Posts Tagged ‘Walter Kingsford’

For the Swashathon: 1941’s The Corsican Brothers

I love a good, action movie.  Sword fights, so much the better!  Not the modern versions of sword fights that show all of the gore(I’m referring to you, 1995 film Rob Roy.) I know that in real life, a sword fight was a bloody battle, but I like the classic films that depict sword fights with the ultimate battle involving the baddie fighting the hero, with little blood flowing.  The baddie usually ends the fight by grasping his fatal wound, eyes shut, staggering backwards, then falling over, dead.

When I found out that my favorite blog dedicated to silent movies was going to host a “Swashathon” dedicated to swashbuckler movies, I jumped right in.  Be sure to visit Movies, Silently and read about all of the swashbuckler films being paid homage to this weekend.

swashathon-flynn

On November 28th, 1941, the film The Corsican Brothers premiered to rave reviews.  Distributed by United Artists, the film was based on French writer Alexandre Dumas’s adventure novel.  Like many of Dumas’s works of fiction, The Corsican Brothers has a rollicking plot with lots of action.

The Corsican Brothers poster 1

Director Gregory Ratoff, working with the screenplay by George Bruce and Howard Estabrook, kept the story flowing fast;never a dull moment in this movie.   To play the main characters, identical twin brothers, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. won the role.  The movie’s main baddie played by a blustery and glowering Akim Tamiroff.  The lovely Ruth Warrick is the love interest and damsel in distress.   The wonderful supporting cast: J. Carrol Naish, H.B. Warner, Henry Wilcoxon, Gloria Holden, Walter Kingsford, and Nana Bryant.

The movie opens on the island of Corsica and we quickly meet two noble families, the good Franchi family and the evil Colonna family.  It is known in the village that Countess Franchi(Gloria Holden) is about to give birth to her first child, and that all of Count Franchi’s(Henry Wilcoxon) relatives have come to his home to await the birth.  Across town, Baron Colonna(Akim Tamiroff) and his minions are eating a meal and when the Baron learns that all of the Franchis are in one spot, he decides to attack them and murder them all! There is a blood feud between the two families, and it’s explained that in 1841 Corsica, when this story takes place, all Corsicans follow the idea of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.

Baron Colonna announcing Death to all the Franchis!

Baron Colonna announcing Death to all the Franchis!

Countess Franchi bravely labors away in her gorgeous bedroom with the attentive care of Dr. Paoli(H. B. Warner) and a nun/nurse.  Shortly after her twin sons are born, it is known to all that the Countess is dying.  The Count hurries in to see his wife and his sons; he is overjoyed that God has blessed him with two sons!  Dr. Paoli quietly tells him that the twins are conjoined.  The Count is crushed by this news, and he begs the doctor to surgically separate the boys.  Before a surgery can happen, Dr. Paoli manages to sneak the twins out of the mansion, with the help of Franchi family servant Lorenzo(J. Carrol Naish).   Sadly, all of the rest of the Franchis are killed by Baron Colonna and his henchmen.  There’s a touching moment as the nun is helping with the babies escape and she begs her mistress to leave too, but the Countess bravely smiles and tells  the nun to not worry for her, as she’ll face her death with bravery and grace.

Count Franchi and Lorenzo getting ready to defend against Colonna and his henchmen.

Count Franchi and Lorenzo getting ready to defend against Colonna and his henchmen.

Dr. Paoli, back at his home with the babies and Lorenzo, shares his fear that Colonna won’t believe that the babies died in the inferno that engulfed the Franchi home and that he must somehow hide these boys until they are of age.  The surgery has been done and the babies are now separated twins.  With Lorenzo’s suggestion, they contact the Franchi’s good friends, Monsieur and Madame Dupre,(Walter Kingsford and Nana Bryant) who are childless.  After the babies are baptized and christened Mario and Lucien, the Dupre’s take baby Mario back with them to Paris.  Lorenzo agrees to raise Lucien, in the hills of Corsica, near the village of the Franchis.

20 years fly by.  Mario is a cultured and educated young man.  He meets Corsican Countess Isabelle Gravini and it’s love at first sight for him.  At the Paris Opera House, where they meet, he protects her from the attentions of a clod, who later assaults Mario.  When Mario suffers a wound in his shoulder, Lucien awakes with a pain in his shoulder!  Despite being separated, Lucien feels the pains, pangs and passions his twin brother experiences.(Cue the Twilight Zone music!  By the way, I have identical twin daughters, and they have never experienced this “spiritual twin” syndrome, as Dr. Paoli calls it.)  Here’s a clip, courtesy of TCM, of this “spiritual twin” syndrome, and the meeting of Countess Isabelle and Mario.

When Mario and Lucien turn 21, Dr. Paoli asks for the Dupres to allow Mario to travel to Corsica as it’s time for the boys to meet and learn the truth of their ancestry.  The Dupres comply and Mario and Lucien meet for the first time.  Both brothers vow to avenge their parents death at the hands of Baron Colonna.  Here’s the clip of that scene, also courtesy of TCM.  The rest of the movie deals with the brothers exacting their revenge, with a love “square” getting put into the plot.

One of the many excellent camera shots of Fairbanks, Jr. playing twin brothers, appearing in the same scene.

One of the many excellent camera shots of Fairbanks, Jr. playing twin brothers, appearing in the same scene.

I say love “square” instead of triangle because this plot device involves 4 people.  Countess Isabelle loves Mario,Mario loves Countess Isabelle,  Lucien loves Countess Isabelle(he has some fun getting her to kiss him as she thinks he’s Mario and he’s not about to correct her!), and evil Baron Colonna has seen Countess Isabelle, has asked her father for her hand, and when her father says, “No”, Colonna has him poisoned so that he can pursue the Countess unhindered!!

Lucien(or is it Mario?) introducing Countess Isabelle to the camp.

Lucien(or is it Mario?) introducing Countess Isabelle to the camp.

Baron Colonna makes Countess Isabelle's skin crawl!

Baron Colonna makes Countess Isabelle’s skin crawl!

There is a somewhat sad plot point added to the end of the film, but it also ties the story line up neatly, like a bow.  Fairbanks, Jr. is just fantastic as Mario/Lucien.  He’s athletic, gorgeous, and sincere in his acting the dual roles.  The special effects for this film were well done: scenes where Fairbanks, Jr. plays the twins talking to each other, or in scenes where both twins are with other actors at the same time. One scene where the twins get into a fight with one another, yes another actor/double was used but the fight was so carefully choreographed and shot from afar, that it’s hard to tell the double from Fairbanks, Jr.

Wilcoxon and Holden, the doomed Franchi parents,are noble and brave.  H.B. Warner as Dr. Paoli is tender-hearted and wise.  J. Carrol Naish is great as servant Lorenzo, who raises Lucien to be a defender of the people against the evil Colonna, and Kingsford and Bryant are also warm and wise, as the childless couple who raise Mario as their own. Ruth Warrick is so pretty, and has a natural chemistry with Fairbanks, Jr.  I’d like to think they had a lovely time making this film together.   Tamiroff has a blast playing Colonna and his sword fight scene showdown with Mario is a great scene. They fight in a large room, but with furniture to knock over and wounded bodies to dodge, plus a large mirror is used for good visual effect.  Spoiler in this clip.  If you don’t want to know what it is, then don’t watch this clip! Here it is, courtesy of Youtube.

TCM aired The Corsican Brothers this past July, the first time they had ever aired it.  Check their schedule, especially in 2016 as I am sure they’ll be airing this film again.  It’s available to purchase at Amazon in a dvd or to watch it through their prime instant video.  It’s also available at TCM’s Shop.

For an excellent tale complete with swashbuckling derring do, seek out The Corsican Brothers.

 

The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon: Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie, in MGM’s Dr. Kildare Movies

Modern day film fans are probably familiar with Drew Barrymore but are they aware she is descended from a family of actors that began their stagecraft in the 1840’s?!  My post today is  for The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, hosted this weekend by classic film fan Crystal.   Be sure to click here, to read more great pieces written by other classic film fans, about the three Barrymores that classic film fans know best: Lionel, Ethel, and John.

Lionel Ethel John

I decided to focus on Drew’s late, Great-Uncle, Lionel.  Specifically, his role as the grumpy Dr. Gillespie in MGM’s long running film series about a young doctor, Dr. Kildare.   Frederick Schiller Faust, under the pen name Max Brand, wrote for pulp fiction magazines.  He created a character, a young doctor, James Kildare, and wrote a story about the young doctor in a nationally read magazine.  That story caught Paramount Studio’s attention.  They bought the rights of the  story  to make the 1937 movie, Interns Can’t Take Money, which starred Joel McCrea.  Next came Metro Goldwyn Mayer and they bought the rights to the character concept of Dr. Kildare(the studio put Lew Ayres in the title role) and then made 9 successful films all about the young doctor.  To me, though,   topping all of these films off, like the cherry on the sundae, is Lionel Barrymore.

Dr. Gillespie

 

Barrymore began acting on the stage in 1899(!), and after a successful stage career, he began to appear in silent movies; 1911 he began to appear in some D.W. Griffith films.  By the time that the Dr. Kildare series began to be filmed in 1938, Barrymore was in his 60s and confined to a wheelchair due to arthritis and a broken hip(broken twice!) that never healed properly.   His character, Dr.  Leonard Gillespie, is the wisest doctor and the grumpiest,  at Blair General Hospital.  He rolls around the halls as fast as he can, has his own clinic in the building with a large contingent of loyal patients, and his own apartment to live in too!   There’s a  head nurse, Molly Byrd(Alma Kruger), who Dr. Gillespie likes to bark at but we can tell that  he has a fondness for this no-nonsense nurse.

Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie giving a chewing out to young Dr. Kildare, played by Lew Ayres

Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie giving a chewing out to young Dr. Kildare, played by Lew Ayres

The plots of the 9 Dr. Kildare films aren’t too difficult to follow, and they do present some clever medical mysteries that the young doctor has to resolve, often asking Dr. Gillespie for advice.  Turner Classic Movies began airing the Dr. Kildare films on Saturday mornings, and I began to record and watch them.  There’s something endearing about all of the films in this series.  Dr. James Kildare is young, smart, and has ideas as to how he wants to help patients.  Dr. Kildare’s parents(Samuel S. Hinds and Emma Dunn) are two loving parents who did a good job raising their only child. Of course, the senior Kildare is also a doctor in a small town and the parents hope that one day, Jimmy, will come back to it and practice medicine and give up the big city hospital.  There’s Nurse Lamont(Laraine Day), who falls in love with young Dr. Kildare, and he with her.  There’s Wayman(Nat Pendleton) as a big lug of an ambulance driver who wants to date Sally(Marie Blake) the wise-cracking dame who runs the hospital’s switchboard.  Dr. Carew, the hospital’s administrator(Walter Kingsford), has some clashes from time to time with Dr. Gillespie and Dr. Kildare, but he usually will give the A-OK to a new treatment  they want to try.   An orderly, Conover(Clinton Rosemond) who is Dr. Gillespie’s butler for all intents and purposes, and Nurse Parker(Nell Craig)-nicknamed Nosey by Dr. Gillespie, rounds out the rest of the cast.

Dr. Gillespie, Laraine Day as Nurse Lamont, and Dr. Kildare

Dr. Gillespie, Laraine Day as Nurse Lamont, and Dr. Kildare

Dr. Gillespie and Nurse Molly Bird

Dr. Gillespie and Nurse Molly Byrd

After the 9th Dr. Kildare was shown at the box office,  the 10th film was about to begin shooting when the American public learned that it’s lead star, Lew Ayres, had declared himself a conscientious objector to WWII, when he had recently been drafted.  (Ayers did serve as a non-combat medic and chaplain’s assistant during the war which toned down the public’s outcry against Ayers.)  MGM, not wanting bad publicity for this 10th film, decided to cut Dr. Kildare from the film completely and just focus the film on Dr. Gillespie.  The new story line worked and 6 Dr. Gillespie films were made.  There were four actors who played new,  young doctors needing  Dr. Gillespie’s mentoring: Philip Dorn played Dr. Gerniede, Van Johnson played Dr. Adams, Keye Luke played Dr. Wong Howe, and James Craig played Dr. Coalt.

Calling Dr. Kildare sees the young doctor get mixed up with Lana Turner! (Before she was a star)

Calling Dr. Kildare sees the young doctor get mixed up with Lana Turner! (Before she was a star)

Wayman and Sally- a date is about to be requested

Wayman and Sally- a date is about to be requested

Dr. Kildare with administrator Dr. Carew

Dr. Kildare with administrator Dr. Carew

TCM will be airing the first Dr. Kildare movie, Young Dr. Kildare, on Thursday, August 27th, 12:30 pm ET/11:30 am CT.  It’s also available to buy through TCM’s shop, as well as the Dr. Gillespie films.  There are also dvds to buy of the American tv show, Dr. Kildare, for sale on the same site, so don’t let that confuse you!   Amazon also has some of the Dr. Kildare films for sale, too.

Before I sign off, the names Dr. Kildare and Dr. Gillespie had become commonplace in American pop culture in the 1940s-1950s, and even Bugs Bunny had a chance to have a bit of fun.  In this cartoon, Hot Cross Bunny, watch for the waskily wabbit to impersonate Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie.