Thursday, April 23, 2015

Updates and ARCS

A few updates today and a preview of coming attractions:

First, Elisabeth of The Second Sentence blog, and Western story writer and devotee, made the discovery that some of the horse stampede scenes from Red Canyon (1949), which we discussed here, were re-used in a 1964 episode called “The Black Stallion” of the TV show The Virginian.  I’m pasting her comments here:

It also features a gorgeous black stallion with a white star on its forehead, and there are some wonderful scenes of wild horse herds on the run—a lot of it stock footage cut in, some of which I've seen in other episodes of the same show. When I was watching it last night, there was a brief shot of the stallion escaping into a red sandstone canyon, and something clicked in my head. The Virginian was a Universal show, and I know they re-used footage (and even reworked scripts) from earlier Universal films sometimes. Could a bit of footage from Red Canyon have found its way into "The Black Stallion"? I guess I'll have to wait until I can track down a copy of the movie to be sure…

Here's a part of "The Black Stallion" from YouTube—the brief clip with the canyon is at about 11:15:  The whole sequence with the horse herd begins around 6:25.

The color of that video is very blurry and faded compared to the crisp DVDs, where the red sandstone in that shot contrasts with the landscape in the rest of the scene.  That's what made me notice it and think it might be stock footage.

Elisabeth was spot-on.  I took at look at the link she provided, and these scenes are most definitely from Red Canyon.  Great eye, and great detective work, Elisabeth.


The CMBA spring blogathon this year is going to be The Fabulous Films of the 1930s and will run from April 27th through May 1stHave a look here for the list of great blogs participating and their offerings for this blogathon.

I’ll be tackling Hallelujah, I’m  a Bum! (1933) starring Al Jolson, Edgar Connor, Madge Evans, and Frank Morgan, directed by Lewis Milestone.  It’s a real zeitgeist piece of Great Depression hijinks about Central Park homeless (more fun than it sounds), and my post will run next Thursday, April 30th.


My launch date for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is just two months away.  Next week, on Friday, May 1st, I hope to email out ARCs for reviewers of the book (Advanced Reading Copies) in PDF form.  If anyone cares to review the book, please drop me an email so I can send you one.  More on the book in weeks to come.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

George Coulouris - Villain in Watch on the Rhine (1943)

George Coulouris is a sublime villain, supremely important to Watch on the Rhine (1943), so charming in his lazy gentlemanliness, so pitiable in his bad luck and bad moves, and so treacherous in his motives.

The character he plays, a blasé Rumanian count, and a refugee from Europe and his own failed enterprises, is one of playwright Lillian Hellman’s most simple, and yet most brilliant creations.  He is not a blustering fascist—in this anti-Nazi drawing room drama that would stand out like tacky décor, and besides, the bold and courageous resistance fighter Paul Lukas plays is too clever to let himself get too near a real storm trooper-type.  Coulouris is dangerous because he is not an instigator, not a brainwashed (or brain dead) Nazi; he is on the second tier of evildoers—an opportunist.  As Lukas (and Lillian Hellman) describes his ilk: “Some of them were, up to a point, fastidious men.  For these we may someday have pity.  They are lost men.  Their spoils are small.  Their day is gone.”

This is my entry in The Great Villain Blogathon hosted by those evil villains at Speakeasy, Shadows & Satin, and Silver Screenings blogs. 

Watch on Rhine began as a tremendously successful Broadway play.  I discuss more about it in my upcoming book on Ann Blyth, who had a minor role in that play as a child.  The play’s producer and director, Herman Shumlin, went to Hollywood to cast the adult roles because throughout the Great Depression that’s where a lot of the best stage-trained actors went.  He didn’t want Hollywood stars, necessarily, he wanted stage veterans.  In February 1941, he came back with three heavy-hitters: Paul Lukas; Lucile Watson, who would play the acerbic matriarch; and George Coulouris.  Interestingly, he wanted Henry Daniell, but Daniell wasn’t free (he appears in the film as Baron Von Ramme).

Before we get to the film, we need to appreciate the overwhelming respect this play received when it was produced in 1941-1942.  I think in the decades that followed the film lost its strength for a modern audience that regards it as sentimental propaganda, a museum piece of a more gullible era.  Sometimes one of our worst sins is our condescension about the past.  Add to this the changes in the script that gave a larger role to Bette Davis—I’m afraid she tends to take too much of the spotlight in her scenery-chewing.  But the original play hit the theatre world like a storm.  The emotion of the day for the Broadway play was genuine.

Here is one review:

I want to tell you that I believe the finest, most deeply moving play that has been written in America in years is at Ford’s Theater this week…I say it because it is each man’s high duty to inform his fellow-men when he finds, or thinks he finds, something very true, very beautiful, very important.

Watch on the Rhine is all these things to me.  And it was obvious when the curtain fell on the opening performance that it had these qualities to many others, too.

There was the testimony of the applause which continued until the desperate theater manager turned on the bright house lights.  There was the testimony of many tear-filled eyes…With humor and with tenderness, with logic and with occasional poetry, Lillian Hellman has written this play.  And Herman Shumlin has produced it not as a theatrical businessman presents plays.  He has staged it, quite obviously, with love and with great reverence…I do not like to use the word ‘great,’ particularly about a play whose theme is so close to the headlines that our viewpoint may unconsciously be distorted.  Only years can tell that.

But certainly it casts a spell which, for a time at least, transforms a theater into a rare and holy place where the heart is touched, elated, ennobled. – Louis Azrael, Baltimore News-Post.

In an unusual move, Warner Bros., in securing the rights to the play, allowed Herman Shumlin to direct (this was his first movie, and he made only one other); and allowed Paul Lukas, George Coulouris, Lucile Watson, as well as Frank Wilson, who played the butler, to come with Shumlin as part of the deal.  Paul Lukas would win an Academy Award for his performance, and Lucile Watson was nominated for Best Supporting Actress.

George Coulouris, originally from the U.K., had a Shakespearean background, and then met up with Orson Welles’ troupe and began a long and very distinguished career in film, stage, TV, radio alternating between noble characters and villains.  That he was adept at both says a lot for how he plays his character in Watch on the Rhine.  We understand him, and can even sympathize as we despise him. 

The intelligent script by Hellman gives all the characters a great forum, and this is what makes a great script.  No character is wasted, they are all necessary and everything they say matters.

We meet Coulouris coming down to breakfast on the terrace of Lucile Watson’s palatial family home outside Washington, D.C.  He is married to Geraldine Fitzgerald, and we see their marriage is rocky.  He snipes at her, accuses her of being too fond of Donald Woods, the son of the house.  In a moment, he greets his hostess Lucile Watson with old-world European charm, and we settle in to the intriguing world of a professional houseguest in the home of a rich patron.

Later, he goes to the German Embassy for an evening gala and a late-night card came.  This scene was written by Dashiell Hammett, to whom Hellman handed off the screenplay chore as she was busy with another commitment.  I like Hammett’s additions for the most part, he opens the story up to all of Washington.  However, some of the strength and verve of the stage play is also watered down in the process, which is a shame.  I suppose it’s a tricky line to walk.

Here at the card game, like a player showing his hand of cards, we are shown the various “face cards” in the arena of fascist villains: Blecher, a cold, sneering bully, referred to as a butcher, who runs the game and the show.  He is the head bad guy to whom his agents report.  He is shrewd and ruthless.  Ironically, this ultra Nazi swine is played by Kurt Katch, born an Eastern European Jew and a veteran of the Yiddish theatre.  He comments on the others and introduces them to us: Baron Von Ramme, played by Henry Daniell is “contemptuous of us, but chiefly because we are not gentlemen.  Would be satisfied enough doing the same things or worse under some stupid Hohenzollern.” 

Then there is the money-grubbing publisher of the American Nazi newspaper, and Chandler, the American oil man who wants to sell to the Axis; the mysterious Oberdorff, played silently by Rudolph Anders who seems the most evil simply because we, and Blecher, know nothing about him.  He is a question mark. 

Then Blecher comes to Coulouris, whom he dismisses as a man who sells things “but at the moment you have nothing to sell.”

He will soon, when Paul Lukas and his family show up, and he suspects from the moment he meets Lukas that here is a man the Nazis would like to get their hands on.  With very little prospects and at the end of the road, it is inevitable that a man like Coulouris will want to sell Lukas to the Nazis, but how we get to that point is intriguing.

In some scenes between them, even though the room is full of other characters, it seems as if we are watching a two-man play. They spar and take each other’s measure carefully in polite conversation.  Lukas, fresh from a daring escape and having been wounded in a previous mission, is the more emotionally brittle.  Coulouris comes off as suave, with the panache of a former diplomat who has learned early not to commit himself, who deals with life with a shrug of his shoulders, a man in evening dress with no neck to stick out.

His behavior is privately more unstable with his wife, alternately pleading and threatening her, but to the others, he maintains his British Public School manners and his Continental charm.  He is good at bridge, knows the right things to say.  He is apolitical, out for himself, but he feels more distaste for freedom fighters than for fascists because he understands the latter.  But he comes to admire Paul Lukas, if not for his political stance, then for his resiliency.  After the scene where he blackmails Lukas in return for not turning him over to the Nazis, Coulouris remarks after Lucile Watson and Donald Woods have left the room:

“The New World has left the room.  I feel less discomfort with you.  We are Europeans, born to trouble and understanding…They’re young.  The world has gone well for most of them.  For us, we’re like peasants…work, trouble, ruin.  But no need to call curses on the frost.  There it is.  There it will be again, always, for us.”

But he is no peasant and has never worked hard at anything.  It is only in his imagination that he identifies with the sorrows of European peasantry.  In a sense, he does have a master, too: the Nazis that have taken over all Europe.

In his final scene, we finally see his fear and panic as Paul Lukas, who despite his ill health is still a man of action, points a gun in Coulouris’ face and angrily tells him, “There is no substance to you.”  He both accuses, and mourns for Coulouris, because the blasé count, though he is frightened about dying now, he will have forgotten all about it in the morning if Lukas lets him get away. 

We know this is true, because George Coulouris, for all his benign charm, the salon and sidewalk café façade, has shown us his empty heart from the beginning.  We can’t write him off as just another bad guy.  He could be our houseguest, a friend or relative who could stab us in the back to save himself.  As Bette Davis says, “We have seen them in so many living rooms.”

Please have a look at the other entries in The Great Villain Blogathon here.


My book on Ann Blyth's career—Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. will be published on June 18th.  I’d like to invite any blogger—film blogger or book blogger—to participate in a blog tour. I’ll be looking for blogs to schedule publicity-oriented posts beginning Monday, June 1st. The last day will be June 17th. If anyone wants to pick a day, please let me know so I can coordinate with others. Think of it as a kind of blogathon. On your day, you can post a review of the book (I’ll have ARCs – advanced reading copies - available in PDF form which I’ll email to you that you can read on your computer), or you can do a Q&A with me, or I can just send you a 250-word excerpt of the book, or you can just post the cover and a link to the Amazon page, if you will. Just a little something to spread the word. I will be posting here every day from June 1st through the 18th and I’ll be linking to your blogs, pushing traffic to you.

Among those 17 bloggers who participate, I’ll throw your names in a hat and pick five winners who will receive a print book of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. when it is published on the 18th.  The rest will receive an eBook file in whichever format you choose: ePub, Mobi, or PDF (Note, the ARC copies will not have the index).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Ray Jones, Ann Blyth, and Anne Frank

Referring to a grade school photo of herself, Anne Frank wrote in her diary October 10, 1942:
“This is a photograph of me as I wish I looked all the time.  Then I might still have a chance of getting to Hollywood.  But now I am afraid I usually look quite different.”

“Hollywood” –the idea of it, more than the place, was the phenomenon of the twentieth century that crossed all boundaries of society—class, age, gender, nationality.  A 13-year-old girl in hiding from the Nazis in Holland collected Hollywood movie star photos, and compared her own childish image to the touched up masterpieces of the Hollywood studio photographers.

At that same time, in October 1942, 14-year-old Ann Blyth was touring in the anti-Nazi play Watch on the Rhine and had just been discovered by representatives of Universal Studios when the play came to Los Angeles.  Her stardom was in the near future, and it would be supported by luminous portrait photos that the studio distributed to fans.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about two photographers of the Broadway stage whose work I’m including in my upcoming book on Ann Blyth.  Today, another photographer who would figure prominently in her career, and the careers of many Hollywood stars, particularly those at Universal, was Ray Jones.

Mr. Jones was a master of the then prevalent technique of using light to “sculpt” the image of the star.  The photos, which make these familiar stars look something like gods and goddesses, were, of course, touched up in the production process, but even before the film was shot the stars were dramatically posed, glamorized within a universe of lights, while Jones chatted to them to calm them while he made them immortal on huge 8 x 10 negatives.  The process by which he worked is described in my book, and you can learn more about his art in the interesting book: Light and Illusion – The Hollywood Portraits of Ray Jones by Tom Zimmerman.

It was most gratifying for author Zimmerman, and the editor of the book, John Jones, son of the photographer, to learn that among the Hollywood star photos Anne Frank collected and pasted on the wall of her hiding place was a photo of a trio of Universal stars together: Robert Stack, Deanna Durbin and Franchot Tone.  The photo was taken by Ray Jones.  It’s still there.  You can see it if you visit the Anne Frank House & Museum.


Come back next Thursday when we join in The Great Villain Blogathon hosted by those evil villains at Speakeasy, Shadows & Satin, and Silver Screenings blogs.  My contribution will be a look at George Coulouris in Watch on the Rhine (1943).

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Dead Reckoning - 1947

Dead Reckoning (1947) is Easter noir.  The incongruity of Easter and noir melded together might be why the movie has such an offbeat, almost comic touch to it, more than one usually sees in noir, which is usually humorless.  Noir is despair, it’s fate clutching at the throat, dragging down an already doomed soul into depths of accepting that life is hopeless.  It’s more than just shadows from window blinds; there’s a psychological reason for the shadows.

Easter noir? 

Yeah, it can be done, and Dead Reckoning does it, bold as brass and a little cheeky.

Since the story is a mystery, I’ll try not to spell it all out, but just hit the high spots with a few observations. 

There’s the image of an Easter lily and a Medal of Honor on the title credit, but Easter is not thrown right at us like Judy and Fred in their Easter bonnets strolling down Fifth Avenue.  It’s only hinted at, and we have to connect the dots.  The action starts with Bogart darting through darkened, rain-soaked streets, obviously on the lam, and as he stops by a florist’s shop to mix with a small crowd observing the display of lilies, a newsstand guy’s voice hollers for us to get our Sunday paper.  Then Bogie ducks into a Roman Catholic church before early Mass.  It’s Easter Sunday, but we won’t know that until the inevitable noir flashback plunks us a few days earlier when he registers in a hotel on April 17th, and remarks in a later scene when interrogated by cops inspecting his room that if they’re looking for Easter bunnies, it’s a day early.  (Easter fell on the 21st in 1946.)  His flippant remark is the only time Easter is mentioned.

But these touches are only add-ons; the real Easter reference is in the flirtation with an afterlife, if not exactly resurrection, with a few poetic symbols of parachutes for a soft landing into whatever awaits.

Parachutes, silken, billowing, harrowing are the image and emblem of the film, more than the lilies and the Medal.  Bogart returns from the war, a captain in the paratroops, getting the VIP treatment with his pal and sergeant, played by William Prince.  Prince did not have a long film career, but did TV work for decades, including many soap operas.  He’s a handsome, likeable guy, with enough personality to hold his own with Bogart, which is impressive.  His role is short in this movie, but he makes such a strong impression I’m surprised it didn’t launch him on a longer film career.

Bogart used to own a fleet of taxicabs in St. Louis—love his line that they got sunk at Pearl Harbor—and the young sarge was a college professor, but the working class officer and the enlisted man professor, as well as their close friendship despite a rule against fraternization, is only one of many instances of flaunting the norms we’re supposed to expect.  Perhaps the biggest one occurs at the end when Bogart won’t stand by his new dame, Lizabeth Scott because, though he loves her, he says of Prince, “I loved him more.”  Sidekicks are not pushed aside for women in this movie, especially when she’s nobody he can trust.  His sidekick is not a comic foil, but a man to put on a pedestal even at the price of his own life.

From John, Chapter 15: Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

Okay, so this is from the Douay-Rheims, but Bogie did stumble into a Catholic church, after all.

He and his sergeant are bound for a special appointment in Washington, D.C., because he recommended Prince for the Medal of Honor.  (One note here, it’s commonly known as the Congressional Medal of Honor, but that’s not really its official title.  It’s the Medal of Honor, and even if the Hollywood screenwriters didn’t know that, Bogart and the military brass escorting them to D.C., should have. Calling it "the Congressional" is just wrong.)

But sarge jumps off the train and runs away and leaves Bogie with a mystery.  Sarge has something to hide, and Bogie spends the rest of the movie figuring out what it is.  Bogie gets drugged, beaten up, but nothing deters him from finding out the truth, and the search takes him to a newspaper morgue (one of my favorite places for research), a real morgue (I’ll pass), and a streamline moderne nightclub where he meets noir queen Lizabeth Scott, “Cinderella with a husky voice,” as he says.

She’s in Gulf City, a steamy burg in the South where he has trailed his buddy.  (Funny that while pausing in Philadelphia, he talks on the phone in his hotel room and we see Independence Hall out the window.  Must be like if you get a room in Paris, you always see the Eiffel Tower.)

Morris Carnovsky is the club owner, who’s got Lizabeth Scott, and everybody, under his thumb.  He plays the erudite mobster with the pretense of culture wonderfully.  Unfortunately, Mr. Carnovsky would have his film career cut off at the knees by the Blacklist in 1950, but Broadway became for him, like so many other actors and writers, a refuge in those dark, disgusting days.

Charles Cane plays a detective, sarcastic and perhaps not so bright, who spends the movie tailing Bogie, and even being held hostage by Ruby Dandridge, Lizabeth Scott’s African American maid when Miss Dandridge is told to hold the gun on the cop tied up in the closet so Scott and Bogie can escape.  Black woman gets to hold a gun on a white cop—even if it’s through a door and meant to be comic, it’s still a bold stunt.

Marvin Miller plays Carnovsky’s hired goon, a cruel gorilla in a white dinner jacket.  We last saw Mr. Miller playing Genghis Khan here in The Golden Horde (1951).  Casting directors evidently never saw him as the cuddly type.

Our old, dear friend Wallace Ford is an ex-safe cracker who provides Bogie with some helpful gadgets, and it’s a pleasure to see him in any movie.  Got to write a post about him sometime. 

Lest we forget:

For a guy on a chase with no time to lose, Bogart changes from uniform to civilian clothes and a Fedora mighty quickly.  Though he and his sergeant briefly bask on the train about houses with roofs, kids who can eat, and all the pleasures of peace in a country not destroyed by war, there is no sense of homecoming to the U.S., no period of adjustment.  This is not The Best Years of Our Lives. 

Blink and you miss ‘em: Ray Teal as the motorcycle cop, partygoer Bess Flowers in the nightclub, and according to IMDb, Matthew “Stymie” Beard, too grown for Our Gang, as the bellhop who brings Bogie’s prank note to the detective tailing him.

Bogie kills time by practice pitching into a chair in his hotel room, and being from St. Louis, ruminates on pitching in the World Series and downing the Red Sox for his team, the Cardinals.  The Cardinals, did, indeed, win over the Sox in October of ’46, but the movie takes place in April, so it’s as if Bogie is predicting what will happen.  As a Red Sox fan, I must admit the pain this caused, since the Sox had not won the Series since 1918.  However, in the spirit of good sportsmanship, let me offer my belated congratulations to the St. Louis Cardinals.  Well done.

The Cardinals also beat the Red Sox in the 1967 World Series, which I’m afraid we still haven’t quite gotten over yet.

Oh, all right.  Congratulations on that one too.

Bogart is not his usual grim anti-hero in this one; he doesn’t play it with the bitterness and dissatisfaction of his returning vet in Key Largo, or Rick in Casablanca.  His quips are less sarcastic than they are simply funny.  He’s got some great lines in this movie, and his character is less haunted than his other roles. 

He plays well with Lizabeth Scott.  She had a really fine way of appearing both vulnerable and yet as inscrutable as noir dames were supposed to be, so that we don’t know whose side she’s on.  Unfortunately, her singing is dubbed in this movie, and I’m not sure why, as she was certainly able to sing.  She had a limited range, but it was a pleasant singing voice, very suitable to jazz and blues numbers.  Here’s her album on YouTube.

And she wears a black beret.  Can a woman be more perfect?  I think not.  I refer you to our previous post on black berets in the movies here.

For all the gloss of her glamorized scenes in the nightclub, I really think one of the most beautiful shots of Lizabeth Scott is at the end when she’s sitting in the car with Bogie, her hair stringy from the rain.  The camera view is from the back seat as she turns sharply to Bogie, her eyes bright and intense, and her expression taut, fire in her soul and murder in her heart.  I don’t have a screen cap of it, but here’s a publicity shot with a similar appearance:

Bogart tells his troubles to a Catholic priest in church at the beginning of the movie, jump starting the flashback.  The priest, played by James Bell, is in uniform.  He, like, Bogie, is just returned from overseas and is also a paratrooper, so Bogart feels a kinship with him.  Bogie hides in the shadows as one making Confession.  At the end of the movie, Father will return, softly intoning a Latin prayer for the dying, and one last image of a billowing parachute in the blackness is seen, carrying the weird juxtaposed themes of afterlife, parachuting, guilt and punishment, but oddly without of any suggestion of redemption, which would be all we need to tie up the Easter message.  But this is where the noir finally kicks in: there is no redemption, just settling scores.

May I wish all who celebrate, a Happy Easter. If you like noir, remember, jelly beans also come in black.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Answers, Updates, and Famous Photos...

A bit of this and that today:

First, a big huzzah and best wishes to all our fellow film bloggers enjoying the festivities at the Turner Classic Movies Film Festival in Hollywood, which begins today and runs through Sunday.  I really enjoy reading their posts and updates on the fun, and their coverage only gets better each year.

Now, the answers to last week’s Leggy Ladies on Ladders photos:

A is Cyd Charisse.  Though it’s a candid sort of backstage shot, the film she was doing in this costume is Meet Me in Las Vegas, which we discussed previously here.

B is Paul Newman and…Alexis Smith.  This is from The Young Philadelphians, which we briefly mentioned in this previous post on Alexis.

C is Zachary Scott entering the room to find…Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, which we discussed here. And here.

I have a book signing coming up this Saturday, the 28th of March at the Indian Orchard branch of the Springfield City Library, 44 Oak Street, Indian Orchard (Springfield), Massachusetts, from noon to 2:00 p.m.  I’ll have a variety of my books available for purchase, both non-fiction and novels, and if you have time to stop by, I’d love to chat with you.


And now, a word about my soon-to-be-published book on the career of Ann Blyth.  June 18th is less than three months away, and will be here before we know it.  I’m working like mad on it, and I hope you’ll approve of the final product.

Part of the challenge of finding photographs for the book is investigating the copyright or ownership of the images.  It can be a daunting task, but also a pleasure when one discovers really fine photos by a master photographer.  In this case, I’m speaking of two greats: Florence Vandamm and Eileen Darby.  They were giants in the field of theatre photography, and Ann Blyth was photographed by both when she appeared in Watch on the Rhine as a young girl.

Florence Vandamm was a pioneer in this field, and from 1925 to about 1950, she was the foremost photographer capturing the greats of the Broadway stage.  The Vandamm Studio specialized in very glamorous portraits of the Broadway stars, images not too dissimilar from what the Hollywood studios would adopt for their style of light-sculpted, touched-up and stunning glamour photos in the 1940s.

Eileen Darby came a long a little later, beginning her career as a theatre photographer in 1940, Vandamm’s chief competitor and ultimate heir to this highly specialized field; however, Darby’s work had a different style.  She would most often perch herself in the front row seats and shoot with low light the dramatic action on stage, catching stars in the moment of their greatest work.

Ann Blyth, just by the serendipitous circumstances of being cast in Watch on the Rhine, was photographed by both these greats for that play, and I am so pleased and privileged to be including photos from both these famous photographers in my book.  I admire their work tremendously.

Today, the Vandamm body of work is the property of the Billy Rose Theatre Division, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.  Because my budget was limited, I could only purchase the rights for one Vandamm photo.  Though I was tempted to go with the images that grouped Ann with Paul Lukas, who played her father, and other actors in the play, I ultimately chose, instead, a portrait of her.  The group photos were excellent, but I had seen them, or photos like them in other books and magazines.  The reasons I chose the portrait are twofold:

First, it is such a sweet expression that seems to show this young girl on the verge of leaving her “play-acting” years and becoming a serious actress – half school photo and half actor’s professional headshot.

Second, because something in that portrait kept calling to me, and finally I realized what it was.  I think I might have been the first person in seventy years to look upon that sweet face outside of the archives, and if I didn’t publish it, I might be the last.  So, since those other photos were more easily available to the public in other books, I took this rarely (or never) seen photo for mine.

The Eileen Darby photo of Ann in Watch on the Rhine is one of her “action shots” that shows Ann on stage with Lucile Watson, who played the family matriarch; George Coulouris, the villain of the piece; and Peter Fernandez, who played one of Ann’s brothers.  This particular photo had also found its way into the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts collection, but for rights to publish I had to turn to the Eileen Darby Estate, which is currently managed by her grandchildren.  I am very grateful to Mr. Alex Teslik for allowing me to publish that photo.

There will be quite a number of other photos in the book, and other photographers or publishers to whom I needed to apply for permission, but I wanted to tell the story of these two particular photographers because of the important place they have in the history of American theatre.

Last year, a retrospective of Vandamm's work was held at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts called: Pioneering Poet of Light: Photographer Florence Vandamm & the Vandamm Studio, which you can read about here and see some of her stunning work.

Eileen Darby's life and work has been presented in the excellent book, Stars on Stage- Eileen Darby & Broadway's Golden Age by Mary C. Henderson.


See you next Thursday for a little Easter noir.  You can probably guess the movie.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Leggy Ladies on ladders...

Have a gander at those gams, and tell us who the ladies on the ladders are, and, if possible, from what films:



Sunday, March 15, 2015

Paddy O'Day - 1935

Paddy O’Day (1935) is about an illegal immigrant we don’t have the heart to send back. 

Maybe it’s because she sings and has a puppy.  Maybe because mainstream America was a generation or two closer to the immigrant experience, where Ellis Island represented both the dreams, and the deepest fears of the immigrant, and so our understanding and compassion was deeper.  We remembered, or our momma and papa remembered, that hope rode one shoulder, a sense of doom the other.  We may muse with chagrin  and raised eyebrows that such a lighthearted and fanciful movie flies in the face of one of the most contentious political issues of current times.

Jane, a little Irish girl who is slated to be sent back to Ireland, gives us only a few moments of the doom of being sent back; she quickly takes matters into her own hands by sneaking into the U.S. illegally by hiding in a milk can. 

Hiding in things to enter illegally has been done many times since, rarely so successfully, and often tragically.

Once having arrived, she is hidden by new friends, who are complicit in the crime.  That’s been done, too.  Who’s talking about the Mexican border?  I’m talking about all the illegal Irish in Boston right now (something like 10,000 of them).

Yeah.  Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Jane Withers was a multi-talented youngster, who was nine years old when this movie was made, and already a veteran of a dozen films.  We may most recall her as the brat tormenting Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes (1934), but she had no less an important career over at 20th Century Fox as another feisty Depression kid.  There was not as much of a fairy tale element to Jane’s movies in comparison to Shirley’s films, and though her fame generated its own line of merchandising, as did Shirley’s, Jane never reached quite the heights of stardom that the moppet with the golden curls did.

Shirley’s talent was prodigious, and she was a hard act to follow.  But Jane Withers, I believe, was even more talented.  She had a better singing voice, was just as fine a dancer, could mimic and do accents where Shirley did not, but most especially, despite bursts of mugging, had a larger acting range and a quality of being “in the moment.” 

Shirley, possibly from her early training barely out of diapers was taught to react and respond much in the same way one might train a dog, and had an acting style as she grew older that was somewhat mechanical.  Perhaps because Shirley was so adorable and lauded to be a “natural” that no drama classes, or experience performing either on radio or stage was thought necessary to train her out of the habits she acquired as a child.  All she knew was the technical style of acting before the camera.  Shirley left acting to raise her family, and had a successful career in diplomatic service, perhaps partly because when she was too old to pretend she was the little orphan girl, her work became too studied and stiff.  It didn’t look like her heart was in it.

Jane Withers was nothing but heart.

We meet the little Irish lass, Paddy O’Day in steerage on a ship to the U.S.  She sings “With a Twinkle in Your Eye,” complete with accent and with reprises, you’ll be singing it before the movie’s over.  The wretched refuse of many teeming shores are dressed in native costume and singing native songs, among them Rita Cansino, who plays a Russian girl traveling with her mother and father, of course called Momushka and Popushka.  We see from the beginning this is more parody than anything.

Rita performs a spirited Russian dance.  She would make a handful more movies in the next couple years before she became Rita Hayworth.  The red hair and sex symbol came later under Columbia.  She and her parents, Momushka and Popushka take little Paddy under their wing, for the Irish girl is traveling alone.  Her mother, working as a servant in a wealthy household on Long Island, will meet her at Ellis Island.

For those of us who have family members who came through Ellis Island, the place is hallowed.  It’s fun to see it depicted, though as such, a scene on a movie soundstage, it's a little surreal if your grandma came through there terrified.

Tragically, little Jane’s mother is not there to meet her, because she has recently died, and with no one to claim her, Jane will be sent back to the old country.  

But she escapes the watchful eye of the immigration officer, played by Francis Ford, and we have a few neat shots of the real Ellis Island, and of the 3rd Avenue El and the Empire State Building rising behind it, looking to the little girl like science fiction monsters.

Through the improbable actions of an unknowing police officer who puts her in the car of a total stranger (such scenes these days make us squirm), Paddy arrives at her mother’s workplace—not knowing she has died.  Jane Darwell, kindly cook of the house, gets the dirty job to break the bad news.  She and the other servants convince the dour butler, Russell Simpson, to let the girl stay until they can figure out what to do.

A pair of fussy old ladies lives in this mansion, with their studious, mild-mannered and somewhat vague nephew, played by Pinky Tomlin.  Tomlin had appeared in a few minor films, but his main gig was as a bandleader and composer.  He’s the chap who came up with “The Object of My Affection.”  (Raise your hand if the first thing you think of is Alfalfa on the Our Gang comedies.”)

Here, Tomlin, a likeable fellow, strums a guitar and sings another of his original tunes, “Changing My Ambitions,” a very pleasant song he croons to Rita because he is falling in love with her.  

Rita and her family, now including a boisterous uncle who runs a café in New York, played with aplomb by George Givot, have discovered the mansion where Jane is in hiding and want to help keep her in the country.  It is agreed she will stay with her Russian pals and work at Uncle’s café as a performer. 

George Givot, a bullying impresario, mangles English with delightfully silly malapropos, but somebody has to speak with a Russian accent because even little Jane’s Russian accent is better than Rita’s.  However, Rita can dance, and that is her act in the club.  Jane, dressed up like a little Russian doll with painted cheeks sings, “I Like a Balalaika.”

Trouble is not over yet, though, because the aunties have discovered Jane and want to send her back to Ireland.  They, and the immigration officer Francis Ford are hot on the trail, but Pinky Tomlin and Rita decide to marry and adopt Jane, which will keep her here for good.  A WASP dad, a Russian immigrant mom, and loudmouth Uncle George.  What little Irish lass could ask for anything more?

Jane doesn’t become assimilated in America in the little more than an hour it takes to watch this movie, but she does what all immigrants did when they first arrived, and still do—try to put down roots in a strange new world, more magical, more wonderful, and more terrifying than Alice’s trip through the looking glass.

Jane Withers has a good rapport with all her adult cast mates in this movie, but she forged a special bond of friendship with the shy young woman who would come to be known as Rita Hayworth.  Rita, 16 years old, was nervous on the set, more terrified than the immigrant she was playing. Jane, nine years old, but already a veteran and the star of the movie, felt protective of her.  Before the cameras rolled, Jane held Rita’s hand and said a prayer to comfort her. 

Decades later, in 1987, when Rita Hayworth died, Jane was asked to deliver the eulogy at her funeral.  She repeated on that occasion the prayer she said while holding Rita’s hand on the set of Paddy O’Day:
“Lord, this is Rita and she’s afraid… Please be with her because she’s special.”

Jane Withers is pretty special too.

This post is part of the Luck of the Irish Blog O’Thon sponsored by the Metzinger Sisters at Silver Scenes.  Please go have a look at the other great entries.

And Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. - Cover Reveal

Today, I'm pleased to reveal the cover for my forthcoming book on the career of Ann Blyth...

(Climbs billboard at great peril, loses shoe, which falls 100 feet to the ground, struggles with tarpaulin, gets wrapped in it for a moment when the wind picks up, then proudly shakes lose the tarp .  Dang, glasses go flying off her face.  Makes "ta-daa!" gesture, squinting myopically at the gathering crowd below, wears a cheesy grin...)


I'd like to thank most sincerely and congratulate most heartily the graphic artist who designed this cover, your friend and mine, Constance Metzinger, one half of the Metzinger Sisters who author the swell blog Silver Scenes.  Please have a look at their blog and you'll be regular customers.

The cover above will be on both the eBook and the print version, but the print book will also have another photo gracing the back.  This one:

And there will be a bunch of photos in between, some that you've never seen.

By the way, they Metzinger gals are hosting The Luck of the Irish Blog 'O Thon, and my post is coming up this Sunday the 15th.  Come back Sunday for Paddy O'Day (1935) with Jane Withers.

My book on Ann Blyth's career--Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. will be published on June 18th. To that end, I’ll be looking for some help in the pre-launch phase, so I’d like to invite any blogger—film blogger or book blogger—to participate in a blog tour. I’ll be looking for blogs to schedule publicity-oriented posts beginning Monday, June 1st. The last day will be June 17th. If anyone wants to pick a day, please let me know so I can coordinate with others. Think of it as a kind of blogathon. On your day, you can post a review of the book (I’ll have ARCs – advanced reading copies - available in PDF form which I’ll email to you that you can read on your computer), or you can do a Q&A with me, or I can just send you a 250-word excerpt of the book, or you can just post the cover and a link to the Amazon page, if you will. Just a little something to spread the word. I will be posting here every day from June 1st through the 18th and I’ll be linking to your blogs, pushing traffic to you.

Among those 17 bloggers who participate, I’ll throw your names in a hat and pick five winners who will receive a print book of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. when it is published on the 18th. The rest will receive an eBook file in whichever format you choose: ePub, Mobi, or PDF (Note, the ARC copies will not have the index).

Thursday, March 5, 2015

8th Anniversary - News and Notes

Today marks the 8th anniversary of Another Old Movie Blog, started in 2007 when I had no idea what I was getting into.  But I’m glad I did.  Thank you for the pleasure of your company.
Just a few news and notes today:

First, I’ll be joining the céilidh in the kitchen with the Metzinger Sisters over at Silver Scenes for their “Luck of the Irish Blog O’thon.”  I’ll be posting on Sunday, March 15th, and I’m having a look at darlin’ Jane Withers in Paddy O’Day (1935), where she plays a young immigrant from Ireland on her way through Ellis Island to begin her new life in the new world.  She runs into a bit of trouble, but nothing scrappy little Jane can’t handle.  Rita Cansino, soon to be Rita Hayworth, plays her Russian immigrant pal. 
The Metzinger colleens are still open to entries, so stop by and join the fun.
I have a book signing coming up on Saturday, the 28th of March at the Indian Orchard branch of the Springfield City Library, 44 Oak Street, Indian Orchard (Springfield), Massachusetts, from noon to 2:00 p.m.  I’ll have a variety of my books available for purchase, both non-fiction and novels, and if you have time to stop by, I’d love to chat with you.
I’ll be speaking at the Chicopee Historical Society Wednesday, April 15th at 6:00 p.m. at the Edward Bellamy Memorial Association, 91-93 Church Street, Chicopee, Massachusetts.  The topic will be my novel The Current Rate of Exchange.  Copies will be on hand for sale and signing.
Speaking of books, next Thursday I’m going to reveal the cover for my upcoming book on the career of Ann Blyth.  I’m really looking forward to sharing it with you.  It’s swell.  You’ll see.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Deep in My Heart - 1954

Deep in My Heart (1954) is a delightful musical, a biography of composer Sigmund Romberg that is perhaps not so much biography as it is pastiche—but this is what makes it so successful.

It is long a common complaint of classic film fans, even fans of musicals, that filmed biographies of composers fall short of the mark when it comes to being authentic or factual.  I won’t disagree.  However, neither do I expect a musical, even in the form of a biography of a composer, to be a documentary.  It is first and foremost a revue of his music, and Deep in My Heart, though giving us a smattering of Romberg’s experiences as in immigrant to the U.S. in the days of Tin Pan Alley, nevertheless firmly keeps to his music as a method of telling the story of his aspirations as a composer.  To this end—fighting the “modern” trends of music with its soul-crushing disposable fads, and yearning for the opportunity to express himself in his own way—these ideals are timeless among creative people and in telling this story the film is completely successful.

Stanley Donen, I think, was an exceptional director of musicals, and his quick style and expressive camera work reminds me a little of the work of Michael Curtiz in a way, the way the camera sweeps, pans, and catches little things.  It is never static.  But it is the unlikely cast of this musical that is the most intriguing.  José Ferrer stars as composer Sigmund Romberg.  A star on Broadway in Shakespearian roles, and, of course, his Tony-Oscar-Emmy win for Cyrano—who in the world suggested, “Ah, a frothy musical on a Viennese composer of operettas!  Let’s get José Ferrer!”?  I don’t know whose idea it was, but it was a serendipitous choice.  Mr. Ferrer is astounding in this role.  A true Renaissance man, his abilities not only in dramatic acting, musicianship, languages, and a beautifully silly flare for comedy, Ferrer is perfect in this film.

Helen Traubel, another in the “how did they ever think of her?” category, is splendid as Ferrer’s longtime buddy, an immigrant like himself from the Austro-Hungarian Empire who carries the sentimental veneer of Old Vienna, while at the same time espousing a scrappy American immigrant’s idealism and love for her new country.  She owns the café where Ferrer, a newcomer to the New World himself, plays piano, sometimes his own lovely compositions, and also waits on tables.  She is with him through thick and thin throughout his career, just as much a part of his life at the beginning as at his triumphant final moments before the fade out.  Miss Traubel was something of a Renaissance woman herself: one of the Metropolitan Opera’s Wagnerian sopranos in the 1940s, she later wrote mystery novels and was a long-time baseball fan, eventually becoming part-owner of her favorite, and unhappily unsuccessful team, The St. Louis Browns.  She and Ferrer play off each other well, as much celebrating as parodying the gemütlichkeit of their culture.

Joining Miss Traubel in supporting Ferrer’s career is Merle Oberon as Dorothy Donnelly, Sigmund Romberg’s real-life partner in musical theatre.  Dorothy Donnelly had an interesting and important place in American theatre in the early days of the twentieth century; noted stage actress, even appearing in a few silent films, playwright, producer, and director.  She also enjoyed fame as the librettist to many of Romberg’s most successful operettas.  In this movie, she has the rather shadowy role of being Romberg’s advisor, supporter, partner, but also as played by the fey and lovely Merle Oberon, a woman silently in love with him, who, for whatever reason, keeps her infatuation to herself.  Miss Oberon gives the role an intriguing sadness.  Her best roles, the height of her career was behind her, but she gives this slight role a lustrous charm.

Rounding out the cast we are given more real-life personages, but presented, in typical Hollywood fashion, more as “types.”  Doe Avedon, who enjoyed only a brief career in film, plays the elegant upper crust debutante with whom Ferrer is smitten and eventually marries. 

Walter Pidgeon, now relegated from leading man to character roles, mostly fuddy-duddy businessmen, plays theatre impresario J.J. Shubert. 

Paul Henreid briefly plays Florenz Ziegfeld.  Later this year, we’re going to discuss a bit more about Florenz Ziegfeld and the actors who played him on film.

Paul Stewart, normally relegated to gangster types with that icy stare, here has a prominent role as Bert Townsend, Shubert’s producer who frankly admits to being in the theatre racket for the money and who panders to a public he feels are more likely to attend snappy shows with up-to-date situations, dialogue, and tunes.  He stomps down hard on Ferrer’s artistic bent for presenting operetta with all its cultural, dramatic, and musical richness, and this is the running theme of the story:  The artist being allowed to create what he wants versus what is currently the rage in the marketplace.

This theme pulls this splendid movie from the cozy dream world of the usual MGM musical and plants it firmly in today’s era of art versus product marketability.  It’s the same for music, theatre, books, as it is for any artistic endeavor, and every artist can relate.  The only thing perhaps holding back a modern appreciation of the struggles Romberg faces in this film is that the struggles are over operetta.  Unfortunately, as we discussed last year in our posts on The Student Prince (1954), Rose Marie (1954) and The Great Caruso (1951), operetta, outside of regional theatre, no longer enjoys the popularity it once did.  Paul Stewart, the grumpy producer, feels the same.  He wants no part of these Viennese-inspired cupcakes.  He wants Al Jolson in blackface, college co-eds, and flaming youth.

Needing the money, and the exposure, Ferrer sells his soul, as it were, and allows himself to become the composer of a great number of these now-forgotten topical “hits” of the World War I era and the early 1920s.  He constantly hammers at Mr. Stewart to allow him to write the kind of music he wants to write, constantly shoving the score of Maytime in his face, at which Stewart turn up his nose like smelly garbage.  Maytime would become one of the colossal hits of Broadway, which finally gave Romberg a leg up on doing the kind of music he wanted.

The Student Prince, Desert Song, and Rose Marie were even bigger hits in the 1920s, and it is for these operettas, Romberg’s pride, that he is remembered and not the dreck he was forced to write earlier in his career.

So there, Paul Stewart.

A few scenes of note:  I love how the movie starts, slowly, elegantly, and grandly with a full orchestra, as the camera pans probingly, lovingly on the musicians at their instruments (I doubt close-ups were ever given to orchestra musicians before or probably since), then finally lands on José Ferrer conducting, and then, bang, the credits.  It is a classy way to begin.

The use of a roster of MGM stars to present the various musical numbers is genius: it allows the studio to play its first-stringers, and it allows most of the story to be centered on the music and not on any awkwardly strung-together “biography.”  Jane Powell and Vic Damone, Howard Keel, Tony Martin, Ann Miller all are presented in numbers that show off their best talents.

Ferrer, who, among his other talents, can sing a little as well, is presented in a charming number with his new wife, Rosemary Clooney, “Mr. and Mrs.”  And proves to be a pretty snappy dancer.

He also performs the ragtime novelty song and dance “Leg O’ Mutton Rag” with the delightfully game Helen Traubel.  Wagner?  Who’s that?

Cyd Charisse and James Mitchell dance to “One Alone” from The Desert Song in one of filmdom’s most sensual performances ever.  They way they move and cling to each other in perfect interpretation of the music makes her climbing over his body look curiously almost like ice dancing.  You’d swear there is more movement than the camera is capturing.

We see the fun stuff, and the most exquisitely beautiful popular music ever written.  “Softly, as a Morning Sunrise” is tops among these, and Helen Traubel gets to save it, most majestically, from its early foot-stomping mangled version as concocted by the Shuberts and the manic styling of Tamara Toumanova.

Gene Kelly, in a rare film duet song and dance with his brother Fred, appear in the “I Love to Go Swimmin’ with Wimmen.”

But the tops is José Ferrer’s tour-de-force performance in the scene where he is requested to describe his latest work for the Shuberts, a silly romp called “Jazzadadadoo” from Bombo.  Embarrassed about this show, he is reluctant to act and sing it in front of his lady friend and her snobby mother, but once persuaded, he throws himself into it, manic and most hysterically funny.  The performance is incredible; not only does he compresses the entire plot of the ridiculous show in a single scene, but he dances, does mimicry, funny voices, smears on a little blackface to imitate Al Jolson, and will make you laugh until you cry or wet your pants or both.   It’s like a Monty Python skit.

Dignity slowly returns to Romberg, and the movie, when we witness his eventual vindication among the Shuberts and all low-brow folks when his operettas are the hits of the shallow 1920s; when he mourns the loss of his pal, Merle Oberon as Dorothy Donnelly, who sadly died at only 47; and in the final majestic number before a full orchestra, Romberg’s signature tune, “Deep in My Heart.”

But were the Shuberts right, did they have the last laugh in knowing that someday operetta would no longer be what the public wanted?

Listen to the music.  “Softly as a Summer Sunrise” is one of the loveliness, most sensual tunes ever written, and is still performed by jazz/blues singers today, as well as “Lover, Come Back to Me” both from the operetta The New Moon.

And consider that if Linda Rondstadt and Kermit the Frog can perform “When I Grow to Old to Dream,” then it really is a cool song after all, isn’t it?

In this old radio show, we have Ferrer, Rosemary Clooney, Jane Powell and others on the soundtrack promoting the film: 

Deep in My Heart, sometimes shown on TCM, is available on DVD here:

©Jacqueline T. Lynch, 2007-2015. All rights reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Another Old Movie Blog, please be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission. 


My book on Ann Blyth's career--Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. will be published on June 18th. To that end, I’ll be looking for some help in the pre-launch phase, so I’d like to invite any blogger—film blogger or book blogger—to participate in a blog tour. I’ll be looking for blogs to schedule publicity-oriented posts beginning Monday, June 1st. The last day will be June 17th. If anyone wants to pick a day, please let me know so I can coordinate with others. Think of it as a kind of blogathon. On your day, you can post a review of the book (I’ll have ARCs – advanced reading copies - available in PDF form which I’ll email to you that you can read on your computer), or you can do a Q&A with me, or I can just send you a 250-word excerpt of the book, or you can just post the cover and a link to the Amazon page, if you will. Just a little something to spread the word. I will be posting here every day from June 1st through the 18th and I’ll be linking to your blogs, pushing traffic to you.

Among those 17 bloggers who participate, I’ll throw your names in a hat and pick five winners who will receive a print book of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. when it is published on the 18th. The rest will receive an eBook file in whichever format you choose: ePub, Mobi, or PDF (Note, the ARC copies will not have the index).