their home for dinner.  It is soon obvious that the Sauls want Libbie to strike up a relationship with Barker that will lead to  marriage.  Libbie is very shy, but does notice Barker’s kindness towards her.  However, at the dinner, she asks Barker questions about the convict Barry.  As the story picks up some speed, Libbie does meet Barry, they fall in love, and to find out the rest of this film, you’ll have to seek it out!

Engineer Barker is attracted to Libbie

Some questions for you to ponder though: Will Libbie and Barry be able to be together? Barry does escape from the work gang(spoiler) so will Libbie help him? What of Barker, will he be able to convince Libbie to give up on Barry?  Will the Saul’s find a way to renew their marriage? Will Libbie ever find a happier existance?

Libbie and Barry, the prisoner

Ida Lupino’s performance is what held me entranced as I watched this movie for the first time in the mid-1980s.  She absolutely makes one care about Libbie; sad, shy, simple Libbie.  You root for her in her search for love, search for a better life than the one she has on that farm.  Her performance touched me deeply and I still remember that aspect of her acting to this day.  I truly feel I owe it to Ida Lupino for my becoming a fan of classic films.

Publicity still of Lupino, the dog, and Clark from Deep Valley

Deep Valley is available to purchase via Amazon or TCM’s Shop.  If your local library offers dvds to rent, or if your community’s local movie rental store has a decent classic film area, it may be there. 

 

 

 

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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.

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.

 

 

For the Free For All Blogathon: Edward G. Robinson in a Non-Gangster Role

I enjoy reading Theresa Brown’s blog about classic movies.  She decided to create a blogathon for today, March 3rd, where classic movie fans could write about any film topic that they wanted to write about.  The more I see of Edward G. Robinson’s work in films, the more I can see what a wealth of acting talent he owned.  Primarily thought of as a gangster due to his early movie roles, he was able to move away from that persona and play a variety of characters.  I  decided to focus on one of his non-gangster roles, a role as far away from a gangster as one could get: the role of a loving, understanding father to a young girl.  Be sure to visit Theresa’s blog, Cinemaven’s Essays From the Couch to read all of the other bloggers’ interesting posts!    

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, was a novel written in 1930 by George Victor Martin.  He based his novel on his wife, Selma’s, recollections from  her childhood of growing up in Benson Corners, WI.  Selma grew up in a community founded by Norwegian immigrants who kept some of their cultural ways and language while also working hard to succeed in America.  The book was extremely popular with the reading public so it was a no-brainer that MGM would come calling and buy the rights to Martin’s book and make it into a movie.  1945 was when the movie arrived at America’s box offices and it did a lot of business.  It even received a medal for “The Most Wholesome Family Movie” of 1945 from Parents magazine( I didn’t realize that that magazine had been around back then!)  Edward G., in  a wholesome family movie? It may be hard to believe but he’s cast as the young girl, Selma’s father, Martinius Jacobson, and he gives the role his all.  Selma was played by Margaret O’Brien, in a very touching part, and Jackie “Butch” Jenkins played her cousin, Arnold.  The always wonderful Agnes Moorehead played Bruna, Selma’s mother.  There’s a side story involving a new teacher in town, played by Frances Gifford and the community’s newspaper editor who has a crush on the new teacher  played by James Craig.  Others in the cast: Sara Haden, Dorothy Morris, Morris Carnovsky, Elizabeth Russell(she of Cat People fame), Arthur Space, Charles B. Middleton( he of Ming the Merciless fame), Louis Jean Heydt,Greta Granstedt, and Francis Pierlot.  The cast was ably directed by Roy Rowland.  Producer was Robert Sisk.  Screenplay was by Dalton Trumbo and this was his last screenplay before being blacklisted in the US government’s infamous hunt for communists in Hollywood.

Selma and her cousin, Arnold

Ingeborg tries to befriend Selma and Arnold

The editor loves the teacher but she hates rural life and yearns to go back to the city

The film is mainly told to us by 3 persons, Selma, her father, and her mother.  Not that they verbally break the fourth wall and talk to the camera/audience, but we see the actions and events of the story through their eyes.  Selma, and to a lesser extent Arnold, are always together either getting into mischief, meeting people, and they have one adventure that becomes very dangerous.  We see and hear these two children discuss WWII as best as two children could understand a war, discuss a young woman in town who they label “crazy” but we soon learn was born with intellectual and developmental disabilites, we learn of their admiration for “the editor” for that’s what they call the town’s newspaper owner, and their love of egg pancakes with honey, which Selma’s mother makes for them for supper.    Through Bruna, we learn of the worry she has for debt.  A neighboring elderly farmer, Bjorn Bjornson(Carnovsky) has built a glorious, new barn, through saving up his money.  Bruna thinks this is a waste of money since the Bjornson’s still have no indoor plumbing and shouldn’t Bjornson have thought of his wife’s comforts first? When Martinius(Robinson) begins to discuss the taking out of a loan to build himself a new barn, he is met with Bruna’s dissenting opinion, given in a polite yet firm manner.  It is a gentle and  sweet moment  to see his change of mind when he begins to talk aloud that he has enough money saved to improve the farmhouse for her and Selma and that a new barn can wait indefinitely.  Bruna is truly shocked by his announcement and can only express herself in tears of gratitude; there are a lot of tears in this film-from Selma, Bruna, and Martinius!

The Jacobsen’s: Selma, Bruna, and Martinius

No dry eyes when Selma recites the Nativity story at church

I was very, very impressed with Edward G. Robinson’s portrayal of Martinius.  He is so good as the wise and gentle father to Selma, and as the loving husband of Bruna.   There were a couple of key scenes that dealt with having to discipline a child and they were so true to any parent watching this movie, I could really relate to Martinius’s hesitations and actions.  The first was due to Selma and Arnold arguing about letting him have a turn using Selma’s new roller skates.  Bruna ordered Selma to give Arnold a turn and when she doesn’t, Arnold calls her a pig.  Selma becomes angry and pushes Arnold to the ground.  Martinius, tired and approaching the kitchen for a break from his labors, is asked by Bruna to take his turn at disciplining Selma for being selfish.  We can see the weariness cross his face and feel that load that he has agreed to take on. Disciplining a child is a task that a loving parent dreads to do, but has to do from time to time in order to keep one’s child from growing up to be a burden on society.  Martinius decides not to spank Selma, but tells her to give Arnold a turn with the skates.  When she boldly says, “No!” I was even shocked! Of course, we know Arnold lies to his Uncle Martinius about calling Selma a name, and that causes her to talk back to her father.  Martinius then gives her one more chance, let Arnold have a turn or no supper and immediate bedtime.  To that threat, Selma defiantly takes her skates off, and is about to carry them to the house when her father stops her, and orders her to give her skates to Arnold, and then she can turn in for the night.  Stung by her father’s discipline plan, Selma calmly hands the skates to Arnold and goes to bed.  Later in the evening, as Martinius is reading the newspaper, and we feel his unease at dishing out that discipline to Selma, she asks him through a heating vent that is in her bedroom floor yet opens to the living room ceiling, if won’t he come up to kiss her goodnight? More unease registers across Martinius’s face but he again sticks to his plan and tells Selma, no, and scolds her to get back to bed.  Bruna saves the skate debacle by reminding Martinius that the circus will be passing through their town at 4:00 a.m.  in order to get hay for the animals at a local feed store, why doesn’t he wake Selma up and take her there to see the animals? Martinius does just that and the bond between dad and daughter is made stronger and renewed.  The other key scene right out of Parenting 101 is due to Selma and Arnold’s reckless idea to take an old, metal tub(not an actual bathroom tub) and put it in a stream and play “boat”, with two large sticks as oars.  The area snow had melted, Spring has arrived, and there are small streams everywhere for kids to play in.  The danger is that the stream they are playing in quickly takes them into the river which is roaring with new water sources, and rising.  Word quickly gets out that the two children can’t be found, but someone saw them playing in an old tub.  The two children’s fathers, fellow farmers, and the editor rush to the bridge in order to be at the ready to catch the tub and rescue the children before it can pass under the bridge.  It is a very intense scene and I was relieved when the children were saved.  Robinson’s reaction is so on the spot.  He grabs his daughter, squeezes her hard, with tears flowing down his face, and then gives her one, hard swat, for doing such a dumb and dangerous thing.  Then he kisses her and carries her home as fast as he can to Bruna.

Martinius and Selma on their way to see the circus animals

I was able to view this film via Amazon’s Instant Rent.   It does appear from time to time on TCM so watch their schedule for it, and they also sell it in their online shop.  So check out Our Vines Have Tender Grapes for a chance to see Edward G. Robinson in a non-gangster role.   

For the Elizabeth Taylor Blogathon: 1948’s A Date With Judy

My daughters humor my love of classic films and will actually sit down from time to time and watch some with me.  Seven Brides for Seven Brothers is a favorite musical at our house, and from watching it, the girls wanted to see another film that featured Jane Powell.  One afternoon last year, TCM aired a musical comedy, A Date With Judy, and my daughters and I watched it.  What we didn’t know until we began the film was that Elizabeth Taylor was in it, as one of Powell’s co-stars.  Taylor began making films in 1942, had her first “starring” role in 1944’s National Velvet, and continued to hone her acting craft through her teen years in the later 1940s and early 1950s.  When I was asked to participate for this blogathon, to commemorate Taylor’s birthday-February 27th, I decided to write about A Date With Judy.  To read other bloggers’ pieces about Elizabeth Taylor and her films, visit Crystal’s site at In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

 

ADWJ is an MGM romance comedy, filmed in technicolor gorgeousness.  There is music, dance, and singing(Powell, Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra, and Carmen Miranda.) There are gorgeous gowns-mainly made for Elizabeth Taylor’s character.  There is the handsome hero, whom both Jane and Elizabeth have aimed to catch, Robert Stack.  Leon Ames and Wallace Beery provide two father roles.  Rounding out the cast: Scotty Beckett, Selena Royle, Clinton Sundberg, George Cleveland, Lloyd Corrigan, Stuart Whitman(uncredited role as a guest at a dance), Jerry Hunter, and Jean McLaren.  The film was directed by Richard Thorpe and was based upon a popular radio show of the day, with the same title.   

The plot is pretty straightforward.  Santa Barbara High School is getting ready to host a big dance and Senior Carol Pringle(Taylor) has managed to snag bandleader Xavier Cugat and his Orchestra to play for the dance.  Carol’s bff, Judy Foster(Powell), has been helping Carol with the dance preparations and is mad at her boyfriend Oogie(Beckett) because he said he’s not going to take her to the dance!  At the local candy/ice cream soda shop, owner Pop Scully(Corrigan) introduces Judy to his nephew Stephen(Stack.)  Judy is immediately smitten and delighted when Stephen, although a college man, agrees to escort Judy to the high school dance.  All seems to be going well for Judy until Stephen meets Carol, and he falls for her!!

Judy also becomes upset with her father(Wallace Beery).  Melvin Foster(Beery) wants to surprise his wife at their upcoming Wedding Anniversary party with his improved dancing skills so he secretly takes dancing lessons from Miss Rosita Cochellas(Carmen Miranda) who also happens to be Xavier Cugat’s girlfriend in the film.  Judy thinks her father is having an affair with Miss Cochellas!

Jane Powell and Elizabeth Taylor play well together, as pretty teens who are friends yet clash over the same guy.  The misunderstandings are funny, done in good taste, and at the end of the film, all is right with the world for all the characters involved.  For a funny film, with a great look at 1940s teen pop culture, tune in to A Date With Judy.  TCM will be airing it at March 12th, at 6:00 pm eastern time/5:00 pm central.  Here is the link to the movie’s trailer that MGM used to advertise it back in 1948.

 

For the Singing Sweethearts Blogathon: The Girl of the Golden West

As a classic film fan, I know who Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were, but I have to admit that I had never seen any of their films.  I had seen snippets of them singing on tv before, probably in some documentary or tribute to MGM movie musicals, so when the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society invited me to participate in their blogathon honoring MacDonald and Eddy, I agreed to participate.   Please visit the blog’s site in order to read other posts about these two Singing Sweethearts!

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald sang in 8 MGM musicals together, 1935-1942.  I wasn’t sure which ones were going to be available to view so I did a bit of research via our family’s Amazon Prime account and decided to rent and watch The Girl of the Golden West  as it was based upon the famous opera by Giacomo Puccini and I figured an opera type of  musical would showcase the couples’ singing voices nicely.   When I told my incredulous husband that some Italian opera writer had taken an American play(written by American David Belasco in 1905) and made an opera out of it, he wondered if this qualified as the first “spaghetti western”?!  My apologies to Mr. Eastwood.   

 

The plot of TGOTGW was a fun one with twists and turns.  The bad guys and the good guys weren’t cut and dried, they had nuanced characters and all of the cast did a very good job in their respective roles.  The movie opens with a group of Kentuckians, relaxing in their camp for the night in the new to them territory of California.  As the stars twinkle in the sky and the campfires burn, a ten year old girl sweetly sings along to her uncle’s guitar and all who hear her sing are enthralled.  One of the listeners, who is some yards away hiding in the brush, is a boy of 10, called Gringo by his adopted Mexican guardian, the bandit Ramirez.  Gringo memorizes the girl’s song and as an adult, hums and sings it a lot, despite growing up to become a bandit himself.  There are often posters about the area declaring the reward money for anyone who can capture Ramirez and turn him in.

The girl who sang so sweetly, Mary, grows up to inherit her Uncle Davey’s saloon, The Polka.  She also provides a holding station for area miners’ gold until it can be delivered via stagecoach to the assayer’s office in Monterey.    The miners all love Mary, as does Sheriff Jack Rance.  Several times he has showered Mary with gifts and the question of marriage and each time she has told him that she’s not sure yet if she’s ready to marry anyone.  There is also the town of Cloudy Mountain’s blacksmith, Alabama, who has an enormous crush on Mary, but is too shy to ask for her to marry him.  In Monterey is Father Sienna and his mission church.  He befriended Mary and her Uncle Davey when they first arrived in California and the old Father often invites Mary to come and sing Ave Maria for Sunday Mass.  Mary travels by stagecoach one Saturday morning so that she can sing for the church service when Ramirez and his gang rob the stage.  Ramirez takes one look at Mary and he’s in love with her.  He loves her sassiness and her looks.  We, the audience, know that Gringo-the blonde boy has grown up to be the bandit Ramirez, adopting his guardian’s last name.  To hide the  fact that he is not Hispanic, he wears his sombrero low on his head to hide his hair and wears a bandana pulled all the way up to his eyes.  He also speaks with an exaggerated accent.  As he accosts Mary, she has nothing but ire for Ramirez and hopes one day he will be caught and turned over to the law.   Mary makes it to Father Sienna’s church and sings Ave Maria so beautifully that the governor, who happens to be in town, insists that this young lady be invited to sing at his “Rancho” the next evening.  Ramirez happened to be at the church and heard Mary sing which makes him love her all the more.  He happens to hear about the governor’s invite to Mary and the plan to have one of the lieutenant’s on the governor’s staff escort Mary to the Rancho.  Ramirez manages to steal a Lt. Johnson’s uniform and escorts Mary, but not before a side trip in the moonlight near Monterey Bay where he sings to her and steals a kiss.  Mary isn’t happy about the stolen kiss, but Lt. Johnson is now in her heart too, and when she returns to Cloudy Mountain, Sheriff Jack can tell that she must have met another man while in Monterey.

Sheriff Jack Rance loves Mary but she’s not sure if she loves him as much

Mary singing a song with Alabama, the blacksmith

Silent movie actor who transitioned to sound films well, H.B. Warner as Father Sienna

Gringo alias Ramirez holding up Mary’s stagecoach

Gringo alias Ramirez alias Lt. Johnson singing to Mary by Monterey Bay

Eventually, Lt. Johnson/Ramirez makes it to Mary’s saloon, he meets Sheriff Jack who takes an immediate dislike to him, his true identity is revealed much to Mary’s shock and disappointment, and to thwart Sheriff Jack’s capture of Ramirez, a poker game is initiated, the best 2 out of 3 hands wins: either Ramirez will face the hangman’s noose or Mary will wed Sheriff Jack and he will let Ramirez ride away into exile.

Ramirez and Sheriff Jack-pure hatred for each other and both love Mary!

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald truly had impressive singing voices.  Eddy’s voice was a rich, warm baritone and he could easily hit the high notes when he had to. MacDonald’s voice was a lovely soprano that doesn’t hit the high notes too sharply.  Eddy had done some operatic training in his late teens, early adult years, with various voice teachers while MacDonald began singing as a child with a group in Philadelphia and then on to the stage where her older sister was working in NYC.

If you are curious about the duo’s films, as I was, then seek out The Girl of the Golden West.  The film’s soundtrack includes many songs with music by Sigmund Romberg and lyrics by Gus Kahn: Seniorita, Mariache, Sun Up To Sun Down, Shadows On The Moon, Soldiers Of Fortune, The Wind In The Trees, The West Ain’t Wild Anymore, and Who Are We To Say.  Polly Wolly Doodle(composer unknown) and Camptown Races by Stephen Foster are background music in the saloon.  Jeanette sings Liebestraum(Dream of Love) by Franz Liszt and Ave Maria by Johann Sebastian Bach, and then The Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn is used near the film’s end.

MGM publicity still for the film

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film showcasing the talents of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.  Great supporting cast members include: Walter Pidgeon as Sheriff Jack, Buddy Ebsen as Alabama, H. B. Warner as Father Sienna, Leo Carillo as Mosquito, Brandon Tynan as The Professor, Noah Beery Sr. as Ramirez, Charley Grapewin as Uncle Davey, Jeanne Ellis as young Mary, Bill Cody Jr. as the child Gringo,  Billy Bevan as Nick, the bartender, and Monty Woolley as the governor.  The film was directed by Robert Z. Leonard and screenplay was written by Isabel Dawn and Boyce DeGaw, based upon David Belasco’s play.    

A Crazy Classic Movie: Death on the Diamond! AKA, Someone is Killing the St. Louis Cardinals!!!

I was looking over Turner Classic Movie’s monthly schedule for January when a film title caught my eye: Death on the Diamond.  The overview of the film’s plot read that someone was killing off the St. Louis Cardinals during a pennant race.  I had to laugh a bit and began to wonder if the culprits were the Cincinnati Reds or the hated Chicago Cubs-if  you’re a St. Louis Cardinals fan, you’re not a fan of the Cubs.  I recorded the movie so buckle in for a review of this short, 69 minute film.   

The movie was made in 1934, and at that time the real St. Louis Cardinals were on top of the baseball world.  That year, they would go on to finish number one in the National League and win the World Series, defeating the Detroit Tigers in seven games.  In Death on the Diamond, the Cardinals are in a 3-way race for the pennant, battling it out with the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs.  The manager/owner Pop Clark, knows his team must win the pennant for him to be able to keep his ownership of the team.  A new potential owner, Mr. Ainsley is waiting in the wings, ready to swoop in and take the team from Clark if the Cardinals fail to win the pennant.

Several horrid events occur during this pennant race before the murders begin.    Two former players who got caught up in gambling are hanging around Sportsman’s Park, trying to get back on the team, greatly annoying Pop Clark.  Then,  St. Louis gambling kingpin Joseph Karnes has bribed the team’s new pitching ace, Larry Kelly.  Wise sports writer Jimmie Downey  warns Kelly not to associate himself with Karnes and the bribery attempt is foiled.  Soon after, someone shoots out the tire on a taxi that Larry is riding in, the taxi crashes into a street construction site,and Larry escapes with a badly injured foot and has to miss 2 weeks of games.  Then, someone was seen exiting the clubhouse by the batboy, Mickey.  While Mickey didn’t get a good look at this person, he did discover that this person messed around with all of the players gloves, as there was some kind of liquid inside of them.  The team’s doctor examines the gloves and discovers that the liquid would have caused severe skin-damage to the players.  Man! Someone doesn’t want the Cardinals to win this pennant race!

Larry meeting Pop Clark, team owner and manager.

A bit of batting practice with Larry and Dunk.

Frances and Larry fall in love-awww!

Don’t eat that hot dog, Truck!!

 

Three murders occur in this film, one right after the other. First, slugger Dunk Spencer is shot dead by a sniper during an away game in Chicago, as he is rounding third base and heading to home. During the second game against the Cubs, pitcher Frank Higgins is summoned to the away team’s locker room to take a phone call. While there, he is attacked from behind and strangled. Lastly, back at Sportsman’s Park, in a game against the Cincinnati Reds, loveable catcher Truck Hogan unwittingly slathers his hot dog with poisoned mustard! He doesn’t linger long after consuming the hot dog.

The list of suspects: the two outcast former players, gambler Joseph Karnes, possible new owner Mr. Ainsley, and at one point, even the new pitcher Larry Kelly is thought to be the killer since he and Dunk Spencer were both heard arguing about which one of them was going to date Pop’s daughter, and secretary of the team, Frances.  I won’t give out the who the murderer is  but I was surprised as to who it was and that person puts on an over the top, chew up the scenery rant for the confession!

Death on the Diamond was fun for me to view since I am a St. Louis Cardinals fan and used to live in a suburb of that city for almost 20 years. There’s a banner advertising the now defunct newspaper the Globe-Democrat on the wall of Sportsman’s park. The still functioning St. Louis Post-Dispatch is the newspaper that the newsboy is selling on the street. Actual footage of the Cardinals from the 1930s are used for the baseball game scenes.  While no actual Cardinal players were cast in the film, one of the players speaks with a strong southern accent  with funny lines to quip, and I am pretty sure his character was based upon Cardinals pitching ace Dizzy Dean. Dean was an Arkansas native who was a fan favorite player of the Cardinals for most of the 1930s.

The film was based on mystery writer Cortland Fitzsimmon’s novel of the same title.  MGM purchased the rights to the novel in order to turn the tale into a movie.  Author Fitzsimmons wrote the screenplay, along with Harvey Thew, Joseph Sherman, and Ralph Spence.  The film was directed by Edward Sedgewick and produced by Lucien Hubbard. Cast: Robert Young as Larry Kelly, Madge Evans as Frances Clark, David Landau as Pop Clark, Nat Pendleton as Truck Hogan, Paul Kelly as Jimmy Downey, Joe Sawyer as Dunk Spencer, Robert Livingston as Frank Higgins, Ted Healy as umpire Crawfish O’Toole, C. Henry Gordon as Joseph Karnes, Edward Brophy(later the voice of Timothy the mouse in Dumbo) as Police Sgt. Grogan, DeWitt Jennings as Patterson, and Willard Robertson as Police Lt. Cato.  The young batboy, Mickey, is played by Mickey Rooney and that was fun to see.  Also, playing a bit part as a police guard for the team is Ward Bond.  Also in a bit part is great character actor Walter Brennan, with no lines, as an excited radio sports announcer during a game.    

Death on the Diamond is a wacky bit of film, fast-paced, with the requisite happy ending.  If you’re a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals, I’d say it’s a must-see.  If you’re a Cubs fan, it may just be a fun fantasy to see! Here’s a link to one of the trailers for the movie that MGM had made to be shown in movie theaters.   The movie is available for purchase at Amazon and at TCM’s Shop.