Posts Tagged ‘Robert Mitchum’

For the William Wellman Blogathon: The Story of G.I. Joe

Who  was William Wellman?  A classic film fan would immediately recognize this man’s name.  For those who have no idea, and might think it a question found on Jeopardy!, he was an American  film director.  On a Top Ten List of Great American Movie Directors, he’d be on that list.  On a Top Five, he’d be on that list, too.   Just a few of his famous films: A Star is Born(the original one, made in 1937, not the one starring Barbra Streisand), The Ox-Bow Incident, Battleground, The Public Enemy(where James Cagney famously shoved a grapefruit in Mae Clarke’s face).  Wellman won the first ever Best Picture Academy Award for the silent film, Wings, 1929-that film is a must-see, the aerial shots of WWI pilots is excellent, no cgi, and the actors had to really fly their planes!!  When I learned that classic movie fan and blogger Now Voyaging would be hosting this great blogathon to look at Wellman and his body of work, I had to participate.  Be sure to visit Now Voyaging to read other bloggers’  excellent pieces on Wellman and his movies.

William WEllman blogathon

I chose Wellman’s WWII picture, The Story of G.I. Joe, made in 1945, and featuring Robert Mitchum in his first major movie role.   Mitchum would be nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his efforts.

Robert Mitchum as Lt. Walker

Robert Mitchum as Lt. Walker

                                                                          The story of gi joe pic 1

The Story of G.I. Joe is sort of a biopic, as it is about  Pulitzer-Prize winning American journalist Ernie Pyle(ably and warmly played by Burgess Meredith-my kids mainly know this classic movie actor as Rocky’s coach, Mickey!) as he travels with a group of American G.I.s, writing reports about their battles  as they march across the Tunisian desert and finally arrive in Italy, fighting the Nazis.

Actor Burgess Meredith with the real Ernie Pyle

Actor Burgess Meredith with the real Ernie Pyle

This group of infantrymen are with C Company, 18th Infantry, U. S. Army, and many are untested soldiers.  Pyle writes about a few of these men and they are, of course, the characters in the film that we get to know.  There is Lt. Walker(Robert Mitchum), promoted later to Captain, who is in charge of this group of soldiers.  Sgt. Warnicki(Freddie Steele), who is bothered by the fact that he has yet to meet his baby boy.  Private Dondaro(Wally Cassell), the Italian-American from Brooklyn who always has women on his mind.  Private Robert “Wingless” Murphy(John R. Reilly), who was too tall for the Army Air Corps and earned his nickname.  Private Mew(William Murphy) the orphan from Brownsville, TX who finds a real family with the men in Company C and leaves them as his beneficiaries in his life insurance policy.  Director Wellman’s wife, Dorothy Coonan Wellman, plays an uncredited role as Army Nurse Elizabeth, who falls in love with Wingless, and weds him during a lull in the battles.

The men of Company C

The men of Company C

The wedding scene

The wedding scene

What I appreciate about this film is that it is a gritty, unflinching look at a group of soldiers, slogging away at their job for the country that they love.  They all wish the fighting would be over and done with soon as they are eager to return to the U.S.  Pyle sees all of their longings, their disappointments, the deaths, and the costs of survival that are too high for a few of these men.  He writes about all that he sees, in honest prose, and the men appreciate his being there amongst them.  He’s not a journalist flitting in for a bit then flying away to a safer spot to stay in a hotel with running water, indoor plumbing, a real bed, and decent food.

Mitchum and Meredith

Mitchum and Meredith

The making of this film was the idea of producer Lester Cowan.  He wanted to make a film to showcase the Army as well as the 1943  film Air Force had done for the Army Air Corps.  After he secured the funds from United Artists, and gave them the distribution rights, he came up with the film’s outline, basing it on Ernie Pyle’s columns, compiled in the book, Here is Your War.  Cowan contacted the Army about his film idea and they gave their approval in November of 1943.  Ironically,Cowan did have a lot of trouble convincing Wellman to direct this movie.  Wellman, himself a veteran, having served as a pilot during WWI, disliked the Army due to negative encounters with soldiers during WWI, and when Wellman directed his award winning movie, Wings, the Army sent over an Infantry Commander who so irritated Wellman, that the thought of making another movie to benefit the Army just caused Wellman to keep insisting he would not direct Cowan’s film!  Finally, a personal phone call from Ernie Pyle himself, with an invitation for Wellman to visit him at his home in NM to discuss the film, finally changed Wellman’s mind and I am so very glad that Pyle’s efforts worked!

Wellman had his cast train with U. S. Army veterans of the Italian Campaigns, setting up a camp for this training in CA.  He also insisted his cast grow beards(except for his wife, of course!) and that the actors speak in GI lingo as much as possible.  He let it be known that if any of the actors objected to the training, that they would be dropped from the film and replaced.

The Story of G.I. Joe will air on Turner Classic Movies Nov. 3rd, at 10:30 am est/9:30 am cst.  Set that dvr and don’t miss this film!!  It’s available for purchase at Amazon in various dvds, with various prices.  There are a 7  video clips of the film  here, courtesy of TCM.

A collaborative effort, a thorough, thoughtful film, exploring the life of the infantrymen in the U.S. Army.  I am indeed glad that journalist Ernie Pyle convinced William Wellman to direct this film!

GIJOE+movie+B+half+sheet+1945

 

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

 

 

 

Two Classic Christmas Movies You Might Not Know

I’ve been away from my blogging due to Thanksgiving and travels, celebrating my parents 50th Wedding Anniversary, and getting the house decorated, cleaned for Christmas, and getting my gift shopping done.  Now that a lot of those activities have been dealt with, the quiet voice in my mind began to grow louder, “Get back to your Blog!” Hence today’s offering.

There have been a lot of movies made with Christmas as the theme or as the backdrop.  Many of these films are fan favorites: It’s a Wonderful Live, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Elf, just to name a few.  I decided that for today’s purpose I was going to focus on some delightful Christmas movies, classics in their own right, but ones that might not be as well known to the movie viewing public.

First up, 1940’s Beyond Tomorrow. It stars some of Hollywood’s best character actors in their Senior years: C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Winninger, and Harry Carey(former silent film star).  These three elderly gents portray life-long friends, engineers by trade, now retired and living in a NYC mansion.  They have a devoted housekeeper in Madame Tanya(another great character actress, Maria Ouspenskaya) and butler, Josef(Alex Melesh).

Beyond Tomorrow poster

It’s Christmas Eve, the three friends are about to enjoy a wonderful meal prepared for them by Madame Tanya, but they admit to one another that they are lonely, they’d enjoy the meal more if guests could join them.  They decide to gather their wallets, putting $10 and their business cards into each one, and plant them around the neighborhood.  Whoever returns the wallets will be invited to stay for dinner.  Michael(Winninger) is the optimist of the three men and he’s sure someone will return a wallet.  George(Carey) is the pessimist of the group and is sure no one will.  Chadwick(Smith) is the happy medium between the other two men’s personalities.  Two of the wallets are returned, one by a young Texan, James Houston(Richard Carlson), a struggling singer and the other by Jean Lawrence(Jean Parker), a clinic employee.    The two young adults agree to stay for dinner and it’s obvious that they are falling in love! They also become good friends with the three elderly gents and all seems cozy and right with the world.

The movie takes a jarring turn when  the three elderly gents tragically die in a plane crash!  Their ghosts come back to their mansion and only Madame Tanya can sense their presence.  Michael, in his will, had left Jimmy some bonds that he is able to use to launch his singing career and he also draws the attentions of a radio star, Arlene Terry(Helen Vinson).  Ghost Michael can see that Arlene is no good for Jimmy, and that Jean still loves him and is crying over him a lot.  He is bound and determined to find a way to reunite the young lovers before he has to go to Heaven.   It’s a sweet little film with an endearing cast.  From an original story and screenplay by Adele Comandini, directed by A. Edward Sutherland,  you can catch it via TCM on Thursday, December 18th, but you will have to set your dvr as it’s airing at 2:15 am Eastern/1:15 am Central.   Beyond Tomorrow is also available to purchase at Amazon, at TCM’s Shop, and a kind soul has put the entire movie on Youtube.

My second movie to recommend is 1949’s Holiday Affair.  If the Hallmark Channel made romantic Christmas movies in 1949, this would have been at the top of their list!  Janet Leigh portrays Connie Ennis,  a young war widow with a 6 year old son, Timmy(Gordon Gebert).  She is employed by a large NYC department store as a “comparison buyer”; she pretends to shop at rival stores studying and taking notes about their merchandise, how it’s displayed, priced, and evaluates their sales staff.  One day she is at rival store Crowley’s and she is pretending to be interested in buying a toy train.  It’s the Christmas season, and the toy area is jam-packed with other shoppers.  The store clerk, Steve Mason(very handsome Robert Mitchum) wonders why this lady shopping for a toy train asks no questions about it and just buys it.  When Connie gets home she tries to hide the train as she is to return it the next day as part of her research on Crowley’s, and she doesn’t want Timmy thinking the train is for him.  That evening also brings by a visit from lawyer Carl Davis(Wendell Corey) who decides that after months of dating Connie, he is ready to propose to her.  Connie is in a dither, and after Carl leaves, she asks Timmy his opinion and he promptly tells her she shouldn’t marry Carl.   Holiday Affair poster

The next day, Connie tries to return the train at Crowley’s without a receipt. Steve has to handle the transaction and he says it’s against store policy to refund buyer’s money without the receipt.  Connie admits she is a comparison buyer and Steve threatens to turn her in to the store detective.  Connie then explains about being a widow with a son, and Steve reimburses her with money out of his own pocket.  A store manager finds out what Steve’s done and he is promptly fired.  Steve smoothly asks Connie to go for lunch with him and over lunch, she discovers Steve’s story and his ambitions to return to California and start up a sailboat building business with a friend.

This is one of those boy meets girl, boy loses girl, will boy get girl back?  Steve knows what he wants his future to look like.  Carl wants Connie to be his wife.  Connie is the character who doesn’t know which step to take.  She still has feelings for her dead husband, Carl seems like a safe choice to make as he has a good job but Timmy doesn’t like him, and then there is Steve, handsome, brash, and exciting.  TCM is going to air Holiday Affair twice: Sunday, December 21 at 4:00 pm Eastern/3:00 Central and on Thursday, December 25th at 12:15 pm Eastern/11:15 Central.

Holiday Affair was written by Isobel Lennart and directed by Don Hartman.  It is available to buy via Amazon, TCM’s Shop, and again, it’s been put on Youtube!

Mitchum, Gebert, Leigh, and Corey in a scene from Holiday Affair

Mitchum, Gebert, Leigh, and Corey in a scene from Holiday Affair

 

 

 

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick: His Kind of Woman

Film Noir is a genre of movies that usually have the feelings  of negativity, sadness, pessimism, and danger.    The French coined the phrase to describe American detective stories made in the 1940s-1950s.  I like a good Film Noir, with it’s hero working against the odds to figure out who the baddies are, often dealing  with a beautiful femme fatale out for her own preservation and, and lots of  interesting  side characters who add to the plots.  My movie pick, His Kind of Woman is a Film Noir, but with a difference.  It has  some comedy thrown in for an unusual mix, and the comedy is supplied by Vincent Price, the King of Horror films!

His Kind of Woman poster 1

Robert Mitchum is the hero of this movie.  He is Dan Milner,  a down on his luck gambler.  He’s been approached to live in Mexico for 1 year, and  he’ll be paid $50,000 for his troubles, and is given $20,000 to start his journey.   Dan is curious as to who wants him to live in Mexico for a year, thinking it is a pretty weird request.  Since he’s currently broke, he decides to do as he’s been asked, and takes a flight to his first stop, Nogales, Mexico.  While waiting in the airport bar for his next flight, Dan is happy to listen to a beautiful singer, Lenore Brent(Jane Russell).  Lenore seems irritated by Dan’s attention and  manages to keep him at arms length.   Dan is  delighted to find out that Lenore will  be flying on the same plane with him to his final destination, Morro’s Lodge, in the Baja region.  Lenore tells Dan that  she is an heiress and a singer and that he doesn’t interest her as she has a “friend” she’s meeting at Morro’s.His Kind of Woman Mitchum and Russell have chemistry

Once at Morro’s, Dan figures out who Lenore’s friend is, movie actor Mark Cardigan(Vincent Price).  Price is an absolute joy to watch in this movie.  He is excellent in his  portrayal of  a hammy, full-of-himself actor who just happens to be a great hunter.  Later on in the movie, he saves Dan’s bacon when the bad guy’s henchmen show up to kill Dan.  Cardigan also has romance troubles, as his wife shows up at Morro’s to tell him that she doesn’t want a divorce.  His agent has also come along to tell Cardigan that a divorce could give him negative views in the public’s opinion.  Cardigan is adamant at keeping a positive image so he breaks things off with Lenore.  Lenore confesses to Dan that she’s not really an heiress but she is a singer, and she  thought a rich husband would give her the ticket to the good life.   Dan is quite ready to show Lenore that a rich husband isn’t the be all and end all of life.

Cardigan telling Dan about his love of hunting

Cardigan telling Dan about his love of hunting

The main bad guy in the movie is Nick Ferraro(Raymond Burr-a far cry from his Perry Mason and Ironside days!)  Ferraro is a gangster who had been deported 4 years before.  Living in Italy, he was getting worried about his monetary holdings still in the U.S. and came up with a crazy plot to get back into America: find a guy who is the same height and weight as himself, a guy who is a loner without a family, and with the help of a plastic surgeon, kill the loner guy and have his face surgically put upon Ferraro’s face!

The baddies trying to inject Dan with a drug

The baddies trying to inject Dan with a drug

Cardigan deciding he can help Dan

Cardigan deciding he can help Dan

This brings about Bill Lusk(Tim Holt) who is able to inform that he is an undercover agent with the Immigration and Naturalization Service.  He tells Dan about Ferraro and that the Service knows the Ferraro is itching to get back into the country and that they think he’d try to disguise himself in some way and that Dan may have been brought to Morro’s to be the victim of Ferraro’s plans.

Bill Lusk telling Dan what he knows about Ferraro

Bill Lusk telling Dan what he knows about Ferraro

There is a minor subplot of an unhappy bride on her honeymoon watching her new husband gambling away their money to a vacationing banker, Myron Winton(Jim Backus-Mr. Thurston Howell III himself!!) Dan steps in and helps the husband regain his lost money and gives the newlyweds  advice to  stay away from the gambling tables.

Helping the Newlyweds

Helping the Newlyweds

His Kind of Woman was directed by John Farrow, written by Frank Fenton and Jack Leonard, and produced by Robert Sparks.  It was distributed by RKO Studios, but Howard Hughes, who had taken over the running of RKO in 1948, meddled in the production of His Kind of Woman and after Farrow’s work was done, Hughes had director Richard Fleischer re-direct many scenes in the movie!  The film was finished in 1950 but sat on a shelf until it’s release in August of 1951.  Despite Hughes’s fiddling with the film, it was a box office hit for RKO.   His Kind of Woman is available at Amazon.  It is available as a single dvd or in a dvd set with 3 other Film Noirs.

With Russell and Mitchum as the movie’s center, a puzzle of a plot, action, and the fun that Vincent Price brings to his role, His Kind of Woman is an unusual Film Noir, worth a viewing, and it’s one of my favorites.  Here’s a trailer that audiences would have seen in 1951 for advertising purposes for His Kind of Woman.

His Kind of Woman movie poster 2