Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

My Classic Movie Pick: The Shootist

Today’s post is for the great James Stewart Blogathon.  Hosted by an excellent  blog that I enjoy reading, Classic Film and TV Cafe.  Be sure to click on the provided link to read other bloggers’ posts about Jimmy Stewart and his various  acting  roles.   T J Stewart Blogathon     When I saw that Classic Film and TV Cafe was going to host this blogathon, I thought for a while as to which  role of Stewart’s to write about.  I decided on  The Shootist, a  movie that came in the latter days of Stewart’s movie acting.   The Shootist, movie poster The Shootist, originally a novel written by Glendon Swarthout  and published in 1975, was sought out by Paramount Pictures and Dino De Laurentiis Company to be made into a movie.  The author’s son, Miles, and Scott Hale wrote the screenplay.  Don Siegel was tapped to direct.   The movie’s plot is about an aging gunfighter, John Bernard, J.B. Books, who learns he has  cancer.  He also learns that despite liking this new town of Carson City, Nevada to live in, he only has 2 months at the most before the cancer will kill him.  Word gets out that the famous Shootist, Books, is in Carson City and old foes and friends appear, all wanting to cash in on the fame that surrounds this dying gunman or to just get final revenge.  It is Books’ dilemma, how to die with dignity amidst the turmoil that is happening around him due to these malcontents and fortune-seekers who are looking for him in Carson City.

Who better to portray the aging gunslinger than John Wayne, the most famous of Western heroes in film?  In 1964, Wayne had surgery to remove a cancerous lung.  Now, in 1976, when The Shootist was made, it would become  an ironic fact that Wayne would act the part of the dying gunslinger,  and he himself  would also die of cancer in 1979. Wayne had to lobby for the role of J.B. Books since the producers originally wanted George C. Scott!  Wayne did get the part and then proceeded to request that former cast members of other films he had made be cast in this film.  He specifically requested James Stewart, Lauren Bacall, Richard Boone, and John Carradine.

James Stewart, by the 1960′s, was taking on more paternalistic roles.  He had played opposite Wayne  in another great Western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, released in 1962.  Although the two actors didn’t run around in the same circle of friends, they both admired each other’s abilities in conveying characters on screen and had a great respect for one another. Stewart, in The Shootist, plays Dr. Hostetler who J. B. Books makes an appointment with in order to get a second opinion about his back pains.  The clip of that scene can be viewed here.  It is a warm and friendly scene of two old aquaintances re-meeting one another again.  Then the cold, factual Medical Man emerges as Dr. Hostetler gives Books the bad news: the back pains are a symptom of cancer.  Then there is more bad news, that Books only has 2 more months to live.  The doctor tells Books that when it’s time, medicines can be given to him to help ease the pain.

Stewart’s voice is still strong in this film, not quavery as one might expect with an aged actor.  The hair is white, the movements of his body as he walks across a room or sits in a chair are slower than that of a younger man, but it doesn’t distract one iota from his role as Dr. Hostetler.

The Shootist is a great ensemble piece.  All of the cast brought their A-Game to this movie.  Lauren Bacall is Mrs. Bond Rogers, the widowed landlady who rents a room to Books.  She tells him that she doesn’t abide with guns, and yet there is a growing fondness between her and Books.   Ron Howard(former child actor, teen actor, and now movie director) plays Gillom Rogers, son of the landlady.  He looks up to Books because he is a famous gunslinger and Books becomes a mentor/father figure for Gillom.     Richard Boone is Mike Sweeney, out to kill Books in order to get revenge for a brother’s death.  Hugh O’Brien is Jack Pulford,  a gambler and keen shot who wouldn’t mind taking Books down in order to promote himself.   Sheree North is an old flame, Serepta, who shows up hoping to get Books to marry her so  later she can have a book written by a ghost writer about her life with Books and make money off of his notoriety and death.  John Carradine is Carson City’s undertaker Hezekiah Beckem and he pesters Books about having a headstone made.  Scatman Crothers is Moses Brown,  the livery worker who cares for Books’s horse.  Richard Lenz is Dan Dobkins the local newspaper reporter, wanting to write sensationalized versions of Books’s killings.  Harry Morgan is Marshall Thibido, who is anxious to have Books leave Carson City.

The Shootist is available via Amazon to either buy or view through Instant Rent.  It is also available through TCM’s Shop.  To close out my post, here are a few more shots of John Wayne and James Stewart, from The Shootist.

Giving Books the diagnosis.

Giving Books the diagnosis.

TS, arguing with Wayne

 

 

The Shootist, Wayne and Stewart

 

 

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick: Mickey Rooney Films I Greatly Enjoyed

Mickey Rooney, who had a 9 decades long career in the Entertainment Industry, passed away April 6th.   In honor of him, Turner Classic Movies is going to present on Sunday, April 13th, 13 films that Rooney starred in.  Among this list are 3 of Rooney’s films that I have already seen and instead of one post about one movie, I thought I’d write short synopses about  3 of those films that I really enjoyed.

A Family Affair, 1937 from MGM studios.  Stars Lionel Barrymore(Great-Uncle of Drew Barrymore) as Judge Hardy, running for re-election to keep his judgeship and encountering opposition from some of the citizens of the small-town where he resides.   Spring Byington plays his wife Emily, Cecilia Parker is his daughter, Marion, and Mickey Rooney is his son, Andy.  A Family Affair was shot in 15 days!  It was considered a “B” movie by the studio and Lionel Barrymore didn’t want to be in it.  Another teen actor was set to play the part of Andy, but by the time filming was to begin, he had grown too tall so the part went to Rooney.  In his autobiography, Life is too Short, Rooney wrote that he knew the movie was a “B” movie but that fact didn’t keep him from putting his all into the role.  Surprising to MGM is that when the film opened at theatres, it became a huge hit and so profitable that MGM ended up making 16 Andy Hardy films.  The Hardy Family films usually center around Andy and the amusing difficulties he gets himself into and how he finally handles the difficulties with some advice from his wise father.  Movie Poster for AFA

Judge Hardy talking with his two teenagers.

Judge Hardy talking with his two teenagers.

Boys Town, 1938, also from MGM.  Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and won the Academy Awards for Best Original Story and Best Actor, Spencer Tracy.  Tracy plays Father Edward Flanagan who is called to the prison to hear the last confession of a prisoner scheduled to die in the electric chair.  The condemned man tells Father Flanagan that if only he had had good friends at the age of 12 instead of the delinquents he ran with, he’d probably not ended up in prison.   Father Flanagan takes the man’s words to heart, and with the attitude that their is no such thing as a bad boy, he opens up a home for boys in trouble outside of Omaha, Nebraska and calls the place Boys Town.   Mickey Rooney plays Whitey Marsh, a tough young hoodlum who’s older brother, serving time in prison, asks for Father Flanagan to take in his younger brother and try to turn his life around.  Tracy is great as the priest who is kind but very firm when he has to be.  Rooney is great as the snotty, brash, juvenile delinquint with a heart of gold.   Here’s a clip from the film Boys Town.  The film proved to be such a great box office success that in 1941 a sequel was made, Men of Boys Town and Tracy and Rooney reprised their roles.

Father Flanagan having a meeting with Whitey.

Father Flanagan having a meeting with Whitey.

Boys Town

National Velvet, 1945, from MGM.  Stars  12 year old Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet Brown, an English  girl who loves horses.  She enters the town lottery as the prize is a neighboring farmer’s unruly and spirited horse.  The winner of the first number called doesn’t appear so  another  number is  called and Velvet wins.  With the help of Mi Taylor( Mickey Rooney), a young drifter who has a lot of knowledge about horses and racing them, Velvet decides to train the Pi(her name for her horse) for the Grand National Race.  This is a charming movie, espousing hard work, reaching for one’s dreams, and filmed in gorgeous technicolor.  Look for Angela Lansbury playing Velvet’s older sister, Edwina.  Here’s a training sequence from National Velvet, featuring Taylor and Rooney.

Rooney and Taylor

Rooney and Taylor

National Velvet

Here is also the schedule that TCM has posted for Rooney’s films on Sunday.  TCM has also made a lovely tribute video of Rooney’s career and it can be viewed here.  Be sure to tune in and/or set your dvr machine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick: The Thrill of it All

Doris Day celebrated her 90th birthday yesterday.   Day could sing, dance, and was a good actress and pretty  much our whole household has enjoyed her work.  So,  in honor of  her reaching that milestone of 90 years,  I thought I’d focus on one of her romance/comedies,  The Thrill of it All, made in 1963, directed by Norm Jewison  and distributed by Universal Pictures.

 

Doris Day 90th Doris portrays Mrs. Beverly Boyer, a happily married wife and  mother of two children(Kym Karath and Brian Nash).  Her husband is Dr. Gerald Boyer, an ob-gyn portrayed by James Garner.  The family also has a live-in housekeeper, Olivia, played by comic actress, Zasu Pitts.

The Thrill of it All poster 1 One of Gerald’s patients is Mrs. Fraleigh(Arlene Francis) an older woman who has had problems in attaining a pregnancy.   She is so delighted to finally be expecting a baby that  she invites Dr. Boyer and his wife to her home for dinner.  Mrs. Fraleigh lives in a mansion and it turns out that she is the daughter-in-law of Mr. Tom Freleigh(Reginald Owen) the creator of the very successful Happy Soap company.  At the dinner, Mrs. Freleigh requests the television to be rolled into the dining room so her husband Gardner(Edward Andrews) the CEO of Happy Soap, Old Mr. Tom, and Mike Palmer(Elliot Reid) Advertising Executive, can watch the latest commercial for Happy Soap.  Gerald and Beverly think this is very odd, but sit politely and watch the commerical.  The commerical stars a sexy blonde woman in her fancy swimming pool of a bathtub, full of Happy Soap bubbles.   The blonde  purrs how the soap makes her smell like the stars of Hollywood!  With 2 daring shots of the blonde’s lower, bare back, Gardner and Mike concur that it was a fine commercial; Gerald doesn’t object to it either.   Beverly remarks  that Happy Soap had saved her life that day when she had to clean her 2 muddy children.  Old Mr. Tom demands to hear her story and he is delighted with Beverly’s tale.   He hires her to be the new commercial spokesperson  for Happy Soap!

The fun of this movie is the battle between Beverly and Gerald.  Beverly  films  her first  commercial and says the entire experience  was awful and that she won’t  do any more.  Gerald is pleased because he wasn’t in favor of his wife working outside of the home.  Mike Palmer appears the next day to offer Beverly $80, 000 for a 1 year contract to film the commericals.  That amount of money causes Beverly to change her mind fast…she will be the new star of Happy Soap commericals.  Gerald grudgingly gives his approval, but warns her that she can’t let this new venture  get in the way of being there for him and the children.  Beverly assures Gerald that it won’t but shooting the commercials soon get in the way as Gerald feared they would.

Beverly doing a magazine ad

Beverly doing a magazine ad

The first commercial

The first commercial

The story for this movie was developed by Carl Reiner and Larry Gelbart, with Reiner writing the screenplay.  He has several amusing cameos as the hero/villain of the Happy Soap Playhouse, his live scenes happening immediately as Beverly is done with a live commercial spot.

Day and Garner with Carl Reiner

Day and Garner with Carl Reiner

There’s miscommunication between the spouses, missed messages, an indignant Olivia who quits, a new German housekeeper who has a very thick accent, a gift of a swimming pool that unfortunately ruins Gerald’s convertible, giant soap suds invading the backyard,  and Gerald’s plan to make Beverly so jealous that she’ll quit her commercials to be with him. The Thrill of it All is a fun movie to view, with a happy ending, and the undeniable charm and chemistry that Day and Garner exude in their scenes together.  This movie is on blu-ray dvd and can be found via Amazon.com and TCM Shop.  To end this post, here are a few more scenes from the movie.

Fighting about the unexpected pool!

Fighting about the unexpected pool!

Autograph hounds ruining a romantic dinner.

Autograph hounds ruining a romantic dinner.

Getting a ticket for stopping traffic in order to see his wife on a billboard!

Getting a ticket for stopping traffic in order to see his wife on a billboard!

The children waiting up to see mommy in her commercial.

The children waiting up to see mommy in her commercial.

My Classic Movie Pick: His Kind of Woman

Film Noir is a genre of movies that usually have the feelings  of negativity, sadness, pessimism, and danger.    The French coined the phrase to describe American detective stories made in the 1940s-1950s.  I like a good Film Noir, with it’s hero working against the odds to figure out who the baddies are, often dealing  with a beautiful femme fatale out for her own preservation and, and lots of  interesting  side characters who add to the plots.  My movie pick, His Kind of Woman is a Film Noir, but with a difference.  It has  some comedy thrown in for an unusual mix, and the comedy is supplied by Vincent Price, the King of Horror films!

His Kind of Woman poster 1

Robert Mitchum is the hero of this movie.  He is Dan Milner,  a down on his luck gambler.  He’s been approached to live in Mexico for 1 year, and  he’ll be paid $50,000 for his troubles, and is given $20,000 to start his journey.   Dan is curious as to who wants him to live in Mexico for a year, thinking it is a pretty weird request.  Since he’s currently broke, he decides to do as he’s been asked, and takes a flight to his first stop, Nogales, Mexico.  While waiting in the airport bar for his next flight, Dan is happy to listen to a beautiful singer, Lenore Brent(Jane Russell).  Lenore seems irritated by Dan’s attention and  manages to keep him at arms length.   Dan is  delighted to find out that Lenore will  be flying on the same plane with him to his final destination, Morro’s Lodge, in the Baja region.  Lenore tells Dan that  she is an heiress and a singer and that he doesn’t interest her as she has a “friend” she’s meeting at Morro’s.His Kind of Woman Mitchum and Russell have chemistry

Once at Morro’s, Dan figures out who Lenore’s friend is, movie actor Mark Cardigan(Vincent Price).  Price is an absolute joy to watch in this movie.  He is excellent in his  portrayal of  a hammy, full-of-himself actor who just happens to be a great hunter.  Later on in the movie, he saves Dan’s bacon when the bad guy’s henchmen show up to kill Dan.  Cardigan also has romance troubles, as his wife shows up at Morro’s to tell him that she doesn’t want a divorce.  His agent has also come along to tell Cardigan that a divorce could give him negative views in the public’s opinion.  Cardigan is adamant at keeping a positive image so he breaks things off with Lenore.  Lenore confesses to Dan that she’s not really an heiress but she is a singer, and she  thought a rich husband would give her the ticket to the good life.   Dan is quite ready to show Lenore that a rich husband isn’t the be all and end all of life.

Cardigan telling Dan about his love of hunting

Cardigan telling Dan about his love of hunting

The main bad guy in the movie is Nick Ferraro(Raymond Burr-a far cry from his Perry Mason and Ironside days!)  Ferraro is a gangster who had been deported 4 years before.  Living in Italy, he was getting worried about his monetary holdings still in the U.S. and came up with a crazy plot to get back into America: find a guy who is the same height and weight as himself, a guy who is a loner without a family, and with the help of a plastic surgeon, kill the loner guy and have his face surgically put upon Ferraro’s face!

The baddies trying to inject Dan with a drug

The baddies trying to inject Dan with a drug

Cardigan deciding he can help Dan

Cardigan deciding he can help Dan

This brings about Bill Lusk(Tim Holt) who is able to inform that he is an undercover agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.  He tells Dan about Ferraro and that the Service knows the Ferraro is itching to get back into the country and that they think he’d try to disguise himself in some way and that Dan may have been brought to Morro’s to be the victim of Ferraro’s plans.

Bill Lusk telling Dan what he knows about Ferraro

Bill Lusk telling Dan what he knows about Ferraro

There is a minor subplot of an unhappy bride on her honeymoon watching her new husband gambling away their money to a vacationing banker, Myron Winton(Jim Backus-Mr. Thurston Howell III himself!!) Dan steps in and helps the husband regain his lost money and gives the newlyweds  advice to  stay away from the gambling tables.

Helping the Newlyweds

Helping the Newlyweds

His Kind of Woman was directed by John Farrow, written by Frank Fenton and Jack Leonard, and produced by Robert Sparks.  It was distributed by RKO Studios, but Howard Hughes, who had taken over the running of RKO in 1948, meddled in the production of His Kind of Woman and after Farrow’s work was done, Hughes had director Richard Fleischer re-direct many scenes in the movie!  The film was finished in 1950 but sat on a shelf until it’s release in August of 1951.  Despite Hughes’s fiddling with the film, it was a box office hit for RKO.   His Kind of Woman is available at Amazon.  It is available as a single dvd or in a dvd set with 3 other Film Noirs.

With Russell and Mitchum as the movie’s center, a puzzle of a plot, action, and the fun that Vincent Price brings to his role, His Kind of Woman is an unusual Film Noir, worth a viewing, and it’s one of my favorites.  Here’s a trailer that audiences would have seen in 1951 for advertising purposes for His Kind of Woman.

His Kind of Woman movie poster 2

My Classic Movie Pick: Mighty Joe Young

I stumbled upon Mighty Joe Young last week when it aired on cable’s Turner Classic Movies.  For the month of February and into the first week of March until the Oscars are aired on March 2nd, TCM has been showing films that won Academy Awards.  If a film won for best actor, best actress, best film, best director, best supporting players, best music, best screenplay, they have been shown on the channel.  Why did Mighty Joe Young make this list?  It won the Academy Award in 1950 for Best Special Effects, and wow-does it have them, in large part to the  special effects talent of the late Ray Harryhausen.

Mighty Joe screen shot

Merian C. Cooper, while at RKO Studios, had written a screenplay about a giant ape, in love with a beautiful woman, who ends up terrorizing NYC-1933′s smash hit, King Kong.  Fast forward to 1949 and Cooper brought forth an idea for a story that he had shelved years ago, about another giant ape loose, this time,  in Hollywood.   Getting the greenlight from RKO Studios, Cooper brought on the director who had helmed  King Kong, Ernest B. Schoedsack.  Cooper also hired Willis O’Brien, who had done the special effects for King Kong to do the same work for Mighty Joe Young.  Working for “Obie”, as O’Brien was nicknamed, were 2 new animators, Ray Harryhausen and Pete Peterson.

Ray Harryhausen working with the Mighty Joe model

Ray Harryhausen working with the Mighty Joe model

Pete Peterson with Mighty Joe and truck for the car chase scenes

Pete Peterson with Mighty Joe and truck for the car chase scenes

Mighty Joe Young opens in Africa where Jill Young, age 8,(Lora Lee Michel) lives on a farm with her  widower father, Mr. Young(Regis Toomey.)  Mr. Young is away for the moment and Jill sees two natives approaching with a basket suspended by ropes attached to two poles.  She can tell that something alive is in the covered basket and asks to buy it.  The two natives are tired and agree to sit and wait for Jill to gather up treasures for the expected bartering session.   Jill finds some coins, toys, a music box, and her father’s large flashlight. The flashlight seals the deal and Jill now owns the covered basket.  When she opens it she finds a baby gorilla, and quickly names him Joe.  Mr. Young isn’t too pleased that Jill bought this creature and gave away his new flashlight but as he finally gives his assent, he reminds Jill that when the gorilla is bigger she’ll have to release him to the wild.

The movie jumps forward 12 years to NYC where we meet entertainment creator Max O’Hara(Robert Armstrong-who also starred in Cooper’s King Kong.)  O’Hara  is telling his business partner Windy(Frank McHugh) about his plans to head to Africa and capture animals for the opening of his new nightclub in Hollywood, a nightclub that will have an exotic feel and theme.  Loping into O’Hara’s office is cowboy Gregg Johnson(Ben Johnson) who explains to O’Hara that the rodeo has closed for the season and  that he and some of his cowboy pals have heard about the trip to Africa to capture animals and would O’Hara want to hire them for their skills at roping and catching cattle and horses?  O’Hara jumps at this offer and they’re off to Africa.

One day in the camp everyone hears some of the caught lions roaring and the natives begin running away in fear.  A louder roar is heard and as the cowboys and O’Hara investigate, they meet Joe, now a huge gorilla.  The cowboys try to rope him and  Joe manages to grab O’Hara.  As he is about to hurl O’Hara off of a rocky ledge, Jill appears, scolding Joe and urges him to gently put the man down.  Joe obeys and Jill leads him home.  O’Hara is excited-he must get that gorilla for his new nightclub!  With the help of cowboy Gregg they find Jill’s farm and apologize to her for scaring her and Joe.  Jill admits that with her father’s recent death, she is all alone, she’s never been away from Africa, and with that information, O’Hara convinces Jill that by bringing Joe to Hollywood to star at the new nightclub, that she will be a new star and earn a lot of money.  Gregg, who is obviously taken with the cute Jill, smiles a lot and reassures her that it would be a great opportunity for a new adventure.  Jill agrees and it is off to Hollywood.

Jill telling Joe to put O'Hara down!

Jill and Joe performing one of their nightclub acts-a tug of war with strong men

The rest of the movie is pretty predictable.  Joe and Jill do become famous, but are miserable.  Some boorish drunks unwittingly make Joe angry and he’s able to break out of his holding cell in the basement of the nightclub.  This happens while Jill is having dinner with Gregg.  Joe wreaks havoc with the nightclub and is declared a menace that needs to be put down.  O’Hara realizes he was wrong to bring Joe to Hollywood and should have left him in Africa and comes up with a plan to rescue Joe before his scheduled death will be carried out by the local police, per a judge’s order.   O’Hara, Gregg, and Jill launch a daring escape for Joe and a way to get he and Jill back to Africa.

Jill and Joe in a humiliating nightclub act

Jill and Joe in a humiliating nightclub act

While the plot is forumlaic and the acting lurching from hammy(Armstrong, at times) to bland(Ben Johnson-his first movie role after coming away from rodeos and he did get better, eventually winning a best supporting actor Oscar in 1971 for The Last Picture Show), and the usually funny Frank McHugh is wasted in a tiny role in my opinion, I do believe Mighty Joe Young should be seen for the special effects.  These effects were done before home computers were ever thought of, or CGI(computer generated imagery).   The special effects fill this movie and elevate it to a higher plane.  These are the scenes: the cowboys trying to rope and capture Joe, Joe dangling O’Hara over a rock ledge, the nightclub acts that Joe and Jill have to perform, the three drunks hassling Joe and giving him bottles of whiskey to drink, Joe breaking loose from his cell and destroying the nightclub, Joe on the run with Jill, Gregg, and O’Hara, Joe’s rescue of an orphan from a burning orphanage. That scene is on Youtube and can be viewed here.

I also found an interesting website on the life and career of the late Ray Harryhausen that is worth a visit and one can do so by clicking here.  Lastly, also on Youtube, there is an interview with Harryhausen and the making of Mighty Joe Young!  View that interview here.

You may have already seen the Disney version of Mighty Joe Young, made in 1998 and starring Charlize Theron and Bill Paxton, but you really owe it to yourself and any kids in your life to see the 1949 original and its fantastic, award-winning special effects.

Mighty Joe poster 2

My Classic Movie Pick: Wagon Master

I like Westerns.  I like the horses and the cowboys and the sheriffs who have to deal with the baddies and get them out of town.  I love seeing the landscapes in the outdoor scenes: those wide-open spaces and the outcroppings of distant mountains.  Whether the western was  filmed in black and white or in technicolor, it doesn’t matter much to me, I pretty much like most of this genre.   I am pretty well aware that the late  director John Ford was often tagged with the title of best westerns director and a couple weeks ago, TCM aired a western directed by him that I had never heard of.  Ford made a tight little film in 1950 with no big name stars assigned to it.    Wagon Master was the title bestowed on this film  and even more curious is that the main plot was about a group of Mormons trying to get to a certain river valley in which to establish their new community.

Made by Argosy Pictures( a studio created by John Ford and producer Merian C. Cooper, the man responsible for 1933′s King Kong) and released by RKO, Wagon Master employed  a lot of the actors and actresses that were known as “John Ford’s Stock Company”, meaning that these people were in a lot of Ford’s movies.  Usually John Wayne or Henry Fonda were the lead male actors in Ford’s films but not in Wagon Master.  The two main male leads were Ben Johnson playing Travis  and Harry Carey Jr. playing Sandy.  220px-WM_Poster Wagon Master

The movie opens with a wanted ad for the Clegg’s : a murdering Uncle  and his 4 murdering nephews.  This want ad is superimposed over a scene that dissolves into the Clegg brutes(James Arness, Charles Kemper, Hank Worden,Fred Libby, and Mickey Simpson) holding up a store and its employees.  As the gang leaves with the money, one of the clerks rushes behind the counter, grabs a gun, and shoots at the gang, wounding Uncle Shiloh Clegg(Kemper) in the shoulder.  The gang re-enters the store and Uncle Shiloh cracks his whip, telling the store clerk that he shouldn’t have done that.  He aims his gun and as the store clerk pleads for his life, the camera turns away as gun shots ring out.  The next scene we see  is the film’s opening credits rolling, with  conestaga wagons traveling west, through a  river, with a song by The Sons of the Pioneers ringing out.  There is a lot of music in this movie, even for a western, and The Sons of the Pioneers recorded the songs; Richard Hageman created the score and Stan Jones was the composer who wrote the lyrics and music for 4 of the songs in the movie.  A Mormon hymn is even sung at the end of the movie.

Next, the movie introduces the two male leads, Travis and Sandy.  They are young, ambitious, and are in the horse selling and trading business.  They’ve just arrived in a town to ply their trade and sell the sheriff a horse that will try and throw the rider if certain kind of whistling sound is whistled.  Of course, they don’t tell the sheriff this until after the sale is completed and Sandy whistles!  Soon, the two young men are approached by two Mormon men, Elders Wiggs and Perkins(Ward Bond and Russell Simpson.)  The Elders ask if the two young men know the area of the country their group will be traveling to the next day.  Travis replies to Elder Wiggs that they do know the area and a good way to get there.  Elder Wiggs asks them to consider being the Wagon Master for their group’s trip.  Travis thinks about it and turns the offer down.  Sandy thinks they ought to reconsider as he is immediately smitten with Elder Perkin’s daughter, Prudence(Kathleen O’Malley) who had accompanied her father and Elder Wiggs on their trip into town.   After a day in the town, and watching the Mormon travelers leave town and start heading in the wrong direction, Travis has a change of heart and he and Sandy ride to catch up with Elder Wiggs to let  him know that they’ll gladly lead the group to their destination, the San Juan River Valley in Utah.

Director Ford loved location shooting and much of the film was shot near Moab, Utah.  The scenery is gorgeous in the film, and a lot of credit should be given to Bert Glennon, the Director of Photography.  One scene that impressed me was when Travis accidentally rides near a group of Navajoes who give chase, and he and his horse have the ride of their lives in trying to get back to the wagon train ahead of the angry Navajoes.  Ben Johnson had been a ranch hand and a rodeo rider before getting into acting and knew how to handle a horse so  it’s really him  in that incredible chase sequence.

As Sandy plants his horse near Prudence’s wagon, Travis actually leads the group and soon they hear music playing in the distance with no town or house nearby.  The travelers soon find the wagon of a traveling medicine show and the troupe of  4 thirsty entertainers.  They ran out of water on their attempt to get to California.  With only the elixir to drink that they sell, they aren’t too sober.  One of the entertainers, a Miss Denver(Joanne Dru) is quite pretty and Travis is smitten with her immediately.  She faints off of the back of the wagon’s backboard and lucky for her and him, he manages to catch her.  Seeing the troupe’s dire plight, and having to convince Elder Perkins, Elder Wiggs announces that this troupe can travel with them until the trail for California emerges and they’ll share water and food with them.  This gives Travis a chance to size up Miss Denver, to “court” her and there is a sweet scene as the troupe breaks away to go out on the California trail and he follows them, catches up with Miss Denver, and explains that he has his eye on some land in Texas for a cattle ranch and he’s going to need someone to help him on the ranch with the cooking and cleaning and to help him fight against loneliness.  It’s a bittersweet scene because we can tell he is sincere, and Miss Denver knows that going on to California and staying with the medicine show isn’t any form of a good life to live.  She is touched and honored by Travis’s proposal of sorts, but then turns him down!

Of course, the baddies show up, The Clegg Gang, and they try to hide who they really are but Travis and Sandy recognize them from wanted posters.  They keep their guns close just in case as Elder Wiggs agrees to let these travelers join up with their group.  Uncle Shiloh Clegg and his nephews know there is a posse out looking for them and what better place to hide than with a bunch of Mormons?  Dr.  Hall(Alan Mowbray) from the medicine show is forced to help Shiloh’s shoulder wound and three of the nephews begin eyeing the ladies of the wagon train.  This of course puts Sandy and Travis on the alert.

There is the aforementioned run in with the Navajoes, of which legendary athlete Jim Thorpe plays a role, a Clegg gets punished for trying to get too close to a Navajo woman, and then there is a dangerous crossing for the wagons and the ultimate showdown with the Clegg’s.

A brisk western that ties things up nicely, I found Wagon Master an enjoyable gem from director John Ford.  Wagon Master, should also be noted, as the inspiration for the television show Wagon Train.  You can buy Wagon Master via Amazon.com for a very low price, at TCM’s shop in a special dvd with 3 other John Ford directed westerns, and it is available on a long list of Ford films on Netflix.   A kind soul put the entire movie on Youtube and you can watch it via that form.  I’ll close out my blog with some scenes from Wagon Master.

The Clegg Gang

The Clegg Gang

Opening shot, the wanted poster

Opening shot, the wanted poster

Sandy and Travis come to town.

Sandy and Travis come to town.

The sheriff saying he'll be glad when the Mormons leave town and the Clegg's are caught.

The sheriff saying he’ll be glad when the Mormons leave town and the Clegg’s are caught.

Elder Wiggs asking Travis to consider being their Wagon Master.

Elder Wiggs asking Travis to consider being their Wagon Master.

Jane Darnell as Sister Ledyard,sounding her horn to get the trip underway.

Jane Darnell as Sister Ledyard,sounding her horn to get the trip underway.

Travis proposing to Miss Denver

Travis proposing to Miss Denver

Travis being chased by the Navajoes.

Travis being chased by the Navajoes.

Encounter with the Navajoes

Encounter with the Navajoes

My Classic Movie Pick: The Spiral Staircase

I enjoy suspense movies and not the slash and gore films that seem so popular with the younger generations.  I like a suspense film that doesn’t show all of  the violence or the evildoer immediately,  but simply hints at the fact that something bad is going to happen or is happening.  Of course, the suspense films I like also have a  good triumphs over  evil ending and the main character, who has been in danger, will now be safe.The Spiral Staircase opening shot

The Spiral Staircase is my kind of suspense film.  In the beginning of the film, the audience is swept into a local hotel that also shows silent films.  It is in this audience that we meet heroine Helen(Dorothy McGuire) who is thoroughly caught up in the plot of the silent movie that she is watching. ( The silent film shown is D.W. Griffith’s The Sands of the Dee.)    As the movie plays for the audience, we are taken upstairs where  a young woman is looking out her window.  She then walks to  her closet and we notice that she has a noticable limp.  She takes a dress out of her closet and what we see, but she doesn’t see,  is that a man is hiding in her closet!  The camera zooms in on just his eye and we see his pov,  watching the young woman dress.   With her arms over her head and the dress about her, the camera again zooms in on her hands as they clutch the air and show signs that the young woman has been grabbed.  We hear her groans, and then the scene cuts to the hotel’s movie audience.  They are happily getting their coats and hats and preparing to leave when above their heads they hear a loud thud and the sound of  breaking glass.  The hotel owner rushes upstairs and with the help of another hotel guest(character actress  Ellen Corby, aka Grandma Walton from the 1970s tv show, The Walton’s) he goes to the young woman’s room and finds her strangled to death.

Helen enjoying the silent movie.

Helen enjoying the silent movie.

The killer hiding in the closet!

The killer hiding in the closet!

Victim #3, the poor crippled woman.

Victim #3, the poor crippled woman.

Something evil has recently begun in this quiet, small New England town near Boston.   We learn that two young women  have been murdered for no apparent reason other than the fact that they both had a physical defect.  One of the victims had a facial scar and the other was described as “simple-minded”.  Now we see that the third victim was crippled in her leg.  Soon we learn that Helen, a maid at wealthy Mrs. Warren’s (Ethel Barrymore) home, is a mute.  That can only mean one thing, Helen’s life is in danger!

We don’t know a lot about Helen’s previous life.  We do know that she used to be able to speak but when coming home from school one day as a youngster, she discovered that her home was on fire and her parents died in the fire, the local firefighters unable to save them.  This horrific event has caused Helen to not be able to speak.  Who she stayed with until she reached adulthood we don’t know and we also don’t know how she came to be in Mrs. Warren’s employ.  We do learn that she is in love with kind Dr. Parry(Kent Smith), the young, handsome, new doctor in town and he also loves Helen.  He wants her to go to Boston and be evaluated by a team of doctors who, he believes, will be able to help Helen get her voice back.  There is a scene in the film where Helen daydreams about dancing with Dr. Parry and then she is at the altar to marry him and it breaks her heart that she can’t utter the words, “I do” during the wedding ceremony, with all eyes upon her.

Dr. Parry telling Helen about the doctors in Boston who could help her.

Dr. Parry telling Helen about the doctors in Boston who could help her.

Helen, frustrated that she can't utter the words, "I do."

Helen, frustrated that she can’t utter the words, “I do.”

Since we, the audience, know the killer is a man, the movie’s script cleverly introduces 4 male characters who could possibly be the killer.  There is Professor Albert Warren(George Brent), his younger brother Steve(Gordon Oliver), Mr. Oates(Rhys Williams), and even Dr. Parry.

Professor Warren seems very preoccupied, dislikes his younger brother, Steve,  immensely, and keeps intruding whenever his brother is trying to grab and kiss the Professor’s secretary, the very beautiful Blanche(Rhonda Fleming.)   Turns out Blanche and the Professor also had a past relationship so it really sticks in his craw to see his former girlfriend in the arms of his younger brother!

The constable asking the Warren brothers where they were when the 3rd murder happened.

The constable asking the Warren brothers where they were when the 3rd murder happened.

Steven and Blanche

Steven and Blanche

Mr. Oates, the caretaker of the Warren mansion and grounds, is seen entering the house in a dark raincoat and hat, which we saw the killer wearing earlier when he was stalking  Helen on her way home to the mansion from the hotel.

The killer, following Helen to the mansion.

The killer, following Helen to the mansion.

Mr. Oates answering  the constable's questions.

Mr. Oates answering the constable’s questions.

Steven seems to be a lazy, layabout, with no job.  He’s just returned from a tour of Europe with nothing but time on his hands when he decides to embark on getting closer to Blanche.  Later in the film, he cruelly scoffs at Dr. Parry’s suggestion that doctors in Boston could help Helen speak.  Why does the thought of a person with a disability getting help make him so angry?

How the killer sees Helen and her lack of a voice.

How the killer sees Helen and her lack of a voice.

Even Dr. Parry, so kind to Helen, is he really who he seems to be or could he be  hiding  an evil side, ala Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

The women in the film are also just as interesting as the men.  Mrs. Warren, cold to her two stepsons,  reveals that their father thought them both weaklings and wastrels.  She is insistent to Helen that she must get out of the house that night, that something bad will happen to Helen if she doesn’t get away.  She is also a concealed carry believer!(This performance earned Barrymore a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.)   Mrs. Oates(Elsa Lanchester) is the cook with a penchant for sneaking a drink.  Her husband’s scoldings about her habit she ignores and unfortunately, that “little nip” while washing up the supper dishes will prove to be unhelpful to Helen later that night!  Then there is Blanche, the dutiful secretary, drawn to bad boy Steven, and a search in the basement for her suitcase will prove to be a deadly decision on her part!  Of course, hats are off to Dorothy McGuire’s portrayal of Helen.  She has to emote and convey so much with no words being uttered.  A truly remarkable performance.

Mrs. Warren has a gun and she knows how to use it!

Mrs. Warren has a gun and she knows how to use it!

Blanche knows who the killer is!

Blanche knows who the killer is!

Professor Warren reminding Helen to stay indoors and to go to him if she needs any help.

Professor Warren reminding Helen to stay indoors and to go to him if she needs any help.

Mrs. Warren urging Helen to get out of the house!

Mrs. Warren urging Helen to get out of the house!

Mrs. Oates waiting to sneak a bottle of brandy.

Mrs. Oates waiting to sneak a bottle of brandy.

The Spiral Staircase does an excellent job of showing the twists and turns of very complicated people and it leaves one guessing as to who the killer is until the last 10 minutes or so of the movie.  I also enjoyed the photography shot by Nicholas Musuraca.  Lots of lights and darks, shadows where a killer could be lurking in the old mansion, and a large mirror on the first landing of the grand staircase is used for quite a few interesting shots and views.  If I ever had a basement, it wouldn’t be as dark and dank and creepy as the one in this movie, I can tell you!!

One can find The Spiral Staircase at Amazon.com, but I warn you, it’s really pricey.  I was shocked at how high it’s price is!  It’s not available at TCM’s shop, only a remake which was done in 1975 starring Christopher Plummer, Jacqueline Bisset, and Sam Wannamaker.  It is available on Youtube, however, in its entirety.  A Spanish or Portugese(sorry, I cannot tell the difference between the two languages) fan of the film put it on Youtube, with subtitles for the Spanish or Portugese viewers.

The Spiral Staircase was made in 1946 by RKO Studios, produced by Dory Schary and directed by Robert Siodmak.  The screenplay was written by Mel Dinelli, adapted from the novel Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White.  I also discovered that the killer’s eye seen in the woman’s closet at the film’s beginning belonged to the director, Siodmak!

For a wonderful suspense film that I think younger filmmakers could learn a lesson or two from, seek out The Spiral Staircase!  The Spiral Staircase poster 3

My Classic Movie Pick: Pinky, for the Classic Movie History Project Blogathon

In  December, as I was reading blogs that I enjoy, I found out about  an upcoming blogathon, The Classic Movie History Project Blogathon.  The three ladies hosting it, their goal was for bloggers to focus on the history of  films during the time frame from 1915 through 1950.  I signed up for the year 1949 and decided to focus  on one specific film, one film that dared to tackle a topic that Hollywood hadn’t really looked at in much depth.  Be sure to visit these awesome hostesses’  blogs  to read about the films that encompassed these specific years: Ruth at Silver Screenings, Aurora at Once Upon a Screen, and Fritzi at Movies Silently.

  In 1949  America’s economic prosperity was on the rise, television had started entering  American households, and a book that had been written in 1946 that looked at racial issues in the South caught the eye of producer Darryl F. Zanuck at Twentieth Century Fox.   The book was titled Quality and was  written by Mississippi native Cid Ricketts Sumner.  A screenplay was ordered which was  written by Philip Dunne, Dudley Nichols, and with collaborations by actress Jane White, who’s father, Walter White, was the Executive Secretary  of the NAACP.   The movie that evolved was Pinky.

The plot of Pinky is pretty straightforward.  A young black girl,Pinky,(Jeanne Crain) who could pass for white due to the lightness of her skin, is raised by her black Grandmother Dicey(Ethel Waters),  a laundress, in a sleepy, little Southern town.    Dicey saves enough money to send Pinky  north where she can attend a convent school.  Pinky graduates and then enrolls in a  3 year nurse training school in Boston.  She also  meets a young doctor, Tom Adams(William Lundigan) and they  fall in love.  Tom wants to marry Pinky, who has gone by the name Patricia while living in the north.   Pinky doesn’t know what to do so she hops the next train and travels back to her hometown.  Dicey  is overjoyed to see Pinky again and assumes that she’ll use her nursing training to help the poor in their community.  She is disappointed when Pinky firmly tells her that she is only home for a visit and that she’ll soon be going back to Boston.  Pinky is at a crossroads.  She knows she is disappointing Dicey and she knows she isn’t being honest with Tom, as she hasn’t revealed to him that she is really black.  She also hasn’t told Dicey about Tom.    Back in her hometown, she isn’t welcomed by the black community, who view her with distain for passing as white, despite the respect that they all have for her Grandmother.  Pinky needs guidance as to who she really is, how she wants to live her life, and then more  complications set in.

Dr. Tom Adams, who wants to marry Pinky, and doesn't know the truth about her background.

Dr. Tom Adams, who wants to marry Pinky, and doesn’t know the truth about her background.

Pinky back home with Dicey

Pinky back home with Dicey

Pinky Dicey is a laundress

Dicey gave money that was to be sent to Pinky’s school to local con artist Jake Waters(Frederick O’Neal) and he didn’t send all of the money as he was supposed to do.  Dicey has found out about this dishonesty and Pinky decides to confront Jake and get the money back.  He does give Pinky what he can, $15 of his wife’s money, and his wife, Rozelia(Nina Mae McKinney), comes home as Pinky is walking out with the money.  There is an altercation between the two women in the street and the local police happen to be in the area.  The two officers(one played by an uncredited Arthur Hunnicutt) treat Jake and Rozelia with disdain and disrespect and treat Pinky with utmost respect.  When Rozelia tells them that Pinky is “colored”, the officers immediately treat Pinky with disrespect and rudeness.  After a meeting with Judge Walker(Basil Ruysdael), Jake and Rozelia promise to not to get into trouble anymore, and they are dismissed.  Judge Walker keeps Pinky behind to inquire about her education, to tell her how much respect he has for her Grandmother, and to  remind  Pinky that she  needs to be a credit to her Grandmother.

Being treated rudely by the local police.

Being treated rudely by the local police and Rozelia laughing at her.

When Miss Em(Ethel Barrymore), the wealthiest woman in town,  has a heart attack, Dicey talks with Dr. Joe(Griff Barnett) and learns that a nurse will be needed to sit with Miss Em  until she has made a strong recovery.   Dicey insists Pinky do this job as a payment of a debt since Miss Em cared for Dicey the last time that  she was ill.  Pinky dislikes Miss Em, who was rude to her when she was a child and has always  treated her as an inferior person.  Pinky finally agrees to do the job for Dicey’s sake  and also tells  Dicey  that as soon as the nursing job is over she’ll be  traveling back  to Boston.    Miss Em has a way with challenging  Pinky’s doubts about herself and through a Will, and the challenge of its legality by an odious relative of Miss Em’s(Evelyn Varden), Pinky has to fight for her rights in a courtroom, learns more truths about  Tom and herself, and at the end of the movie, makes her decision of what to do with her life that is true to herself and  true to her own identity.

Ethel Barrymore as Miss Em

Ethel Barrymore as Miss Em

Pinky and Miss Em

Pinky and Miss Em

Evelyn Varden playing an evil lady intent on stealing property from Pinky

Evelyn Varden playing an evil lady intent on stealing property from Pinky

Pinky giving Tom her final answer

Pinky giving Tom her final answer

John Ford was the original director for Pinky, but he didn’t get on with the cast, he didn’t grasp the storyline as producer Zanuck envisioned it, and after watching the rushes and being disappointed with them, Zanuck fired Ford after one week on the job.  Elia Kazan had made a name for himself by directing dramas on Broadway, and for directing a  Best Picture Oscar for Gentlemen’s Agreement and for winning Best Director for that film too, all of which helped  Twentieth Century Fox’s coffers.  Zanuck hired Kazan to take over the directing for Pinky.  Kazan has stated how he found a demoralized cast, unsure of their acting abilities after one week of working with John Ford.  Kazan came in and decided to do many read throughs of the script, to get the cast more at ease with the story and with their acting abilities.  Kazan wanted to travel to the South for the filming but was told no by Zanuck.  With the talent of Joe MacDonald, Director of Photography and Atillio Gabani operating the camera , the movie  really looks like it was filmed in a southern town and not a Hollywood backlot and soundstage.

 Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge both  wanted to play the lead role of Pinky, but due to Hollywood’s  censure board that stated there couldn’t be any interracial kissing scenes, the part of Pinky went to actress Jeanne Crain.  Ethel Waters was cast as Grandma Dicey, Ethel Barrymore was cast as Miss Em, and William Lundigan was cast as Dr. Tom.  The film impacted critics and audiences alike.  Crain was a nominee for Best Actress for the Academy Awards in 1950, and her co-stars, Waters and Barrymore, were both nominated for Best Supporting Actresses.

Why did I choose this movie for my pick? Up until 1949, racial issues in movies weren’t explored.  With the end of WWII, President Truman appointed advisors to evaluate desegregating the US military and from my readings on that topic and others about race in America, the late 1940s and early 1950s would prove to have watershed moments and issues that would ultimately lead to the end of Jim Crow laws and the theory  that “Seperate but Equal” was a fine solution to racial issues in the US.

When I first saw Pinky, I was a college student and I stumbled upon it by accident one day, perusing the cable channels.  The unusual topic matter, being made in the 1949, held my attention.  What was this lady going to do?  Marry the man who says he loves her?  Turn her back on her Grandmother that raised her?  Turn her back on her community who clearly could use her talents and skill set at training nurses in her town?  Accept her fiance’s idea of both of them moving to Denver and a new life where no one would have to know of her background?  The movie posed a lot of questions that wouldn’t show the answers until the final scene.  I felt sorry for Pinky as I watched the movie, and grew irritated and angry as to how she was treated by some of the movie’s characters.  Pinky was a startling movie for 1949 and the majority of the critics praised it and audiences flocked to see it; it wasn’t shunned at all in Southern cities and towns across the US as some at Twentieth Century Fox feared would happen.

To see Pinky, it has been put on dvd and is available at Amazon.com, it is available to purchase from Turner Classic Movies, and some kind soul has put the entire movie on Youtube!  With a lilting, moving score by Alfred Newman, excellent directing by Elia Kazan, and an excellent cast, please seek out Pinky!  A daring movie for 1949.  Pinky poster 1

My Classic Movie Pick: The Bishop’s Wife, for the Christmas Movie Blogathon

I was honored when Family Friendly Reviews asked me to participate in their first blogathon, focusing on Christmas Movies.  Immediately I knew I’d write about one of my favorites, The Bishop’s Wife.   Produced by Samuel Goldwyn, directed by Henry Koster,  and made in 1947, the film resonated so much with audiences that besides doing extremely well at the box office it was a Best Picture nominee at that year’s Academy Awards.   The talented cast included  Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven, Gladys Cooper, Monty Woolley, James Gleason, Elsa Lanchester, and Karolyn Grimes.  CM Blogathon

David Niven portrays Bishop Henry Brougham and Loretta Young is his wife, Julia.  They have an 8 year old daughter, Debbie(Karolyn Grimes, who also played  Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful Life) and they live in a huge house with a cook and a maid, Matilda(Elsa Lanchester),  and the Bishop also has a secretary, Miss Cassaway(Sara Haden.)    Life would appear to be simple and easy for the Bishop and his wife, but that isn’t the case at all.

It’s Christmas time as the film opens and we see a winter’s evening settling in over a large city.  The city isn’t identified but as large as it is in the opening flyover shot, I assumed it to be New York City.  We see excited and smiling children admiring the department store windows decorated with moveable characters, acting out little scenes of elves building toys in Santa’s workshop.  Watching all of this happiness is one lone man, smartly dressed, who quietly assumes a watchful eye.  He helps a blind man cross a busy street, cars suddenly braking to a stop as if an unseen force caused the braking.  We see this same man stop a runaway baby buggy and then hand the infant over to her grateful mother.  Then as this man is about to stroll away, he notices Julia, the Bishop’ s wife, looking longingly at a hat in a store window.

Julia wants that hat!

Julia wants that hat!

Julia moves on from the store window and runs into Professor Wutheridge(Monty Woolley) at the florist’s store where she is going to buy the Christmas tree for the Bishop’s house.  ( She orders a huge tree, to be delivered, for $1.85!!!!  Oh those 1947 prices!!)  The Professor admits that he misses seeing Julia and Henry since Henry’s  promotion from being the head minister at St. Timothy’s, which is now in danger of being shuttered.  Julia agrees that she misses the Professor, the old  neighborhood, and she is sad about St. Timothy’s.  The Professor knows about Henry needing to raise money for the building of a  cathedral and despite being a non-religious man, he gives Julia an old Roman coin, and asks her to give it to Henry, to put it towards the cathedral.  This offering touches Julia and she tears up in spite of herself.

When Julia arrives home, she has just missed another meeting  with Mrs. Hamilton(Gladys Cooper) and the cathedral committee.  What she missed was Mrs. Hamilton scolding  Henry about his “fuzzy-thinking” and the doubts Mrs. Hamiton has that Henry is the right man for the job.  Mrs. Hamilton’s bossy,  irritable mood has rubbed off on Henry and he chastises Julia for missing the meeting and he scoffs at the coin from the Professor.  Julia and Henry sit down to an unhappy,  tense dinner and Henry tries to make amends with the suggestion that he and Julia actually have a date for lunch the next day.  Julia’s face lights up at this plan, only to have their date shattered with a phone call from Mr. Travers, to remind Henry about a  meeting that will conflict with the date and cannot be gotten out of.  With the date cancelled, Julia goes  upstairs and  Henry goes back to his study and looks intently at the painting of a cathdral that is above the fireplace mantle.  He prays aloud to God for guidance and hears the door to his study open and close.  He turns to see who is there and no one is there.   As he looks back at the painting, it seems to be lit up and a man is suddenly in the room with him.  It is the smartly dressed man we saw in the film’s opening, the good samaritan who was helping people.  The man introduces himself as Dudley(Cary Grant), and he tells Henry that he is an angel, sent by God, to give Henry the help he’s prayed for!  Henry is at first, very skeptical that this man is an angel and he demands that Dudley perform a miracle right then and there, perhaps to build the cathedral with the wave of his hand.  Dudley chuckles at Henry’s challenge and informs Henry that he will help Henry reach his goals until Henry utters a prayer saying he doesn’t need Dudley’s help anymore and Dudley will then leave and no one will remember him having been among them.

Dudley being introduced to Julia

Dudley being introduced to Julia

Dudley, himself, has a conflict.  He is falling in love with Julia, and Henry has an inkling that this is happening.  All the ladies in the Bishop’s household: daughter Debbie, Miss Cassaway, Matilda, and Julia, are all charmed by Dudley, much to Henry’s consternation.  There are many great scenes where Dudley steps in and weaves his “angel magic”: helping Debbie get accepted into a  snowball fight, keeping the Professor’s sherry bottle filled, dictating the Bishop’s sermon to an unmanned typewriter,  helping Julia and taxi driver Sylvester(James Gleason) ice skate like Olympic athletes, playing the harp to melt Mrs. Hamilton’s icy heart, getting the boys to show up for choir practice at St. Timothy’s, keeping Henry away from the choir practice and literally stuck at Mrs. Hamilton’s home,  and my favorite: the decorating of the Bishop’s Christmas tree.

Who wouldn't want Cary Grant over to decorate their Christmas tree??

Who wouldn’t want Cary Grant over to decorate their Christmas tree??

Ice skating with Julia

Ice skating with Julia

Telling Debbie a story about David, the shepherd boy

Telling Debbie a story about David, the shepherd boy

What I enjoy about this movie is it’s depiction of faith, of a marriage in trouble, and of relationships developing and relationships healing.  The characters are very realistic, even the depiction of an angel!  Who wouldn’t want Cary Grant as their angel??  There is charm, comedy, and a wistfulness in this film.  When it was first in production, Samuel Goldwyn didn’t like the way the first director, William A.  Seiter had handled  the film, so he fired Seiter and had him replaced with Henry Koster.   He also had Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett make some uncredited rewrites of the screenplay.  Gregg Toland’s cinematography was top-notch.     Based upon Robert Nathan’s  1928 novel by the same title, I am glad Goldwyn stepped in and ordered those changes which yielded such a rich film.

Will the cathedral get built?  Will Mrs. Hamilton win and get Henry demoted?  Will St. Timothy’s be closed for good?  Will Henry and Julia’s marriage be saved?  Will Dudley resolve his feelings for Julia? Will he reveal who he really is to her?  The only way to find out the answers to these questions is to seek out The Bishop’s Wife for oneself.   It is available at Amazon and at TCM, and it will air on TCM on Christmas Eve at 12:15 am EST, so set that dvr machine!

At the film’s end, we get to hear a portion of  Bishop Henry’s Christmas Eve sermon:…”all the stockings are filled except one, the stocking for the child in the manger…Let us ask ourselves what would He wish for most?  Let each put in his share.  Lovingkindness, warm  hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance.  All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”  I would add that for the next Christmas season, if you or your family are looking for an opportunity to serve others check out Operation Christmas Child, part of an outreach with The Samaritan’s Purse Ministry.  It allows one to give gifts that will be picked up and delivered to children in third world countries.  The ministry supplies a guided list of gifts to send and the costs for mailing the packages oversees.  For more information, click on this link.

For a lovely Christmas movie, one the entire family can watch and enjoy together, please seek out The Bishop’s Wife!  TBW movie poster 1

My Classic Movie Pick: Tell it to the Marines, For The Chaney Blogathon

My movie pick this week is an oldie, a silent film, but definitely a goodie.  1926′s Tell it to the Marines, stars Lon Chaney, in a role where he looks like himself, not playing a role with transforming make-up to hide his real face.    This post is for The Chaney Blogathon, hosted by Movies, Silently, and The Last Drive-In.    Be sure to visit these two blogs  to read other  great posts about actor Lon Chaney and his son, Lon Chaney Jr.  The Chaney Blogathon When our oldest enlisted with the USMC in 2010, I found myself  reading  all about the Marine Corps, any materials  that I could get my hands on.  I even bought a cd of Marine Corps music when I was at the Marine Corps Recruit  Depot in San Diego, when my son graduated from his boot camp.  I also began watching classic movies that featured Marines in the plot.  According to Thomas Rick’s excellent book, Making the Corps, the United States Marine Corps  had an uncanny ability to promote themselves with  the cooperation of Hollywood.  I believe that there are more movies about Marines and the USMC then the other military branches. After devouring Rick’s book, and another great one by Frank Schaeffer, Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story about Love and the United States  Marine Corps, I found that Turner Classic Movies would be airing their silent film, Tell it to the Marines, late on a Sunday night.  I tivoed it, watched it, and thoroughly enjoyed it.    Tell it to the Marines Poster 1

William Haines  plays Skeet Burns, a young man who decides to join the Marines to get a free train trip to San Diego, CA.  When the train arrives in San Diego, Skeet hops off of it and gets on a train bound for Tijuana, Mexico to go and see the horse races.  Sergeant O’Hara(Lon Chaney) arrives at the train station to collect the new recruits and he is irritated that one Skeet Burns isn’t present, as his name is on the list.  Days go by and Skeet arrives back in San Diego, hungry and out of money, so he reluctantly goes to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and is placed in Sergeant O’Hara’s capable hands for boot camp.

Greeting the previously awol Skeet

Greeting the previously awol Skeet

As Skeet learns the ropes of boot camp, we see him flirting with a Navy nurse(Eleanor Boardman) much to the dismay of Sergeant O’Hara.  We learn that he has feelings for Nurse Dale but because he has kept quiet as to how he feels about her, he might lose her to Skeet, an upstart who is full of himself.   Here’s a clip illustrating Skeet visiting Nurse Dale’s examination room claiming that he is sick, his attempts to flirt with her, and the Sergeant coming in to get him out of there.

Sgt. O'Hara talking with Nurse Dale

Sgt. O’Hara talking with Nurse Dale

Nurse Dale

Nurse Dale

As weeks go on, Skeet becomes a passable Marine, and Nurse Dale is smitten with him.  She asks Sergeant O’Hara if Skeet can be included in a Naval Training  exercise and reluctantly O’Hara allows Skeet to be a part of it.  Skeet, goofing off on the ship, angers a sailor and agrees to box with him not knowing that the sailor is the  Navy Heavyweight Champion!

Sgt. O'Hara scolding Skeet

Sgt. O’Hara scolding Skeet

About to say, "Drop and give me 20!"

About to say, “Drop and give me 20!”

Skeet becoming more of a Marine

Skeet becoming more of a Marine

Skeet in the ring

Skeet in the ring

Next up, the Marines are sent to the island of Tondo and a naval installation that is there.   The days are boring but there are island girls, especially one gal called Zaya(Carmel Myers) and she catches Skeet’s eye.  Before he  gets too serious with Zaya, Skeet breaks it off with her, which angers her and causes a fight between the islanders and the military men.   O’Hara has to rescue Skeet.  Rumors about Skeet and  Zaya get back to Nurse Dale and she breaks up with Skeet.

The Asiatic Squadron soon asks for our intrepid Marines, and coincidentally Nurse Dale is there, in China, working with a group of Navy nurses.  Will this being in close proximity of one another cause Skeet and Nurse Dale to patch things up?  Will Sergeant O’Hara make his feelings known to Nurse Dale?  An evil band of thugs is on the prowl and also have their eyes on the American nurses and their outpost.  Will the Marines rescue the nurses and their patients in time?  Will Skeet learn to follow orders and show respect to Sergeant O’Hara?  Will Sergeant O’Hara recognize the strong Marine that Skeet has developed into?

The answers to those questions can only be answered by watching this gem of a silent movie.  The movie has been put on dvd and it is available to purchase through Amazon.com and at  TCM.   The cast does a good job in their specific parts, but Chaney owns this film.  He does a great job portraying a stern, tough as nails, Marine sergeant, who has a secret, soft heart.  There is a touching scene where Sgt. O’Hara is all alone in his tent, looking over memorabilia he has collected through the years of his duty, and we can tell he is torn between telling Nurse Dale how much he loves her, but that would also  mean giving up the main life he knows, that of being a Unites States Marine.  With his well-worn face and expressive eyes, he conveys his emotions perfectly in every scene he is in.

Part of this film was filmed at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and the shots of the place reminded me of my brief time there.  I don’t think the Depot has changed in its appearance that much from 1926!  The USMC were so pleased with Chaney’s performance of a Marine Sergeant that he was made an honorary Marine after the film was released.  It did great at the box office and I am sure that the Marine Corps hoped it would boost their  enlistment numbers.  I’ll close out my post with a few more shots from Tell it to the Marines.

Sgt. O'Hara quietly reflecting on his life in the Corps

Sgt. O’Hara quietly reflecting on his life in the Corps

Chaney singing for the crew during a break in filming

Chaney singing for the crew during a break in filming

TITTM poster 2TITTM poster 3TITTM poster 4

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 58 other followers