Monday, November 17, 2014

Agnes Moorehead - What a Character!

Agnes Robertson Moorehead was born on December 6, 1900 Always a bright child, Agnes was a talented youngster, so it was no surprise that she became a brilliant character actress.  Indeed, Agnes enjoyed playing different characters for the fun of it so much, her mother would always say, “Who are you today, Agnes?”
The first time I had heard about Agnes Moorhead was when I was a little kid in New York City, living in the charming Country Club area of the Bronx.  We loved the smash TV sitcom Bewitched, the 1964 – 1972 comedy about witches in suburbia, starring Elizabeth Montgomery.  Being kids, we didn’t realize Ms. Montgomery was part of a film and TV dynasty, including actor/producer Robert Montgomery (Here Comes Mr.Jordan; They Were Expendable; Lady in the Lake; Ride the Pink Horse)Agnes always cracked us up as Endora, Samantha’s irksome yet hilarious mother, always a show stopper with her tart tongue and fabulous wardrobe, usually in hues of purple!  Indeed, friends often affectionately called Agnes “The Lavender Lady” or “Madam Mauve.”
Ever the world traveler, Agnes worked in France and studied with none other than the great mime Marcel Marceau! She taught public school English and drama for five years, as well as going to Paris to study pantomime.  No doubt that came in handy with the memorable Twilight Zone episode “The Invaders.”! 

Agnes covered just about every medium (no pun intended…well, maybe a little!), starting with singing at a St. Louis band radio station, and that particular medium stayed with Agnes all her life, from the 1930s  through  the 1950s, with shows ranging from Terry and The Pirates as The Dragon Lady; The March of Time; and so much more – makes me wish I could have been young with a great voice back then!

It seemed Agnes could do anything in any medium, bless her!  Agnes’ Radio triumphs included wicked Mrs. Danvers in
Rebecca; and Lucille Fletcher’s Sorry, Wrong Number (a broadcast I’d love to hear if I could)!   Such was Agnes’ zeal to perform on the airways, she insisted on its pre-continuation of a later contratct with MGM — clever gal, our Agnes!  Even better, through her Radio work on The Shadow and The March of Time in 1937, Agnes met and befriended fellow actor Orson Welles!  Knowing a great performer when he saw one, Welles invited her to join him and Joseph Cotton as Charter members of his Mercury Theater of the Air, and Agnes was among the company responsible for the 1938 broadcast of "The War of the Worlds", scaring the heck out of the populace -- and making a name for herself as well as the rest of the cast, with Agnes wowing Radio fans all the way, famous ever after  – oh, those Mercury scamps!

Agnes was practically bulletproof with her chameleon dexterity, thanks to her great voice, so it was only a matter of time when Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater came a’knocking, starting as Citizen Kane’s mother, and the rest was history!

Agnes got her first Oscar nomination for her role as Auntie Minafer in The Magnificent Andersons (1942), as well as New York Film Critics.   She hit a home run with Lucille Fletcher’s thriller Sorry, Wrong Number 

Wish I could have seen them on stage as well!

Agnes didn’t get any Oscars (though she should have, in my opinion; nothing personal, Barbara Stanwyck!), but she was nominated four; times in her long career:  the aforementioned  The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Mrs. Parkington (1944), Johnny Belinda (1948) AND Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). 
There was only one thing that could stop the unforgettable Agnes, and that’s death – and not just any death, but death from fall-out from the Atom Bomb, no less!   Poor Agnes; she and her fellow stars of The Conquerer had the unwitting misfortune to be filming on a site that happened to be on Ground Zero, and Agnes, John Wayne, director Dick Powell, and the rest of the all-star cast the cast, including Agnes, got uterine cancer.  No wonder Agnes said, " I wish I’d never made that picture.”
Agnes is always riveting and stunningly memorable, but my favorite is still the film noir Dark Passage (1947)  with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, based on David Goodis' noir novel.  Agnes  is stunning as Madge Rapf, a dame as mesmerizing as she is vicious, a dame who draws me to her out of one side of her mouth and pushes them away with the other.  She's the type who won't let anyone have something if she can't have it - a compulsion that causes her to go to quite serious ends!

Want to hear more about the amazing life and times of the late, great Agnes Moorhead? Read Agnes’s autobiography I Love The Illusion: The Life and Career of Agnes Moorhead!

Friday, November 14, 2014

Gunga Din - Go Blow Your Horn!

This is the British Empire Blogathon, hosted by The Stalking Moon and Phantom Empires, from November 14 through November 19, 2014.  Enjoy the other bloggers’ posts, as well, eh what?

RKO’s 1939 adventure Gunga Din is an adventure of men who know when to have boyish fun, while also knowing when get they must realize when to also be dead serious!  Of course, that doesn’t mean they can’t be pranksters, bless them!

Fun Fact:  Producer Pandro S. Berman had been Lucille Ball’s sweetie at the time Gunga Din was in theaters!

Story by Joel Sayre and Fred Guiol  
Story by Ben Hecht & Charles MacArthur, based on Rudyard Kipling’s poem.
Music: Alfred Newman
Produced and directed by George Stevens (Giant; A Place in the Sun)

Cutter (Cary Grant) shows Din (Sam Jaffe)
how to be all military
The Place:  Colonial India, in an encampment of Her Majesty’s Lancers, where there seems to be a shortage of manpower, mostly because soldiers are disappearing – talk about foul play!  No, the luckless men aren’t going AWOL –they’re being murdered by the fearsome Thuggee cult! 

Who can get to the bottom of this evil mystery?  Meet our wild and crazy Lancers and best buddies:

Grant's perfect Stan Laurelesque expression
never fails to get a laugh from us!

*Cutter (Cary Grant from Notorious; North By Northwest.) He’s always wishing, hoping, and praying for riches; get in line, Cutter!  But he’d better be careful what he wishes wish for…

 *MacChesney, the most seasoned and brashest of the men, played by Victor McLaglen from The Quiet Man, who also won the Best Actor Oscar in 1935 for John Ford’s drama The Informant.  Our rowdy heroes are a lively bunch, boozing and brawling; men will be boys, bless them!  It’s great rollicking fun, while still being surprisingly moving.  

This isn't a Bollywood number -- these Thugee
mean business!
What should I know about it? Why axe me?
*Last but not least, we meet the more gentlemanly Ballantine (Douglas Fairbanks Jr. from Green Hell); who’s about to marry his sweetie, Emmy (Joan Fontaine, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Suspicion).  As Ballantine’s soon-to-be son-in-law, he’s giving up derring-do to work with Emmy’s dad in the family tea business, and our boys are crestfallen that our three comrades will be leaving!  Will he really be content with a life of Oolong and Earl Grey tea after all the excitement they’ve had together?

Grant, McLaglen, and Fairbanks are truly a dream team, especially the nimble Grant, who was an acrobat in real life.  The gags about Annie the elephant especially crack us up! But it all turns dead serious when our boys’ yen for gold turns into a matter of life or death  when the riches they find turns out to be the Thuggees in the their rumpus room -- YIKES!     

Can Din and Cutter and the rest save the day? Sam Jaffe, always a brilliant character actor (The Asphalt Jungle), touches my heart the best; he’s a little fella, but he turns out to have a heart of a lion.  I defy you to watch the end without tears in your eyes, even if you think your're the biggest rough-neck in town! 

Fun fact: - Reginald Sheffield  played: Rudyard Kipling in Gunga Din!

Watch that first step, Annie - it's a Loo-Loo!!
As The New York Times said in 1939 (a great year for movies in any event) said: “All movies…should be like the five the first-twenty-five and the last thirty minutes…"
I get such a kick out of friendships among Grant, McLaglen, and Fairbanks.  I also enjoyed Robert Coote (Merry Andrew; TV’s The Rogues) as Higgenbotham, a cadet who majors in bumbling.

Want to know for about the Thuggee cult? Watch The Deceivers (1988), starring Pierce Brosnan (1988), one of my dear late Mom's favorite films! (It didn't hurt that Brosnan was and still is a hottie -- but that's a blog post for another time!)

Vinnie plays a few notes -- It's somewhat ironic that Sam Jaffe gets fourth billing in the film, even though he plays the title character. Not to mention that he was forty-seven when he played the role, thought Din was usually described as a "boy." Nonetheless, he unsurprisingly crushes the role.
The film is another example of an "of the time" movie - the Indians were treated as almost sub-human, and no issue was found with that. Heck, I'm amazed the original poem hasn't been the target of a call for erasure from history for its treatment of the people. It's probably saved by the fact that so few people have actually read it.

Likely the main reason Din gets such short shrift is the film takes the tale of the epic poem and demotes it to the "B" plot.  The main story is clearly that of the three Lancers, who are following a Rom-Com plot best seen in The Front Page, summarized as "Friends don't want to see one of their crew get married, and proceed to sabotage the nuptials."  It's so standard a plot it's been getting done for decades -- the most recent example of it I can recall off the top of my head was Saving Silverman, but I'll bet y'all can think of others.

Possibly the first example of the famous title credit
"Suggested by a true story"
Kali, the goddess of Death and her bully boys the Thuggee have made appearances in a number of films - in addition to The Wife's recommendation of The Deceivers, they also showed up in a slightly more disguised form in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and in a far funnier form in The Beatles' second filmic sortie Help! Phileas Fogg (David Niven) saved an Indian princess (Shirley MacLaine, a more sore-thumb example of what's now known as "whitewashing" than I can think of) in Around the World in 80 Days, and even Hammer Studios got in on the fun with the -grisly Stranglers of Bombay.

Like Nazis and Republicans, they make a great, easily hateable villain for a story. Even the master criminal Fu Manchu employed Thuggee as assassins.

There's been some controversy as to how much of the news of the Kali worshipers (where the modern word "thug" comes from, dontchaknow) that made it to Europe was real, and how much was a mix of xenophobic hyperbole. The Thuggee certainly existed, and killed many, though there's an argument that the motive was more Earthly that the religious aspect - Thuggee were certainly predominantly thieves, and the robbery was often more a goal than the ritual killing.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Oh, Kay! A Double-Feature about Kay Francis

This is posted  for The CMBA Forgotten Stars Blogathon, in this case, Kay Francis!  Check out the other fabulous stars who deserve a comeback!
“My life?  Well, I get up at a quarter to six in the morning if I’m going to wear an evening dress on camera.  That sentence sounds a little ga-ga, doesn’t it?  But never mind, that’s my life…As long as they pay me my salary, they can give me a broom and I’ll sweep the stage.  I don’t give a damn.  I want the money... so that no sign of my existence is left on this earth. I can't wait to be forgotten.” 
 "Kay Francis’ Private Diaries, ca. 1938.”  
Kay Francis just might be the biggest of the so-called Forgotten Stars, at least to as far as I’m concerned. Kay came into my life by way of my college days at both Fordham University in the Bronx and courses at both the Bronx and  Manhattan branches of Fordham University. Whenever I had time both time and money, I’d go to buy film goodies from Movie Star News, a treasure trove of vintage posters, movie scripts, and so much more wonderful memorabilia from decades of amazing posters and other goodies for us movie lovers.  Movie Star News was run by the brother and sister team brother of Irving and  Paula Klaw in the Village. Paula kind of gave me the Hairy Eyeball at first (understandably; they treat their wonderful wares like they were their children, and who can blame them?), but when Paula realized we were on the same page, we became friendly, and that was how Kay became one of my favorite classic stars!

Kay might be considered a “forgotten star” here in 2014 (unfairly, at least in this gal’s opinion), but that wasn’t always the case!  She is considered the biggest of the “Forgotten Stars” from Hollywood’s  Golden Age. In Kay's heyday in the 1930s, she was  tagged as “The Queen of Warner Brothers,” with a hefty salary of $115,000, comparable to Bette Davis with $1,800!  Nice work if you can get it, indeed!

Ironically, Kay didn’t out start as a movie queen, even though she was the daughter of actress Katherine Clinton, unless you count that Kay’s first job was royalty of another kind:  Kay sold real estate and arranged swanky parties for wealthy socialites; I guess that'one way to learn one the ropes!  !"Following her marriage in 1922 to wealthy James Dwight Francis, Kay naturally, Kay adopted “Kay Francis” as her stage name.  And what a pedigree:  Kay’s first dramatic role was as the lead in a modern version of Hamlet, with Kay as “The Player Queen!.”

Throughout the decade of the 1930s, Kay Francis was a top Hollywood star, her career a perfect example of the sort that once flourished in the studio system.  A tall, sultry beauty, she wore clothes with style and grace, and her name became synonymous with glamour, fashion and modern womanhood. She starred in stylish comedies such as Ernst Lubitsch's Trouble in Paradise (1932), and the Marx Brothers's The Cocoanuts (1929), but she is best remembered for her films in which a woman of poise and intelligence "faced life," such as Dr. Monica (1934), Living on Velvet (1935), In Name Only (1939), and House on 56th Street (1933).

Kay Francis and William Powell get in cozy in One Way Passage (1932)
She had limited success in the early 1940s and, no longer able to land good roles, retired from film in 1946. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Francis turned to the stage, appearing with some success on Broadway in State of the Union and touring in various productions of plays old and new, including Windy Hill, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, Let Us Be Gay, Favorite Strangers, Goodbye, My Fancy, The Web and the Rock, Mirror, Mirror, and Theatre. She also acted in two television programs. She died in 1968 of breast cancer (damn cancer!).

Kay got her first film role in the first Marx Brothers comedy, The Cocoanuts (1929), playing Penelope, a slinky jewel thief who gets in the middle of the Marx Brotherszany romp during the Florida land boom, with the boys running a hotel (practically into the ground!) and making merry mischief at an auction land, thwarting Penelope and her partner, helping, and generally act like their zany, incorrigible selves.  The grey-eyed beauty with the a voice as warm as honey was poised for sound and glamorous in her looks and her poise; no wonder Kay was lauded in her heyday as “Hollywood’s Best Dressed Woman,” with designers like Dorothy Jeakins, Travis Banton and Adrian.  After Kay got her big break she became an in-demand  a leading lady in the Ernst Lubitsch comedy Trouble in Paradise (1932); Doctor Monica; One Way Passage (1932), starring another Team Bartilucci favorite, William Powell; I Found Stella Parish (1935); and so much more.   
But we're here to celebrate Kay, so let's enjoy two of Team Bartilucci's favorite blog posts saluting our gal Kay!

Kay Francis Double Feature
1: One Way Passage (1932)

I admit it:  I usually don’t enjoy “weepies,” those sentimental movies where you’d better get out your hankies.  I’d rather watch an MST3TK episode T3K  episode, because life is too short to be sad if I don’t have to be! However, I was pleasantly surprised that that One Way Passage had an enjoyable blend of comedy, drama, and tenderness.  Kay and William Powell (another Team Bartilucci fave) have worked together before (For the Defence; Jewel Robbery, and the pair work together beautifully under the sure hand of  Director Tay Garnett (The Postman Always Rings Twice; A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court). Orry-Kelly’s fabulous wardrobe is outrageously over the top, but on Kay, it suits her perfectly, especially her hats and gowns, and Powell’s snappy duds are sharp, too!

One Way Passage is the story of two starcrossed lovers: Dan Hardesty (Powell) a murderer who killed a no-goodnik who needed killing, but Dan’s handler, Steve (Warren Hymer), is a bit more sympathetic to Steve when after Dan saves him from drowning instead of letting him and his "bracelts" scram!  Meanwhile, we meet Joan (our gal Kay Francis), a woman who loves life, but has little time left.  The doctor suggests quiet, but when she sees the dashing Dan, Joan knows what she wants, and it isn’t peace and quiet; as Auntie Mame would say, “I want to live, live LIVE!”  Instead of spending her numbered days sitting in bed with no what-not, Joan is determined to..."cram in all the intense beautiful happiness in what life I've got left. That's all living's for! If it's only for a few hours, I want to have it, and I'm going to have it, all I can get my hands on!" You tell '''em, Kay!, er, Joan!  The trick is to keep the sad news for each of them -- why each can't come clean in these kind of movies always bewilders me, but those you know how these star-crossed sweeties are in these films!  Anyway, Kay and Powell are so endearing, even a cynic like me can't help loving them,  It also helps that the supporting cast is enjoyable, with Aline MacMahon as a con artist posing a countess, and Team Bartilucci fave Frank Mc Hugh as a loveble tippler who nevertheless helps the lovebirds in their zany ways.

 Kay Francis 2: Raffles (1930)
Raffles takes that nursery rhryme seriously!

My dear late mom was a woman of many facets, including her love of fashion.  She would tell me about the styles of the era, and how dashing actors like Ronald Colman were. With that velvet voice and charm, who would't want to join Raffles in derring do and romance -- other then Inspector MacKenzie, and even HE admits  he can't help liking the guy!

Raffles, AKA The Amateur Cracksman, is  a right guy, saving his desperate friend Bunny, who's in hock to the bankers.  Our clever hero, who has a knack for a caperr with the Marchioness of Melrose.  Just one snag: another flock of thieves is muscling in!  It's up to Raffles to set things right in his debonair way -- as long as Inspector McKenzie doesn't gum up the works! Luckily, his fiancee, the Lady Gwen (played by our gal Kay) is sympathetic to his zany yet suspenful dilemma.

Wow, who knew Lady Melrose was a cougar, that little minx!

Gwen, my darling, I love you more!
No, my sweet, I love YOU more! No, you!

Alas, Kay’s reign was coming to an end at Warner Brothers; Kay’s salary was getting too expensive for Warner Brothers, and she was pink-slipped when Warner Brothers felt she was getting too expensive to keep. It’s been claimed that Warner Brothers’ writers were sneakily sabotaging Kay with her lisp becoming more noticeable as Kay, it’s said, was ’s “L“L”’ dubbed Kay,"The Wavishing Kay Fwancis" -- wiseguys!

Kay was relegated to Monogram, though she did excellent work like the trouper she was.  She did some TV and stage work before she finally decided to retire in 1952.  Kay spent the rest of her life in New York and her estate in Falmouth, Cape Cod until, sadly, she died of breast cancer in 1966.  She left some of her estate (in excess in of $1 million) to the Seeing Eye Incorporated.  Kay’s personal papers are accessible at the Weslyan Cinema Collation, as requested. 

Will Kay Francis have a well-deserved renaissance?  Well, I agree with other fans like me who agree.  So, as Kay and  her co-star William Powell in One-Way Passage  would say, let’s not say farewell, but instead, let’s say “Say auf wiedersehen,” because I think Kay is due for a renaissance We Kay fans are coming around to rediscover the grey-eyed Kay for a comeback for her, indeed, even a renaissance, if you ask me and other fans!    Don’t count her out yet!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The O Canada Blogathon - Of Hacks and Hoseheads

This blog is sponsored  by The O Canada  Blogathon, running through Saturday, October Fourth, through October Ninth, 2014
hosted by
Ruth from Silver Screenings and Kristina from Speakeasy, hosted by Kristina Dijan and R.A. Kerr!

Dori's pick - Two O’Clock Courage (1945):  I’m Just Wild About “Harry!”

Anthony Mann is one of film’s most compelling and versatile directors/ producers, covering genres ranging from Westerns, like The Tall Target (1951), starring Dick Powell; and Robert Cummings in The Black Book, a.k.a Reign of Terror (1949) a film noir thriller set during  the French Revolution, among others. The multifaceted Mann could do it all, including helming rough and ready urban noirs such as T-Men (1947), Side Street (1950), and Raw Deal (1948), as well as costume epics like the aforementioned The Black Book.  Mann especially excelled with his noir-style collaborations with James Stewart, including Winchester '73 (1950), Stewart’s neo-noir Westerns, including The Far Country (1955), Bend of the River (1952), including The Naked Spur (1953); Bend of the River (1952); The Far Country (1955); and The Man From Laramie (1955). 

Two O’Clock Courage turned out to be Anthony Mann’s first directorial assignment, a good solid “B” picture” for RKO Radio Pictures!  (Say it with me  a la The Rocky Horror Picture Show: A: “An RKO Radio Picture.  What the heck is a Radio Picture?”).  Since then, the film has had a strong following and acclaim, with many of Mann’s signature tropes on display. Two O’Clock Courage was produced at RKO Radio Pictures!  Mann’s film may have had a relatively short running-time of a fleet-footed 70 minutes, but director Mann shines in his directorial debut.  The film weaves suspense and playfully cheeky humor, while blending film noir suspense with wry wit.  Fun Fact:  The script by Robert E. Kent is full of surprises, including co-writer Robert E. Kent’s original treatment, based on the work of humorist and children’s-book author Gelett Burgess, who I loved as a kid!  Who knew Burgess had film noir in his soul as well?  Now there’s a gent with range! 

You can't get blood from a stone, but you can from
Tom Conway's head! (Big owie!)
The cast blends memorable stars and entertaining character actors, including Richard Lane (Wonder Man; the Boston Blackie movie series with Lane as Inspector Farraday. Watch for another up-and coming young star, billed as “Bettejane Greer”; she soon rose to stardom as noir temptress Jane Greer, who became a film star in Out of the Past and The Big Steal, as well as the James Cagney biopic Man Of A Thousand Faces (1957)! Our star is Tom Conway from The Falcon film series, as well as Cat People; I Walked With A Zombie (1943;) The Seventh Victim (1943) from Val Lewton)!  Fun Fact: Conway was also married to Queenie Leonard from And Then There Were None (1945); The Narrow Margin; 1001 Dalmatians (the original Disney animated film!

Beaned, slugged, crowned; it all means the same - Amnesia!
The ever-suave Tom Conway stars as a mystery man — a man so mysterious, even he doesn’t know who he is!  Where’s The Falcon when you need him?!  But that opening scene is swell, starting with a tracking shot of Conway as he staggers up to a street sign, blood trickling slowly from under his hat, is a stylish grabber of an opening that keeps you hooked!  This poor dazed guy is lucky our heroine, Patty Mitchell, taxi cab driver by day, would-be stage actress by night, was paying attention when our man-in-distress almost got run over!  But when it becomes clear that our guy is in a bad way, kind-hearted Patty helps him to find out who he is as we drive into the night in Patty’s cab, “Harry”! (Yes, that’s what Patty calls her taxicab,“Harry!)

Ann Rutherford - they don't make cabbies like her no more!
Is our man in trouble, or a troublemaker? Can our charming, spunky heroine Patty Mitchell (Ann Rutherford),a cabbie  and would-be actress, lend him a hand?  Fate steps in just in time to for Patty to save our dazed stranger and would-be stage star, and they’re off to see who our man is, and who wanted him clobbered.  The only clue is a script titled "Two’Clock Courage" (Yay, we have title!), and the hot stage star Barbara Borden (Jean Brooks from Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim, as well as several Falcon films; Brooks looks lovely as a blonde, too).  In Robert to Osborne’s intro to Two’O Clock Courage, he playfully describes co-star Ann Rutherford as: “the prettiest cab driver you’ve ever seen!”

Even when she was starlet
"Bettejane Greer", Jane Greer
was smokin'!
Ms. Rutherford had long been an endearing young MGM ingénue as Mickey Rooney’s sweetie, Polly Benedict at MGM, as well as Red Skelton’s fiancée in the comedy-thriller Whistling in the Dark and its comedy-mystery sequels, not to mention a modest little flick called Gone With The Wind, where our gal Ann played her sister Carreen at Selznick Studios, plus her MGM days as Andy Hardy’s sweetie, Polly Benedict in the “Andy Hardy” movies.  And don’t forget Ann as the dreary yet hilarious fiancée of Danny Kaye in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty from Samuel Goldwyn!

Fun Fact:  Ann Rutherford had thought she she’d been a U.S. citizen all her life, until her plans to visit Europe in the 1950s showed her otherwise: our Ann was a Canadian!  Happily, she was able to get citizenship papers, and Ann  became a citizen of the U.S, fair and square!

Back to Patty and her new amnesiac friend, it’s not all playtime for our no-name hero, by any means!  On closer inspection, it turns out the natty gent has a nasty gash on his head, and he can’t remember who he is, despite his sharp clothes.  Even worse, Patty realizes this dashing fellow is injured, all dazed with blood dripping (albeit tastefully by 1945 suspense movie standards), without a clue as to where and who he’s from and who he is.  Diagnosis from Doctor Dorian: Protagonist on a dark Los Angeles street, almost getting run over by our heroine’s taxi!  Patty Mitchell ( poor guy almost gets run over by a cab driver, just missing a hit-and-run from our dazed hero)!

This hat band is brimming over with clues!
Luckily for our traumatized fella, he finally catches a break with the help of Patty Mitchell (Rutherford from Gone With The Wind; The Secret Life of Walter Mitty; the comedy-mystery Whistling in the Dark and its three sequels, also in Whistling in the Dark and co-starring Rutherford and Red Skelton) feel sorry for our beleaguered hero.  Patty and her trusty hack, Harry – yes, that’s the name of Patty’s cab (Hey, I have a car named “Moonpearl’, so why I shouldn’t our gal Patty have a car called “Harry”?  But I digress!)  Patty realizes this dashing fellow is injured, all dazed with blood dripping (albeit tastfully by 1945 suspense movie standards), without a clue as to where who from and who he is.  Diagnosis from Doctor Dorian: Amnesia, the scourge of every film noir victim, the poor devils!  Our man Patty and Patty go all through the night with wit and tenderness between the zanier parts of our caper.

How we had to look things up before Google.
Fun Fact:
  In addition to being a busy film star at MGM and Samuel Goldwyn (the latter being Goldwyn’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty), Ann Rutherford was also married for many years to David May, the head honcho of the May Department store for the rest of their lives, I’m told, bless them!

Two O’Clock Courage was a remake from 1936, starring Walter Abel, longtime veteran of movies and Broadway. In fact, Abel played the amnesiac hero in the 1936 suspense drama Two in the Dark, which was remade in 1945 with Tom Conway and Ann Rutherford as Two O’Clock Courage, hence our tale!!
Fun Fact:  Tom Conway has a brother:  Oscar-winning Best Supporting actor George Sanders, Suave Fall of Fame Winner!  He was also the Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actor in All About Eve!

Either "Dave Renwick is a clothes horse,
or he's got a double life!
Ann Rutherford need her papers, - our hero made
sure Patty got hers!
Along the way of this playful mystery, our man at least he east has a name, even though it’s a nickname.   Our amnesiac hero just might be a killer, yet he’s equally sure he’s not a killer, goshdarnit!  The ever-perky Ann Rutherford plays the young actress/cabbie who takes pity on poor helpless Conway and helps him find both his true identity and the real murderer, with both warmth and zany comedy, including a nosy landlady, complicating this dizzy case with nosy reporters (Richard Lane of Wonder Man) and zany comedy.  During their search for answers, our man and Patty run into and afoul of L.A.’s Finest as the newspapers start asking for answers, too; it’s always something!  

Sometimes the broad comic relief is jarring compared to the overall taut film noir mood, but the pace is fast, and Conway and Rutherford have a charming rapport.  Jean Brooks and Tom Conway especially moved me in their dramatic roles.  Conway in particular had a sad, haunted look in his eyes that touched our hearts.

Service with a slam!

Vinnie's pick - Strange Brew (1983) - "To Be or Not to be, eh?"

The genesis of Great White North, possibly the most well known recurring skit from SCTV, is as eminently Canadian as the sketch.  The show needed two minutes of "local" material to satisfy the stringent rules for Canadian Content.  Dave Thomas sarcastically suggested that he and Rick Moranis dress up in flannel and parkas and ramble for two minutes in easy chairs in front of a map of Canada.  The producers said that'd be fine, and Canada's favorite sons were born.

After TV fame and a hit record album (featuring a hit single with lead vocals by Geddy Lee from Rush), the world of film was the obvious next step. With a script by Moranis and Thomas with help from Steve De Jarnatt (the devious maniac who brought us Miracle Mile and Cherry 2000), the McKenzies stepped into an expanded cartoony world in a tale that was blatantly ripped off from Hamlet.

We first see the brothers as they introduce their science fiction magnum opus, The Mutants of 2051 A.D.  When the film breaks and the audience riots, Bob gives their father's beer money to a distraught father whose kids saved up their allowance to attend the premiere.  This requires a clever plan to get their dad some beer, but as they are not clever men, they stuff a mouse in a beer bottle and attempt to complain for free beer.  They're sent to the Elsinore (!) brewery, where most of the plot is located.

We meet in rapid succession Pam Elsinore (Lynne Griffin) who is set to inherit the company after the passing of her father, Claude Elsinore (Paul Dooley), her uncle and now step father, who married her mother just a tad too soon after the passing of her father (Like I said, Hamlet) and Brewmeister Smith (Max Von Sydow) a man with plans for world domination through a plan that includes drugged beer, organ music, lunatics, and hockey.

With the exception of Thomas and Moranis, and magnificent character actor Paul Dooley, the cast of the film is largely made up of actors who are World Famous In Canada.  Lynne Griffin has had a solid career in Canadian productions, as has Angud MacInnes who played ex-hockey star Jean laRose.  Smith's assistant Brian McConnachie, in addition for a steady acting career and a writer for both SCTY and Saturday Night Live, is best known for being a writer for the National Lampoon, which was a vicious and magnificent humor magazine back in the day, as opposed to being nothing more than a brand name you can license and slap on your product like Black and Decker.

"I could crush your a nut.
But I won't. Because I need you."
Shakespeare couldn't have written a better line.
But the star of the film is undoubtedly Max Von Sydow.  He is that rarest of actors who can look at a script, figure out exactly how much fun he can have with a role, and deliver a performance that both shines and works perfectly in the film. This is a man who started working with Bergman in great works like The Seventh Seal, played in a TV movie in The Diary of Anne Frank, and yes, I was getting to it, was Ming the Merciless in the nigh-legendary version of Flash Gordon.  He's currently filming a part for the next Star Wars film.  If there was a just and righteous God in heaven, he would again be playing Ming.

The film takes place in a mad cartoon-logic world where people can stay underwater for almost an hour by breathing the air trapped in empty beer bottles, ghosts communicate via video games, a man can drink an entire vat of beer, and dogs can fly if sufficiently bribed with the promised of beer and bratwurst.

It's a mad film that never fails to bring a smile to my face, and it was a delight popping it into the DVD player to enjoy again.  I expect the same will be true for you.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Our Fourth Anniversary - I WANT MY CAKE!

It was four years ago today(-ish) on August 22, 2010 -  that I began my blog post, Tales of the Easily Distracted, often with my witty and delightful hubby Vinnie Bartilucci as Team Bartilucci!  We're still enjoying blogging about our favorite movies every couple of weeks, mostly films with suspense and tongue-in-cheek wry comedy.  Most of all, we have been happy to get to know new fellow movie lovers as well as enjoying our longtime friends' awesome blogs  I'm also getting back in the saddle to polishing my novel The Paranoia Club; but hey, one thing at a time!  What the heck, wish me luck anyway, and Vinnie and I hope you'll all enjoy all the swell upcoming movie fun here and with other swell blogger pals!  Now then, let's cut the cake, and watch our favorite movies, old and new, for many more movie delights!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ten Little Indians (1965) - Six (-ty) Five, Four, Three...

There is Nothing Like a Dame!  We mean Dame Agatha Christie, of course!  Here in our latest series of blog posts saluting the talented and prolific films based on the novels of  Mrs. Christie, this time we’re watching one of our favorites, Ten Little Indians, the 1965 version (1966 in some posts). Our favorite brother act, The Popkin Brothers,  (Impact; D.O.A.) again produced the film, along with co-producer Harry Alan Towers (who deserves an article or even a book, but that, too, is another story). We’ve watched and enjoyed the 1945 version, And Then There Were None, but this time, Mrs. Christie’s chilling tale gets even more exciting, thanks to screenwriters Peter Yeldham and Towers himself, under the nom de plume “Peter Welbeck”; talk about a man of many faces!

George Pollock, who directed the delightful Miss Marple films starring Margaret Rutherford, blends suspense, action, humor and sexy romance with this swell cast, produced by Harry Alan Towers, who also had the rights to Ten Little Indians:

  • Leo Genn (Oscar-nominee for Quo Vadis; The Snake Pit
  • Daliah Lavi (Casino Royale; The Silencers)
  • Dennis Price (Kind Hearts and Coronets; I’m All Right, Jack 
  • Fabian (The Longest Day; North to Alaska 
  • Shirley Eaton (Goldfinger; The Girl Hunters 
  • Wilfrid Hyde-White (The Third Man; My Fair Lady)
  • Hugh O’Brian  (The Shootist; TV’s Wyatt Earp)
  • Stanley Holloway (The Lavender Hill Mob)
  • Marriane Hoppe (The Wrong Move; Romance in a Minor Key)
    *Mario Adorf (The Tin Drum; The Bird with the Crystal Plumage)
Similarities between the two film versions
abound, like this "keyhole" shot!
This version has it all:  violence, fisticuffs, hot hunks, and beautiful babes; you’ve got Team Bartilucci’s attention, all right!  This time, the beleaguered house party guests with targets on their backs are jet-setters in the Swiss Alps (played by Ireland; give our regards to Barry Fitzgerald!).  Each guest was lured by invitations, ranging from old friends (O’Brian), movie stars networking, like film star Ilona Bergen (Lavi) and such, invitations supposedly sent from old friends, or promises of hobnobbing  with the promise of more movie and/or TV/film roles roles, like film star Ilona Bergen here to hobnob (Lavi); popular but obnoxious rock singer  Mike Raven (Fabian);  and other devilish ruses to keep our party guests around in hope for more roles and such.  It’s the ultimate house-party gone lethally wrong!  Malcolm Lockyer’s gorgeously brassy musical score heats things up, which will come in handy when the lovely Shirley Eaton and the ruggedly handsome Hugh O’Brian have a super-hot love scene!  (I love that this scene is truly sexy and genuinely loving!)

With all the Currier & Ives-style winter wonderland atmosphere, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas — except that nobody knows each other, not even hired secretary Ann Clyde (Eaton).  Leave it to a movie star to break the ice, namely renowned actress Ilona Bergen (Lavi):
“How utterly marvelous!  You all came to a house party without knowing your host!”
Hugh: “Well, what about you, Miss Bergen?”

Ilona: “Darling, it happens to me all the time!” (Oh, those jaded jet-setters!

Our absent host U.N. Owen takes his sweet time showing up; what would Miss Manners say?  Luckily,  Judge Cannon (Hyde-White) has a toast for the occasion:  “To absent friends, the ten little Indians, and of course, our host.”   Keep an eye on your guests, you guys and gals; they might not stay very long, and not just because they’re jet-setters!  Soon a chilling, unknown voice breaks the ice with a series of accusations about the guests and the murders in their pasts.  The unknown "U.N. Owen (gotta hand it to the fiend, he (or she?) sure has a great sense of gallows humor!
"We've gotta have a romance, by George!"

Fun Fact:  The mysterious U.N. Owen’s sinister voice was played by the one and only Christopher Lee!

Our stranded guests finally let their fair down and admit their crimes:  General Mandrake sent five men to their deaths to in what turned out to be a tragic blunder, but was decorated anyway; the Grohmanns were accused of a mercy killing by their elderly charges.  Ilona had been a British Army Officer’s wife, bored but sticking with him until she finally got a chance to get a screen test,  then blowing that Popcicle stand and propelling herself to stardom—and when she dumped her sad hubby, he killed himself in despair, the poor guy.  She does seem to have some remorse, though my cynical side has me thinking she was more sorry for herself than anything else.  Mandrake knew all about her because Ilona’s husband had been Mandrake’s superior!  News travels fast in a snowbound Château!   Judge Cannon  had convicted a truly evil man, one Edward Seton, including other wicked things he’d done to save time; there’s multitasking for you!  And then there was Dr. Armstrong, living (but not for long) while he was literally drinking and driving while drunk, resulting in a killing a young couple. And the body count begins...

Hugh and Grohmann get ready to RUMBLE!
Ah, but Owen is far from infallible, at least when it comes to our budding lovers Hugh and Ann!   You see, Ann’s disturbed sister had killed her fiancée, and has lived in a mental home ever since.  Hugh had come to the Château because his friend, one Charles Moreley (note the initials “C.S”), had been had killed himself after in remorse after being responsible for a young woman’s botched abortion.  Oy!  How will Hugh and Ann get out of this fix?

I especially got a kick out of the Whodunit Break to give us viewers one minute to see who the killer is: “The Whodunit Break: “…A First in Motion Pictures!   Just before the gripping climax of the film, you’ll be given sixty seconds to decide to guess the who the murderer is…WE DARE YOU TO GUESS!”

Personally, I’d like to think the great William Castle is watching this in Heaven and grinning from ear to ear!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

And Then There Were None (1945) Ten...Nine...Eight...

Produced by brothers Leo C. Popkin and Harry H. Popkin, The Popkin Brothers  (Impact; D.O.A.; The Well) produced the film adaptation of Dame Agatha Christie’s 1945 film version of her thriller And Then There Were None, with great success.   And Then There Were None was produced by 20th Century-Fox and directed by the great Rene Clair, and based on Agatha Christie’s best-selling suspense novel, blending chilling suspense and wry humor.  However, Mrs. Christie’s original British version of the novel was originally titled Ten Little Niggers, which didn’t go over well with us Yanks!

Just as well, as screenwriter Dudley Nichols (Stagecoach; Scarlet Street) did a swell job of of adapting Mrs. Christie’s worldwide smash, adding more wickedly witty bits of wry dark humor!

Thank goodness we’re about to dock!
I've still got the willies from that ordeal with the U-Boat
and Connie Porter!
 As the film begins, the all-star cast slowly thaws the ice as the characters arrive in a boat, most of them being English.

The characters don't talk much, at least at first; they just smile and nod politely, no small feat when many of them are trying not to toss their cookies after that boat ride!  The crashing waves over the opening credits work perfectly; I was tempted to get my snorkel! Let’s meet our travelers, shall we?

  • Barry Fitzgerald  from Mark Hellinger’s The Naked City; The Quiet Man) as Judge Quincannon.
  • Walter Huston (Oscar-winner for The Treasure of the Sierra Madre; Dodsworth; The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as Dr. Edward G. Armstrong). (Mind you, this was before his son John Huston became a writer and director!)
  • Mischa Auer (You Can’t Take it With You; My Man Godfrey) as Prince Nikki Starloff.
  • June Duprez (The Thief of Bagdad; None But the Lonely Heart) as Vera Claythorne.
  • Louis Hayward (Ladies in Retirement; The Man in the Iron Mask)  as Phillip Lombard.
  • Roland Young   (Topper; The Philadelphia Story) as Detective Blore.
  • Judith Anderson from Laura; Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca, as Emily Brent.
  • Sir C.Aubrey Smith  (Tarzan the Ape Man; Rebecca) as General Mandrake.
And of course, the guests have to eat, don’t they?  That’s where the servants, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, come in:  Mr. Rogers is played by Richard Haydn from Ball of Fire; The Sound of Music; Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.  Mrs. Rogers is played by  Queenie Leonard (from the original animated Disney version of 101 Dalmations, as well as  the film noir The Narrow Margin; Queenie sure had range!  Of course, we also fell in love with Haydn’s comedic voice for various Looney Tunes, especially Team Bartilucci’s favorite, Super-Rabbit (1943)!     

Mischa Auer's Prince Nikki chokes to death on
a small piece of scenery. 
Nikki’s macabre ditty seems about down to the final verse of the “last little Indian" as per the 10 Little Indian rhyme-- but in fact, it’s only the beginning when a male voice accuses them all of various killings!  The deaths involve elderly General Mandrake, who was accused of murdering his rival for the woman he loved, and now seems to have Alzheimer's; Emily Brent’s teenage nephew was put in jail because his heartless Auntie Emily thought he had it coming, resulting in the desperate young man hanging  himself in prison; Nikki’s hit-and-run killed a young couple;  Dr. Armstrong is accused of drunkenness that killed one Mary Cleves; Judge Quincannon is accused of being a “hanging judge” for his own selfish motives; Blore had been hired to watch the guests, though he's not exactly James Bond; Vera is accused of killing her own sister’s fiancee -- jeepers, now that’s sibling rivalry!  What’s more, how can we be sure at least some of the accused might be getting a raw deal?  Curiouser and curiouser!

A dune to a kill!
Will there be a body count in the guests’ futures, if not lawsuits?  Where’s when you really need it? Rogers does what he can as the weekend slowly unravels in terror, what with the guests slowly but surely coming unglued, especially with the body count climbing as each guest is murdered by each new macabre killing, including poor Mrs. Rogers becoming one of the early casualties, supposedly from heart failure. The body count climbs as General Mandrake pushes up daisies; an accidental overdose of his medicine, or something more sinister?  Time to face facts:  the killer is one of the guests!

Janet! Dr. Scott! Janet! Brad! Rocky!
Emily Brent is the most cold-hearted, if you ask me, not giving a rat’s rectum about her young nephew killing himself; all she cares about is where her next jar of marmalade is coming from!   I think it’s safe to say this inn won’t be giving out any five-star ratings anytime soon from, even if the guests do even live that long!  Suspense blends with deft wit.  I especially enjoyed Richard Haydn and his delightful daffy delivery.  Even when the body count rises, there’s plenty of comedy along with the dread and suspense.

Who will survive?  Watch And Then There Were None  on July 21 -- and the 1965 version, too, coming ever so soon!