Thursday, June 28, 2012
It’s such a small part, but the flower shop proprietor in “Holiday Inn” (1942) is one of those classic film characters that stands out for no other reason than perhaps the eloquence of the moment.
In this case, the eloquence is purely physical communication. He has no lines. Marjorie Reynolds, trying to show off and impress Walter Abel, treats her boss -- Mr. Belasco -- like an underling, directing him to fill a last-minute order.
Leon Belasco is the silent shopkeeper, at first appalled at her nerve, then anxious that she might blow it and lose a customer, then pleased that she has succeeded in making a sale, and then hustles to do what she has condescendingly commanded. It’s a pantomime lasting a few seconds, but it is indelible. I can’t go into a flower shop today without thinking of him.
You may have seen Leon Belasco in dozens of film or TV shows, usually bit parts as a waiter or cab driver. He was a dealer in Rick’s gambling parlor in “Casablanca” (1943). He usually had few or no lines. Like so many bit players, he was just there.
Monday, June 25, 2012
“And Then There Were None” (1945) is an almost perfect blend of solid direction, crisp black and white photography, and somewhat cheeky ensemble acting -- by mostly veteran character actors. It’s also a great example of how well Dame Agatha Christie’s novels translate to the screen.
It’s one of those movies where the atmosphere created is so much a part of the storytelling. We have the remote mansion on the isolated island, the constant bashing of the waves on the rocks, and curtains of sea spray flying before our eyes, and the sound of the wind behind the dialogue.
“My Man Godfrey” -- where he plays another professional houseguest, bangs a few strains of “Dark Eyes” or Ochi Chornya on the piano).
On their first night together, they all dress for dinner (of course), where upon retiring to the parlor for bridge and cocktails, a spoken record on the gramophone accuses of them of various crimes. One has killed his wife’s lover. One has killed pedestrians by reckless driving, events from their past nobody knows but themselves. They are barraged with examples of the old nursery rhyme “Ten Little Indians”, which begins:
Ten little Indian boys going out to dine,
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Now there are nine.
And so this continues through the rest of the poem, one by one as a guest suffers a fatality based on a verse. Each time someone dies, another Indian figurine goes missing.
At one point later on, Huston describes his doctor’s work as mostly handholding to nervous patients and Fitzgerald teases him, “Don’t you believe in medicine, Doctor?” To which Huston replies, “Do you believe in justice, Judge?”
This becomes the paramount question. What is justice? Can we ever escape it? Who has the right to mete it out?
They grow suspicious of one another, and afraid to be alone with only one other person in a room. A scene as funny as it is tense occurs when Huston and Fitzgerald, companionably enjoying a game of pool, suddenly find themselves alone in the room and panic, wielding their pool cues like defensive weapons.
Director René Clair sets up some inventive shots, such as when one guest spies on another through a keyhole. The camera pans back, and we see that guest in turn being spied on through another keyhole.
I’d like to know where the location shooting was done, it’s spectacular.
Richard Haydn is comically pitiful as the beleaguered butler, who after his wife has been murdered, must still keep up with his duties, apologizing for serving cold meat for supper. When he is suspected of being the murderer, he drinks a little too much in resentment and sloppily serves or fails to serve from a silver platter. When he is told to open a door he has locked to accept a key, he replies testily, “Shove it!…under the door, Sir.”
Addendum: Thanks to Casey at Noir Girl for asking where to see this movie. I should have added this: it's currently on YouTube in it's entirety here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOXQX6OEd8M.
Monday, June 18, 2012
Thursday, June 14, 2012
“Stars and Stripes Forever” (1952) strikes a resonant chord with the spirited marches of composer and conductor John Philip Sousa. Clifton Webb plays The March King, and he’s great as always. The movie, like most Hollywood biopics, strays from fact here and there, but captures spot-on the era when Sousa was -- to use a modern term -- a rock star.
We celebrate Flag Day in the US today, those “stars and stripes” with a movie not about flags, or even flag waving, but of patriotism expressed by that once-upon-a-time staple of American popular entertainment -- the marching band.
It’s the 1890s when John Philip Sousa is a Sergeant Major in the Marines and the leader of the Marine Corps Band. In real life, he was a renaissance man -- composer of scores of songs, operettas, even wrote novels and articles. In the movie, he is bummed because he wants to showcase his romantic ballads, but the public likes his marches.
“Dreamboat” discussed in this previous post. We last saw him in one of his very best performances in “Titanic” (1953), discussed here.
This movie effortlessly evokes the 1890s, but this scene is more about what we wish was, and not what was. However, it works even in its illusionary manner.
In the courting scene at the park between Mr. Wagner and Miss Paget, we hear the old movie background music favorite, “Sweet Marie” and I always think of the William Powell and Irene Dunne duet in “Life with Father” (1947), discussed here.
What this event in the movie leads to is a touching finale. Robert Wagner, the once and future Marine, happy-go-lucky scamp or not, enlists to fight in Cuba, is wounded in a round of “friendly fire” (more irony) and suffers a leg amputation. Clifton Webb brings his band to the rehabilitation hospital to entertain the wounded troops. His appearance is a surprise to Robert Wagner, and an even bigger surprise when Webb calls him up on stage to play his old Sousaphone. Wagner hobbles on crutches to the place in the band that has been saved for him. A nice gesture when he pats the Sousaphone draped over his shoulder as if it was his trusty steed.
Listen below at the US Marine Corps Band playing John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Happy Flag Day.
Monday, June 11, 2012
We interrupt this blog for this commercial...uh, I mean, announcement: My novel of New Zealand misadventure, The Current Rate of Exchange will soon be re-issued in paperback.
I’d like to invite the first five people with a blog to receive a free copy of either the paperback or a free download of the eBook (or both if you’d like), in exchange for a review. Here’s what you have to do:
1. Email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com to let me know if you’d like a paperback or eBook or both. If you choose an eBook, I’ll email you back a coupon code for a free download from the online retailer Smashwords (which provides a variety of formats). If you’d like a paperback, I’ll need you to put in your email the address where you’d like me to send it. I’d be happy to sign the book so that it will be worth a million times more when you sell it on eBay. (Bawhahahahah!!! -- Sorry. Sometimes I crack myself up.)
2. When you contact me by email, include the name and link to your blog in case I don’t know you from a hole in the ground. I will pick the first five bloggers who request a book. Unless your blog is called “Why Hitler Was a Swell Guy”. I reserve the right to display righteous indignation.
3. Please write an honest review. If you think it’s lousy, say so. I have a thick skin, like a rhinoceros. (Well, not really. I use a sunscreen that’s SPF 5,000.) I will not improve as a novelist if I don’t get honest feedback. I’ll never learn if you don’t whap me on the nose with a rolled up newspaper. But if you like the book, then I want a cookie.
4. Feel free to take up to the next six months to read the book and write your review. I understand we all have lots to do, and you won’t be able to dash this off like a book report written on the bus on the way to school. Unless that’s how you write your book reviews. It’s none of my business.
But Wait! There’s More!
Later this summer the second book in my “cozy” mystery series set in the early 1950s, a book called Speak Out Before You Die, will be published both in eBook form and also as a paperback. The same deal goes for this book. First five people who want a copy of either eBook or paperback or both, just send me an email with the above details.
If you want to review both books on your blog, that’s fine, too. Just say the word.
Speak Out Before You Die continues the partnership of the young and wealthy socialite and the ex-con as they ferret out a murderer during a snowbound house party on New Year’s Eve, 1950. More on that story in weeks to come.
For now, here’s the product info on The Current Rate of Exchange:
The eBook is currently available at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo and retails for $3.99. The paperback will be available through CreateSpace, this blog and my website -- JacquelineTLynch.com, and eventually through Amazon as well. The paperback will retail for $12, plus postage.
Come back Thursday when we celebrate Flag Day with Clifton Webb in “Stars and Stripes Forever” (1952).
Thursday, June 7, 2012
“Women make better friends than men: good, really honest friends.” -- Errol Flynn in his autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways (Cooper Square Press, 2003 p. 398).
In her first of four films with Errol Flynn, “Dive Bomber” (1941), discussed in this previous post, Alexis Smith refused to kiss him -- for artistic reasons, she said. Even before that, contention occurred in her first important movie close-up in a major film -- when he stole the scene.
“Alexis was distraught. She ran to her dressing room, tears welling in her eyes and convinced her opportunity had been lost forever…When she returned the next morning…she walked into her dressing room and saw a note in front of her make-up mirror…on his own personal stationery, Errol had written a note of apology so sincere in appearance that if she wanted to be angry she could be so no longer. ‘It was that Errol Flynn charm,” she explained. (The Two Lives of Errol Flynn by Michael Freedland, article syndicated in The Lakeland (Florida) Ledger, August 14, 1979, p. C1)
“…there is no true friendship like that between a man and a woman, especially if platonic.” -- Errol Flynn, My Wicked, Wicked Ways (p. 359.)
“Errol was a movie idol of my teens,” Miss Smith says, “And when I was playing opposite him I was intimidated. I came to like him genuinely.” Films in Review article by Lennard DeCarl, (June-July 1970, pp. 360-361.)
It is often repeated on Internet sites that Errol Flynn was the best man at Alexis Smith’s wedding to Craig Stevens in 1944. This is an error. Stevens's best man was Major John E. Horton, Stevens’s friend. Flynn was only one of some 300 guests at the Church of the Recessional, Forest Lawn. (St. Joseph (Missouri) News-Press, June 1944, p. 2.)
He did, however, take it upon himself to perform a special duty. After the ceremony, he “…took Craig aside, as though he were my father, and told Craig that if he didn’t treat me right he’d have to answer to him.” Alexis Smith, DeCarl article, (p. 361).
“On “San Antonio”…he cared for Alexis’s welfare. If he thought director David Butler was demanding too much of her, he made it very plain he was on her side. ‘Steady, old sport,’ he would tell Butler, ‘the lady’s only human.’ She, for her part, did her best to cover up the excesses of his drinking, which was anything but easy.” Freedland, (p. 161).
On Flynn’s being diagnosed with a mild heart attack during “Gentleman Jim” (1942): “She pulled him aside and said kindly but firmly: ‘It’s so silly, working all day and then playing all night and dissipating yourself. Don’t you want to live a long life?’ Errol was his usual apparently unconcerned self: ‘I’m only interested in this half,’ he told her, ‘I don’t care for the future.’” Freedland, (p.108).
“…a woman friend is the best friend you can have. In my early days I was brought up to hear it said that you can never have a real woman friend, that male friendship is deeper, like Damien and Pythias. That is not true -- not in my book. I have had two great friends: I still have them. They are so far superior to male friends, so much more understanding, so much more generous in feelings.” Errol Flynn, My Wicked, Wicked Ways (p. 398.)
“Although Flynn was renowned for having affairs with many of his leading ladies, his relationship with Alexis was strictly platonic. ‘He had feelings for her, but he also had great respect for her,’ Stevens said, ‘He treated her with dignity, respect and humor. He never made a pass at her.’" A few months before his death, Flynn finally confessed his true feelings to Alexis. ‘When he was making ‘Too Much, Too Soon’ he called one day,’ Stevens said. ‘I answered the phone and he said, ‘Hey Old Boy, is your lady there?’ When Alexis got on the phone he asked if she would meet him at Warners for lunch. She said, ‘Of course.’ The next day when she came home from that lunch there were tears in her eyes…He told her that he knew he didn’t have much longer to live…‘He wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed working with me and also that he loved me.’ She never forgot it.'” Interview with Craig Stevens, The Women of Warner Brothers by Daniel Bubbeo (McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, Jefferson, North Carolina, 2002, p. 215).
Alexis Smith, Ida Lupino -- another very close platonic woman friend of Errol Flynn’s, and many Hollywood figures attended Flynn’s funeral in October 1959. The ceremony was conducted at the Church of the Recessional, Forest Lawn, where Alexis and Craig Stevens had been married.
“Errol Flynn was an extremely bright man,” she says reflectively, “He had a great zest for living, of course, and a great sense of humor about himself as well as the world. But he was very intelligent and sensitive, and as anyone who worked with him will tell you, a very good actor. I think he was underrated.” Interview with Alexis Smith, article by Jamie Portman, (The Montreal Gazette, September 21, 1981, p. 49)
Below, a rare opportunity for them both to sing -- their real voices -- in “Montana” (1950), the last film they made together.
“Women make better friends than men: good, really honest friends. When the going gets tough, give me a woman for a friend. If they happen to care for you they will go farther than any man.” Errol Flynn, My Wicked, Wicked Ways (p. 398)
Flynn never actually names those two great women friends in that amazingly gentle paragraph in his otherwise rolicking, hedonistic autobiography -- to protect them from the taint of a cad's reputation, perhaps?
Note: Both "Dive Bomber" and "Montana" will be shown on TCM tomorrow.
Special thanks to Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings for the heads up several months ago on Daniel Bubbeo's book The Women of Warner Brothers.
Monday, June 4, 2012
You ladies are too smart for me. I couldn't fool you. You guessed that last Thursday's mystery photographer is:
Cyd Charisse from "Tension" (1949) which we discussed here. I've hopped a fence or two in my day to take a picture, but her death-defying balancing act is one for the books. Love the camera.