Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

The Joan Fontaine Centenary Blogathon: 1952’s Ivanhoe

Sir Walter Scott wrote thrilling action-adventure novels with intricate plots, often about his country when it was in it’s early days; Scotland.  He also wrote his best known novel about that neighboring country, and sometime foe of Scotland, England, set during the rule of King Richard I.  In the 1950s, using rich technicolor, the major movie studios were on a “historical” film fix, and MGM was no exception.  Wanting to make money with such a film, producer Pandro S. Berman got the greenlight to make a lavish film version of Scott’s novel, Ivanhoe.  Curious to me, that the majority of the cast was British or had ties to the UK, but for the lead, American actor Robert Taylor was selected to play Ivanhoe.  Two beautiful actresses were chosen to play the two women that love Ivanhoe, Elizabeth Taylor as Rebecca, and Joan Fontaine as Rowena.

Today, October 22nd, would have been Joan Fontaine’s 100th birthday.  She happened to be the younger sister of another great actress, Olivia de Haviland, who is still alive and kicking, at 101!  To celebrate this great actress’s life and career, be sure to visit Crystal’s blog site at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Virginie’s at The Wonderful World of Cinema to read all of the great posts from other classic film fans.  

Joan, I felt, lived an exotic type of life.  She was born in Tokyo, Japan, to British parents.  Sadly, her parents’ marriage failed, and she and her sister Olivia were taken to CA by their mother, who had herself been on the stage as a young woman, and I think had an idea to have her daughters also pursue acting as a career.  Olivia had successes first, and then Joan did, also.  Joan’s first film role was in 1935’s No More Ladies playing a very minor role, but by 1940, better parts were coming her way and in 1941, she won the Best Actress Oscar for her part as the wife convinced her husband was out to kill her in Suspicion.

Ivanhoe, was an ensemble film, in that there were quite a few characters  all revolving around the hero, Ivanhoe.  For those not familiar with the novel or the film, I’ll explain the plot, but it will contain spoilers. Wilfrid of  Ivanhoe(Robert Taylor)  is the son of a proud Anglo-Saxon man, Sir Cedric of Ivanhoe(Finlay Currie).  Sir Cedric is also an angry man, angry that the dastardly Normans have conquered England, have brought their way of government and laws and taxes to crush the Anglo-Saxons with, and he is also mad that his son, Wilfrid, has decided to run off on a wild goose chase to find King Richard(Norman Wooland) who, while traveling to fight in the current crusade,has disappeared.  Wilfrid does find King Richard, he is a prisoner of King Leopold of Austria, who is holding King Richard for a huge ransom.  King Richard’s slimy little brother, Prince John(Guy Rolfe), knows all about this but is enjoying ruling for his absent brother.  Prince John decides to do nothing  to spring his brother out of King Leopold’s dungeon.

Super serious Ivanhoe

Ivanhoe returns to his father’s home to ask his father for help in procuring the ransom money, but his father, Sir Cedric, refuses to raise any money to rescue a Norman King! Ivanhoe also takes time during his visit to woo his love, the fair Lady Rowena(Joan Fontaine), who is his father’s ward.  Several wayward travelers arrive at Sir Cedric’s door, asking for food and a place to sleep for the night: two Norman knights, Sir Brian de Bois-Guilbert(George Sanders) and Sir Hugh de Bracy(Robert Douglas) and Isaac of York, a Jewish money-lender(Felix Aylmer).  During the meal, the Normans insult the Anglo-Saxons, they ogle Lady Rowena, and as word has spread that there’s a money-lender at Sir Cedric’s, several men attack Isaac when he is checking on his  horse at the stable. The evil men’s plan to steal Isaac’s money fails when Ivanhoe rescues Isaac.  Sir Cedric has ordered his son out of his sight by this time, so Ivanhoe offers to escort Isaac to his home.  Wamba(Emlyn Williams), Sir Cedric’s jester, asks to be Ivanhoe’s squire, and accompanies Ivanhoe on the trip to Isaac’s home.  Once there, Isaac, so moved by Ivanhoe’s rescue of him, gives him the money to pay for King Richard’s ransom. Isaac also asks Ivanhoe to beseech the King that Jews in England won’t be persecuted anymore.  Isaac’s beautiful daughter, Rebecca(Elizabeth Taylor), quietly gives  Ivanhoe her late mother’s jewels to add to the ransom amount. This is  her way of thanking Ivanhoe for saving her father’s life.  Ivanhoe and Rebecca immediately are attracted to one another, but neither will act on their feelings due to the strict rules of the day forbidding Jews from  marrying Gentiles.

Isaac thanking Ivanhoe for saving his life

Joan Fontaine as Lady Rowena

I won’t go into too many more plot points, but there is a great jousting scene, a castle siege scene, Rebecca, Rowena, and Sir Cedric all get kidnapped by the evil Norman Knights, Sir Brian and Sir Hugh, as the two men are lusting after Rebecca and Rowena.  The two knights also know that holding these three hostage will bring Ivanhoe to them and they can kill him.  Prince John gets a whiff of a rumor that his big brother has been sprung from that dungeon in Austria, and he’s becoming a nervous wreck.   Of course, it will be Ivanhoe to the rescue, with some help from Robin Hood and his Merry Men(but they go by different names in this film.)

Evil, whiny, Prince John

Baddie Sir Brian trying to explain to Rebecca his love for her.

Lady Rowena thanks Rebecca for all she had done to save Ivanhoe’s life

Robert Taylor, plays his role well; very stoic throughout.  He doesn’t laugh much  because he has a lot of heroic things to do! George Sanders is great as nasty Norman Sir Brian, but then as the film progresses, we see his inner struggle with falling in love with a Jewish woman who doesn’t love him.  Elizabeth Taylor is gorgeous in the film, and plays her character with sincerity and warmth and a quiet strength.  Felix Aylmer, Finlay Currie, and Emlynn Williams are superb in their supporting roles, as is Guy Rolfe as Prince John.  Joan Fontaine, while not billed before Elizabeth Taylor on the movie poster, plays Rowena as a calm, and wise woman, who just wants peace for England, and for peace to exist between the man she loves, Ivanhoe, and his father.

To see this rousing epic, that was one of the top 4 films in England in 1952, and earned MGM big box office profits, seek out Ivanhoe.  As luck would have it, TCM will be airing Ivanhoe this week, on Oct. 25th, at 4:00 pm eastern/3:00 pm central.  The film is also available via Amazon’s instant rent.  Here is the link to Youtube to see the British version of the film trailer.

Lovely Joan Fontaine

 

 

 

 

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The Great Breening Blogathon

A couple years ago, Turner Classic Movies aired on their “Silent Sunday Nights” the 1925 film Ben-Hur.  I had seen the 1959 version many times, and my husband decided to buy it when it first came out on dvd.  I decided to dvr this silent version and then settled in one afternoon to watch it.  For a silent film, it was fast-paced and told the story of a Jewish man providentially meeting Jesus during pivotal moments in his life quite well.  However, during one crowd scene, I was shocked when Roman soldiers were jostling the people in the crowd and some of the women’s toga tops fell to their waists! Here, in a silent film was nudity which led to my mind harboring comments and questions: Naked women in Ben-Hur! That didn’t happen in the Charleton Heston version! Why weren’t the women given costumes that would stay in their proper places? Were silent era films more risque?   

I decided to do a bit of research on this aspect of American film.  When did censorship in the movies begin and why did it begin?  One needs to look at the sport of baseball for the inspiration of starting up a wing of the motion picture industry who’s goal it was to make sure films shown to American audiences wouldn’t be offensive.  In 1919, The Black Sox Scandal rocked the sporting world in the US when it was revealed that 8 members of the Chicago White Sox purposely lost the World Series in order to gain money from a gambling ring.  To soothe away this awful stain on baseball, Major League Baseball hired Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to be the new league commissioner to help restore the image of baseball to the American public.  In 1922, Hollywood was facing lower box office numbers due to some movies labeled too risque for the public’s taste and due to  various stars’  scandals  and others in the industry. The major movie studios hired their own “commissioner”, Will Hays, to enforce a production code.  The Hays Code, as it came to be known, didn’t become truly enforced until 1934, so there are movies made before 1934 known as Pre-Code, which contain plots that were shocking for the times in which they were made and shown to audiences.

The version with no nudity.

Helping Hays to enforce this code was Joseph Breen, hence the title of this blogathon.  When a request for a  film under production to make a change in the plot, script, etc., the request was usually made by Breen.  Breen successfully enforced the Production Code from 1934-1954, then he retired.  His assistant, Geoffrey Shurlock, took over for Breen but under Shurlock’s watch, the Code was phased away, and eventually replaced with the ratings system for films.

I still wondered as to why there was nudity allowed in the silent film version of Ben-Hur.  I did some research on that film’s director, Fred Niblo.  Born in Nebraska to immigrant parents who divorced, I really couldn’t find much about the director that would point to any controversies in his life.  For more on Niblo, here is a link to an interesting bio written about him by one of his sons.  Over at the blog, Movies Silently, a wonderful resource is there comparing and contrasting the two versions of Ben-Hur, plus more background about the novel the films were based upon as well as it’s history when Ben-Hur played on Broadway. I wonder how those chariot races were shown on stage??

For more blog posts about Joseph Breen and why or how a film got the Breening treatment, be sure to visit Pure Entertainment Preservation Society’s site for the “Great Breening Blogathon”, and learn about American film-making history along the way!   

 

My Classic Movie Pick: 1968’s Blackbeard’s Ghost

Turner Classic Movies cable channel decided that during the month of September they would show films from the “Disney Vault”, so to speak.  Not the animated films Disney is most famous for but the films the studio made with human actors and actresses, and a lot of special effects.  A couple weeks ago, I watched one that was new to me.  I decided to see it due to it’s cast: Peter Ustinov(Yes! The oscar winning british actor was in a Disney film!!), Dean Jones, Suzanne Pleshette, and Elsa Lanchester.  From 1968, in living color, Blackbeard’s Ghost  is a fun movie to view.

 

Dean Jones, as he often was cast, is the hapless hero of the film.  He plays Steve Walker, newly hired track coach for small Godolphin College, on the Carolina coast. ( Having lived in SC myself, there is a bit of historical lore that Blackbeard did hang out in  Charleston, SC but since I heard no southern accents in this film, I assumed Godolphin was in NC; the film doesn’t clearly specify the geographic location.)  The college booked Steve a room at an old inn, Blackbeard’s Inn, and the place is run by a group of little old ladies(Elsa Lanchester being the main owner) who are all descended from Blackbeard, who evidently got around-ahem,  he had a lot of wives, but wasn’t a polygamist!

When Steve arrives at the inn, there is a festival occurring, as a fundraiser for the little old ladies to be able to buy off the rest of the mortgage and get a local gambler off of their backs.  Gambler Silky Seymour(Joby Baker) wants to buy out the mortgage for the inn, take it away from the old bags(as he calls them) and turn the place into a casino.  Since the inn sits on a small island off shore, the state government can’t tax this casino.  Suzanne Pleshette(Prof. Jo Ann Baker) is at the festival running a Kissing Booth.  Steve can’t help but notice her and hands over a dollar for a kiss.  It’s s fun “meet cute” moment for the two characters.  Steve soon learns that the football coach at Godolphin, Pinetop Purvis(Michael Conrad of Hill Street Blues fame) is very interested in Jo Ann, and has a lot of distain for the track team. We soon learn that the track team members are a bunch of non-athletic bumblers, nice guys, but horrible at track.  An auction is announced, and to impress Jo Ann, Steve decides to bid on an antique bed warmer.  He is also showing local gambling kingpin Silky that he’s not afraid to financially donate to the little old ladies so they can save their inn.  Coach Purvis sees that Steve is bidding, realizes it may impress Jo Ann, so he joins in the bidding war to also impress her.  Steve wins the bed warmer, impresses Jo Ann, makes Purvis irritated, as well as Silky.  When Steve retires for the evening, he accidentally breaks off the handle on the bedwarmer and finds in it a scroll, with spells written on it.  He laughs at his find, and feeling silly, he reads a spell outloud.  With lightening flashes, thunder rumblings, and the camera panning over to a portrait of a creepy looking gal with huge eyes, Blackbeard’s ghost appears, and only Steve can see and hear him.

The Kissing Booth part 1

The Kissing Booth part 2

 

Bidding against Purvis at the auction.

Steve meets Blackbird’s Ghost for the first time.

Blackbird scolding the ex-wife who put a curse on him.

Blackbeard(Peter Ustinov, having a lot of fun) tells Steve that one of his ex-wives, who he accused of witchcraft, was being burned at the stake and she put a curse on him.  Until he conducts an act of human kindness, he will remain in “Limbo”.   I won’t delve into the plot anymore, but I will leave you with questions! Can the little old ladies save their inn from the clutches of the greedy gambler, Silky?  Can Steve turn the track team around into winners?  Can Steve win the heart of Jo Ann, and thwart Coach Purvis??  Will Blackbeard do a deed of human kindness and be able to exit Limbo?

Blackbeard suggesting how he can help Steve and the team.

Having fun with the cheerleaders!

Blackbeard meddling during the track meet.

Blackbeard trying to nab Jo Ann’s purse, but for a good reason.

Gambling kingpin Silky Seymore and his henchmen.

As I wrote earlier, Ustinov has a lot of fun playing the pirate.  He is feisty, crafty, but not outright evil, as the real Blackbeard probably was.  He and Jones have a good rapport in all of their scenes together, and with Jones’s Steve being the only one who can see the ghost, when he is yelling at Ustinov, and bystanders only see Steve yelling at the air, it makes for some funny moments of miscommunication.  Disney’s special effects team had a lot to do in this film, to show the ghost’s antics in his efforts to help Steve and the little old ladies, and the track team.  Pleshette and Jones make a cute couple, which they did in some other Disney films, and it’s great to see them together in this film too.

My only caveat is that this film is probably going to be boring to young kids, 5 and younger, and the scene where there is a volatile reaction to Steve reciting the spell may scare kids who are sensitive to such stuff on films.  For pre-teens, teens and adults, this is a fun film to view.  So get that popcorn popping, and as the weather turns colder, view this film-perhaps a good choice for Halloween weekend?  Some kind soul has put the entire film on Youtube!  Since the film was made in 1968, it possibly is still available at your local dvd renting store.  It is also available to buy or view through instant rent at Amazon.  

 

 

 

The Good* The Mad* The Lonely* Movie Scientist Blogathon: 1944’s Madame Curie

MGM, in 1944, put forth their movie tribute to the life of one of the most famous female scientists to have ever lived, Marie Curie, or as she was known during her times, Madame Curie.  I saw that Turner Classic was going to feature this movie on their chosen day in August to celebrate the career of actress Greer Garson, so I was sure to dvr the film.  I had viewed the movie quite a while ago, so it was good to view it again, with my eye tuned in to new observations for this new blogathon, looking at Scientists in Classic Films.  My part is a contribution to the “good scientists.”

If you don’t know who Madame Curie was, here is a link to explain all of that, as well as her husband and co-scientist, Pierre, ably portrayed by Walter Pidgeon, who was often cast as Garson’s husband in quite a few movies.(Warning! The link contains spoilers about the Curies’ lives.)

 

In the beginning of the film,  we see Marie(Greer Garson) sitting in a lecture hall and it’s pretty obvious she is  the  only female in the class.  She is listening intently to the professor but faints due to hunger.  Her male classmates and the professor show genuine concern for her and the professor insists on treating her to lunch.  At the lunch we find out that Marie is from Poland, and once she has her degrees from the Sorbonne, she plans on returning to Poland to help her father with his teaching and probably becoming a mathematics or physics teacher herself.  The professor, Dr. Perot(Alfred Basserman) realizes Marie needs money to continue her studies so he asks if she would be willing to do some research for the French steel industry?  He had been approached recently by this group, asking that experiments be done on the magnetism of differing types of steel and he asks Marie if she’d be willing to do these experiments for a stipend?  Marie agrees and Dr. Perot tells her he will find a lab for her to conduct the experiments.  He invites her to his home for a tea party for the following Sunday afternoon.  It is at this tea party where she meets Pierre Curie, and it is at this tea party that Dr. Perot asks Pierre if a student can use space in his lab to conduct some experiments for the steel industry.  Pierre politely agrees to Dr. Perot’s request, but when he is then told that the student is a female? Pierre’s reaction is one of shock!

It is now Monday, and Pierre tells his lab assistant David(Robert Walker) that a calamity will soon be hitting their lab.  A woman scientist will be invading their territory to conduct experiments! Women and science don’t mix, protests Pierre loudly! Women scientists, David adds, are usually ugly!!  Let’s hope she’s not noisy, talkative, or whistles, declares Pierre!  You’d think a monster was about to enter their realm from all of their silly comments about women scientists!!   When Marie arrives, they are both struck speechless at her beauty, her politeness, and her quiet ways.  David almost knocks over some lab equipment in his eagerness to assist this new colleague and Pierre likes her presence so much, he begins to whistle as he works!

David and Pierre don’t think women and science can mix!

Pierre begins to think that maybe a woman scientist isn’t such a bad creature!

After several months of working in the same lab, David, Pierre, and Marie have become friends.  Pierre is truly horrified when Marie informs him that her experiments are finished, and that when she graduates in May, she will be returning to Poland to be a teacher, working with her father.  Pierre is adamant that Marie, with her keen scientific mind, must not be a teacher but stay on at the Sorbonne and work as a scientist.  Pidgeon does a wonderful job at conveying the complex mind and behavior of a man who had dedicated his life to science to suddenly discovering that he is in love.  We sense Pierre’s fears, sadness, and watch his weird way of proposing to Marie to be his bride, his lab partner for life, as it were!  Happily, Marie can overlook Pierre’s quirks and admits she loves him too and they are soon married.  Dame May Whitty has a small part as Pierre’s mother, but she does a lot with that part.  Henry Travers is loud and opinionated as Pierre’s father, not at all like Clarence the Angel, in It’s a Wonderful Life, his most famous role.  It is at the Curie’s home in the country where Pierre tells Marie he can’t live without her.  I must add that Van Johnson had his first role in a film, in a tiny part as a journalist trying to interview the famous Madame Curie.  Great character actor C. Aubrey Smith has a fun part as British scientist, Lord Kelvin, asking to meet the Curies while he is in Paris.

Mrs. Curie, intrigued by this young lady who has captured her son’s heart.

Partners in life and in the lab.

After the courtship and marriage have occurred, the film gets down to the nitty gritty of just what a great scientific discovery the Curies’ made, in isolating radium from pitchblende.  It took them several years for their discovery to happen and to prove their theory, that there was a new element in the pitchblende that exuded radioactivity.  They were able to find radium and another new element, polonium, both elements giving off radiation.   For this contribution to the world, they and Dr. Henri Becquerel(who first discovered radioactivity) were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903.

Pierre concerned about the burns on Marie’s fingertips, from the radiation that they were exposed to from all of their experiments.

I don’t want to go into anymore of the plot of this great film so let me say that Garson and Pidgeon give wonderful performances as two dedicated scientists who wanted to better mankind via their discoveries.  Their steadfastness, despite being so very tired at times, is awe-inspiring.

 

This post has been for the blogathon look at scientists in classic movies.  Be sure to visit the hostesses sites in order to read more posts by other bloggers on this topic: Ruth at Silver Screenings

and Christina.

My Classic Movie Pick: Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse

My mom, born in 1946 and thus a baby boomer, has learned a lot about tech this past year: she knows how to take pics and post them to her Kindle, she and my dad got an Amazon firestick and know how to watch movies via streaming with that device, and she recently joined Facebook.  One thing I’m tickled for her is that she has been watching more classic movies on TCM, many from when she was just a tot, that she remembers hearing my grandparents say were good films, but she had never seen before.  One such film is my classic movie pick for this week, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse.    

For anyone who has ever had a house built, this film is for you! A comedy, Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is a fun view of the aspects of having one’s dream house built.  Set in NYC, it’s 1948 and  ad man Jim Blandings(Cary Grant) and his wife Muriel(Myrna Loy) live in a cramped apartment with their two daughters.  Muriel wants to redecorate the apartment and Jim nixes that idea.  One day he sees an ad in the newspaper touting the beauty of building a house in nearby Connecticut and he quickly passes on that idea to Muriel and their daughters.  The Blandings contact a real estate developer in Connecticut and soon they are the proud owners of the old “Hacket Place”, an  American Revolutionary War era farm house.  The Blandings good friend and lawyer, Bill Cole(Melvyn Douglas) mildly chastises the Blandings for getting “took” for buying this property, and spending more on it than what the area market sells land for.  The family soon finds out that the farm house is structurally unsafe and it has to be torn down.  The family decides that a new home will be built in its place.

What makes this movie fun to watch is the every man woes of Grant, as Jim, simply wanting a new house built on his purchased land.  He doesn’t want an extravagant house, just a nice, basic house.  However, he and Muriel and his daughters begin  adding  rooms and other ideas  to what the house should  have with the architect.  After some more legal foibles having to do with the property, digging for a well, having to blast away a stone ledge before the foundation can be laid, sketchy construction workers, you’d think Jim Blandings would be ready to forget the whole plan of building this house!  However, Jim and Muriel carry on with their dream.  Two funny side plots involve Jim having to come up with a winning ad campaign for Wham Ham or he’ll lose his job, and the daughters putting it into Jim’s head that Muriel truly loves Bill, their lawyer friend, as he was a guy she dated in college, before she ever met Jim.  To me, one of the funniest scenes from the movie is when Muriel, in true interior design mode, explains the colors of paint she wants for rooms in the house and after she leaves the room, the painters look at each other and rattle off her paint colors in their basic names: red, green, blue, yellow, and white.  Here’s a link to that funny scene.  Here is also a fun trailer that was made to help introduce the movie to theatre audiences in 1948.

Based upon a best-selling novel, filled with a great cast, screenplay, and director, try to see this film.  It’s available to purchase at TCM’s Shop, one can purchase it or view it via instant rent at Amazon, and from time to time, TCM does air it.    

5 Stars Blogathon: Celebrating National Classic Movie Day!

Rick, the wonderful host at Classic Film and TV Cafe, invited me to participate in this year’s Five Stars Blogathon. Classic movie fans who write blogs, were asked to contribute a piece in honor of National Classic Movie Day, which is today.   A difficult task, we bloggers were asked to  list  5 favorite classic film actors and/or actresses.  A difficult task as there are so many classic film stars to choose from.  I thought about my list for several weeks, and decided to foucs on actors/actresses who always gave good performances no matter the plot.  What follows are my fave 5, and the teacher in me put them  in alphabetical order!

Irene Dunne     

I appreciate Dunne’s talents, on the big screen.  She could sing-a lovely soprano voice-and she could play dramatic as well as comedic parts.  With her beautiful face, she could emote with the best of them, bringing  tears to one’s eyes in heart-tugging dramas like Backstreet, Love Affair, Penny Serenade, and I Remember Mama.  She brings the fun, and looked as if she enjoyed herself immensely,  in two delightful romance comedies, My Favorite Wife and The Awful Truth. She was a riot as the ditzy wife in Life With Father.  Dunne was  nominated 5 times for Best Actress Oscars and never won, but  she did receive a Kennedy Centers Honor tribute in 1985.

Sleepless in Seattle, makes references to An Affair to Remember, but Love Affair is the original film that AATR remade. Dunne costars with Charles Boyer.

Drama, romance, tearjerker! Have kleenaxes ready when you watch this one!! Dunne costars with Cary Grant.

Dunne surrounded by the cast of I Remember Mama, based upon a book of the same name, a Norwegian immigrant family’s life in turn of the century San Francisco.

Joel McCrea:    

I remember when I was 12 or 13  my grandma mentioned to me that one of her favorite actors was Joel McCrea.  At that time, I didn’t know who he was.  Jumping to my college days, when I began to watch classic movies in earnest, I did find out who Joel McCrea was and I could see why he was one of my grandma’s favorites.  Tall, handsome, an All-American type, McCrea grew up in Southern CA and his career in films took off in the 1930s and 40s.  McCrea was often cast as the hero, in action films or romance comedies.  In the late 1940s and for the rest of his acting career, McCrea turned to Westerns, where he also excelled.  Some McCrea films to not miss: The Most Dangerous Game, Foreign Correspondent, Sullivan’s Travels, The Palm Beach Story, The More the Merrier, The Virginian, Colorado Territory, Stars in my Crown, and Ride the High Country, which paired him with another Westerns hero, Randolph Scott, in their senior years.   

Foreign Correspondent, an excellent Alfred Hitchcock film, with McCrea, Lorraine Day, and George Sanders(Sher Khan in Disney’s Jungle Book, that’s how he’s known to my kids.)

Wacky and funny romance comedy from writer/director Preston Sturgis, Playing McCrea’s wife is Claudette Colbert.

 

Ray Milland:    

Born and raised in Wales, Ray Milland came to Hollywood in the late 1920s, and became a leading actor in the mid 1930s onward.  He was cast as the romantic leading man in many romance comedies, and he could also portray a villain very well on the big screen.  He won the Best Actor Oscar in 1945 for his harrowing portrayal of an alcoholic in The Lost Weekend.   Nearing his late 50s, he took a few turns as director, and had some infamous roles in his 60s and 70s.  Tall, dark, handsome, with that lilting accent-which he could hide quite well-he is one classic film actor I never tire watching.  Milland movies to tune in to: Three Smart Girls, Easy Living,  Beau Geste, Irene, The Doctor Takes a Wife, Skylark, Reap the Wild Wind, The Major and the Minor, The Uninvited, Ministry of Fear, The Lost Weekend, So Evil My Love, The Big Clock, Alias Nick Beal, It Happens Every Spring, A Woman of Distinction, Rhubarb, Close to my Heart, Dial M for Murder, Panic in the Year Zero!, The Man with X-Ray Eyes, Daughter of the Mind, Love Story, Frogs, Escape to Witch Mountain.

Wonderful romance comedy, The Major and The Minor, starring Milland and Ginger Rogers, written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, and Wilder also directed.

Milland in his Oscar winning role as alcoholic Don Birnum in The Lost Weekend.

 

Claude Rains:   

Known more for being a character actor and an excellent one at that, Rains began his acting career on the stages of England before crossing the pond to Broadway and then Hollywood.  With a distinctive voice, eyes that could stare down a towering bully, Rains portrayed some memorable characters on film: The Invisible Man, brooding drug addict Jasper in The Mystery of Edwin Drood,  throne usurper Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood, an absent-minded music professor in Four Daughters,  nemesis Senator Paine to political neophyte James Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,  literal angelic Mr. Jordan in Here Comes Mr. Jordan, brave  Sir John Talbot in The Wolfman, creepy Dr. Tower in Kings Row, the understanding and helpful psychiatrist Dr. Jaquith in Now, Voyager,  rascally Captain Renault in Casablanca,  long-suffering Job Skeffington in Mr. Skeffington, Caesar in a British film, Caesar and Cleopatra, wimpy Nazi Spy Alexander Sebastian in Notorious.  All of the above roles, Rains excelled in, whether he was playing a good person or an evil person or  sometimes a conflicted person.  He brought sincerity to all of his roles, making his characters come to life.

Rains’s first American movie role, as The Invisible Man, costarring with Gloria Stewart. Directed by James Whale.

Rains, center, fawning over himself as Prince John in Robin Hood, MGM’s technicolor extravaganza and the best film version,  imho, of the legendary hero robbing the rich to give to the poor.  Costars include Errol Flynn, Olivia DeHaviland, Basil Rathbone.

Rains as Captain Renault with Humphrey Bogart  in Casablanca. Considered by some to be the best film ever made.

Jane Wyman:   

An actress who hit her stride in the 1940s and 50s, and starred on CBS’s night time soaper Falcon Crest in the 1980s, Wyman was a lovely actress who could play in dramas and comedies equally well.  She won the Best Actress Oscar in 1949 for the film Johnny Belinda, for her portrayal of a deaf girl, who is raped, impregnated, and keeps the baby.  She was also nominated 3 more times for Best Actress, but didn’t win: 1947″s The Yearling,  1952’s The Blue Veil, a touching film about a nanny, and 1955’s Magnificent Obsession.  Some other films of Wyman’s not to miss: Brother Rat, Larceny, Inc., The Doughgirls, The Lost Weekend, The Yearling, Johnny Belinda, Stage Fright,Here Comes the Groom, The Blue Veil, So Big, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Miracle in the Rain.

Larceny, Inc.– Hilarious comedy about  ex con Edward G. Robinson, trying to go legitimate with a business, and getting pulled back into crime, not wanting  his niece, Jane Wyman, to know.

Douglas Sirk, German film director, became known for his technicolor melodrama films made in the 1950s.  Magnificent Obsession was one such hit for him and his lead stars, Rock Hudson and Wyman.

 

 

 

There you have it! My Fab 5 of classic film stars.  Turner Classic Movies cable channel often shows many of the films I listed and if you don’t have that channel, you probably can find them via Amazon instant rent, or shop around for the dvds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Villain Blogathon 2017


I succeeded in getting one of my twin daughters to watch a classic film with me, Now Voyager.  I had filled her in as to what some of the plot was about.  I didn’t reveal much of the film’s love story, but I certainly did tell my daughter, “Just wait until you meet the mother in this movie! With a mom like this, who’d need enemies!!!”  My daughter did like the film, and agreed that the mother was awful.  That is why the villainess I am focusing on for The Great Villain Blogathon 2017 is Mrs. Henry Vale, deliciously played by British character actress, Gladys Cooper. 

Cooper, in her  native England, was a child actress on the stage, a model noted for her beauty. As  an adult, she continued as a  stage actress, and eventually made it into the movies, often playing rich women who were extremely cranky about something that their children were doing, or cranky at the adults around her not doing her bidding because, after all, she’s the richest woman in town;that’s her character’s m.o. in another great film, The Bishop’s Wife, but she doesn’t stay villainous in that film.

Gladys Cooper in her modeling days in England.

In Now Voyager, we only know a bit about her character.  She is Helen Vale, 70-something(80, perhaps?) matriarch of the Vales of Boston, living in a fab house on Beacon Hill.  She has 3 adult sons, all married and prosperous in their own careers, and they dote on her.  Then there is a daughter, Charlotte, her youngest child and a “surprise” baby, or as my mom would say, a “change of life” baby.  Charlotte is at least 15 years younger than her brothers and was a baby when her  father died.  This death of her husband has turned Helen bitter.  She is bitter that her husband is gone, and it’s as if she had decided that Charlotte’s only purpose in life was to be her constant companion.  We  see a flashback of a 20-something Charlotte(wonderfully played by Bette Davis) on a cruise ship falling in love with a young officer, who stands up to Helen and declares he is going to marry Charlotte.  We see Helen severly scolding Charlotte for being caught making out with the officer and Charlotte trying to act as if she doesn’t care that she was caught.   The film then jumps to present day, and Charlotte, now in her thirties and still living at home with Helen.  Charlotte is very plain, wears old-fashioned dresses, sensible shoes, glasses, no make-up, and a dull, dowdy hairdo.  Helen approves of Charlotte’s looks.  Charlotte tries to rebel by secretly smoking!

Poor, plain Charlotte!

One of Helen’s daughter in law’s, Lisa,(Ilka Chase) knows that Charlotte could be facing a nervous breakdown and that something must be done to help her.  Lisa has a friend, a psychiatrist, Dr. Jaquith(Wonderful Claude Rains) who agrees to come to the Vale home to meet Charlotte and give her an evaluation, to see if she should come to his sanitarium in Vermont for a rest and for help.  Lisa is honest with Helen, and tells her why Dr. Jaquith has come, and all Helen can care about is the fact that no Vale has EVER needed to seek out mental help! That one should feel shame for seeking out such help!

Fortunately, Charlotte has a nervous breakdown in front of her mother, sister-in-law Lisa, Dr. Jaquith, and her niece, June(Bonita Granville).  It is a fortunate event because it forces Charlotte to admit she needs help, and she goes to Dr. Jaquith’s sanitarium for that help, despite her nasty mother’s unending grumblings!

I won’t give away anymore of the plot, but in her way, Charlotte is able to kick Helen’s will to the curb and develop her own! Yeah, Charlotte!

Gladys Cooper is so good at playing this horrid mother.  She is wrapped up in her own self, her own will as to how her family should function, and anyone who defies her had better be ready to run for the hills!  We don’t learn much about her husband, other than he was from the honorable Bostonian family, the Vales.  He was obviously wise at money-management as Helen and their daughter, Charlotte,  don’t want for anything materially.  Helen’s sons, we only see in the movie once,  are very polite to their mother and seem to fear her.  Lisa seems to be the only in-law who knows how to deal with Helen without a hint of fear; granddaughter June, Lisa’s daughter, also seems to have no fear of her grandmother.  The key to Helen is when she recites to Dr. Jaquith how put upon she has been with Charlotte being born to her later in life, her husband dying when Charlotte was a baby, and one expects her to lash out at the doctor that Charlotte has a life of ease, that it is “Me, me, me!” who should be pitied!  Dr. Jaquith disdainfully lets Helen know that she is entirely at fault for turning her daughter into a scared frump of a woman! Go, Dr. Jaquith, go!!

The imperious Helen Vale, giving an unwanted opinion, no doubt!

To only give a bit of the plot away in order to showcase Helen at her most manipulative, Charlotte has indeed gotten a lot better under Dr. Jaquith’s care and with his help and Lisa’s, Charlotte departs the sanitarium to try her new life via a lovely cruise  vacation.  Charlotte returns  to Boston with a new look: new hairdo, makeup, clothes, gorgeous shoes, jewelry, perfumes….and Helen is not happy!  She is so shocked and horrified by this  new and improved Charlotte that she demands Charlotte put on one of her former dowdy dresses for the family dinner  being held to welcome Charlotte home.  Charlotte starts to quaver, then resolutely tells Helen, “No” and off she goes downstairs in a lovely gown to oversee the dinner preparations. Helen is incensed! She goes to the head of the stairs and throws herself down them in order to give herself an injury to draw the family’s attention to her!!!  Her plan doesn’t work, as she’s put to bed, seen by the doctor, and is sedated by the nurse’s hot toddies with the secret ingredient of rum.  It’s funny seeing Helen ranting about the lack of concern for her as she could hear the family’s laughter from downstairs and then she starts to mumble as the toddies take their affect!  Mary Wickes had a  fun role as the in home nurse the family has hired to care for Helen.

Our first glimpse of the new and improved Charlotte, no more sensible shoes!!!

A transformed Charlotte!

Charlotte politely refusing to change her dress for the family dinner.

For a great study in an evil mom character, check out Gladys Cooper as Mrs. Helen Vale in Now, Voyager, and don’t ever ask her for any fashion advice!!!!   Here is a great clip from the film, courtesy of TCM.  Now, Voyager will also be shown by TCM this weekend, April 28th at 4:15 a.m. Eastern time/3:15 a.m. Central time.

This post has been for The Great Villain Blogathon 2017, hosted by 3 wonderful classic movie bloggers: Kristina at Speakeasy, Karen of Shadows & Satin, and Ruth of Silver Screenings.  Please visit their blogs to read other great posts about movie villains!