Posts Tagged ‘Claude Rains’

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!

 

 

 

Beyond the Cover: Books to Film Blogathon: Kings Row

I live in Rolla, Missouri, which is in the south-central part of the state.  1 and 1/2 hours northeast of Rolla is the city of Fulton, Missouri.   Fulton has two  claims to fame, as fame goes.  It’s the place where Winston Churchill, on March 5th, 1946, made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech at Westminster College.  Fulton’s second claim is that in 1940, former hometown boy, Henry Bellamann, published a novel titled Kings Row, which readers in Fulton soon figured out was based upon their town.   The novel angered the community because despite Bellamann’s disclaimer that Kings Row was a fictional place, and all of the characters were fictional, Fulton readers could depict their town from Bellamann’s descriptions, and also the citizens he described.  Bellamann’s novel was about a midwestern town, near the turn of the century, where outsiders perceive it as an idyllic place to live and raise one’s family, but in reality, the town contains evil people, hiding their evil secrets, and where the wealthy families mistreat the poorer ones.

Kings Row sign

After the anger lessened on Fulton’s part, Hollywood announced that Warner Brothers studio had bought the  film rights to Kings Row and in 1942 the movie reached America’s box offices.  Despite the lurid tale, Kings Row was a smash hit, and some film buffs say it contains the best role President Ronald Reagan ever played when he was an actor.  The film was also nominated in 1943 for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Cinematography, Black and White. Let’s dive into the film’s plot, shall we?    kings-row-ann-sheridan-ronald-reagan-everett

The film concerns itself mostly with a group of children, ages 10-11, who are occupied with most things 10 and 11 year olds would be occupied with: having fun, playing with their friends, school, and trying to please their parents and/or guardians(two of the boys are being raised by relatives, since both are orphans.)  There is Parris(Robert Cummings), Drake(Ronald Reagan), Cassandra(Betty Field), Randy(Ann Sheridan), and Louise(Nancy Coleman.)  We only see the children for half an hour into the film, and then it jumps ahead to their young adult years, when they’re in their late teens.  When we meet the children we learn that Parris is polite. sensitive, and curious.  Drake is a jokester and thinks he’s a lady’s man.  Randy is a tomboy.  Louise is obedient to authority.  Cassandra is weird and moody.  The change to late teen years brings about the fact that all five are good looking people with varying degrees of wondering what to do with their lives.

Cassandra and Parris

Cassandra and Parris

Randy and Drake

Randy and Drake

Parris has been raised by a wealthy grandmother(Maria Ouspenskaya) who immigrated from the Lorraine area of France.  Her husband began a successful nursery business outside of Kings Row, and she, Madame Von Eln, carried on with the business after she was widowed.  Owing to her ancestry, she has made sure Parris can speak and read and write in French and German, and she’s also raised him with excellent manners.  She has also insisted on his taking piano lessons.  When Parris is a teen, he begins to grow infatuated with Dr. Tower’s (Claude Rains) daughter, Cassandra.  Cassandra is pretty, and seems to be able to only open up and really talk when she’s with Parris.  However, her father is very strict with her and always keeps her at home, even pulling her out of school and homeschooling her when she turns 12.  Due to his actions, Cassandra really has no friends in Kings Row, other than Parris.   Cassandra’s mother(Eden Gray) is considered very odd by the townsfolk, as she never leaves the house, and can be seen in the living room sitting in a chair, or peeking out at passerby’s from curtained windows.  Parris cares deeply for Cassandra, even declaring he loves her.  He and Cassandra begin to secretly see one another under Dr. Tower’s nose; Parris had gone away to Europe for medical school, and came back to Kings Row, to study psychiatry with Dr. Tower’s help.

Mysterious Dr. Tower

Mysterious Dr. Tower

Drake, always the merry prankster looking for love, raised by an aged aunt and uncle, is very wealthy when they pass away and leave him the full of their estate.  Drake wants to marry Louise, but her father, Dr. Gordon(Charles Coburn) a severe man, doesn’t like Drake, thinks Drake is immoral, and tells Louise she can’t marry him.  Louise is too weak to stand up to her father, so Drake breaks off his engagement to Louise and after a while, begins to date Randy, the girl descended from Irish immigrant railroad workers, who lives on the wrong side of the tracks, literally.

Drake telling Dr. Gordon what he really thinks of him.

Drake telling Dr. Gordon what he really thinks of him.

Randy is very likeable, and very pretty.  She is full of common sense, has a good sense of humor, and is a hard worker; Drake couldn’t do better to date  and woo her.  Tragedy hits Drake twice: he finds out an unscrupulous banker has swindled him of his inheritance, and having to work for a living and getting a job in the rail yard, he is accidentally crushed by a boxcar.  SPOILER!!!   When Dr. Gordon, Louise’s father, is called in to treat Drake, he decides to punish Drake for all of his past moral failings and needlessly amputates Drake’s legs!  It is as Drake awakes from his surgery, feels for his legs, and realizes they’re gone, that Reagan’s most famous line was uttered, “Where’s the rest of me??!!”  (Reagan felt he owed so much to Kings Row and that line that he used it as the title to his autobiography.)

Where's the rest of me??!!

Where’s the rest of me??!!

Robert Cummings is winning as Parris, the fresh-faced naive boy turned the same, even as a young adult; naive until he discovers what Dr. Tower did to his wife and to his daughter.  The naivete is gone and  Parris decides to study psychiatry, which at the turn of the century, was a new medical field.

Ronald Reagan is great as Drake.  One can tell by watching Reagan that he was enjoying the fun of the character and that he was probably having the time of his life playing Drake.  A lot of credit has been given to director Sam Wood, for working with Reagan on his part, but once again, Reagan was also from a midwestern state, Illinois, and a small town, so I am sure he could see some of the same points of distinction or similarities the screenplay was bringing out about life in a small midwestern town.

Ann Sheridan is superb as Randy.  Her efforts to display Randy’s character come shining through.

Betty Field is eerie as Cassandra.  She goes about with her eyes wide-open, as though she is expecting a ghost around every corner.  One can feel that Cassandra is living under a large amount of stress, but one doesn’t know why.  It will be revealed later in the plot of the film.

The adults in the film are some of the greatest character actors and actresses to ever grace a film: Claude Rains as the strange Dr. Tower, Charles Coburn as the stern Dr. Gordon, Dame Judith Anderson as Mrs. Gordon, Harry Davenport as Colonel Skeffington, Maria Ouspenskaya as Parris’s grandmother, and, I must confess an unknown to me actress, Eden Gray portrays the reclusive Mrs. Tower.

I don’t want to reveal too many more spoilers for Kings Row, but I will say that after all the evil deeds are exposed and the topic of mental illness is discussed,  there is a happy ending, or at least a hopeful ending!!  Turner Classic Movies will be airing Kings Row next week on Tuesday, April 12, at 8:00 est/7:00 cst.   The film is also available to view on Amazon’s instant rent and there are various clips on Youtube, but not the entire film.

I decided to read Kings Row prior to writing this blog, and went to Rolla’s library 3 weeks ago to get the book.  Alas, it wasn’t available so I ordered it through their interlibrary loan program, and 2 weeks later, Kings Row arrived for me, coming in from Sedalia, Missouri’s library.   I have read 1/3 of  the book and it is a good read.  Bellamann wrote a very descriptive picture to give the reader a mental image of Fulton, er Kings Row.  There are a lot of characters and good character development in the book, but as is so often when a book is turned into a film, many of the characters in the book were cut from the film’s screenplay.  Some of the  taboo topics in the book didn’t make the screenplay either due to the Hays Code: premarital sex, homosexuality, and incest.  The topics of mental illness, sadistic malpractice, murder, and suicide were acceptable for the screenplay.

Many have speculated as to why Henry Bellamann would have written such a negative novel about his hometown.  There are several theories, but at last, Fulton seems to have accepted it’s place in literary and film history.  Here’s a link to an interesting piece I read about the book and the film from a 1987 article in the  LA Times.

My post today is for the Beyond the Cover: Books to Film Blogathon, hosted by two excellent bloggers who know their classic movies: Ruth at Now Voyaging and Kristina at Speakeasy.  Be sure to visit their blogs to read about other bloggers contributions in the world of literary art being turned into visual art via film.

Beyond the Cover