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.