Posts Tagged ‘Reginald Owen’

Above Suspicion-For the Joan Crawford Blogathon

Above Suspicion, the 1943 film, was a nice surprise to me when I watched it a couple years ago.  I saw it on my TCM schedule, saw that the cast wasn’t shabby: Fred MacMurray, Joan Crawford, Conrad Veidt, Basil Rathbone, Reginald Owen, Felix Bressart.  Musing over it, I set the dvr to record it and I was glad that I did.   Poster - Above Suspicion (1943)_01

MacMurray and Crawford are newlyweds Richard and Frances Myles.  Richard is an American, a professor at Oxford University in England, and Frances is also an American.  As they are about to embark on their honeymoon to southern Germany-the movie is set before WWII has erupted-an old friend of Richard’s finds them at an English country inn where they are staying.  Peter, the old friend,  works for the Foreign Office, and the British Government has sent him to ask a huge favor of the Myles’s: find a missing scientist who is “friends” with the Foreign Office and has information about how to disable a magnetic ocean mine that the Germans have developed.  Peter points out that since the Myles’s are Americans, they’ll be assumed to be regular tourists and hence, “Above Suspicion”.

Annex - MacMurray, Fred (Above Suspicion)_01

Arriving first in Paris, Frances is given a hat with a red rose on it and this hat is the signal to their first contact in trying to locate the scientist.  From Paris, the newlyweds will also travel to Salzburg, Pertisau,Innsbruck, and finally, Italy.  They travel at such a fast-pace to these spots that I don’t think PBS’s travel guru Rick Steves could keep up!

What I noticed in this movie was that MacMurray and Crawford had great chemistry together.  Their characters are comfortable and cosy with one another, showing one another mutual respect and genuine care.  Joan doesn’t act the diva, Fred treats her as an equal, and both are very calm under pressure  on this spy adventure.

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The supporting cast is wonderful! There’s Basil Rathbone( Count Sig von Aschenhausen, a Gestapo Chief), an old friend of Richard’s from their undergrad days at Oxford.  He is kind and helpful to the couple, but can they trust him?  Then there is Conrad Veidt(Count Hassel Seidel, museum curator) also helpful and kind, can they trust him?Thornley, another English tourist(Bruce Lester) gets involved in the mix, and Reginald Owen(Dr. Mespelbrunn), could he be the scientist they are seeking?  Can he be trusted??

Can the Myles's trust Basil??

Can the Myles’s trust Basil??

Can the Myles's trust Conrad??

Can the Myles’s trust Conrad??

Besides the red rose on the hat, there’s the song, “My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose”, chess pieces, Franz Liszt music and a concert, a travel book with markings in it-all combined to help this couple on their secret mission as they try to stay several steps ahead of the Nazis.   I also found it interesting to note that this film was based upon the book Above Suspicion by Helen MacInnis, which was based upon experiences of MacInnis and her husband, Gilbert Highet.  I now want to find that book!

One can find Above Suspicion at TCM as they air it from time to time and it’s available to buy at TCM’s shop.   It’s available to buy or watch on instant rent via Amazon.

Above Suspicion

For a chance to see Joan shine in a picture where she’s using her brains, is a loving wife, and she’s outwitting the Nazis, give Above Suspicion a look-see!   This post is my contribution to the Joan Crawford Blogathon, hosted by the wonderful Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.  Be sure to visit her site to read more great blogs’ articles about Joan Crawford.

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My Classic Movie Pick: A Woman’s Face, with Villainous Conrad Veidt

My post today is for the Great Villain Blogathon and it is hosted by 3 wonderful bloggers who also love, love, love classic movies: Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin, and Kristina of Speakeasy.  Be sure to visit these blog sites to read about all of the great movie villains written about by other movie loving bloggers.

Great Villain Blogathon

A Woman’s Face, made by MGM in 1941, was not MGM head honcho Louis B. Mayer’s cup of tea.  Joan Crawford had learned of the Swedish movie version of the stage play.  The play had been written by Francis de Croisset and a screenplay for MGM’s version was to be written by Donald Ogden Stewart.  Ingrid Bergman had starred in the 1938  Swedish film and now Crawford wanted to star in an  American version.  Mayer didn’t like the fact that one of his beautiful stars would have to be “uglied” up for the role since the movie’s plot is about a disfigured woman who turns to a life of  crime since society has  rejected her because of  her deformity.   A Woman's Face movie poster 2 Anna Holm(Crawford) was burned on one side of her face when she was a child.  Her widowed, drunken father accidentally set the house on fire while Anna was asleep.  She was rescued but her father died in the flames.  Throughout her growing up years she felt rejected by society as people would stare at her face or try to avoid her altogether.  Upon reaching adulthood, Anna decides to make money off of the weak and foolish of the world so  she becomes a very good blackmailer. Simultaneously owning a tavern/restaurant in a secluded, wooded area outside of Stockholm proper, she draws in a rich clientele who like to meet at her business for rendezvous away from prying eyes.  It is to this clientele that she finds customers to blackmail.   She is aided by 3 con artists who are under her employ: Bernard Dalvik(Reginald Owen), his wife Christina Dalvik(Connie Gilchrist), and Herman Rundvik(Donald Meek).

Gilchrist as Mrs. Dalvik

Gilchrist as Mrs. Dalvik

Owens as

Owens as Dalvik

Donald Meek as Rundvik

Donald Meek as Rundvik

One evening as a loud party of 10 people are preparing to leave, the host of the party wants to put the bill on his tab.  He is told that he’ll have to discuss that with the proprietess.  When this fellow saunters into Anna’s office, he is polite, charming, and very suave.  It is this man, Torsten Barring(Conrad Veidt) who is the main villain of A Woman’s Face and his character will soon have the vulnerable Anna under his spell!  Through my reading about this movie, I came across a snippet that when Veidt was asked to describe his character, Torsten Barring, Veidt smiled and replied that he was  playing  Satan in a tuxedo!

Conrad Veidt as Torsten Barring

Conrad Veidt as Torsten Barring

In Torsten’s party is Vera Segert(Osa Massen), the  young and beautiful wife of Dr. Segert(Melvyn Douglas).  Dr. Segert wasn’t at Torsten’s party which is how Vera wanted it.  She used the party to flirt with another man the entire evening, and it is soon noticed by Torsten that Vera and this other man have a thing going on.  All of this potential for blackmail is on Torsten’s mind when he meets Anna in her office.  He surprises her as he doesn’t flinch in horror when he sees her face but treats her gallantly, kisses her hand, and her reaction is one of utter shock, that a man would treat her so kindly.

Anna soon agrees to work with Torsten and his schemes because she loves him

Anna soon agrees to work with Torsten and his schemes because she loves him

Seeing Anna's deformity and not shunning her.

Seeing Anna’s deformity and not shunning her.

Torsten soon has Anna working for him in the blackmailing game.  She goes to his lavish apartment at first just for business and assignments but soon Torsten pours on more charm and Anna finds herself falling in love with him.  Veidt, in real life, had piercing blue eyes and he used them to great effect in his acting.  Crawford was so impressed by his skills that she said in her later years that she had rarely met another actor who had shown such dramatic skills and depth as Veidt.     Torsten next tells Anna that a big prize awaits them.  He has the love letters that Vera Segert had foolishly sent to the man at the party Torsten hosted.  Torsten arranges for Vera Segert to go to Anna’s 3 con artist employees to beg for the letters and to get an idea of how much money it will cost her to get them back.  Anna then goes to Vera’s home at an agreed to time that evening with the letters.  Anna demands more money from Vera for the letters.  Vera hotly refuses and then cruelly shines a light on Anna’s face, exposing her deformity.  Anna then unloads a slapfest on Vera’s face and unexpectedly, Dr. Segert arrives home.   He thinks Anna is an intruder, intent on swiping his wife’s jewels and Vera begs him to just let Anna go.  He notices Anna’s scars and tells her that he is a skilled plastic surgeon and he thinks he could take her scars away.  He shows her books of successfully treated patients and Anna does agree to and does have the surgery.  It is a long, two year process but Anna and Dr. Segert persevere and develop an admiration for one another.  He for her survival skills in a cruel world and she for his compassion for his fellow man.

Dr. Segert and Vera with Anna pre-surgery.

Dr. Segert and Vera with Anna pre-surgery.

Anna delights in showing Torsten her new face.  She feels like a brand new woman as she is now beautiful.  Torsten seems happy for her but then he tells her about his extended family.   His aged Uncle Magnus Barring(Albert Bassermann) is very wealthy and has sadly decided to leave all of his fortune to a 4 year old grandson, Lars-Erik(Richard Nichols).  It is at this point in the film where Veidt’s Torsten becomes truly mad, in a stealthily,  quiet  way.  No screaming or tantrums are thrown.  He just sidles up to Anna and quietly explains to her his plan.  He tells Anna that he will recommend her to his Uncle Magnus for a governess job for little Lars-Erik.  Then, after a time, Anna will kill Lars-Erik and he, Torsten, will be the only one to inherit his uncle’s fortune.  Anna is in shock over this information, but doesn’t react hastily.  She seems to know that her love for this man is now over, but that if she lets on that it is, he’ll probably try to kill her. too.  So, reluctantly, Anna agrees to being a new governess for Lars-Erik.

Torsten intoning to Anna  his evil plot to inherit the money.

Torsten intoning to Anna his evil plot to inherit the money.

After several months have gone by working in Uncle Magnus’s household, Anna has grown to be quite fond of the old man and her charge, Lars-Erik.  A birthday celebration has been planned for Uncle Magnus, a weekend-long event and to Anna’s dread, Torsten arrives at the party in time to scoop her into his arms on the dance floor, to kindly snarl in her ear his questions as to why Lars-Erik is still alive?  To add to the stress Anna is now under, Dr. Segert also arrives for the party.  He is delighted to see Anna again and they share a dance or two.  She discovers that he is in the process of divorcing his unfaithful wife, Vera.  Anna and the doctor have a growing attraction to one another which adds to the noirish aspects of this drama: does Anna tell the man she is falling in love with about her life as a blackmailer, about her relationship with Torsten, and also reveal the evil plan to kill a child in order to inherit a fortune?  Would that new man even want to be around her if he knew about anything from her past?  Will Torsten keep reminding Anna to kill the child and if she doesn’t, will he take the matter into his own hands?

I won’t reveal the answers to these questions as I want you, the readers of this blog, to seek this film out!  It has aired from time to time on TCM so keep your eyes alert to their monthly schedules to see if it will be airing sometime this year.  A Woman’s Face is availabe to buy at Amazon, but it is in a Joan Crawford 5-dvd set and it’s pricey.  It is available in a European dvd that is lower-priced and in VHS format, which is even lower in cost, but VHS?  I want to add that in the cast is the always awesome Marjorie Main as a grumpy housekeeper, so watch for her when you do see the movie.

The villain of the film, Conrad Veidt, had a successful and interesting acting career.  He died too young, at the age of 50, suffering a heart attack on a golf course in Los Angeles in 1943.  Born and raised in Germany, he served in the German Army in WWI, rising to the rank of NCO.  Becoming very ill during the war, he was sent to a war hospital on the Baltic coast and received a letter from a girlfriend, Lucie Mannheim.  She had just been hired to work with an acting company based in Libau, Latvia.  Intrigued, he put in for a transfer to Libau and the Army agreed, stipulating that he work to entertain the troops.  When the war ended, Veidt moved to Berlin to study acting in earnest.  His skills paid off as he became a popular and busy actor in the German silent movie industry.  Probably his most famous role at that time was as the sleepwalking Cesare in 1920’s  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  With his success in Germany, it was time to make a try in Hollywood, and he did, famously appearing in 1928’s The Man Who Laughs.  Some even believe that Veidt’s “look” for this film inspired the look for one of Batman’s villains, The Joker.

Veidt, possibly the face that inspired The Joker?

Veidt, possibly the face that inspired The Joker?

As talking movies came into the forefront and silents went away, Veidt had trouble learning to speak English and his accent was deemed too heavy so it was time to return to Germany.  Veidt’s career continued there until he and his second wife, Illona Prager, a Jewish woman, moved to England to avoid the grasp of the rising Nazis.   In England, Veidt continued his acting career and improved his ability to speak the  English language.  I have seen some of the films he made in England and he got to play the heroes, which was a refreshing view of Veidt.  He played a Jewish man in 1934’s Power, playing Josef Oppenheimer,  who in 1730’s Germany,  helped a  duke rise in power, and in the process made a way for himself to leave the Jewish ghetto behind.  Then, when the duke tries to harm a member of Oppenheimer’s family, it’s revenge time.   In 1935 he starred in Passing of the Third Floor Back, which some kind soul has put on Youtube!  Veidt plays a mysterious and yet kind man, almost a messianic figure, who only wants to help the fellow boarders at a rooming  house he has moved to.  In 1939, he was the lead in The Spy in Black.  It was called U-Boat 29 for U.S. audiences.  Veidt plays U-Boat Captain Hardt , WWI is the time frame.  He is to meet a spy on the Orkney Islands, who turns out not to be what she seems.  Veidt is a conflicted man in this piece, not an out and out villain, falling in love with the spy who isn’t who she is pretending to be.  Valerie Hobson plays the spy and this was an early Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger creation.  It was back to playing a villain in 1940’s The Thief of Bagdad.  A technicolor masterpiece from the Korda brothers.   Veidt plays the evil Jafar and I really think the Disney animators used his image in creating the Jafar for their version of the story.  Veidt was very tall and slendor which seems to be the inspiration for the animated  Jafar.

Veidt as Jafar, probably casting a spell on someone!

Veidt as Jafar, probably casting a spell on someone!

After this film, Veidt tried Hollywood again.  With WWII raging, he stipulated that if he played Nazis, that he play baddies, no conflicted Nazis with a hint of goodness.  His most  famous Hollywood film is 1942’s Casablanca, where he plays with great relish the villainous Major Strasser, out to catch any freedom fighters trying to leave Casablanca.

Veidt, as Major Strasser, messing with Victor Laszlo, aka Paul Henreid.

Veidt, as Major Strasser, messing with Victor Laszlo, aka Paul Henreid.

It has been quite fun for me to read about Conrad Veidt for this blogathon.  He was a very skilled actor who could play the villain with the best of them, using his piercing gaze and his voice to smoothly convey his manipulative form of evil that his characters just seemed to wear like an aura around them.  In closing, I’ll post this neat video tribute to Veidt as Torsten Barring in A Woman’s Face, found on Youtube.   In fact, there are a ton of clips of Veidt’s work over the years, both silent movie scenes as well as talkies, so plan on putting your feet up and getting comfortable if you decided to view all that Youtube has for viewing Veidt’s scenes.

Studio publicity shot for A Woman's Face

Studio publicity shot for A Woman’s Face

My Classic Movie Pick: The Thrill of it All

Doris Day celebrated her 90th birthday yesterday.   Day could sing, dance, and was a good actress and pretty  much our whole household has enjoyed her work.  So,  in honor of  her reaching that milestone of 90 years,  I thought I’d focus on one of her romance/comedies,  The Thrill of it All, made in 1963, directed by Norm Jewison  and distributed by Universal Pictures.

 

Doris Day 90th Doris portrays Mrs. Beverly Boyer, a happily married wife and  mother of two children(Kym Karath and Brian Nash).  Her husband is Dr. Gerald Boyer, an ob-gyn portrayed by James Garner.  The family also has a live-in housekeeper, Olivia, played by comic actress, Zasu Pitts.

The Thrill of it All poster 1 One of Gerald’s patients is Mrs. Fraleigh(Arlene Francis) an older woman who has had problems in attaining a pregnancy.   She is so delighted to finally be expecting a baby that  she invites Dr. Boyer and his wife to her home for dinner.  Mrs. Fraleigh lives in a mansion and it turns out that she is the daughter-in-law of Mr. Tom Freleigh(Reginald Owen) the creator of the very successful Happy Soap company.  At the dinner, Mrs. Freleigh requests the television to be rolled into the dining room so her husband Gardner(Edward Andrews) the CEO of Happy Soap, Old Mr. Tom, and Mike Palmer(Elliot Reid) Advertising Executive, can watch the latest commercial for Happy Soap.  Gerald and Beverly think this is very odd, but sit politely and watch the commerical.  The commerical stars a sexy blonde woman in her fancy swimming pool of a bathtub, full of Happy Soap bubbles.   The blonde  purrs how the soap makes her smell like the stars of Hollywood!  With 2 daring shots of the blonde’s lower, bare back, Gardner and Mike concur that it was a fine commercial; Gerald doesn’t object to it either.   Beverly remarks  that Happy Soap had saved her life that day when she had to clean her 2 muddy children.  Old Mr. Tom demands to hear her story and he is delighted with Beverly’s tale.   He hires her to be the new commercial spokesperson  for Happy Soap!

The fun of this movie is the battle between Beverly and Gerald.  Beverly  films  her first  commercial and says the entire experience  was awful and that she won’t  do any more.  Gerald is pleased because he wasn’t in favor of his wife working outside of the home.  Mike Palmer appears the next day to offer Beverly $80, 000 for a 1 year contract to film the commericals.  That amount of money causes Beverly to change her mind fast…she will be the new star of Happy Soap commericals.  Gerald grudgingly gives his approval, but warns her that she can’t let this new venture  get in the way of being there for him and the children.  Beverly assures Gerald that it won’t but shooting the commercials soon get in the way as Gerald feared they would.

Beverly doing a magazine ad

Beverly doing a magazine ad

The first commercial

The first commercial

The story for this movie was developed by Carl Reiner and Larry Gelbart, with Reiner writing the screenplay.  He has several amusing cameos as the hero/villain of the Happy Soap Playhouse, his live scenes happening immediately as Beverly is done with a live commercial spot.

Day and Garner with Carl Reiner

Day and Garner with Carl Reiner

There’s miscommunication between the spouses, missed messages, an indignant Olivia who quits, a new German housekeeper who has a very thick accent, a gift of a swimming pool that unfortunately ruins Gerald’s convertible, giant soap suds invading the backyard,  and Gerald’s plan to make Beverly so jealous that she’ll quit her commercials to be with him. The Thrill of it All is a fun movie to view, with a happy ending, and the undeniable charm and chemistry that Day and Garner exude in their scenes together.  This movie is on blu-ray dvd and can be found via Amazon.com and TCM Shop.  To end this post, here are a few more scenes from the movie.

Fighting about the unexpected pool!

Fighting about the unexpected pool!

Autograph hounds ruining a romantic dinner.

Autograph hounds ruining a romantic dinner.

Getting a ticket for stopping traffic in order to see his wife on a billboard!

Getting a ticket for stopping traffic in order to see his wife on a billboard!

The children waiting up to see mommy in her commercial.

The children waiting up to see mommy in her commercial.