|Take a gander at Laird Cregar as |
lovable rogue Gooseberry!
That said, as awesome as Muni was, I must confess that although he gets top billing in HB, it was actually a member of HB’s fine supporting cast that really made me eager to see it: Laird Cregar (Samuel Laird Cregar, for completists)! I’ve been a fan of Cregar’s ever since I first saw him as the smilingly sinister NYPD Inspector Ed Cornell in the film adaptation of Steve Fisher’s novel I Wake Up Screaming. I found myself fascinated by Cregar’s relentless pursuit of Victor Mature, wondering if there was more to it (if you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil it for you). I had to know more about this actor! With each new (to me) Cregar film, I’ve been wowed by his ability to be a witty, smooth-talking adversary, or a tormented but terrifying foe. In fact, for those of you who may not have read Team Bartilucci’s Flico Suave blog post, here’s our entry about our lad Laird:
LAIRD CREGAR. Silky-voiced, Philadelphia-born Cregar looked like a fearsome mountain of a man, an image that served him well in such classics as I Wake Up Screaming (1941), Heaven Can Wait (1943), and the 1944 remake of The Lodger. However, he blazed his own trail, mounting his own acclaimed stage productions of Oscar Wilde and The Man Who Came To Dinner. His smooth voice served him well in radio plays, including the role of Caspar Gutman in a production of The Maltese Falcon. But Cregar longed to leave his villain roles behind and move into romantic leading man parts, and to his frustration, his 300-pound girth stood in his way. He slimmed down on an insane crash diet in order to look as suave as his voice sounded. Tragically, the diet took a terrible toll on Cregar’s health, and he died of heart failure at the age of 31, just before the debut of the film that essentially killed him, Hangover Square (1945). Ah, the suavity that could have been…. For more about our special Flico Suave post, in which Fredrico Fabuloso of noirbabes.com has joined forces with Team Bartilucci to craft a terrific slide show devoted to Cregar, please click this link:
|The Supremes, in a command performance!|
For those of us who were too easily distracted to give our history classes our full attention back in school (and even if we had, I’m betting 20th Century-Fox probably took liberties with the real facts anyway), the script by Lamar Trotti (The Razor’s Edge; The Ox-Bow Incident; There’s No Business Like Show Business) helpfully provides this preamble:
“In 1667 Canada, under the French flag, was a vast uncharted wilderness. Montreal and Quebec were hardly more than trading posts on the St. Lawrence River. Our story opens farther south, at the Albany Government House, in the British colonies.” Does it ever! First we viewers see Indians getting thrown in prison for alleged thievery at the hands of stern-looking upper-class twits with long curly wigs and fancy clothes. One of the stuffed shirts sniffs, “These savages must realize that New York is a British possession…twenty lashes in the public square!” I couldn’t help thinking of a sarcastic line from Witness for the Prosecution: “Lovely you all look in them wigs.…” As the understandably sullen Indians are given the heave-ho, two fur trappers/traders arrive: diminutive Pierre Esprit Radisson (Muni) and tall, wide, bear-shaped Médard Chouart Sieur des Groseilliers, a.k.a. Gooseberry (Cregar). (I’m guessing this is where/how today’s Radisson Hotel chain got its name?) It’s clear that these French-accented, smooth-talking yet scrappy trappers have been here before, asking for the money and supplies they need for an expedition into the north country. Radisson and Gooseberry kinda freak out the stuffed shirts with their boisterous barging-in, their ruddy cheeks, handmade buckskin, and fur hats; I liked them immediately!
gets no kick from champagne, |
but he’s always up for a brawl!
It helps that Radisson happens to be best buds with the Indians, and he’s adamant about sharing their booty with them, fair and square. In fact, Orimha (Chief Thundercloud, who graced many a Western and even comedies like The Cat and the Canary during his 21-year film career) is Radisson’s Indian foster dad. Still, it takes lots of brawling to make Edward and the other city-boy white guys get their act together, stop treating the helpful Indians like “savages,” and get it into their fool heads that you can’t just pay the Indians in trinkets and brandy if you’re serious about making Hudson’s Bay a solid nation full of decent, fair-minded human beings. As Radisson explains in his charming patois during what I like to think of as his Yoda Moments:
“Wine very bad for Indians—make him crazy like the wolf. He get one little drink, pretty soon he drunk, go on warpath, kill everybody, cut their throat, maybe get his own throat cut. Then he don’t know where he is. What he do? By and by, he don’t hunt no more, he don’t fish, he don’t catch the beaver, he don’t do nothing but make trouble. He in pretty bad fix, no?”Frankly, I was itching to see Edward get punched in the nose in the 1660’s equivalent of a playground! With a little help from Radisson and Gooseberry, who are already tight with their Indian pals, “Holier than Thou” Edward eventually gets an attitude adjustment, courtesy of Yoda Radisson:
“This Country, this Canada, she’s like a pretty woman, waiting for big, strong fella to come live with her, raise big family. She say, ‘Look, I have fine prairie to make big farm. I have nice trees for house, rivers to fish. I have big heart to love all the world, make you very happy.’ And she say, ‘Those fellows who live in Europe, they crazy, they fight all the time, kill one another for a little dirt that don’t grow anything. (Sarcastically) They got to bow down when Edward Crewe comes in the room. But here, I give you nice big place to live in, I give plenty to eat, I not let anybody be better than you. ‘Then she say, ‘But you must not cheat my little children because they are not so strong as you. You must not make them drunk, bring war with you. You will love, like the Bon Dieu planned, or I give you big tweak in the nose…I think maybe this Canada have plenty happy people someday, feel same way. Them maybe people, they say, ‘This Radisson, he big fool, but he’s right. Now I think we talk too much.”(Lamar Trotti not only knew how to write rousing speeches, he knew when to stop!)
|As Lady Barbara, lovely Gene Tierney |
is worth risking prison for!
|“Think of it, darling, there are millions |
of beavers waiting to be caught!”
(Actual line from the film!)
|No lackeys in Canada? |
You mean I have to w-w-w-work?!
|Lesson learned: Don't bring troublemaking
siblings to faraway outposts!
Mother of Mercy, is this the end of Radisson, Gooseberry, and Edward? Luckily for our boys, riches triumph over dead trouble-making relatives: 4,000 pelts in perfect condition is an end that justifies the means, big-time! In fact, as Edward urgently points out, if Radisson and Gooseberry are hanged, there won’t be any Hudson’s Bay Company, because Canada would then belong to France, not England! Turns out our lovable slyboots Radisson fixed it in advance with the Indians that if anything happened to them in England, the Indians would take all those lovely, expensive furs to the French, Radisson’s biggest fans! All is forgiven; I think even Lady Barbara knew in her heart of hearts that Gerald was a little good-for-nothing creep. Our roguish heroes are the toast of the town, Radisson and Gooseberry walk off singing, boy gets girl, Hudson’s Bay is born—what’s not to love?
|Asterix and Obelix|
|Vinnie imagines Laird Cregar |
and Paul Muni as Obelix & Asterix!
It was fun to see another side of our lad Laird, since I’d seen him showing a flair for comedy even in his bad-guy roles. To my surprise and delight, Muni and Cregar turned out to be a rollicking comedy team, stealing their scenes and my heart! With their rambunctious, devil-may-care shenanigans and great buddy chemistry, Muni and Cregar make a totally appealing pair! Muni has a playfulness about him, and a clever way of talking around things when the suits in London and France get restless; nevertheless, when push comes to shove, he does the right thing when it counts most. HB has great production values, too, with Travis Banton’s costumes including posh threads at the palace and buckskin in the wilderness, as needed. For my money, Muni and Cregar are so good together, I was wishing 20th Century-Fox had figured out a way to make one or more sequels about Radisson and Gooseberry’s exploits. Even their accents and mischievous grins had me laughing and smiling (for all the right reasons)! In particular, Vinnie and I thought it was tons of fun to watch Cregar launch his monstrously huge body at smug, unsuspecting fops and dandies, knocking those pretty-boys over like bowling pins! Go, Team Gooseberry!
|"Poor lady!" (Another actual line from HB!)|
|It's Spring Break in Canada, and they're gonna party like it's 1667!|
|You can meet the most interesting people at these pot luck dinners!|
(Left to right: Laird Cregar, Nigel Bruce, Vincent Price, and Virginia Field)
|Hey, Gooseberry cleans up pretty good! |
He's going do-me-do-ing in his do-me-do duds!
Radisson's livin' on a wink and a prayer!
|Iron bars do not a prison make — when the prisoner is Gooseberry!|
|Hey, just imagine Laird Cregar, Paul Muni, and John Sutton cleaned up some, wearing musketeer garb. Would Laird have been an awesome Porthos, or what?|