Monday, May 23, 2022

Book Review: The Films of Delmer Daves by Douglas Horlock

At long last, the career of Delmer Daves, one of Hollywood's most under-appreciated filmmakers, has received an in-depth, scholarly treatment courtesy of Douglas Horlock's The Films of Delmer Daves: Visions of Progress in Mid-Twentieth Century America (University of Mississippi Press, 248 pages). Horlock examines Daves's films through the lens of political and social values, race and civil rights, and gender. He also provides an overview of Daves's life and career, painting the portrait of a screenwriter and director who crafted his own vision within the confines of the Hollywood studio system.

Daves became interested in acting, writing, and directing theater while studying law at Stanford University. His initial foray into the film industry was as a property assistant on The Covered Wagon in 1924. After graduating from Stanford in 1927, he pursued his interest in movies and received credit for his first screenplay with 1929's So This Is College. Over the next decade, he carved a highly successful career as a screenwriter with films such as Dames (1934), Flirtation Walk (1934), an adaptation of The Petrified Forest (1936), and Love Affair (1939). 

Delmer Daves.
Daves's career took a different turn in 1943 when, after co-writing the screenplay for the World War II drama Destination Tokyo, Warner Bros. executive Jack Warner "ask(ed) an initially reluctant Daves to accept his first directorial assignment." Over the next two decades, Daves became one of the most reliable and successful writer-directors for Warner Bros. Horlock points out that Daves's films Destination TokyoHollywood Canteen, Broken Arrow, 3:10 to Yuma, A Summer Place, and Spencer's Mountain were "among the top-grossing films of their respective years." Daves also showed his versatility by working comfortably in genres such as Westerns, Biblical epics, romances, and family dramas.

Yet, Horlock notes that "Daves has remained largely overlooked in scholarly literature and film retrospectives" and has not achieved the auteur status attributed to directors such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Samuel Fuller, and even Douglas Sirk (whose glossy 1950s melodramas are comparable to Daves's later films A Summer Place and Parrish). Yet, like Hitchcock, Daves was intimately involved in the screenplays for his films, even those with which he did not receive a writing credit. Horlock traces recurring themes in Daves's films in chapters devoted to political and social values, race and civil rights, and gender. Horlock also includes this insightful comment from actor Glenn Ford, who worked with Daves on 3:10 to Yuma, Jubal, and Cowboy"Nothing happened in a Delmer Daves film that wasn't intentional, from the camera set-ups to the wardrobe."

Delmer Daves's The Hanging Tree (1959).
Horlock's most engrossing chapter is the one in which he analyzes gender in Daves's films, focusing on the filmmaker's use of strong, independent female characters. Horlock provides a number of excellent examples. In A Summer Place, Molly (Sandra Dee) defies her domineering mother by spending time with Johnny (Troy Donahue). In the 1959 Western The Hanging Tree, one of Daves's finest films, Elizabeth (Maria Schell) seeks independence after being rejected by the man (Gary Cooper) she loves. She forms a partnership with two other men to dig for gold and impresses them with her work ethic. Even in the romantic travelogue Rome Adventure, Suzanne Pleshette plays a young woman who defies a school board and then goes traveling in Italy on her own.

As befits its subtitle, The Films of Delmer Daves: Visions of Progress in Mid-Twentieth Century America is a scholarly volume for movie fans interested in thoughtful analyses. Still, that's not to say it isn't filled with fascinating facts (e.g., Warren Beatty was the original choice for the title role in Parrish, Daves's admirers include Humphrey Bogart, Alan Ladd, and Gary Cooper). At one point in his book, Horlock states: "Despite his working within the confines of a restrictive studio system, Daves's films deserve to be examined as the work of a serious artist of the cinema." That is exactly what the author has accomplished with his new book.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon in Support of National Classic Movie Day

As is our tradition at the Café, we are celebrating National Classic Movie Day on May 16th by hosting a blogathon. This year's Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon focuses on one of the most popular genres among classic movie fans. The goal is to pay tribute to many of the greatest films noirs, such as Out of the Past and Double Indemnity, as well as highlight lesser-known classics (e.g., Black Angel, Brighton Rock).

We invite you to check out the film noirs selected by the bloggers below!

4 Stars Films

The Classic Film Muse

Classic Film & TV Cafe

Crítica Retrô

Hamlette's Soliloquy

Hometowns to Hollywood

The Last Drive-in

Make Mine Film Noir

Once Upon a Screen

A Person in the Dark

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies

Realweegiemidget Reviews

Shadows and Satin

Silver Screenings

Taking Up Room

Whimsically Classic

Our Picks for the Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon

To celebrate National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, we're participating in our own Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon. For our quartet of noirs, we chose a bona fide classic (Out of the Past), an acclaimed cult film (Gun Crazy), and two lesser-known gems (Black Angel and Phantom Lady). Be sure to check out all the movies profiled in the Four Favorite Noirs Blogathon by clicking this link.

Jane Greer as Kathie.
Out of the Past (1947) – My favorite film noir has Robert Mitchum as a man who has put his shady past behind him and found love with a good woman in a small community where he operates a gas station. But, as is often the case in the movies, his past catches up with him when a former acquaintance passes through town. With its contrasts of bright lights and dark shadows, Out of the Past is a visual feast. It’s also a compelling tale of a man pulled back into the shadows of his past—no matter how hard he tries to escape them. Kirk Douglas nails the manipulating villain; too bad he didn’t play more bad guys. Yet, despite the presence of Mitchum and Douglas, the film belongs to Jane Greer, an underrated and under-utilized actress who created one of the genre’s best femme fatales.

Peggy Cummins and John Dall.
Gun Crazy (1950) - A film noir with a tragic love story involving a femme fatale and a gun-obsessed guy? That's the premise behind this low-budget cult film that was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry in 1998. Director Joseph H. Lewis was a journeyman director with a resume that included some interesting "B" movies (My Name is Julia Ross and So Dark the Night). But none of his work comes close to the innovative style employed in Gun Crazy. The film's highlight is a three-and-half minute bank robbery shot in a single take from the inside of the getaway car. The climax is almost as mesmerizing with the two ill-fated lovers hiding out in a fog-enshrouded swamp as they listen to their pursuers' footsteps in the water. John Dall is superb as the gun-loving Bart, but Peggy Cummins owns the film as femme fatale Laurie. She exudes sexual energy with Dall while coming across as a cold, manipulative killer. But here's the beauty of her performance: Despite Laurie's bad girl persona and many faults, Cummins convinces the audience that her character truly loves Bart. 

June Vincent and Peter Lorre.
Black Angel (1946) - Singer Mavis Marlowe (Constance Dowling) augments her income via blackmail, so it's not surprising when she winds up murdered. The police arrest Kirk Bennett (John Phillips), one of her blackmail victims who had recently ended an affair with Mavis. Despite his pleas of innocence, Kirk is found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to die. His wife Catherine (June Vincent) stands by Kirk throughout his ordeal and never wavers in her belief that he is innocent. As Kirk awaits his execution, Catherine decides to conduct her own investigation--with the reluctant aid of Mavis' ex-husband (Dan Duryea). I'll avoid any plot spoilers here, but will note that Black Angel sports a clever twist, too. However, director Roy William Neill is the reason to see Black Angel. A "B" movie director for Universal, Neill is best known for his Sherlock Holmes films with Basil Rathbone. From the opening  elaborate tracking shot up the side of a high-rise into Mavis's apartment to the innovative use of music, Neill displays a distinctive style that indicated a promising turning point in his career. It's a tragedy that he died of a heart attack at age 59. 

Phantom Lady 
(1944) - After being stood up by his wife, Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis) meets a mysterious, distraught woman at an empty bar on a muggy Saturday night in NYC. When he ill-advisedly asks her to a show, she agrees on one condition: They exchange no names, no addresses, and never meet again. Scott agrees. Later that night, he goes home to find the police at his apartment. His wife has been strangled with one of his ties ("A knot so tight it had to be cut with a knife," says one of the detectives). Scott's alibi falls apart when he can't identify his mysterious date. Phantom Lady benefits mightily from Robert Siodmak's moody direction and Ella Raines, whose character tries to clear Scott. Siodmak creates some knockout visuals once Raines takes to roaming the city's darkened streets to find the killer. The scene in which she follows a suspicious bartender is a tour-de-force as the two move through rainy streets, a shadow-filled train platform, and partially lit arches.


Monday, May 9, 2022

Petrocelli: Night Games

Barry Newman as Petrocelli.
There are few instances of an actor reprising a character from a theatrical film in a television series. Richard Widmark and Richard Roundtree first played Madigan and Shaft in theatrical films and then revived the characters for TV. However, in both cases, the shows were part of an umbrella series and therefore required few episodes. Gary Burghoff famously played Radar O'Reilly in both the 1970 movie version of M*A*S*H and the long-running TV series that started two years later. However, Radar was a supporting character.

That brings us to Barry Newman, who introduced audiences to passionate attorney Anthony "Tony" Petrocelli in the 1970 film The Lawyer. Based on the Sam Shepard murder case, it follows the Harvard-educated Petrocelli, who has relocated from Boston to a small community out West. He soon finds himself defending a physician (Robert Colbert) for murdering his sexy socialite wife. Produced by former actor Brad Dexter (The Magnificent Seven), The Lawyer was a modest box office hit. 

Susan Howard.
Four years later, NBC broadcast Night Games, a pilot movie for a weekly TV series starring Newman as Petrocelli. Susan Howard replaced Diana Muldaur as Tony's wife/legal secretary. Albert Salmi also joined the cast as Tony's "leg man." The location was shifted to the Southwest, but Tony still drove a truck, lived in a camper with his wife Maggie (renamed from Ruth), and outhustled every other lawyer in the region.

The plot finds Petrocelli defending an attractive, wealthy woman (Stefanie Powers) accused of killing her husband. Although the evidence against her is weak, her alibi could be more convincing. She claims to have slept through the night of the murder after taking sleeping pills. With the district attorney (Henry Darrow) pushing for a quick trial, Petrocelli has his work cut out for him. He also receives some unexpected personal news: Maggie is pregnant with their first child.

Barry Newman is well cast as the aggressive lawyer whose expensive three-piece suit (his only one)  and courtroom theatrics clash with his simple lifestyle. While Tony and Maggie try to establish his practice, they live in the camper as he builds their ranch-style home twelve bricks at a time. Both he and Susan Howard would earn Emmy nominations for their performances in the follow-on Petrocelli TV series.

JoAnna Cameron.
The challenge with Night Games is that it tries to pack too much content into its brief 74-minute runnin time. One of the casualties is the strong supporting cast. Actors like Stefanie Powers, Henry Darrow, Ralph Meeker, and Anjanette Comer never get enough time to develop their characters. Even Susan Howard fades into the background as Night Games hurls toward its climax. The lone exception is JoAnna Cameron, best known for her Saturday morning TV series The Secrets of Isis. As a flight attendant who had an affair with the dead man, she projects a calculating coldness behind her innocent girl-next-door demeanor.

Still, Night Games serves as a solid introduction to the Petrocelli TV series, which ran for 44 episodes over two seasons. NBC cancelled it due to low ratings opposite Starsky and Hutch (a top 20 show in the Nielsen ratings in 1975-76). Susan Howard joined Dallas in 1979, where she played Donna Culver Krebbs for eight years. Barry Newman did not return as a regular in a TV series until the short-lived medical drama Nightingales in 1989.

Here's a short scene from Night Games, courtesy of our YouTube channel:

Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Columbus Moving Picture Show: A Festival for Classic Movie Fans

The inaugural Columbus Moving Picture Show will take place May 26 - 29, 2022, at the Renaissance Columbus Downtown Hotel in Columbus, Ohio. The festival will feature 16mm showings of classic films from the silent days to the 1960s, some of them with live musical accompaniment. There will also be vendors, seminars, and book signings by authors such as Scott Eyman (Cary Grant: A Brilliant Disguise) and James D’Arc (When Hollywood Came to Utah). Festival organizer Samantha Glasser recently took time out of her busy schedule to talk with us about the Columbus Moving Picture Show.

Café:  Over 35 films, short features, and a Red Ryder serial will be shown from Thursday through Sunday. What are some of the titles you’re most excited about presenting?

Samantha Glasser:  I always get excited by the rarest titles, the things you can't see anywhere else. The Silent Fragments program is a collection of three silent films that only exist partially due to decomposition. They survive because the films were issued as cut-downs on 16mm and collectors of that format held the only copies. I'm also looking forward to Stork Bites Man, which is based on a book I enjoyed a lot about a man's perspective of a pregnancy. It stars Jackie Cooper, who was once in Our Gang, and it was through that series that I discovered classic movies in the first place. 

Café:  Which silent films will feature live musical accompaniment?

SG:  All of the silent films feature live piano accompaniment by either David Drazin or Dr. Philip Carli. 

Café:  What are the seminars that are being presented?

SG:  Ed Hulse will present a preview of his forthcoming book Wage Slaves in the Dream Factory, which is about the low-budget studios that operated during the studio era. Eric Grayson has been working for years to compile and restore the King of the Kongo serial starring Boris Karloff and will give a presentation on that process. Nick Santa Maria has an upcoming book titled The Annotated Abbott and Costello and he will give a presentation on that beloved comedy team. Nancy Vass's mother was an actress in a local film company called Kelly's Klean Komedies in the silent movie era, and she will present some of her mother's mementos. 

Café:  What kinds of movie memorabilia will be offered for purchase in the vendor room?

SG:  The dealer room is really a treasure chest of movie-related items. You can find original movie posters (one-sheets, half sheets, window cards, inserts, lobby cards, heralds), pressbooks, stills, autographs, books, movie magazines, 8mm and 16mm films, laserdiscs, DVDs and Blu-rays, kitsch, and more. 

Café:  Does the $65 weekend pass cover the cost of everything?

SG:  The weekend pass covers everything except the t-shirt. It gives you access to the film screenings, the dealer room, the book signings and the seminars and comes with a free program book. 

Café:  Can festival attendees get a discount for hotel rooms and, if so, must they book their rooms by a certain date?

SG:  Yes, they can register at $144 per night at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel, but only until May 3rd.

Café:  What inspired you and the other organizers to launch the Columbus Moving Picture Show?

SG:  I have attended Cinevent for years and worked as a staff member for the last several. Michael Haynes asked me if I would be interested in taking over the show someday and I said yes. Someday came sooner rather than later. 

Café:  I saw where you named Mary Pickford, Van Johnson, Dick Powell, and Betty Hutton as some of your favorite classic movie stars. Name a favorite film for each one!  (I love Dick Powell in Murder, My Sweet…but also really like Cornered and You Never Can Tell).

Esther Williams and Van Johnson
in Thrill of a Romance.
SG:  My Best Girl is always the silent movie I recommend to people because it is sweet and relatively modern so people forget they're watching a silent film. I love Van Johnson in Thrill of a Romance; that's my go-to if I need a pick-me-up. Gold Diggers of 1933 is an incredibly fun movie all around, and Dick sings some great songs in it. Betty Hutton is fantastic in Annie Get Your Gun. I love her fearlessness in front of the camera. I know many people like to say Betty is no Judy Garland, but I don't think Judy could have been as funny as Betty is in that movie. 

Café:  Finally, where can Café readers learn more about the Columbus Moving Picture Show?

SG:  Check out our website https://www.columbusmovingpictureshow.com!

Café:  Thanks so much for talking with us, Samantha.