Thursday, June 30, 2011

In Old Chicago - 1937

“In Old Chicago” (1937) re-ignites the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, and illustrates American History as part legend, part wish fulfillment, and mainly the extraordinary ability to cope.

It is easy enough to run down a checklist of all the “facts” in the telling of this story and mark which are true and which are not. The most obvious of which is, of course, that the cause of the Great Chicago Fire was probably not Mrs. O’Leary’s cow. The story of Daisy the cow kicking over a lantern in the barn and setting the monumental blaze that killed perhaps as many as 300 people and left some estimated 100,000 homeless over the course of a single night has been refuted by alternate theories.

The first news of Mrs. O’Leary and her cow was reported in the Chicago Tribute at the time of the fire, and later was found to have been completely made up to sell papers. Such a tragedy needed a scapegoat, and in those days of anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant sentiment, what better scapegoat than a poor, ignorant, slovenly, comic old Irish crone and her stupid, silly cow?

Except that Mrs. O’Leary was not ignorant, slovenly, nor a crone. She was in her late ‘40s when the incident occurred, hardworking, married, a mother (with a son and a daughter, not three sons), and had the great misfortunate to be only two of the accusations against her: poor, and Irish.

Recent historical investigations have shifted suspicion on the fellow who actually noticed the fire in her barn first, and called out for help. You’ll see him in the film -- a man with a wooden leg hollering, “Mrs. O’Leary! Oh, Mrs. O’Leary!” His character is unnamed in the movie, but he is meant to be Daniel “Peg Leg” Sullivan, whose inconsistent testimony at the original investigation has since come under scrutiny. He may have caused the fire in the O’Leary barn by accident. Have a look here at this website for more information.

John Wallace is the actor who plays this man in the movie “In Old Chicago”, and I would assume wore a prosthetic leg in real life, because he played so-called “peg-leg” characters in at least six other films.

The truth about the cause of the fire aside, “In Old Chicago”, has a charm and vigor that is perhaps due to this leaning on American legend rather than fact. It tells the story with a wink and a smile. It attempts to entertain with a tale we think we already know, rather than enlighten us on what we do not know.

I wonder, though, if younger, modern, audiences are even aware of the Mrs. O’Leary legend? To 1937 audiences, this tale was familiar, homespun, and as part of Americana as Paul Bunyan or Pecos Bill. They may have accepted it as legend and not truth, but the legend was like a souvenir of an era. A snow globe you bring home from the fair. It’s not real either, but you like to shake it once in a while and watch it “storm”.

Going down our checklist, most of the characters in the movie: the three sons, the rival politician, the saloon singer, are all fictional. In the movie, Patrick O’Leary dies in the first few minutes. In real life, he was still alive at the time of the fire. In the movie, Mrs. O’Leary’s first name is Molly. In real life, it was Catherine. Come to think of it, the only factual character was Daisy the cow.

She had a small, but pivotal role.

What the movie lacks in historical accuracy (at least as far as characters are concerned; the sets, costumes, and the fire special effects are pretty good), it makes up for in some stunning visual images.

One of my favorites comes at the very beginning of the movie, a shot of the prairie when Patrick O’Leary meets his Maker. We see Mr. and Mrs. O’Leary, Irish immigrants with brogues, wit, and guts, travel across the prairie with their three small boys in a covered wagon. They are on their way to Chicago, the new boomtown of the great American Midwest. It is 1854. Mr. O’Leary, at his sons’ urging, playfully whips the horses and races a nearby locomotive. He has an accident when the horses become unhitched. He is pulled off the wagon and dragged on the ground.

Mrs. O’Leary leaps from the wagon and runs toward her husband’s prone body. We see her running across a very great distance, a wide, rolling, empty grassland. All is silent, but in your imagination you might hear the wind sifting over the grass; you certainly get a sense of solitude, of her helplessness in such a big place. In that long shot of the woman running, you also see a hint of strength and courage. The image of the small figure on the huge prairie is stunning.

Patrick O’Leary, played by J. Anthony Hughes says his dying speech, and his widow and sons go on to Chicago.

Mrs. O’Leary is played by Alice Brady, theatre and movie veteran. Her spirited, feisty characterization earned her a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for this movie. Unfortunately, she was never to receive it. On the night of the ceremony, she was home with an injury and her award was accepted by an unknown man who came up from the audience, and promptly walked away with it. Sadly, she succumbed to cancer two years after this movie was made and died at 46 years old.

Her grown sons in this movie are played by Tyrone Power as the charming scamp and ne’er do well; Don Ameche as the good son who battles poverty (his own) and injustice (other people’s) as a lawyer; and Tom Brown as the baby of the family who marries the Swedish hired girl and helps Ma with her laundry deliveries.

Another great image in the movie is when they first arrive in the boomtown of Chicago, and we are plunked down with them in a maze of wooden hovels, saloons, and shops all nestled in a spectacular sea of mud. Pedestrians are knee-deep in mud, horses get stuck in it.

In such a dirty place, Widow O’Leary starts a laundry business. Another great visual is a panning shot of Alice Brady wrestling clothes from a network of lines in her backyard into a basket.

Tyrone Power dirties his own hands with saloons and political graft in this shanty neighborhood called The Patch (in this movie The Patch is meant to refer to a particular shabby sort of red light district, but in the 19th century many Irish immigrant neighborhoods in American cities were often referred to as The Patch).

Tyrone’s rival is a ruffian saloon owner played by Brian Donlevy, who made a career out of playing essentially the same scoundrel from film to film. They both admire Donlevy’s new stage act, the lovely Miss Alice Faye.  There are several musical numbers in the movie.

One gets the sense of something really special happening with Tyrone Power, Don Ameche, and Alice Faye all seeming to get their big break in this movie. They are all young and beautiful, and on the rise. 

However, the minor players make a distinct impression, from Joe Twerp’s stuttering scene, to the unforgettable visage of Rondo Hatton, whose tragic facial disfigurement from acromegaly was exploited in monster or monster-as-human type roles the studio. Here, he’s one of Donlevy’s goons.

Most impressive is Madame Sul-Te-Wan, who plays Alice Faye’s maid. Like most African-American actors of the period, her role is marginalized, but she manages, I think, to escape stereotype with a wonderful quality of razor wit. With her rapid delivery of lines, and her physical slapstick timing, she reminds me of a modern day stand-up comedian. Despite that fact that one of her earliest roles was in D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” (1915) (she stayed in contact with Mr. Griffith for years and attended his memorial service), she really comes off as more 21st century savvy comic than 19th century servant or 20th century exploited actress.

We meet her first singing a bluesy tune, admiring herself in the mirror wearing one of Alice Faye’s wraps. She comically covets her employer’s things and helps herself to them. When Alice Faye wants her to keep out admirers or manage her affairs, Madame Sul-Te-Wan replies, “I done told him that ‘til I’m black in the face.” She says it lighting quick, under her breath, as if we are not supposed to hear it. She’s a scene stealer.

When Tyrone Power forces his way into Miss Faye’s boudoir (which happens a couple of times), Madame Sul-Te-Wan shrieks, chases Power chasing Faye, and attempts to beat him with one of her gowns, and hangs onto his coattail trying to pull him away, shouting, “Get out of here, white man!” I have to wonder how much she made up as they went along, because she’s hysterical and seems to know it. You don’t even notice Alice Faye when Madame Sul-Te-Wan enters the scene.

When she’s off to drag a cop back, Power has wrestled Faye to the floor for a kiss, another great visual. Here Faye’s furious, arms pined back, panting from exertion and frustration. Director Henry King just leaves them wordless for a moment and all we hear is Alice Faye’s heavy breathing. Erotic slapstick.

This is world of gaslight and handlebar moustaches, of barbershop quartets, and political rallies that feature quantities of beer.

Another good scene is when Alice Brady, her boys, and daughter-in-law dance a jig in the parlor and finishing off a bucket of beer.

Don Ameche runs for mayor against Brian Donlevy, and Tyrone Power pulls a few switcheroos to get him elected. But, Mr. Ameche is honest, won’t dance for political favors, and vows to wipe out The Patch and all the unstable “mushroom growth” of Chicago. He points out the wooden shanties are a fire hazard. He wants to eliminate crime, even if it means destroying his brother.

Well, then Daisy kicks over the lantern and you know what happened next. The special effects guys take over.

Round about this time, with mobs of terrified people running from the fire that spreads rapidly, loved ones separated (we entirely lose Madame Sul-Te-Wan somewhere) and Tyrone Power staggering around a dynamited firebreak with blood on his face -- you might notice a similarity to the goings on in “San Francisco” (1936). They could have used that movie as a template.

Except “In Old Chicago” has Sidney Blackmer as General Philip Sheridan to help fight the fire. This part was true.

And “San Francisco” didn’t have a cattle stampede.

The impressive amount of mud gives way to an impressive amount of extras all running as fast as they can to get to Lake Michigan to escape the flames.

Alice Brady, standing up in a cart half-submerged in the Lake, looks back on the flaming city and remarks, “It was a city of wood, and now it’s ashes.” But, she tells us that Chicago will be reborn and gives us hope for the future.

The Water Tower - one of the few structures to have survived the fire.  J. T. Lynch photo.

Chicago was reborn, and that story perhaps is the one that should really be told, for in a generation it became the city of stone and steel that Don Ameche wanted, once again the Queen of the Middle West. City of the Broad Shoulders, Hog Butcher to the World…you know.

No such resurrection came to the real Mrs. O’Leary, however, who was vilified in the press, and on the anniversary of the fire for the rest of her life, came reporters who wanted her to remember. She didn’t. No matter how many times she moved, they still found her. She refused even to accept the offers of promoters and hucksters to capitalize on her fame. She just wanted to be left alone. Her husband Patrick died in 1894. She died the following year.

In 1997, Chicago passed a resolution exonerating Mrs. O’Leary, and Daisy, from any blame for the Great Chicago Fire. The Mayor offered an apology to her great-grandchildren.

J.T.Lynch photo

Here is a plaque that stands on the spot on De Koven Street where the O’Leary home stood.

J.T.Lynch photo

Back up a bit, and you see the memorial to the Great Chicago Fire, a bronze sculpture, “Pillar of Fire” by sculptor Egon Weiner, which was placed here in 1961.

Behind it, is the Chicago Fire Academy, where firefighters are trained.

J.T.Lynch photo

For more on the Great Chicago Fire, have a look at this website.

Monday, June 27, 2011

New Book on the World Theatre - Kearney, Nebraska

“Kearney’s World Theatre” by Keith Terry, is like that long, familiar walk down the carpeted aisle, the descending incline of a movie theatre from the back of the house to the orchestra seats. You look all around at the grand old movie temple, and anticipation builds to claim your seat. Then the magic. Even if you have never been to the World Theatre in Kearney, Nebraska, you’ve got a stake in this theater and this book.

An “Images of America” book recently published by Arcadia Publishing, this treasure trove of photos with captions takes us on the timeline from the theater’s opening in November 1927, through its heyday of the 1930s until 2008, when it closed.

But that was not the end of the story. In 2009, community efforts began to restore and reopen the World Theatre, fundraising which continues today. This book is part of those efforts, to raise awareness of the cultural significance of this theater, and to aid in the fundraising. Half of the author’s royalties will be donated to the restoration of the World Theatre.

The author, Keith Terry, is a faculty member in the Department of Communication at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He is the author of two other books on Nebraska history.

We’ve discussed many classic movie theaters on this blog, and sometimes we are lucky to find one that’s in the process of being revitalized. This time, however, we actually get a chance to help out ourselves in a very simple way. Please have a look at “Kearney’s World Theatre” by Keith Terry on the Arcadia website here, and consider purchasing a copy. The pages of photos, memories, posters and memorabilia, though centered on a small theater in a town in Nebraska, on another level is about everything readers of this blog love about old movies and preserving them.

Posters for a Clara Bow movie. The time a person dressed as The Tin Man standing out front to advertise “The Wizard of Oz” (which didn’t need much help, as it pulled in such big crowds the movie was held over).

The ushers and the live acts, the war bond drives. The theater ghost (every good theater has one). The ever-changing marquee. Most of the photos and the memories were supplied by the patrons, so there is an intimacy in the book that you feel from looking at a family photo album. It’s their theater, but the memories and experiences are universal and were shared by a few generations of millions of other Americans.

Then the demise of a theater, and an era. Now, the rebirth. Claim your seat as the curtain draws open.

“Kearney’s World Theatre” by Keith Terry is available online here from Arcadia Publishing.

(Disclosure: A copy of “Kearney’s World Theatre” by Keith Terry was supplied to me for purposes of reviewing on this blog.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Grady Sutton

A long time ago the fellow with this pleasant face began in the movies in a walk-on part with no lines (it was a silent movie, after all), and carved out a decades-long career as the anonymous everyman who was somehow familiar.

Know this guy in the sweater?  That's Student Who Goes to Get the Dean.  This is from Harold Lloyd’s 1925 silent comedy “The Freshman”. This young man was on screen for only a few moments. Prophetically, he would build his entire career around appearing on screen for only a few, very memorable, moments.

He’s Grady Sutton, uncredited in most of his roles. Even though he co-starred in a series of Hal Roach two-reelers early on in his career, he never quite made to top banana fame.

Along the way he played the foil for W.C. Fields, and appeared in “Alice Adams” (1935) with Katharine Hepburn, and was hastily engaged to Carole Lombard in “My Man Godfrey” (1936).

Oddly enough, he managed to be one of the most recognizable bit actors in Hollywood, appearing in something like 200 movies and television shows. Once he made the transition from silents to talkies, we all got to hear that gentle Southern drawl that suited so well his shy, deadpan naivete.

Here he’s the housemaid Hattie’s beau, Butch the Butcher in “Stage Door” (1937), being teased by Lucille Ball.

Here, he’s Gary Cooper’s best man in “Casanova Brown” (1943).

Here, he’s the diner counterman who for several hysterical moments (could be one of his longer roles) agonizes over Jean Arthur’s post-wedding crying jag as he serves her boiled rice.

Here he’s one of the servicemen and the local camp that Jennifer Jones, Joseph Cotten, and Claudette Colbert visit in “Since You Went Away” (1944), as he wanders the party looking for “Suzy Flemming”.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to dance with Rosemary Clooney at the cast party in “White Christmas” (1954), Grady is introduced to Barrie Chase, who delivers her famous line, “Mutual, I’m sure.”

Mr. Sutton went on to several more decades of work in film and television, never saying much, but always a welcome addition to the party.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Conflict -1945

“Conflict” (1945) starts with title and credits that ooze like residue from the background of a dark and stormy night, and melt in a sinister haze while we squint through the curtain of rain. Could be a monster movie with an opening like that, but film noir adopted such techniques from their monster movie cousins, and presented a new kind of monster for us: the darker side of ourselves.

Robert Siodmak, who directed such films as the magnificently creepy “The Spiral Staircase” (1945), which we discussed here, co-wrote this script which blends the customary fatalism of film noir with a new emphasis on psychiatric analysis to help solve the mystery.

The psychiatric element to the story begins innocently enough. Sydney Greenstreet is a jovial, avuncular bachelor professor of psychology (love that man’s jolly guffaws), a practicing psychologist, and an avid grower of prize roses, who hosts a small intimate dinner party to honor the fifth wedding anniversary of his two friends, played by Humphrey Bogart and Rose Hobart. The film opens with what we suppose is Mr. Greenstreet’s beefy hand patiently writing out an invitation in elegant handwriting, one of the lost social graces.

Because this is a mystery, I’m going to try not to heave any gigantic spoilers at you, but step as delicately as I can around this movie by focusing on the performances. The performances give us a lot of back story we may assume about the characters, which gives the movie more depth than appears on the surface. In fact, the plot of the film is spilled out for us at the very beginning, and the real mystery is not so much who done it, or even who done what, but how is the guilty party going to meet with just desserts?

This is one of Bogart’s most interesting roles, not so much for the character as written, but for what he does with it. We meet him and his wife getting dressed to attend Mr. Greenstreet’s house party. They seem to bicker a bit, but there is nothing really to suggest an unhappy marriage. His moaning about wanting to stay home tonight and her complaining that he leaves his clothes all over the place make them seem comfortable with each other, a solid marriage if not a very exciting one.

Then a bombshell. Rose Hobart, with a single, severe streak of gray in her pompadour, speaks with the coolness of a sophisticate when she suddenly remonstrates him for his “ridiculous infatuation with Evelyn”.

Evelyn is her younger sister, played by Alexis Smith.

Mr. Bogart is surprised, but remains calm, even when she chides him that, “The way you look at her and hang on her every word is positively nauseating”. His wife insinuates, due to her sister’s extreme youth and inexperience, that Bogart is entering a kind of second childhood. His wife does not seem threatened or hurt, as much as she seems embarrassed for him. Her accusation is belittling.

Seeing himself through her eyes, perhaps he also feels that such an infatuation should be beneath him. He replies when she asks him what he’s going to do about it:

“I’m not going to do anything about it…I haven’t said anything to her and I don’t intend to.”

I like that shot of him answering her with a confident, if somewhat world-weary acceptance, in his voice. He is not apologetic or defensive. His code is self restraint, which is what makes his later loss of self restraint so interesting.

“When I married you, your sister was just a kid. Now she’s grown up and I happen to find myself in love with her. It’s just one of those things that can’t be helped.”

Yet, he has no intention of leaving his wife, even acknowledges that she would never let him go. Miss Hobart also contends that were he to confess his love to Alexis Smith, she’d never marry him out of loyalty to her sister, and he knows that, too. Bogart has this all figured out, he’s done a lot of brooding on it, and seems determined to face his comfortable rut of marriage and his unspoken crush on his young sister-in-law, and keep them separate.

But his stoic veneer cracks a little when Rose Hobart, who can’t seem to leave well enough alone, taunts him that Alexis would laugh at him were she to find out. This stings him. Bogart looks hurt.

But he’s determined to soldier on through this new unpleasant turn in his marriage. His love for his sister-in-law was a precious thing as long as nobody knew about it. Now it’s spoiled for good.

Alexis Smith pops her head into their bedroom and reminds them to hurry. She is fresh-faced, beautiful, and open. What back story she brings to her role is largely in these qualities, and in a lack of sophistication that makes her utterly unaware of both her beauty and her affect on Humphrey Bogart.

She lives with them. Their mother lives in another part of the country. We are told nothing about a father or other siblings. We may assume she was a teenager when her sister and Bogart married, and now she is in her early 20s. Her guileless good-natured attempts to be both pleasant and useful might make her seem a dishwater character on paper, but what Alexis brings to the role is a gentle vulnerability. She seems in awe of both of them and holds them as an example of the perfect married couple.

There is a subtle difference between her relationship with her sister and her relationship to Bogart. She seems deferential to the older, more confident, more worldly sister, who has taken her into her home. In some respects, her sister will always be the knowing grownup and she will always be the mousy youngster. With Bogart there is a more comfortable friendship, as if she has not quite grown out of the teen who finds herself with the unaccustomed pleasure of an indulgent older brother. There is not a little hero worship for him.

“I only hope that someday I’ll find a husband as good as you,” she says, and drops an affectionate kiss on his cheek after a round of congratulations at the party, which Bogart accepts with a charming look of being comforted. He nearly blushes. Yeah, Bogie, no less.

Family doctor Grant Mitchell is also at the party, and so is Sydney Greenstreet’s young colleague, played by Charles Drake. Mr. Greenstreet does his best at matchmaking through the course of the movie, trying to get the lovelorn Drake and the reticent Alexis Smith together.

The party conversation turns to the nature of love and the psychology of it. Alexis wants to know what Mr. Greenstreet does as a psychologist, and he explains that he battles the nature of psychosis.

“Sometimes a thought can be like a malignant disease that starts to eat away the willpower.”

Bogie is visibly uncomfortable with this, and we know he is afraid his precious, private infatuation might be construed by the misunderstanding outside world, certainly by his wife, as a mental disease.

“Love and its frustration is the worst offender,” Greenstreet pontificates, but Alexis Smith counters with an eager recitation of all the famous lovers in history and literature. Here we see for an instant, another flash of Bogart’s versatility. Look at his expression as he watches her tentative attempt to illustrate the enviable flush of romance that she has never experienced. His adoring expression is the picture of a schoolboy crush. Yeah, Bogie, no less. Maybe the most sensitive tough guy that ever lived.

But when forced to bring her fantasies about romance down to earth Alexis affirms to her sister, “When I marry, I want it to be something solid, like you and Dick.”

They drive home in the omnipresent film noir rainstorm, Bogie and the missus in front, the kid sister in the back -- because of the camera angle, literally as well as figuratively between them. Miss Hobart suggests Alexis go home to Mother because Mother misses her. Obedient Alexis regretfully agrees, and Bogart sneaks an anguished look at her in the rearview mirror.

Which causes the car crash.

The car plows right at us in a sickening flash, and may cause you to use your favorite exclamation of alarm.

A brief, film noir dream (or nightmare) sequence of the faces of the conflicting personalities in his life, from his wife, to Alexis, to Greenstreet, all jumbled in a wet whirlpool, and we see that Bogart is just regaining consciousness. Doc Grant Mitchell assures him he has only a broken leg, and that the ladies are fine. Bogart has asked after Alexis first.

Confined to a wheelchair back home, though hobbling on a cane when nobody is looking, Bogart is the picture of helpless frustration. Alexis has been sent away. He and his wife resume their comfortable rut of a passionless marriage.

Then his wife goes missing.

It’s no secret what happened to her, but I’m going to sidestep that and just go on to another couple of interesting aspects of the movie. Though she is missing and the police haven’t got any clues as to what happened to her, personal items of hers that she wore or had with her when Bogart last saw her begin to show up here and there. Traces of her follow Bogie around. We may wonder if this is a ghost story, or an elaborate hoax and who are involved?

Through the cat and mouse trickery played on Bogart, he begins to unravel. We see the man once an example of confidence and strength become testy, nervous, quick to anger, and nearly unglued by weird happenings, as well as by psychological symbols that almost seem as hallucinations (some of which are something Alfred Hitchcock might have used in “Spellbound” or “Vertigo”). 

Speaking of becoming unglued, we discussed Mr. Bogart's other forays into the wonderful world of Losing It in this previous post on Crazy Bogie.

His only comfort is the return of Alexis Smith, who arrives to commiserate about the disappearance of her sister, to bring to and find comfort from, her only other really close relationship: her bereft brother-in-law.

Interesting how the Production Code must not have been invoked by these two sharing a home together unchaperoned, but Bogart’s self control returns enough to keep him from entering her bedroom across the hall from his.

Lots more rain, the iconic sight of Bogie in his trench coat (did I mention it rains a lot?), and carefully stocked cigarettes in slim cases for smokers on the go.

One small point, but somehow as sweet as his unspoken crush on Alexis Smith, is the unselfconscious and natural picture of her being taller than him. Alexis Smith was 5’9”, and in at least one movie I can think of, “Here Comes the Groom” (1951), discussed here, her height was used for comic effect and she played a wallflower partly because of it.

Bogart was 5’8”, and in some of his films, notably “Casablanca” (1943), he wore lifts to compensate for his appearance with the taller Ingrid Bergman (like Alexis Smith, 5’9”) and Paul Henreid. In “Conflict”, Bogart and Miss Smith stand an inch, and worlds apart.

Another iconic sight, but from another movie is the Maltese Falcon. The statue. It appears high on a cabinet in the police detective’s office, just over Bogart’s shoulder as he paces anxiously and demands progress in the investigation. I don’t know whose joke it was to put it there, but it’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. Sydney Greenstreet was, of course, in “The Maltese Falcon” (1941) with Bogart.

Speaking of the police detective, played by Patrick O’Moore: close your eyes and listen to him. Doesn’t he sound just like Claude Rains?

And one more: catch all the “B” stickers on all cars? This movie was released in June 1945, so wartime regulations on gas rationing were still in force. However, this does not explain why they are free to take trips to their favorite mountain lodge. A “B” sticker would get you about eight gallons a week (the lodge was something like 100 miles away), and pleasure travel was illegal during the war anyway.   We discussed gas rationing and the movies in this previous post.

But, by the time this movie was in theaters, V-E day had come and gone, and though we were still struggling with the war in the Pacific, the light was at the end of the tunnel and war-weary audiences might not have jumped to their feet hollering, “Hey! What gives? How come Bogie can drive around whenever he wants and I can’t?”

Except Rose Hobart’s car, which, oddly enough, has no sticker. Arrest that woman.

One funny moment: When Bogart, in a daze over a new creepy event, wanders away from a cab he had instructed to wait for him. The cab driver, annoyed, yells, “Hey! Sweetheart! Remember me?”

Now Alexis and Bogart, with sis out of the way, can explore their relationship. Bogart tests her feelings by confessing that his wife “imagined that I’d fallen in love with you.” Her reaction of sisterly concern and discomfort is less than he might have wanted, but Mr. Greenstreet arrives before things develop.

Off they go to the mountain lodge to ease the stress of the tragedy of the missing older sister, fish, and dance in rustic surroundings. Greenstreet’s along, and still tries to shove Charles Drake at Alexis as a prospective suitor.

Bogie, his self control now stretched to the limit, gets jealous and openly confesses his love for her in a harassing manner, almost as if daring her to laugh at him. She does not deny or confirm her feelings, only pulls uncomfortably away and reminds him, “It can never be.”

After enough badgering, she finally tells him she doesn’t feel that way about him, but diplomatically continues to insist her sister would always be between them. Why he lets her go suddenly is never completely fleshed out, but we may assume his self control has returned in the face of his acceptance that it really cannot ever be.

It’s a stylish film, and even if one or two plot holes keep it from being perfect, “Conflict” is an absorbing movie.

For more on “Conflict” have a look here at our Laura’s recent post on “Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings”.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Vaudeville Hangs On in 1943

The Death of Vaudeville gets mentioned from time to time in movies of the 1930s, but here in Holyoke, Massachusetts (and not a few other places) in 1943, vaudeville hung on as a supplement to the movies. The war brought round the clock working shifts and a round the clock demand for entertainment.

Here at the New Holyoke Theater we have six “headline” acts: Rex Webber, “a vocal allusion”; Senna and Dean in a skit; comedian Ted Leary; dancers Gavin and Astor; acrobats the Winnie Dolly Trio; and singer Joe Martini, three shows a day.

As you can see, they were an addendum on the bill to the film “Johnny Eager” with Robert Taylor and Lana Turner. In this ad, the movie seems almost like an afterthought. Tommy Reynolds and his Orchestra also appeared, at jacked-up wartime prices of 55 cents and 25 cents for kids.