Posts Tagged ‘Gloria Holden’

The Olivia De Havilland Centenary Blogathon: Dodge City

Friday, July 1, 2016 one of the last actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age of Movie Making celebrated her 100th birthday! Olivia De Havilland, best known as Melanie in Gone With the Wind, reached that majestic milestone and with that in mind, two wonderful classic film fan bloggers decided to host a blogathon, looking at Olivia’s acting roles.  Be sure to visit Crystal at In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies to read other bloggers’ posts about Olivia De Havilland’s films.

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Warner Brothers Studio had made a wonderful discovery when their 1935 film, Captain Blood, yielded a big box office profit.  The discovery was that the two young leads, Olivia De Havilland and Errol Flynn, were a popular duo in action/romance films and the studio kept the pair busy, co-starring them in 7 more films.  I decided to review their 5th film, 1939’s Dodge City, and some say the Western that later inspired Mel Brook’s comedic spoof, Blazing Saddles!  220px-Dodge_City_1939_Poster

Dodge City begins in 1866, with a proud Col. Dodge arriving for the celebration to honor him and the fact that  the railway has now built its way to Dodge City.  Amongst the happy crowd are 3 cowboys who helped keep the rail workers fed with their skills at hunting buffalo: Wade Hatton, Rusty Hart, and Tex Baird.  Shortly before the celebration began, these 3 helped the U. S. Marshall catch baddie Jeff Surrett and his gang for illegally killing buffalo, just for their hides, and leaving the remains to rot on the prairie.  This first encounter of the 3 good guys with the baddie will become a major thread throughout the film.

Tex, Wade, and Rusty, the 3 cowboy-heroes

Tex, Wade, and Rusty, the 3 cowboy-heroes

Time marches forward and now there’s a screenshot explaining it is 1872, and that Dodge City is rolling in the dough due to cattle drives arriving there, the cattle then being sold, and tired cowboys, with pay in their pockets, looking for relaxation and fun.  Another screenshot shows a number of saloons that pepper the town, and one, The Gay Lady, is owned by the baddie we met earlier in the film, Jeff Surrett.  Surrett is wealthy and dishonest.  How does he do it? By bidding on cattle, paying part of what he owes for the cattle he buys, and weasling out of paying for the rest of his bill;sometimes the men he owes are shot and die, thus they don’t need to be repaid, others are run out of town and too scared to challenge Surrett for what he owes them.  Surrett’s wealth is also supported by the gambling that happens at his saloon as “the house” never loses much.  Yancey is the head of Surrett’s henchmen, and these henchmen are Surrett’s eyes, ears, and evil force.  Sheriffs for Dodge City have been weak and ineffective at stopping Surrett which means there is no law in the town, just anarchy.  I did have to smile as many scenes show the men in town suddenly pointing their guns in the air and just firing away-reminded me of a couple scenes from Blazing Saddles.  

Surrett, the villain of Dodge City

Surrett, the villain of Dodge City

Yancey, lead henchman for Surrett

Yancey, lead henchman for Surrett

Ruby, bad guy Surrett's star entertainer and girlfriend

Ruby, bad guy Surrett’s star entertainer and girlfriend

20-25 minutes pass before we meet a beautiful lady , Abbie Irving, who will figure prominently in the plot of trying to bring down Surrett and  his gang.  Abbie will also become the main love interest for Wade, of course, as he is the man Dodge City turns to  in a last-ditch attempt to rid themselves of the lawlessness that has gripped their community for too long.  Abbie and her younger brother, Lee, are moving to Dodge City from TX, as their father has died, and he had arranged for his two children(actually young adults) to move in with their aunt and uncle, Dr. and Mrs. Irving.  The two siblings sign up to travel with a cattle drive which just happens to be led by Wade and his 2 pals.  However, Lee is a hazard to the entire group as he is constantly drunk and then carelessly shoots his gun at targets, eventually causing a stampede which ends in his death.  Abbie is heartbroken with this event, and she blames Wade for her brother’s death: Lee, angered at being told to put his gun away, aims at Wade to shoot him and Wade fires back at Lee in self-defense, then the stampede begins.  It looks as if any future romance between Wade and Abbie is doomed.  We can tell Wade is attracted to Abbie as he gallantly offers to carry her heavy bucket of water.  Abbie is feisty, insisting she can carry her own water, but when Wade isn’t looking, she smiles to herself in a knowing way.  Despite her independent air, she is also attracted to Wade.

Lovely Abbie Irving on the cattle drive

Lovely Abbie Irving on the cattle drive

Wade trying to carefully explain to Abbie that perhaps she should stop acting cold towards him!

Wade trying to carefully explain to Abbie that perhaps she should stop acting cold towards him!

Reacting to Lee's death by stampeding cattle

Reacting to Lee’s death by stampeding cattle

Wade, with pal Rusty as his deputy, begins the immense task of cleaning up Dodge City.  Tex, the third amigo in this group of pals, isn’t quite ready to become a deputy as he is having too good of a time at The Gay Lady saloon.  He loves to watch Ruby’s song and dance numbers and he is the cause for one of the best saloon brawls ever filmed by Hollywood!  After being forced to cool his heels in jail, where Wade has locked up at least 60 lawbreakers(the cells are incredibly full), Tex becomes a deputy, too.   Wade imposes several laws: no guns allowed north of First Street-have to turn them in at the sheriff’s office and gunowners can have them back as they leave town, gambling has to stop by 2 am, taxes will be collected.  The laws work wonderfully well, and Dodge City gains a new reputation for being dullsville!  The laws also lead Surrett and his henchmen to plan how they will take out Wade and his deputies, and end the rule of law that has cramped their style.

Will Surrett and his gang succeed in ridding themselves and Dodge City of Wade, Rusty, and Tex?  Will Wade successfully woo and win Abbie?  Will Abbie and her boss, newspaperman Joe Clemens, be able to provide vital evidence through articles as to the corruption and crimes Surrett is behind so that a trial can happen to send Surrett and his henchmen off to prison and probably off to the death penalty? Will Dodge City fully embrace their new “dull” reputation or go back to lawlessness?  Find a copy of this film to find out the answers to these questions!  It is available to watch via Amazon’s instant rent, and Friday, July 8th, it will air on Turner Classic Movies at 2:15 am EST/1:15 am CST, and again on October 1st, at 2:00 pm EST/1:00 pm CST.

What else is there to like about this film,  Dodge City? Well, it was made in 1939, which is often called Hollywood’s best year as so many award winning movies were made then.  It’s in technicolor, theres the stirring musical score by Max Steiner, excellent direction by Michael Curtiz, who could handle action sequences as well as quiet scenes,  and of course the entire cast,  the leads as well as supporting players.  Errol Flynn is perfect as the handsome hero, and gives an intelligent read of Wade.  He doesn’t hide his accent, the plot explains that he is a transplanted Irishman who’s come to the Western US.  Olivia De Havilland is beautiful Abbie, and plays her as a strong woman, not a wilting, weak of heart lady.  It was refreshing to me to see an independent woman in 1872, one who works at the newspaper, and who scoffs when Wade questions her as to why she isn’t at home doing needlework?  Sidekicks Alan Hale Sr. and Guinn Williams are superb as Wade’s pals.  They’re big men, good humored, often with smiles on their faces.  Tex is obviously having a blast during that barroom brawl, and Rusty gets a fun side plot as he’s tired of the bar scene and accidentally wanders into a “Pure Praire League” temperance meeting, and the ladies there all think him quite a catch!  Bruce Cabot, who had played the hero in 1933’s King Kong gives a strong performance as the evil kingpin Surrett.  He squints his eyes, calmly barks out his orders, and they’re carried out.  He tries to make a deal with Wade, but of course, that won’t go anywhere.  Victor Jory plays Yancey, the dark and slimey head henchman.  1939 was Jory’s year to play baddies as he was also the slimey overseer Jonas Wilkerson in Gone With the Wind.   Gorgeous Ann Sheridan, despite her prominence on some of the movie posters, is a minor character in this film.  Her song and dance numbers are good, and she aquits herself well in those scenes.  Only one scene of her and Flynn, when he barges into the saloon and asks if she’s seen Surrett.

The supporting cast is a who’s who of some of the best character actors and actresses: Henry Travers(Dr. Irving), Frank McHugh(Joe Clemens), John Litel(Matt Cole, cattle buyer not afraid of Surrett and dies for trying to get all of his fee), Gloria Holden(Cole’s widow), Bobs Watson(Cole’s son, and can that kid cry!), Ward Bond( a minor henchman who later gets a good scene with Flynn, trying get information about Clemens murderer), William Lundigan(drunk as a skunk Lee,) Clem Bevins as the town’s barber, and Henry O’Neill as Col. Dodge, founder of the town.

For a great Western, glorious and large, with lots of action and a romance that only Flynn and De Havilland could deliver, see Dodge City!  I’ll close out this post with a clip from Youtube of that infamous barroom brawl.

 

 

 

For the Swashathon: 1941’s The Corsican Brothers

I love a good, action movie.  Sword fights, so much the better!  Not the modern versions of sword fights that show all of the gore(I’m referring to you, 1995 film Rob Roy.) I know that in real life, a sword fight was a bloody battle, but I like the classic films that depict sword fights with the ultimate battle involving the baddie fighting the hero, with little blood flowing.  The baddie usually ends the fight by grasping his fatal wound, eyes shut, staggering backwards, then falling over, dead.

When I found out that my favorite blog dedicated to silent movies was going to host a “Swashathon” dedicated to swashbuckler movies, I jumped right in.  Be sure to visit Movies, Silently and read about all of the swashbuckler films being paid homage to this weekend.

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On November 28th, 1941, the film The Corsican Brothers premiered to rave reviews.  Distributed by United Artists, the film was based on French writer Alexandre Dumas’s adventure novel.  Like many of Dumas’s works of fiction, The Corsican Brothers has a rollicking plot with lots of action.

The Corsican Brothers poster 1

Director Gregory Ratoff, working with the screenplay by George Bruce and Howard Estabrook, kept the story flowing fast;never a dull moment in this movie.   To play the main characters, identical twin brothers, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. won the role.  The movie’s main baddie played by a blustery and glowering Akim Tamiroff.  The lovely Ruth Warrick is the love interest and damsel in distress.   The wonderful supporting cast: J. Carrol Naish, H.B. Warner, Henry Wilcoxon, Gloria Holden, Walter Kingsford, and Nana Bryant.

The movie opens on the island of Corsica and we quickly meet two noble families, the good Franchi family and the evil Colonna family.  It is known in the village that Countess Franchi(Gloria Holden) is about to give birth to her first child, and that all of Count Franchi’s(Henry Wilcoxon) relatives have come to his home to await the birth.  Across town, Baron Colonna(Akim Tamiroff) and his minions are eating a meal and when the Baron learns that all of the Franchis are in one spot, he decides to attack them and murder them all! There is a blood feud between the two families, and it’s explained that in 1841 Corsica, when this story takes place, all Corsicans follow the idea of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.

Baron Colonna announcing Death to all the Franchis!

Baron Colonna announcing Death to all the Franchis!

Countess Franchi bravely labors away in her gorgeous bedroom with the attentive care of Dr. Paoli(H. B. Warner) and a nun/nurse.  Shortly after her twin sons are born, it is known to all that the Countess is dying.  The Count hurries in to see his wife and his sons; he is overjoyed that God has blessed him with two sons!  Dr. Paoli quietly tells him that the twins are conjoined.  The Count is crushed by this news, and he begs the doctor to surgically separate the boys.  Before a surgery can happen, Dr. Paoli manages to sneak the twins out of the mansion, with the help of Franchi family servant Lorenzo(J. Carrol Naish).   Sadly, all of the rest of the Franchis are killed by Baron Colonna and his henchmen.  There’s a touching moment as the nun is helping with the babies escape and she begs her mistress to leave too, but the Countess bravely smiles and tells  the nun to not worry for her, as she’ll face her death with bravery and grace.

Count Franchi and Lorenzo getting ready to defend against Colonna and his henchmen.

Count Franchi and Lorenzo getting ready to defend against Colonna and his henchmen.

Dr. Paoli, back at his home with the babies and Lorenzo, shares his fear that Colonna won’t believe that the babies died in the inferno that engulfed the Franchi home and that he must somehow hide these boys until they are of age.  The surgery has been done and the babies are now separated twins.  With Lorenzo’s suggestion, they contact the Franchi’s good friends, Monsieur and Madame Dupre,(Walter Kingsford and Nana Bryant) who are childless.  After the babies are baptized and christened Mario and Lucien, the Dupre’s take baby Mario back with them to Paris.  Lorenzo agrees to raise Lucien, in the hills of Corsica, near the village of the Franchis.

20 years fly by.  Mario is a cultured and educated young man.  He meets Corsican Countess Isabelle Gravini and it’s love at first sight for him.  At the Paris Opera House, where they meet, he protects her from the attentions of a clod, who later assaults Mario.  When Mario suffers a wound in his shoulder, Lucien awakes with a pain in his shoulder!  Despite being separated, Lucien feels the pains, pangs and passions his twin brother experiences.(Cue the Twilight Zone music!  By the way, I have identical twin daughters, and they have never experienced this “spiritual twin” syndrome, as Dr. Paoli calls it.)  Here’s a clip, courtesy of TCM, of this “spiritual twin” syndrome, and the meeting of Countess Isabelle and Mario.

When Mario and Lucien turn 21, Dr. Paoli asks for the Dupres to allow Mario to travel to Corsica as it’s time for the boys to meet and learn the truth of their ancestry.  The Dupres comply and Mario and Lucien meet for the first time.  Both brothers vow to avenge their parents death at the hands of Baron Colonna.  Here’s the clip of that scene, also courtesy of TCM.  The rest of the movie deals with the brothers exacting their revenge, with a love “square” getting put into the plot.

One of the many excellent camera shots of Fairbanks, Jr. playing twin brothers, appearing in the same scene.

One of the many excellent camera shots of Fairbanks, Jr. playing twin brothers, appearing in the same scene.

I say love “square” instead of triangle because this plot device involves 4 people.  Countess Isabelle loves Mario,Mario loves Countess Isabelle,  Lucien loves Countess Isabelle(he has some fun getting her to kiss him as she thinks he’s Mario and he’s not about to correct her!), and evil Baron Colonna has seen Countess Isabelle, has asked her father for her hand, and when her father says, “No”, Colonna has him poisoned so that he can pursue the Countess unhindered!!

Lucien(or is it Mario?) introducing Countess Isabelle to the camp.

Lucien(or is it Mario?) introducing Countess Isabelle to the camp.

Baron Colonna makes Countess Isabelle's skin crawl!

Baron Colonna makes Countess Isabelle’s skin crawl!

There is a somewhat sad plot point added to the end of the film, but it also ties the story line up neatly, like a bow.  Fairbanks, Jr. is just fantastic as Mario/Lucien.  He’s athletic, gorgeous, and sincere in his acting the dual roles.  The special effects for this film were well done: scenes where Fairbanks, Jr. plays the twins talking to each other, or in scenes where both twins are with other actors at the same time. One scene where the twins get into a fight with one another, yes another actor/double was used but the fight was so carefully choreographed and shot from afar, that it’s hard to tell the double from Fairbanks, Jr.

Wilcoxon and Holden, the doomed Franchi parents,are noble and brave.  H.B. Warner as Dr. Paoli is tender-hearted and wise.  J. Carrol Naish is great as servant Lorenzo, who raises Lucien to be a defender of the people against the evil Colonna, and Kingsford and Bryant are also warm and wise, as the childless couple who raise Mario as their own. Ruth Warrick is so pretty, and has a natural chemistry with Fairbanks, Jr.  I’d like to think they had a lovely time making this film together.   Tamiroff has a blast playing Colonna and his sword fight scene showdown with Mario is a great scene. They fight in a large room, but with furniture to knock over and wounded bodies to dodge, plus a large mirror is used for good visual effect.  Spoiler in this clip.  If you don’t want to know what it is, then don’t watch this clip! Here it is, courtesy of Youtube.

TCM aired The Corsican Brothers this past July, the first time they had ever aired it.  Check their schedule, especially in 2016 as I am sure they’ll be airing this film again.  It’s available to purchase at Amazon in a dvd or to watch it through their prime instant video.  It’s also available at TCM’s Shop.

For an excellent tale complete with swashbuckling derring do, seek out The Corsican Brothers.