Sunday, January 31, 2010

This Week's Poll: Who Are Your Favorite Secret Agents on TV from the 1960s?

After this past week's Dr. No discussion, I thought it'd be fun to focus the weekly poll on secret agents that appeared in television series. The richest era for TV spies was the 1960s when Bond's popularity exploded and the U.S. & the Soviet Union were embroiled in the Cold War. It was surprisingly difficult to narrow the voting field down to a manageable size. Part of the problem is that some TV shows featured protagonists who did as much detective work as actual espionage. In many cases, I had to make a judgment call...so The Avengers made the list and The Champions and The Saint didn't. I'm ready to take the heat for omitting No. 6 from The Prisoner. That said, any fan of that classic series knows it's about far more than spying. Without further ado, here are your candidates:

John Drake (Patrick McGoohan) from Secret Agent (aka Danger Man) - Cynical, cool under pressure, and resourceful, Drake was the prototypical British spy in the 1960s. He rarely used a gun, preferring to live by his wits instead. Surprisingly athletic...he pole vaults over a high obstacle in one episode.

Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Ilya Kuryakin (David McCallum) from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. - An early example of glasnost, Solo and Kuryakin were a secret agent odd couple: Solo was laid-back, smooth, and had a roving eye for the ladies; Kuryakin was more intense and intellectual (he played chess!). He also got more fan mail from female viewers (well, David McCallum did).

Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) and Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) from Get Smart - Would you believe that Smart was the top agent for CONTROL, an international counter-espionage agency trying to avert KAOS? Smart typically got the job done--often with more than a little help from the reliable, intelligent Agent 99. Of course, Smart could also completely botch a mission, as when he was supposed a guard a scientist who is assassinated as Smart stands beside him talking on the phone!

James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) from The Wild Wild West - Proving that secret agents could thrive in the Western genre, James T. West battled villains such as the nefarious Dr. Loveless when he wasn't romancing his female co-stars. His partner Artemus was a master of disguises, which turned out to be an essential skill.

John Steed (Patrick Macnee) and Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) from The Avengers - Steed was the unflappable English gentleman who typically appeared in bowler and cane. Mrs. Peel was his brainy, athletic partner who sported jump suits and dispatched villains with her martial arts prowess.

David March from Blue Light - For a single season, Robert Goulet starred as an American traitor working for the Nazis during World War II.  But wait...he's really an American spy! It was based on the William Holden film The Counterfeit Traitor. "Blue Light" was March's code name.

Kelly Robinson (Robert Culp) and Alexander Scott (Bill Cosby) from I Spy - Robinson is an international tennis player and Scott is his trainer--but really that's just a cover for their undercover work as spies. Still, you gotta think these two are the best athletes of the secret agents in this group.

Those are your candidates! Please cast your vote in the green sidebar. (Note: If you were one of the two people who voted prior to 9:00 pm CST on Sunday, please vote again!)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Trivia Time Part 22

Next week, and for one week only, Trivia Time will start on Monday instead of its normal Sunday. This the last week for all "Free Passes".

Who Am I? #1. Elia Kazan called me one of the three best actors in America. Of course, Kazan being Kazan, he never said who the other two were. Who Am I?

Who Am I? #2. I'm a director who has done it all: screwball, film noir, war, action/adventure, Westerns, and musicals. Many of my films are classics, but I only have one film on the AFI Top 100 films of all time. Who am I?

#1. What is "Who Am I's" film on the AFI Top 100?
#2. What young Broadway star was offered the part of Velvet Brown in 1939 for National Velvet?
#3. Name at least two "famous" directors who did episodes of Mr. Novak.
#4. Who played the title role in the ABC series Longsteet? What was he?
#5. Brain Buster #1.Where did the series take place?
#6. Brain Buster # 2. The play and film of Toys in the Attic were a"comeback" vehicle for which two actresses?
#7. Brain Buster#3. Richard Loo played three different roles on three episodes of what TV series?
#8. Who Played "Jerry" in the 1943 The Falcon Strikes Back?
#9. What do Bad Day At Black Rock and Honey West have in common?
#10. Brain Buster # 4. Jack Soo was in both the Broadway and film versions of Flower Drum Song. Did he play the same part in each version?
#11. Brain Buster #5 In what films did John Wayne "buy the farm'"?

Friday, January 29, 2010

A Month of Mysteries: Warren Williams as Philo Vance in "The Dragon Murder Case"

This snappy 1934 B-movie mystery represents the most successful attempt to bring S.S. Van Dine's erudite sleuth, Philo Vance, to the screen. Van Dine (a pseudonym for Willard Huntington Wright) introduced Vance to mystery readers in 1926 with The Benson Murder Case. Over the next 13 years, Van Dine published twelve highly successful Vance novels.

These intriguing-plotted mysteries became sought-after movie properties in spite of some significant obvious liabilities. These drawbacks included Van Dine's tendency to expound excessively on artistic or scientific subjects related peripherally to the mysteries. He also wrote the novels in first person, casting himself as Vance's companion/lawyer, a literary device borrowed from Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. However, whereas Conan Doyle had Dr. Watson occasionally play an active role in Holmes' investigations, Van Dine (the writer) used Van Dine (the character) simply to narrate the proceedings.

Yet, the biggest problem with adapting these best-selling mysteries was Philo Vance himself. The wealthy, amateur criminologist was an aloof intellectual and could be downright cold when questioning suspects. He also lived by his own moral code--to the point of rearranging poison-filled glasses to trick a murderer into killing himself. Many filmmakers deemed such a detective too unlikable for the screen. Therefore, most of the movie Vances were rich and intelligent, but also charming and debonair. The best-known screen Vance was the always-likable William Powell, who played the sleuth four times with his best effort being The Kennel Murder Case (1933). Powell was a fine performer, but his film detective was not the Philo Vance admired by Van Dine's readers.

Enter Warren William, who debuted as Philo Vance in 1934's The Dragon Murder Case, an adaptation of the seventh Vance novel published the previous year. William projected the perfect note of acidity as Vance. He handled his white gloves and cane with aplomb, while talking down to everyone in sight. He also benefited from a tight adaptation of one of Van Dine's more baffling crimes.

The film's plot follows the book closely, although it adds a restaging of the murder and deletes an incident in which a boulder conveniently crushes the guilty party. As in the novel, the identity of the killer is fairly obvious. The puzzle lies in how the murder was accomplished.

The crime takes place at a country estate in upper New York where wealthy playboy Sanford Montague disappears after a night-time dive into a natural lake called the Dragon Pool. When Montague fails to turn up after a day, the police drain the pool and discover claw marks on the sandy bottom. Later, Vance discovers Montague's dead body in a "glacial pot-hole" on another part of the estate. The victim's mangled body is covered with large claw marks--as if he had been ripped open by a dragon.

Although shot entirely on a stage, The Dragon Murder Case utilizes its atmospheric sets effectively. The mysterious pool looks eerie, with its lighted areas contrasting with the dark, murky waters. The only other principal set, the living room of the country mansion, is filled with exotic aquariums, including one suspended from the ceiling. (The aquariums naturally afford Vance the opportunity of showing off his knowledge on breeding tropical fish.)

The performers playing the suspects have little to do. They exist principally to provide verbal targets for William's Vance. However, Eugene Pallette gives one of his most restrained performances as Sergeant Heath (he played the role with William Powell, too). Etienne Girardot steals several scenes as coroner Dr. Doremus, who gripes constantly at having his meals interrupted by inconvenient dead bodies.

Still, the film belongs to Warren William and he makes it a delight for viewers who have actually read the Van Dine novels. Sadly, William's only other portrayal of Vance was in the 1939 comedy-mystery The Gracie Allen Murder Case. It's too bad he didn't get a crack at the best of the books: The Greene Murder Case (filmed with Powell) and The Bishop Murder Case (with Basil Rathbone).

Neither the Vance films nor the novels achieved the classic status of fellow sleuths such as Jane Marple, Peter Wimsey, and Philip Marlowe. The last Vance film appeared in 1947. Several attempts to create reader interest with paperback editions of the novels failed. Despite such setbacks, Philo Vance has maintained a few loyal mystery fans who admire cynical, detached, and morally questionable detectives.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bond Is Forever: "Dr. No"

Welcome to the first installment of our new Café feature, Bond Is Forever, where the martinis are always shaken, not stirred. I decided to begin with the very first cinematic adaptation of Ian Fleming's superspy, Dr. No (1962).

When a British agent stationed in Jamaica disappears, MI6 agent James Bond (Sean Connery), codename 007, is sent to investigate. Bond learns that the missing agent was collecting mineral samples from Crab Key, a mysterious island from where most people don't seem to return. The spy sneaks onto the island under the cover of darkness to put a stop to Crab Key's inhabitant, the secretive and nefarious Dr. No (Joseph Wiseman).

Dr. No was actually not the first Bond adaptation. For the 1950s TV anthology series, Climax!, Fleming's first 007 novel, Casino Royale, was brought to the little screen. It starred Barry Nelson as American agent, Jimmy Bond. In 1961, Harry Saltzman bought the rights to the James Bond character, with the exception, of course, of Casino Royale, since the rights to the novel had already been sold. The initial concept for Bond's first movie was an original screenplay, not an adaptation. Fleming collaborated with screenwriters, Kevin McClory and Jack Whittingham, but the project was eventually abandoned. The novelist took the story and turned it into a book, Thunderball, which subsequently became the fourth Bond film. This all led to a prolonged legal dispute between the film's producers and the two screenwriters involved. But we can discuss that when we get to Thunderball (1965).

Dr. No is an interesting movie to view retrospectively and compare to later films, especially in light of what would become standard elements of the series. In Bond's first scene, he is gambling, one of his favorite hobbies in the book which carried over to the movies (although he utilized this "hobby" in his work, too). He also introduces himself as, "Bond. James Bond." (Ask any Bond fan to say this line, and they will more than likely speak it with a Connery accent.) When 007 is given his assignment, M has Bond turn over his much-loved Beretta for a Walther PPK (pictured), a gun that would make an appearance in nearly every Bond film. By Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), Bond would stick with a Walther but switch to a newer model, the P99. However, in Quantum of Solace (2008), he reverted back to the classic PPK. While Bond does not specifically order a shaken-not-stirred vodka martini, it is clear that he prefers the drink mixed this way.

Dr. No has neither a pre-credit sequence nor a theme song performed by a notable singer. On the other hand, the music which plays over the majority of the opening credits becomes the Bond theme for the series, and the infamous gun barrel sequence opens the film. Audiences were not treated to the Aston Martin, which will not be inaugurated until Goldfinger two years later. But there are two more things which would become recognizable in the Bond series: the Bond girl, Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress); and the Bond villain, the titular baddie. In this particular film, neither character does very much. Honey spends most of the movie cowering behind Bond, but Dr. No displayed characteristics which would become all too familiar: he was independently wealthy, concocted diabolical plots to take over the world, and had a God complex to boot. Dr. No was also the introduction to SPECTRE, an organization for which Dr. No says he works. SPECTRE would play a prominent role in most of the Connery films, as well as the Bond movie with that one guy.

While many recurring Bond characters would generally be portrayed by the same actors (Bernard Lee was M for quite some time, and Lois Maxwell was Moneypenny for even longer), CIA agent and Bond pal, Felix Leiter, was a revolving door of performers. In Dr. No, Felix is played by Jack Lord, perhaps better known from the TV series, Hawaii Five-O. Lord, like most Felix Leiters, would not reprise the role.

Sean Connery is, simply put, an outstanding 007. He's suave, sophisticated, and, best of all, completely believable as a spy. I think the Bond series has been blessed with great actors to portray the British secret agent, but Connery originated the cinematic character and is consequently the most discernible. Watch a parody of James Bond, and you won't see a comedian poking fun at Bond, per se; you'll see someone imitating Sean Connery. I mean no offense to the men who would take over the role in future films. It's just that, when people think of 007, they typically think of Connery, much like Bela Lugosi being most often associated with Dracula (and fans speaking with that well known Hungarian accent).

Dr. No has never been one of my favorite Bond films. I think it's enjoyable, with exciting action sequences and a fun plot. But I am not a fan of Andress, who was dubbed for the movie (one lady for her speaking voice, another for singing). Her performance is a bit boring, although she admittedly has little to do, other than be the damsel in distress. Likewise, Dr. No doesn't appear in the film until it is very nearly over. He has only one significant scene, in which he dines with 007 at his lair. It would have been preferable to have seen more of Wiseman (who died in October last year; click here to read more about the actor, courtesy of sazball). Additionally, the ending seems rushed. By the time Bond discovers Dr. No's plan and goes about saving the day, there is only about ten minutes remaining. The inevitable showdown between superspy and villain is somewhat anti-climatic.

I would love to hear what everyone else thinks of
Dr. No, Connery, and Bond... James Bond.

Bond Is Forever will return next month with Live and Let Die (1973).

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Name the Movie Game (26 January Edition)

Kimberly Wilson, last week's winner, is the host for this week's game. As a reminder, here are the rules:

1. You may ask up to five yes or no questions a day. Each guess does count as one question.

2. Please number each question or each guess to make it easier for Kim to respond to them.

3. The player who is the first to guess the movie correctly will be the one to make the selection for the following week’s Name the Movie Game.

4. The game will end on Saturday night if the movie is not guessed.


Kim is thinking of a classic movie made in the 1980s. Let the game begin!

Fay Bainter - The Queen Mother of Hollywood


Fay Bainter is probably best known for being the first person to be nominated for both Best Actress (White Banners) and Best Supporting Actress (Jezebel) in the same year, 1938, eventually winning for her supporting role as Aunt Belle in Jezebel. But there was another element to her career that is worthy of attention; in over half of her 39 films she portrayed a mother or wife, imbuing these characters with a rarely seen depth of understanding and caring. She had been playing ingénues in the theater since the age of five and by the time she originated the role of Fran Dodsworth in the Broadway version of Sinclair Lewis's novel, she was 40 years old. When she headed for Hollywood in 1934 she realized that she was now more suited for strong character roles; ironically, however, the role of Fran in the film version of Dodsworth went to Ruth Chatterton.

Her first film was This Side of Heaven in 1934 opposite Lionel Barrymore. This was not an auspicious beginning to her career, as she did not like her performance in the film or working in Hollywood. But this would all change in 1937 when she appeared as Katharine Hepburn's spinster sister in the film adaptation of James M. Barrie's Quality Street. That same year she essayed another role as a mother and wife in Make Way for Tomorrow, Leo McCarey's bold attempt to honestly portray the plight of an older couple who are left with nothing after they lose their house and employment and must seek the help of their children. Bainter played the daughter-in-law of Beulah Bondi, and has to face the many challenges that arise when Bondi moves in with her family. She went on to play the role of Hannah Parmalee in White Banners the film that brought her the Best Actress nomination. It is a story of a woman who gave up her son at childbirth and now wishes to see what kind of life he leads with the family that adopted him. One of her best performances before she signed with MGM was in Daughters Courageous, a quasi-sequel to the Warner Bros. soap opera hit Four Daughters. In this film she plays a single mother of four young women who have been abandoned by their free-spirited father, Claude Raines, and must face the ramifications of his unexpected return to the family fold.

During her tenure at MGM she gave memorable performances as Mickey Rooney's mother in two films, Young Tom Edison and The Human Comedy. She was Van Heflin's mother in Presenting Lily Mars and William Holden's mother in Our Town. Her favorite role, however,was in the film Maryland where she portrayed the overprotective mother of John Payne, fearing that her son would die in a horse related accident as his father had, and doing everything in her power to keep him away from horses. In the rarely seen The War Against Mrs. Hadley, she plays a mother, but in this case she does not represent the loving and compassionate matriarch of her previous films. Instead, she is a Washington socialite who becomes annoyed when her birthday celebration is interrupted by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and initially is clueless as to the affects of the war on her family.

There were several other actresses who often played maternal type roles, including Mary Astor, Selena Royle, Beulah Bondi, and Agnes Moorehead. The difference between these actresses and Fay Bainter was the fact that she had spent much of her career on the stage. Her unique soothing speaking voice and benign, but attractive facial structure combined to create a mother figure who was also a safe haven, someone you could go to with your problems and be comforted and counseled and held close to the heart without fear of being hurt in the process. The elegance acquired from years in the theater was unique to her screen persona and enhanced her reputation as Hollywood's embodiment of motherhood

Sunday, January 24, 2010

This Week's Poll: Who's Your Mommie Dearest?

This week we're taking a look at monstrous moms. While most of my blogs have featured good mothers - Emma Newton in Shadow of a Doubt, Anna Smith in Meet Me in St. Louis, Martha Hanson in I Remember Mama - it's time now to shine the spotlight on some of the nastier moms on film (with a nod to the great actresses who portrayed them). Which of these lethal ladies would you least like to tuck you in at night?

Mrs. Henry Vale (Gladys Cooper) in Now, Voyager (1942)

Tyrannical Mrs. Vale is matriarch of "the Boston Vales," an extremely wealthy, well-established WASP family. The granite-jawed dowager has her daughter, ugly-duckling Charlotte, firmly in her iron grip - treating her, by turns, as child or servant. Autocratic and manipulative, Mrs. Vale has all but devoured the young woman. Enter Dr. Jaquith, eminent psychiatrist, who meets with Charlotte and declares, "My dear Mrs. Vale, if you had deliberately and maliciously planned to destroy your daughter's life, you couldn't have done it more completely." Unruffled, she imperiously snaps back, "How, by having exercised a mother's rights?"

Later in the game, Mrs. Vale is not above faking a tumble down the stairs in a determined last-ditch effort to regain her hold over her daughter.

Madame Sebastian (Leopoldine Konstantin) in Notorious (1946)

Madame Sebastian and her son, Alex, are part of a post-war Nazi enclave in Brazil involved in a vague but fiendish plot. Thanks to the Madame, Alex is something of a movie anomaly - a Nazi mama's boy. Ice-cold and demeaning, Madame Sebastian verbally bludgeons Alex whenever he seems to be straying from her steely domination. When he asks that she at least smile occasionally at the woman he will marry, his mother retorts, "Wouldn't it be a little too much if we both grinned at her like idiots?"

Alex later discovers his new wife is a spy and tells his mother. She grimly lights a cigarette, inhales and takes charge: "Let me arrange this one." And she plots to slowly poison her daughter-in-law to death, something we suspect she's wanted to do all along.

Violet Venable (Katharine Hepburn) in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

A mother written by Tennessee Williams is bound to be a piece of work, and Mrs. Venable is surely that. A wealthy New Orleans widow, she has recently lost her son Sebastian. He met his death while abroad with his cousin Cathy. Mrs. Venable is now seeking a lobotomy for Cathy who is talking too much about Sebastian and how he died. Though it becomes clear that Sebastian was gay, his mother seems to have been oblivious...she recalls a conversation with him when she was his travelling companion: "...what a lovely summer it's been. Sebastian and Violet. Violet and Sebastian. Just the two of us. Just the way it's always going to be. Oh, we are lucky, my darling, to have one another and need no one else ever." It's not surprising that Mrs. Venable has a Venus Flytrap in her garden.

Mrs. John Iselin (Angela Lansbury) in The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

Mrs. Iselin, the brains behind her dim, rabble-rousing U.S. Senator husband, is also the mother of 'war hero'/assassin Raymond Shaw. A skilled demagogue, she easily controls others. But she inspires little love, as evidenced by her son's words: "My mother...is a terrible, terrible woman...You know... it's a terrible thing to hate your mother. But I didn't always hate her. When I was a child I only kind of disliked her." Mrs. Iselin's manipulations are part of a larger plan; she's out for world domination and has sacrificed Raymond's soul as well as the lives of his wife and others in her quest. She has stage-managed everything, from the sentence that will cue an assassination, to its desired aftermath. All she has schemed for is about to become hers...but Mrs. Iselin may have overplayed her hand at Solitaire...

Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) in The Graduate (1967)

Mrs. Robinson suffers from a bad case of Affluenza; her life is comfortable but unsatisfying. Though she and her husband are living the good life and their daughter is away at college, the marriage is dead and she's an alcoholic who habitually seduces young men - including Benjamin, son of her husband's law partner. While Mrs. Robinson's attitude toward Benjamin and their liaison has been cavalier, she comes unhinged when he succumbs to family pressure and takes her daughter, Elaine, on a date. Mrs. R instantly transforms into a vengeful virago and, when Ben and Elaine hit it off, she begins a vicious campaign to derail their romance, bring her daughter back in line and eviscerate Ben in doing so...coo coo ca-choo, Mrs. Robinson...

Cast your vote for one of these five nefarious nominees at the sidebar to the right...

Trivia Time Part 21

Just a reminder: Sarks' wife and Dawn's "Free Pass" are still good. I think this week might be a little easier ..... Yeah, right Paul!

Who Am I? I'm a director, who directed many good films, but I'm best known for two films. I've had my films remade (sometimes good, sometimes not so good). Who Am I?

#1. Name Who Am I's two best known films.

#2. Name one good remake of Who Am I's films.

#3. A "famous director" remade one of Who Am I's films. Name the film, the director, and the remake. This could have more than one correct answer.

#4. Brain Buster #1. The remake was famous for a special reason. What was it? This also could have more than one correct answer.

#5. Brain Buster #2. On The 1965 Mr. Novak epsiode "The Tender Twigs", two "child stars" of the middle 50's /early 60's were guest stars. Who were they?

#6. Brain Buster Bonus. Before his Star Trek gig, Walter Koening was a busy actor on many classic TV shows. True or False: Was he on the following:
A. Combat?
B. I Spy?
C. Mr Novak?
D. Ben Casey?
E. Gidget?
F. The Untouchables?
G. Alfred Hitchock Presents?
H. The Great American Adventure?

Underrated Performer of the Week: Barbara Bel Geddes

Quality—not quantity—defined Barbara Bel Geddes’ career in film and television. She only made twelve films, but two of them are beloved classics:       I Remember Mama and Vertigo. On the small screen, she starred in possibly the most famous episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and became a household name to a new generation in the 1980s as “Miss Ellie” Ewing on Dallas.

Bel Geddes, whose father was an architect and stage designer, fell in love with the theatre at an early age. She was 18 when she made her Broadway debut as Dottie Coburn in the 1941 comedy Out of the Frying Pan. When she won a 1947 New York Drama Critics Award for Deep Are the Roots, Hollywood came calling.

Bel Geddes made her film debut opposite Henry Fonda and Vincent Price in The Long Night (1948), a remake of the brooding 1939 French classic Le Jour se lève. The following year, Bel Geddes landed her most memorable film role as Irene Dunne’s daughter in I Remember Mama, a heartfelt ode to motherhood. She received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

After solid performances in Panic in the Streets (1950) and Fourteen Hours (1951), Bel Geddes’ film career stalled when she was investigated by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Although she was not one of “The Hollywood Ten”, she turned her focus back to the theatre, where she appeared on Broadway in The Moon Is Blue and The Living Room. In 1956, Bel Geddes earned raves as Maggie the Cat in the original stage version of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. She earned Tony Award nominations for Williams’ play and for the 1961 comedy Mary, Mary.

She returned to Hollywood in 1958 to star in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo. She played Midge (see photo above), James Stewart’s quietly-suffering female friend who longed to be more than just a friend. The part eventually led to four appearances on Hitch’s TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The best of those episodes—indeed, one of the best in the series’ entire run—was “Lamb to the Slaughter.” It featured Bel Geddes as a woman who kills her cheating husband with a frozen leg of lamb. (There’s more to the story, but no spoilers here!)

By 1978, Bel Geddes was working sporadically when she was offered the part of matriarch Ellie Ewing in the CBS prime time soap Dallas. When the show blossomed into a ratings behemoth, she became known to a whole new generation as simply “Miss Ellie.” The part earned her an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress. She left Dallas after heart surgery in 1983 and was replaced by Donna Reed. When viewers rejected the “new” Miss Ellie, Bel Geddes was convinced to return to the role until shortly before Dallas left the airwaves in 1991.

Barbara Bel Geddes subsequently retired to Maine. She died of lung cancer in 2005. She was married twice.

Trivia Time Part 20: The Answers.

A pretty good week. I was happy to see some new players. I hope you will become "regulars". Here is what was not answered this week.

#2. The second "Dave" I was looking for for is Dave Edmunds. A personal favorite.

The answers for all of  # 7 & 8 are in the following post. I did not want you to take my word for it. Besides, it's a classic.



#10. "Mother" was a 1928 Porter.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Month of Mysteries: Alastair Sims Hosts an Evening of Revelations in "An Inspector Calls"

A well-to-do British family of four, the Birlings, is seated around a dinner table in 1912. Each is dressed to the nines and the family is celebrating the betrothal of the daughter, Sheila, to Gerald Croft, the fifth person present. The remaining family members include the father, mother, and son, Eric.

We receive some hints about their personalities from small comments made casually. Sheila sometimes has a bad temper. Eric drinks to excess. Gerald’s mother thinks he can better himself socially. Mrs. Birling is extremely concerned about maintaining correctness in everything. And Mr. Birling is pleased about the prosperity and progress of the times, but naïve about the potential for war. He announces to Gerald that there is a good chance for him (Mr. Birling) to receive a knighthood “so long as we all behave ourselves and don’t get into the police courts.” Gerald responds, “You seem a nice, well behaved family to me.”

Right on cue, into their midst, appears Inspector Poole, who is about to change their lives forever. He brings the news that a young woman, Eva Smith, has just died from ingesting disinfectant. The inspector wants to speak with all five people and, one by one, a complex story emerges.

He starts with the beginning of the story. In the autumn of 1910, the father opened a new machine shop at The Works. It was brought to his attention that five female employees were dissatisfied with their low pay and having trouble making ends meet. One young woman, Eva Smith, boldly asked her employer why he couldn’t increase their pay. Mr. Birling’s solution was to fire them all.

After a few months, Eva found another position but had an encounter with a customer who had a hissy fit when she tried on a hat that didn’t suit her. The rude patron also happened to be a Birling, which resulted in Eva’s second firing. The story continues with each member at the table’s history with this woman.

Inspector Poole is expertly portrayed by Alastair Sim. He is an unusual detective who seems to know everything before it is revealed. As the story unfolds in flashbacks, we see that some members of the family truly are concerned for the part they may have played in Eva Smith’s predicament.

The mystery conveys a strong message: sometimes we can impact another person’s life much more profoundly than we may realize.

All of the cast members had busy careers on film but the one I have seen most often, besides Alastair Sim, was Brian Worth (Gerald Croft). Worth appeared in a host of popular British television shows including the Quatermass and the Pit serial, Danger Man, The Saint, The Prisoner, The Champions, and The Protectors. The other five actors include Jane Wenham as Eva, Eileen Moore as Sheila, Olga Lindo as Mrs. Birling, Arthur Young as Mr. Birling, and Bryan Forbes as Eric.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Name the Movie Game (19 January Edition)

As a reminder, here are the rules:

1. You may ask up to five yes or no questions a day. Each guess does count as one question.

2. Please number each question or each guess to make it easier for me to respond to them.

3. The player who is the first to guess the movie correctly will be the one to make the selection for the following week’s Name the Movie Game.

4. The game will end on Saturday night if the movie is not guessed.


I will be monitoring the blog from now until 11 p.m.



I am thinking of a movie from the 1940's.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Month of Mysteries: The Police and the Underworld Seek the Same Killer in Fritz Lang's M (1931)




This Cafe Special was written by Kim Wilson.

The original title of this classic 1931 German film was Murderers Among Us. Though Hitler had not come to power yet, his little friends, the Nazis, had achieved great success in recent Reichstag elections. So, when they saw this title they naturally assumed it was about them--you would think this admission would have had a bigger effect on the German population. Anyway, they tried to derail director Fritz Lang’s production, via, not surprisingly, death threats. Though they weren’t right about many things, the Nazis and their reliance on mob mentality were essentially a key underlying theme. In the end, the name was simply changed to M. Two years later, with the Austrian madman fully in charge, Lang thought it best if he leave Germany. Unlike the Nazis, he was right.

Based on the real-life case of the Monster of Dusseldorf, Peter Kurten, this German Expressionistic film about the hunt for a child killer is Fritz Lang’s greatest talking picture. Not only was it provocative storytelling at its best, it was also one of the biggest influences on the development of film noir. Darkness, both internal and external, is at the core of this picture.

Peter Lorre plays Hans Beckert, a pathologically-driven serial killer of children. In the beginning of the film we learn that 8 children have been murdered over the past year. We see a blind man (Georg John) selling balloons and a little girl, Elsie Beckmann, taking the hand of a whistling man who buys her a balloon. A ball, the simple toy of a child, rolls down a hill and comes to a rest—and so has little Elsie. The murder takes place off-screen, but Lang uses Elsie’s balloon to show us all we need to see: now separated from her empty hand it ends up ensnared in telephone wires.

With angry parents demanding justice, the police begin to feel threatened and turn their investigation toward the seedier side of town: the criminal underworld. Seeing their activities strongly scrutinized by the police, the criminals, led by Shranker (Gustaf Grundgens), must now join in the search for the killer to ensure their own survival. Lang uses intercut scenes to show how both police and criminals plot strategies to get the killer—in essence saying there is no difference between the two groups. They decide to place those least likely to be noticed to set up surveillance: beggars. Again, Lang is making a social comment, especially when you consider what was going on in Germany at this time.

When the balloon seller hears a man whistling Edvard Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King” he remembers that a man was whistling the same tune the day of Elsie Beckmann’s murder. He tips off a nearby beggar, who follows Beckert leading a girl into a candy store. After When Beckert throws an orange peel on the sidewalk the beggar pretends to slip on it. Catching Beckert as he slips, he places a “M” on Beckert's shoulder, via his chalked palm. Beckert is now, literally, a marked man. In addition to this, the police have now tracked a postcard sent to the newspaper by the killer to Beckert’s apartment. When they search his room they find clues that link him to the crimes: Ariston cigarettes and a red pencil.

When the little girl he’s about to kill notices the “M” on his back and offers to wipe it off Beckert realizes he’s caught and runs into an office building. Schränker sends his men to search the building. Not knowing what is happening, a night watchman sounds the alarm. Just before the police arrive, the criminals find Beckert and leave the building—all except Franz (Friendrich Gnass), who now becomes the suspect. To save his own skin, Franz tells the police his friends have taken Beckert to an abandoned distillery to stand trial.

At his trial, Beckert attempts to explain that he can’t be held accountable for his actions because he does them unwillingly. It is an evil inside him that compels him to kill. He utters the classic line, “Who knows what it feels like to be me?" I find it especially interesting that his judges, the criminals, are wearing long leather coats instead of robes—another nod to the Nazi’s? Yet, before the criminals can inflict their brand of justice, the police arrive and take Beckert away. At his “real” trial, crying mothers await the verdict of the killer of their children and one says, “One has to keep closer watch over the children. All of you." No wiser words were ever uttered in Germany in the 1930s!

There are very few German films of the 1930s (with good reason) that capture the sense of doom that looms during this period. Lang uses lighting, specifically chiaroscuro, and high-angle shots to emphasize the evil that looms above. It is a menace that can’t be seen, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It is foreshadowing (literally) at its best.

It is apt that Lang would use Edvard Grieg’s “Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt to identify Beckert to his victims and the viewers. As this opera is all about identity crisis. I suppose Lang took great pride in the fact that he himself was the actual whistler of this tune, since Lorre couldn’t do it himself.

Finally, the choice of Peter Lorre, with his bulging, sad eyes and strange ability to make sympathetic (and creepy) grimaces, was a wonderful choice for Beckert. This role elevated his career, but also typecast him as the villain for years to come. He, like Lang, had to flee Germany and the Nazis.

A must-see on many levels: cinematic, societal, and historical.


Be sure to check out Kim's new blog 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

This Week's Poll: What's Your Favorite Family Western Series from the 1960s?

Western TV series that focused on big families and big ranches were a mainstay of television in the 1960s. The list below includes of five of the best, ranging from the long-running Bonanza to the short-lived Lancer. Which one was your favorite?

Bonanza - For 14 seasons, viewers invited the Cartwright family into their living rooms on Sunday nights. Patriarch Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) was a widower with three sons, each of whom had a different mother. They lived on the sprawling Ponderosa ranch in Nevada. The oldest son, Adam (Pernell Robert) was an architect; gentle giant Hoss (Dan Blocker) was the middle son; and impetutous Little Joe (Michael Landon) was the youngest. Hop Sing (Victor Sen Yung) was the Cartwrights' cook. Roberts left the show in 1965. There were various attempts at adding a replacement character. The only one that "stuck" was teenage orphan Jamie Hunter (Mitch Vogel), whom Ben eventually adopted.

The Big Valley - In 1965, ABC launched its own version of Bonanza, starring the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck as Victoria Barkley, a widow who runs another sprawling ranch (this one in California). Her oldest son, Jarrod (Richard Long) was a lawyer; tough-minded Nick (Peter Breck) ran the ranch; daughter Audra (Linda Evans) was as strong-willed as her mother; and Heath (Lee Majors)...well, he was the illegimate son of Victoria's deceased husband. During the first season, the youngest Barkley child, medical student Eugene (Charles Briles), appeared occasionally...but he was written out of the show!

The Virginian - Owen Wister's novel provided the loose inspiration for this 90-minutes series about the Shiloh Ranch that ran on NBC from 1962 to 1971. Cast members came and went so frequently that the only actors to remain for the show's complete run were Doug McClure as easygoing ranch hand Trampas and James Drury as the quietly strong foreman, known only as The Virginian. The actors who played the Shiloh owners at various times were an impressive lot. Lee J. Cobb was original owner Judge Henry Garth for four seasons. Charles Bickford was second owner John Grainger for two seasons. When Bickford died in real life, John McIntire took over as Clay Grainger, John's brother. The final Shiloh owner was Colonel Alan MacKenzie, played by Stewart Granger. By that time, the series had been retitled The Men from Shiloh and underwent an unsuccessful facelift for its final year.

Lancer - Considered a poor man's Bonzanza, 1968's Lancer series had a star-in-the-making with charismatic James Stacey. He played Johnny Madrid Lancer, a gunslinger who opts for a more stable life when he agrees to help his Boston-bred half-brother Scott (Wayne Maunder) run their father's (Andrew Duggan) ranch. Despite likable performers, Lancer faded after two seasons. In 1973, a drunken driver hit Stacey and his girlfriend while they were on a motorcycle. She died and Stacey lost an arm and a leg. He returned to acting and gave a fine performance as a newspaperman in Kirk Douglas' 1973 cult Western Posse. In the 1960s, Stacey was briefly married to Connie Stevens and then Kim Darby.

The High Chaparral - David Dortort, who created Bonanza, produced this 1967-71 series for NBC. Leif Erickson portrayed Big John Cannon, an ambitious man who moves his family to the Arizona Terrority in the 1870s to build a new life. In the show's first episode, Big John's wife, Annalee, is killed by an Indian arrow--but not before she dubs the future ranch "High Chaparral" (named after a bush). When Big John enters into a treaty of sorts with his wealthy Mexican neighbor, Don Sebastian Montoya, the deal is sealed with John's marriage to the much younger Victoria Montoya (Linda Cristal). The mutual respect and frictions between the two families differentiated High Chaparral from competing family Westerns. The series also provided fine supporting roles for Cameron Mitchell (John's brother Buck) and Henry Darrow (Victoria's brother Manolito) as bickering brothers-in-law.

So, those are your five nominations! Cast your vote in the green sidebar on the right.

Underrated Performer of the Week: Tom Conway

He was good-looking, suave, and always seems poised for a lead role that would propel him to film stardom--like his brother George Sanders. Unfortunately, Tom Conway never quite made it, though he forged a steady career in "B" pictures and headlined a couple of a cult classics.

Born Thomas Charles Sanders, Tom's family fled Russia at the outbreak of the Revolution and settled in England. As a young man, Tom tried his hand at several jobs (e.g., copper mining), but eventually entered show business. After working on the British stage, he went to the U.S. in 1941 at the invitation of his brother. Allegedly, Tom and George flipped a coin to see who would keep the family's last name; they were concerned that Hollywood producers might get confused if there were young male actors named Sanders.

Tom's first big break came when George wanted to depart from The Falcon series. George had played B-film "gentleman detectives" in five Saint films and three Falcon films. After a strong supporting performance in Rebecca (1940), Sanders was ready to graduate to "A" pictures as a lead. RKO, though, was making a tidy profit with The Falcon movies. So, in a case of inspired casting, RKO introduced Tom Conway as The Falcon's Brother (1942). The plot has the original Falcon (played by George) being killed and his brother, Tom Lawrence (Conway), solving the murder and taking over as the new Falcon!

Conway made ten Falcon movies, making it one of the most successful "B" detective series. The best of the bunch is The Falcon and the Co-Eds, which benefits from an delightfully atmospheric seaside setting. Concurrently, Conway was cast in major roles in three of Val Lewton's acclaimed horror/suspense films:  Cat People (1942), I Walked with a Zombie (1943), and The Seventh Victim (1943).

In the 1950s, roles became more scarce and Conway found himself working in low-budget films, television, and radio (providing the voice of both The Saint and Sherlock Holmes). His best post-1940s performance was as a ventriloquist in IThe Glass Eye",  a classic episode on Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Alcholism took its toll in the 1960s and a newspaper article revealed that Conway was practically broke and living in a cheap flophouse. He and George had become estranged by then.

Tom Conway died in 1967, at age 62, from cirrhosis of the liver.

Several of Conway's film have been reviewed at the Cafe. You may want to check out the following (click on the title to read the post):  The Seventh Victim, The Falcon and the Co-Eds, and A Toast to New Year's Eve Movies (includes Repeat Performance, which co-starred Conway).

Trivia Time Part 20

This weeks Trivia Time is going to be a little tougher than normal. Sark's wife and Dawn still have A "Free Pass" until the end of the month. The Lady Eve won a "Free Pass" for this week. The rest of you are on your own.

Who Am I? I am a founding member of AMPAS, a director whose range of work is huge. I've work with among others: Welles, Flynn. Greg Peck, Thomas Mitchell, Richard Loo, Vincent Price, Alice Faye, Tyrone Power, Ava Gardner, Lee J. Cobb, Jean Peters, Henry Fonda, Dean Jagger, and Jay Silverheels. Who Am I ?

#1. In the Edmond O`Brien version of 1984 who were his male and female co stars?

#2. Who were the two Dave's that co-starred in the cult rock film Stardust?

#3. In 1949, Van Johnson and Leon Ames were in two films together. Name the films.

#4. Who were the stars of the NBC series Mr. Novack?

#5. Brain Buster # 1 - Who were the stars of the TV series Wild Bill Hickok?

#6. Brain Buster # 2 - Who was the sponsor?

#7. Brain Buster #3 - In a flashback episode of Taxi , who played Jim's "Stoner"college room mate?

#8. Brain Buster #4 - What was he stoned on? How? At what college?

#9. Brain Buster#5 - In the film Say Anything, when John Cusack is standing in the rain with his boombox over his head, what song was playing on the boombox?

#10. Brain Buster #6. On the TV show My Mother The Car, what was the year and make of the car? Who was the voice of  "Mom"?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Friday Night Late Movie: Kirk and Tony Fight Over Janet in "The Vikings"

Two years before they appeared in Spartacus, Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis teamed for this colorful 1958 costume epic about the Norsemen.

Kirk stars as Einor, son of Viking leader Ernest Borgnine, who leads continuous raids against the bickering British nobles. Tony, as a slave whose secret past is quickly revealed, plays Kirk’s despised enemy. He and Kirk spend much of the film vying for the affections of the lovely kidnapped Princess Morgana (Janet Leigh).

Certainly, The Vikings lacks the emotional depth of the superior Spartacus. One problem is that it’s hard to like the Vikings—they’re portrayed, probably accurately, as chauvinist pigs devoted to plundering and drinking ale. Still, there’s an underlying sense of honor to the proceedings and the action scenes are superbly staged. The violence, though, must have been considered shocking in the late 1950s--especially when a hawk attacks Kirk and when Tony is brutally punished for helping an enemy. By the way, in the scene in which the Vikings ran across the tops of their ship’s oars, Kirk Douglas refused to use a double...and fared better than the stunt men.

In terms of craftsmanship, The Vikings is first-rate in all departments. Famed cinematographer Jack Cardiff (Black Narcissus) lensed the Norwegian locales in brilliant color. Italian film composer Mario Nascimbene's score, especially the “welcome home” call on a Viking horn, may stick in your head for several days.

Director Richard Fleischer teamed with Kirk four years earlier in Disney's lavish 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Fleischer would work with Curtis again in 1968's The Boston Strangler.

Tony and Janet, who were married when they made The Vikings, also co-starred in The Perfect Furlough that same year. The couple appeared in five films together: the two already mentioned, plus Houdini (1953), The Black Shield of Falworth (1954), and Who Was That Lady? (with Dean Martin).


 No, it's not a Ricola commercial. A Viking plays
a catchy tune to signal the arrival of ships.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Coming January 24 on TCM Imports: Max Ophuls' final film, LOLA MONTES

One of my favorite Turner Classic Movies features, "TCM Imports," will showcase Lola Montes, the last film of legendary director Max Ophuls, in the wee hours of Sunday night/Monday morning, January 24th/25th, at 2:45 am Eastern/11:45 pm Pacific. Get your DVR or other device set to record, this is a must-see!

When first released in 1955, the film was a resounding flop. Apparently one of the few who championed Lola Montes was a young critic named Francois Truffaut. In the 1960s, on seeing Lola for the first time, critic Andrew Sarris called it "the greatest film of all time." Over the years, Lola gained both renown and reputation and was progressively restored to a version closer to Ophuls' original cut and vision. A newly restored version was shown at the New York Film Festival in 2008 and Roger Ebert wrote, "...it is breath-taking, an extravaganza of bright circus colors and Ophuls' fluid camera and in wide-screen cinemascope." The Criterion Collection will release the DVD set (including many extras) on February 16.

Much has been written and said about Lola - including that Ophuls predicts the cult of modern celebrity with his telling of the tale of a scandalous 19th century cabaret dancer famous for her many affairs. The film stars Martine Carol as Lola, Peter Ustinov, Anton Walbrook and Oskar Werner.

A footnote...it is said that the real-life Lola Montez was the inspiration for the saying, "Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets."

A Month of Mysteries: Is Troy Donahue a Psycho in "My Blood Runs Cold"?

While speeding down a coastal highway in her convertible, Julie Merriday (Joey Heatherton) almost runs over motorcyclist Ben Gunther (Troy Donahue). Although Ben is shaken up, he appears to be okay—except that he keeps staring at Julie and calling her Barbara.

Ben eventually reveals that he believes Julie is the reincarnation of her great grandmother Barbara Merriday and that he was Barbara’s lover in a previous life. Ben gives Julie an antique locket with an authentic portrait of Barbara…who looks just like Julie. Ben also seems to know details of the Merriday family history heretofore only known to Julie’s Aunt Sarah (Jeanette Nolan). Are Ben and Julie really reincarnated lovers? Is this a scam perpetrated by someone with intimate knowledge of the family—like Aunt Sarah? Is Ben just plain crazy? But if he is, how does he know so much about Julie’s family?

For most of its running time, My Blood Runs Cold holds its cards closely and functions nicely as a low-budget thriller. Actor William Conrad (TV’s Cannon, radio’s Matt Dillon) directed a lot of TV episodes in the 1960s, but this was one of his few feature films at the helm. He takes advantage of the seaside setting, using the waves and washed-up seaweed, for example, to hide most of the corpse on the beach. He also recognizes that his picture is targeted toward teens and thus doesn’t miss an opportunity to show hunky Troy with his shirt off or shapely Joey Heatherton in a bathing suit.

Heatherton is quite appealing as Julie, often reminding one of Donahue’s frequent co-star Connie Stevens. Her best scene is a conversation with Nolan as Aunt Sarah, in which Julie confesses that she doesn’t know what to do with her life. She wants to do something meaningful and Ben provides her with an opportunity. My Blood Runs Cold turned out to be one of Heatherton’s few films. She fared better as a Vegas entertainer and on USO tours (and TV specials) with Bob Hope.

As for Donahue, it’s easy to see why the role of Ben appealed to him. He had just completed four “soaps” with director Delmer Daves, a teen comedy (Palm Springs Weekend), and a Western directed by Raoul Walsh (the cult pic A Distant Trumpet). In My Blood Runs Cold, he got to headline a contemporary thriller in which it’s not obvious if he’s the hero or the villain. Never a strong actor, Donahue succeeded because of his natural appeal and good looks. He might have developed into a better actor had he been groomed by the studio system. But by the time he came along in the late 1950s, Warner Bros. was content to cast him in anything. He was being overexposed on TV in Surfside 6 and Hawaiian Eye while concurrently starring in films like Parrish and Susan Slade (both 1961).

My Blood Runs Cold isn’t an unknown classic thriller waiting to be discovered. It has its flaws (especially the drawn-out ending), but still works as a consistently interesting B-film with two likable leads. It’s the kind of movie you might have seen as a second feature at the drive-in in the 1960s…and driven home thinking: “That was better than I expected.”

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Month of Mysteries: "Jagged Edge" is a Movie with Many Edges

Made in 1985, Jagged Edge is one of my favorite mystery/suspense movies. It was directed by Richard Marquand, who is famous for directing Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi two years earlier. The screenplay was written by Joe Eszterhas who also wrote Basic Instinct in 1992. Many film critics think there is a similarity in the plot between the two films.

Jagged Edge reminds me of a courtroom mystery thriller made during the 1940s. It begins with a woman who is sleeping in a bed in a beautiful beach house. A person dressed in black with a black mask enters her room with a jagged-edged hunting knife. He overpowers her and ties her hands and feet to the bed. Then, we hear her screaming and see the outside of the house.

The murdered woman is Page Forrester, a wealthy socialite who owns a newspaper. The district attorney Thomas Krasny (Peter Coyote) immediately suspects that the victim's husband, Jack (Jeff Bridges), murdered his wife. Krasny is a lawyer who views this high profile case as a step to further his career. He is an interesting character who will stop at nothing to convict Jack.

Teddy Barnes, played by Glenn Close, is the lawyer who decides to defend Jack even though she has not tried a criminal case for four years. Teddy has her reasons for taking the case. She worked with Krasny four years ago. The two of them prosecuted a low-life criminal named Henry Styles for a crime. Teddy learned after Styles was convicted that Krasny knew information that could have proved Styles’ innocence. Teddy quit practicing criminal law because she said nothing about this and Styles went to prison. Krasny sees Teddy having dinner with her ex-husband in a restaurant. He informs her that Styles hanged himself in prison. Krasny hopes this fact will make Teddy feel even guiltier and she will not defend Jack. Instead, it only makes Teddy more determined to defend Jack; she views proving his innocence as a way to right the wrong done to Styles.

Teddy tells Jack she will not defend him unless she believes he is innocent. Jack is a clever man and convinces her that he truly cared for his wife. As the plot progresses, we see Teddy falling in love with Jack. They begin having an affair even though Teddy knows it is unethical. Teddy works with an investigator named Sam Ransom, played by Robert Loggia (who has the best lines in the movie). He is a crusty foul-mouthed investigator who warns Teddy about her relationship with Jack. He tells her he thinks Jack murdered his wife. Teddy defends Jack.

As the trial progresses, facts appear that make Jack look less guilty. Page Forrester’s best friend is put on the witness stand by Krasny. She tells the jury that Page was going to divorce her husband. Krasny points out that Jack Forrester is the sole beneficiary of his wife’s will and if his wife had divorced him, he would lose everything. Teddy questions the wife’s best friend and has a letter written by her saying how much she wanted Jack to become her lover—then an unexpected twist occurs. A note written on a 1942 Corona typewriter sent to Teddy suggests that a similar murder may have been attempted on another woman four months earlier. Teddy finds the intended victim, who tells the jury about her attacker. The attack and her attacker fit the murder of Page Forrester, throwing doubt onto another man. Will this latest revelation sway the jury?

I won't divulge the rest of the plot because it would ruin the ending. There is another twist and the climax of Jagged Edge is an absolutely stunning surprise. The last line in the movie, said by Sam Ransom, is just priceless--it's one you will remember forever.

The plot is carefully developed with intricate details. The viewer goes from thinking Jack is guilty to Jack is innocent several times. Is Teddy being fooled by Jack and his charm or is Jack really in love with her as she is with him? Will the two be happy forever in the end of the film? You will have to watch and see for yourself.

Robert Loggia was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in 1985. He didn’t win, but I think he should have. John Barry composed the haunting music. Barry is famous for composing many scores, including the ones for the James Bond movies. The 1942 Corona typewriter used in the movie was the same one that Joe Eszterhas used in writing the screenplay. I am a Star Wars fan so I have to mention this fact. When the ex-husband goes into his son and daughter’s bedroom to kiss them good night, there is a movie poster on the back of the bedroom door of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, which, as previously mentioned, was also directed by Marquand.

If you watch this movie, play close attention to all the details and events that occur. That is the most interesting and fascinating thing about it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Month of Mysteries: Murder Comes Ringing in "The Nine Tailors"

The quaint English town of Fenchurch St. Paul hardly seems like the proper place for two connected crimes—involving the theft of an emerald necklace and a mutilated corpse—committed over a decade apart. But then, there are many surprises awaiting mystery fans in the BBC’s 1974 adaptation of Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors.

Sayers wrote eleven novels and several short stories between 1923 and 1939 featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, a well-to-do amateur detective, assisted in sleuthing by his butler Bunter. Peter Haddon played Wimsey in the now-obscure 1935 British film The Silent Passenger and Robert Montgomery was the aristocratic detective in 1940’s Haunted Honeymoon (which Sayers refused to see). Edward Petherbridge played a married Wimsey in three limited-run television series in the late 1980s. But the most famous of all Wimsey interpreters is Ian Carmichael, who starred in The Nine Tailors and four other BBC Wimsey mysteries that played stateside on Masterpiece Theater: Clouds of Witness (1972); The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1973); Murder Must Advertise (1973); and The Five Red Herrings (1975). Carmichael and Glyn Houston as Bunter made a terrific tandem in all five adaptations, but my favorite is The Nine Tailors.

The first of the four 50-minute episodes is an extended prologue set on the eve of World War I that finds Lord Peter subbing for his brother, the Duke of Denver, at the Thorpe family wedding in Fenchurch St. Paul. That night, an emerald necklace worth over 60,000 pounds is stolen from Mrs. Wilbraham, a wedding guest. The culprits, the Thorpe’s butler and a professional jewel theft, are captured quickly—but the necklace is never found. Learning that the insurance policy has lapsed, Mr. Thorpe reimburses Mrs. Wilbraham for the cost of the necklace, an honorable act that brings near-financial ruin on the family.

Over a decade later, Lord Peter and Bunter get stranded in the countryside when their auto slides off an icy road while en route to a Wimsey family New Year’s gathering. The nearest town turns out to be Fenchurch St. Paul, whose residents are coping with an influenza outbreak. Lord Peter and Bunter spend the night at the home of the local vicar, who now lacks enough healthy men to set a new record by ringing the church bells for nine hours. Lord Peter professes some knowledge of bell ringing and steps in to assist. When he and Bunter depart the following day, they learn that Mrs. Thorpe (the bride from the earlier wedding) has died from the flu. When her husband also dies a few months later, an unidentified man’s corpse is discovered in Mrs. Thorpe’s grave…the face has been mutilated and the hands removed. Needless to say, that brings Lord Peter back to Fenchurch St. Paul for his third and final visit.

The unraveling of the multiple mysteries in The Nine Tailors keeps the series engrossing from start to finish. Some Sayers enthusiasts argue that one of the twists is revealed in the prologue. While that’s true, it doesn’t detract from the main questions: Where is the emerald necklace? Who killed the victim, why, and how? It’s the “how”—revealed in the final ten minutes of the series—that make The Nine Tailors both memorable and satisfying.

Carmichael sparkles as Lord Peter, capturing both his upper crust manner and his genuine concern for others. If there’s a quibble with The Nine Tailors, it’s that Glyn Houston, as Bunter, has less to do than in other adaptations in the series. On the bright side, the prologue includes a couple of rewarding scenes between Major Wimsey and Sergeant Bunter during the war. Plus, it also explains how Bunter came to work for Lord Peter.

The BBC produced some of its finest productions in the 1970s, to include Upstairs, Downstairs, The Pallisers, Poldark, and I, Claudius. All of these series exhibited first-rate production values and impeccable casts (including many London stage veterans). The Lord Peter Wimsey series is another fine representative of the BBC’s “Golden Era.” So, brew yourself a cup of stout tea (with sugar and milk), grab some biscuits (cookies for us Yanks), and cozy up for a classic Lord Peter Wimsey mystery. (By the way, the title has nothing to do with tailors!)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Name the Movie Game (12 January Edition)

This week's host is last week's winner: Tom from Motion Picture Gems.

As a reminder, here are the rules:

1. You may ask up to five yes or no questions a day. Each guess does count as one question.

2. Please number each question or each guess to make it easier for me to respond to them.

3. The player who is the first to guess the movie correctly will be the one to make the selection for the following week’s Name the Movie Game.

4. The game will end on Saturday night if the movie is not guessed before then.

I am thinking of a movie made in the 1950s.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Dial H For Hitchcock: "Shadow of a Doubt" - Norman Rockwell with a Twist in Hitchcock's America


Shadow of a Doubt (1943) was Alfred Hitchcock's fifth American film and the first of his films that he believed truly depicted America. Hitchcock's "first draft" attempt at this had been Saboteur (1942), but he hadn't had the cast he'd wanted, he felt the script was weak and that he'd been rushed into the film before he was ready...none of this was the case with Shadow of a Doubt.

The narrative was based on a story called "Uncle Charlie" by Gordon McConell. For the adaptation, Hitchcock got Thornton Wilder, convinced that the author of Our Town possessed the concept of small-town America he wanted for Shadow of a Doubt. Wilder, who helped Hitchcock select Santa Rosa, California, as the setting, wrote a prose outline of the story before being mobilized into World War II. Hitchcock then turned to screenwriter Sally Benson, another writer deeply steeped in Americana. Her "5135 Kensington Avenue" stories had been the basis for Meet Me in St. Louis.

The opening scenes of Shadow of a Doubt make it clear that the man we come to know as Charles Oakley (Joseph Cotten) has sinister secrets and a dark side, so when he descends on pristine Santa Rosa and his sister's family, the Newtons, we already know that something is quite wrong, but we don't what it is. Oakley is handsome and smooth. His voice is velvet and his manner is insinuating; he has seen the world and flaunts his style and money with confidence. When he comes to stay with the Newtons, their staid community is bedazzled and responds by immediately embracing him.

Santa Rosa, scene of much location work, is blissfuly serene, a spotless tree-filled little town of quaint houses with broad porches, lush flower beds, friendly neighbors, fussy librarians, crusty traffic cops, immaculate churches, a stately and bustling bank and every trapping of the ideal American town in the 1940s.

At the heart of the film is a doppelganger motif personified by young Charlie (Teresa Wright) and her Uncle Charlie. They are admitted "doubles," she was named for him and adores him; he obviously favors her. The two Charlies seem to have a psychic link, share a restless spirit and other traits. But one of the pair is pure while the other is corrupt, and the two eventually come to an unbridgeable abyss and a stand-off. Teresa Wright delicately renders Charlie as an intelligent and decent girl impatiently verging on womanhood. Intuitive and strong, she has her mettle tested and must grow up quickly and profoundly when she realizes her beloved uncle is a cold-blooded killer. Uncle Charlie, intricately wrought by Cotten, is a ruthless sociopath of indecent charm. His view of humanity is far beyond cynical:

"Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know if you ripped the fronts off houses you'd find swine?"
Wright and Cotten contrast and play off each other beautifully; their scenes together are rock solid. Backing them up is an excellent supporting cast that includes Hume Cronyn making his memorable film debut as the Newton's eccentric next-door-neighbor; Henry Travers, cozy and congenial as small-town-dad Joe Newton; Patricia Collinge, note-perfect as fluttery and sentimental Emma Newton. Also very watchable are Edna May Wonacott as the cheeky little sister and Wallace Ford as a detective on Oakley's trail. (See this week's "Underrated Performers" blog, posted January 10, to learn more about Collinge and Wonacott)
Shadow of a Doubt has been called Hitchcock's first fully-realized masterwork. I'm not so quick to write-off his direction and overall imprint on Rebecca, but agree that Shadow of a Doubt, multi-layered and meticulously orchestrated, is among his very best films. The juxtaposition of a simple and complacent American small town with the lethal killer creeping toward its heart is neatly executed, and the early kinship that becomes a battle-to-the-death relationship between the two Charlies ensures that the dramatic tension never eases up.

What are your impressions of Hitchcock's vision of America in Shadow of a Doubt? Any comments about his style and technique or technical aspects of the picture? Which of the performances are standouts for you and why? Does it seem to you that the film is referencing the international situation of the time? What other films owe a debt to this one? ...And have you heard about or noticed the repeated use of "twos" or "doubles" (starting with the two Charlies) in Shadow of a Doubt?


(Note: Shown at top left, "Freedom From Want" (1943) by Norman Rockwell aka/"The Thanksgiving Picture," it is one of Rockwell's "Four Freedoms" paintings inspired by President Roosevelt's 1941 State of the Union Address; the color photo is "The Newton House" on MacDonald Avenue in Santa Rosa, California)