Thursday, May 29, 2014

There's a the World!

"Slow in takeoff and inclined to over-clinical scientific exposition, (the) action gradually hits its stride when the experiment backfires and results in giant earthquakes, tidal waves and general destruction of the world."

That was Variety's assessment of Crack in the World when it was released in 1965. I pretty much agree, although time has been kind to this well-made, modestly-budgeted science fiction film. In retrospect, it is one of the better sci fi efforts of the 1960s, though certainly not in the same category as the somewhat similar The Day the Earth Caught Fire.

Dana Andrews as Dr. Sorenson.
Dana Andrews stars as Dr. Stephen Sorenson, a dedicated scientist who hopes to create "limitless, clean heat" by drilling to the magma at the Earth's core. Unfortunately, after drilling down two miles, his team hits a portion of the Earth's crust that can't be penetrated by mechanical means. Sorenson's solution is to use a thermonuclear device to punch through that final layer.

His colleague, Ted Rampion (Kieron Moore), adamantly opposes that plan, claiming the explosion will trigger ruptures in existing fissures created by previous nuclear tests. Sorenson ignores Rampion's warnings and, after securing permission by a government commission, he detonates the atomic bomb. Without minutes, an earthquake creates a crack in the Earth's crust that travels along a fault line at 3 miles per hour--threatening to literally cut the Earth in half.

Rampion (Kieran Moore) in the volcano.
Except for occasional stock footage,which is ill-matched for the most part, there's a dearth of disaster scenes in Crack in the World until the fiery climax. Still, veteran director Andrew Marton (King Solomon's Mines) mounts two impressive sequences in the film's final half-hour. The first one generates effective tension as Rampion emplaces another thermonuclear device into a live volcano, hoping to create a hole big enough to stop the crack. Marton's other highlight is an action sequence with Rampion and Sorenson's wife (Janette Scott) racing to higher ground to avoid crashing boulders and streams of steaming lava.

The film's human elements don't work as well. The terminally-ill Sorenson pushes away his younger wife--right into the arms of her former lover Rampion. If it was because he was concerned about her future happiness, he might come across as sympathetic. As it is, Sorenson remains an egotistical genius ("I have an opportunity to turn the pages of history"), who becomes consumed by guilt after his actions result in thousands of lost lives.

Janette Scott as a blonde.
Except for Andrews as Sorenson, the cast is saddled with stereotypical characters. That said, Kieran is fine as the stalwart Rampion--part scientist and part action hero. Sadly, the lovely Janette Scott is wasted in the thankless role of Maggie Sorenson. It's a sharp contrast to the resourceful heroine she played in Day of the Triffids.

Shot in Spain, Crack in the World looks more expensive than its budget. Much of that credit belongs to Eugène Lourié, who received credits for both art direction and special effects. Born in France, Lourié first gained fame as an art director working with Jean Renoir on classics such as Grand Illusion (1937). He moved to America during World War II and worked on films ranging from the The House of Fear (with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes) to Charles Chaplin's Limelight. Lourié also directed occasionally, with his best work being another above-average 1960s sci fi film Gorgo.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Letters in Classic Movies

Joseph Cotten and Jennifer Jones
in Love Letters.
Letters have brought lovers together, torn marriages apart, incriminated the innocent, blackmailed the guilty, and caused endless misunderstandings.

Frequently in films, the identity of a letter’s author is an intentional deception. A little girl sent her mother’s photo to her lonely soldier pen pal in Never Say Goodbye (1946), never suspecting that he would come visiting. Similar pen pal deceptions occurred in 1945’s A Letter for Evie and the 1947 hit comedy Dear Ruth. Cyrano de Bergerac (Jose Ferrer) wrote poignant love letters to the beautiful Roxanne, but signed the name of his hapless friend Christian in the 1950 adaptation of Edmund Rostand’s celebrated play. Jennifer Jones, who suffered amnesia in Love Letters (1945), learned that her wartime love letters were not written by her fiancé. The deceiving letters penned by the devious Marquise de Merteuil (Glenn Close) in Dangerous Liaisons (1988) eventually led to the death of her lover (John Malkovitch).

Stewart and Sullavan in The Shop
Around the Corner.
There was no intent to deceive in The Shop Around the Corner (1940), in which pen pals James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan fell in love through their letters, not realizing they were co-workers. Likewise, there was no intended mischief with the unsigned love note dropped into a high school locker in the pleasant 1985 comedy Secret Admirer--though it subsequently revealed a host of hidden feelings. The same can't be said for A Letter to Three Wives (1949). Celeste Holm provided the voice of the authoress of the title letter, in which three ladies learn that one of their husbands has run off with Holm’s character.

Loretta Young looks
Cause for Alarm.
Paul Lukas played a converted Nazi incriminated by false letters sent by a former friend in Address Unknown (1944).  Loretta Young tried to retrieve another incriminating letter, one framing her for murder, in 1951’s Cause for Alarm. Pat Boone was similarly panic-stricken over a hard-to-retrieve letter in the British comedy Never Put It in Writing (1964).

Misdirected letters reaching their destination after a year-long delay provided the premise for the three-part TV-movie The Letters and its sequel Letters from Three Lovers (both 1973).

84 Charing Cross Road (1987) traced the charming 20-year letter-writing relationship between a New York book lover (Anne Bancroft) and a British book dealer (Anthony Hopkins). Below is a representative list of classic films in which letters played a major role:

The Strong Man (1926)
Poison Pen (1939)
The Shop Around the Corner (1940)
The Letter (1940)
Address Unknown (1944)
Love Letters (1945)
A Letter for Evie (1945)
Never Say Goodbye  (1946)
The Captive Heart (1946)
Dear Ruth (1947)
The Lost Moment (1947)
Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948)
A Letter to Three Wives (1949)
Cyrano de Bergerac (1950)
Cause for Alarm (1951)
The 13th Letter (1951)
Demoniaque (1958)
Fate Takes a Hand (1961)
Never Put It in Writing (1964)
Dear Brigitte (1965)
The Go-Between (1971)
The Letters (1973 TVM)
Letters from Three Lovers (1973 TVM)
No Sex Please, We’re British (1973)
Dirty Tricks (1980)
Touched by Love (aka To Elvis, With Love) (1980)
The Letter (1982 TVM)
Love Letters (aka My Love Letters) (1983)
A Letter to Three Wives (1985 TVM)
Secret Admirer (1985)
84 Charing Cross Road (1987)
Dangerous Liaisons (1988)

Reprinted with the authors' permission from the Encyclopedia of Film Themes, Settings and Series.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

My Cousin Rachel: Is Olivia de Havilland a Murderer?

Can you name two real-life sisters who each starred in a Hollywood adaptation of a Daphne Du Maurier novel? The answer, as you may have known, is Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland. Joan naturally starred in Rebecca, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Oscar-winner. Olivia portrayed the title role in 1952’s lesser-known, but equally compelling, My Cousin Rachel. It’s not surprising that Rebecca was the bigger hit of the two, given its all-star cast and the collaboration of Hitchcock and David O. Selznick. Also, it boasted a happy ending. But while I admire Rebecca, I find the intentionally ambiguous My Cousin Rachel to be the more intriguing film.

Richard Burton (in his first major screen role) plays Philip Ashley, a young man raised by his older cousin Ambrose on an isolated estate along the Cornish coast. The two men have a close relationship, as evidenced by Philip’s description of Ambrose as “father, brother, friend--everything in the world to me.” Thus, Philip is surprised when his cousin departs for an indefinite holiday in Italy for health reasons. That surprise only grows when he receives a letter from Ambrose announcing his marriage to Rachel Sangalletti, a widowed distant cousin. Weeks later, Philip receives a series of disturbing letters in which Ambrose accuses Rachel of trying to kill him. Philip rushes to Florence to see his cousin, only to learn that Ambrose has died and Rachel has vanished.

Philip confronts his cousin's widow.
Shortly after Philip’s return to Cornwall, Rachel (Olivia de Havilland) appears on an apparent pretense to deliver some of her late husband’s possessions. Philip wants to accuse her of Ambrose’s murder, even though there is medical evidence that a brain tumor may have caused his cousin’s paranoid behavior. However, Philip—like everyone else—finds Rachel to be completely charming. In fact, he begins to fall in love with her, despite rumors of questionable behavior on her part.

Philip searches for murder evidence.
There have been numerous films built around the “did they or didn’t they” premise (Suspicion, anyone?). But I can’t think of a movie that plays on that premise more skillfully than My Cousin Rachel. At various points during the film, the viewer is equally convinced that Rachel is a clever, money-grubbing murderer or an innocent woman coping with conflicting emotions. Her actions ensure that she remains a enigma. Rachel appears to return Philip’s affections, but she coldly turns down his marriage proposal. She nurses him when he is gravely ill, but rejects him again when he recovers. She announces her departure from Cornwall, but confides to a friend her strong feelings for Philip. We’re never sure if she’s wrestling with her emotions or just very devious.

As for Philip, there is no doubt that he is naïve and prone to quick decisions. He ignores sound financial advice from his solicitor. He rejects all criticism and acts peevish when he doesn’t get his way. One explanation for his behavior may be his desire to replace Ambrose with Rachel, as if the thought of being alone is more than he can bear. He dismisses any romantic interest in Louisa, his pretty neighbor and long-time friend. It’s as if only Rachel can fill the lonely void left by Ambrose.

Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland excel at playing these complex characters. Daphne Du Maurier recommended Burton for the part. It’s not a subtle performance, perhaps because the stage-trained actor was still adjusting to the medium of film. However, his tendency to sometimes overplay works to his advantage, imbuing Philip with an almost manic personality. Burton earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Richard Burton at age 27.
Some sources claim that Burton and de Havilland did not get along well. In his biography Richard Burton: Prince of Players, Michael Munn quotes de Havilland: “(Burton is) a coarse-grained man with a coarse-grained charm and a talent not completely developed.” However, in an interview with Irene Kahn Atkins, My Cousin Rachel’s director Henry Koster claimed there was no friction between his two stars. In reference to the young Burton, he stated: “Without him, this picture wouldn't have been what it was.”

Olivia de Havilland as Rachel.
For her part, Olivia de Havilland gives one of her best performances. She had not made a film in three years, but was still basking in the glow of critical acclaim for The Snake Pit (1948) and The Heiress (1949). Still, she was not the first choice for the title role in My Cousin Rachel. George Cukor considered directing the film at one time, with the goal of bringing Greta Garbo out of retirement to play Rachel. Vivien Leigh was also a candidate for the role before Olivia de Havilland was cast.

From a production standpoint, My Cousin Rachel looks impressive and believably recreates the Cornish coast (although some footage was shot in Cornwall). It’s no surprise that the film’s crew earned Oscar nominations for art direction, costume design, and cinematography (black & white).

Daphne Du Maurier’s novel was remade as a four-part British miniseries in 1983 with Geraldine Chaplin as Rachel and Christopher Guard as Philip. Alas, I’ve never seen it so I cannot make a comparison. It would have to be very good, though, to rank with the splendid 1952 version.

This review is part of the CMBA's Fabulous Films of the 1950s Blogathon. Click here to check out this wonderful blogathon's complete schedule.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Seven Things to Know About "The Adventures of Robin Hood"

1. It's been well-documented that Warner Bros. seriously considered James Cagney for the title role after his success in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1935). However, did you know that Warner Bros. originally wanted Guy Kibbee for Friar Tuck and David Niven for Will Scarlet? Although Olivia de Havilland was the first choice for Maid Marian, Jack Warner briefly considered Anita Louise before finally settling on Ms. de Haviland.

2. Bidwell Park, located in Chico, California, was used for the scenes in Sherwood Forest. Located about 500 miles north of Los Angeles, the park is over 3600 acres today.

Director Michael Curtiz.
3. William Keighley, the original director, shot most of the exterior scenes--only to be replaced during the production by Michael Curtiz. In Hal B. Wallis's 1980 autobiography Starmaker (written with Charles Higham), he offered this explanation: "The action scenes were not effective, and I had to replace the director mid-production, an unheard-of event at the time. I felt that only Michael Curtiz could give the picture the color and scope it needed. The reason we hadn't used him in the first place was because Errol had begged us not to."

4. Composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold originally turned down Warner Bros.' offer to score The Adventures of Robin Hood. In Robin Hood: An Anthology of Scholarship and Criticism, writer Rudy Behlmer quotes Korngold's assessment of the film (after viewing a working print): "Robin Hood is no picture for me. I have no relation to it and therefore cannot produce any music for it. I am a musician of the heart, of passions and psychology; I am not a musical illustrator for a 90% action film." Fortunately, Leo Forbstein, the head of Warners' music department, convinced Korngold to change his mind.

5. Master archer Howard Hill was the man who actually fired the arrows from a longbow. Hill provided his services for other films, too, such as The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex, They Died with Their Boots On, Dodge City, Virginia City, and Bandits of Sherwood Forest. He started the company Howard Hill Archery in the 1950s and it's still thriving today ( There are various accounts as to whether or not Hill actually split an arrow with another one in Robon Hood's famous archery tournament scene. In the TV series Mythbusters, the gang tried to replicate the arrow splitting--but were unable to do it.

6. In his book Harnessing the Technicolor Rainbow: Color Design in the 1930s, author Scott Higgins maintains that "The Adventures of Robin Hood is a turning point Technicolor design" and "is also one of the best-remembered early three-color productions because it brought Technicolor to a genre that would become a staple of 1940s and '50s color production."

Technicolor at its most vivid.
7. At a cost of $2 million, The Adventures of Robin Hood was Warners Bros' most expensive film to date. It made also $4 million at the box office during its original release.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Seven Things to Know about Robert Vaughn

1.  Robert Vaughn earned a Ph.D. in Communications from the University of Southern California in 1972. His dissertation was published as the 355-page book Only Victims: A Study of Show Business Blacklisting.

2. He received an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor for The Young Philadelphians in 1959. The film starred Paul Newman as an ambitious young lawyer; Vaughn played his client in a murder trial.

Hunting for food in Caveman.
3. Vaughn played the title character in Roger Corman's 1958 cult classic Teenage Caveman. In the film's big plot twist, the prehistoric past turns out to be the future! In his 2008 autobiography A Fortunate Life, Vaughn wrote: "Virtually every time I'm interviewed about my fifty years in motion pictures and television, after being asked about The Magnificent Seven, Bullitt, The Towering Inferno, and especially The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the questioner invariably, with some reluctance and downcast eyes, asks: 'How did you happen to get involved with Teenage Caveman?'"

David McCallum and Vaughn.
4. Prior to The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Robert Vaughn starred in the 1963-64 TV series The Lieutenant, which was created by Gene Roddenberry. Vaughn portrayed a Marine captain who served as mentor to the show's title character (which was played by Gary Lockwood). Although the series lasted just one season, it led to producer Norman Felton casting Vaughn as Napoleon Solo in U.N.C.L.E. Interestingly, the names "Napoleon Solo" and "April Dancer" (later used for The Girl from U.N.C.L.E.) were the contribution of Ian Fleming, who was briefly involved in the show's development.

Linda Stabb--the future Mrs. Vaughn--
guest-starred in The Protectors.
5. Four years after the cancellation of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Vaughn went to Europe to star in the half-hour espionage action series The Protectors. The show was created by Gerry Anderson, who remains best known for his marionette puppet series Thunderbirds and Fireball XL5. Vaughn wasn't happy with The Protectors, which failed to click on many levels (e.g., he and co-star Nyree Dawn Porter had zero chemistry). Vaughn did click with actress Linda Stabb, who appeared in the 1973 episode "It Could Be Practically Anywhere on the Island." The two were married in 1974--and remain so today. They have two adopted children.

6. Vaughn, an active Democrat, campaigned for his friend Bobby Kennedy in 1968. He has played U.S. presidents, all Democrats, in the following: Woodrow Wilson in the mini-series Backstairs at the White House; Franklin Roosevelt in the TV-move FDR: The Man in the White House; Roosevelt again in the TV-movie Murrow; and Harry Truman in The Man from Independence. Surprisingly, Vaughn is not a fan of Barack Obama. In a 2010 interview with the British newspaper the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, he said of President Obama: "He's ill-equipped for the job."

7. Robert Vaughn is scheduled to appear in New Year City on June 28, 2014 at an event celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Movie-TV Connection Quiz

In the questions below, you'll be given be a pair of films, TV series, performers, or any combination thereof. Your task is to find the common connection between the pair. It could be anything--two stars who acted in the same movie, two movies that share a common theme, a film that inspired a TV series, etc. For example, suppose the pair was: the Perry Mason TV series and Errol Flynn. The connection is the 1935 film The Case of the Curious Bride, which starred Warren William as Perry Mason and Errol Flynn as a murder victim. As always, don't answer all the questions so others can play, too. There is a single best answer for each question. This might be tough, so good luck!
How are Roy and Kevin connected?

1. Roy Thinnes and Kevin McCarthy.

2. Danny Kaye and the Bob Hope comedy My Favorite Spy.

3. June Lockhart and Dorothy McGuire.

4. The TV series The Big Valley and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.

5. The TV series Coronet Blue and Hitchcock's film Spellbound.

6. The British film Genevieve and the American TV series Route 66.

7. The TV miniseries Brideshead Revisited and the Bing Crosby film Little Boy Lost.

8. Chuck Connors and the Ray Milland comedy It Happens Every Spring.

9. The TV series Cheers and the film noir Body Heat.

10. The Wizard of Oz (1939) and the Ray Harryhausen version of Mysterious Island.

11. The TV series The Green Hornet and Longstreet.

12. Jean Harlow and Ava Gardner.

13. Marlene Dietrich and Maria Ouspenskaya.
What is the common thread between Marlene and Maria?
14. Charlton Heston and Vincent Price.

15. David Janssen and Fredric March.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Jane Wyman Romances Charlton Heston and Natalie Wood Befriends a Miracle Dog

Compared to Jane Wyman's other "women's pictures" of the 1950s, Lucy Gallant is neither as good as All That Heaven Allows nor as bad as Magnificent Obsession. It also wasn't made by Douglas Sirk, though director Robert Parrish clearly intended to imitate Sirk's glossy melodramas.

Wyman stars as the title character, a plucky young woman who finds herself stuck in White Sage Junction, Texas, when her train is delayed. She quickly realizes that the town is undergoing rapid growth as its citizens gain wealth from oil fields. When Lucy sees the female residents admiring her New York fashions, she decides to sell all her clothes (we later learn this was her trousseau from a wedding that never happened). With a tidy profit in hand, she borrows enough money from the bank to open an upscale ladies' fashion store called Gallant's.

Meanwhile, she becomes attracted to Casey Cole (Charlton Heston), a rugged rancher who returns her affections. Unfortunately, Casey's old-fashioned values about marriage conflict with Lucy's business ambitions. It quickly becomes clear that one of them will have to bend if these two lovers are going to find happiness.

The opening scenes of Lucy Gallant are captivating, with Wyman creating a sassy, appealing heroine who knows what she wants and how to get it--from a business perspective. Alas, Lucy doesn't know what she wants when it comes to love. She obviously cares for Casey, but he's a boot-wearing outdoorsman and she's a stylish socialite. It's the Green Acres conundrum...except that Casey stops short of forcing Lucy into a life on the ranch.

Eventually, it becomes tedious watching this couple trying to find a compromise as the years roll by. A good supporting cast--which includes Thelma Ritter, Claire Trevor (shown at right), and William Demarest--maintains viewer interest (though one wishes they had more to do, especially the spunky Trevor). There's also a high-end runway show introduced by none other than Edith Head! That almost makes up for the film's ending, which I personally found unsatisfying and a little depressing.

Natalie Wood and collie.
Just like Lucy Gallant, Jenny Hollingsworth--the young protagonist of Driftwood--finds herself in a strange town when she wanders from her home after the death of her grandfather. Fortunately, Jenny (Natalie Wood) meets an apparently stray collie that becomes her protector. En route to the town of Panbucket, she and the dog are befriended by a kind small town doctor. Steve Webster (Dean Jagger) is not a country practitioner, though; he's conducting research on Rocky Mountain spotted fever. And while he treats Jenny affectionately, neither Steve nor his older friend Murph (Walter Brennan) intend for Jenny to spend longer than a single night in their house.

Driftwood, a Republic Pictures "B" movie, was made the same year as Miracle on 34th Street. While it lacks the magic of that Natalie Wood film, Driftwood remains a pleasant family drama. Yes, there's never any doubt how Driftwood will end. Each plot turn is telegraphed well ahead of time (hmm...will someone get Rocky Mountain spotted fever? Just where did that collie come from?). I didn't mind that, though, principally because it was played so well by the cast.

Natalie Wood was a natural on the screen--a gift she displayed as a child and later an adult actress. In films such as 34th Street, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and in Driftwood, the young Natalie charms subtly and realistically without overplaying cuteness.

Ruth Warrick and Dean Jagger.
Of course, it helps when a youthful star is surrounded by screen veterans. Indeed, the best part of Driftwood may be watching its exceptional cast, most of whom carved out successful careers as performers known for their supporting roles in bigger films and on television. In addition to Brennan and Jagger, the cast includes Ruth Warrick (Phoebe on All My Children), Margaret Hamilton, Alan Napier (Alfred on TV's Batman), James Bell (The Leopard Man), H.B. Warner, and Charlotte Greenwood (Aunt Eller in Oklahoma).

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Five Best American TV Daytime Dramas

Enduring popularity and cultural impact were the major criteria used to select our picks for the five best daytime soaps broadcast on U.S. television. Some choices were easy, while others sparked a difference of opinion among the Cafe staff. Our "Five Best" posts are always a challenge, but also fun to write and among the most widely-read posts at the Cafe. And for those of you who scoff at soap operas, remember these two facts: (1) daytime drama has long been a pioneer in tackling once-controversial subjects such as interracial marriage and AIDS; (2) many film and TV stars honed their craft on daytime TV (e.g., Kathleen Turner, Kevin Bacon, Ted Danson, Laurence Fishburne, Demi Moore, etc.). So, without further pontificating, here are the Cafe's Five Best TV Daytime Dramas.

Melody Thomas Scott and
Eric Braeden.
1. The Young and the Restless. Y&R debuted in 1973 as a half-hour series when CBS asked William and Lee Phillips Bell to create a soap opera for a young female audience. The series didn't catch fire until the early 1980s when the Bells revamped it to focus on the Abbotts and Williams families. Eric Braeden also joined the cast as Victor Newman--and a legendary soap character was born. By 1987, Y&R had ascended to the top spot in the soap opera ratings. Incredibly, it has finished as the highest-rated daytime drama every season since then. Along the way, it became an international hit, spawned a successful spin-off (The Bold and the Beautiful), and even showed up occasionally on CBS's prime time schedule. The theme song, written by Barry De Vorzon and Perry Botkin, Jr., originally appeared in the 1971 movie Bless the Beasts and the Children. When ABC used it for a montage for Olympian gymnast Nadia Comaneci, it was released as the instrumental single "Nadia's Theme (The Young and the Restless)" and peaked at #8 on the Billboard chart.

Anthony Geary and Genie Francis.
2. General Hospital. Since its 1963 premiere, GH has had its shares of ups and downs. Yet, no other daytime soap will ever surpass the tremendous pop culture impact of its Luke and Laura storyline. Shockingly, it began when a drunken Luke (Anthony Geary) raped Laura (Genie Francis). However, their story arc took a dramatic turn when the couple subsequently fell in love. By the the time they married in 1981, the huge popularity of the characters made their nuptials a television blockbuster event watched by 30 million viewers. Over the next four decades, Luke and Laura left and returned to Port Charles multiple times--amid kidnappings, murders, and family squabbles. They even had two children, Lucky and Lulu. Yet, while GH never recaptured the magic of their first pairing, it remained a popular daytime drama with younger viewers. Over the years, it furthered the singing careers of stars Rick Springfield and Jack Wagner and spawned the hit songs "All I Need" (Wagner), "Baby, Come to Me" (Patti Austin and James Ingram), and "Think of Laura" (Christopher Cross). GH was also a favorite soap for celebrity guest appearances and featured stints from Elizabeth Taylor, Roseanne Barr, and, recently, James Franco.

Jonathan Frid.
3. Dark Shadows. Dan Curtis created Dark Shadows for ABC in 1966 as a contemporary Gothic soap set in the New England town of Collinsport. The show didn't perform well initially, so in an effort to liven things up, a plotline involving a ghost was added. Viewer interest perked up a little, so Curtis and head writer Art Wallace introduced a vampire in episode 211--and a pop culture icon was born in the form of Barnabus Collins. As the conflicted bloodsucker still pining for his beloved (but long-dead) Josette, Canadian actor Jonathan Frid made Barnabas alternately charming and cruel. Arguably, Frid was daytime drama's first superstar--his popularity even prompted a House of Dark Shadows theatrical film (plus a less-successful sequel, Night of Dark Shadows, without Frid). Although ABC canceled Dark Shadows after just five years, it has been revived numerous times in film, television, and audio recordings. Other actors who have played Barnabas include Ben Cross and Johnny Depp.

Kim Zimmer.
4. The Guiding Light. The genre's longest running TV series actually began as an NBC radio drama in 1937. It moved to television in 1952, where it was a mainstay on the CBS daytime schedule for the next 57 years! Soap opera pioneer Irna Phillips created The Guiding Light, which initially focused on Reverend John Rutledge, who lived in a Chicago suburb, and the Holden family. The show's title was derived from an old lantern that Reverend Rutledge placed on his desk near a window to serve as a "guiding light" for others. Over the years, the Bauer family took center stage on The Guiding Light and the setting ultimately shifted to Springfield, Illinois. The show's length expanded from fifteen minutes to a half-hour and finally one hour in 1977. In 1983, actress Kim Zimmer joined Guiding Light as Reva Shayne--the show's most popular character. As Reva, who was married nine times to seven different men, Zimmer won four Daytime Emmy Awards as Lead Actress.

Susan Lucci.
5. All My Children. One could make a case for including Days of Our Lives, Edge of Night, or a number of other soaps in the No. 5 position on this list. I gave the nod to All My Children based on Susan Lucci's emergence as a star outside the genre. Her made-for-TV movies, Dancing With the Stars appearance, and 18 Emmy nominations before finally winning made her a household name. It wasn't surprising when TV Guide ranked her #36 on its 1996 list of the 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time. Yet, while Susan Lucci became AMC's star, the series also benefited from a strong cast consisting of veteran performers from film (Ruth Warrick from Citizen Kane) and prime time TV (David Canary from Bonanza). It had its share of celebrity fans as well, with the most prominent being Carol Burnett, who has played characters on the show on at least three occasions.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Samuel Fuller's The Naked Kiss

After pummeling her pimp with a shoe and spraying him with seltzer water, a bald prostitute takes the $75 he owes her.

Two years later, Kelly (Constance Towers) gets off the bus in Grantville, an idyllic community. She meets Griff (Anthony Eisley), the local police captain, and after some blatant flirting, the two sleep together. Although Griff likes Kelly, he doesn't want "her kind" in his town and recommends she seek employment at a nice brothel "across the river."

Kelly reflecting on her life.
After taking a hard look in the mirror, Kelly decides to make a new life in Grantville. She gets a job at the local hospital, where she finds her calling by caring for handicapped children. Her co-workers adore Kelly and she takes care of them. She also falls in love with J.L. Grant (Michael Dante), a millionaire whose ancestors founded the town. Unfortunately, Grant's best friend is Griff--meaning that Kelly can't keep her past a secret for long.

Candy doesn't like the taste of money!

While this plot summary may sound like a soap opera, The Naked Kiss is a wonderfully odd movie that constantly surprises its audience. Writer-director Samuel Fuller takes traditional film stereotypes (the prostitute with a heart of gold, the town "sheriff") and transforms them into vivid characters. We see Kelly interact with the children with compassion and tough love. Later, though, we see her violent side again when she takes matters in her own hands after learning that Candy (the aforementioned madam) tried to recruit a young nurse. She visits Candy a La Carte (yes, that's the name of the brothel), beats Candy with a handbag, shoves cash in her mouth, and warns her to stay away from the nurse. (This scene sets up a terrific later exchange  in which Candy gets her revenge and ends with the retort: "Nobody shoves dirty money in my mouth!").

Constance Towers as Kelly.
In a 1980 interview with Tom Ryan, Fuller used the term "gutter people" to describe characters like Kelly, who "have their own code of honor" and "don't try to live on lies--like we do." Kelly's moral compass is clear from the first scene; although her abusive pimp has $800 in his wallet, she only takes what he owes her. Likewise, while she doesn't make excuses for her past, she goes to extremes to keep two young women from repeating her mistakes. Though I don't think Fuller would include Griff as a "gutter person," the police captain also lives by his own code. It's okay if he pays Kelly for sex or frequents Candy's place, but he doesn't want prostitution in "his town."

Griff's concept of a wholesome town sets up the dominant theme in The Naked Kiss--that evil dwells in the shadows of even the nicest places. Fuller paints Grantville as a Thortonesque community only to later reveal a dark, disturbing secret. And although the townspeople are unaware of the evil that lurks among them, Fuller turns them into unwilling accomplices. When Kelly reveals the horrid secret, no one believes her--not even Griff--because of her scandalous past.

A world of shadows.
The great Stanley Cortez served as cinematographer on The Naked Kiss. Cortez, who collaborated with Orson Welles (The Magnificent Ambersons) and Charles Laughton (The Night of the Hunter), creates a world of shadows for The Naked Kiss. He also employs light and dark shading to reflect Kelly's past and future. She wears a white suit when she first sees the children, wears white as a nurse, and sports a light dress visiting Grant (with wedding gown in hand). In contrast, she wears black in the opening scene with her pimp and when she visits Candy.

The memorable opening sequence.
Some critics have complained that Fuller built some of his films around set pieces, to the extent that two or three scenes dominated the films. There is no denying that The Naked Kiss boasts three fabulous set pieces: the opening scene, shot in alternating first-person views, while jazz blares in the background; the beating of Candy; and a shocking scene with a phone (which is nicely foreshadowed).

However, there's much more to The Naked Kiss on thematic and stylish levels. The acting may be a mixed bag (though Towers and Eisley are quite good) and the running time could be pruned by a few minutes. Still, it's an absorbing film and one of the best cult films of the 1960s. Plus, it features a plethora of quotable dialogue, such as when Griff first ogles Kelly and remarks to another guy: "That's enough to make a bulldog bust his chain."