Posts Tagged ‘Michael Curtiz’

For the Claude Rains Blogathon: 1947’s The Unsuspected

Claude Rains could do no wrong, in my opinion, as an actor.  Whether he was playing the lead or a supporting character, as soon as his presence appeared  on the screen, one could be sure they were going to see a quality performance.  To honor the actor, who began his career on the English stage in 1899 as a child of ten, running on stage to be in a  crowd scene,  The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society decided to honor Rains on his November 10th birthday with a three day blogathon. Be sure to visit their blog’s site and read the other great pieces about Claude Rains.  I am pleased to be a part of this tribute and have chosen to write about Rains’s performance in 1947’s

The Unsuspected.   

The cast, and a solid cast too, working with Rains in this film: Audrey Totter, Constance Bennett, Hurd Hatfield, Joan Caulfield, Ted North, Fred Clark, Harry Lewis, Jack Lambert, and Ray Walker.  Directed by Michael Curtiz, screenplay by Curtiz’s wife, Bess Meredyth and Ranald MacDougall.  The film was based on a novel written by Charlotte Armstrong.  Warner Brothers Studios earned a nice sum from the release of the film.  

Rains plays Victor Grandison, the popular radio host of a “true crimes” radio show.  One evening in Victor’s home, his secretary Roslyn’s body is found hanging from a chandelier.  Suicide is what the police suspect and all who knew Roslyn are in shock.  A couple weeks later, Victor’s niece Althea(Audrey Totter) is throwing him a birthday party and a new shock arrives at the party in the form of one Steven Howard(Ted North).  Howard claims to be the husband of niece Matilda, who is presumed dead!  Matilda was involved in a boating accident while on vacation and her body was never found.  The length of time for a possible deceased person to re-appear alive is waning and Matilda’s share of the estate was to go back to her Uncle Victor.  Now that this Howard fellow has appeared claiming to be Matilda’s husband, he could fight for her share of the estate!  What a way to ruin Victor’s birthday party!

Poor Roslyn! The secretary is about to be murdered!

Althea’s drunk husband Oliver, Steven, and Jane, Victor’s manager-good to see Constance Bennett in this film. She was a star in the early 1930s.

Can Matilda trust her Uncle Victor?

Is Matilda starting to remember who Steven is?

Victor asks police detective Donovan(Fred Clark) to investigate Howard, who frustratingly seems to know all about Victor, Althea, and the rest of Matilda’s family.  Huge plot twist when Matilda re-appears!  Unfortunately for Howard, she has no memory of who he is and no memory of marrying him!  Without giving away a lot of the film’s plot, I will say that Howard has a reason to appear when he does into the Grandison Family’s lives, Althea and her husband Oliver(Hurd Hatfield) aren’t the idyllic couple, and Victor Grandison has an evil heart and mind.

Rains is great in this role.  With his rich and distinct voice, he’s perfect as a radio show host.  With his two nieces, he is caring towards them one moment, but then cunning and scheming, an uncle they need to respect and be wary of all the time.  Rain’s Grandison is ultimately only concerned with himself but is so polite and mannerly, it is a character trait that he can use in order to get his way in a lot situations.

The Unsuspected  is available to purchase through TCM’s Shop.

From time to time TCM airs this film so keep your eyes on the lookout via the station’s monthly schedule.  Here is a great trailer that I found on Youtube, that would have been used to advertise it to the filmgoers in 1947.

This has been fun for me to re-enter my hobby of blogging about classic films.  I took a hiatus in order to re-enter my career field of teaching.  I taught school eons ago, 1987-1991, then took a number of years off to be a stay-at-home mom to a lot of kids, 7 specifically.  When the youngest turned 12, hubby gently suggested I go back to my career and I agreed, it was time to return to the classroom.  So, while substitute teaching and working one year as a para, I had to take a few college classes, a teacher’s exam, and apply for a Missouri state teaching certificate.  With my certificate in hand, in early August I was offered a teaching spot at an elementary school and it is wonderful to be teaching full-time once again.   Hopefully I will be able to balance work and blogging with ease!

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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.

olivia-5

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.

 

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick: Life With Father

I must have been 11 0r 12 years old the first time I saw the 1947 film Life With Father.   I remember enjoying this old movie that I stumbled upon one afternoon.  The movie was funny, it was shot in gorgeous technicolor and  the side-plot of whether or not Father would ever get baptized was amusing to me.

Life With Father

 

When I next rewatched the movie, as a college student, I realized that a young Elizabeth Taylor was in this film and a very young Martin Milner, pre- Route 66 and Adam-12 days.  I knew by this point that the parents were played by William Powell, who was pitch perfect as the bombastic father, Clarence Day Sr. and the lovely Irene Dunne was  excellent as the  loving, but fiscally- challenged  wife, Vinnie.  I also learned  that Life With Father actually had its beginning as a book, written by Clarence Day Jr.  From this book came a Broadway play and then the hit film.  When I learned that blogs The Rosebud Cinema and Rachel’s Theatre Reviews were hosting a blogathon devoted to stage plays that were turned into films, I decided to participate with Life With Father.  Be sure to visit the two sites in order to read about more movies that began life on the stage!

 

Stage to screen blogathon

Owning my late grandmother’s encyclopedia set from 1957 I was able to find a bit more info on  the real Clarence Day Jr.  Born in 1874, he grew up in  New York City, his father, Clarence Day Sr., nicknamed Clare, was a stockbroker.  Day’s grandfather, Benjamin H. Day founded the New York Sun newspaper.  Clarence Jr. grew up in an upper middle class family, graduated from Yale, and went into the same brokerage firm where his father worked.  Clarence Jr. joined the US Navy to fight in the Spanish-American War, but afterwards he became afflicted with crippling arthritis and had to live the rest of his life as a semi-invalid.  During this time, Clarence Jr. began writing and his first major literary success was a book, God and My Father.  Next came the book, Life With Father, a humorous look at life in 1890s New York City with his domineering, loud, but lovable father and the rest of the Day family.    Clarence Jr. died in 1935, and several more of his books were published posthumously.  The 1937 book, Life With Mother, was also successful and in 1939, Howard Lindsey and Russel Crouse wrote a play based upon God and My Father, Life With Father, and Life With Mother.  What was astounding is that this new play, Life With Father, was such a hit with audiences that it ran for over seven years to become the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway.

Warner Brothers brought the rights to the play in order to turn it into a film and Donald Ogden Stewart wrote the screenplay.  Michael Curtiz directed, and in addition to William Powell and Irene Dunne, as Clarence Sr. and Vinnie, they were joined by: Jimmy Lydon as Clarence Jr., Martin Milner as John, Johnny Calkins as Whitney, and Derek Scott as the youngest son, Harlan.  Zasu Pitts portrays Vinnie’s cousin, Cora, visiting from Ohio, and Elizabeth Taylor plays Mary Skinner, a  traveling companion of cousin Cora’s.  Edmund Gwenn is Reverend Dr. Lloyd, who has to carefully deal with an unbaptized Clarence Sr., and maids for the family are played by Emma Dunn, Heather Wilde, Mary Field, Queenie Leonard, and Nancy Evans.

The Day Family. front row: Whitney, Father, Harlan.  Back row: John, Clarence Jr., Mother.

The Day Family. front row: Whitney, Father, Harlan. Back row: John, Clarence Jr., Mother.

The film is fast-moving, with various plots woven throughout it, all leading to the climax: will father get baptized or not?  While this might not seem funny, and may seem downright boring, it is told with humor and wit.  William Powell’s performance is the glue that holds this story together and he was so good in the part that he was a Best Actor nominee at the Academy Awards in 1948.

Powell getting some direction advice from Curtiz.

Powell getting some direction advice from Curtiz.

Powell’s Clarence Day Sr. is in his late 40s, and he works at an efficient office.  He believes that his home should also be run in an efficient manner, and when it isn’t-which is quite often-he feels compelled to honestly let all in the house know how displeased he is with this inefficiency.  He is loud, curt, and a bit oblivious to the fact that his wife, Vinnie, is really running things at home the way she wants them run.  Powell’s Clarence adores his wife and even though she can frustrate him, especially when she doesn’t understand purchasing items on credit and keeping to the budget he has set up, he still worships the ground she walks on.  A running gag in the film is the Day family’s inability to keep housemaids.  The maids are all afraid of Mr. Day, especially when he makes a loud outburst about something that has displeased him.  One maid, a new Irish immigrant, takes it as a bad sign that the Day’s are all redheads and when Mr. Day let’s loose with a loud complaint, this new maid quits.  Vinnie scolds Clarence Sr. for scaring off yet another maid so she says he has to hire the next one.  When Clarence Sr. gets to the employment agency to hire a new maid, the employment agency representative tells him, “Sir, before I can let any girl go from this establishment, I must know the character of the home in which she will be employed.” To which Mr. Day replies, “Madam,  I am the character of my home!”

Whitney saying his catechism

Whitney saying his catechism

Cousin Cora’s visit, which Vinnie knew about but forgot to tell Clarence Sr., is an irritant to him.  He doesn’t like the fact that they are putting Cousin Cora up at their house for a week and he rails against it, as he isn’t running a hotel.  He isn’t also happy that Vinnie has told Cora that they are taking her and Mary, her traveling companion, to Delmonico’s for dinner, a meal that Clarence Sr. doesn’t want to have to pay for as he believes the restaurant is too expensive.

Tolerating Cousin Cora's visit

Tolerating Cousin Cora’s visit

Father with his sons

Father with his sons

The sons, especially the oldest two, Clarence Jr. and John, add to the swirling plots of the film.  Clarence Jr. hates wearing his father’s old suits and wants a new suit of his very own.  He is hit with the love bug when he meets Mary Skinner and feels awkward around her if he’s wearing one of father’s suits.  He gets the urge to act like father would act and this upsets poor Mary!  John, always looking for a way to earn money, hires Clarence Jr. to help him sell a new medicine door to door.  Then Clarence Jr. will earn enough money to buy himself a new suit.  Unfortunately, John decides to give his mother some of the medicine and it doesn’t help Vinnie at all, in fact she becomes very sick and the doctor has to be called.

The lovely Mary Skinner, no wonder Clarence Jr. gets a crush on her!

The lovely Mary Skinner, no wonder Clarence Jr. gets a crush on her!

"Get off my lap!"

“Get off my lap!”

Telling Father he needs a new suit

Telling Father he needs a new suit

Mother understands why he wants a suit of his own

Mother understands why he wants a suit of his own

Whitney, the third son, is practicing his catechism in order to be confirmed in the Episcopal church the family attends.  During one of his practice sessions, Clarence Sr. admits that he’s never been baptized.  This news horrifies Vinnie and she asks him to get baptized or they won’t be reunited in Heaven.  Clarence Sr. scoffs at this notion, stating that God wouldn’t be able to keep him out of Heaven!  This dilemma even leads Vinnie to wonder if their marriage is legal!

Since this film, though autobiographical in nature, is mainly a comedy, you can  rest assured, there are happy endings for all of the characters.

"This film is a delight!"

“This film is a delight!”

Life With Father is available to purchase or even watch on instant rent at Amazon.  It’s also available through TCM’s Shop and through Netflix.   Also, the entire film is available to see on Youtube!  For a funny, endearing movie the whole family can watch, and with one of William Powell’s best performances, seek out Life With Father!

LWF poster 2