Posts Tagged ‘Evelyn Varden’

My Classic Movie Pick: The Night of the Hunter

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

The Night of the Hunter poster 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Powell charming the ladies at the church picnic.

Powell charming the ladies at the church picnic.

Willa falling for Powell

Willa falling for Powell

 

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

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

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

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

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

Managing to escape Powell

Managing to escape Powell

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel ready for the lurking Powell

Rachel ready for the lurking Powell

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

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

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

TNOTH lovea nd hate

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pinky back home with Dicey

Pinky back home with Dicey

Pinky Dicey is a laundress

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

Being treated rudely by the local police.

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

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

Ethel Barrymore as Miss Em

Ethel Barrymore as Miss Em

Pinky and Miss Em

Pinky and Miss Em

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

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

Pinky giving Tom her final answer

Pinky giving Tom her final answer

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

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

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

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

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