Posts Tagged ‘Walter Pidgeon’

For the Singing Sweethearts Blogathon: The Girl of the Golden West

As a classic film fan, I know who Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy were, but I have to admit that I had never seen any of their films.  I had seen snippets of them singing on tv before, probably in some documentary or tribute to MGM movie musicals, so when the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society invited me to participate in their blogathon honoring MacDonald and Eddy, I agreed to participate.   Please visit the blog’s site in order to read other posts about these two Singing Sweethearts!

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald sang in 8 MGM musicals together, 1935-1942.  I wasn’t sure which ones were going to be available to view so I did a bit of research via our family’s Amazon Prime account and decided to rent and watch The Girl of the Golden West  as it was based upon the famous opera by Giacomo Puccini and I figured an opera type of  musical would showcase the couples’ singing voices nicely.   When I told my incredulous husband that some Italian opera writer had taken an American play(written by American David Belasco in 1905) and made an opera out of it, he wondered if this qualified as the first “spaghetti western”?!  My apologies to Mr. Eastwood.   

 

The plot of TGOTGW was a fun one with twists and turns.  The bad guys and the good guys weren’t cut and dried, they had nuanced characters and all of the cast did a very good job in their respective roles.  The movie opens with a group of Kentuckians, relaxing in their camp for the night in the new to them territory of California.  As the stars twinkle in the sky and the campfires burn, a ten year old girl sweetly sings along to her uncle’s guitar and all who hear her sing are enthralled.  One of the listeners, who is some yards away hiding in the brush, is a boy of 10, called Gringo by his adopted Mexican guardian, the bandit Ramirez.  Gringo memorizes the girl’s song and as an adult, hums and sings it a lot, despite growing up to become a bandit himself.  There are often posters about the area declaring the reward money for anyone who can capture Ramirez and turn him in.

The girl who sang so sweetly, Mary, grows up to inherit her Uncle Davey’s saloon, The Polka.  She also provides a holding station for area miners’ gold until it can be delivered via stagecoach to the assayer’s office in Monterey.    The miners all love Mary, as does Sheriff Jack Rance.  Several times he has showered Mary with gifts and the question of marriage and each time she has told him that she’s not sure yet if she’s ready to marry anyone.  There is also the town of Cloudy Mountain’s blacksmith, Alabama, who has an enormous crush on Mary, but is too shy to ask for her to marry him.  In Monterey is Father Sienna and his mission church.  He befriended Mary and her Uncle Davey when they first arrived in California and the old Father often invites Mary to come and sing Ave Maria for Sunday Mass.  Mary travels by stagecoach one Saturday morning so that she can sing for the church service when Ramirez and his gang rob the stage.  Ramirez takes one look at Mary and he’s in love with her.  He loves her sassiness and her looks.  We, the audience, know that Gringo-the blonde boy has grown up to be the bandit Ramirez, adopting his guardian’s last name.  To hide the  fact that he is not Hispanic, he wears his sombrero low on his head to hide his hair and wears a bandana pulled all the way up to his eyes.  He also speaks with an exaggerated accent.  As he accosts Mary, she has nothing but ire for Ramirez and hopes one day he will be caught and turned over to the law.   Mary makes it to Father Sienna’s church and sings Ave Maria so beautifully that the governor, who happens to be in town, insists that this young lady be invited to sing at his “Rancho” the next evening.  Ramirez happened to be at the church and heard Mary sing which makes him love her all the more.  He happens to hear about the governor’s invite to Mary and the plan to have one of the lieutenant’s on the governor’s staff escort Mary to the Rancho.  Ramirez manages to steal a Lt. Johnson’s uniform and escorts Mary, but not before a side trip in the moonlight near Monterey Bay where he sings to her and steals a kiss.  Mary isn’t happy about the stolen kiss, but Lt. Johnson is now in her heart too, and when she returns to Cloudy Mountain, Sheriff Jack can tell that she must have met another man while in Monterey.

Sheriff Jack Rance loves Mary but she’s not sure if she loves him as much

Mary singing a song with Alabama, the blacksmith

Silent movie actor who transitioned to sound films well, H.B. Warner as Father Sienna

Gringo alias Ramirez holding up Mary’s stagecoach

Gringo alias Ramirez alias Lt. Johnson singing to Mary by Monterey Bay

Eventually, Lt. Johnson/Ramirez makes it to Mary’s saloon, he meets Sheriff Jack who takes an immediate dislike to him, his true identity is revealed much to Mary’s shock and disappointment, and to thwart Sheriff Jack’s capture of Ramirez, a poker game is initiated, the best 2 out of 3 hands wins: either Ramirez will face the hangman’s noose or Mary will wed Sheriff Jack and he will let Ramirez ride away into exile.

Ramirez and Sheriff Jack-pure hatred for each other and both love Mary!

Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald truly had impressive singing voices.  Eddy’s voice was a rich, warm baritone and he could easily hit the high notes when he had to. MacDonald’s voice was a lovely soprano that doesn’t hit the high notes too sharply.  Eddy had done some operatic training in his late teens, early adult years, with various voice teachers while MacDonald began singing as a child with a group in Philadelphia and then on to the stage where her older sister was working in NYC.

If you are curious about the duo’s films, as I was, then seek out The Girl of the Golden West.  The film’s soundtrack includes many songs with music by Sigmund Romberg and lyrics by Gus Kahn: Seniorita, Mariache, Sun Up To Sun Down, Shadows On The Moon, Soldiers Of Fortune, The Wind In The Trees, The West Ain’t Wild Anymore, and Who Are We To Say.  Polly Wolly Doodle(composer unknown) and Camptown Races by Stephen Foster are background music in the saloon.  Jeanette sings Liebestraum(Dream of Love) by Franz Liszt and Ave Maria by Johann Sebastian Bach, and then The Wedding March by Felix Mendelssohn is used near the film’s end.

MGM publicity still for the film

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film showcasing the talents of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.  Great supporting cast members include: Walter Pidgeon as Sheriff Jack, Buddy Ebsen as Alabama, H. B. Warner as Father Sienna, Leo Carillo as Mosquito, Brandon Tynan as The Professor, Noah Beery Sr. as Ramirez, Charley Grapewin as Uncle Davey, Jeanne Ellis as young Mary, Bill Cody Jr. as the child Gringo,  Billy Bevan as Nick, the bartender, and Monty Woolley as the governor.  The film was directed by Robert Z. Leonard and screenplay was written by Isabel Dawn and Boyce DeGaw, based upon David Belasco’s play.    

The Good* The Mad* The Lonely* Movie Scientist Blogathon: 1944’s Madame Curie

MGM, in 1944, put forth their movie tribute to the life of one of the most famous female scientists to have ever lived, Marie Curie, or as she was known during her times, Madame Curie.  I saw that Turner Classic was going to feature this movie on their chosen day in August to celebrate the career of actress Greer Garson, so I was sure to dvr the film.  I had viewed the movie quite a while ago, so it was good to view it again, with my eye tuned in to new observations for this new blogathon, looking at Scientists in Classic Films.  My part is a contribution to the “good scientists.”

If you don’t know who Madame Curie was, here is a link to explain all of that, as well as her husband and co-scientist, Pierre, ably portrayed by Walter Pidgeon, who was often cast as Garson’s husband in quite a few movies.(Warning! The link contains spoilers about the Curies’ lives.)

 

In the beginning of the film,  we see Marie(Greer Garson) sitting in a lecture hall and it’s pretty obvious she is  the  only female in the class.  She is listening intently to the professor but faints due to hunger.  Her male classmates and the professor show genuine concern for her and the professor insists on treating her to lunch.  At the lunch we find out that Marie is from Poland, and once she has her degrees from the Sorbonne, she plans on returning to Poland to help her father with his teaching and probably becoming a mathematics or physics teacher herself.  The professor, Dr. Perot(Alfred Basserman) realizes Marie needs money to continue her studies so he asks if she would be willing to do some research for the French steel industry?  He had been approached recently by this group, asking that experiments be done on the magnetism of differing types of steel and he asks Marie if she’d be willing to do these experiments for a stipend?  Marie agrees and Dr. Perot tells her he will find a lab for her to conduct the experiments.  He invites her to his home for a tea party for the following Sunday afternoon.  It is at this tea party where she meets Pierre Curie, and it is at this tea party that Dr. Perot asks Pierre if a student can use space in his lab to conduct some experiments for the steel industry.  Pierre politely agrees to Dr. Perot’s request, but when he is then told that the student is a female? Pierre’s reaction is one of shock!

It is now Monday, and Pierre tells his lab assistant David(Robert Walker) that a calamity will soon be hitting their lab.  A woman scientist will be invading their territory to conduct experiments! Women and science don’t mix, protests Pierre loudly! Women scientists, David adds, are usually ugly!!  Let’s hope she’s not noisy, talkative, or whistles, declares Pierre!  You’d think a monster was about to enter their realm from all of their silly comments about women scientists!!   When Marie arrives, they are both struck speechless at her beauty, her politeness, and her quiet ways.  David almost knocks over some lab equipment in his eagerness to assist this new colleague and Pierre likes her presence so much, he begins to whistle as he works!

David and Pierre don’t think women and science can mix!

Pierre begins to think that maybe a woman scientist isn’t such a bad creature!

After several months of working in the same lab, David, Pierre, and Marie have become friends.  Pierre is truly horrified when Marie informs him that her experiments are finished, and that when she graduates in May, she will be returning to Poland to be a teacher, working with her father.  Pierre is adamant that Marie, with her keen scientific mind, must not be a teacher but stay on at the Sorbonne and work as a scientist.  Pidgeon does a wonderful job at conveying the complex mind and behavior of a man who had dedicated his life to science to suddenly discovering that he is in love.  We sense Pierre’s fears, sadness, and watch his weird way of proposing to Marie to be his bride, his lab partner for life, as it were!  Happily, Marie can overlook Pierre’s quirks and admits she loves him too and they are soon married.  Dame May Whitty has a small part as Pierre’s mother, but she does a lot with that part.  Henry Travers is loud and opinionated as Pierre’s father, not at all like Clarence the Angel, in It’s a Wonderful Life, his most famous role.  It is at the Curie’s home in the country where Pierre tells Marie he can’t live without her.  I must add that Van Johnson had his first role in a film, in a tiny part as a journalist trying to interview the famous Madame Curie.  Great character actor C. Aubrey Smith has a fun part as British scientist, Lord Kelvin, asking to meet the Curies while he is in Paris.

Mrs. Curie, intrigued by this young lady who has captured her son’s heart.

Partners in life and in the lab.

After the courtship and marriage have occurred, the film gets down to the nitty gritty of just what a great scientific discovery the Curies’ made, in isolating radium from pitchblende.  It took them several years for their discovery to happen and to prove their theory, that there was a new element in the pitchblende that exuded radioactivity.  They were able to find radium and another new element, polonium, both elements giving off radiation.   For this contribution to the world, they and Dr. Henri Becquerel(who first discovered radioactivity) were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903.

Pierre concerned about the burns on Marie’s fingertips, from the radiation that they were exposed to from all of their experiments.

I don’t want to go into anymore of the plot of this great film so let me say that Garson and Pidgeon give wonderful performances as two dedicated scientists who wanted to better mankind via their discoveries.  Their steadfastness, despite being so very tired at times, is awe-inspiring.

 

This post has been for the blogathon look at scientists in classic movies.  Be sure to visit the hostesses sites in order to read more posts by other bloggers on this topic: Ruth at Silver Screenings

and Christina.

O Canada Blogathon: Leslie Nielsen and Forbidden Planet

Before Canadian actor Leslie Nielsen hit his stride playing serious characters in broad comedies, such as Airplane!, and the Naked Gun series, earlier in his film career Hollywood studios  often cast him as the super-serious hero type.  That’s what I discovered in 1956’s Forbidden Planet, which I just watched again for the third time, giving it a  more critical eye than I had done in past viewings.Forbidden Planet

I applaud the special effects team of Forbidden Planet: A.Arnold Gillespie, Warren Newcombe, and Irving G. Ries. My 12 year old happened to watch the opening scenes with me of the spaceship from Earth, flying around in outer space, it’s red light pulsating as it glides through a dark sky brilliantly lit with multitudes of stars.  He didn’t once scoff at the scene or make any comment about “fake” sets.  The fact that a youth of today can’t pick apart the special effects in a film made in 1956 is a testament to the work of that special effects team.   I also applaud the Art Directors: Cedric Gibbons and Arthur Lonergan.  What creativity those two men had!   They had to imagine a future world, future interiors of a spaceship, a home on another planet, the possible nature around it, an inner zone  depicted as huge that provides the energy to run another planet, a robot that could move and his fast moving planet rover, I really enjoyed seeing the sets again.  I can’t leave out two more behind the scenes skills that really made this movie so good: sound effects and animation.  A husband and wife team, Louis and Bebe Barron, were listed in the credits for creating the “Electronic Tonalities”, cool sounding electronically made beeps and whirs, and whizzes and bops, and so much, much more to add to the feeling of what it could sound like in Outer Space(I know, another sci fi film has told us that in space no one can hear one scream but I want it to sound like the Barron’s work!)  Disney lent out Joshua Meador to create the animation that helps to depict the outlines of the film’s monster. “SPOILER”-there is an invisible monster terrorizing the crew that has landed on the planet of the title.  When the monster tries to crash into the spaceship’s force field, we get a bit of a visual outline of the malevelant killer, and Meador created those animated outlines.

Nielsen plays Commander JJ Adams, leader of the space ship C57D, who with his crew of 18 men, have been sent on a mission, to find the distant planet Altair-4 and the crew of the space ship Bellerophon, which had landed there 20 years earlier.  On board the C57D is the capable communications man, Quinn(Richard Anderson), Dr. Ostrow(Warren Stevens), Lt. Farman(Jack Kelly), Cook(Earl Holliman), and bosun(George Wallace.)  James Drury of tv western The Virginian  and James Best, best known as Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on The Dukes of Hazard also play crewmen on the ship, but you really have to be looking for them, they’re a bit hard to find.

Giving out some orders inside the C57D

Giving out some orders inside the C57D

 As they are about to land on Altair-4 they make vocal contact with a Dr. Morbious(Walter Pidgeon, another Canadian!), one of the survivors from the Bellerophon ship.  He tells the men to turn around and go back to where they had come from, he doesn’t need their help, and there is danger on the planet.  This causes Commander Adams to get his back up, so to speak, and he tells Morbious that ready or not, they’re going to land!

Landing on Altair-4 despite the warning not to!

Landing on Altair-4 despite the warning not to!

After the landing, as all of the crew are outside their ship observing the planet’s surface and sky, a distant dust cloud appears and grows closer to them.  With laser guns ready, the crew discovers that it’s a vehicle of some type, driven by a robot!  The robot introduces himself as Robby, and he asks the Commander to get in the vehicle as he, Robby, has been sent by Dr. Morbious to bring the Commander to the doctor.  Lt. Farman and Dr. Ostrow join Commander Adams and off they go.

After chit chat, and scientific thoughts, philosophies, a meal made by that fabulous Robby, and Dr. Morbious’s history about the Bellerophon have been digested, in strolls Altaira, Dr. Morbious’s gorgeous 18 year old daughter(Anne Francis)-oops!  Dr. Moribious forgot to mention that he has a daughter and our 3 crew members from C57D are suddenly sitting a lot taller in their chairs, and paying a lot of attention to this female.  Altaira is delighted to meet them as she’s never met real, live men before!!  There are some funny moments when Lt. Farman decides to introduce kissing to her-it helps with stimulation, he tells her!!!  Of course, this leads to Altaira visiting the men at their space ship, and she gets a royal scolding from Commander Adams for stirring up his crew, especially in her very short-hemmed dresses.  This causes Altaira to “hate” the Commander, but we know that by the film’s end, they’ll be in love.

Dr. Morbious explains he's made the Robot incapable of killing

Dr. Morbious explains he’s made the Robot incapable of killing

Publicity shot of Anne Francis with Robby the Robot

Publicity shot of Anne Francis with Robby the Robot

Dr. Morbious and Altaira vist the men at their landing site.

Dr. Morbious and Altaira vist the men at their landing site.

Altaira asking Lt. Farler just what is kissing??

Altaira asking Lt. Farman just what is kissing??

There’s more to the plot as an invisible monster begins to wreak havoc on the space ship and the crew.  Commander Adams blames Dr. Morbious for all of this evil and with psychiatric jargon and definitions, the evil is finally exposed and explained.

Why do I like this film?  For the good story, the visual look and sounds of this film, and the acting.  Leslie Nielsen, OC(means he received the Order of Canada in 2002) native of Regina, Saskatchewan decided as a youth that he wanted to try acting for a career, due to the success of his half-Uncle, actor Jean Hersholt.  He noticed the respect his half-Uncle drew for his career and thought that it wouldn’t be such a bad way to make one’s way in the world.  Nielsen is good as the take charge leader, and despite his scolding of Altaira, it’s easy to see why she falls for him later in the film.  Nielsen also gets to chew the scenery when he yells at Dr. Morbious, who needs someone to yell at him!  Walter Pidgeon is good, in a sort of obtuse, “I’m the smartest person in the room” attitude.  Anne Francis is lovely as Altaira, not realizing that her presence is a hindrance to the men.  Earl Holliman has a smallish, comedic part as the cook always looking for booze.  Richard Anderson, Warren Stevens, and Jack Kelly bring the right amount of seriousness to their roles, too.

For a look at a sci fi rendering of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and for a film that some believe helped to inspire Star Trek, seek out Forbidden Planet!   It does air on TCM from time to time, so check for it there.  Also, a kind soul has put the movie on Youtube, in 20 segments.  I’ve included the link for the first segment here.

Behind the scenes camaraderie

Behind the scenes camaraderie

This post has been for the O Canada Blogathon.  Be sure to visit classic movie bloggers Kristina at Speakeasy, Ruth of Silver Screenings to read more wonderful posts about just how much Canadians have contributed to Classic Movies.   O Canada Blogathon