Monday, February 28, 2022

The Wild Geese: Action in Africa

Richard Burton as Faulkner.
When an African dictator's actions threaten to lower British copper prices, influential banker Sir Miles Matheson seeks to discredit the man. Matheson (Stewart Granger) knows that the dictator kidnapped the country's popular president and then spread rumors of his death. So, Matheson contracts with a former Army colonel, Allen Faulkner, to form a mercenary force to rescue the hostage president. 

Faulkner (Richard Burton) reunites with two trusted subordinates: a former captain (Richard Harris), who is an expert at planning complex missions, and an ex-lieutenant (Roger Moore), a highly skilled as a field commander. Their rescue mission goes off without a hitch--until their escape plane lands, turn arounds, and departs without them.

Hardy Kruger.
Made and set in 1978, The Wild Geese is a military action picture along the lines of the superior Where Eagles Dare--which also starred Burton. To his credit, veteran screenwriter Reginald Rose (12 Angry Men) tries to inject some gravitas into the proceedings. For much of the mission, the frail President Limbani (Winston Ntshona) is carried by a prejudiced South African officer (the late Hardy Krüger). Their dialogue inspires the latter to at least reconsider his views. It also elevates The Wild Geese from more conventional run-of-the-mill action pictures.

Roger Moore.
The biggest names in the cast at the time were Burton and Moore (The Spy Who Loved Me came out the previous year). Alas, they're saddled with stereotypical roles: Burton is the crusty leader who inspires loyalty and loves his soldiers; Moore plays the cigar-chewing, devil-may-care adventurer swooned over by the opposite sex. That leaves the juicy roles to Richard Harris and Hardy Krüger.

Harris was the second choice to play Captain Rafer Janders after Burt Lancaster turned down the role. As Janders, a single father devoted to his young son, Harris shows his character's sensitive side--a effective contrast to his military bearing in the field. His nuanced acting reminds one that Harris could be a fine performer when he wasn't slumming in movies beneath him. As for the always reliable Krüger, he creates a believable, interesting character in just a few scenes. It's a model of concise acting. (Incidentally, Krüger and another co-star, Ronald Fraser, appeared together in the earlier classic Flight of the Phoenix).

Richard Harris as Janders.
Andrew V. McLaglen directs with a sure hand, which is unsurprising since he follows a formula similar to his earlier World War II effort The Devil's Brigade (1968). He reteamed with Roger Moore, playing against type this time, in the following year's action picture ffolkes (aka North Sea Hijack).

Although The Wild Geese flopped in the U.S., it was a big hit in Great Britain and easily recouped its cost. A sequel, Wild Geese II, came out in 1985. Burton had agreed to star as Colonel Faulkner again, but died shortly before production began. Edward Fox came on board and played the lead role (but as Faulkner's brother). Roger Moore declined to appear in the follow-up.

Monday, February 21, 2022

The Movie Quote Game (Alfred Hitchcock Edition)

This month, we're focusing on quotes from Alfred Hitchcock films. We will list a quote from one of his movies and ask you to name it. Try to answer these questions on your own without resorting to Google searches. As always, please answer no more than three questions per day so others can play.  If you have a response other than the intended one, just be able to defend it.

1.  "Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

2. "What are you doing here in Bodega Bay?"

3. "Mr. Rusk, you're not wearing your tie."

4. "You want a leg or a breast?"

5. "Whether you killed him or not, you've incriminated yourself. You'll have much more of a job explaining a body you didn't kill and buried than a body that you killed accidentally and buried."

6. "Oh, it's just like Sherlock Holmes and his fiddle. A stream of beautiful sound and then suddenly out pops the solution."

7. "Boris? Miss Henderson speaking. Look, someone upstairs is playing musical chairs with an elephant. Move one of them out, will you? I want to get some sleep."

8. "Hello, Monkeyface!"

9. "If I let you change me, will that do it? If I do what you tell me, will you love me?"

10. "You Freud, me Jane?"

11. "I've always wished for more artistic talent. Well, murder can be an art, too. The power to kill can be just as satisfying as the power to create."

12. "My theory is that everyone is a potential murderer."

13. "What are you doing here? It's rather a long story, Mr Fry. It all started with an unknown blonde, an aircraft worker at a factory in Glendale, California."

14. "She's too perfect, she's too talented, she's too beautiful, she's too sophisticated, she's too everything but what I want."

15. "God bless Mama, Papa, Captain Midnight, Veronica Lake, and the President of the United States."

Monday, February 14, 2022

Abbott and Costello's The Time of Their Lives

Bud and Lou in one of their few scenes together.
One of Abbott and Costello's most atypical films ranks among their best. The Time of Their Lives (1946) is one of only two of the pair's movies in which they don't perform as a team. The previous year's Little Giant is the other non-comedy team picture. In real life, the two actors were in the middle of a rift.

The Time of Their Lives casts Lou as Horatio Prim, a patriotic American tinker during the Revolutionary War. Horatio is enlisted by the upper-class Melody Allen (Majorie Reynolds) to warn George Washington of a treasonous plot involving her fiancé Tom Danbury. However, while Melody and Horatio are departing the Danbury estate, they are pursued by a band of men. Following an exchange of gunfire, Horatio and Melody are killed--by other patriots who assumed they were traitors. Their bodies are dumped into a well and cursed to wander the estate until the "crack of doom" or until their innocence can be proven.

Lou Costello as Horatio.
Horatio's and Melody's ghosts spend most of the next 166 years residing in a tree on the estate following the mansion's destruction in a fire. However, in 1947, they take an interest when a playwright named Sheldon Gage rebuilds the grand house and restores some of the original furnishings. It gives Horatio and Melody hope that they may be able to find a letter from Washington that proves Horatio was not a traitor. That letter would free them from their curse.

While Lou Costello still cracks one-liners and performs pratfalls, The Time of Their Lives is a charming change-of-pace comedy fantasy. Bud Abbott benefits the most, as he gets to play double roles: a conniving manservant in 1870 who dislikes Horatio and a contemporary psychiatrist who takes a big risk to help the friendly ghosts. It's especially refreshing to see him as the latter, a likable character distinctly different from his usual roles.

Marjorie Reynolds as Melody.
Marjorie Reynolds essentially plays Lou's straight man. On screen, the couple project a sweet affection for one another. There's even a hint of romantic feelings between the two ghosts, though that angle is jettisoned awkwardly when Melody learns of her fiancé's regrets. It's really the only misstep in an otherwise well-written script.

The ghostly special effects are impressive for the most part. A highlight is when Horatio and Melody walk "through" each other and exchange clothes. Such effects required the actors to perform the same scene multiple times. That created a problem because Costello often liked to take props as souvenirs from his movies. In one instance, his pilfering of a prop destroyed a scene's continuity and wasted a day of filming.

Marjorie Reynolds retired from movies in the early 1950s. Despite promising roles in "A" pictures like Holiday Inn (1942) and Ministry of Fear (1944), she never became a star. She transitioned successfully to television, though, as William Bendix's wife in the NBC series Life of Riley (1953-58). She also appeared in occasional guest star roles in TV shows like Leave to Beaver and, notably, The Abbott and Costello Show

The Time of Their Lives did not perform at the box office as well as Abbott and Costello's other comedies for Universal. Still, the team got back on track later in 1947 with The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap, an amusing Western comedy co-starring Majorie Main. And in 1948, they would star in their biggest hit of all: Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

Monday, February 7, 2022

Seven Things to Know About Richard Long

1. In his film debut, Richard Long played the adult illegitimate son of Claudette Colbert and Orson Welles in the 1946 drama Tomorrow Is Forever. He was fifth-billed in the cast, which also included George Brent, Lucille Watson, and Natalie Wood as Orson's eight-year-old foster child in the movie. Incidentally, Long acted opposite Welles in his follow-up film The Stranger, which Orson also directed.

2. Richard Long's fourth film provided him with his most famous film role. In The Egg and I, he played Tom Kettle, the oldest son of the quirky country couple Ma and Pa Kettle (Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride). The Kettles stole the movie from stars Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray and earned their own film series. Starting with Ma and Pa Kettle (1949), Long appeared in four of the nine Kettles films as Tom, a bright young man who eventually attends Washington State University, gets married, and moves to New York City.

3. Richard Long's first significant television role was as Gentleman Jack Darby in four 1958-1959 episodes of Maverick. Darby was a fugitive wanted for embezzlement. Though he was innocent of that crime, Darby was a smooth con man, who sometimes teamed with his entertainer girlfriend Cindy Lou Brown (Arlene Howell). Long was cast as Darby after Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. became one of the stars of 77 Sunset Strip. Zimbalist had played a similar character named Dandy Jim Buckley. Incidentally, Long played Gentleman Jack along Zimbalist's Dandy Jim in "Shady Deal at Sunny Acres," James Garner's favorite Maverick episode.

The cast of Bourbon Street Beat.
4. Following their appearances together on Maverick, Warner Bros. cast Richard Long and Arlene Howell in the New Orleans-set detective TV series Bourbon Street Beat (1959-60). Long played private eye Rex Randolph with Andrew Duggan as his partner, a former police officer. Arlene Howell co-starred as their secretary and Van Williams played Kenny Madison, a law school graduate turned PI. Bourbon Street Beat did not fare as well as other Warner Bros. detective series and was cancelled after a single season. However, Richard Long's character, Rex Randolph, joined 77 Sunset Strip for a season and Van Williams returned as Kenny Madison the following year in a new series called Surfside 6.

Long as Jarrod Barkley.
5. In 1965, Richard Long signed on to play Jarrod Barkley, Victoria Barkley's (Barbara Stanwyck) oldest son in the popular Western TV series The Big Valley. Jarrod was an atypical Western TV character, having graduated from law school back East before returning to the Barkley ranch in Stockton, California. During the series' four-year run, Jarrod is the only family member to get married (in the third season episode "Day of Wrath"), though his young bride is quickly murdered. Long also directed two episodes of The Big Valley: "The 25 Graves of Midas" in season four and "Plunder!" in season two.

Juliet Mills and Richard Long.
6. In a 2020 interview with Jeremy Roberts, Linda Evans described her Big Valley co-star: "Richard was like a giant teddy bear. You just wanted to hug him. He was a joy. He was funny. He was smart. He was someone that you could sit down with and feel that you had known forever. You could trust him with your life." Juliet Mills, Long's co-star in the TV series Nanny and the Professor (1970-71) told Closer Weekly in 2019: "Richard was a wonderful light comedian, a lovely man, and all of his family became friends. He died when he was 47, but if he’d lived longer, he would have been more appreciated. Just a lovely, sweet guy."

7. Richard Long was married twice. His first wife, actress Suzan Ball, was a second cousin to Lucille Ball. She was diagnosed with cancer in 1953 and died at age 21 a year after she and Long married in 1954. Richard Long married actress Mara Corday in 1957. They had three children and, despite some volatile stretches, remained wed until his death in 1974. Richard Long experienced cardiac problems for much of his life and suffered his first heart attack in 1961. He checked into a hospital in 1974 for heart-related problems and died four weeks later at age 47.