Posts Tagged ‘Spring Byington’

My Classic Movie Pick: The Devil and Miss Jones

Labor Day  meant my kids were off of school and they had planned on making it a Musicals Monday.  The King  and I was on their playlist and so was Guys and Dolls.  I did a search of  Turner Classic Movies  for a specific romantic-comedy, the perfect film for  Labor Day: 1941’s  The Devil and Miss Jones.

The DEvil and MIss JOnes

The wonderful cast: Charles Coburn-department store tycoon John Merrick, Jean Arthur-store clerk Mary Jones, Robert Cummings-Joe O’Brien, Union organizer, Edmund Gwenn-Hooper, Section Manager, Spring Byington-Elizabeth Ellis, clerk, S.Z. Sakall-George, Mr. Merrick’s butler, William Demarest-First Detective.   Directed by Sam Wood, produced by Frank Ross(Jean Arthur’s husband at the time), Screenplay by Norman Krasna, and released by RKO Studios.

Coburn is John Merrick, the richest man in the world.  One  of his employees at one of his  department stores burned an effigy of him at an union organizing meeting.  Merrick  is determined to find out who did this, why, and what can be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.   Merrick is truly mystified as to why any employees would be mad at him, why they would want a union,  and he’s determined to get to the bottom of this offensive act.

Merrick decides that he’ll  go undercover as a new store employee to find out about the union organizing.  He fires  the store detective and  then assumes the man’s name and employee info card.  Disguised  as Mr. Higgins, he  goes to work as a new clerk in the  shoe department, because he was told that it’s the “hotbed of discontentment” among all of the store’s employees.  It is here that Higgins meets Mary Jones(Arthur).  She takes pity on this old man who doesn’t want to eat lunch as he wants to prove to the Section Manager, Hooper(Gwenn), who treated him with great disdain, that he, Mr. Higgins, can sell shoes.  Mary  loans him 50 cents, tells him that he must take a lunch break,  and eventually  introduces him to Elizabeth Ellis(Byington) who nicely shares her lunch with him.  A bit of that scene can be viewed here.

Even though Jean Arthur got top billing in this movie, got the publicity posters to feature her, and her husband produced the movie, this movie is  Charles Coburn’s for the win.   He is absolutely wonderful as a wealthy man who has gotten out of touch with the world of the laborer.  He’s not quite an Ebenezer Scrooge or Mr. Potter type of bad, rich man, but he is cantankerous at first.  We see his character go through changes as he comes to meet and know some of his employees and it helps to make him a warmer, more responsible business owner and man who can use his wealth for good purposes.  We also get to see his character fall in love with Miss Elizabeth.  It is a sweet movie that dares to show two senior citizens falling in love!    Coburn was nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the 1941 Academy Awards for his efforts as Mr. Merrick/Higgins.

The film is fast-paced, there is mistaken identity aplenty with the Higgins ruse.  Merrick does find out who made the effigy and burned it-Joe O’Brien(Cummings) who is also the love of Mary’s life!  Near the end when all seems lost for Merrick, for the union, for Mary and Joe, happiness will come through and reign supreme.

The Devil and Miss Jones is available to purchase on a blu-ray at Amazon, it’s available to purchase at TCM’s Shop in a regular dvd format or a blu-ray, and here is another  clip from Youtube for the film: the opening credits with Coburn trying to look evil, and with an angelic Jean Arthur opposite him.

For your next Labor Day entertainment, or for a fun look at labor and managment circa 1941, seek out The Devil and Miss Jones.  Here are a few pics from the film:

Mary ordering the new sales clerk to be sure to take that lunch break.

Mary ordering the new sales clerk to be sure to take that lunch break.

Mr. Merrick really likes Miss Elizabeth.

Mr. Merrick really likes Miss Elizabeth.

Merrick, as Higgins, discovers that O'Brien made that effigy!

Merrick, as Higgins, discovers that O’Brien made that effigy!

Mr. Merrick, as Higgin's finds out Mary loves O'Brien, at a Coney Island outing.

Mr. Merrick, as Higgin’s,  finds out Mary loves O’Brien, at a Coney Island outing.

 

 

 

My Classic Movie Pick: The Enchanted Cottage

The Enchanted Cottage is not a fairytale film for children.  There are no princesses needing rescued by a prince, no evil fairies or witches out to spoil all the fun.  No cute, talking animals.  This 1945 film, made by RKO Studios, is a fairytale for adults, set in the real-time of 1945.   Featuring the skills of Robert Young, Dorothy McGuire, and Herbert Marshall, who serves as the film’s narrator.

The Enchanted Cottage poster 1

 

WWII  has ended and John Hillgrove(Herbert Marshall), who was blinded while fighting in the war, is playing the piano for a party that he is hosting for newlyweds Oliver and Laura Bradford.    As the film opens with this scene, Hillgrove tells his guests the love story of Oliver and Laura, via a long flashback.

Years ago there had been an estate built by an English nobleman, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in  New England.   A fire had occurred, burning most of the great house except for one wing.   The nobleman has that wing rebuilt to be a new, cottage-styled home.  The nobleman decides to begin renting out that wing as a haven for honeymooners.  Years go by and now a widow, Mrs. Abigail Minnett(Mildred Natwick-excellent as always) runs the cottage for honeymooning couples.  It is to this cottage that Laura Pennington(Dorothy McGuire) applies to work as a housekeeper.  Laura is a very plain, shy young woman.  With the recent death of her mother, and having no other relations to fall upon for help, she decides to go out and seek her forturne.   Mrs. Minnett likes Laura and does hire her.    Mrs. Minnett  tells her that there is a legend attached to the cottage, that when honeymooners etch their names onto the glass of one window, their union will be especially blessed.

Laura being interviewed by Mrs. Minnett.

Laura being interviewed by Mrs. Minnett.

Oliver Bradford(Robert Young) soon arrives with his  fiancee, Beatrice(Hillary Brooke).  Oliver is from a wealthy family, and a pilot in the Army Air Corps.  He has rented the cottage and as soon as he and Hillary see the Justice of the Peace, the honeymoon will begin.  Hillary isn’t impressed with the cottage, thinking it too simple.  Laura overhears her and steps in to tell the couple about the cottage’s legend.  Oliver takes Hillary’s engagement ring to etch their names on the window’s pane and the diamond falls out of the setting!  Then, Oliver is contacted by his air group-he must fly out immediately, so no wedding yet.   Soon, Mrs. Minnett receives a telegram from Beatrice cancelling the couple’s  lease.

Oliver and Hillary arrive at the Enchanted Cottage

Oliver and Hillary arrive at the Enchanted Cottage

A year goes by and Mrs. Minnett receives a telegram from Oliver Bradford, asking to rent the cottage for himself for an indefinite period of time.  When Oliver arrives, Laura and Mrs. Minnett see that his face is disfigured and his arm is disabled, from a horrific plane crash he survived in the war. Oliver is bitter, his egagement to Hillary was broken.  He is mad at the world and has decided to live as a recluse.  Laura is heart-broken that he has become this way and with her common sense, gentleness, and compassion, Oliver begins to return to his old self.

Laura and Oliver, having one of many discussions about life

Laura and Oliver, having one of many discussions about life

Oliver befriends the narrator at this point in the film, Hillgrove, who happens by the cottage one day.  He encourages Oliver to learn to live again despite the disabilities.  He also tells Oliver that the war left him blinded but he has adapted and life has gone on.(An interesting side-note, Herbert Marshall who plays Hillgrove, was a soldier for the British during WWI and lost a leg, and yet resumed his acting career after the war.)

Giving Oliver advice on living with a disability

Giving Oliver advice on living with a disability

Conflict arrives in Oliver’s life in the form of his mother, Violet(Spring Byington).  Byington had a long career, often playing fun and understanding mothers so it was a surprise to see her play such a rotten mother in this film!  Violet and Hillary arrive to talk to Oliver but he refuses to see them.  3 weeks later, Violet sends her son an ultimatum: if he doesn’t return to the family home she will be moving to the cottage to live there with him!  Oliver doesn’t want that at all, so he quickly proposes marriage to Laura.  Laura, who really loves Oliver but hasn’t told him, agrees to marry him. When the couple returns to the cottage for their honeymoon the enchantment happens.  Laura sees Oliver without the disfiguring burn on his face and no disabled arm.  Oliver sees Laura as a beauty.  They etch their names onto the window’s pane.  Mrs. Minnett reassures them that their true love for each other lets them see each other as perfect, despite the meddling of Violet and her cruel words when she discovers they have married one another.

How love lets them really see each other

How love lets them really see each other

Then Enchanted Cottage was a 1922 stage play, written by Arthur Wing Pinero, a play about a returning WWI Vet with a disability.  It had been previously filmed as a silent film in 1924 that starred Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy.   Harriet Parsons, a  producer at RKO, aquired the rights to the play to remake a newer film, set in WWII and in New England.  Parsons hired DeWitt Bodeen to write the screenplay and she chose John Cromwell to direct. For a lovely, romantic movie with a 91 minute running time, seek out The Enchanted Cottage.  It airs from time to time on Turner Classic Movies.  It is available to buy from Amazon,  and a kind soul put the trailer clip on Youtube.  The OV Guide has it listed as a a film to watch online for free.  Can’t beat that! .

My Classic Movie Pick: Mickey Rooney Films I Greatly Enjoyed

Mickey Rooney, who had a 9 decades long career in the Entertainment Industry, passed away April 6th.   In honor of him, Turner Classic Movies is going to present on Sunday, April 13th, 13 films that Rooney starred in.  Among this list are 3 of Rooney’s films that I have already seen and instead of one post about one movie, I thought I’d write short synopses about  3 of those films that I really enjoyed.

A Family Affair, 1937 from MGM studios.  Stars Lionel Barrymore(Great-Uncle of Drew Barrymore) as Judge Hardy, running for re-election to keep his judgeship and encountering opposition from some of the citizens of the small-town where he resides.   Spring Byington plays his wife Emily, Cecilia Parker is his daughter, Marion, and Mickey Rooney is his son, Andy.  A Family Affair was shot in 15 days!  It was considered a “B” movie by the studio and Lionel Barrymore didn’t want to be in it.  Another teen actor was set to play the part of Andy, but by the time filming was to begin, he had grown too tall so the part went to Rooney.  In his autobiography, Life is too Short, Rooney wrote that he knew the movie was a “B” movie but that fact didn’t keep him from putting his all into the role.  Surprising to MGM is that when the film opened at theatres, it became a huge hit and so profitable that MGM ended up making 16 Andy Hardy films.  The Hardy Family films usually center around Andy and the amusing difficulties he gets himself into and how he finally handles the difficulties with some advice from his wise father.  Movie Poster for AFA

Judge Hardy talking with his two teenagers.

Judge Hardy talking with his two teenagers.

Boys Town, 1938, also from MGM.  Nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and won the Academy Awards for Best Original Story and Best Actor, Spencer Tracy.  Tracy plays Father Edward Flanagan who is called to the prison to hear the last confession of a prisoner scheduled to die in the electric chair.  The condemned man tells Father Flanagan that if only he had had good friends at the age of 12 instead of the delinquents he ran with, he’d probably not ended up in prison.   Father Flanagan takes the man’s words to heart, and with the attitude that their is no such thing as a bad boy, he opens up a home for boys in trouble outside of Omaha, Nebraska and calls the place Boys Town.   Mickey Rooney plays Whitey Marsh, a tough young hoodlum who’s older brother, serving time in prison, asks for Father Flanagan to take in his younger brother and try to turn his life around.  Tracy is great as the priest who is kind but very firm when he has to be.  Rooney is great as the snotty, brash, juvenile delinquint with a heart of gold.   Here’s a clip from the film Boys Town.  The film proved to be such a great box office success that in 1941 a sequel was made, Men of Boys Town and Tracy and Rooney reprised their roles.

Father Flanagan having a meeting with Whitey.

Father Flanagan having a meeting with Whitey.

Boys Town

National Velvet, 1945, from MGM.  Stars  12 year old Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet Brown, an English  girl who loves horses.  She enters the town lottery as the prize is a neighboring farmer’s unruly and spirited horse.  The winner of the first number called doesn’t appear so  another  number is  called and Velvet wins.  With the help of Mi Taylor( Mickey Rooney), a young drifter who has a lot of knowledge about horses and racing them, Velvet decides to train the Pi(her name for her horse) for the Grand National Race.  This is a charming movie, espousing hard work, reaching for one’s dreams, and filmed in gorgeous technicolor.  Look for Angela Lansbury playing Velvet’s older sister, Edwina.  Here’s a training sequence from National Velvet, featuring Taylor and Rooney.

Rooney and Taylor

Rooney and Taylor

National Velvet

Here is also the schedule that TCM has posted for Rooney’s films on Sunday.  TCM has also made a lovely tribute video of Rooney’s career and it can be viewed here.  Be sure to tune in and/or set your dvr machine!