Posts Tagged ‘James Gleason’

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

 

 

 

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What A Character Blogathon: Edna May Oliver

Last year I participated in an excellent blogathon, featuring  character actresses and actors  who had shined so brightly in classic movies.  I enjoyed writing my piece on Eric Blore, and decided that this time around, I would focus on a female character actress and my pick is Edna May Oliver.  Be sure to visit these awesome classic movie loving gals and their blog sites to read about more wonderful character actors and actresses: Paula’s Cinema Club, Outspoken and Freckled, and Once Upon a Screen.

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Edna May Oliver was born on November 9, 1883 in Malden, Massachusetts.  She could also claim being a descendent of 6th President of the United States, John Quincy Adams.  The acting bug bit Edna May, but as to exactly when or how, I couldn’t find that information.  However, her parents let her quit school at the age of 14 to pursue her interest.  She must have taken piano lessons as a child because one of her earliest professional gigs was the piano player for an all women band that traveled the country in 1900.

Edna May Oliver

Edna May Oliver

The stage was her first area of acting work and in 1917, she achieved acclaim for her part of playing  comic, spinster Aunt Penelope in the Jerome Kern musical hit, Oh Boy!  Jumping ahead to 1927, Edna May starred in the original cast of another Kern musical,  Show Boat, playing Parthy, the wife of Captain Andy Hawks.  In between these stage roles, movies did beckon Edna May and her first film role was in a silent flick, 1923’s Wife in Name Only.  Her last film role was in 1941’s romance drama, Lydia.

With her height of 5’7″, a long face, and a voice that could speak in low tones, Edna May often found herself cast as the grumpy or comical aunty, depending on a movie’s tone.  She found a lot of fame in the 1930’s playing such a character, often speaking very witty lines and knowing how to do the perfect eye-roll at another character, and sometimes breaking that fourth wall and giving that look at the audience.  Hollywood in the 1930s went on a  bit of a Literature roll, making movies from famous books,  and Edna May was cast in several of those films, giving superb performances, often stealing every scene she was in!

Edna May sadly died at the age of 59 in 1942, on her birthday.  It’s a shame that she exited this world when she probably still had a lot of talent to put forth into future movie and stage roles.  What follows is my list of her roles that I have seen; the roles are in chronological order:

Headshot of Edna May for Ladies of the Jury

Headshot of Edna May for Ladies of the Jury, doing that eye-roll!

 

1932-Ladies of the Jury-Edna May plays rich socialite Mrs. Livingston Baldwin Crane, who lands on a jury of a murder trial.  A comic take on a more famous, and made much later movie, 12 Angry Men.  Mrs. Crane seems a bit of an airhead at first, but she is allowed to  ask questions of those testifying on the witness stand from the jury box,  and her questions are quite good.  She is able to convince her fellow jurors that this case isn’t as open and shut as they think it is, and it’s a fast-moving little film, with the good receiving exoneration and the bad receiving their just punishments.

Edna May and her co-star, James Gleason

Edna May and her co-star, James Gleason

Edna May as Hildegard Withers in the Penguin Pool Murder

Edna May as Hildegard Withers in the Penguin Pool Murder

1932-Penguin Pool Murder-RKO bought the rights to a popular crime/mystery book written by Stuart Palmer.  The plot was about a spinster schoolteacher, Miss Hildegarde Withers, at the NYC Aquarium with her elementary school students when a murder happens and the body is found at the Penguin Pool.  James Gleason(another great character actor in his own right) plays Police Inspector Oliver Piper, who is assigned to solve the murder and he reluctantly accepts the insights and help of Miss Withers.  Edna May and Gleason had a great chemistry with each other and this movie was a box office success.  Edna May and Gleason teamed together, reprising their roles in two more murder mystery films: 1934’s Murder on the Blackboard, and 1935’s Murder on a Honeymoon.

Edna May as Aunt March, doling out some advice to Jo, played by Katherine Hepburn

Edna May as Aunt March, doling out some advice to Jo, played by Katherine Hepburn

1933-Little Women, playing Aunt March.  Hollywood gives Louisa May Alcott’s classic book the film treatment.  Oliver is wealthy, grumpy, highly-opinionated Aunt March.  She holds her own quite well in her scenes with Katherine Hepburn, the film’s lead, playing Jo March.  If you have only seen the 1949 version or the 1994 version, you owe it to yourself to see this earlier depiction.

Edna May in her Red Queen costume

Edna May in her Red Queen costume

1933-Alice in Wonderland, playing the Red Queen.  Paramount Studios decided to make a film of the classic children’s book Alice in Wonderland, and make it a show case with an all-star cast.  Oliver is delightfully dippy as the Red Queen.  While I wouldn’t call this a stellar presentation of Carroll’s tale, it is fun for classic film fans to view in order to pick out the all-stars in their crazy costumes and make up!

Playing Aunt Betsey and providing a safe haven for young David

Playing Aunt Betsey and providing a safe haven for young David

1935-David Copperfield, playing Aunt Betsey.  Charles Dickens’s famous novel is turned into a very good film and Oliver is superb as Aunt Betsey, who provides a haven for young David as he runs away from his evil stepfather, Murdstone, played in an effectively creepy way by Basil Rathbone.  Here’s a clip of the scene where Oliver delivers a scathing tongue lashing to Murdstone as he has dared to come to her home and try to take David away from her.

1935-A Tale of Two Cities, playing Miss Pross.   Hollywood’s version of another classic work of Dickens’s.  Set against the back-drop of the French Revolution, it is a film full of different characters. Oliver is Miss Pross, the devoted maid ot Dr. Manette and his daughter, Lucie.    One character, Madame DeFarge, is chillingly evil, sitting on the sidelines knitting while watching enemies of the Republic die on the guillotine.   She is also an informant, telling those high up in the Revolution where enemies may be hiding, awaiting their chance to escape from France.   In a crucial scene, it is up to Miss Pross to deal with Madame DeFarge in order to keep Pross’s beloved Manette family protected.  While the clip I found is in dubbed Italian, it is still a fun example to show that Oliver wasn’t afraid of a physically demanding scene!

As nurse to Shearer's Juliet

As nurse to Shearer’s Juliet

1936-Romeo and Juliet, playing Juliet’s nurse.  It’s Shakespeare’s turn for one of his famous plays to get the Hollywood treatment.  While I think Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer were a bit old to play the star-crossed teenaged lovers, they did a commendable job.  Oliver is a great nurse, having fun in some early comedic scenes and then appropriately somber in the later parts of the film as the tragedy draws closer.

Playing Mrs. McKlennar in Drums Along the Mohawk

Playing Mrs. McKlennar in Drums Along the Mohawk

1939-Drums Along the Mohawk, playing Mrs. McKlennar.  John Ford directed this look at life in Colonial America pre-American Revolution, when the colonists had to deal with attacks on their new settlements from the Native Americans.  Oliver plays Mrs. McKlennar, a feisty farm woman who is helpful to newlyweds Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert.  For this role, she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar at the 1940 Academy Awards.

As Lady Catherine de Bourgh, giving Elizabeth Bennett a piece of her mind!

As Lady Catherine de Bourgh, giving Elizabeth Bennet a piece of her mind!

1940-Pride and Prejudice, playing Lady Catherine de Bourgh.  Jane Austen’s turn for one of her classic novels to get a movie depiction.  Oliver is a wonderful Lady Catherine, imperious and very opinionated who doesn’t want her nephew D’Arcy(Laurence Olivier) to marry anyone but her sickly daughter.  When Lady Catherine finds out D’Arcy is in love with one Elizabeth Bennet(Greer Garson), Lady Catherine storms her way to the Bennet’s home to confront Elizabeth to dissuade her from accepting any marriage proposals her nephew might make to her.  This is a fast moving look at Austen’s famous book, and while not as faithful an adaptation as the 1995 version that stars Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, or the 2005 version starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen, I like what the screen writer, Aldous Huxley of this 1940 version,  did near the end with Lady Catherine’s character.  It lessened the dragon lady image of her character in a satisfying way.

I will end my look at Edna May Oliver, extraordinary character actress with a tribute video that was made for Turner Classic Movies a couple years ago and still airs from time to time.  Enjoy!

 

My Classic Movie Pick: The Bishop’s Wife, for the Christmas Movie Blogathon

I was honored when Family Friendly Reviews asked me to participate in their first blogathon, focusing on Christmas Movies.  Immediately I knew I’d write about one of my favorites, The Bishop’s Wife.   Produced by Samuel Goldwyn, directed by Henry Koster,  and made in 1947, the film resonated so much with audiences that besides doing extremely well at the box office it was a Best Picture nominee at that year’s Academy Awards.   The talented cast included  Cary Grant, Loretta Young, David Niven, Gladys Cooper, Monty Woolley, James Gleason, Elsa Lanchester, and Karolyn Grimes.  CM Blogathon

David Niven portrays Bishop Henry Brougham and Loretta Young is his wife, Julia.  They have an 8 year old daughter, Debbie(Karolyn Grimes, who also played  Zuzu in It’s a Wonderful Life) and they live in a huge house with a cook and a maid, Matilda(Elsa Lanchester),  and the Bishop also has a secretary, Miss Cassaway(Sara Haden.)    Life would appear to be simple and easy for the Bishop and his wife, but that isn’t the case at all.

It’s Christmas time as the film opens and we see a winter’s evening settling in over a large city.  The city isn’t identified but as large as it is in the opening flyover shot, I assumed it to be New York City.  We see excited and smiling children admiring the department store windows decorated with moveable characters, acting out little scenes of elves building toys in Santa’s workshop.  Watching all of this happiness is one lone man, smartly dressed, who quietly assumes a watchful eye.  He helps a blind man cross a busy street, cars suddenly braking to a stop as if an unseen force caused the braking.  We see this same man stop a runaway baby buggy and then hand the infant over to her grateful mother.  Then as this man is about to stroll away, he notices Julia, the Bishop’ s wife, looking longingly at a hat in a store window.

Julia wants that hat!

Julia wants that hat!

Julia moves on from the store window and runs into Professor Wutheridge(Monty Woolley) at the florist’s store where she is going to buy the Christmas tree for the Bishop’s house.  ( She orders a huge tree, to be delivered, for $1.85!!!!  Oh those 1947 prices!!)  The Professor admits that he misses seeing Julia and Henry since Henry’s  promotion from being the head minister at St. Timothy’s, which is now in danger of being shuttered.  Julia agrees that she misses the Professor, the old  neighborhood, and she is sad about St. Timothy’s.  The Professor knows about Henry needing to raise money for the building of a  cathedral and despite being a non-religious man, he gives Julia an old Roman coin, and asks her to give it to Henry, to put it towards the cathedral.  This offering touches Julia and she tears up in spite of herself.

When Julia arrives home, she has just missed another meeting  with Mrs. Hamilton(Gladys Cooper) and the cathedral committee.  What she missed was Mrs. Hamilton scolding  Henry about his “fuzzy-thinking” and the doubts Mrs. Hamiton has that Henry is the right man for the job.  Mrs. Hamilton’s bossy,  irritable mood has rubbed off on Henry and he chastises Julia for missing the meeting and he scoffs at the coin from the Professor.  Julia and Henry sit down to an unhappy,  tense dinner and Henry tries to make amends with the suggestion that he and Julia actually have a date for lunch the next day.  Julia’s face lights up at this plan, only to have their date shattered with a phone call from Mr. Travers, to remind Henry about a  meeting that will conflict with the date and cannot be gotten out of.  With the date cancelled, Julia goes  upstairs and  Henry goes back to his study and looks intently at the painting of a cathdral that is above the fireplace mantle.  He prays aloud to God for guidance and hears the door to his study open and close.  He turns to see who is there and no one is there.   As he looks back at the painting, it seems to be lit up and a man is suddenly in the room with him.  It is the smartly dressed man we saw in the film’s opening, the good samaritan who was helping people.  The man introduces himself as Dudley(Cary Grant), and he tells Henry that he is an angel, sent by God, to give Henry the help he’s prayed for!  Henry is at first, very skeptical that this man is an angel and he demands that Dudley perform a miracle right then and there, perhaps to build the cathedral with the wave of his hand.  Dudley chuckles at Henry’s challenge and informs Henry that he will help Henry reach his goals until Henry utters a prayer saying he doesn’t need Dudley’s help anymore and Dudley will then leave and no one will remember him having been among them.

Dudley being introduced to Julia

Dudley being introduced to Julia

Dudley, himself, has a conflict.  He is falling in love with Julia, and Henry has an inkling that this is happening.  All the ladies in the Bishop’s household: daughter Debbie, Miss Cassaway, Matilda, and Julia, are all charmed by Dudley, much to Henry’s consternation.  There are many great scenes where Dudley steps in and weaves his “angel magic”: helping Debbie get accepted into a  snowball fight, keeping the Professor’s sherry bottle filled, dictating the Bishop’s sermon to an unmanned typewriter,  helping Julia and taxi driver Sylvester(James Gleason) ice skate like Olympic athletes, playing the harp to melt Mrs. Hamilton’s icy heart, getting the boys to show up for choir practice at St. Timothy’s, keeping Henry away from the choir practice and literally stuck at Mrs. Hamilton’s home,  and my favorite: the decorating of the Bishop’s Christmas tree.

Who wouldn't want Cary Grant over to decorate their Christmas tree??

Who wouldn’t want Cary Grant over to decorate their Christmas tree??

Ice skating with Julia

Ice skating with Julia

Telling Debbie a story about David, the shepherd boy

Telling Debbie a story about David, the shepherd boy

What I enjoy about this movie is it’s depiction of faith, of a marriage in trouble, and of relationships developing and relationships healing.  The characters are very realistic, even the depiction of an angel!  Who wouldn’t want Cary Grant as their angel??  There is charm, comedy, and a wistfulness in this film.  When it was first in production, Samuel Goldwyn didn’t like the way the first director, William A.  Seiter had handled  the film, so he fired Seiter and had him replaced with Henry Koster.   He also had Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett make some uncredited rewrites of the screenplay.  Gregg Toland’s cinematography was top-notch.     Based upon Robert Nathan’s  1928 novel by the same title, I am glad Goldwyn stepped in and ordered those changes which yielded such a rich film.

Will the cathedral get built?  Will Mrs. Hamilton win and get Henry demoted?  Will St. Timothy’s be closed for good?  Will Henry and Julia’s marriage be saved?  Will Dudley resolve his feelings for Julia? Will he reveal who he really is to her?  The only way to find out the answers to these questions is to seek out The Bishop’s Wife for oneself.   It is available at Amazon and at TCM, and it will air on TCM on Christmas Eve at 12:15 am EST, so set that dvr machine!

At the film’s end, we get to hear a portion of  Bishop Henry’s Christmas Eve sermon:…”all the stockings are filled except one, the stocking for the child in the manger…Let us ask ourselves what would He wish for most?  Let each put in his share.  Lovingkindness, warm  hearts, and a stretched out hand of tolerance.  All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”  I would add that for the next Christmas season, if you or your family are looking for an opportunity to serve others check out Operation Christmas Child, part of an outreach with The Samaritan’s Purse Ministry.  It allows one to give gifts that will be picked up and delivered to children in third world countries.  The ministry supplies a guided list of gifts to send and the costs for mailing the packages oversees.  For more information, click on this link.

For a lovely Christmas movie, one the entire family can watch and enjoy together, please seek out The Bishop’s Wife!  TBW movie poster 1