IMPEACH TRUMP.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

TCM Classic Cruise

As  most of you probably know by now, this year's TCM Classic Cruise will set sail (proverbially) in October, and one of the celebrity guests is Ann Blyth.

TCM has just published the itinerary for the cruise.  Ann will be doing a couple hour-long conversation sessions, and will also be on hand for a screening of Mildred Pierce.

Have a look here for the rest of the schedule and events with the other celebrity guests. Unfortunately, the cruise is booked, so if' you're late, you can try for the waiting list.

I, sadly, am unable to attend this cruise, but if any reader is going,  I invite you (beg you) to share your experiences and/or photos relating to Miss Blyth on this blog as part of our year-long series on her career.  I'd really appreciate your perspective on the event, to be our eyes and ears.  Thanks.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The King's Thief - 1955


The King’s Thief (1955) is a colorful swashbuckler movie, entertaining and continuing in the vein of last week’s discussion of The Golden Horde (1951) as another Saturday matinee adventure story.  The King’s Thief might be easier for us to relate to simply because it is less foreign and exotic.  We don’t really know how the Mongol tribes of Genghis Khan’s gang spoke or interacted with each other, and our uncomfortable ignorance is what makes us guess it’s all pretty phoney.  But The King’s Thief is set in the restored reign of England’s Charles II, which, being that much closer in time to our own, we stand on firmer ground when it comes to accepting Walter Plunkett’s elaborate costumes, the crisp speech, the elegant salons, and the grimy prison as coin of the realm, so to speak.


Both films are quite short, just over an hour, which lends a fast-paced adventure.  No over-burdened Cecile B. DeMille epics here, just grab your sword, tell the story, and get out.  It's filmed in CinemaScope, and looks well in this process.


Ann Blyth is reunited with Edmund Purdom, who starred with her in her previous film, The Student Prince (1954), which we discussed here.  He infamously lip-synched to tenor Mario Lanza in that film, but here Mr. Purdom happily climbs out from the shadow of that star and shines on his own.  He is quite capable, quite handsome in his Van Dyke beard, and seems to be a worthy successor to Errol Flynn.  His career never reached those heights, however.


His best buddy in this movie, Roger Moore, would climb to greater heights, and Mr. Moore is one of the pleasures of this film.  It’s a small role, but he demonstrates the dashing presence that will one day lead him to fame as James Bond.


Two Hollywood greats liven things up considerably, even if this little movie might not seem much in their careers: David Niven, who plays the villain, and George Sanders, so delightfully foppish as King Charles II (he had played this role as well in Forever Amber (1947).


I love Mr. Sanders’ teasing, “Brr-r-rampton!” when he spies a small black notebook Niven has dropped, thinking it is a bachelor’s “little black book.”  “Some tasty names, I’ll wager?”

That little notebook is the real star of the show.  Niven is the king’s trusted advisor, a nobleman who has, unknown to the king, skimmed off quite a bit of spoils from the recent English Civil War.  I confess, my own interest in this historical time period is because the ultimate losers of the war – those stuffy, self-righteous, stubborn Puritans—came to settle my neck of the woods in the 1630s and 1640s.  Had they remained in power in England, the settlement, governance, and culture of New England might have been rather different.

We might not be so stuffy, self-righteous, and stubborn.  (Bah-ha-ha-ha.)  No, we probably would be.  It’s the climate. 


David Niven, in the aftermath of the restoration of Charles II, that hedonistic, “Merry Monarch,” has taken to discrediting noblemen who fought on the king’s behalf, accusing them of treason, putting them on trial and hanging them, and then skimming a good part of their fortunes for himself.  Boo!  Hiss!


Ann Blyth plays the daughter of one such discredited nobleman, who has lived in exile in France.  Now that the war is done, she’s eager to return to England, but is shocked and heartbroken when her father’s friend comes to tell her the news that David Niven has put her father to death.  Though told she must never return to England now, nevertheless, Ann is a feisty gentlewoman.  She’s heading back to find out what happened to her father, and confront this David Niven fellow.


The black book, mentioned above, has the names of other noblemen on Niven’s blacklist, as well as an accounting of all their fortunes and land he hopes to take.  Edmund Purdom, one of the soldiers of the king who, after the war, was not paid for his services, has become a highwayman.  He robs Niven, and takes the book, not really knowing what it is, but he soon learns that it is worth far more than the all the jewels he’s taken so far.


That book will change hands a lot in a lusty game of keep-away that involves elegant gambling salons, fast chases on horseback through the MGM backlot, assumed identities, subterfuge, sword fighting, and not a little flirting.


A few favorite scenes:  Ann makes another one of those walking down a grand staircase entrances, so effective for establishing credibility in society, making a statement, and building suspense.  And it's just pretty.  Ooh!  Ahhh!

Edmund Purdom escorting her home at night by walking beside her sedan chair, which is carried by stone-faced servants.


John Dehner as Niven’s captain of the guard.  He gets thrown out of a coach, and roundly tricked by Ann in a cute scene where she, being taken into custody, fakes heart trouble.  She has set up a plan where Dehner must take her to an apothecary shop, that happens to be run by the son-in-law and daughter of her faithful servant played by Tudor Owen.  His daughter, played by Queenie Leonard, refuses to let Dehner into the room where they are putting Ann to lie down during her "illness", “Please sir, I’ll have to remove her bodice,” she admonishes him.  Then, door closed, she allows Ann and her father to tie her up, and reminds them to gag her so it will look like Ann had no help in her escape.


By the way, favorite go-to man Ian Wolfe is among the familiar faces.

Ann and Purdom are a handsome pair, but there is little lovemaking when the plot is a constant chase for escape.  Ann wants to use the book as evidence against Niven, but Mr. Purdom wants to sell the information.


There are swordfights, and when Purdom and Moore are imprisoned, Ann is forced by Niven to visit them to get information on the whereabouts of their gang.  If she does not agree work for Niven as a double agent, he will ship her off in indentured servitude to the New World.  “A grim and so far unsuccessful effort to populate the colonies.”  America, ewww!  Who wants to go there?  She’d probably end up in Massachusetts, currently overrun with those stuffy, self-righteous, and stubborn sore loser Puritans, scrubbing floors for a humorless magistrate until, a few decades hence, she is hanged for a witch.

Instead, in a brave attempt to avoid all that, she slips Purdom a stiletto to pick the lock on his iron chains.  There is a painstaking and nail-biting escape from the prison.


The final hat trick is using Niven’s own coach, which Purdom had previously stolen, to gain entrance to the castle where the crown jewels are kept.  Purdom and Ann, pretending to be relatives of Niven’s, are allowed a private tour to see the crown jewels, which Purdom will attempt to steal and ransom back to the king, thereby demanding an audience with him so they can rat on David Niven.


But…ZOUNDS!  The king arrives unexpectedly just as Edmund Purdom is pummeling a Beefeater over the crown jewels!  Ann is desperately trying to stall Sir Isaac Newton in the next room by pretending to know more about astronomy than he does!  How will it end?!!

Our pal Bosley Crowther of The New York Times called it “…one of the most thorough banalities of the year.”


I think it deserves better, as a fun and rollicking adventure, a sumptuous costume drama with a lot to look at, not the least of which lovely Ann Blyth in her period clothes.  I would suggest the movie could have been made more memorable by a scene with her singing at a pianoforte.  No such luck.  The King's Thief has been shown on TCM, and is available on DVD.

Ann would sing in her next movie, her last movie musical, Kismet (1955), which we covered here.

By the end of 1955, Ann would be expecting her second child, a baby daughter born in December.  In October, Modern Screen, gushing over the news of her latest pregnancy, ran a rather long article recounting the major events of her life: her career start in radio as a child, her terrible spine injury as a teen, the loss of her mother, and a look back at her dating years that must have been with a certain degree of self-serving nostalgia for a magazine that must now satisfy itself with the less juicy news of her steady marriage and respectable motherhood.

Since her marriage, her babies, and her 30th birthday only a few years away, Ann’s place in the hearts of the movie-going public may not have changed, but the magazines, after having rabidly pursued her since her teen years, were beginning to turn their voracious attention to younger, single stars where there was a greater opportunity for them to write about scandal.  It was attention Ann apparently was happy to do without.

Speaking of the period when she was being tagged, her soft voice takes on an edge of firmness.  “This is a phase of your life—even if you’re in pictures—that’s quite private and special.  Not that you’re unwilling to share a certain amount, but only so much.”

Come back next Thursday when we discuss Ann’s teen years as a Hollywood actress during World War II, during years that were personally challenging, heartbreaking, anxious, and uplifting.  She made friends she kept for life, and films that would live forever.



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Modern Screen, October 1955, article by Ida Zeitlin.


The New York Times, August 13, 1955, review by Bosley Crowther, p. 7.
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 THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.

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TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
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UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -
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The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on Audible.com, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.


 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood





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.


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A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Ann Blyth Book Kickstarter Campaign - Results


The Blogger at the formerly named Martin Beck Theatre (now the Al Hirschfeld Theatre) on a trip earlier in the summer to NYC.  Site of Ann Blyth's Broadway debut in Watch on the Rhine.

The Kickstarter campaign I've run for the past 23 days concluded last night.  You will no doubt be relieved, as I confess I am, not to have to endure further repetition of requests for funds.

The campaign drew 12 backers for a total of $585, far short of the $2,500 needed, and so all funds will be forfeited and those of you pledged money will not be required to donate.  I most sincerely thank each of you for your willingness to help out.  I'll always remember your generosity and support.  To those of you who might have donated, but were not able to at this time, I understand and I commiserate.  Money is tight for most of us, and there are far more important and necessary outlets for your generosity.

I think the responsibility for the failure to reach the goal really lies in my poor skills at marketing.  In the hands of one more talented in public relations and fund raising, this would have been a quite successful campaign.

Tomorrow I'm running a bake sale on a cardboard table in the hallway outside my blog.

Just kidding.  The chocolate chip cookies are free.

The brownies are $30 each.

(BA-HAHAHAHAHA.  Honestly, sometimes, I just kill me.)

I will continue with the Ann Blyth blog series, and with the book, to be published next year, using whatever resources I can.  I'm looking forward to it, and to sharing the project with you.

I'll see you back here this Thursday the 28th with a another post in The Year of Ann Blyth, a look at the swashbuckling adventure The King's Thief (1955).


Thanks again to John Losh for hosting me on his radio show yesterday, Losh-Man's Hollywood Classics.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Golden Horde - 1951


The Golden Horde (1951) was Ann Blyth’s first historical costume drama. Some stars were less successful in historical pieces, seeming too modern and too familiar to us in their modern personalities (Clark Gable in Parnell, Cary Grant in The Howards of Virginia, you could have a long list, even a blogathon about stars ill-fitting in historical roles).  For Ann Blyth, however, whose transcendent beauty, skill in accents and articulation, and sensitive approach to her roles, the effect is quite natural.  She's a good time-traveler.  We can also take as an explanation a remark she once made on her ability to play Veda Pierce, a character quite opposite to her own personality.  She told interviewer Lance Erickson Ghulam:

“…one’s imagination is a very deep well.”

We, too, are required to use our imaginations to enjoy this story of a small band of Crusader knights rushing to the aid of the Princess of Samarkand in defense against the horde of Genghis Khan.  It’s the year 1220, and this exotic locale on the eastern fringe of the Persian empire, part back lot and part Death Valley National Park, brings us perfect Saturday matinee-type adventure. 

The threat to the Princess and her kingdom is easily comprehended.  The mention of Genghis Khan in the western world evokes the image of a ready-made villain.  No explanations are necessary.  The story would flow pretty predictably, except for two concurrent and confounding aspects of this film, one good and one bad.

First, the Princess is an intelligent, independent woman running a matriarchal (for the past few generations, anyway) kingdom with brilliant success.  A change of pace from the standard Hollywood damsels in distress, and this is a welcome breath of fresh air.  The second aspect, however, is the abject stupidity and rudeness of the knight come to save her.  David Farrar comes pretty close to turning this romantic adventure story into a broad parody.

I am inclined to think it is the fault of the studio, either in the form of the front office, the producer, or the screenwriter for making the otherwise dashing Mr. Farrar into a first-class fool, in pandering to the kind of sentiment of the day that dictated that strong women could not be desirable and therefore should be subjugated by the hero.  

However, Ann Blyth, who has top billing here, name above the title, was able to play an intelligent and authoritative woman with warmth and grace, not like a demanding shrew, and the very image of her being subjugated by a roughneck doesn’t work.  Perhaps if she had played the Princess with the personality of Veda Pierce, someone wildly temperamental, sharp-tongued and harsh, this might come off, but not with the gentle strength and even righteousness she displays here .  The hero just ends up looking like a bully, and a stupid one at that.

Moreover, the script is based on the tales of Genghis Khan by Harold Lamb, who was known for peppering his meticulous historical novels with independent women who were quite often smarter than the male characters.  This is great source material for The Golden Horde, but David Farrar, so strong in his previous British films, like The Black Narcissus, is badly served by Universal tinkering with what would have been a bold story, and instead shoehorning the movie into what they imagined would be palatable for audiences of the time.  The exotic tapestry quickly becomes threadbare.

Genghis Khan, played by Marvin Miller, waits outside the city of Samarkand, and sends ahead a scouting party made up of his son, played by Henry Brandon, and a local warlord who is a new ally, played by Howard Petrie.  Along for the ride is the devious shaman, played by George Macready. 

All three character actors did their share of minor roles in B-movies and lots of episodic television. Probably Mr. Petrie scored higher with some small roles in A-list films.  Petrie has an interesting place in this movie, where we actually sympathize with the barbarian, laugh at him, and boo him all at the same time.  He wants his spoils of war, and since he and Henry Brandon are extremely jealous of each other, Petrie is alternately blustering and paranoid over his place in the scheme of things, suspicious of the boss’ son, so to speak.  He is petty, foolish, but dangerous in his own spiteful way, and with his all-too human foibles, he comes across as the Frank Burns of middle Asia.  At one point when he thinks the princess has been murdered, he actually looks sad.

It is really no challenge to watch an historical costume piece like this and pick out all that is either not historically accurate, or to mock those aspects which keep the film from being a documentary.  It’s not a documentary.  It’s a no-holds-barred popcorn-throwing Saturday matinee adventure, and if you can’t accept that with a smile, you’re about as humorless and shortsighted as David Farrar’s character in this movie.  Are even half the magical events of the Harry Potter series realistic?  No.  But I guess if you’re paying $15 a ticket to see it, you accept it.

So, too, in an old Hollywood movie like this, we have to accept that some of the Mongol troops are going to sound like they come from Jersey.  Like Henry Brandon, who is so unconvincing in his flat delivery that he really needs that scimitar to make us believe him when he threatens everybody.  Otherwise, he just looks like a schmuck with road rage.

Oddly, critic Harold V. Cohen in his syndicated column decided it was Ann Blyth who was unbelievable in her role, because of her real-life reputation for being “sweet” and “wholesome,” and because he assumed the Princess was supposed to be some sort of sultry harem girl.

Although Miss Blyth is attractive and appealing, her charms are wholly circumspect, and hardly the type to froth cutthroat tartar chieftains at the mouth and send them reeling and staggering.

He felt her miscast, “like a senior class Cleopatra and having an awfully unhappy time of it," and assigned her the brunt of the responsibility (along with director George Sherman's "unimaginative direction")  for the film not being better.

The whole unreal tone of The Golden Horde is summed up in this incredibly naive bit of casting...Now Miss Blyth can take off those veils and go back to her cashmeres and dirndls, where she belongs.  In The Golden Horde, they've sent an innocent child to do a woman's work.

We mentioned in this previous post the strange effect Ann’s off-screen wholesome reputation sometimes had on her career.

I think Mr. Cohen’s remarks reflect what must have been the studio’s spin on the Princess as a seductress who uses womanly wiles to distract the enemy until the brave English knight can show up.  The reviewer has completely missed the point that she is not a seductress; she is using her brains more than her sexuality to foil the enemy, and all in spite of the English knight. His criticism and misinterpretation is as silly as it is sexist.

When Henry Brandon and Howard Petrie show up with their advanced guard, Ann Blyth has already sent her subjects, including her soldiers, to safety in the surrounding hills.  Robert Hunter is her captain.  Donald Randolph is a trusted minister, who along with her court astrologer, played by good old Leon Belasco (see our tribute to him in his brief Holiday Inn role here), refuse to leave their princess and remain behind with her in the palace.  She has a plan to thwart the enemy, and though they are doubtful, all her male staff respects her authority and most especially, her intelligence.  She gives them permission to leave, but they are loyal and protective.

Also remaining are her ladies of the court, headed by Peggie Castle.  All have the run of this remarkable palace with its worn stone steps and a zillion secret passages that allow them to come and go right under the noses of the enemy soldiers who are all set to pillage and burn Samarkand to the ground. The warlords talk about taking the captive women to their tents.  Ann and her ladies intend to commit suicide by poisoning themselves if it comes to that.

Ann, with the help of her court astrologer, welcomes the leery barbarians and informs them she has been eagerly awaiting them, because of the prophecy at her birth that a mighty warrior would come from the East and marry her, and rule by her side in Samarkand as head of a great empire. 

She made that part up.

Of course, both Henry Brandon and Howard Pietrie thinks he is the lucky guy.  Since they already hate each other, it’s not a hard sell for them to try to kill each other over Ann, which is what Ann is hoping will happen.

She makes one of those glorious movie entrances atop a stone staircase, used with the same breathtaking effect in pretty much any film this was done.  If you want to make a grand entrance at a party, get a great gown and walk down stairs, slowly, inviting everyone to look at you.

Enter David Farrar.

Here’s where you really have to suspend disbelief, never mind the guys who sound like they come from Jersey.  When David and his small band of Christian leftovers from other lost battles ride over the dunes, we are faced with the memory of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with pompous Crusaders in chain mail shouting every line as if it were a great pontification.  The only difference is the Monty Python gang galloped on foot, banging coconut halves together to emulate the sound of hoof beats, while David Farrar and his boys really ride horses. 

To be fair, Russell Metty’s cinematography of the rough, barren landscape and the soldiers crossing the plains, armies clashing swords is pretty good, but with David Farrar bellowing, a dopey friar whose unimaginative lines such as, “poor misguided heathen,” there are cringeworthy moments that make one wish the script was tightened up just a little.

For instance, though David Farrar, with his brooding, sulky good looks was one of the first of the anti-heroes of his generation, we’re still supposed to pull for him, but we can’t when he proudly reports his résumé of qualifications to the princess that includes his own army being wiped out just before he made a daring escape and lived, a fact of which he is immensely proud.

Ann is told by her counselor of her own defeated soldiers, “They died with honor, your Highness.”

She responds, “Only in the peculiar thinking of men does that make them less dead.”  With sharp lines like this, we expect Ann’s future consort—and obviously, David Farrar, according to the rules of the game, is going to end up romantically involved with her—should be her equal.

Instead, when she nixes his plan to destroy Samarkand in order to save it (?) he furiously calls her, and will call her repeatedly through the movie, a “pigeon-brained half-wit.”

He berates Captain Robert Hunter, “Have you sand in your belly that you take orders from a stupid female?”  Mr. Farrar eventually concedes her beauty is a plus, but he never notices her dignity, her courage, or her sense of honor.  He never really seems to fall in love with her, but rather takes her as spoils of war.

It is an irresistible, but fruitless hope, that the man at Farrar’s side, his aide played by Richard Egan, will take over and be the hero of the movie.  But we keep hoping for it.  Egan has such quietly authoritative screen presence, even in this very small role, that you can really see the future star.  A more controlled, world-weary and cunning anti-hero would have been a better romantic match for the princess, someone who did not insult her quite so much, but might actually try to woo her a little.



There are a few places in the script that point out the mismatched personalities between the leads with intentional humor, such as when Ann, frustrated at David Farrar’s blustering attempts to save her that ruin her plans, “He’s a meddling fool.  He can do nothing but interfere,” and “I should have poisoned that English lout.  He’ll spoil everything,” and at her wit’s end when he bungles another plot, “For the sake of heaven, will you stop protecting me!”

There are also unintentionally funny lines, with poor David Farrar carrying the brunt of them.  However, when she rescues him and his trapped men by showing him a secret tunnel out of the palace and leading into the hills, he marvels at the construction. 

“Shrewd general.  At least one of your ancestors must have had some brains.”

“The shrew general was my great-grandmother.”

He eventually comes to appreciate, if not admire, her intelligence and the nobility of her matriarchal ruling family.  We notice, more than he does, her physical bravery, scuttling about between palace and hills to plant herself as a decoy to the two combative warrior chiefs.  For her part, she comes to see the worth of his soldier’s experience in training her men in the hills. That will have value when Genghis Khan shows up and needs convincing.

When Genghis Khan comes to town himself, leading a long ribbon of his army stretching to the farthest horizon, he is stopped at the gates by the combination of the skills of both princess and knight, and the survival instincts of the deceitful shaman: the prophecy that Samarkand will be the burial place of anybody who comes to destroy it.  The sight of a mass of dead bodies in the courtyard convinces Genghis Khan that Samarkand is not worth his time.  He turns away.

The real terror in this movie is George Macready as the sinister shaman, a little orange man with more intelligence than any of Ann’s assorted enemies.  Genghis Khan enters too late, coming off as a tired old high-level manager who’s miffed with his college kid son working in the stockroom during summer vacation.


One of the things I get a kick out of in these far-off land of long ago stories is the image in my mind of Tatars and knights, along with cowboys and princesses and circus clowns all eating at the studio commissary in costume.  The studio is a universe as exotic as any of these far-off lands, and just as dangerous.  Especially for the Princess.  According to the syndicated column of Sheilah Graham:

Ann Blyth was sent home Friday after a freak accident on the set of The Golden Horde…David Farrar, trying to save her from Genghis Khan, accidently flicked her face with the tip of his sword.  Gave her a bloody nose and a cut lip.

Another column reported:

…a broadsword in the hand of Ann’s co-star, British leading man David Farrar, slid off the metal helmet of his adversary and stuck Ann in the face.  The actress was momentarily stunned and received first aid treatment for a cut cross her forehead.  Two days later the Irish lass was holding a golden goblet of wine in one hand while a bowman drew a bead on the goblet and shot it out of her grasp.  Ann was showered with the goblet’s contents and the arrow barely missed her wrist and hand by scarcely an inch.”

You can almost hear Ann tell her cast, “WILL you stop protecting me!”

It seems, with the intelligent, appealing character and the beautiful costumes, this would have been a fun role for Ann Blyth to play, if you don’t count getting slashed with swords and shot with arrows.

It was a world where David Farrar, in his first American film, had to contend with that other outside world wrecking his scene.  From a report by columnist Harold Heffernan, as soon as Farrar began a speech:

…a huge DC-6 transport plane roars over the sky over the Universal-International lot, drowning out the sound of the actor’s voice.  Without hesitation, Farrar goes right on,

“We’ve also invented a large flying machine which verily makes the sound of a thousand windmills.  Forsooth, Milady, if my ears do not deceive me, there’s one of them up there now!”

The cast broke up and the director hollered, “Cut!”

Mr. Farrar, understandably, hoped his new Hollywood contract would lead to better things, but after a string of mediocre films where he was invariably cast as an historically costumed villain, he left Hollywood for good and went back to England.  He was twenty years older than Ann Blyth when they made this film, but with his rugged good looks, his age was not the problem.  Perhaps his swagger was overcompensation for his being middle-aged, or perhaps it was the imprint of the script and studio that felt a bellowing male was a strong male. 

Whatever the fault, I can enjoy a fantasy spectacle such as this.  I can believe the smart princess on whose delicate shoulders the burdens of an entire kingdom rest.  I can accept the blustering warriors who sound like they come from Jersey or Fort Wayne, the enigmatic dancing girls who look like they've been trained by Martha Graham, the grubby warriors from central casting.  I can overlook the storytelling necessity that different cultures from far ends of the earth can meet in one distant place and all communicate in American English.  I can even believe a swaggering English knight who does more harm than good.

What I can’t swallow is the romance between that knight and the princess who is his intellectual, emotional, and moral superior. 

What does she see in him?  That is the question the movie must answer, but spends more time dazzling us with the thwok sound of arrows piercing into the chests of a hundred extras, the exotic costumes of the clashing cultures, and the gauzy and colorful drapery tight against the womanly figure of Ann Blyth.

By the way, the thundering theme song you may recognize as later being re-used for King Kong Versus Godzilla (1962), US version at least.  I have to thank my twin brother John for pointing that out.  Waste not, want not, I guess.

As far as I know, this movie is one of the lost tribes of Universal. You might find a knock-off homemade DVD from some guy selling them pinned to the inside of his trenchcoat in a back alley somewhere.

Come back next Thursday for another historical costume drama when Ann attempts to avenge her murdered father in the court of England’s King Charles II in The King’s Thief (1955).  David Niven plays a scoundrel, as only David Niven can.


RADIO:  I'll be a guest on John Losh's radio program this Sunday, August 24th, noon to 1:00 CT, 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. ET.  Tune into Losh-Man's Hollywood Classics on http://www.1027thehog.com/ and 102.7 FM-Excelsior Springs, Missouri.  If you've ever wondered if I am as long-winded speaking as I am writing, now's your chance to find out.

****************************
The Bonham Daily Favorite, Bonham, Texas, November 18, 1951, “Tiny Ann Blyth Proves Durable in Film Roles,” p. 2.

Classic Images, February 1995, “Ann Blyth: Ann of a Thousand Smiles,” by Lance Erickson Ghulam.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, November 12, 1951, syndicated column by Harold V. Cohen; February 7, 1951, syndicated column by Sheilah Graham, p. 16.

****************************
 THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

***************************
TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
****************************
 UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -
*********************
The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on Audible.com, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.


 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood





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.

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

A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Ann Blyth: Happy Birthday!


A very happy 86th birthday today to Ann Blyth.  Sláinte!

"...Ann Blyth’s work here is luminous and captivating.  It is a non-speaking role, but there is remarkable and touching eloquence in the way her eyes roam over his face, as if trying to read him, trying to understand his words and his facial expression.  Middle-aged Mr. Peabody is wondrous and fascinating to her, and her unlikely crush for him alone adds another level to the comedy, and the poignancy.  We can see why he might take a fancy to her, but her radiant and achingly silent adoration of him is charming...."   See post on Mr.Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) here.

I am interviewed by John Hayes at his blog Robert Frost's Banjo on the Ann Blyth series and upcoming book here.


UPDATE:  This series of blog posts about Ann Blyth's career is now a book, ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -- with more material and over 275 photographs, available in eBook and paperback.  To order from Amazon, follow this link.  To order a signed copy from the author, please email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com for details.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

All the Brothers Were Valiant - 1953


All the Brothers Were Valiant (1953) is a snapshot of the studio system assembly line.  It was a routine picture; a remake of a movie that had been filmed twice in the 1920s; a routine assignment for male leads Robert Taylor and Stewart Granger, men who typically followed studio orders—Mr. Taylor in particular, who never squawked at a role but did what he was told; and it was Ann Blyth’s first movie under her new MGM contract.  Hollywood’s largest studio chose a vehicle for their new star that was no challenge for her considerable dramatic abilities, but rather treated her as little more than a pretty ornament. 

However, even the most routine films in Hollywood’s golden years had a way of containing treasures.  That is the wonderful contradiction here.  There is much to like in this movie, even if these shining moments are incidental to the overall feeling that the film is running on autopilot.

In an interview for Classic Images in February 1995, Ann Blyth recalled of co-stars Taylor and Granger:

Who wouldn’t be happy with those two good-looking men around you?  It was just lovely.  They were both so sure of who they were, there was never an issue of one fighting for more attention than the other.  The feeling on the set was terrific.

Indeed, the viewer may see that it was just another day at the office for Taylor and Granger, but they are successful in their roles because of that well-oiled studio machine that took care of them in a manner that made many actors feel stifled, casting them in comfortable roles.

They play brothers at odds over command of a whaling ship in the late 1800s, and at odds over a young woman, played by Ann.  One can see how important casting was in this era where a studio could have its pick of any number of actors to plug into different roles.  Robert Taylor is the calm, introspective brother whose careful and prudent command of his ship will earn him an accusation of cowardice by his brother, who leads a band of mutineers against him. 

Taylor’s quiet style is perfect for his character.  Though he appears too old for the role, and too old to be referred to as Stewart Granger’s younger brother, nevertheless, there is a quietness, a self-assured serenity to the way Taylor takes command of his new ship at the beginning of the movie, and his warm relationship with the elder Lewis Stone as his former captain, and most especially, in his indulgent amusement with his bride, Ann Blyth—especially when she is climbing the rigging to the crow’s nest—that speaks volumes for this character whose good nature will be taken advantage of by his reckless brother. 

He is not a talker, but keeping his own counsel will prove his undoing in the face of dangerous assumptions by his men and his new wife.  It is a paradox that his greatest strength will be his downfall.

Ann goes with him on his long whaling voyage.  There is a poignant scene when they are pulling away from the wharf in New Bedford, Massachusetts, as Ann watches the town grow smaller, and we are impressed with what a shock it must be to her to leave her home for the first time, that she will be at sea for probably three years, and almost all of that time in the company of only men.  More could have been done in this movie on that point, but Ann’s anxiety and deeper issues as a woman on board ship is swept aside in a character that is shown as chipper, spirited, and almost childlike in her bravado.  

This attitude of vivacity will get her into trouble when Taylor’s long-lost brother appears.  (By the way, it was not unusual for wives to accompany their captain husbands aboard whaling ships, though obviously, for various reasons, not all chose to do so.)

Stewart Granger, the former master of the ship, was reported as lost at sea, though his men grumbled that he deserted them.  He had.  Stewart tells of a period of sickness when he was cared for by an island native woman, played by Betta St. John, and while on her island stumbled upon a great stash of pearls.

This episode is told in flashback where we meet Kurt Kasznar and James Whitmore as a couple of scruffy brigands who plot to steal the pearls.  Though these fellows have strong, and sinister, roles, I would suggest this flashback scene is really too long, as it takes us away from the triangle tension of Taylor-Blyth-Granger, and because the three principals in this scene: Kasznar, Whitmore, and St. John, are not seen again.  They are in the past and do not reappear. 

Betta St. John has the thankless role of playing the stereotyped native girl.  However, it is refreshing that she does not speak in a kind of movie pidgin-English, but rather speaks in a (probably made up) dialect that sounds as if it could have been a lingo from Micronesia.  She chatters to the recovering Stewart Granger constantly, and protects him.  We can relate to her, and she draws our sympathy, though we never get to know her very well.

It is a telling aspect of Granger’s self-serving character when he muses, “I never learned her name.”

Stewart Granger plays a sneering, greedy rascal, and so deadly charming that Ann Blyth cannot help but be attracted to him and utterly innocent to the kind of con game this guy is playing.  Granger is good in this role of bad boy adventurer, so sexy that he commands every scene he’s in.  Ann’s relationship with husband Robert Taylor is warm and tender, but placid compared to the energy Granger brings.  When Granger steps in and plants doubt in her mind as to Taylor’s worthiness as a man, she is caught between a man she loves and a man who excites her.

A striking scene when Granger takes her in his arms, and she forgets all about Robert Taylor, until she glances over Granger’s shoulder and sees her husband watching her. 

She is shocked at how the scene must look to him, and she when she returns to their cabin, she cannot even adequately apologize, overwhelmed by shame.

The title is a phrase and family motto in the ship’s log, “All the brothers were valiant…and all the sisters were virtuous.”  She will have to earn back her husband’s trust, as he will have to earn back her respect.


Directed by Richard Thorpe, the move is punctuated by some excellent scenes—as simple as the sunny morning Mr. Taylor visits his old captain, Lewis Stone.  Now retired, Stone clearly savors his quiet life on land after a long career at sea.  He lifts a small cluster of flowers from his garden for Taylor to smell, regarding them as a kind of wondrous miracle.  He was without flowers for three years at a time at sea.  It’s a touching moment. This was the wonderful Lewis Stone’s last film.  He died suddenly of a heart attack two months before it was released.

Other great scenes are far more technically complicated, such as the storm where Taylor and his mate fight the ship’s wheel to keep the ship steady, while Ann Blyth steps out, dressed like the men in a coat and Sou’wester, because she wants to share her husband’s experience. 

“We must never leave each other alone.  We must always keep close to each other.”

Obviously, the scene was done in a controlled environment in the studio, but this makes it all the more worth admiring.  There is no CGI here, no real ship at sea, but a set that is tossed and drenched in gallons of pouring water and spray that evokes the experience that we can share on a human level, and does not remove us from the human emotions with a lot of technological razzle-dazzle.


Another is the scene where the longboats go out to harpoon the whale.  Most of this is rear-screen projection, but it’s done extremely well.  The whale is pierced with the harpoon, and takes off, his great tail rising into the air and pounding into the sea, pulling the men on the rope in what in my neck of the woods is called a “Nantucket sleigh ride.”  It’s a thrilling scene, where danger faced by these men includes the high risk of failure, the risk of injury and losing their lives in an instant.

(Speaking of my neck of the woods, they pronounce the name of the ship, Pequot, as pee-co.  It’s supposed to be pee-quot, after the Indian nation hereabouts.  Somebody seemed to have thought it was a French word.)

The scene where they are successful in bringing a whale aboard and we see, without a lot of words or explanation, the fascinating process of cutting up the whale blubber, boiling it for oil, and storing the oil in casks below decks in this era where whale oil was as important a commodity as crude oil is today. 

We see the hard work involved, and Ann Blyth demonstrates the abominable smell of the process.


A great shot where, having arrived at an island, Ann and Robert Taylor look forward to going ashore for a little down time, and in the window of their cabin, we see a man rowing towards the ship.  It is long-lost Stewart Granger.  A foreshadowing of trouble, he will turn their tidy little world upside down.

Finally, a shocking fight scene at the end between Stewart Granger, brandishing our old favorite, a belaying pin… (We haven’t seen one of those since our discussion of The World in His Arms – 1952, here.)…and Keenan Wynn, who comes at him a harpoon.  

It’s quite graphic, especially the sound effect of the hollow, stomach-turning thwunk of the belaying pin smashing on Keenan Wynn’s forehead and the swatch of red blood pasted there in a sickening instant.

I won’t tell you how the story ends, though it’s fairly predictable—again, like a routine assignment off the filmmaking assembly line.  One routine aspect of the movie that is such fun is the cast of familiar character actors who populate the rowdy crew, including Keenan Wynn as a really nasty guy, Peter Whitney in a strong role as a turncoat, and a couple of fellows we meet in other posts in this series: Michael Pate, who would play the village idiot in Thunder on the Hill (1951) which we discussed here, and John Doucette, so terrific as the post commander in the Wagon Train episode of “The Fort Pierce Story” which we discussed here.

One scene that the preview audience responded to in July 1953 was the brief sight of Ann and Robert Taylor getting married in church before the voyage.  According to Hedda Hopper’s column:

Ann Blyth got a special hand when she appeared on the screen in a wedding gown.

She had been married in real life the month before.

Have a look here at the trailer for All the Brothers Were Valiant:



Here is a neat set of  "liner notes"for Miklós Róza’s score for this movie here at Film Score Monthly.
If All the Brothers Were Valiant was also a routine assignment for Ann Blyth as well as her male co-stars, Rose Marie, which we discussed here, was slated next and filming began shortly after her wedding, with the hope that MGM would now showcase their new star in the big-budget musicals that were this studio’s specialty.

Happily, All the Brothers Were Valiant is available on DVD from Warner Home Video.

Come back next Thursday when we continue our look at Ann Blyth’s historical costume dramas, and go farther back in time, with The Golden Horde (1951) where she is a Persian princess guarding her kingdom from attack by the forces of Genghis Khan.  She does not use a belaying pin.

****************************
Classic Images, February 1995, “Ann Blyth: Ann of a Thousand Smiles” by Lance Erickson Ghulam.

Milwaukee Sentinel, December 2, 1952, syndicated column by Louella Parsons.

Toledo Blade, July 21, 1953, syndicated column by Hedda Hopper.
*****************************
NOTE: THERE ARE 10 DAYS LEFT to my Kickstarter campaign - looking for backers to raise funds for upcoming  book on Ann Blyth's career - principally to offset costs of fees to obtain never or rarely seen photos in libraries, museums, and newspaper files. Please click on the notice box at the top right of this page.  It will run until August 24, 2014. Thanks to all who can help. 

****************************
 THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.

***************************
TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
****************************
UPDATE:  This series on Ann Blyth is now a book - ANN BLYTH: ACTRESS. SINGER. STAR. -
*********************
The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on Audible.com, and on Amazon and iTunes.

Also in paperback and eBook from Amazon, CreateSpace, and my Etsy shop: LynchTwinsPublishing.


 "Lynch’s book is organized and well-written – and has plenty of amusing observations – but when it comes to describing Blyth’s movies, Lynch’s writing sparkles." - Ruth Kerr, Silver Screenings

"Jacqueline T. Lynch creates a poignant and thoroughly-researched mosaic of memories of a fine, upstanding human being who also happens to be a legendary entertainer." - Deborah Thomas, Java's Journey

"One of the great strengths of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is that Lynch not only gives an excellent overview of Blyth's career -- she offers detailed analyses of each of Blyth's roles -- but she puts them in the context of the larger issues of the day."- Amanda Garrett, Old Hollywood Films

"Jacqueline's book will hopefully cause many more people to take a look at this multitalented woman whose career encompassed just about every possible aspect of 20th Century entertainment." - Laura Grieve, Laura's Miscellaneous Musings''

"Jacqueline T. Lynch’s Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is an extremely well researched undertaking that is a must for all Blyth fans." - Annette Bochenek, Hometowns to Hollywood





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.


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

A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

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