Posts Tagged ‘Frank Faylen’

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: The Palm Beach Story

Today, my blog  is for the Funny Lady Blogathon, hosted by Movies,Silently which is a wonderful blog that I enjoy reading and it’s helped me learn a lot about the  silent films era.  If you visit that site,  you will  find  links to other bloggers’ works featuring funny ladies in the movies.

I decided to focus my blog entry on actress Claudette Colbert and the  delightful turn that she gave  in the Preston Sturges written and directed screwball comedy, The Palm Beach Story.   The Palm Beach StoryFunny Lady Blogtathon

Sturges’s film opens with a prologue of sorts: we see a lot of fast action happening set to the tune of Giacomo Rossini’s The William Tell Overture(The Lone Ranger theme song)-Joel McCrea rushing around an apartment, taking off his suit and putting on a tux and being hustled out of the building to get into a waiting car that hurriedly drives him across NYC to a church.  This is all interspersed with Claudette Colbert locked in a closet, wrists  bound and mouth gagged, dressed in a slip and  high heels and then another Claudette dressed in a wedding gown!  A maid sees one Claudette, shrieks and faints! The Claudette in the closet manages to kick her way through the door and get out, and the other has run down the aisle of the church and is marrying Joel.  We next see the years go by, 1937, 1938, 1939 and on until the present year, 1942.

After a rush, making it to the altar!

After a rush, making it to the altar!

Joel McCrea is Tom Jeffers, an inventor who hasn’t managed to make it big with any of his inventions yet.  Claudette Colbert is his wife, Geraldine, called Gerry for short.  She is tired of the bills not being paid and one morning  we find her running around their apartment  in her bathrobe looking for a place to hide as the landlord is going to be kicking them out and has a new couple coming to see the place.  Gerry decides to hide in the tub of the master bathroom, pulling the tub’s curtain around herself but she is found by the prospective new renter, The Wienie King!  The Wienie King(Robert Dudley), a funny, little bespectacled  man with lots of riches due to his popular hot dog business,  is impressed by Gerry’s good looks.   He pries into her financial troubles, tells her his opinion of her no-good husband, and then gives her enough money to pay off their debts and their rent.   The generosity of a rich, older man gets Gerry to think of how she could help her husband.  She’ll get Tom to divorce her, then she’ll find a rich, old man and get him to fall for her, give her money, and then she can give some of that money to Tom so he can get his latest invention, a suspended airport,  up and running!

The Wienie King talking to Gerry.

The Wienie King talking to Gerry.

It's The Wienie King!

It’s The Wienie King!

Gerry delightedly tells Tom about The Wienie King and the money but the news does nothing but make Tom grumpy and he gets even grumpier when Gerry tells him of her plan.  Tom loves Gerry and he refuses to listen to any talk of a divorce.  After an evening on the town Gerry has trouble with the zipper on her dress and asks Tom to help her unzip it, which leads to a major kiss and the safety of the marriage is ensured, or so we think!  In the morning as Tom is sleeping, Gerry has packed her suitcase and is trying to pin a “Goodbye Tom” note to the comforter and she accidentally stabs Tom!  He awakens and realizes what she is about to do and hilarity ensues as Tom stumbles and trips and falls down the stairs in his attempt to stop Gerry at the elevator of their apartment building.  Tom kept tripping on his pajama bottoms so we see him kick them off in disgust with an appropriately placed comforter wrapped around his person and then his running attempt to get to Gerry, but alas, he forgets to cover his backside and now we have a fainting neighbor lady in the hall and laughing elevator patrons!

Cover up your backside, Tom!

Cover up your backside, Tom!

As Gerry tries to hail a cab in front of the apartment building, Tom has caught up to her, wearing a ridiculous get up of mis-matched clothes.  Gerry refuses to listen to his pleas of staying with him, and in a tug of war on the suitcase, it opens up and spills Gerry’s clothes and toiletries everywhere.  In exasperation, Gerry asks the taxi driver(Frank Faylen) where is a good place to get a quick divorce and he replies that Palm Beach is the place to go and he adds that it is full of rich people.  Gerry successfully gets to the train station and now has to find a way to get a ticket to Palm Beach.  She decides to plant herself next to the ticket agent for the Palm Beach-bound train and look sort of sad.  Presently, the Ale and Quail Club arrive with their tickets and as they check in with the ticket agent, this group of rich, older men all notice Gerry and soon take a vote to buy her a ticket to Palm Beach!  Watching this part of the film reminded me of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a group of backwards  men, helping out a pretty lady.  William Demarest(Uncle Charlie from My Three Sons fame) is  the “Grumpy” character in the club who doesn’t like the way his fellow club members are all going soft around Gerry, and when they  serenade her to sleep, he has an unusual way to break up that party!

William Demarest knows how to stop a serenade!

William Demarest knows how to stop a serenade!

Serenading Gerry to sleep!

Serenading Gerry to sleep!

Due to the Ale and Quail Club’s antics, Gerry decides to hide out in another part of the train and get some sleep.  She unknowingly meets John D. Hackensacker III( Rudy Vallee), one of the richest men in the world-this character was an obvious zing at John D. Rockefeller on writer/director Sturges’s part.   John D. helps Gerry attempt to get into an upper berth and each time the efforts are fraught with mishaps and broken eyewear, but John D. is ever the gentleman and Gerry does get some sleep.  While she’s asleep, the train’s porters have decided to unhitch the Ale and Quail Club’s private car because of their antics and as the train continues for Palm Beach, Gerry’s clothes and purse are left behind in the private train car.  For breakfast, Gerry comes up with an amusing outfit made from the train’s towel sets-the phrase Pullman across her rump catches the eye of traveling businessmen!  John D. gallantly takes her on a shopping spree and at the store Gerry realizes who this nice fellow train traveler really is.

Broken eyeglasses can happen when boosting a lady into an upper berth!

Broken eyeglasses can happen when boosting a lady into an upper berth!

Gerry's creative outfit made from pj's and Pullman towels!

Gerry’s creative outfit made from pj’s and Pullman towels!

John D. offers to take Gerry to his family’s Palm Beach estate via his yacht, The Erl King.  As the yacht pulls up to dock, we see Tom with a bunch of roses in his hand, waiting to meet Gerry.  Tom had also run into The Wienie King who had stopped by the apartment to tell Gerry that they were going to be neighbors and upon meeting Tom, The Wienie King scolds Tom for losing Gerry, and gives him money to get to Palm Beach and to get Gerry back.  En route by plane, Tom finds out upon landing that Gerry is with Tom D. and that they’re heading to the docks.  Also embarking is John D.’s man-hungry sister, Princess Centimilia(Mary Astor), and she speaks about 1000 words a minute!  She is  accompanied by her latest boyfriend, Toto(Sig Arno), who is a foreigner who’s accent no one understands except for Centimilia.  The Princess sees Tom and she dumps poor Toto on the spot, determined to win Tom for herself.  Gerry, not wanting John D. to know who Tom is, introduces him as her brother, Captain McGlue!

Princess Centimilia wants to snag Tom!

Princess Centimilia wants to snag Tom!

John D. falling for Gerry!

John D. falling for Gerry!

Off they go to the Hackensacker estate and out to dinner at a swanky restaurant.   With dancing as part of the evening, John D. realizes he loves Gerry and wants to marry her and Princess Centimilia has decided that Captain McGlue/Tom will be her newest husband.  Tom and Gerry do get to dance with each other but Gerry is still determined to go through with her crazy divorce plan to aid Tom’s invention.  Back at the estate, Gerry has zipper trouble with her dress again and asks Tom for help.  Once again, it leads to a major kiss and both decide that they love one another, neither wants a divorce, and that in the morning they’ll tell John D. and the Princess the truth about who they really are.

Stuck zippers can result in falling in love again!

Stuck zippers can result in falling in love again!

Tom helping Gerry with that darn zipper!

Tom helping Gerry with that darn zipper!

When the truth comes out, John D. is sad, but  he still wants to help Tom with his invention financially.  Another happy ending is going to happen, but I don’t want to reveal  it because it has Sturges’s trademark zany twist to get us there, and if you haven’t seen this funny movie, rush out and rent it or buy it or tivo it off of TCM the next time they air it!

The Palm Beach Story fits the definition of a Screwball Comedy to a T.  The dialogue is fast-paced, there is a lot of slapstick action, and the situations that the characters find themselves in happen at breakneck speed.  The two leads are at odds with each other, but do love each other immensely.  Claudette Colbert is a delight in this film.  With her expressive eyes she is adept at getting across to the audience her reactions to the ridiculous events that her character gets caught in.  She also has her own slapstick scenes, trying to run and hide on the train from the Ale and Quail Club with pajama pants tripping her up at every step, much like Joel McCrea’s earlier pajama tripping scenes.  The attempts to get into that upper berth are more slapstick moments that Colbert shines in.  She delivers her lines fast and doesn’t miss a beat when reacting to other characters lines when they are directed back at her.  In reading about Colbert’s long career, she could sing, she could dance, she could perform in comedies and dramas.  She once said,”I’m a very good comedienne, but I was always fighting that image, too.”  From that statement, I would assume that Colbert didn’t want to get pigeon-holed into only doing one kind of movie.  Looking at her body of work, it is evident that she was a very talented actress and she didn’t get pigeon-holed.  Please try and find The Palm Beach Story for a fast and funny romantic-comedy, done in the Screwball Style.  another TPBS

L. to R.: Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Preston Sturgis, Claudette Colbert, Rudy Vallee.

L. to R.: Joel McCrea, Mary Astor, Preston Sturgis, Claudette Colbert, Rudy Vallee.

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