Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

My Classic Movie Pick: The Night of the Hunter

Once in a great while I can get some of my kids to watch a classic movie with me. It helps that the movie earned 4 stars, and so it was, last Friday night, the 19 year old commuter college kid and the 12 year old 7th grader agreed to sit down with me, munch on popcorn, and watch The Night of the Hunter.  Children!!!!

The Night of the Hunter poster 1

I added that previous word with the many exclamation points because it is a phrase uttered a lot by the main baddie of the plot, Robert Mitchum.  Robert Mitchum, good looking, with a half-opened eye type of stare, he could play heroes with the best of them but when it came to playing a deviant, or in this film, a sociopath with no conscience-or only a slim one, he was one of the best. The man could sing,too!  Mitchum’s character claims to be a traveling preacher, and several times in the film he is singing hymns aloud and I was pleasantly surprised by Mitchum’s strong voice.

This movie was Oscar-winning actor Charles Laughton’s only directorial effort and it’s sad that when it came out in 1955 critics didn’t support it.  I found it a stylishly lit and shot film by cinematographer Stanley Cortez, an interesting and effective musical score by Walter Schumann and very well-acted by the adult and  child actors.   How hard it must have been for Mitchum, who was a dad in real life, making this movie where his character  acts nice one minute to the two main children in the movie, and then in the next minute, he snaps at them in a sociopathic rage??  I hope he and director Laughton bought the kids a lot of ice cream and candy to make up for the scary stuff they had to deal with for the cameras!

The plot is pretty simple, based on the novel by Davis Grubb and screenplay by James Agee.  It’s the early part of the Great Depression and Ben Harper(Peter Graves) is on the run. He’s robbed a bank and has a large stash of money that he needs to hide before he’s arrested by the state police who are hot on his heels.  A bank guard was killed during the robbery.  Harper sees his two kids playing in the yard of his home, John(stoically played by Billy Chapin) and Pearl(Sally Jane Bruce, who has an adorable speech impediment when trying to say her “R’s”).  Harper grabs Miss Jenny, Pearl’s doll, and stuffs the money into the doll’s body  and he makes the children swear that they won’t reveal to anyone where the money is hidden.  As Harper is pushed to the ground and arrested in front of his kids, it’s sad as John starts to groan and utter “No!”, over and over, louder and louder with each utterance, as the pain of realizing that his dad will go to prison hits the boy.

Ben Harper(Peter Graves)needs to hide the stolen money fast.

Ben Harper(Peter Graves)needs to hide the stolen money fast.

Ben’s wife, Willa(played as if in a mental fog and excellently done by Shelley Winters) has no idea about the hidden money.  As bad luck would have it, a sociopath who claims to be a preacher, Harry Powell(Robert Mitchum at his evil, crazy best) lands in the state prison for a stolen car and ends up being Ben’s cell mate.   Powell knows Ben will soon face his date with the noose, so he tries to get Ben to spill in his sleep where the bank robbery money is hidden.  Ben doesn’t spill and is hung for the murder of the bank guard.  When Powell is released from prison, he searches for and finds the town where Willa and her kids live.   Powell, turning on the charm, gets Willa’s bosses at the ice cream shop, Icey and Walt Spoon(Evelyn Varden and Don Beddoe) to think he’s a nice guy and then Powell turns on his charm at Willa.  Pearl likes Powell too, and it’s only John who is skeptical of this new man who soon has finagled his way into becoming Mom’s new husband.

Ben won't tell Powell where the money is hidden.

Ben won’t tell Powell where the money is hidden.

Powell charming the ladies at the church picnic.

Powell charming the ladies at the church picnic.

Willa falling for Powell

Willa falling for Powell

 

Powell turns his criminal mind to Willa, breaking down her spirit into thinking she has to be “pure” and “clean” before he’ll show her any love.  It’s a sad scene when she hears the real Powell lashing out verbally at Pearl, which Willa overhears as she’s walking home from work.  She is smiling as she leaves the ice cream shop but when she hears Powell scream and say horrible threats to her 4 year old daughter, Willa’s face falls into a stunned look, because now she knows that John hasn’t been lying to her; Powell has been trying to get the children to reveal where the bank money is hidden, ergo, the marriage to this man is a sham.

Spoiler Alert: Willa isn’t long for this world and the scene where she is lying in her bed, with her hands folded as if in prayer, and Powell stands over her, dramatically with a large knife raised up over her, the framing shot or outline around the characters looks like an outline of a church around them-this movie is full of imagery, strongly referring to good and evil.

John and Pearl are asleep when their mother is murdered and Powell hides Willa’s body.  He proceeds to turn on his charisma and tells sympathetic townsfolk that Willa ran away with another man, a traveling musician.  With the mother gone, Powell turns on the pressure to get the children to reveal where the money is hidden.  With a knife at John’s throat, Pearl finally buckles and tearfully shouts out that the money is in her doll.  As Powell starts to laugh, while sitting on the cellar floor, John cleverly causes a shelf of canning jars to fall on Powell’s head and he and Pearl manage to run away and grab a john boat and head down the Ohio River.  Powell can be heard groaning and screeching due to his head injury as he also tries to grab the children before they get to the boat.  It’s a tense few minutes but the children succeed in escaping their evil stepfather’s clutches.

John lies to Powell and tells him that the money is hidden in the cellar floor.

John lies to Powell and tells him that the money is hidden in the cellar floor.

Managing to escape Powell

Managing to escape Powell

Lillian Gish enters the film at this point, as Rachel Cooper.  We don’t know a lot about Rachel’s character.  There’s no mention of a deceased husband, but just one son who she doesn’t see much anymore.  She lives on a nice little farm and has taken upon herself to take in run away children and try to give them a good home and some spiritual sustenance too, with  her nightly telling of bible stories.  She takes in John and Pearl, and soon has a run-in with the pursuing Powell.  There’s a scene at night, as he’s warned Rachel that he’ll come in the night for those two kids, and he is in the vicinity of the farm singing a hymn and Rachel is ready for him, sitting in her rocking chair with a shotgun in her hands, and she also begins to sing the same hymn, loudly, to let Powell know that she’s alert and he’d better watch out!  It’s an intriguing scene, the dueling hymns, one sung by the embodiment of evil and one sung by the embodiment of good.

Offering to tell Rachel and the kids his story about L-o-v-e battling H-a-t-e.

Offering to tell Rachel and the kids his story about L-o-v-e battling H-a-t-e.

Rachel doesn't believe Powell's lie that he's the devoted dad of John and Pearl

Rachel doesn’t believe Powell’s lie that he’s the devoted dad of John and Pearl

Rachel ready for the lurking Powell

Rachel ready for the lurking Powell

I’ll not give away anymore of this film’s plot because I want you to seek this movie out and view it for yourself.   I would also be remiss for not mentioning 4 minor characters in the film: Evelyn Varden as Icey Spoon, Willa’s boss.  Varden makes Icey a loud, foolish busybody who pushes poor Willa to marry Powell.  Don Beddoe is very good as Icey’s long-suffering husband who wisely doesn’t think Powell is all that wonderful.  James Gleason as Uncle Birdy, a retired riverboat man, who is still grieving for his deceased wife and  who’s old boathouse is a haven at times for John. It is Uncle Birdy who sadly finds Willa’s dead body in the river.  Finally, Gloria Castillo as Ruby, the teen girl who Rachel has taken in.  In Ruby’s desperate search for love, she bumps into Powell and spills the beans as to where John and Pearl are living and she unfortunately keeps thinking Powell might be a good man to fall in love with!

The Night of the Hunter is available to rent or purchase via Amazon,  Turner Classic Movies will air it on November 11th at 8:00 pm ET/7:00 pm CT and it’s also available to buy at TCM’s Shop and it’s the Criterion Collection dvd that they’re selling.  If you visit Youtube there are several clips posted from the movie, a trailer or two, and quite a few sites saying to click on their link and you can view the movie.  My cynical side doesn’t trust those sites, so click on those links at your own discretion.

So grab some popcorn and favorite beverage, settle back, and let Robert Mitchum, as evil, crazy Harry Powell try to tell you the story of h-a-t-e and l-o-v-e, but be sure you have Lillian Gish and her shotgun on your side!

TNOTH lovea nd hate

 

 

 

The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon: Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie, in MGM’s Dr. Kildare Movies

Modern day film fans are probably familiar with Drew Barrymore but are they aware she is descended from a family of actors that began their stagecraft in the 1840’s?!  My post today is  for The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, hosted this weekend by classic film fan Crystal.   Be sure to click here, to read more great pieces written by other classic film fans, about the three Barrymores that classic film fans know best: Lionel, Ethel, and John.

Lionel Ethel John

I decided to focus on Drew’s late, Great-Uncle, Lionel.  Specifically, his role as the grumpy Dr. Gillespie in MGM’s long running film series about a young doctor, Dr. Kildare.   Frederick Schiller Faust, under the pen name Max Brand, wrote for pulp fiction magazines.  He created a character, a young doctor, James Kildare, and wrote a story about the young doctor in a nationally read magazine.  That story caught Paramount Studio’s attention.  They bought the rights of the  story  to make the 1937 movie, Interns Can’t Take Money, which starred Joel McCrea.  Next came Metro Goldwyn Mayer and they bought the rights to the character concept of Dr. Kildare(the studio put Lew Ayres in the title role) and then made 9 successful films all about the young doctor.  To me, though,   topping all of these films off, like the cherry on the sundae, is Lionel Barrymore.

Dr. Gillespie

 

Barrymore began acting on the stage in 1899(!), and after a successful stage career, he began to appear in silent movies; 1911 he began to appear in some D.W. Griffith films.  By the time that the Dr. Kildare series began to be filmed in 1938, Barrymore was in his 60s and confined to a wheelchair due to arthritis and a broken hip(broken twice!) that never healed properly.   His character, Dr.  Leonard Gillespie, is the wisest doctor and the grumpiest,  at Blair General Hospital.  He rolls around the halls as fast as he can, has his own clinic in the building with a large contingent of loyal patients, and his own apartment to live in too!   There’s a  head nurse, Molly Byrd(Alma Kruger), who Dr. Gillespie likes to bark at but we can tell that  he has a fondness for this no-nonsense nurse.

Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie giving a chewing out to young Dr. Kildare, played by Lew Ayres

Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie giving a chewing out to young Dr. Kildare, played by Lew Ayres

The plots of the 9 Dr. Kildare films aren’t too difficult to follow, and they do present some clever medical mysteries that the young doctor has to resolve, often asking Dr. Gillespie for advice.  Turner Classic Movies began airing the Dr. Kildare films on Saturday mornings, and I began to record and watch them.  There’s something endearing about all of the films in this series.  Dr. James Kildare is young, smart, and has ideas as to how he wants to help patients.  Dr. Kildare’s parents(Samuel S. Hinds and Emma Dunn) are two loving parents who did a good job raising their only child. Of course, the senior Kildare is also a doctor in a small town and the parents hope that one day, Jimmy, will come back to it and practice medicine and give up the big city hospital.  There’s Nurse Lamont(Laraine Day), who falls in love with young Dr. Kildare, and he with her.  There’s Wayman(Nat Pendleton) as a big lug of an ambulance driver who wants to date Sally(Marie Blake) the wise-cracking dame who runs the hospital’s switchboard.  Dr. Carew, the hospital’s administrator(Walter Kingsford), has some clashes from time to time with Dr. Gillespie and Dr. Kildare, but he usually will give the A-OK to a new treatment  they want to try.   An orderly, Conover(Clinton Rosemond) who is Dr. Gillespie’s butler for all intents and purposes, and Nurse Parker(Nell Craig)-nicknamed Nosey by Dr. Gillespie, rounds out the rest of the cast.

Dr. Gillespie, Laraine Day as Nurse Lamont, and Dr. Kildare

Dr. Gillespie, Laraine Day as Nurse Lamont, and Dr. Kildare

Dr. Gillespie and Nurse Molly Bird

Dr. Gillespie and Nurse Molly Byrd

After the 9th Dr. Kildare was shown at the box office,  the 10th film was about to begin shooting when the American public learned that it’s lead star, Lew Ayres, had declared himself a conscientious objector to WWII, when he had recently been drafted.  (Ayers did serve as a non-combat medic and chaplain’s assistant during the war which toned down the public’s outcry against Ayers.)  MGM, not wanting bad publicity for this 10th film, decided to cut Dr. Kildare from the film completely and just focus the film on Dr. Gillespie.  The new story line worked and 6 Dr. Gillespie films were made.  There were four actors who played new,  young doctors needing  Dr. Gillespie’s mentoring: Philip Dorn played Dr. Gerniede, Van Johnson played Dr. Adams, Keye Luke played Dr. Wong Howe, and James Craig played Dr. Coalt.

Calling Dr. Kildare sees the young doctor get mixed up with Lana Turner! (Before she was a star)

Calling Dr. Kildare sees the young doctor get mixed up with Lana Turner! (Before she was a star)

Wayman and Sally- a date is about to be requested

Wayman and Sally- a date is about to be requested

Dr. Kildare with administrator Dr. Carew

Dr. Kildare with administrator Dr. Carew

TCM will be airing the first Dr. Kildare movie, Young Dr. Kildare, on Thursday, August 27th, 12:30 pm ET/11:30 am CT.  It’s also available to buy through TCM’s shop, as well as the Dr. Gillespie films.  There are also dvds to buy of the American tv show, Dr. Kildare, for sale on the same site, so don’t let that confuse you!   Amazon also has some of the Dr. Kildare films for sale, too.

Before I sign off, the names Dr. Kildare and Dr. Gillespie had become commonplace in American pop culture in the 1940s-1950s, and even Bugs Bunny had a chance to have a bit of fun.  In this cartoon, Hot Cross Bunny, watch for the waskily wabbit to impersonate Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie.

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick: Airplane!’s Inspiration, Zero Hour!

A friend posted on Facebook a meme featuring a scene from the 1980 comedic film Airplane!  I informed my friend that a film made in 1957, a serious drama, was the inspiration behind the comedic film.  My friend didn’t know this and I began to wonder, how many other Airplane! fans don’t know about Zero Hour!?  Thus, the inspiration behind my classic movie pick for this week.

Zero Hour! poster 1

Arthur Hailey,  the writer behind the best-selling novels Airport and Hotel, prior to being a writer, was  a Canadian businessman.  In the mid-1950’s, while flying home from a business trip, he began to imagine a story.  What if on a plane in mid-flight, the passengers and the pilots fall violently ill due to food poisoning, and only one passenger who isn’t ill, a former RAF(Royal Air Force) pilot, who is now afraid to pilot planes, is the only hope for a safe landing?  Hailey put his imaginative idea down on paper and successfully sold the story to the CBC-Canadian Broadcasting Company.

CBC

The CBC, in it’s beginnings, was simply broadcasting American and British televsion programs and movies to their fellow Canadians, but the fledgling corporation wanted to try and air original programs, set in Canada.  Hailey’s story fit the corporation’s new plan and it aired as a tv movie on April 3rd, 1956 and an estimated 2 million Canadians tuned in to watch Flight Into Danger, starring James Doohan, best known as Scottie from Star Trek.  The BBC took notice of the ratings hit this telefilm produced, aired it and drew in 10 million viewers.  That brought in the Yanks and Flight Into Danger was aired by the Alcoa Hour on NBC with MacDonald Carey as the heroic former pilot who has to land the plane.  After these three broadcasting corporations had aired Hailey’s original telefilm idea, he sold the film rights to an independent producer, Hall Bartlett who renamed the telefilm’s title to Zero Hour! and he, along with Arthur Hailey and John C. Champion wrote a new screenplay.  NBC

BBC

With Barlett set to also direct,  it was time to find the cast.  Dana Andrews was hired to play the former pilot, Ted Stryker.  Linda Darnell was selected to play his wife, Ellen and child actor Ray Ferrell played their son, Joey.  Geoffrey Toone played the good doctor, Peggy King played the stewardess, Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch(an actual NFL star at the time) played the co-pilot, and Sterling Hayden was hired to play Capt. Treleaven, who has to guide the hapless plane to the ground.

The background of Ted Stryker’s character is a bit different from the character in Airplane!  In Zero Hour!, he’s a Canadian who served in the RAF as a pilot during WW II.  Near the end of the war, he was in charge of a mission, leading his group of flyers on a bombing raid of Wiesbaden, Germany.  The weather is bad, heavy with fog, but Ted doesn’t call off the mission and 6 of his pilots die when their planes crash into the German countryside.  Ever since that awful day, Ted has suffered from ptsd: loads of guilt for not calling off the mission and he’s had trouble holding down jobs.  He has flown back to his home in Eastern Canada to tell his wife Ellen that a war buddy has agreed to give him a job at the Mid-Canadian Aircraft Company, LTD. in Winnipeg.  Ted’s good news turns to bitterness as he finds a “Dear John” letter from Ellen saying she has had it with him and that she is taking their son, Joey and leaving Ted.  Ted rushes to the airport and locates Ellen’s flight to Vancouver and is able to get a ticket for the same flight.

In Zero Hour!, Stryker's son Joey, gets to meet the pilots.

In Zero Hour!, Stryker’s son Joey, gets to meet the pilots.

Psst! Don't order the fish!

Psst! Don’t order the fish!

If you have seen the movie Airplane!, you know the rest of the story.  The creators of Airplane!, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker, saw Zero Hour! on tv late one night and they got the idea to make a spoof of this drama.  They were able to buy the film’s rights and the rest is comedic film history.  Some kind soul has posted to Youtube a selection of scenes from Zero Hour! and comparing them to the more famous scenes from Airplane!

Uh oh! Passengers aren't feeling well!

Uh oh! Passengers aren’t feeling well!

The doctor informing the pilots about the sick passengers

The doctor informing the pilots about the sick passengers

Zero Hour!, from time to time does air on Turner Classic Movies, so check their schedule for it.  The film is available at Amazon to buy, in a dvd format, but the price is high! Probably due to it’s elevated “cult” film status among movie fans.  It’s also available through TCM’s Shop, but in a dvd set with two other cult film classics, Hot Rods to Hell(which also stars Dana Andrews, ironically!)  and Skyjacked.  If you love the film Airplane!, seek out Zero Hour! to see where the inspiration for the latter film began!

Ellen has to help Ted communicate with the Control Tower...will this event save their marriage?

Ellen has to help Ted communicate with the Control Tower…will this event save their marriage?

Sterling Hayden, as Capt. Treleaven, losing his cool with Stryker!

Sterling Hayden, as Capt. Treleaven, losing his cool with Stryker!

ZH! poster 2

 

 

The Wicked Lady: For the 2nd Annual British Invaders Blogathon!

In 1945, writer Magdalen King-Hall had written her 7th novel, Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton.  It became a huge best-seller with book readers in Great Britian.    Gainsborough Studios came calling and they turned the book into the film, The Wicked Lady, which in turn, was the biggest box office hit of 1946 in Great Britain.  I happened to view the film a couple years ago when it was airing on Turner Classic Movies and I am so very glad that I tuned in to see it!  The film has romance, action, passion, good vs. evil, and Captain Nemo, err, James Mason in it when he was declared the biggest movie star in Great Britain.  Here’s a trailer that was used to advertise the film via Youtube.

The Wicked Lady poster 2

The Wicked Lady stars Margaret Lockwood as Barbara, who is the wicked lady of the title.   We first meet Barbara as she arrives at Sir Ralph Skelton’s(solemnly played by Griffiths Jones) estate.  Barbara is the guest of her childhood best friend, Caroline ( sweetly played by Patricia Roc).  Caroline and Sir Ralph have fallen in love and are planning to be married, but Barbara is jealous of Caroline and decides to  sneak behind her back, to seduce and steal her fiance!  Poor solemn Sir Ralph, he doesn’t know what’s hit him!  We soon see a wedding ceremony, except it’s Barbara wearing the wedding gown that Caroline was planning to wear!  Caroline is so sweet and good, and when she realizes Ralph loves Barbara, she willingly gives him up without a fight, and even agrees to be the Maid of Honor!  I would not have been so charitable!

Watch out Sir Ralph, she wants you!!!

Watch out Sir Ralph, she wants you!!!

During the wedding reception a handsome guest, Kit Locksby arrives(Michael Rennie) and as soon as he sees the bride, he falls in love with her!  Barbara, now Lady Barbara also locks eyes with the handsome Kit and we know she now has fallen out of love with her new husband and wants to be with Kit!

Lady Barbara and Kit

Lady Barbara and Kit

Since Kit is an honorable chap, he bows out of Lady Barbara’s life.  Meanwhile, the lady is bored out of her skull at the Skelton estate.  There’s 3 elderly, spinster aunts who also live in the house and they drive Lady Barbara nuts!  Especially the two who are twins.  (These three aunts are well acted by Martita Hunt, Beatrice Varley, and Amy Dalby-Varley and Dalby play the twins and they really do look alike so the casting office did a great work there!)  One evening, Sir Ralph’s sister, Lady Henrietta and her husband, Lord Highclere(played by Enid Stamp-Taylor and Francis Lister) arrive for a short visit.  The two ladies despise one another and their dialogue with each other is polite but mean-fun to see!  The Highclere’s share the tales they have heard about the daring highwayman, Capt. Jerry Jackson.  The rogue robs the coaches but not before giving passionate kisses to the ladies he robs!  These tales catch Lady Barbara’s imagination.   When Lady Barbara loses her mother’s brooch to Henrietta in a card game, Lady Barbara devises a plan to get the brooch back:she’ll disguise herself as a highwayman and stop Henrietta’s coach and get the brooch.  Since her bedroom has a secret passage to the grounds of the estate, Lady Barbara is able to sneak away, dressed as a highwayman, robs the coach, and gets her late mother’s brooch.

Henrietta has won Lady Barbara's brooch

Henrietta has won Lady Barbara’s brooch

Robbing that coach was such a thrilling activity that Lady Barbara decides to rob some more coaches!  On one of her nightly robberies she inadvertantly meets Capt. Jerry Jackson because she has invaded his designated robbery area.  He admiringly watches this new robber’s style, then invites this lady back to an inn for a shared supper.  Of course, when Capt. Jackson takes off Lady Barbara’s mask, it’s inevitable that they’re going to do a lot more than share a supper!

Lady Barbara turned highwayman!

Lady Barbara turned highwayman!

Lady Barbara, busy with her new hobby of robbery and her new love affair with Capt. Jackson, has no idea that her husband, Sir Ralph has fallen out of love with her and that he now loves, once again, Caroline!  Caroline(who had agreed to stay on at the estate to help run it because that duty was too boring for Lady Barbara), wise as well as sweet, moves back to London.  While there, she meets Kit and soon the two of them are fast friends, both confiding they have broken hearts due to being in love with people they cannot be with.

Lady Barbara and Capt. Jackson

Lady Barbara and Capt. Jackson, she can’t resist him!

A new conflict emerges to spoil all of Lady Barbara’s fun-the faithful servant Hogarth(wonderfully played by Felix Aylmer) is a Puritan, likes to quote scriptures, and he had become suspicious of Lady Barbara’s sleeping in so late each day so he takes it upon himself to stay up late one night and spy on her.  He confronts Lady Barbara: he knows of her disguise, of her using the secret passageway, of her robbing coaches with Capt. Jerry Jackson and that she is his lover, and that she may have murdered a young man who is a tenant on the estate, as the young man was a new guard for a coach company that hauls gold and silver, and the young man had recently died in a coach robbery.  Hogarth announces that he will be telling Sir Ralph all that he knows about Lady Barbara!  She is horrified and decides to convince Hogarth that she is ready to repent, that Capt. Jackson was trying to blackmail her and that she was forced to go along with him, that he was the murderer of the young tenant.  Lady Barbara is convincing and poor Hogarth is completely fooled.  However, when Hogarth is later ill, and Lady Barbara is nursing him back to health, she decides to make sure he will never recover!!

Lady Barbara promising Hogarth that she has truly repented

Lady Barbara promising Hogarth that she has truly repented

I can’t give away anymore of the plot as I want you to find this film and discover how it will all end for yourself!  Will Capt. Jackson ever be caught? Will Kit and Caroline marry?  Will Sir Ralph get a divorce from Lady Barbara and then marry Caroline?  Will Hogarth manage to tell Sir Ralph all he knows before he dies?  Will Lady Barbara continue to live a wicked life or will she get tired of it and try to really repent?

From time to time TCM does air this British film, so check their online site to see if it will be airing anytime in 2015.  It is available to view via Amazon‘s instant rent.   A kind soul has put the entire film up on Youtube, but the quality of the print isn’t that great.  Netflix may have it still on their roster.  Criterion Collection also has the film and a fun clip when Lady Barbara is at the Inn with Capt. Jackson.

The British Invaders Blogathon banner

My post today has been for the Second Annual British Invaders Blogathon, hosted by Terry at A Shroud of Thoughts.  Be sure to visit his blog site to read about other wonderful movies from across the pond that we Americans shouldn’t dismiss!

 

For the 1947 Blogathon: They Won’t Believe Me!

If  cable tv had existed in 1947,  then the movie I chose to review for this blogathon, RKO Studio’s They Won’t Believe Me!  would have appeared on the Lifetime Channel!   Instead of a woman in danger film, we have a man who is the  protagonist/antagonist all at the same time.   He is really a jerk, incapable of making good choices as to  who to love, marry, and even how to work at a job! The  3 female characters  are either blind to his numerous faults or they think they can change him-3 pretty ladies who are hooked on this idiot!  Ah well, c’est la vie in Lifetime movie plots and in They Won’t Believe Me!   They Won't Believe Me poster

They Won’t Believe Me was based on a story idea by Gordon McDonell and the screenplay was written by Jonathon Latimer.  The film’s producer was Joan Harrison, Alfred Hitchcock’s reliable assistant on many of his films and his television series.  Former actor, voice actor, Irving Pichel helmed the film as director.  The film has a noir feel to it, but despite some movie critics calling it a top notch noir, I felt it was a bit weak in a true noir description.  More on that issue later in the post.

Wife Greta, ably played by Rita Johnson

Wife Greta, ably played by Rita Johnson

Robert Young, who usually played nice guys in film, and was most well-known in his later years on television as the all-knowing, loving Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best and as the wise and caring Dr. Welby in Marcus Welby, M.D. is this film’s stinker!  Young’s Larry Ballantine  is a jerk,  a weakling sort of a man.  A weakling because he married wife #1, Greta(ably played by Rita Johnson) because she’s wealthy.   He wants to divorce Greta when he falls in love with her friend, Janice (Jane Greer, a  news magazine writer) and even has  plans to meet Janice in Montreal, her new home office assignment.  The clever Greta finds out and deals her trump card: you can run off to Montreal with Janice, but the money flow will dry up, dear Larry.  Rita plays Greta as an understated, quiet, and very patient woman. Greta’s not a shrieking harpy, and she calmly informs Larry that if he chooses her over Janice, there is a job lined up for him in LA, at a prestigious brokerage firm, and that she, Greta, has a fabulous house with tennis court and pool in Benedict Canyon,  all ready for them to live in.  Janice goes alone to Montreal.  ( A side note-Greer got to wear the most outstanding hats I’ve ever seen in a movie-just gorgeous creations!)

Love #2: Jane Greer as Janice

Love #2: Jane Greer as Janice

Time goes by and at the brokerage firm, we can tell that Larry isn’t a good employee.  He tries for a bit, but one day his boss chews him out for not having a requested report ready for a prospective, rich investor.   As Larry is about to voice some lame excuse as to his awful work ethic, in pops a sexy and smart secretary, Verna(Susan Hayward) who hands Larry the report with a, “Is this the report that’s needed, Mr. Ballentine?”  Before Larry and his boss know what’s hit them, Verna sashays her way to the secretarial area of the office.  Larry finds her to thank her and offers to buy her perfume!  Verna has a better idea, why not have Larry give her a ride home some evening.  Verna, of the three women, is the closest to a femme fatale in this noir wannabe.  She admits she’s a gold digger, she correctly accuses Larry of being no more mature than a child,  but she thinks Larry is her only ticket to a life of luxury.  They begin an affair in earnest until Greta finds out and once again she calmly plays her trump card.  This time, her suggestion is to move to a ranch house out in the middle of a valley, no phone, mail delivery will be at a general store, horses to ride every day, a pool to swim in, and they can just while away their days by relaxing and enjoying the beauty of the valley and the nearby mountains.  Larry looks queasy at her offer, but he agrees.  I wanted to cheer when Verna lashes out at him and calls him a rat when he delivered his breaking up speech to her.  Run, Verna, as fast as you can!!!!

Verna(Susan Hayward) catches Larry's eye!

Verna(Susan Hayward) catches Larry’s eye!

"But Verna, you don't understand! Greta is loaded with money!"

“But Verna, you don’t understand! Greta is loaded with money!”

The plot of the movie, up to this point, was easy to follow, but it was a bit  frustrating to me.  Larry’s character, while conflicted, was not a hard-boiled noirish hero.  The 3 women characters weren’t femme fatales in the true noir definition, although Hayward’s came the closest.  What frustrated me the most was  how could these 3 seemingly intelligent and attractive women, fall for this guy, Larry?  I kept thinking that if the part of Larry had been recast with Burt Lancaster, Cary Grant, Tyrone Power, Victor Mature, Ray Milland, or Robert Mitchum, Alan Ladd, Kirk Douglas, or even Joel McCrea,  then I could possibly see why these women would all fall for Larry.  I like Robert Young, but to me, he was miscast as Larry.  I’m sure he didn’t mind too much as he got to have some kissing scenes with Greer and Hayward!

The  last third of the film  the plot became trickier.  Sir Walter Scott wrote, “Oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” (I thought Shakespeare wrote that but I was wrong!)  Larry and Verna reunite and come up with a tangled web.   Larry  decides to spurn Greta and take some of  her money.  He’s going to go to Reno and get a quickie divorce, Verna will go with him, and then they’ll get married and move away to begin a new  life.    He tells Verna that he’ll write a letter to Greta telling her he’s divorcing her, and since he’s on a joint checking account with Greta, he’ll write out a check to Verna and she can cash it at the brokerage house.  Then she can bring that money with her when she and Larry meet at a tiny burg,  Thomson’s Corner.  They’ll then drive to Reno together.  To redeem the two for a teensy bit, Verna reveals that she didn’t cash the check and Larry tears it up into little bits.  Aw, they’re not going to gouge Rita’s checking account!   All seems to go according to plan until on the drive to Reno they have a horrific crash at night with a delivery truck.

Yes, when running off to Reno to get that divorce filed fast, let's delay our trip by taking a swim!

Yes, when running off to Reno to get that divorce filed fast, let’s delay our trip by taking a swim!

To reveal anymore of this film is to give away too many spoilers, but I will add that the film is told from a courtroom flashback: Larry is the defendent in a murder trial and he gives his side of the story to the jury: he shares with them how he is a jerk, how he trashed his marriage vows to Greta, how he only cared about her money, how he dumped Janice, how Verna dumped him, how they reunited, planned to get to Reno, the horrific car accident, his meeting Janice again by accident(or is it by accident?), and how Larry came to be put on trial.

Larry on trial...he thinks the jury won't believe him.

Larry on trial…he thinks the jury won’t believe him.

To see the surpise ending of this romance/crime/drama noirish film, seek out They Won’t Believe Me!  TCM is going to air this film again on September 4th at 6:45 am Eastern/5:45 Central.   The films is also at Amazon but mainly as a VHS tape(!) or on dvd through third-party sellers.  It does deserve to be re-released on a proper dvd format, in my opinion.

Publicity still for the film

Publicity still for the film

This post is part of the 1947 Blogathon hosted by classic film fans Speakeasy and Shadows and Satin.  Please visit their sites by clicking on the links and read about other films that came to the movie going public in 1947.

 

1947b

For Sex!(Now that I have your attention) Blogathon: 1941’s Ball of Fire

A couple months ago, fellow classic movie fan and blogger, Steve, at Movie, Movie, Blog, Blog  posted that he was hosting an upcoming blogathon, entitled Sex!(Now that I have your attention), a look at classic movies that tastefully, skillfully, without being graphic or vulgar, hinted at that something that causes a man to seek his mate, so to speak.  I saw Steve’s announcement for the blogathon, I blushed, and decided that I wouldn’t be able to participate.  Then, 3 weeks ago, I received a personal invite to participate in this blogathon!  The first day of this blogathon, June 19th, happens to be  my birthday, and not just any birthday; I was born in 1965, so I’ll let you do the math.  I decided, oh let’s have some fun and I contacted Steve and told him I was in.  Be sure to visit his site to read about the other films getting the treatment this weekend.  Sex!(Now that I have your attention!) Blogathon

I decided to take a look at  1941’s screwball, rom-com, Ball of Fire.   This film is shown on Turner Classic Movies quite regularily, and I always ignored it!  This past winter, I finally gave in and tivoed it and viewed it.  The film is a gem!  Well-directed by the late, great Howard Hawks(here is a list of his award winning films courtesy of imdb), well-written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, two gentlemen who excelled at getting those double entendres into their scripts, and well-acted by the two leads, Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.  The supporting players are also great, but  more about them in a moment!  Ball of Fire poster 1  Barbara Stanwyck plays  Katharine  “Sugarpuss” O’Shea, a nightclub singer and dancer.  Sugarpuss loves her work but her problem is her gangster boyfriend, Joe Lilac(Dana Andrews in an early role).  Joe may have committed a murder and the District Attorney wants to question Sugarpuss about Joe, his whereabouts when the murder happened, etc.  Joe wants to marry Sugarpuss because then she can’t testify against him; it’s known as testimonial privilege in the US judicial system.

She loves her job!

She loves her job!  The sparkly outfit was designed by none other than Edith Head.

Enter the movie’s hero, Professor Bertram Potts, played by handsome Gary Cooper.  He is a nerd, a very serious linguistics professor.  He and his 6 professor friends, all bachelors, live in the same house near their college.  They are all working together on an encyclopedia of knowledge, and Professor Potts has taken it upon himself to learn about American slang amd then he’ll write that section for the encyclopedia.  He decides to go out daily to walk the streets of NYC and listen to the slang that is all around him.  One evening, he stumbles upon the nightclub where Sugarpuss works, and is fascinated with her language usuage.  Here are two clips, courtesy of Youtube, that show Sugarpuss entertaining the audience.  The legendary Gene Krupa has an excellent drum solo, as do other musicians in the band.  Cooper’s Professor Potts is writing down slang terms he hears Sugarpuss use in her song.  The second clip is fun, as Sugarpuss and Gene Krupa are called upon for an encore.  Note how Cooper, as the Professor, tries to use a new word, “Boogie”.   Fun scenes!

Professor Potts asks Sugarpuss to join in a roundtable at his home, so he can study slang in depth.  Sugarpuss turns down the invitation as she thinks the Professor is a bit of a nut and too dull. Sitting in her dressing room after the show, Sugarpuss gets a visit from her boyfriend Joe’s two henchmen, Joe Pastrami(the ever great Dan Duryea- a family man in real life, an expert at playing sleazy, no-good baddies in the movies!), and Asthma Anderson(Ralph Peters).   The two henchmen tell Sugarpuss that she needs to make herself scarce as the DA is looking for her.  She agrees to hide out and quickly finds Professor Potts.  She says she’ll be a part of his study, but that she needs a place to stay and before he can blink, she has it planned that she’ll stay at his house!

Some movie critics have compared Ball of Fire with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I can see a tiny bit of that fairy tale in Ball of Fire.  When Sugarpuss arrives to live at the house, in her showgirl costume and her slang speech, with her very feminine charms on display, it shocks the old professors right on their keesters!  They awaken to how nice it is to have such a pretty lady in their midst.  They begin to spruce themselves up a bit, to remember old girlfriends, their courtship days; a few remember with sweet fondness their late wives.  Sugarpuss does have to contend with the grouchy housekeeper, Miss Bragg, who is appalled that a showgirl is living in the house with 7 men, so more modest clothing is worn; the flashy showgirl number is packed away.   Sugarpuss even teaches the professors  how to do a Conga line!   It is reminiscent of how the 7 dwarfs start to warm up to Snow White and grow to love her.   The professors are wonderfully acted by: Oskar Homolka, Henry Travers, Leonid Kinskey, S.Z. Sakall, Richard Haydn, and Tully Marshall.  Here is a clip of the Conga lesson.

Sugarpuss meets the Professors!  Look at those legs!

Sugarpuss meets the Professors! Look at those legs!

The Conga Line!

The Conga Line!

 

Professor Potts and Sugarpuss are thrown together due to his work studying her grammar and  her slang, but she also uses those  times to study him, and to find out what makes him tick.   There grows a chemistry of attraction between the two, and it explodes in the scene where Sugarpuss decides to give the Professor some “Yum-Yum”, er, kisses.  Here’s a great clip of that scene via Youtube.

Preparing for some Yum-yum!  Books are handy when the guy is so tall!

Preparing for some Yum-yum! Books are handy when the guy is so tall!

Professor Potts loves Sugarpuss and wants to marry her.  Joe Lilac, gangster on the lam in New Jersey, wants to marry Sugarpuss, too. What’s a girl to do?  You’ll have to find Ball of Fire to find out how all of the love and romance plays out, with good dashes of comedy strewn over all the happenings.  Turner Classics will be airing Ball of Fire on Sunday, July 12th, at 4:00 pm eastern/3:00 pm central.   It’s available to buy via Amazon and at TCM’s Shop.    To close out my post, here are some more stills from the film, the film’s trailer,  and a fun video tribute I found made by a fan of the movie, set to Jerry Lee Lewis’s hit song, Great Balls of Fire.

Publicity Still for the film

Publicity Still for the film

Professor Potts does fight for Sugarpuss

Professor Potts does fight for Sugarpuss

Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac

Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac

 

 

 

For the Beach Party Blogathon: Whale Rider

Two fabulous classic movie bloggers,  Speakeasy and Silver Screenings announced weeks ago their intention of hosting a blogathon dedicated to nothing but Beach movies.  I decided to jump in and join  the fun, however, I decided to pick a different kind of Beach movie, which I’ll explain shortly.  For a fun series of posts to read this weekend, be sure to visit the two movie sites I’ve linked to.  It’s just the kind of fun reading that Summer time beckons us all to do!

Beach party Blogathon

I chose the 2002  New Zealand film, Whale Rider.   While it does have beach scenes, it isn’t the typical beach movie.  No rock and roll music, no  teens doing the twist in the sand, no surfer dudes;  instead it’s a film about family, traditions, and yes, whales, beached ones to be specific.  Please don’t begin to think that this film is a downer, though the family at it’s core does have some issues to work through.   It is a feel good film and I thought a fine, marked contrast with the other beach films the various bloggers are featuring on their sites.

Whale Rider poster

Whale Rider concerns itself mainly with Paikea Apirana(Keisha Castle-Hughes), whom everyone in her family and small community call  Pai(Pie).  The film opens with a voiceover by Pai, informing us about her traumatic entrance  into the world.  Her mother and twin brother die during the twins’ birth, her father, Porourangi(Cliff Curtis), is devastated, and her grandad, Koro(Rawiri Paratene),  is especially upset that the boy twin didn’t survive.  We learn that Granddad is a proud Maori leader, that he takes it upon himself to teach the preteen boys in the community about all of the Maori tribal customs, and that the oldest son is to take on that responsiblity and in turn, pass those traditions down to the boys when he, Granddad, is no longer able to do so.  Granddad was expecting his firstborn, Pai’s father, to carry these traditions on and that in turn, the newborn twin son would grow up and do the same.  Now that the twin baby boy is dead, Granddad is angry, and resents baby Pai’s surviving.  He is adamant that a girl cannot pass on tribal customs.

The film  jumps 11 years.  Pai’s father  left her in the care of his parents and he moved to Germany to pursue a new life and his art career.  Pai’s grandmother, Nanny Flowers(Vicky Haughton),   is a loving woman and the only person who can tell Granddad off when he’s getting too grumpy about the way life is turning out for his family members.  Pai’s father decides to come home to New Zealand for a visit and Granddad immediately tries to fix him up on a date with the local school teacher.  This forces Pai’s father  to admit that he has a girlfriend in Germany and that he doesn’t want to “date” the teacher.   Besides, his girlfriend and he are expecting a baby.  This doesn’t sit well at all with Granddad and soon the visit is over, with Pai agreeing to return to Germany to live with her father and his girlfriend.  At the last minute, Pai changes her mind and tells her father that she loves him but that she cannot leave her grandparents, so reluctantly, her father drives her back to his parents’ home.

Granddad riding Pai to school on  his bicycle.

Granddad riding Pai to school on his bicycle.

Maori legend is a big part of the film.  The term Whale Rider is based upon the Maori legend that the father of their people rode a whale from Hawaii to New Zealand to begin their new home.  Legend also states that the new leader of the people will also be able to ride a whale.  Granddad decides it’s time to teach the preteen boys in the village the Maori ways so they’ll grow up to be proper Maori men.  Pai wants to also learn the tribal ways and  Granddad kicks her out of the first meeting!   Not to be stopped, Pai  spies on the lessons to copy  the warrior steps, the sticking out of the tongue,  and  the handling of the fighting stick, but Granddad catches her and chases her away.  Pai then turns to her Uncle Rawiri(Grant Roa), who was a champion with the fighting stick at tournaments and he agrees to teach her what he knows of the art.  The boys that Grandad is trying to train mess up again and again, managing to even lose a precious whale tooth that he throws in to the ocean expecting one of the boys to retrieve it.  Of course, it is Pai who retrieves it, and Granddad isn’t happy to find this out.  He begins to glower more at Pai and to state that anything bad that happens in their community is because of her attempts to learn the tribal ways that only men should know.

Granddad training the boys.

Granddad training the boys.

Pai spying on the boys training with the fighting sticks.

Pai spying on the boys training with the fighting sticks.

Uncle training Pai

Uncle training Pai

Finally, as Pai gives an award-winning speech at her school’s event night, a speech she meant to honor her Granddad with, the community is made aware, by Granddad who was late on his way to the school, that a number of whales have beached themselves near the town.  Residents run to the beach and attempt to move and coax the whales back  into the sea.  As Pai tries to touch one of the whales, Granddad orders her to stop and blames her again for the bad things that have happened due to her trying to learn Maori men’s customs.  As the towns folk return to their homes, Pai touches the biggest whale, manages to climb on top of his back, and the whale awakens and enters the sea!

Pai, in Maori costume, giving her speech at school

Pai, in Maori costume, giving her speech at school

I won’t reveal anymore of the film’s plot as I want you to find it and view it.  Will Granddad learn to really love his grandaughter, Pai, and get over his “Women can’t learn the Male Maori traditions” belief?  Will Pai’s father come back to New Zealand to embrace his Maori culture instead of trying to fit into a Western European culture?  Will Pai and her father grow to have a closer relationship?  What happens to the beached whales?

I watched the movie with my 12 year old son and he liked it.  He didn’t quite understand Granddad’s treatment and grumpiness towards Pai, but was satisfied with the ending, as was I.  When the movie came out in 2002, it was touted as a family film, but it is rated PG-13.   I think most of it would bore young children unless the children are 10 years or older, so take that into consideration if you want to rent the movie for a family movie night.

Whale Rider is out there on dvd and I had no trouble locating it at out local movie rental store.  It is available for purchase through Amazon or it’s instant rent program.   The film is also available on Netflix.     Here is also a link about the Maori people of New Zealand, in case you are interested in reading about them.  Lastly, the cast and crew of Whale Rider is listed here.  Here is also the trailer for the film from Youtube.    Whale Rider poster 2

 

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