Thursday, September 3, 2015

Slim - 1937


Slim (1937) is a hymn to the workingman, the kind of quiet and laudatory look into a segment of our working population that we don’t see in too many films today, but were a staple of the Great Depression when work was scarce, and valued, and interpreted on screen as the subject of tales of great heroism, social comment, and inspiration.  The job was the journey, the quest, the challenge, and the actors—even the biggest stars of the day—remarkably secondary to that.

Today we mark the upcoming Labor Day with a gang of hardworking average Joes who build towers for electric lines.  Henry Fonda is the farm boy who looks admiringly skyward at these daredevils and wants to join them in a job he sees as glamorous and full of adventure.  

Pat O’Brien is the veteran lineman, a man with a mysterious past, who travels from job to job in what he calls a “tumbleweed life” and takes the young Fonda under his wing.

J. Farrell MacDonald is the boss on one jobsite—who, despite his years, looks pretty fit in a poolroom brawl scene, and Stuart Erwin is the comic relief, a shiftless fellow with lots of tall tales.  In a very brief cameo, we see Jane Wyman as his girlfriend.  John Litel gets a small role as one of workers.

Margaret Lindsay is a Chicago nurse, Cally, who once treated Mr. O’Brien after a terrible work-related injury and is in love with him and pining for the day when he gets all this dangerous “tumbleweed” life out of his blood.   When O’Brien and Fonda visit and they paint the town red as a threesome, Miss Lindsay falls for young Mr. Fonda instead.  Together, they toast, “To a long, hard life and a quick checkout.”


When Fonda gets hurt on the job, Miss Lindsay sells the expensive bracelet O’Brien bought her, to pay for Fonda’s medical bills in this world without medical insurance.

It’s a fairly simple story, but the real “electricity” in this film comes from some quite lyrical and really exciting camera images:  Fonda climbing the metal tower for the first time, holding on for dear life at the top, almost sick from the dizzy height—a new perspective on the flat Midwest land for this former farm boy.  The men wear battered fedoras, apparently unconcerned about the wind taking their wide-brimmed hats.

There’s a couple great shots of the men around the tower saying their lines, another shot climbing, while in the background, coincidentally, a massive locomotive plows by, pulling freight in a juxtaposed image of industrial America; electrical power and steam power.

Shots of an electric substation during a blizzard, spitting off sparks from wires downed by the storm, and the men having to climb the icy towers to repair them.  The body of one unlucky man falling to his death, electrocuted when he becomes ensnared in “hot” wires.

A carefree auto trip through Chicago where Fonda, and we, gawk at the enormous buildings which O’Brien reminds us would not be possible without electricity and the work that he and Fonda do.



The film is valuable for what exists between the “lines.”  This was an era when only about 10 percent of the rural population during the Great Depression had electricity.  Fonda’s farm, where he lived with an aunt and uncle, likely had none.  President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s infrastructure projects sought to remedy that, and in the process, created tens of thousands of jobs.  His public works projects saved a generation from starving, and brought the United States a wealth of new construction that benefited generations to come.

Though the movie is not specifically an homage to FDR, but rather to the linemen, we cannot help but note the hat-tip to the government in an era where private industry was not always necessarily stepping up to the plate.  The intro narration is typically poetic, but nonetheless true:

“Mankind’s control over the natural forces of electricity...the very air we breathe is harnessed and made subservient...the power that girdles the globe...and annihilates distance and gives him control of time and space.

“…without the courage and the fidelity of the men who labor at all hours and in all weather to keep aloft the lines that bring us our electrical supply, this era of miracles would not have come to pass.”

The voiceover guides us over broad empty prairie and a cityscape at night with the dotted lights of windows in skyscrapers against a black sky.

The electricity that makes this possible, “…runs our factories and trains, the current that lights our great cities stands obedient, ready to answer the pull of a switch.”

To all of our linemen, and to workers everywhere:  Happy Labor Day.
****************


Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.


**************************
My new syndicated column on classic film is up at http://go60.us/advice-and-more/item/2047-everybody-comes-to-rick-s, or check with your local paper.







Thursday, August 27, 2015

Upcoming Speaking Dates & Book Signings in September

A notice of speaking dates and book signings in September:

On Wednesday, September 16th, at 7:00 p.m., I'll be speaking at the Chicopee Historical Society meeting on "Revolution vs. Rebellion" -- a look at how manufacturing change society during the Civil War years and brought about a social and commercial revolution.  The meeting is open to the public at the Bellamy Homestead, 91-93 Court Street, Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts.  The site is the home of nineteenth century author and social visionary Edward Bellamy, and is a National Historic Landmark.  

On this occasion, a room in the Bellamy Homestead to display historical items is to be dedicated and named for my late sister, Ann Lynch Beebe, longtime treasurer of the Chicopee Historical Society.  

***
On Saturday, September 19th, from 12:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., I'll be  signing a variety of my books along with other local authors at the Springfield City Library, 220 State Street, Springfield, Mass., as part of their autumn Author Fair.   

***
On Tuesday, September 22nd at 6:30 p.m., I'll be speaking at the Holyoke Public Library, 250 Chestnut Street, Holyoke, Mass., as part of their Conversations with Local Authors series.  I'll be discussing my book Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star., and will bring along some film memorabilia for display.  I'll also have a selection of my other books for sale and signing.

***********************


Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.


**************************
My new syndicated column on classic film is up at http://www.go60.us/govoice/advice-and-more/item/2025-ccc-movie-fan, or check with your local paper.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Western Theme Music


As a genre, Westerns have some of the best theme music.  Here from The Magnificent Seven (1959):


There is something quite moving, a grand, sweeping musical statement.   Or just a sense of quiet conscience.  From High Noon (1951):


Some Western themes, like some of these here, became pop hits.  From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962):


And some are just musically pure that we could lump them among classical music.  From The Alamo (1960) 


And here from Stagecoach (1939): 


And here from The Big Country (1959):



They suggest a big country, with great drama, and great promise.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

That's All There Is. There isn't any more. -- The Barrymores as Pop Culture Icons

 Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Carl Van Vechten Collection, 
[reproduction number, e.g., LC-USZ62-54231] , 1937


Ethel Barrymore appeared as a guest on Bing Crosby’s radio show on December 21, 1949.  It was his annual Christmas show, usually devoted to the singing of carols.  Miss Barrymore joined him for amusing patter about the new artificial Christmas trees that came in white and in pink, and they spoke wistfully of all the Christmases Barrymore spent on the road with her children as she played in theaters across the country.  

Announcer Ken Carpenter teased Bing on his wearing a suit and tie, getting all spruced up in honor of their esteemed guest, whom Bing respectfully addressed as “Miss Barrymore.”

They might speak with equanimity on baseball (she was a fan), but there was no chumminess with this famous guest, yet Ethel Barrymore deigned to do something the dignified thespian never would in her younger days: she parodied herself.

When Bing asked her opinion of his pseudo-rival Bob Hope, she replied, “Well, there’s his childlike simplicity.”

“And?”

She answered, “That’s all there is.   There isn’t anymore.”  

She hardly got the line out before cracking up, and the audience roared with laughter also.  It was a line from a play she had done almost fifty years earlier – a line that made her famous.



This post is part of The Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.  Please have a look at the other participating blogs for some terrific posts.

The “trilogy” in this case, of course, comes from the dynamic trio of siblings who dominated theatre in the early decades of the twentieth century, and came to have a prominent place in film—most especially becoming icons of pop culture in a way entertainers had never been before, or perhaps since.

We have a great book on the trio by theatre critic Hollis Alpert, The Barrymores (NY: The Dial Press, 1964), which dramatically demonstrates the siblings’ dominance of art and culture in the U.S. with an introduction that drops us down on Broadway in the first week of March 1920.

There, at the Plymouth Theatre, John Barrymore, the youngest of the trio at about 37, made his Shakespearian debut in Richard III.

Ethel, the middle child and the reigning grand dame of theatre at 40 years old played over at the Empire in the smash hit, Déclasée.

Lionel, the eldest at 41, known for being a versatile character actor, played at the Criterion in The Letter of the Law

These three siblings were stars on Broadway at the same time.  The media took note and around about this time began to refer to the Barrymores as “the royal family of theatre.”

The Barrymore boys have facing pages in 
Stars of the Photoplay, 1930

They became so well known by this moniker that when playwrights George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber wrote their comedy, and rather wicked parody, of the Barrymores, they titled it The Royal Family.  It opened at the Selwyn Theatre in 1927.  It poked fun particularly at John, known as a heavy-drinking womanizer; and Ethel, for being a prima donna of the stage.  John saw it when it played in Los Angeles (Fredric March played the character Tony, which was based on John, and March also appeared in the film version in 1930) and reportedly thought it was funny, but Ethel was not happy.  She had yet to learn to laugh at herself or shrug off the innumerable imitators of herself and her brothers.

Library of Congress

One of the first instances of being imitated occurred in 1904 over her famous “There isn’t anymore” line.  She was playing in a comedy called Sunday on Broadway where her role was a young orphaned woman raised by rough miners in the West, who comes to London to meet her aunts.  Charles Frohman, famous theatrical producer of the day, sat in on the rehearsal.  In a pivotal scene, she is supposed to read aloud a letter from her rough miner guardians to her genteel aunts, but she stops herself because there is a part that is too personal for them to hear.  She just runs offstage.

Ethel suggested to producer Mr. Frohman that it would make more sense for her to say something, in an awkward and embarrassed manner, before she runs off.  He asked what, not given to interference by young ingénues.  

She is reported to have said, “Oh, maybe something like, ‘That’s all there is.  There isn’t anymore.'”

He left it in.  She said it on stage, and because of situation in the plot, and undoubtedly her delivery, it brought the house down.  Author Mr. Alpert notes, “…that line of added dialogue became virtually her trademark—to a degree that annoyed her.” (p.111)

She began to be imitated by comics on the vaudeville stage with this line.

However, though she had a brief foray into silent films in the teens, she preferred the theatre, where she remained, for the most part, until the late 1940s and a string of films, one of which earning her an Academy Award.  We covered her work in The Spiral Staircase (1945) here and Portrait of Jennie (1948) here.  She and her brothers all appeared in Rasputin and the Empress in 1933, which we discussed in this previous post.

Library of Congress

Her brothers took to film early and remained there, Lionel as a character man who appeared in over 200 movies, including his long gig in the Dr. Kildare series.  As versatile in real life as he was in acting, Lionel was also an artist, a composer, a director, and a novelist.  He is also reported to have claimed to have invented the microphone boom for the movies when he suggested a mic be put on a pole above the actors when sound issues were a major problem in the early days of the talkies.

Lionel also was known to a generation for playing Mr. Scrooge on the radio every Christmas in A Christmas Carol.  And like Ethel, he was also parodied in pop culture.   According to author Mr. Alpert, “So familiar was his drawling voice that an imitation of it turned up every other week on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour.”  He is also lampooned in cartoons and the movies, including by his fellow MGM star, Mickey Rooney.

John, of course, was The Great Profile, who played romantic leads until his own dissipated lifestyle and his casual attitude toward his work led him to parody himself far more effectively than another comic probably could.  We discussed his Twentieth Century (1934) here.  He starred in The Great Profile (1940) as a famous actor who drinks heavily.  Two years later, John Barrymore was dead.

They were descended from a long line of actors on both their paternal and maternal sides of their family, the Drews,  and as children they watched the great Edwin Booth and Helen Modjeska and Fanny Davenport on stage in the theater in Philadelphia that their grandmother ran.   None of the trio were ambitious for theatrical careers despite this, but it pulled them in by circumstance and there they outshone all their contemporaries and their famous thespian ancestors.   John did not take his work seriously.  Lionel had other interests as compelling for him.  Ethel had no desire as a child to be on stage, and indeed, spent every opening night of her life nearly paralyzed with stage fright, and yet by the end of her career, her life, she was the most beloved actress the theatre had never known. 

Library of Congress

In 1901, she was appearing at the Garrick Theatre on Broadway in Captain Jinks, and staying at Mrs. Wilson’s boarding house on 36th Street, in walking distance.  She was about 22 years old.  Her brother John came to escort her to the theater that evening, and when they came in sight of it, she gasped at the her name lit up in the new-fangled electric lights.  She cried.  It became more than the family trade to fall back on then, it was something personal. When she died in 1959, the last of her siblings, the lights dimmed on the marquee and inside the house of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.  She had appeared there when it opened in 1928, as the first leading lady on that stage.

The children of these Barrymores enjoyed varying degrees of success in their own acting careers (or not).  It seemed serendipitous for John’s granddaughter to be named Drew Barrymore after both sides of the acting family.   Though she has climbed the ladder of fame in a way her preceding generation did not,  it is unlikely that anyone in any acting family will achieve the kind of critical respect, and also pop culture fame of John, Lionel, and Ethel Barrymore. Today, we have celebrity, which is not the same thing. Those three were truly greats, we can neither replicate their brand of greatness or the times in which it shone.  Because...

That’s all there is.  There isn’t anymore.


****************************



Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.


**************************
My new syndicated column on classic film is up at http://www.go60.us/govoice/advice-and-more/item/2025-ccc-movie-fan, or check with your local paper.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Teresa Wright on TV


Teresa Wright is decency personified for many fans.  Her portrayals of young women at a crossroads—as Bette Davis’ independent daughter in The Little Foxes (1941); the intelligent young bride in Mrs.Miniver (1942); the spirited protector of her family against a maniacal, and former favorite, uncle in Shadow of a Doubt (1942); the gallant wife of Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees (1943); and most especially, the young woman who came of age during World War II and who now faces its aftermath in the form of a hopeless love for a distraught, and married, veteran in The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)—are all characters that carry her particular stamp of forthrightness and humble courage. 

This post is part of the 2015 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon hosted this year by Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film.  Have a look at her blog for other terrific entries.  Today TCM’s Summer Under the Stars is dedicated to the films of Teresa Wright, and most of those mentioned above will be featured in today’s programming.  But, as you can see by the links on those movies (as well as California Conquest and Casanova Brown), we’ve discussed them before, so today I’d like to turn our attention to Miss Wright’s television work, which was filled with opportunities to perform exciting roles at a point in her career when Hollywood was no longer granting her that option. 

Most of her later film roles in the 1950s treaded into the hysterical female area, which, being fairly one-dimensional, are unfulfilling for the fan and, I would guess, the actress.  An artist of subtle depth and delicate underplaying, Wright had earned Academy Award nominations in two different categories for her first three roles, and won Best Supporting for Mrs. Miniver, the same year she was up for Best Actress for Shadow of a Doubt. She is the only actress to have been nominated for Oscars® for her first three films in a row. It was a prodigious beginning for an actress who took her work seriously and cared very little for stardom (we’ve also referred in this post toher famous contract clause excusing her from any publicity nonsense).

None of those early roles are typical ingénues, certainly not damsels in distress waiting to be rescued; at least, she does not play them as such. There is something of iron in her will, despite the softness of her voice and the sweetness of her expression.  There is a knowing sadness that creeps into her young women that tells us that though she is genteel, she is not fragile, and is capable of standing up to the obstacles, or threats, against her.  Charley is shocked by the evil uncle, but she recognizes evil when she sees it and won’t back down.  Peggy Stephenson is deeply touched by the deeply troubled ex-Army Air Corps officer, but she has been exposed to damaged warriors through her wartime hospital work and she knows something of what he is suffering.  She’s a nice girl, but not sheltered.

In this vein, the two TV roles I’d like to discuss today are her work in “No. 5 Checked Out” from Screen Directors Playhouse from 1956, and “Lonely Place” from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, 1964.  These are two women in peril, but she plays these women as possessing a frank capability far beyond the template laid down by the script. 

Some of her work on TV was pioneering, most especially that she originated the role of Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker when it debuted on Playhouse 90 in 1957, long before the film or Broadway play.  I enjoyed watching this some years ago at the Paley Center for Media in New York City.  Unfortunately, it is not available on DVD.

She also played the intrepid Life photographer Margaret Bourke-White on Sunday Showcase in 1960, Mary Todd Lincoln on General Electric Theater in 1955, among many other TV roles.  In her TV career, she was nominated for three Emmys®. However, most of her work from the 1950s onward took place in theatre, where she began her career and which provided intelligent and challenging roles.

The roles in Screen Directors Playhouse and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour are both women in danger and the stories are offbeat and quirky.  Both feature surprise endings, but the plot is secondary to characterization.  We go on a psychological journey with these women. It is this journey that defines them, not the danger.  Both, incidentally, are also three-person plays creating tension within that triangle.

“No. 5 Checked Out” on Screen Directors Playhouse was directed by Ida Lupino, and co-stars Peter Lorre and William Talman.  Teresa Wright is a deaf woman, who is capable of reading lips and speaking without impediment.  We are told that an operation may help her, but the story is not about curing her; it’s about her acceptance of herself.  She is a teacher in a school for the deaf, but is currently helping her father run a tourist cottage camp.  He must leave to care for a sick relative, and she is left alone to prepare the cottages for the opening of the season. 

William Talman and Peter Lorre are bad guys on the lam.  Mr. Lorre is the badder of the bad guys, with his creepy leer and sociopathic enjoyment of making others squirm.  He makes Talman squirm.  Talman was the getaway driver in a bank heist that went wrong, and he feels betrayed because a man died and there was supposed to be no violence.  Lorre likes violence, and he has Talman under this thumb.

Mr. Talman has a nice role here and he plays it beautifully, a sadder-but-wiser schmuck who can easily be seen as a romantic hero paired with Teresa Wright.  He is not aware at first that she is deaf, as she is able to hide it well, and chooses to hide it to after being jilted by a boyfriend who found her deafness inconvenient.  Eventually, Talman discovers it, and encourages Wright to believe in her chances for a full and happy life, including romance.  

He sadly acknowledges to himself and her that she could do better than him, gallantly not attempting to be more than her friend. 

Lorre, who does not know she is deaf, thinks she has been eavesdropping on their plans for escape and intends to kill her.  Talman tries to stand up to him to protect Wright.  The ending is as cynical and fatalistic as any noir. 

In “Lonely Place” for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Teresa Wright is the careworn farmer’s wife of  Pat Buttram.  Bruce Dern is their new hired hand.  It is a tale of deception, betrayal, and terror. 

First, one is struck by Wright’s beauty in this episode.  In middle age, she has passed beyond the delicate prettiness of her youth and has developed—with fine lines around her eyes, her jaw set in determination, and a wide, clean smile—into a beauty that is natural and mature.  Her face registers many moods in this piece as she takes us on a journey that is as introspective as it is distressing.

For those used to seeing Pat Buttram in slow-witted, clownish sidekick roles, this performance is a revelation.  He is splendid as Wright’s penny-pinching husband, too engrossed in making a buck that he walks a doomed path from taking her for granted, to neglecting her, to putting her in danger, to saving himself at her expense.  He is so meek a man that we fail to see until it is too late, as does Wright, that his self-centered personality is as deadly a threat to his wife as Bruce Dern.

Dern has the flashy role of a knife-wielding maniac, who shows up looking for work, and will work so cheap that Pat Buttram won’t send him away, even when Dern begins behaving rudely to his wife.

The performances are top-notch, and are complemented by intriguing camera work.  They are framed carefully in the context of the moment.  The trio at dinner, with Dern in the center of the shot literally between them as he is coming between them in their marriage.  A shot of Dern’s razor-sharp hunting knife in the foreground in his grip as he talks to Wright.

At the beginning, Teresa Wright is shown feeding a favorite pet squirrel, laughing over his antics. Later, Bruce Dern will kick sand in the little squirrel’s face, and then kill it.  When she suspects his is attacking her pet, Wright runs out of the farmhouse and we switch seamlessly to a hand-held camera.  

When she finds the animal dead, she screams in horror, a wail of heartbroken despair that breaks into a silent, breath-catching sob.  It’s a stunning scene.

Her journey of discovery is played out in her sensitive face: her expression of hatred for Dern, her expression of disbelief at her husband’s seeming unconcern for this event, at his apparent ignorance of Dern’s manipulation as the episode progresses, her expression of disgust when her husband belittles her and allows Dern to tease her.  Dern frightens her, but it is her new perspective on her husband that causes her the most discomfort.  When he playfully suggests he was jealous of her attention for the squirrel anyway, and complains that she fed the animal too well, she asks him if that is why they never had any children.  It is implied that he did not want additional mouths to feed, or to have her attention centered on anyone but him.  Her throwing a handful of corn to a wild, but friendly, squirrel who has grown to trust her, giving him water in an old baking pan, was too much time spent away from the kitchen, in her husband’s eyes.  Buttram is not bullying, but employs as passive-aggressive tactic to make her feel guilty for not being more sensitive to his feelings.

She does feel badly, but Dern is too scary.  Finally, she can take no more and attempts to sneak out of the house at night—and Dern catches her.  There is the ultimate terror of being physically attacked, prolonged by Dern’s enjoyment of terrorizing her.  He tries to make her scream again, as she did over the squirrel, because he wants her husband to come out to save her so he can kill him.  She knows this, and she will not scream.  She will save her husband if she cannot save herself.

As a thunderstorm moves in, they scuffle and she gets his knife.  She has the upper hand now, and he runs away. 

The ultimate shock when she returns to the house is discovering, slowly in their conversation, that her husband, whom she thought was asleep during her alteration with Dern, was actually awake.  He heard everything.  He refused to help her because he was afraid of Dern.  Also, he hoped that Dern would just settle down and continue working for him the next day, because he worked dirt cheap.

The ending is a great surprise, but the finely crafted scenes building up to it are really the driving engine of the story.  The image of Teresa Wright, with all her decency, her intelligence, and her gentle humanity being a caged woman in her own simple home, at the mercy not only of crazed Bruce Dern, but of her greedy, stupid pig of a husband are what is most shocking about the episode and this is what stays with us long after.

Perhaps the image is indelible because it is not just a helpless woman being threatened, it is that decency and humanity of the young bride from Mrs. Miniver, the loyal daughter of Shadow of a Doubt, the noble wife of Pride of the Yankees, and the beloved Peggy Stephenson who gently comforted Dana Andrews during his nightmare in The Best Years of Our Lives.  Teresa Wright not only owned those early roles, she took them with her all the rest of her life.


Have a look at the other great posts in the TCM Summer Under the Stars blogathon this month at Journeys in Classic Film.

***************************


Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 
by Jacqueline T. Lynch

The first book on the career of actress Ann Blyth. Multitalented and remarkably versatile, Blyth began on radio as a child, appeared on Broadway at the age of twelve in Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, and enjoyed a long and diverse career in films, theatre, television, and concerts. A sensitive dramatic actress, the youngest at the time to be nominated for her role in Mildred Pierce (1945), she also displayed a gift for comedy, and was especially endeared to fans for her expressive and exquisite lyric soprano, which was showcased in many film and stage musicals. Still a popular guest at film festivals, lovely Ms. Blyth remains a treasure of the Hollywood's golden age.


The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.


**************************
My new syndicated column on classic film is up at http://www.go60.us/govoice/advice-and-more/item/2025-ccc-movie-fan, or check with your local paper.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

YouTube Ann Blyth Book Trailer



This is by way of a book trailer for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star.  The two songs she sings on this video, "My Foolish Heart," from the Oscars in 1950, and the other, "My Golden Harp" (to the tune of "Danny Boy") from a guest appearance on the Louella Parsons radio show in 1951, are selections probably not a lot of people have heard.  The movie magazine covers are always a kick.

Enjoy.  Buy the book.  Did I mention that before?

By the way, columnist Liz Smith, who featured ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. in her column on June 29th, mentioned it again the other day, and her recent note from Ann Blyth.  She writes:

I BELIEVED the art and the graciousness associated with hand-written notes had long vanished. But leave it to one of moviedom’s great ladies, Ann Blyth, to restore my faith in good penmanship and a little effort.

Miss Blyth wrote to thank us about our recent column about a lavish new career book celebrating her. She said she hadn’t seen it yet! The handwriting of her note was divine, and so was the sentiment expressed. A lovely woman, and one who apparently got all she could out her career, and didn’t resent changing times and tastes. She had a marvelous run, in every medium. I doubt she has any regrets, certainly not about the inevitable vagaries and disappointments of a show biz career.


**********************
Come back next Tuesday, August 4th when we take part in the TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon, sponsored this year by Kristen at Journeys in Classic Film.  

That day on TCM belongs to the lovely Teresa Wright, and my topic is a look at some of her television work, particularly her appearances on the Ida Lupino-directed "No. 5 Checked Out" on Screen Directors Playhouse, and in the psychological thriller "Lonely Place" from The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

I hope you can join us.  See you Tuesday.



Thursday, July 23, 2015

A few odds and ends...

A few odds and ends today...


These are seamstresses at MGM.  I think they knew what to do with a few odds and ends.

Anybody know them?

***********************

We recently had this comment from David on our post on Tension from February 2012 with some great input on the drug store site:

Sorry to bump an old thread. I'm almost certain the EXTERIOR of the drugstore was the southwest corner of West 6th and Alexandria in Los Angeles. In an early shot, you can clearly see that Alexandria is the side street (via the sign) and that there is a gas station across the street, which is now the site of the 7-11. In a later night shot, you can see what I am pretty sure is the sign of the old Ralphs store that is now Chapman Market. Sadly, the drugstore building itself seems no longer to be standing, but I'm 95% sure this is the correct location. 

For reference: http://www.groceteria.com/place/california/los-angeles/los-angeles-chain-grocery-locations-1932-1942/

****************************
A summer sale on two of my eBooks runs now through the end of July:




Classic Films and the American Conscience - a collection of essays on classic films in the context of the era in which they were made, and...



Double V Mysteries: Numbers 1 through 3 box set - a cozy mystery series set in New England in the post-World War II era.  A little noir, a little romance, a lot of New England.

Both eBooks are selling at half-price at Amazon.

*****************************************


Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 


The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Deep Valley - 1947

Deep Valley (1947) is a movie where the telling of the story is probably more important than the story itself; indeed, what is likely to be most memorable to the audience is the poetic cinematography by cameraman Ted McCord.  In post-World War II Hollywood, film noir was sometimes deliciously softened and morphed into romance by introspective sensitivity.

This is our entry in The 1947 Blogathon hosted by Shadows and Satin, and Speakeasy blogs.  Have a look here at the other great bloggers participating.



Directed by Jean Negulseco, we get the feeling Deep Valley was a warm-up for his Johnny Belinda the following year.  The plot is familiar—a troubled young woman suffering from some handicap and shut off from the outside world is visited by an equally troubled stranger who will change her life.  Ida Lupino plays the young woman with a natural, glowing gentleness.  She is isolated on her parents’ remote property on the California coast, and traumatized by her parents’ estrangement.  They live on separate floors of the house and do not communicate. 

Veteran actress Fay Bainter is her self-pitying mother who playacts an invalid to punish her rough husband.  Henry Hull is Ida’s scruffy, resentful father, who perhaps—though this is never really explored—feels guilty for the final argument which tore him and his wife apart when he struck her.

Ida Lupino is their whipping boy, the daughter caught between them, dismissed, used as a servant to clean and cook, but the worst torment for her is her parents’ hatred of each other and their failure to express any affection for her.  The poor girl is starved for a kind word, let alone affection.  Her tearful pleading for a sign of any love in the house once she can finally find the words is heartbreaking. Only her dog shows her any devotion.  She escapes the house when she can and roams the woods with him, finding freedom in the outdoors.  She stutters at home, but in the woods can converse quietly with the squirrel she feeds, and he scrambles onto her back. 


The stranger is played by Dane Clark.  He is a convict on a chain gang who escapes.  He and Ida find each other in the woods, and fall in love.  He is a well-meaning guy, whose quick temper and lack of judgment has gotten him afoul with the law, but he is always repentant afterwards and baffled, frustrated that he almost always does the wrong thing.  He is disillusioned by the world, as isolated from it in his chains as she is a prisoner of her home—but his love for her has a gentling influence.  He finds peace; she finds love and acceptance.

It’s a kind of role in which I think Dane Clark was best used.  Repeatedly referred to, ad nauseum, as the poor man’s John Garfield, Dane Clark did not have Garfield’s strengths, his particular way of playing the cussed and outcast.  However, he had something Garfield did not: a manner of vulnerability that is eloquent and heart-wrenching.  I find I like Clark less in hard villain roles because he does not play them as well as somebody like John Garfield.  There is a mask, like he’s trying too hard.  But give him a role like this, where he can be on a knife-edge of anger and anguish, where he can show his softer side as a tortured soul, and he’s wonderful.

A few particularly great scenes:  when Garfield and Lupino lie along the brook and attempt to catch a fish, their exuberance at their success, and physical closeness leading to their first kiss, so much that we want to cheer the fish too.

The scene where, Dane Clark hiding in the hay loft of the dilapidated old barn, protected from the sheriff by Lupino, and she sneaks up the ladder to check on him.  He thinks it’s the sheriff after him, and to defend himself, he grabs an old scythe.  The long sharp blade glints in the dimness of the barn as Ida’s head pops up into the loft.  We see Clark’s horrified, manic expression as he comes frighteningly close to decapitating her, but for perhaps the first time in his life, he pauses before he acts rashly.  They stare at each other a moment, she is acutely aware of the inner strength it took for him to stop himself.  His tortured, sweaty face bears the look of a man clinging to the edge of sanity.



Wayne Morris plays a construction engineer.  A highway is being carved out of the hillside where Lupino’s parents live, the work being done by the convicts.  Morris, always a dependable actor, here is a nice, boring guy who has taken a fancy to Ida.  She has no feelings for him, but we may wonder if there had been no Dane Clark in the picture, would she eventually fall for the kind but dull Morris?

An interesting subplot is the change in the relationship between Ida’s parents.  When Ida runs off, her mother can no longer wallow in her self-absorbed and utterly phony invalidism.  Fay Bainter gets dressed, goes downstairs for the first time in seven years, and orders her husband to stand away from the stove while she gets breakfast, as if she’d been doing it for years, as if she just left the room for five minutes.  He takes her gruff and grudging take-charge attitude as a sign she has forgiven him, and he becomes gentle in her presence.  They make small talk at the table over breakfast.  This is a simple scene their daughter would have loved—mother and father together, but it only happens when Ida’s absence forces them to, for want of a better word, reconcile.  It’s an intriguing, weird sort of development, but it happens too fast and too automatically to be believed.  There is an absurdity to it that does not match the tone of the rest of the movie.

The biggest problem with the plot, however, is that we know from the start that the romance between Dane Clark and Ida Lupino is doomed.  There is no hope for an escaped convict, no happy ending, and the only relish from the brief relationship for either is the epiphany that they have come to a greater understanding of themselves and have found the ecstasy of love for a few hours.

At the end, we see Miss Lupino and Mr. Morris standing atop a bluff, and he putting his jacket over her shoulders to fend off the chilly breeze.  She walks away, he follows.  It is as if he will be the new man in her life by default, but the emptiness in her eyes that she displayed at the beginning of the film has returned.

What lingers to the viewer are the sometimes stunning shots: The a construction worker silhouetted against bright sunlight; the deep woods; the fine, shabby detail of the house, and the intensity of the quiet close-ups on Dane Clark and Ida Lupino.  It is a dismal story, made beautiful through the eye of cameraman Ted McCord and director Jean Negulesco.

Have a look at the other great entries in The 1947 Blogathon.

*****************************




Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. 


The eBook and paperback are available from Amazon and CreateSpace, which is the printer.  You can also order it from my Etsy shop. It is also available at the Broadside Bookshop, 247 Main Street, Northampton, Massachusetts.

If you wish a signed copy, then email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com and I'll get back to you with the details.