Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

My Classic Movie Pick: 1949’s Obsession aka The Hidden Room

I tuned into a classic movie this week that I had recorded on our trusty dvr and to my surprise, the film starred Long John Silver of Disney’s Treasure Island  and Uncle Owen, of Star Wars!  Of course the movie I watched, Obsession(British title) or The Hidden Room(US title) was made in 1949 when these two actors were a lot younger.  Robert Newton, best known to Americans as the loud and dangerous, but somewhat lovable  Long John Silver in Disney’s version of Treasure Island, was  a revelation as the somber, subdued Dr. Clive Riordan,  who becomes  obsessed with his plan of ultimate revenge on his cheating wife’s latest lover.

Obsession poster 1

American actor, Phil Brown, is great as Yank  Bill Kronin the wife-stealer.  He is a friendly tourist, quick witted and likes to use American slang, which proves to be a downfall for Dr. Riordan and provides a clue for Scotland Yard.   Physically, Brown, when compared to Newton, isn’t quite as tall and looks a lot thinner, giving off the impression of a weakling, but mentally Brown’s Bill has to stay on top of his game in order to outwit mad Dr. Riordan.

Robert Newton in his best known role to American audiences, Long John Silver in Disney's Treasure Island

Robert Newton in his best known role to American audiences, Long John Silver in Disney’s Treasure Island

Phil Brown in later years, as Uncle Owen in Star Wars!

Phil Brown in later years, as Uncle Owen in Star Wars!

Phil Brown's Bill being confronted by Robert Newton's Dr. Riordan

Phil Brown’s Bill being confronted by Robert Newton’s Dr. Riordan

The cheating wife, Storm Riordan( did British parents in the 1920s really name their daughters Storm???)played by Sally Gray,  is beautiful but calculating and definitely cold to her husband.  We don’t know why she has this penchant to cheat on him all the time nor why he hasn’t filed for divorce.

Sally Gray as Storm Riordan, the doctor's unfatithful wife

Sally Gray as Storm Riordan, the doctor’s unfatithful wife

Another key cast member  is a dog! Yes, a dog-“Monty”, a cute, white poodle.  Not the large standard size, perhaps a toy poodle? I’m not quite up on my different levels of poodle sizes but one can tell that in this movie’s plot, Monty is Storm’s  furry baby  and he plays an important part in the survival of Kronin.

In a way, the movie's hero, Monty the poodle, with Bill

In a way, the movie’s hero, Monty the poodle, with Bill Kronin

Scotland Yard inevitably gets called in on the case of the missing Bill Kronin and Naunton Wayne gives a great performance as Police Superintendent Finsbury.  One might be tricked into thinking he’s going to bungle the case of the missing American,  but his calm demeaner and perpetually good mood masks his brilliant mind in deducing just what the connection might be with the missing Kronin and Dr. Riordan.

Naunton Wayne as Police Superintendant Finsbury.

Naunton Wayne as Police Superintendant Finsbury.

Obsession was directed by Edward Dmytryk.  He had been a successful Hollywood director but fell into the US House of Reps UnAmerican Hearings, searching for communists in the entertainment industry.  Dmytryk was blacklisted so he moved his family to England and continued to direct movies there.  Obsession was based on the book A Man About a Dog, written by Alex Coppel who also wrote the movie’s screenplay.  Obsession is sometimes shown on TCM and it is available to buy on Amazon.   A very kind soul has put the movie on Youtube.

Obsession has a slow build-up to it’s climax but one can see the craftmanship throughtout  this well-developed movie.  For a good crime film with a good ending, seek out Obsession.

For the CinemaScope Blogathon: The Inn of the 6th Happiness

When I discovered that Becky of Classic Becky’s Brain Food  and Rich of Wide Screen World were co-hosting a blogathon all about movies filmed in Cinemascope, I decided to participate.  I chose The Inn of the 6th Happiness, which starred Ingrid Bergman and was made in 1958 by 20th Century Fox.  Before I get into the movie’s plot, what in the world was CinemaScope?     CinemaScope blogathon

CinemaScope was the process of filming a movie with a lens that made the images on the screen two and a half times as wide as they are high.  It was popular in Hollywood from 1953-1967.  From my research, Hollywood was a bit downhearted when televisions began to be purchased by the American consumers.  Attendance numbers at movie theaters nationwide started to drop.  The movie studios needed another tactic to entice the movie goers back into the theaters so advertising a new movie as eye-catching, with surround sound, was one marketing tool used to great effect.  CinemaScope, indeed, did help to pull Americans back into the theatres and away from their tiny television screens.  For more technical details about CinemaScope, read this link and this link.  Now, on to The Inn of 6th Happiness!       The Inn of the 6th Happiness

This movie is based on the real life adventures of English missionary Gladys Aylward and her life in China.  Gladys’s life had been successfully told in the  book,  The Small Woman, by Alan Burgess.  20th Century Fox bought the film rights and the movie was made, shot in Wales and alas, not in China.  To have a lot of Chinese orphans on hand, since the real Aylward helped orphans in China, the children from Liverpool’s China Town were hired to be in the film!  I had no idea Liverpool had a China Town, and from my readings, it is the oldest Chinese settlement in Europe.

Ingrid Bergman stars as Aylward, with her two main co-stars, Curt Jurgens as Colonel Lin Nan, Robert Donat as the Mandarin of Yang Cheng.   Athene Seyler plays  Jeannie Lawson, Ronald Squire as Sir Francis Jamison, Moutltrie Kelsall as Dr. Robinson, and Burt Kwok as Li.

Gladys Aylward has only had one desire in her life, to be a missionary, and specifically, in China.  Due to her family’s poverty, she had to drop out of school and became a house maid.  She worked hard, saved her earnings, and wrote to the China Inland Mission, an organization in England that began in 1865.(It is now known as Overseas Missionary Fellowship or OMF.)  Due to Gladys lack of a full education and her age, the mission turned her down.  Determined to get to China, Gladys saved enough money to purchase a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Railway.  It was a lower-priced fare because it was a more dangerous route to take of the two that existed in the late 1920s for travel to China from England.  Gladys arrives in China, gets to the town of Yang Cheng,  and obtains employment at The Inn of 6th Happiness, which is  owned and operated by English missionary Jeannie Lawson.  Pretty soon, Gladys has proved herself a valuable asset at the Inn, and when Lawson dies in an accident, Alyward goes on with running the Inn rather than closing its doors.

The Mandarin, Colonel Nan, and Gladys

The Mandarin, Colonel Nan, and Gladys

Yang Cheng is run by the Mandarin, sort of like the town mayor, but a mayor for life.  He calls on Gladys and asks her to undertake a project:go into Yang Cheng and the surrounding smaller villages and convince the citizens to stop binding their young daughters feet.  The binding of young girls feet began hundreds of years before the 1920s, and despite the crippling effect it had on  a foot’s development, the Chinese government had a difficult time in eradicating the practice.   Gladys succeeds at stopping the foot binding and even finds time to stop a prison uprising!  She greatly impresses the Mandarin who decides to look into this God that she believes in.  Gladys has also caught the eye of Colonel Lin Nan, a half-Chinese, half-European man.  He is worried for Gladys when news reaches them that Japan has now invaded China.  The colonel urges Gladys to flee Yang Cheng but she tells him she can’t due to the 50 orphans who have turned up at her Inn, needing help.

When Yang Cheng falls under attacks from the  Japanese Air Force, the citizens know that the army will soon follow, and the exodus begins.  Gladys doesn’t know what to do with the 50 orphans who have arrived at the Inn for help.  Colonel Lin finds out that in the neighboring province trucks will be there and they can take Gladys and the orphans  to a safer place in China.  However, Gladys only has 3 weeks to get the orphans to the trucks and they will have to climb a mountain region to get there!  With Li as her only other adult helper(he being the former prison revolt leader)they prepare to depart.  On the day of leaving the Inn, 50 more orphans arrive from a neighboring village!!  Gladys and Li have no choice but to also add those children to their original 50.   Gladys and Li move forward with their journey,  to get over the mountain with 100 orphans and get them to safety!!

Telling the Colonel good-bye

Telling the Colonel good-bye

The Inn of the 6th Happiness was a box office smash.  It was the second most popular movie in Britain in 1959.  Director Mark Robson was nominated for Best Director at the 1959 Academy Awards.  Sadly, it was the last movie Robert Donat would ever appear in.  He was plagued with horrible asthma most of his life and shortly after he began the movie, he discovered that he had a brain tumor.  He died shortly after all of his work was done in the film, his last line in the movie proving prophetic: “We shall not see each other again, I think,  Farewell.”

Gladys Aylward was still alive and working with orphans in Taiwan when the movie arrived at theatres.  While the book The Small Woman was a correct account of her life, the movie version horrified her!  First, she herself was a very petite woman and who did they cast to play her but 5’9″ Ingrid Bergman!  Second, Aylward was English and spoke with a Cockney accent, not a Swedish accent as Bergman did.  Third, there was no romantic notions between Aylward and the real Colonel Lin, who was 100% Chinese.  Aylward was very upset that they made Lin a mixed nationality person as she felt it demeaned his real heritage;she was also horrified at the hints that they had been in love with each other.  Aylward devoted her life to working in China, serving those in need, and had decided a long time ago to not have a husband or a family of her own.  Fourth, the movie hardly mentioned her difficulties in becoming a missionary and the difficulties she had in getting to China.  The train she took stopped in Siberia and wouldn’t continue on to China so Aylward had to walk the rest of the way!  In the film, Aylward just has to put up with some rude soldiers and the train takes her right to Tsientsin!  The real Inn was named The Inn of the 8th Happiness due to the number 8, in China, being considered special or auspicious.  Why Hollywood changed the number from 8 to 6 also perplexed Aylward.  Despite her frustrations with the movie, the book and the movie both gave her a bit of cause celeb and she was able to use her new found fame to shine the focus onto her work in Taiwan with the orphans.

Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward

Ingrid Bergman as Gladys Aylward

The real Gladys Aylward

The real Gladys Aylward

The Inn of the 6th Happiness-where can you see it in it’s glorious CinemaScope?  From time to time it does air on Turner Classic Movies, a kind soul has put the film on Youtube, it’s available to buy or watch on instant rent through Amazon, and it’s also available to buy through TCM’s Shop, in a blu ray or a regular dvd format.

The Inn of the 6th Happiness poster 2

For a heartwarming and intelligently told film, despite the real Gladys Aylward’s reactions to it, seek out this film, one that the whole family can watch together.    Here is the trailer for the film.

Knight Without Armor: For the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said, “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside of an enigma.”   Due to the quite different political philosophies of the former Soviet Union and of  Western Europe and the United States, movies made about Russians by Western film studios often focused on the evils of communism and Russians trying to escape it’s grasp.  This blog today is part of Movies, Silently‘s tribute to Russia in Classic Films.  Be sure to visit that fabulous site to read more entries about films from Russia and about Russia.

Russian Banner

In 1933, novelist James Hilton wrote Knight Without Armor, telling such a tale: In 1917, a Russian countess is trying to escape the country as the communists and the anti-communists are battling each other  with much bloodshed.  To her aid arrives a British man, a spy who has infiltrated a radical Russian political group.  He is the Knight, without a suit of armor, and he will do his chivalrous best to aid this lady in her efforts to escape.

Knight without Armor poster 1

British film producer Alexander Korda, head of London Films,  bought the rights to Hilton’s novel in 1936.  Hollywood must have at one time thought of  making a movie version of the novel because one of the best female screenwriters who had ever worked in Hollywood, Francis Marion, had written an adapted screenplay a few years prior to Korda’s interest in the film and he hired  Lajos Biro to write a new screenplay, using Marion’s as source material.  Jacques Feyder was brought on to direct and Miklos Rozsa created the music for the film.  This was the first film Rozsa ever scored music for; some of the music was his own creation and the rest he borrowed from Tchaikovsky.

British actor Robert Donat plays Ainsley J. Fothergill(what a name!)  He is an expert in the Russian language, an ex-pat reporter who is now working as an Russian to English book translator.  Due to an earlier critical article he wrote about Russia and its politics, he is kicked out of the country by the Tsar’s government.  Back in England and feeling depressed, Fothergill is asked to aid his government: become a spy with Secret Service, take on a Russian name and become a member of a radical political group, report back to Britain periodically about this group.  Fothergill accepts immediately and becomes Peter Ouranoff.

German actress (and future American Citizen) Marlene Dietrich plays the beautiful heroine, Countess Alexandra Vladinoff.  She visits England in 1913 to attend the Ascot horse races, returns to Russia and happily marries Count Adraxine.  Life is fine for her and then WWI arrives.  Her husband is made a colonel in the Russian Army and is killed in a battle.  WWI, for Russia, also unleashes a civil war: the Tsar’s supporters-The White Army vs the newly-created Communist Party, The Red Army.  Poor Countess Alexandra is caught in the middle of this civil war.  Her estate is overrun by the Red Army supporters and she is arrested for being an aristocrat.  Fortunately for her, our hero, Peter(aka loyal Britain Fothergill) is assigned to be her personal guard and take her to Petrograd(St. Petersburg) to stand trial.  Once on the train, however, Peter(Fothergill) falls in love with Countess Alexandra, and she falls in love with him.  The decision for both of them to  escape the country is easily made.

Marlene in one of her gorgeous gowns

Marlene in one of her gorgeous gowns

Pre-Countess days, Alexandria at the Ascot

Pre-Countess days, Alexandra at the Ascot

The suspense in this film is the myriad of obstacles that keep popping up to hamper this noble couple’s  efforts to escape.   Will these two lovebirds avoid the evil clutches of two warring political factions?  If they are caught, it could mean the death penalty for both of them.  Peter(Fothergill) is supposedly a Red supporter and if he’s taken captive by the Whites, it spells his doom.  The Countess is supposedly a White supporter and if she’s taken captive by the Reds, it spells her doom!  This Russian political stuff is tricky stuff!

Peter and Alexandria hiding in the woods

Peter and Alexandra hiding in the woods

Showing their hands to try and prove that they're really just peasants

Showing their hands to try and prove that they’re really just peasants

To see this interesting, suspenseful, romance film, Turner Classic Movies will be airing it next week, on March 18th, at noon/Eastern time, 11:00 am Central.  I searched Amazon to see if this movie is available for purchase and I could only discover that the dvds of the movie are from Italy, and I am not sure if they’ve been translated into English.  Fortunately, for those of you who don’t have access to Turner Classic Movies cable channel, a very kind soul has put Knight Without Armor on Youtube!

The other actors and actresses in this film were unfamiliar to me and I haven’t listed them because the main focus of the film is Robert Donat and Marlene Dietrich, and that’s as it should be!  Donat is charming and debonair as the British spy/hero. Two years earlier he helmed  Alfred Hitchcock’s espionage thriller The 39 Steps.  Marlene Dietrich is sublime as the Countess.  She is gorgeous, her costumes are gorgeous, and she takes on the role with care and skill.

KWA title shot

Seek this film out for a look at Russia, it’s political infightings, but mostly for the love story.

 

My Classic Movie Pick: A Hard Day’s Night

In 1988 when I was teaching 7th graders  math lessons, a science teacher came into the teacher’s lounge with  a shocking fact that had stunned him that morning.  The fact he had discovered also stunned the rest of us  in the teachers lounge.  For a 5 point bonus question on that day’s science test,  he asked the students to tell him who John, Paul, George, and Ringo were.  There were quite a few of the 7th graders that day who admitted that they had no idea who the Fab Four were!  Shocking, utterly shocking!!

Fast forward to this past month of February and I noticed on Turner Classic’s schedule that they were going to air the hit Beatle’s movie, A Hard Day’s Night.  Since I have never watched that film before, I  set up the dvr to record it and watched it last Saturday.  Our part of Missouri was getting hit with snow that day and  it wasn’t a good idea to be out driving anywhere, so watching the film was the perfect way to while away my snowy Saturday afternoon.   A Hard Day's Night

A Hard Day’s Night, made in 1964, has a simple plot.  The Beatles, or the lads as they’re often referred to in the movie, have to board a train for London and appear on a television variety show.  In the film they are all the rage among teen girls and it’s funny and amazing to see them trying to outrun and outwit hordes of screaming teenage girls as they get to the train station and get on that train without having their clothes torn off!  Once on the train, we meet a spectacled older man, who is introduced as Paul’s grandpa.  Paul warns the lads that his grandpa is a “mixer”, in that he’s a sneaky guy who enjoys mixing it up with others, getting them into arguments, conning folks of their money, or their food, or their booze.  Wilfrid Brambell portrays Paul’s granddad.  At that time, Brambell was also the star of a popular British television comedy, Steptoe and Son. (Steptoe would be the idea 10 years later for the popular US television comedy, Sanford and Son.)  On Steptoe, Brambell’s character was often referred to as a “dirty, old man”.  In A Hard Day’s Night, after Paul introduces granddad to his pals, the running joke of the film is that granddad is such a “clean” looking old man.    The Beatles’s manager is introduced as well as a mild-mannered assistant, played by Norman Rossington and John Junkin.

Clowning around for the camera while on the train

Clowning around for the camera while on the train

With Paul's granddad

With Paul’s granddad

Once in London and settled at their hotel their fan mail is delivered and Grandpa is happy that Ringo received a personal invitation to a gambling casino with a buffet. He tsk tsks at the lads for even thinking about going to such a place, then sneaks the invitation from Ringo’s pile of fan mail, borrows the hotel bellman’s tux uniform, and off Grandpa goes to the casino.  The lads, instead of working on their fan mail replies, sneak off to a hip and happening London nightclub and there’s a fun montage of shots of Ringo and George dancing with girls, John and Paul seated at tables having lively discussions with other folks at the nightclub.  When their manager and his assistant arrive, the lads have to leave and go back to their hotel. Once there, it is discovered that Grandpa is missing and it’s off to find him and they do.

My favorite series of shots is after the lads get to the television studio.  They meet with the show’s director, played by Victor Spinetti,  who treats them with disdain, and when they get the chance, the lads sneak out of the building and in a series of overhead shots, they run around and have fun on a large park or green space in London.  The run a race, they perform square dance moves, they play an imaginary game of cricket(it looked like a baseball set-up at first), and then there are shots of each Beatle leaping up into the air in slow motion-reminding me a bit of those popular pictures taken nowadays of wedding parties all jumping up into the air.

One of the running scenes at that park

One of the running scenes at that park

John Lennon in one of the jump shots

John Lennon in one of the jump shots

Grandpa messes the television appearance up, of course, by convincing Ringo to go on a solo adventure instead of living his life doing always as he’s told.  Ringo goes off on his adventure but he isn’t paying attention to the time and the clock is ticking down to show time.  John, Paul, and George reassure the producer that they’ll find Ringo and be back in time for the show.  They do, with Grandpa’s help, and it’s on to the Beatles performing 3 hit songs to a studio audience of screaming teenage girls.

Performing on the television show

Performing on the television show

Granddad urging Ringo to go on a solo adventure

Granddad urging Ringo to go on a solo adventure

This film was fun and several times it had me laughing outloud.  Each of the Beatles was quite natural on film, no one gave a stilted performance.  I did mention to my  husband that it was weird to hear the Beatles speaking in their normal voices, with the native Liverpool accents.  I’m simply just used to hearing their voices blended together in songs.   Of course the songs couldn’t have been better: A Hard Day’s Night, Can’t Buy Me Love, I Should Have Known Better, I Wanna Be Your Man, All My Loving, She Loves You, and several more.  The full soundtrack list for the film  is here.

On April 11th, at 2:15 EST, Turner Classic Movies will be airing A Hard Day’s Night, so be sure to tune in or set that dvr!  The film and the soundtrack are available to purchase at Amazon.  Also, a very kind person has put the entire film on Youtube, in English with Italian subtitles.

A French movie poster, makes the film seem much more serious than it is!

A French movie poster, makes the film seem much more serious than it is!

A publicity still

A publicity still

A goof off shot with Brambell and Ringo

A goof off shot with Brambell and Ringo

The Lost Weekend for 31 Days of Oscars Blogathon

Today’s post is a contribution to the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by three great gals, dedicated  fans of classic movies.  Please visit their sites to read other great posts covering all things Academy Awards: Once Upon a Screen,  Outspoken and Freckled, and  Paula’s Cinema Club.

When I learned about the annual Oscar Blogathon, I knew I wanted to participate again.  This time I decided to write about a specific Best Picture winner and I chose 1945’s The Lost Weekend.  I scoured for an online source in order to re-watch it, but struck out with that source.  I checked our Netflix and Amazon sites, via our Roku box, and again, struck out!  The local Family Video store didn’t have it.  I finally went to Rolla’s Public Library and bless them-they had the newest dvd of it!!  I settled into our comfy tv room, popped that movie into the dvd and became mesmerized again by this bleakest of  dramatic offerings.  If you are not familiar with The Lost Weekend, it is a realistic look at an alchoholic and his horrific weekend, seeking out alchohol, and the broken relationships and self-harm he leaves in his wake.     The Lost Weekend poster 1

Hollywood, from early silent films  until 1944, usually depicted an alchoholic character as a comedic, bumbling joke.  However, in  1944, writer Charles Jackson wrote his first best-selling novel, The Lost Weekend, an autobiographical, unflinching look at the horrors of being an alchoholic.   Jackson’s novel was published in early 1944 and that spring, director Billy Wilder was on a train trip from LA to NYC and while on a layover in Chicago, he bought  Jackson’s novel.  Wilder was so enthalled with the book that he stayed up all night reading the book, re-reading it, and taking notes.  When Wilder arrived in NYC, he quickly contacted Paramount Production Head Buddy De Sylva, and told him that The Lost Weekend was to be Wilder’s next movie, so please quickly buy the rights!  De Sylva had heard about the book and he had a lot of doubts that any movie about an alchoholic could be a financial success, but lucky for Wilder, the rights were purchased.

Wilder set to work.  His friend and collaborator Charles Brackett agreed to help write the screenplay and agreed to be the film’ s producer.  Now to find the lead actor.  Wilder was interested in having Jose Ferrer, currently getting raves on Broadway, to play the lead role of Don Birnum.  De Sylva nixed that idea as Ferrer wasn’t that well-known.  The  scuttlebut in Hollywood was that any actor who agreed to play the lead would be committing career suicide.  Wilder knew that that wouldn’t be the case and even said, “Not only did I know it was going to make a good picture, I also knew that the guy who was going to play the drunk was going to get the Academy Award!”  In 1942, Wilder had been allowed to direct his first movie, a romance comedy, The Major and the Minor.  The lead actor in that film, Ray Milland, had worked well with Wilder and so he was asked to consider the lead in The Lost Weekend.  Milland gladly accepted the challenge that this role would provide his career.

One tiny production problem popped up: Milland didn’t drink alchohol!  He didn’t know what it was to be drunk or to be craving a drink.  The actor turned to the author, Charles Jackson, for advice on the inner mind of the alchoholic, how to act drunk, and Milland also decided to stay for 24 hours at Bellevue Hospital, in NYC, in the drunk ward.  He went incognito as a patient, and during the night, a new patient was ushered into the drunk ward.  The patient was  agitated and began howling and since he wouldn’t settle down, the staff had to come and try to restrain him. Milland decided he had had enough so he left the hospital during this commotion but forgot about grabbing his street clothes.  A cop saw him as he exited Bellevue, still wearing the robe patients were given at that time to wear, and the cop nabbed Milland and took him back inside the hospital!  It took Milland a good chunk of his time to finally convince the officer and the hospital that he was really there just to do research for an upcoming movie role!  Also, a few weeks prior to the film’s start date, Milland decided to go on a crash diet.  He figured that an alcoholic probably doesn’t concern him or herself with eating 3 nutritious meals a day, so he lived on hard-boiled eggs, dry toast, grapefruit juice, and black coffee.   Milland went from his normal weight of 168 lbs. down to 160 lbs.

Katherine Hepburn was shown the script to possibly sign her on as Helen St. James,  Don Birnum’s long-suffering girlfriend.  Hepburn was intrigued by the script but was already preparing  to shoot another movie and wasn’t going to be available to work on The Lost Weekend.  Jean Arthur was then offered the role but she turned it down.  That led to discussions, of hiring an ingenue, and Brackett contacted Jack Warner, head of Warner Brothers, about letting them borrow Jane Wyman.  Warner agreed and Wyman got her chance to have her name above the title, and to also play in a more dramatic part then she had ever done before.

Publicity still of Milland and Wyman.

Publicity still of Milland and Wyman.

Rounding out the cast were the very capable Phillip Terry, as Wick Burnham, Don’s long-suffering brother, Howard Da Silva as Nat, the owner and bartender of Nat’s, Don’s favorite bar, Doris Dowling as Gloria, a flirt who hangs out at Nat’s and has a huge crush on Don, Frank Faylen as Bim, the male nurse who explains the reality of being an alcoholic to Don when he is at Bellevue.  Lilian Fontaine(mom of Olivia de Haviland and Joan Fontaine) has a small part as Helen’s mom and Lewis L. Russell plays her father.  William Newell also has a bit part as a liquor store owner whom Don robs for a quart of rye.  Gordon Jennings is good as the opera house’s coat room clerk who won’t let Don search for his coat when he is handed Helen’s by mistake, and Douglas Spencer-better known as reporter Scotty in The Thing From Another World, is quite good as an alchoholic with a horrible case of the dt’s,  sharing the drunk ward with Don.

Philip Terry as Wick, with Jane Wyman as Helen

Phillip Terry as Wick, with Jane Wyman as Helen

Howard Da Silva as Nat

Howard Da Silva as Nat

Doris Dowling as Gloria

Doris Dowling as Gloria

Frank Faylen, as Bim

Frank Faylen, as Bim

The Lost Weekend begins on a Thursday afternoon, with a wonderful opening shot of New York City, a long view of the tall buildings as they sweep by our eyes.  It must be spring or fall, as we see apartment buildings with opened windows, curtains billowing in the breeze.  We meet the characters that tell us the story of this weekend, which begins on a Thursday afternoon and ends on a Monday morning.  There is Wick Burnham. the sensible brother, but he’s getting so very tired of trying to help his brother Don dry out.  He lets Don share his apartment, but pays all of the rent, the utilities, pays for their food, because Don, who aspires to be a writer, has no job.   Don’s girlfriend is Helen St. James.  A sweet lady, who left behind a loving home in Toledo, Ohio to make her way in the exciting environs of NYC.  Helen works at Time magazine and often is given tickets to the theatre or opera.  We see in a flashback that the opera is where she met Don, over a mixing up of their coat check tickets.  Helen is sweet, honest, tough, and not willing to give up on Don or the possible future they could have together.

At Nat’s bar, we meet Nat.  He’s a good-natured guy, but not one to push around.  He sees the downward spiral Don is in and tries to counsel him to get help, especially since Don has that nice St. James lady who loves him.  Also at Nat’s is Gloria.  A very pretty gal, who is very attracted to Don and lets him know it.  She doesn’t seem to understand that he is an alchoholic, and is ready to loan him some cash when he visits her apartment, desperate for money.  It is here that Don has a horrible fall down a flight of stairs that lands him at Bellevue.

Then there is Don, the main character of this story.  Milland really gave a tour de force performance.  We can see glimpses of the jovial and charming man that Don Birnum could be.  We see the huge frustrations and desperation in his eyes when he can’t find anymore hidden bottles of liquor in the apartment, or when there isn’t anymore money to buy that quart of rye.  We see his fear at waking up in Bellevue’s drunk ward, not knowing where he is at first and then being caustically lectured by Bim, the head male nurse, as to what he sees all the time in dealing with alcoholics.  Echoing those horrors is Don’s own experience of the dt’s or delirious tremens, when he thinks he sees a mouse that has chewed a hole in the wall of the apartment, only to be attacked by a bat and blood running down the wall!  Milland looks hagard, ill, is unshaven and sweats profusely.  He staggers around NYC and in one scene, he practically cries out to some businessmen why are the pawn shops closed???  Don’t they realize he has to pawn his typewriter for money???  When he is told it’s because of Yom Kippur that the stores are closed, he looks devasted, like he’s lost his last friend and there won’t be anymore in his lifetime.

The delirious tremens

The delirious tremens

Threatening a liquor store owner

Threatening a liquor store owner

About to have a drink he begged Nat for

About to have a drink he begged Nat for

"Why aren't the pawn stores open??"

“Why aren’t the pawn stores open??”

Don calls the rings from his glasses of rye his "vicious circles"

Don calls the rings from his glasses of rye his “vicious circles”

At Nat's Bar

At Nat’s Bar

Miklos Rozsa needs to also be mentioned due to his musical contributions to the score.  When test audiences saw the film in California, they didn’t like it.  Rozsa noticed that a jazzy, George Gershwin type of tone was being used in different scenes and he told Wilder that he thought musically that that was the wrong approach.  Wilder told him to come up with another musical score and Rozsa did.  He used the instrument, the theremin, whenever Don was having one of his alcoholic crises.  That sound immediately gave the movie an other worldly feel, to symbolize that the alcoholic’s world isn’t normal.  You can hear that sound for yourself in this clip from Youtube, the movie’s trailer.  The theremin is apparent at the 23 second mark.

After The Lost Weekend was seen by the American movie going public, and the movie viewers abroad, it cleaned up nicely in the awards categories for 1945.  Billy Wilder and Ray Milland won Best Director and Best Actor, and the movie won Best Picture from the New York Film Critics Circle.  Milland won Best Actor from the National Board of Review.  At Cannes, Milland won Best Actor and Wilder won the Grand Prize.  The Lost Weekend won the Golden Globe for Best Dramatic Film, Milland for Best Actor, and Wilder for Best Director.  For the Academy Awards, The Lost Weekend had garnered 7 nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writing(screenplay), Cinematography, Music, and Editing.  It won 4 Oscars: Best Actor, Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Picture.  Since Wilder had also co-written the screenplay, he actually won two Oscars for The Lost Weekend.  As Milland took the stage to accept his award, emcee Bob Hope joked that Milland’s Oscar was hidden away in a ceiling light, as that was one place Don Birnum had hidden a liquor bottle in the film!

Producer and screenwriter Charles Brackett with co-screenwriter and director Billy Wilder, on the set of The Lost Weekend

Producer and screenwriter Charles Brackett with co-screenwriter and director Billy Wilder, on the set of The Lost Weekend

Milland with his Oscar

Milland with his Oscar

If you  have never seen The Lost Weekend, do find it and view it.  It really is a remarkable feat in the motion picture arts and was added in 2011 to the National Film Preservation Board.

Credited articles that helped in the writing of this blog topic: “Weekend in the Sun”, Bailey, Blake.  March, 2013, Vanity Fair.

“Why The Lost Weekend is Essential”, McGee, Scott.  Turner Classic Movies website.

 

My Classic Movie Pick: Kitty Foyle

Ginger Rogers had enjoyed a successful film career that began in 1929, but it really took off in 1933, when she teamed up with dancer Fred Astaire.  Ginger and Fred made 9 musical films together, from 1933-39, and all proved to be box office hits.  By 1940, Astaire and Rogers wanted to make other movies, so the partnership broke up(though they did reunite for 1949’s The Barkley’s of Broadway) and Ginger moved on, starring in various comedic and dramatic roles.  In 1940, she starred in the film, Kitty Foyle, and for her performance, won the Best Actress Oscar at 1941’s Academy Awards.  Her award-winning role is my classic movie pick for today.

Kitty Foyle poster 1

Kitty Foyle began as a book, written by Christopher Morley, in 1939.  It was a best-seller, and so often happens with best-selling books, Hollywood came calling.  RKO Studios bought the rights to Morley’s book and made the movie version.  Sam Wood was chosen to direct and  Millard Kaufman wrote the screenplay.  Ginger was chosen to play Kitty, and the two leading men for the film were Dennis Morgan and James Craig.  Supporting cast included: Eduardo Cianelli, Ernest Cossart, Gladys Cooper, and Odette Myrtil.

Ginger(who let her natural reddish-brown hair color come through for the role) is outstanding as Kitty.  As the film opens,  we meet Kitty Foyle, a pretty, smart businesswoman who is an executive at Delphine Detaille’s Fashion House.  Kitty is deep in thought as she has to make a choice.  Marry Dr. Mark Eisen or stay unattached so that her former love and husband, the wealthy  Wyn Strafford, can sweep into her life yet again.

We then see Kitty’s life in a flashback.   Kitty is a poor girl, growing up in Philadelphia, raised by her widower father(Cossart).  She is always daydreaming about living a life of wealth, more of a Cinderella-type dream where a rich, handsome, young man will swoop in and be her Prince Charming. Her dad, whom she affectionately calls Pops, warns her to stop the daydreaming and wake up to reality.  One day, however, she does meet her Prince Charming, Wynnewood Strafford VI played charmingly by Dennis Morgan.  It’s love at first sight!

Kitty & Pops

Kitty & Pops

Wyn wants to be a businessman in his own right and doesn’t want to join in the family’s banking business. He has begun a magazine and after he meets Kitty, he hires her to be the secretary for his new venture.  Love blooms between Wyn and Kitty.  When the magazine fails, Wyn’s weak side shines through as he goes back to his family and enters the banking business, and refuses to ask Kitty to marry him because he’s afraid of what his family will say about his wanting to marry a girl not from their same social standing.

Kitty, Wyn's new secretary

Kitty, Wyn’s new secretary

Kitty & Wyn-it's love!!

Kitty & Wyn-it’s love!!

Kitty’s father passes away and she is off to New York to seek a new life.  She gets a job at Delphine’s (Odette Myrtil) fashionable shop for ladies.  While at the shop one day, Kitty accidentally sets off the store’s burglar alarm and pretends to faint to hide her error.  A doctor is summoned and he has a “meet cute” moment with Kitty.  He is Dr. Mark Eisen(James Craig) who teases Kitty into going out on a date with him and she agrees to the date.  After seeing Mark quite a lot, Kitty begins to have fond feelings for him, but then Wyn reappears, in NYC!  He finds Kitty and begs her to marry him, that he is desperately in love with her!  What’s a girl to do?

Kitty going on a case with Dr. Mark!

Kitty going on a case with Dr. Mark!

Kitty holding the new baby Mark has delivered

Kitty holding the new baby Mark has delivered

Kitty with Mark

Kitty with Mark

Wedding bells ring, and Wyn and Kitty marry, agreeing that the only way their marriage will last is if they don’t live in Philadelphia.  They decide to settle in NYC.  Wyn also decides that he needs to introduce Kitty to his family.  During their visit to the family estate, Kitty is treated very coldly, especially by Wyn’s mother(wonderful British actress Gladys Cooper, who was often called upon to play imperious mothers or mother-in-laws!) and Kitty learns that unless Wyn joins in the banking business in Philadelphia, he will be disinherited and will be left penniless.   Kitty can see that Wyn won’t be able to stand up to the threat of losing all his money, so she quietly goes back to NYC alone and files for an annullment.

Kitty meeting Mrs. Strafford, Wyn's mother

Kitty meeting Mrs. Strafford, Wyn’s mother

Back in NYC, Kitty is back at her job with Delphine and life is going on when Kitty discovers that she is pregnant!  Before Kitty can tell Wyn about their baby, she finds out in a society section of the NY Times that Wyn is engaged to a girl from a prominent Philadelphia family!  More troubles come Kitty’s way, but she does have her steady work at Delphine’s, and that brings the audience back to Kitty at the film’s beginning.  Whom will she choose?  Wyn or Dr. Mark?  I don’t want to reveal the movie’s ending as I want you, the readers of this blog, to seek it out!

From time to time it airs on TCM(Turner’s Classic Movies cable channel) but it isn’t on the list for the remaining days of February.  The film is available in a dvd for sale at TCM’s Shop.  It is available to buy via Amazon or to watch it through their instant rent program.  Lastly, a kind soul put various trailers of it on Youtube.  By trailers, I mean an advertisement for the movie, that audiences in 1940 would have seen at movie theatres.

Kitty Foyle is a lovely film.  It’s charming, romantic, sad at times, with Ginger Rogers never hitting a wrong note in her portrayal of such a strong, sensible character.  It’s no wonder she won the Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal.

Ginger Rogers with her Oscar for Best Actress and Jimmy Stewart with his Oscar for Best Actor

Ginger Rogers with her Oscar for Best Actress and Jimmy Stewart with his Oscar for Best Actor

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick: Blackboard Jungle

As a former teacher, I am a complete and utter sucker/fan of movies that revolve around  a teacher trying to save the world by getting through to their unruly, bratty, world of crime-leaning students.  In 1954, writer Evan Hunter wrote a novel, The Blackboard Jungle, that got a lot of buzz from the reading public and it caught the attention of Hollywood.  Movie Studio MGM bought the rights of the novel and Richard Brooks, not only directed the film, The Blackboard Jungle, he also wrote the screenplay.   The movie did exceedingly well at the box office and it also was nominated in 4 categories at the 1956 Academy Awards: Best Screenplay, Best Editing, Best Art Direction, and Best Cinematography.

Blackboard Jungle

The movie opens with that famous song that was used 20 some years later as the opener for the ABC sitcom Happy Days, Rock Around the Clock, performed by Bill Haley and His Comets.   We then meet our protagonist, Richard Dadier(Glenn Ford), a WWII veteran who went to college on the GI Bill and earned a degree to teach English.  He arrives at his very first teaching job, at North Manual High, an all-boys high school in inner city New York.  Dadier soon learns that there are a lot of discipline problems at this school and that many of the students are juvenile delinquints.  Still, he is optimistic that with his hard work and encouragement, his students will learn and will go on to success in life.

His students, which most of the focus of the film is on one of his classes, were portrayed by some of the best up and coming actors of the 1950s and 1960s: Sidney Poitier as Gregory Miller, Vic Morrow as Artie West, Dan Terranova as Belazi, Rafael Campos as Pete Morales, Jamie Farr(cast credits list him as Jameel Farah) as Santini, and Paul Mazursky as Emmanuel Stoker.

The faculty and staff of North Manuel: Louis Calhern as Mr. Murdock, Margaret Hayes as Miss Hammond, John Hoyt as Principal Warnecke,Richard Kiley as Mr. Edwards, and  Emile Meyer as Mr. Halloran.

Rounding out Didier’s life is his sweet wife, Anne, played by Anne Francis, and a former professor he seeks out for advice, Prof. A.R.Kraal, played by Basil Ruysdael.

Dadier soon realizes his work will be tough when an object is thrown at the blackboard while he writing his last name on the board and explaining to his students how to pronounce his name.  When Miss Hammond, who is a very stylish new teacher, is cornered after school in the library and about to be assaulted by a student, Dadier luckily happens to be walking by and hears her cries for help.  Dadier rushes in and saves Miss Hammond and rightly gets some punches thrown at the student before he runs away.  Later, Dadier and Mr. Edwards, a new math teacher who loves jazz, visit a bar after work one day, have a few drinks, and then on their walk to their apartments, a gang of hoodlums who attend North Manuel recognize their teachers and brutally mug them.  When Dadier’s wife sees his beaten face at his arrival home, she insists that he give up this job and teach at a different school, one in a much better neighborhood or community.  A side plot is that Anne is expecting and she’s worried about this pregnancy as she miscarried their first baby.  It doesn’t help Anne’s stress levels when she begins to get horrible phone calls implying that her husband is cheating on her!

Anne receiving one of those disturbing phone calls

Anne receiving one of those disturbing phone calls

Object thrown at the blackboard

Object thrown at the blackboard

Dadier coming home after being mugged

Dadier coming home after being mugged

Dadier hangs in there, and he is able to appeal to Greg Miller, to show Miller that he has natural leadership qualities.  When Miller states that because he’s black and that there’s not a lot he can do as many doors will be shut to him due to his race, but Dadier doesn’t accept that reasoning and tells Miller that blacks can succeed in the modern world and that there are teachers who care.  He encourages Miller not to drop out, which he had been considering.

Artie West, as Dadier discovers, is one of the main bullies of the school, and a gang leader.  Shortly after West destroys math teacher Edwards jazz record collection in the classroom, Dadier decides enough is enough and there is a climactic confrontation in Dadier’s English class between him and West.

Dadier starting to have success with his class

Dadier starting to have success with his class

A young Jamie Farr

A young Jamie Farr

West about to break Mr. Edwards Jazz records

West about to break Mr. Edwards Jazz records

The climactic fight scene between Dadier and West

The climactic fight scene between Dadier and West

See this film for the performances: Glenn Ford, always a capable and sincere actor, shines here as the new teacher who wants to impact his students for good.  Vic Morrow is excellent as the evil Artie and Sidney Poitier believable as Greg Miller, learning that he can succeed and that he does have leadership skills.  Great supporting performances by Louis Calhern, Anne Francis, and Richard Kiley.

The Blackboard Jungle will air on Turner Classic Movies on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14th, at 2:45 am est/1:45 am cst, so set that dvr!  The film is available to buy or instantly rent through Amazon.    Over on Youtube, someone has put the main scenes of Blackboard Jungle together in a montage set to the film’s iconic opening song, Rock Around the Clock. Here’s that cool montage.  Also on Youtube, is this  charming interview with actor Jamie Farr, more famously known as Cpl. Klinger on the hit tv series Mash, about being in the movie Blackboard Jungle.

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