On "No Down Payment": Anne said...This is what makes me wonder if Jeffrey Hunter and Patricia Owens'scharacters had even consumated thier marriageThe kid's got a broken radio, Jeff pulls out a screw driver and sets to work.Tony Randall gets smarmy with Jeff's wife and he's a frozen bystander...if Tony was mashing a radio, I think Jeff's character would have sprun into action. March 9, 2013
On "Trooper Hook": Vienna said...Wonderful review ! I haven't seen TROOPER HOOK for a long time but hope it becomes available on DVD. You describe Joel and Barbara's characters so well. An unusual role for Barbara. I guess she chose to do it for that reason. March 11, 2013
Anne said...Thank you for writing about this little gemOne can see this film on the encore west channel now and then and it's astonishingly good. With a budget not enough for a modern office pastry cart, it shows what can be done with excellent writing and acting....and directing. I love how we see the tiny stage from afar, then we see it though Nanches legs, we are right behind him, and we now know he's on their trail...it makes him almost a gonzilla of a threatChildren: let Mr. McCrea and Ms Stanwyck show you how it's done.They are hotter across a dusty feed store than many buck necked couples in love scenes today.March 7, 2013
On "Any Number Can Play": Vienna said...I love this film. Great cast, though I hate seeing Audrey Totter so totally wasted. All Audrey seemed to do was stand around with a glass in one hand and cigarette in the other.I thought Alexis Smith did well ,playing a woman whom I 'm sure was meant to be older than Alexis who was probably about 30 at the time.Great to see Mary Astor though,again, what a small role. And Marjorie Rambeau is always a joy.It could have been a play, with the only sets the gambling club and Gable's house.An unusual role for Gable and he was convincing.March 1, 2013
On Anita Sharp-Bolster: Vienna said...I've just see Anita in THE LONDON BLACKOUT MURDERS and she is so good as another battle-axe character , but with a touch of comedy . Nice tribute. Thanks.http//:dancing lady39.wordpress.com February 2, 2013
On Victor Jory - On Stage and Screen: Vienna said...Thanks for great tribute to Victor Jory whom I like, especially in a couple of films where he isn't the villain! In FIGHTING MAN OF THE PLAINS, Victor does his best to help Randolph Scott and becomes a good friend to Scott's character. Such a contrast to Victor's usual roles. I also liked him in a little B, THE UNKNOWN GUEST where he is the leading manI had no idea Victor and Alexis Smith did two plays together - thanks for the information. Oh to have seen them!January 24, 2013
On And Then There Were None: Ryan said...I bought this years ago on DVD, and it's still my favorite movie version of this story. The cast was perfect, and to tell you the truth, though I love the book, I almost prefer this ending. I think it's the hopeless romantic in me.February 19, 2013
“The Howards of Virginia” (1940) is one of not-very-many movies Hollywood made about the American Revolution. It’s a good effort in some respects, and fails dismally in others, but that may be not just to acting or direction. Sometimes our failure in being able to interpret a particular era in the past may be our own tenuous grasp on what it really was like. We’re not really as good at turning back the clock as we think we are. It’s just not that easy.
The story is one of those span-of-years tales, in this case from the boyhood of lead character Matt Howard, played by Cary Grant, when his father was killed fighting Indians when Virginia was under British rule during the French and Indian War, to Matt’s adulthood as a solider of the young Continental Army fighting to end British rule during the Revolutionary War.
The costumes mostly are pretty good (except for the wedding dress, too modern), and so are the hairstyles, the sets, and furniture. Some care went into the making of this film, and it is impressive that part of the filming was actually done in Williamsburg, Virginia. So far, so good.
But I wonder if sometimes planting a story against an historical backdrop, and using that backdrop only as kind of puppet show stage scenery and not as an organic element to drive the story is kind of like having a canvas with a beautiful landscape on it and then painting stick figures in the foreground. They stand out badly and it’s hard to appreciate the pretty background anymore because all your eye can focus on is those stupid stick figures.
Our chief stick figure here is Cary Grant. Some have called him miscast in this movie, and maybe he was, but I have to wonder if half the problem is just the way the character was written. Grant seems to be pretty one-dimensional, buffoonish and Always! Seems! To! Talk! In! Exclamation! Points!
Cary Grant spends the entire movie shouting, not in anger or with passion, but just normal every day speech. Hello becomes HELLO!!!! His hyperkinetic overacting is a distraction, and rather fatiguing to watch after a while.
Martha Scott plays the well-born lady this frontier fool pines for, and though it would seem her sedateness and dignity might soften Mr. Grant’s explosive personality, it doesn’t really. Sometimes she seems a bit remote with little warmth.
The best performer here for my money is Sir Cedric Hardwicke, who plays her elder brother, the snobbish family patriarch who looks down on Grant. When the Revolution begins, he is a Tory, or would be if there were any profit in it, and he provides a fascinating contrast to Cary Grant. Mr. Hardwicke’s scenes are absorbing, and we discover many layers to this character in a way we never do with Mr. Grant’s character. Hardwicke is noble, self centered, disdainful, and ultimately tragic. So is Grant’s character, but we may find ourselves understanding Grant less and disliking him more.
Cary Grant takes Martha Scott out to the western lands of Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley to carve out a home in the wilderness, but a home similar to the mansion she left behind in elegant Williamsburg. Their new mansion goes up with remarkable speed. It’s nice to see Anne Revere in a brief role as a frontier neighbor lady. Nobody could pull the job off better than she.
These scenes are reminiscent to “Drums Along the Mohawk” (1939) which we discussed last year, but the leap Martha Scott has to take to make a life here with the rustic folk is much greater than the adjustment Claudette Colbert had to make. For one, we may understand that Miss Colbert’s character is likewise from a background more genteel than frontier husband Henry Fonda’s. But her genteel heritage is likely based on commerce. Colbert’s family from the northern colony of New York and New England derived their social superiority from trade.
Martha Scott isn’t just rich. She’s aristocratic. The caste system of Olde England transplanted itself in Virginia and the southern states in a way it never much did in New England, which was the repository of outcast Pilgrims and Puritans bent not on copying life in England but forging a new society where they would be top dog…a level of superiority they would have never achieved back in the old country.
However, aristocratic Scott stands by her man in buckskins and may look horrified at smelly backwoodsmen, but her very acquiescence to this life seems more democratic than someone in her position would actually be. It is the first indication that we are leading to a message of how wonderfully democratic this country is, and was. It’s a nice sentiment, but largely a fairy tale.
Also, the affable Thomas Jefferson, played by Richard Carlson, who is Matt Howard’s lifelong friend was not so affable and hail-fellow-well-met in real life. This shy, reclusive man, though he wrote one of the most noble documents ever penned - The Declaration of Independence - was also an aristocrat who disdained the company of lower-born folk he saw mainly in terms of rabble. This is certainly no crime and is not unusual in anyone well born and well educated. But, we may conclude he is re-drawn here to suit our World War II -era sensibilities.
Then we come to the first disgruntled rumblings of American discontent during all the repressive taxes the Crown placed on the colonies, and we see that Cary Grant has won a seat in the House of Burgesses, Virginia’s lower legislative house, where we are treated to snippets of speeches by Thomas Paine, played by Richard Gaines. Again, just as we discussed a few weeks ago about historical symbols in “Gone with the Wind” (1939), we have a schoolroom quick survey of American taglines as history through Paine’s words. Give me liberty or give me death. You remember that one.
This kind of use of slogans to represent eras does nothing to increase our understanding of an era, but only serves to confirm what we already think we know.
We might note here, however, a difference, though a subtle difference, in the treatment of the colonial African-American experience to what we observed in “Gone with the Wind”. The servants in the grand homes of course are all slaves, and one female slave goes with Martha Scott when the newlyweds strike out for the frontier. She is even more appalled at the rough backwoods people than Miss Scott is, and looks down on them as not being “quality”.
We don’t see too much of Dicey through the movie, she’s not Scott’s constant companion in life the way Hattie McDaniel’s “Mammy” was with Scarlett O’Hara, but we observe she deports herself with every bit as much high-born dignity as does Miss Scott. None of the slaves depicted in this film come off as caricature.
Still, it might be argued by some that the few dismissive glimpses we are given of the slaves indicate this is another example of Hollywood’s racism. I don’t think so, not entirely in this case, and for two reasons. First, the movie isn’t about the slave experience, it’s about the blustering Matt Howard. (Though for my money, a little less shouting Cary Grant and little more soft spoken Dicey might have made it a more interesting movie.)
Second, there is an interesting dramatic dynamic we can see here if we look for it. We learn about the slaves’ place in the world even by their diminished film presence. Just by viewing them in the background, we see how marginalized their lives are, how controlled their lives are, how little credence they were given by both Colonial America and by 1940s Hollywood.
I believe this effect here was unintended, the by-product of an era in Hollywood filmmaking. However, it was used on purpose with great success, if you remember, in the British television series “Upstairs/Downstairs.” We get to know the servants best when they have their scenes “below stairs” in the kitchen or servants’ dining hall. Here they are animated and effusive.
Then, when the bell rings and the butler Hudson, played by Gordon Jackson, goes upstairs to the morning room to answer the summons, the camera, the story, and mood shifts to the upper class family by whom the servants are employed. We are now treated to a scene of what is going on in the masters’ lives, and Gordon Jackson, grog tray in hand, stands in the background and blends in with the wall. Suddenly, the man we thought we knew so much about, with such a strong personality downstairs, becomes a stranger, an enigma to us. It tells us all we need to know about his place in society.
So it is with Dicey and her fellow servants. We get a brief look into her feelings and sensibilities, and then the door slams shut when the focus is back on her owners. It may not be satisfying to the audience who want to know more about her, but it is dramatically effective and historically accurate.
(I wish American television could turn out a product as good as “Upstairs/Downstairs” with similar subject matter. We have a lot of history to dabble in, if only we weren’t so lazy about depicting it in more than just convenient slogans and taglines, and not being willing to spend more money than it would take to put on a “reality” or talent contest shows, or fear being too historically accurate, thereby “losing” an uninformed general audience, or otherwise fear of offending modern sensibilities by being too accurate.)
Besides, a better evidence of Hollywood’s racism is that Libby Taylor, who played Dicey, spent a couple of decades playing maids and ladies’ room attendants.
Another subplot to the film is Cary Grant’s relationships with his sons. The younger, James, played as a young man by Tom Drake, is the apple of his eye. He ignores the older one, Peyton, because Peyton was born with a foot deformity, much like his brother-in-law, Cedric Hardwicke, whom Grant despises. When the child is born and Mr. Grant first sees his baby’s deformity, he suddenly refuses to name him after his father, but adamantly insists he be given her maiden name instead, branding him as an issue from her side of the family. Grant finally bonds with his son Peyton, played by Phil Taylor, when the lad performs a heroic act as a soldier during the Revolution.
The films ends, or we should say, tries to wrap itself up, with the astonished Grant recognizing a quality in his son even more important than his heroism. He observes that young Peyton, though ignored and dismissed his whole life as less worthy, is a kind and gentle person with no hatred in his heart. Grant declares to Martha Scott that their boy represents a new kind of person for the new nation they are founding, the best of both their worlds.
It’s a nice sentiment, and a wonderful goal to reach for, the idea that this republic may ever keep itself righted by the presence of kind, heroic people with no hatred in their hearts and the ability to forgive. It was an important message to send during the early years of World War II when the United States was not yet involved, but surely feared it probably would be before too long. We never quite seem to reach that placid plateau of good fellowship.
Williamsburg, where parts of this movie was filmed, was the capitol of Virginia until about 1780, when the capitol was moved to Richmond, in part at the recommendation of Thomas Jefferson. The town which had contributed so much to the political and cultural heritage of Colonial Virginia sort of became a quaint, gentle, and ignored (like young Peyton Howard), hamlet until about the 1920s, when Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin of the Bruton Parish Church got together with philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. to restore some of the historic buildings. We owe those two gentlemen a lot.
This project grew through the years, and now takes up nearly 85 percent of the original town, a beautifully restored living history museum, called Colonial Williamsburg. It is well worth a visit, and should be on the list of anybody with an interest in American history.
Meet Me in Nuthatch - A publicity stunt to attract tourists to a small dying town results in the entire community turning the clock back to 1904. It is local Christmas tree farmer Everett Campbell’s idea, after watching the film “Meet Me in St. Louis,” his young daughter’s new favorite movie. What begins as half practical joke and half desperate ploy initiates the rebirth of Nuthatch, Massachusetts. Tourists do come, along with the media. To Everett’s dismay, his campaign to save their community results in also attracting representatives of a chain of theme parks who want to buy Nuthatch 1904. Everett now stands to lose his town in a way he never imagined, and the community is divided on which alternate future to choose. A local drug dealer, the longtime enemy of Everett, may hold their future in his hands unless Everett can pull off his most spectacular, and dangerous, practical joke.
“…a comforting, pleasant read that stays with you even after the last page is turned. After finishing the book, I found myself still musing about the relationships and how they'd changed and progressed. This book was a nice, hot chocolate sort of read.” Grace Krispy, "MotherLode" blog book review.
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