Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Letter to Three Wives: Is It Your Husband?

It started out as a Cosmopolitan magazine novel, A Letter to Five Wives, then as a studio film adaption, it was pared down to Four Wives. When production began in 1948, the final product from director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was a striking and highly sophisticated comedy-drama called A Letter to Three Wives (1949). From beginning to end, the dialogue sparkles. Mankiewicz won an Oscar for his witty script and his skilled direction and then he turned around and won the same two Oscars the very next year for his masterpiece, All About Eve.

The story is set in American suburbia circa 1948 ("just 28 minutes from the big city, 23 if you catch the morning express") and it revolves around three upper middle class wives (actually one is striving to be upper middle class). Just as they're boarding a boat, to act as chaperones of a day long children's charity picnic, they receive a letter (one letter addressed to all three) from their "friend", who is also the town flirt, saying she has run off with one of their husbands, but doesn't say which one. Caught between shock, disbelief and nagging suspicion, they board the boat and begin a journey that not only takes them up river but through the emotional status of their respective marriages. They reflect, via flashback, on the weaknesses in their unions and dwell on the fact that each of their husbands was friendly with the vampish letter writer, named Addie Ross, at some point in his life.

First up is Deborah Bishop (Jeanne Crain), who met her well-to-do husband Brad in the Navy. Born and raised on a farm, she thinks back to when she first married Brad (Jeffrey Lynn) and how socially inept she felt around his sophisticated friends, particularly ex-flame Addie. Next up is Rita Phipps (Ann Sothern), radio drama writer, who clashes with her idealistic, high school English teacher husband (Kirk Douglas) over household finances and their social standing. Lastly we meet Lora Mae Hollingsway (Linda Darnell), a gorgeous gold digger, who married the boss (Paul Douglas), owner of a chain of department stores bearing his name. Though she got what she wanted materially, the emotional walls built up by both she and her husband offer little hope for true love.

Though Miss Crain received top billing (and this blogger is personally crazy about her), her segment is by far the weakest of the three. Still engaging in the way it captures its characterizations through scintillating dialogue and great performances, the Crain segment doesn't have the spark that the other wives' slice of celluloid provide. Jeffrey Lynn as Brad Bishop is neither here nor there.

As Rita Phipps, Ann Sothern is as charming and fun to watch as ever. Her delectable voice and confident character can deliver a line of dialogue like a fast ball over home plate. While at a country club dinner dance, the three husbands are glowingly listing the many attributes of the absentee Addie when Rita pipes in, "also fog lights, white sidewalls and a heater?" Classic Sothern. Kirk Douglas, who plays husband George Phipps, was on the brink of stardom when cast in this role. Champion, released the same year as Wives, would put him there.

As screen time goes, Linda Darnell comes out on top, appearing in all three of the wives individual segments. Her Lora Mae shows a determined calculation in order to get everything she wants, including and especially marriage from her wealthy department store tycoon boss. In order to get the disdainful look he wanted out of Darnell, when she's looking at a framed portrait of Addie ( the front of which the audience can't see), Mankiewicz put a photo of director Otto Preminger in the frame during the scene. Preminger had given Darnell a tough time during the filming of Forever Amber(1947), which they made together, and their was no love lost on him by the beauty.

The supporting players in A Letter to Three Wives are just as good, if not better in some cases, as the stars. Thelma Ritter, in her first significant role, is hilarious as the Phipps' maid Sadie Duggan. Like Sothern, she really delivers the goods with Mankiewicz' great script and her strength in this role helped her land a plum part in Mankiewicz' Eve. Also in top form is Florence Bates as Rita's radio executive boss and Hobart Cavanaugh, her henpecked, milquetoast husband. The Phipps dinner party in front of the radio is hilarious, no one missing a beat. Much to Mankiewicz credit, he never actually shows Addie Ross throughout the film, we only hear her velveteen voice which is provided by actress Celeste Holm. Thus, Addie's air of mystery leaves it up to the audience interpretation of how she looks. The film put director Mankiewicz on the map in a big way and allowed him to go gung ho into All About Eve the following year with both creative barrels blazing.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Review: The Girl from Missouri

Released on the cusp of the enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code, the censorship system set up in 1934, The Girl from Missouri started out with the title Eadie Was a Lady, then changed to Born to Be Kissed, then once again to 100% Pure, all deemed too suggestive for a Jean Harlow film which focused on sex or at least potential sex. Potential because Harlow plays a gold digging chorus girl looking for a rich husband while keeping her chastity in tact, a hot topic for MGM with a brand new board of censors breathing down its neck. But then most any early Harlow film would prove a challenge for the censors.

Jean plays Eadie Chapman, a platinum cutie who leaves her home town of hard knocks and heads to New York City, with her wisecracking girlfriend Kitty (Patsy Kelly) in tow. Once there, they get jobs as dancers in a chorus. While Kitty is on the make for any good-looking man that crosses her path, Eadie is determined to find a husband of the wealthiest order and she makes it crystal clear that its hand off in the romance department until the ring is on her finger and the license filed at city hall. While working as one of the entertainers at a party thrown by down on his luck businessman Lewis Stone, Eadie privately meets with the host, unaware that he is now broke, in hopes of attracting him as a potential suitor cum husband. Not realizing he is about to commit suicide, she accepts a pair of star ruby cuff links from the depressed gent. When she leaves his private office, she hears the fatal shot and runs back in as the gun falls from his hand (the irony of the scene can't be lost considering her husband Paul Bern had committed a similar suicide two years earlier). As the authorities arrive and question her presence in the dead man's office, she worries about the jeweled cuff links, which she has pinned in her stockings. To her rescue comes wealthy tycoon, T.R. Page (Lionel Barrymore, with more boot black on his eyebrows and moustache than on his shoes). Page retrieves the links before Eadie is searched. From that point on the middle aged T.R. is Eadie's marital target. She uses the money he lends her for bills, to follow him (along with Kitty) to Florida. There she inadvertently meets his young and handsome son, Tom (Franchot Tone), who falls head over heels for her, much to his father's chagrin.

Because of the new censorship restrictions, Harlow's character was softened from her previous roles. Before the Codes enforcement she was the whore with the heart of gold, ala Hold Your Man and Red Dust, both with Clark Gable in 1932, or the man eating vamp of Red Headed Woman, which had a similar storyline to The Girl from Missouri, but with Harlow's character much more lax in her morals. The newer, softer Jean Harlow, though still a red hot bombshell, had a more endearing, every girl quality, that made her more popular than ever. Never claiming to be a great actress, Harlow does much better in the light-hearted and comic scenes than in those that require more dramatic depth from her. She is particularly animated in her jail scene, voice rising and limbs flailing, its almost camp.

The stock MGM cast offers ample support to its blonde star. Franchot Tone (who would become Mr. Joan Crawford the following year), an actor who never made it to true star status, is fine as Harlow's young amour. Lionel Barrymore, as Tone's wealthy father, has fun going from playfully needling Harlow's Eadie to vengefully trying to destroy her in order to get her out of his sons life. Patsy Kelly is a real comic gem in the film. She wisecracks aplenty while working her way through an assortment of handsome lifeguards and doormen.

Though a problem for MGM in trying to keep the censors satisfied, The Girl From Missouri (which is where the films' star was actually from) ended up a more than adequate Harlow vehicle. Not as raw as her earlier films, nor as polished as her latter ones, it played as an excellent transition film between the two. It was one of many films she left as her legacy when she died tragically three years later at the age of 26.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Awful Truth: Grant, Dunne and a Dog Named Smith

"The Road to Reno is paved with suspicions" ~ Cary Grant as Jerry Warriner

I saw My Favorite Wife (1940) with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, years before I saw The Awful Truth, the classic comedy the star duo made together three years earlier. I remember thinking, how could the 1937 movie be better than Wife. When I eventually saw The Awful Truth, I realized, as good as My Favorite Wife was, the stars' original venture was that much better. The witty sophistication that sparkles throughout the film never lets up, but moves seamlessly from scene to scene, gag to gag and isn't afraid to let its guard down on occasion to let slapstick make a cameo appearance.

Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are an ideal screwball team (this blogger prefers Grant's pairing with Miss Dunne to similar screen outings with Katherine Hepburn any day). Grant, at his most dapper, is in top form in The Awful Truth. It was one of the first films he made as an independent, non-studio bound actor and along with Topper (1937) and Bringing Up Baby (1938), pushed him to super stardom. In retrospect, Dunne is an actress who has been underrated and underappreciated by many and completely forgotten by even more. She is an absolute comic treasure in The Awful Truth, her facial expressions and timing are perfection. She had just finished her first big comedy Theodora Goes Wild the previous year and like Grant, was hitting her stride with this film.

The film begins with Jerry Warriner (Grant) at a New York City spa getting a tan underneath a sun lamp (for those of a certain youthful age, these were the precursors to tanning beds) as evidence to his wife, Lucy (Dunne), of his recent solo trip to Florida, which he never actually made. He arrives at his swank abode just minutes before Lucy appears, still dressed in her shimmering evening gown from the night before, accompanied by her handsome and debonair singing teacher (Alexander D'arcy). The situation is wrought with innuendo and doubt, on both sides as Lucy reads the stamp on one of the oranges Jerry brought her back from his Florida "trip" that reads ~ ORANGE GROWERS ASSOCIATION, CALIFORNIA. Words are exchanged and they decide to divorce, though the shenanigans each gets involved with to thwart the others potential post marital plans, proves their love for one another is as strong as ever.

Ralph Bellamy plays the rich rube from Oklahoma with whom Lucy gets involved, only to make Jerry jealous. The nightclub scene where the three of them accidentally meet up is a hoot, with a special nod going to Grant's date, Dixie Belle Lee (Joyce Compton), who performs a tacky and risque singing number at the club with hilarious reactions from Grant, Dunne and Bellamy. Joyce Compton, with her scatter brained persona and sweet-as-sugah-southun accent, is always a delight to watch. Molly Lamont plays Jerry's rebound main squeeze, a madcap heiress (didn't every 30's screwball comedy have to have one?) who's not only not madcap, she hardly ever smiles!

The couple's beloved dog, Mr. Smith (aka Asta of the Thin Man series fame) shares some of the films key comedic moments. The custody of Mr. Smith, Mr. Smith's piano duet with Jerry and Mr. Smith plays hide and seek with a hat are absolute classic bits of classic comedy. One of the funniest laugh out loud scenes involves Jerry bursting into Lucy's singing recital, expecting her to be in a clinch with her music teacher. Instead he's greeted with the stares of a room full of attendees and he begins wreaking havoc with a chair and side table while his wife not only holds her composure to finish her song but gets a little laugh at his antics while still on key.

The film's director, Leo McCarey, who produced My Favorite Wife, won an Academy Award and six other nominations were garnered including Best Picture, Best Actress for Dunne and Best Supporting Actor for Bellamy. Fun from beginning to end.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Black Narcissus: Technicolor Masterpiece

What would you say to a movie about a small group of nuns who start a convent in the Himalayas. "No thanks, I'll pass." Alright, well what would you say if the convent was in a former royal brothel, the nuns both sexually and emotionally repressed and they're constantly in the company of a handsome, half-naked, amoral Englishman. Perks things up a bit. Add to these elements, breathtaking scenery, shot in the most vivid Technicolor, a magnificent score, a lusty young native wench on the make for a flamboyant but good hearted Indian aristocrat and you've got Black Narcissus (1947).

Developed by British film craftsmen, the director/writer team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Black Narcissus is a masterpiece of both style and substance. Based on the 1939 novel by Rumer Godden, it tells the story of a small group of Anglican nuns who go to a remote Himalayan village to establish a school and hospital for the simple peasant citizenry. There journey is an unconventional one from the get-go, as they set up shop in what was once a "house of women" or a harem residence for the concubines of a former royal general. It is called the Palace of Mopu and it is both exotic and mystical, very Shangri-La-esque. Leading the pack is the Sister Superior, Clodagh (Deborah Kerr), a young but rigid and self important character who finds her new domain unmanageable and laden with temptations of all variety. In her charge are Sister Briony (Judith Furse), a stout and no-nonsense prioress; Sister Phillipa (Flora Robson), who is devout but troubled and anxious; Sister Honey (Jenny Laird), popular and tender hearted; and Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron), the black sheep of the cloister.

Given the unwanted task of aiding the habit wearing menagerie, is Mr. Dean (David Farrar), the British agent for the area. Sister Clodagh (pronounced Clo' da) finds him roguishly attractive, though she dares not let even her eyes suggest it, as he struts around the abbey wearing walking shorts and no shirt. Sister Ruth on the other hand, looks as if she could tear into his man flesh like yesterday's roast beef. Dean becomes a necessary evil for the sisters. Necessary because he is their only link to the civilized world of their past, as well as the only one with knowledge of plumbing and general maintenance, which they desperately need in their disintegrating residence. Evil because his raw masculinity, in such isolation as they find themselves, leads to dangerously sinful thoughts in the minds of Clodagh and Ruth, while creating a rivalry between these two, the seeds of which had long been established. Their conflict only festers the longer they are around Dean.

Sharing a starring role with the actors is Jack Cardiff's sumptuous cinematography, a visual feast in Technicolor. Color plays an important part in differentiating Sister Clodagh's present and the scenes depicting her past life in Ireland. Her pale, unmade face, the only semblance of skin we see among her many layers of white robes and habit, is a sharp contrast to the rouged lips and long auburn hair of a young, fresh and pretty Clodagh we see in flashback. As well, the deep green emerald necklace presented to her by her grandmother, again in flashback, as a wedding gift she'll never receive, illustrates the luster and rich color of her former life while her current station affords no such glamour. These flashback scenes were actually banned in the United States, as too daring a comparison. Along with color, close-ups are also used to outstanding effect. In the scene where Sister Clodagh confronts Sister Ruth about her impure thoughts for Mr. Dean, the quick cut close-ups of both actresses read volumes in dialogue. Likewise, when Ruth snaps mentally and rebuffs her vows to go search out Dean and his red blooded manliness, in a mail order dress and make-up, Clodagh tries to stop her by staying with her in her room. Both the camerawork and acting in this scene are superb. Cardiff won an Academy Award for his cinematography, as did Alfred Junge for Best Art Direction.

Also on hand in a sub plot is Indian actor Sabu, in the role of the Young General, a royal descendant who comes to the nunnery to expand his education. He is a young peacock in his fine clothes and scented handkerchiefs (his cologne, Black Narcissus, is where the book/film get their title). One scene shows him bedecked with jewels, wearing a satin turban and floor length fur coat. He looks like Lana Turner on a night at the Mocambo Club! While at the convent he meets up with Kanshi ( young Jean Simmons), a native servant girl whose hormones are in overdrive. Simmons, who has a substantial role, doesn't speak a word of dialogue in the entire film. Though Kerr, Farrar, et al do a fine job in their parts, acting honors go completely to Kathleen Byron as Sister Ruth. Her descent into lust driven madness is a sight to behold and her final scenes atop the palace bell tower are some of the most chilling and powerful on film (she also bears a striking resemblance to Anne Heche). Powerful is a good word to associate with Black Narcissus. Powerful images, performances, music and themes combine to form a fascinating cinema experience.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Review: Shadow of a Doubt

Santa Rosa, California had a population of roughly 13,000 people in 1942, a fraction of its current citizen count. But when Alfred Hitchcock began production of his classic 1943 thriller, Shadow of a Doubt, the small San Francisco Bay area community conveyed just the right atmosphere of Everytown, USA that he was looking for. As Hitchcock's camera pans across the downtown Santa Rosa street scape, we see a friendly cherub-like policeman, whistle between his lips, directing easy flowing traffic. We witness a bustling but laid back burg, while liltingly pleasant music plays in the background. In later scenes, a J.C. Penney department store and an ivy covered library are further evidence that the viewer could be in any average hamlet in the land. The famed director used this placid setting to illustrate that evil can penetrate anywhere, even the peaceful, civilized confines of small town America.

The evil found in Hitchcock's Santa Rosa shows up in the form of Joseph Cotten, playing one of the best roles of his career, "Uncle" Charlie Oakley, the deranged "Merry Widow Murderer," who on the lamb from the law, escapes to the homespun security of his sister's family in the pleasant California town. Waiting for him with open arms is his teen aged niece and namesake played by Teresa Wright who is top billed. Niece Charley relishes the visit from her charming and urbane uncle, hoping his presence will shake up her family's drab, humdrum existence. He doesn't disappoint. The detectives who have been chasing him across the country, find their suspect on the west coast. One of them (Macdonald Carey) befriends and confides in young Charley, the sins of her uncle. Devastated and confused, she comes to realize that what the detective has told her is true. When another man who is also strongly suspected to be the murderer is killed while being pursued on the east coast, the case is closed and Uncle Charlie is cleared, but his niece now knows that he is indeed the guilty party and she begins to experience a series of "accidents."

Joseph Cotten's Uncle Charlie is both charismatic and menacing. A particularly effective moment has him at the dinner table describing his vision of rich widows as "fat, lazy women" who squander all that their late husbands had worked for all their lives. As he thinks aloud his disturbing diatribe, the camera goes in for a slow, steady close up of his profiled face. By the time he is interrupted by a rebuttal from his niece, the camera is dead on his eyes and he turns his head to give a chilling stare directly into the lens.

Wright does her share of fine acting as well, with this role following on the heels of her successes in The Little Foxes (1941) and Mrs. Miniver (1942). She goes from adoring and doting teenager to troubled and anxious young woman without missing a beat. Like her characters uncle, she too can be menacing, when the occasion arises. Perfect example: When she and Uncle Charlie get the news from her detective boyfriend that the Merry Widow suspect in the east was killed while trying to escape, Cotten, ready to celebrate his freedom, strides up the staircase like a schoolboy on holiday. Suddenly, he stops dead in his tracks, just shy of the top of the stairs and slowly turns around to see his niece standing sullenly and accusingly in the doorway below, her shadow stretched out before her, as she gives him a cold stare of disgust.

As the senior Charlie's sister and female Charley's mother is Patricia Collinge, a stage actress who co-starred with Wright in The Little Foxes. As Emma Newton in this film, she shows the right amount of naivete and a fluttery quality as mama of her brood and even comes off as a somewhat surrogate mother to her visiting younger brother. Well into middle age, it seems odd that she and Henry Travers, as her murder mystery buff, bank clerk husband would be cast as the parents of such young children (besides Charley, their clan consists of Ann and Roger, both under 12). Hume Cronyn in his film debut, does quite a fine job as Travers cohort in crime novel critique, each devising plan after plan for the perfect fictional murder.

To help him capture the quality of small town values required for his setting, Hitchcock retained none other than playwrite Thorton Wilder to collaborate on the screenplay for Shadow of a Doubt. Wilder's play "Our Town" was the epitome of everyday life. The film was Oscar nominated for Best Writing and Best Original Story. Hitchcock claimed that Doubt was one of his personal favorites of his films, though he told Francois Truffaut in a famous interview, that it was not his very favorite. Regardless, it is a genuine Hitchcock gem that is often overlooked when traditional Hitchcock is discussed and revered, a true treasure that should be remembered and viewed often.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

42nd Street: Brother, Can You Spare a Dame!

In 1933, Depression weary audiences were looking for anything that would take their minds off their collective woes. Due to this frantic search for escapism, crowds filed into theaters for glimpses of the extravagant, the luxurious and the glamorous. They wanted to see the exact opposite of the dull, drab and stressful lives being led outside those theaters. Nothing fit the bill like 42nd Street (1933). It was the film that single handedly brought the musical genre back from the dead, and made stars of many affiliated with its production.

The film musical had been developed only a few years earlier with the advent of sound in films. As a matter of fact, the first talkie, The Jazz Singer (1927), included songs by musical stage star Al Jolson. MGM took the reigns with The Broadway Melody in 1929 winning the Best Picture Oscar. These earliest examples of the genre were stagy, stodgy and static. The camera would remain stationary while a crackling version of a popular song would be warbled, in many cases by an actor or actress not even trained to sing (check Joan Crawford). These were more filmed stage shows than anything else and audiences stayed away, bored and uninspired.

In late fall 1932, Warner Brothers began filming its newest installment of musical comedy, 42nd Street. Famed film maker Mervyn LeRoy was slated to direct but illness forced him to withdraw and was replaced with Lloyd Bacon. However, LeRoy's choice for musical director did stay to work on the film. Choreographer Busby Berkley had worked on Broadway throughout the 1920's. He came to Hollywood with the Talkies and worked on musicals starring singer/comedian Eddie Cantor. With 42nd Street, Berkley added a new dimension to the musical film. Instead of the camera merely recording the performer singing a song or doing a standard dance number, the famed choreographer designed elaborate routines based around large numbers of chorus girls shot from directly above the action to produce a kaleidoscope effect of outstretched limbs, tilted heads and spinning stages. The story lines for his films during this era were based around the production of stage shows or "backstage musicals" and the grand dancing arrangements he designed could never be done realistically on a theatrical stage, but that was completely beside the point. Audiences loved it. The songs featured in the film were catchy as well. Written by musical team Harry Warren and Al Dubin, they included the title tune, "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me", and the delightful "Shuffle Off to Buffalo." The latter produced as a charming vignette set on a train with a Pullman car swinging open to show the pajama clad background singers in their berths singing the unforgettable lines, "Matrimony is baloney, She'll be wanting alimony, Still they go and shuffle, shuffle off to Buffalo."

Unlike many of the early musicals which were thin on plot, 42nd Street, though no heavy narrative, did have a substantial enough story to carry the numerous characters involved. It revolved around the production of a Broadway musical show directed by a veteran New York showman, Julian Marsh (Warner Baxter) who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown and is depending on the success of his latest venture to provide him enough financially to retire and save his sanity. His star is Dorothy Brock (Bebe Daniels), a Broadway big wig who is dating the shows financial backer (Guy Kibbee) while seeing her longtime lover and ex-vaudeville partner (George Brent) on the sly. Meanwhile, secondary story lines and comic relief involve various chorines and show personnel including Ginger Rogers and Una Merkel as sassy, brassy and not so classy chorus dames, who chew up the wisecracking dialogue as well as their favorite gum (Rogers' character is named Anytime Annie). Dick Powell, as the juvenile lead crooner with the boyish good looks and Ruby Keeler, as Peggy Sawyer, the naive newbie who takes over for ailing Dorothy Brock to become the shows next star, make a fresh and striking pair in what were early roles for both. In fact, 42nd Street was Keeler's first film, and based on her performance and the huge success of the film, she was offered a long term contract at Warners, where she continued in the same type part in musicals for the remainder of the decade.

The film is famous not only as a ground breaker in its genre, but also as the film in which Warner Baxter's character says to Keeler just as the curtain is going up on opening night, "Sawyer, you're going out there a youngster, but you've got to come back a star!" Supposedly the financial success of 42nd Street saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy and it didn't let that success go unexploited, as The Gold Diggers of 1933 and Footlight Parade, both Berkley supervised musicals, were produced before the end of 1933. The film was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, a huge feat for the burgeoning genre, and set the precedent for a new wave of musical films.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

13 Classic Movies I've Never Seen...But Really Want To

Through the years when discussing classic movies with friends and fellow film lovers, inevitably I've been asked numerous times who and what my favorites actors, actresses and films are. I have had discussions on what my favorite Hitchcock films are, my favorite Bette Davis movies and so on. Then the other day I was chatting with an online friend and we started discussing the films we had always wanted to see but hadn't, either by lack of opportunity or as is often in my case, just let the opportunity slip by. So I thought I would share 13 such films. These are by no means the only movies that meet this criteria for me or even necessarily the ones I want to see the most, but it is a good overall example. When perusing this lineup one may ask "Why in the world is THAT on here?". We are all different, with our own likes and dislikes and our own special reasoning for those preferences. Some of the films listed are very famous, most are not.

(NOTE: These are listed neither alphabetically, chronologically nor in order of importance)

They Won't Forget (1937) Claude Rains, a red hot murder/rape trial in the deep South and Lana Turner in a tight sweater. Tell me that's not a combination for a swell sounding film.

Trade Winds (1938) Joan Bennett is one of my favorite actresses (hence her appearance more than once on this list) and this film changed the course of her career with a simple hair color change. Plus it sounds cute and has the irresistible Ann Sothern.

Citizen Kane (1941) I know what you're thinking, "A fellow writes about classic movies and he's never seen one of the MOST classic!." What can I say, I was never a huge Orson Welles fan, but I've heard so much about it, I'm intrigued.

Meet John Doe (1941) Two of my favorite stars, Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck at their peak with Frank Capra along for direction.

Forbidden (1932) Pre-Code Stanwyck directed by Capra and a really attention catching title.

Hotel for Women (1939) So elusive I've never even seen evidence of a television screening. This was Linda Darnell's film debut. Though no award winning classic, it sounds like fun with two long time favorites Ann Sothern and Lynn Bari in tow.

The Sign of the Cross (1932) Cecil B. DeMille directing a Pre-Code epic set in decadent, ancient Rome in which Claudette Colbert bathes in a giant pool of asses milk (no joke!).

House Across the Bay (1940) Joan Bennett again, this time in a drama with George Raft, whose usually very watchable.

Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) Classic film version of a classic tale. Basil Rathbone's first offering as the famous British sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. Lead to the long running movie series.

All Through the Night (1942) I like early 40's Bogart, but somehow missed this one. Also, my aunt, a big Bogie fan, had this poster in her home when I was a little tot. Good memories.

Hands Across the Table (1935) 1930's screwball comedy with Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray. Sounds great to me.

Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936) Another Fred MacMurray flick that from what I understand, is similar in atmosphere to Shepherd of the Hills, one of my favorite movies. Henry Hathaway directed both. I also feel that MacMurray was a much underrated actor.

Mandalay (1934) I like a good Kay Francis flick, though I haven't seen that many of them. From what I've been told, this is a perfect example of Kay at her pinnacle.

Some of these films are from Paramount Studios before 1948 and the MCA company bought this library with little distribution in recent years, therefore my lack of viewing opportunities. But others have been televised often or have been released on VHS and DVD for years now and I, alas, have just not taken the opportunity to fit them in to a busy and tight film viewing schedule. Whether you like the films on this log or in some cases don't, I hope you find it of some interest.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Review: The Great Lie

Whenever I want to watch a great old movie but don't have any specific one in mind or can't really decide which one would suit my mood, I can always count on The Great Lie (1941). It has it all. Actually, I take that back. It doesn't have murder, blood, slapstick comedy, interracial love, or even adultery (there's an argument for fornication but the participants were unknowing! You'll understand in a minute). What it does have is classic film soap. A love triangle of the most complicated order. A good girl, a bad girl, a sap in between. A great Max Steiner score. But most of all, it has Bette Davis and Mary Astor.
Opening scene, Madame Sandra Kovak's swank but disheveled New York City apartment. Disheveled due to mass merry-making in honor of its occupant's recent marriage to one Peter Van Allen, bon vivant, aviator and general man-about-town. Miss Kovack is a world renowned concert pianist and an uber diva. The monkey wrench in the works is the fact that due to a mix up in dates (and plenty of liquor), Kovak's divorce from her first husband wasn't yet final when she wed the dashing Van Allen. It doesn't help matters that the couple was completely toasted when the nuptials occurred. Enter Van Allen's previous fiancee, Maggie Patterson, whose ultimatum to her man, that he lay off the bottle or else, fell on deaf ears and caused their split. But a wiser, more sober Peter decides he wants a settled life with Maggie over the jet set lifestyle lived by Sandra, and her sort. Sounds all neat and tidy and leaves one saying "Is that all?" But that's far from all.

After our boy Pete and soft spoken Maggie tie the knot, Sandra, who still wants Pete, declares to Maggie that she has Pete's bun in the oven. Before she is able to spill the beans to the babe's father, he is called away on a government aviation mission and inevitably in a plane crash somewhere in South America (hey, you didn't expect it to be as cut and dry as "I'm pregnant, make your choice" did you, after all this is a Bette Davie picture). Maggie confronts Sandra with the question of whether or not she had been lying about the child. When the distraught grande dame, who only wanted the child as a way of holding on to Pete, confesses that she is indeed with child, Maggie hatches a scheme, where she would keep and raise the child as hers and relieve Sandra of the burden. No need to go further here. If that's not enough to whet your appetite, you're not interested in the first place.

Now if you've never seen The Great Lie and don't know anything about it, after reading the above passage you may strongly assume that the part of Madame Diva Sandra Kovak would be played by Madame Diva Bette Davis. But you would be way off base my friend because Sandra is stunningly brought to life by Mary Astor, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for all her efforts. The first indication that the fun is about to begin is in our first few minutes with Astor's Kovak, when, as a male masseuse is rubbing the musicians ailing shoulder, she, with full force, slaps his face and yells "You hurt! Get out!" Yet her portrayal of the ultra bitch seems completely effortless to Miss Astor. Davis on the other hand is the more calm, even tempered Maggie, a striking contrast to Astor's vinegar and venom viper, but don't be fooled. The screen fairly crackles when she and Astor share it. Even if there were no great dialogue between these two, which there most definitely is ("Run along and catch your little train Maggie"), the characters can read, as can the audience, on one anothers face and mannerisms, everything that needs to be said, and some that needn't.

Always in the wings for this sort of role is George Brent as the much fought over Pete. Also on tap are Hattie McDaniel, Grant Withers and Lucille Watson for support. Max Steiner's fine score integrates a lush musical backdrop with the piano based background of Astor's character, giving the whole thing the grandiose high drama required to match the electrically charged performances of the two leads. As guilty pleasures go, The Great Lie is the real deal. If you've seen it before, go ahead and pop it in the player for another go around, you know you want to, and if you've never seen it, you're in for a real treat.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Judy Garland: Before the Yellow Brick Road

Today, Frances Gumm, or Judy Garland as she is better known, would have been 87 years old. So much has been written about her life, films, songs, marriages, addictions and death. Volumes have been written about The Wizard of Oz (1939), her most famous film, alone. But the time in Garland's life just before she became a superstar, just before she hit the big time in Oz, is the one most fascinating to this blogger.

Garland joined the MGM family as contract player in 1935. Before that she was "Baby" Frances, the youngest member of a singing vaudeville act with her two sisters called The Gumm Sisters, which had been performing since the mid 1920's. After changing their name to The Garland Sisters (supposedly by famed comedian George Jessel) and Baby Frances to Judy (supposedly after a Hoagy Carmichael song), the group started to wind down by the mid 30's and Garland's mother, Ethel, a notorious stage parent, focused all of her attention on her youngest child, who was by far the most talented. After several auditions at various studios in Hollywood, Judy sang "Zing Went the Strings of My Heart" for MGM head Louis B. Mayer and was signed by that studio in September 1935, to a contract that paid her $100 per week. Her excitement was short lived when her father, Frank, died in November. Judy was heartbroken, having been closer to her father than anyone else. She and Frank would be separated for long periods of time when Ethel would take the singing trio on the road to tour.

Though a contract player at the biggest studio in town, MGM was at odds as to how best to fit the 13 year old into its stable of stars. She wasn't a child and she wasn't a woman. She wasn't even a child/woman like her peer Lana Turner, who would join the studio two years later. With nothing set for her at Metro, Judy made her feature film debut on loan-out to 20th Century-Fox for a football folly called Pigskin Parade (1936). When she returned to her home studio, she was scheduled to sing "You Made Me Love You" to Clark Gable for his 36th birthday party, given to him at the studio. A special version of the song had been reworked by Garland's MGM mentor, musical arranger Roger Edens, as "Dear Mr. Gable." The performance and song were such a hit, a segment was integrated into the film Broadway Melody of 1938 (1937) with Judy singing the song to a framed photograph of the heartthrob.

Next she was teamed for the first time with child actor Mickey Rooney, who would become her frequent co-star and lifelong friend. The film was Thoroughbreds Don't Cry (1937) and sparked a certain on screen chemistry between the two youngsters that would be expanded on by the studio for several years. They were first re-teamed the next year in Love Finds Andy Hardy, one of the best installments of the family oriented Andy Hardy series. As her popularity and work schedule grew, medication began being prescribed for all aspects of her life. Uppers to wake her up for long and laborious days on the set, downers to help her sleep at night and amphetamines to control her tendency for weight gain. Louis B. Mayer would call the poorly postured, chubby and awkward teenager, "my little hunchback." All this went on with the approval and full cooperation of Ethel who wasn't going to rock the boat (in later years, Garland would call her mother the "real Wicked Witch of the West"). It was the impetus to her lifelong dependence on drugs and alcohol.

Garland's on screen persona became the plain and dumpy girl next door, the heartsick teen whose crush on a boy could be mortifyingly painful. Not exactly star making qualities. But when she opened her mouth to sing, which she inevitably did in most all her films, that was when the screen came to life and what MGM wanted to cash in on with the right film project. The soul wrenching voice which emanated such vulnerability and pathos, would wow audiences every time and the electrifying talent that was Judy Garland was on it way.

In 1937, Metro had bought the film rights to The Wizard of Oz, a children's story by L. Frank Baum. As pre production began, the top studio brass was set on getting child star Shirley Temple to play the heroine Dorothy for the $2 million + production. Temple, who was under contract to rival 20th Century-Fox, had been the #1 box office star in 1935, 1936 and 1937. It would have been quite a coup for MGM to be able to borrow her, but Fox refused. It wasn't going to share the bounty of its top star. So Metro went with its plan B: Judy Garland. Much more mature physically than Temple (at pre production, Temple was 9, Garland 16), Judy's budding breasts were bound with tape, her hair pigtailed and her make up very minimal, in an attempt to make her younger looking for the role of the Kansas farm girl.

Though not an immediate financial success (it would be many years before the film would recoup its production costs), The Wizard of Oz was a classic and made Garland a star. The film's Academy Award winning song "Over the Rainbow" would forever be associated with the actress. With all the trials and tribulations she would face in her tumultuous life, Judy Garland continued to sing and along with her massive repertoire of songs, she would always be remembered as Dorothy.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My Darling Clementine: An American Classic

One of the truly classic movies in American cinema, My Darling Clementine (1946), is a thinking man's western. Although there's plenty of liquor, card playing and rootin' tootin' shootin', director John Ford's masterpiece offers up the gripping action as secondary to its powerful and nuanced characterizations and atmospheric depiction of the Old West legend. Though a romanticized and somewhat fictionalized account of the infamous gunfight at the OK corral, it is nonetheless a stunning piece of storytelling on film.

The movie stars Henry Fonda as legendary lawman Wyatt Earp, who, with his brothers, is herding cattle through the Arizona Territory, from Mexico to California. They meet up with a passel of scraggly looking cowpokes who introduce themselves as the Clantons. Old Man Clanton (Walter Brennan, in an uncharacteristically villainous role) offers to buy the Earps' herd for less than they paid for it in Mexico. When the offer is refused, the brothers are directed to the nearby town of Tombstone, to refresh themselves with "a shave and a beer." While in town, their cattle is stolen and the youngest brother, left to guard the herd, murdered. Though the Clanton gang is the natural suspect, nothing can be proved. Wyatt takes on the job of marshal of Tombstone, which has been offered to him by the local gentry.

Upon acceptance as marshal, Wyatt meets the other residents of town who's lives intertwine to create the rich fabric of the film. Chihauhau (Linda Darnell) is an exotic half breed floozy who sings at the local saloon. It's never really established what her native background is though its inferred by her physical appearance and some scant phrases that she's Mexican, yet at one point when Earp is chastising her for trying to cheat at a card game, he threatens to run her "back to the Apache reservation." She is also the lover of John "Doc" Holliday (Victor Mature), an alcoholic gambler suffering from tuberculosis, who more or less runs the town and has an established reputation for killing. He and Earp form a kind of odd camaraderie, with traces of animosity on the part of Holliday and suspicion from the marshal.

The film's title, strangely enough, has very little to do with the central storyline. It refers to Clementine Carter, the well bred eastern lady friend of Doc Holliday, who comes west in search of the tortured consumptive gun slinger. She is played by Cathy Downs, a little known actress who was a contract player at 20th Century-Fox, where the film was made. The contrast between her quiet meekness and Darnell's fiery wild cat, delineate the difference between Holliday's happier, more civilized past and his tempestuous and melancholy present. The story culminates with the legendary gunfight between the Earps, with Holliday at their side, and the lawless Clanton gang.

Joseph MacDonald's cinematography is shot in deep focus black and white with gorgeous outdoor photography of the desert plains at various hours of the day. As well, the interior scenes are masterfully choreographed, each shot framed for both artistic and dramatic effect. Ford carefully paces the film, its never rushed but by the same token, its not slow moving by a long shot. His use of folk music and hymns lend to the feel of Americana so prevalent in his work. Henry Fonda, as Wyatt Earp, has quiet strength, as he so often does in roles played before and after this. With the arrival of Clementine Carter, Fonda's Wyatt, smitten with the refined easterner, evolves from scruffy cowhand cum lawman into a groomed, perfumed attendant, ready to protect or escort the young lady whichever may be required of him.

As the emotionally tortured Doc Holliday, Victor Mature gives what is arguably his finest performance. When a traveling ham actor (Alan Mowbray) can't finish reciting Hamlet's suicide soliloquy due to his drunkenness, Mature, as the educated Holliday, finishes the scene, giving an admirable rendition of Shakespeare. Ward Bond, always a Ford favorite, plays Wyatt's brother, Morgan. Interestingly, Bond was in the two previous filmizations of the Earp story. Gorgeous Linda Darnell, with her 1940's hairdo and make-up, does fine as the loose and luscious Chihuahua. Most likely her ranking of second billing in the film, after Fonda and before Mature, had more to do with studio politics and star potential than of her characters importance to the story. Chihauhau was one of a slew of sluts and wanton women Darnell was cast as in the mid and late Forties.

The story of My Darling Clementine has been documented to film numerous times, most notably as Frontier Marshal (1939), Gunfight at the OK Corral (1957), Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994), but none have the superior poetic quality that Ford's film emanates. A master of the genre, the director captivates and entertains, something that few westerns, from any era, can profess to do.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Review: The Story of Temple Drake

My first connection with The Story of Temple Drake (1933) was a still photo of one of the scenes from the film in a coffee table book of Hollywood films that I owned as a young teenager. The picture is almost black, the only light coming from a small oil lamp in the dingiest of decaying rooms, and being illuminated by this tiny flicker are actresses Miriam Hopkins, Florence Eldridge and a rickety old metal frame bed. Both females look haggard and much the worse for wear. The photo fascinated me. I had no idea what the film was about but it looked like a really creepy horror movie. Intrigued, I dug a little deeper and found The Story of Temple Drake was based on a 1931 William Faulkner story called Sanctuary. So off I went to the local library and checked out a musty smelling, decades old edition of Faulkner's story. With each page that turned my eyes widened. At fourteen, I had seen and read some racy stuff but not something under the guise of high literature! It was years before I actually got to view Temple Drake and it was definitely worth the wait.

Temple Drake is a wild buck of a girl who lives during Prohibition in the Deep South. She is a well to do debutante and granddaughter of a wealthy and influential local judge. Of her many beaux (the word fits perfectly in this part of the film) is a young and devoted attorney, Steven Benbow, of whom her grandfather heartily approves. "you know Steven," he says to the young suitor, "I'd feel better about Temple, if I knew she had someone steady and reliable like you to take care of her...She's a good girl, Steven." In the next scene, we see Temple, hair and evening dress disheveled, sneaking into the house she shares with her grandfather at four o'clock in the morning and giddily saying good night to a man who in NOT Steven. The next time we see the saucy wench she is doing some passionate necking in a convertible with her frat boy paramour. But instead of a tramp, we find out that Temple Drake is just a big tease who likes to get the fellows all hot and bothered. She's the belle of the ball. The first fifteen minutes of the film could have served as Miriam Hopkins', who plays Temple, screen test for Scarlett O'Hara, a role for which she was considered.

As the film progresses, our girl Temple and her drunken boyfriend are involved in an auto accident on a back road after leaving a country club dance. When they come to in the darkness, they are approached by a couple of shady figures, one of which ogles Temple with his flashlight, shining the torch from top to toe on her figure. With a major rainstorm approaching, the two are taken to a dilapidated, crumbling, isolated old plantation house where Temple is greeted with the leering and lecherous eyes of a group of bootleggers who use the house as their hideout and operations center. Among the group is a lone woman, the bitter, careworn moll of one of the thugs, whose baby is kept in the wood box so "the rats don't get it." She does her best to keep the men from literally ripping the dress off Temple's body. With the help of an inbred, half witted man-boy, Temple is kept safe in the barn. The next morning she awakes from a restless night in a horse stall, to find the meanest, most menacing of the goons, Trigger, coming toward her. When the half wit tries to help, Trigger shoots and kills him (They don't call him Trigger for nothing). He then rapes and kidnaps Temple, taking her to a bordello called Miss Reba's place, in Memphis.

The Story of Temple Drake is a lost pre-Code masterpiece. When the Production Code finally took effect, the year after the film's release, Joseph Breen, the Codes administrator, wouldn't allow it to be re-released and it didn't get back into circulation for decades. It is truly one of the most adult films of the era, even though a watered down version of Faulkner's tale (in the book, Trigger's character is impotent and rapes Temple in the barn with a corn cob!). The scenes at the bootleggers coven are by far the best. They are dark, somber and weird. Hopkins' Temple is truly horrified while at the same time fascinated with all the depravity around her. She finds herself drawn to Trigger's machismo, no matter how fearful she is. The feel of the pre-Depression, rural South is exuded very effectively. Hopkins, a Georgia native, uses her most authentic drawl as the over-ripe belle who goes from getting her way in all life's aspects, to becoming the sex slave of an oily hoodlum. Cinematographer Karl Struss makes an effectual use of close ups between Hopkins and a cigarette lipped Jack LaRue, who plays Trigger, when denoting upcoming intercourse.

Full praise must go to Miriam Hopkins. As Temple, she uses the full range of the multi-emotional bag of acting tricks for which she is famous. But unlike many of her later roles, she doesn't have to go over the top to prove she is the star of the show. That's definitely a given. She has a pre-Code sexiness that is lacking in her films of the late 30's and 40's. Jack LaRue's Trigger is both overtly masculine and alarmingly dangerous. Finally as Ruby, the white trash bootlegger's woman (its never established that they are married), Florence Eldridge (Mrs. Fredric March), gaunt and wan, reeks of world weariness and exhaustion. Merely surviving and keeping her man take all the energy she can muster.

Any pre-Code or Miriam Hopkins fan who has never seen The Story of Temple Drake is in for a wonderful treat. The raw earthiness of this lurid tale combined with skilled film making create a rare gem of early 30's American cinema. The film was remade in 1961 under the original Faulkner title, Sanctuary, but it doesn't hold a candle to this little seen classic.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Notes on Norma: The Royal Thalbergs

In its heyday, Metro Goldwyn Mayer claimed its studio had "more stars than there are in heaven" due to the number of top quality, extremely popular actors and actresses it had under contract at any given time. Other studios had a handful of really big A-list stars but MGM had its stable full. Groomed from the time a contract was signed, its actors were pampered, supported, baby sat (you don't think they were all mature acting adults do you?), and trained to act, sing, dance or speak correctly. Overseeing all this regalia was the studio's head honcho, Louis B. Mayer but his production chief, the head creative administrator, was a frail, Brooklyn born genius named Irving Thalberg.

Due to problems with his heart, Thalberg was a very sickly and weak child and wasn't expected by doctor's to live past age thirty. While still a teenager, he started his career as an assistant to Carl Laemmle, who ran Universal studios. After a few years and a falling out with Laemmle, the young executive moved to head creative production as vice president to Mayer at what would become MGM in 1923. He was meticulous in his craft, personally overseeing every Metro production from 1924 to 1932. His perfectionism and high level of quality film making at such a young age (he was under 25) earned him the title "Boy Wonder" in Hollywood. In 1923, he met a young actress named Norma Shearer.
Born in Canada, Norma Shearer made her way to Hollywood via New York City, where she had been working as a model and had been rejected by impresario Florenz Ziegfeld for his acclaimed Follies. Besides modeling, Shearer would also play occasional bit parts in New York based films. In one such film, The Stealers (1920), she was spotted by Irving Thalberg and brought to Hollywood as star potential. Signed by MGM to a long term contract, she was groomed for stardom by Thalberg personally. In September 1927, the two were married in a lavish spectacle at the home of actress and mistress of publisher William Randolph Hearst, Marion Davies in Beverly Hills. The marriage cemented Norma's place at Metro and she even began being billed by the studio as "The First Lady of the Screen." Under Thalberg's watchful eye, she had the choicest roles and directors at the studio. It was a point in later years that didn't go unnoticed by fellow MGM contractee Joan Crawford. The rivalry between Crawford and Shearer was well known around the set. Crawford, having clawed her way to stardom, resented Norma's position as "Queen of the Lot" at Metro. The feud culminated in grand performances by both as marital rivals in the classic comedy The Women (1939). A humorous side note, when Shearer was a young model in New York she was known as "Miss Lotta Miles" in an advertising campaign for Springfield Tires. Years later Crawford would throw jabs at her fellow diva by calling her "Miss Lotta Miles."
Although being married to the boss didn't hurt, Thalberg's guidance wasn't Shearer's only asset. Not classically beautiful, the actress had a graceful elegance, poise, and talent enough to rack up six Academy Award nominations, including a win for The Divorcee, all by 1938. As well as being at their peak professionally, the Thalbergs shared a glittering social life as toast of the Hollywood set. One of their weekend parties was the basis for the F. Scott Fitzgerald story "Crazy Sunday." But the pressure of such a demanding schedule took its toll on Irving. In 1932 he suffered a major heart attack. He and Shearer went to Europe for his convalescence. Louis B. Mayer had grown resentful of the power and stature obtained by his "right hand" and took Thalberg's absence as an opportunity to strip him of some of his responsibilities at the studio. When Irving returned to work at MGM in mid 1933, he returned merely as a unit producer, quite a step down from his previous lofty position. Nevertheless, he was instrumental in the creation of many classic films in the next few years.
Even after his illness, Thalberg was a very dominant force in the direction of his wife's career. After seeing a New York staging of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, he set about a filmization with Norma as Juliet. The film was released in August 1936, and three weeks after its New York premiere, Thalberg died of pneumonia. Even after his death, his hand was guiding Shearer's roles. He had begun work on her next project, Marie Antoinette, before he died, though it wouldn't be completed until 1938. Without her husband's influence and discretion in helping her choose appropriate parts, Shearer's career floundered. She would finish out the decade with two high profile films, Idiot's Delight and The Women but the tides had turned. Younger actresses were taking the torch from the carry overs from the silent days. She, along with Joan Crawford and Greta Garbo were being pushed to the background by newcomers like Judy Garland, Lana Turner and Greer Garson. After a few more films at MGM in the early 1940's Shearer retired, married a ski instructor several years her junior and enjoyed the luxurious lifestyle of Old Hollywood aristocracy. As a power couple in Hollywood circa 1930's the Thalbergs had no match. There's was a world of privilege and achievement and though Shearer may not have the notoriety today of some of her much ballyhooed counterparts, in her day, she was queen of the lot.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Review: The Farmer's Daughter

The three words that leap to this blogger's mind when discussing The Farmer's Daughter (1947) are sheer, unadulterated charm. As I watched this classic romantic comedy for the umpteenth time, I couldn't wipe the goofy grin off my face for at least the first thirty minutes into the film. This winsome piece of confection has often been called "Capraesque" and its a very fitting moniker. It's a David vs. Goliath Cinderella Story ala big game politics. Think Katie the Swedish maid Goes to Washington.

Katrin Holstrom (Loretta Young) or Katie, as she is affectionately known, is a fetching farm girl with a thick Swedish accent who leaves the farm and heads for Capitol City (any state capitol, USA, though with all the Swedish farm roots involved, one would assume the upper Mid West) to begin training at a nursing school there. When she loses the money saved for her nursing course to a fast talking, slimy painter with shady intentions, Katie reaches Capitol City in need of a job. She lands employment as a second maid in the home of an urbane congressman (Joseph Cotten) and his straightforward mother (Ethel Barrymore), who is an influential leader of the reigning political party in the state. Katie has definite political leanings in her comely blonde head and they don't always coincide with those of her well heeled employers. Nevertheless, she endears herself to them with her down to earth charm and common sense outlook. Romance and a potential Senate seat ensue.

The Farmer's Daughter was based on a play called Hulda, Daughter of Parliament, which was bought as a potential film project by producer David O. Selznick for his contractee, Swedish born Ingrid Bergman. When Bergman wasn't interested, ice skating star Sonya Henie, also of Scandinavian descent, was proposed. Finally, after much debate with Dore Schary, the films producer, Loretta Young was offered the role. Young had doubts about her ability to master the strong Swedish accent required for the part. Ruth Roberts, a dialect coach of Swedish ancestry, who had been hired to tone down Ingrid Bergman's accent when she came to the United States, was assigned to see that Young developed one. The actress had been in Hollywood for 20 years, starting out as a teenager. The majority of her roles had never required much in the way of range and depth. Yet for her role as Katie, she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, going up against her friend and colleague Rosalind Russell in Mourning Becomes Electra. Although Russell was favored to win the award in her heavily dramatic role, underdog Young won in an upset that surprised everyone.

Joseph Cotten, as Congressman Glenn Morley, shows a fine hand for light romantic comedy, something rarely seen by the actor during his tenure in Hollywood. Ethel Barrymore is her usual soft spoken, all knowing, high bred self. One of the true delights of the film is Charles Bickford as the Morley Manor butler, Mr. Clancy. Bickford's usual hard as nails curmudgeon is tempered here with humor and sincere admiration for his young Swedish charge. Rounding out the cast are Rose Hobart, Harry Davenport and as Katie's three strapping, barrel chested brothers, Keith Andes, future Tarzan Lex Barker, and future Gunsmoke star, James Arness.


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