IMPRISON TRAITOR TRUMP.

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Richard LaGrand - Mr. Peavey and a film debut


Richard LaGrand made his film debut in 1943 when Gildersleeve’s Bad Day (1943) was released a couple of months before his 61st birthday.  This age is not usually the time of life most of us are allowed to embark on a new career, or even a new facet of our careers, but Hollywood, despite its penchant for youth and glamor, did provide opportunities for elders, even newcomers who were elders, that other fields did not.

 


This is my contribution to the Classic Movie Blog Association’s “Screen Debuts and Last Hurrah’s Blogathon.”  Have a look here at some swell participating blogs.

 

Mr. LaGrand may have been a newbie to film, but he started his acting career in 1901.  The trope event occurred that, as a stagehand, he was called upon to perform when an actor didn’t show – and LaGrand apparently never looked back.  He trod the boards in theater, tent shows, and vaudeville for decades, playing character parts and learning many dialects, which would help him later on when he entered radio.

 

He was introduced to radio in 1928 or 1929, depending on the source, playing Professor Knicklebine in a program called School Days at the age of 47.  Radio was fertile ground in the 1930s and 1940s for actors, stars as well as character players, but especially welcome to those players who, as the snarky saying went at the time, “had a face for radio.”   It was a highly creative form of media, and in calling upon the imaginations of its listeners, allowed for writing and scenarios where the sky was the limit even on a limited budget.  The storytelling on radio was often glorious, a boon not only to actors but to writers.

 

In 1942, Mr. LeGrand landed a radio role for which he would be known and beloved, pharmacist Mr. Peavey on The Great Gildersleeve.

 

The character of Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve began on the popular Fibber McGee and Molly show, and was given his own show in a new scenario in a new town with niece Marjorie and nephew Leroy (played by the incomparable Walter Tetley – see this previous post), and wonderful Lillian Randolph as their cook and housekeeper Birdie Lee Coggins (see this previous post).  Though Gildersleeve, played at this time by Harold Peary (later on by Willard Waterman) was a larger-than-life character, in no way did he outshine the supporting players, which also included several people in town, Mr. Peavey foremost among them. It seemed as if just about every day Gildersleeve or his family had to stop in the drug store for something, engaging the mild-mannered pharmacist in conversation.  Openings were always left for Peavey’s trademark vacillating response, “Well now, I wouldn’t say that.”

 

Radio programs were such popular entertainment that, invariably, Hollywood plucked certain personalities for the screen, and sometimes, would lift the program itself out of the airwaves to the big screen in an attempt to lure its fans into the theaters.  This happened, film buffs and old time radio buffs may agree, with varying degrees of success.  Radio, after all, was not just a story without pictures.  There were plenty of pictures; they were just in one’s mind.  The unique media did not always transfer well to the big screen. 

 


Gildersleeve’s Bad Day (1943), in which Richard LaGrand had his screen debut, (actually, we have a two-for here:  Barbara Hale—future Della Street to Perry Mason also made her screen debut as one of Marge’s friends) was actually the second in a series of four Gildersleeve B-movies, each lasting a little over an hour long and featuring many of the radio show’s characters, but not always the same actors who played them on radio.  The most obvious to come to mind would be Walter Tetley, who could not repeat his lively little Leroy on film because Tetley was not a child; he was a grown man, despite the quality of his voice.  Niece Marjorie and Judge Horace Hooker are played by different actors as well.  There is a loss of chemistry between these characters as a result, they really don’t seem to be the same characters we know from radio.  Also, the setting of Gildersleeve’s home might not appear the same way on screen as one imagines it.  It doesn’t for me.  



I think the only really familiar setting, to me, in this movie is Peavey’s drug store, and that may be because a lot of drug stores of the era looked pretty similar, so there was no going wrong with a lunch counter and fairly small shop with a back wall with shelves of products and nostrums. Most especially familiar is Mr. Peavey standing behind the counter, slightly hunched, speaking in his careful, nasal-toned speech, always willing to make observations but with a gentlemanly hesitancy to offer a definite opinion, lest he offend.  He sometimes muttered wry amusing comments in which he cracked himself up.

 



In the radio show, he is Richard Peavey (married to “Mrs. Peavey,” whom he always refers to as “Mrs. Peavey”) but the movie calls him J. W. Peavey, for no apparent reason.  The plot is contrived and slapstick, and enjoyable for its ridiculousness and quick pace.  Gildersleeve, Mr. Peavey, and several other men in town are subpoenaed to sit on a jury in a case involving a local gangster.  While the other men in town regret being plucked from their daily lives to sit on a jury, Gildersleeve relishes in it.  With his childlike pomposity, he thinks he has been chosen in deference to his superior intellect, and he quickly tries to take center stage, as he usually does on any occasion, even arguing from the jury box as if he is a defense attorney.  He is the lone vote holding out when it is time for the jury to deliberate, and with limited facilities to keep the jury sequestered in town, all the men are brought to Gildersleeve’s home to sleep overnight, watched by the bailiff.

 

Gildy gets into some trouble with the gangsters, and the law as well when it looks like he has stolen money from Judge Hooker’s safe, but all comes right, and Peavey gets the last word.  As Gildy is recovering in a hospital bed, he implores his friends to believe his side of the story, and turns to his old buddy.  “You believe me, don’t you, Peavey?”

 


To which Mr. Peavey, of course, replies, “Well now, I wouldn’t say that.”

 


The popularity of Mr. Peavey can be attested to his taking a more prominent role in the next movie in the series, Gildersleeve on Broadway (1943), in which Peavey takes Gildersleeve to New York to help him convince a wealthy drug company owner (Big Pharma being represented in this case by dotty Billie Burke) to renew a contract with the druggists at their druggists’ convention.  Gildy also wants to spy on Marjorie’s boyfriend, thinking he might be a playboy.  Taking the characters out of their hometown of Summerfield actually helps the movie, since we have no familiar settings to compare to the ones already in our imagination.

 



Particularly enjoyable in this romp is the cameo by Walter Tetley as a bell hop, who with his Brooklynese speech sounds more like his smart aleck character on the Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show rather than Leroy.  Mr. Peavey comes off as less befuddled in this movie, more decisive, and his efforts to keep Gildy out of trouble include dressing in drag to pretend to be Gildy’s wife in order to discourage Bille Burke from forcing Gildersleeve to marry her.  He’s a hoot.  At one point, the butler at a party Peavey tries to crash in drag mistakes Peavey, who has announced he is Mrs. Gildersleeve, for Gildy’s mother.  Insulted, Peavey mutters, “Why that old stuffed shirt, I make a better looking women than he does a man.”

 


Another scene has them, both in male dress, dancing together as Gildy tries to cut in on Peavey at a party to get him alone to ask his help.  They dance divinely and in all seriousness, carrying on their conversation.  When Gildy returns Peavey to his partner and politely thanks him for the dance, Peavey’s lady friend remarks sarcastically, “You boys dance well together.  Does that happen often where you come from?”

 


Peavey replies, of course, “Well, I wouldn’t say that.”

 

Richard LaGrand’s ultimate success with the character of Richard Peavey may be proven with a special tribute to him at the end of one particular episode of the radio program.  In “Peavey’s Day Off,” broadcast February 7, 1951, star Harold Peary announces a special guest, Mr. George Q. Baird, who, on behalf of the National Association of Retail Druggists, presents LaGrand a scroll signed by 50,000 druggists all over the country congratulating him on 50 years as an actor and conferring upon him the title “America’s Favorite Neighborhood Druggist.”

 


The Great Gildersleeve also enjoyed one season as a television program in 1955-56, but the juggernaut radio show kept going until 1958.  Richard LaGrand passed in 1963 at the age of 80.  His film debut may have been more of a lark than a fruitful opportunity—his total filmography counts four short movies—but for a man who worked more than half a century as an actor, national recognition for playing a character so beloved must have been sweet.

 

Have a look at the other great blogs participating in CMBA’s “Screen Debuts and Last Hurrah’s Blogathon.”

 *******************

Our greatest gift from the Greatest Generation was freedom from fascism. Relive, and celebrate, how evil was faced, discussed, dramatized...and fought. Classic films were Hollywood's weapon.

Get your copy of my book Hollywood Fights Fascism here at Amazon in print or eBook, or FREE here for a limited time at Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and a variety of other online shops.

  ************

Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Movies in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century and Hollywood Fights Fascism and Christmas in Classic Films. TO JOIN HER READERS' GROUP - follow this link for a free book as a thank-you for joining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, May 9, 2024

Bugs Bunny at the Symphony

photo by JT Lynch

A recent outing to my local symphony hall brought together two loves…classical music and classic cartoons.  Many of you have attended theatrical releases of classic films—particularly silent movies—with accompaniment by full orchestra, but this was my first experience with cartoons and a full orchestra, a traveling presentation that you may have seen in your area at some point in the last several years—Bugs Bunny at the Symphony.

My cartoon expert twin brother, John, and I head for the Springfield (Mass.) Symphony Hall to catch a matinee performance and really enjoyed it.  The technology of the melding of the full (and always excellent) Springfield Symphony Orchestra and the cartoons was fascinating, and the guest conductor, (and co-creator of the show) George Daugherty, was a delight.  He explained some technical aspects and the history of Hollywood orchestration, particularly the superior full orchestra at Warner Bros. at the time, and he was quite charmingly funny.  At one point on the screen in Baton Bunny (1968) when Bugs, standing at the podium as a conductor lifts his arms in an exaggerated manner in preparation to signal his orchestra, Mr. Daugherty did the same and mimicked him.


The program began with Rossini’s majestic Overture to Il Barbiere Di Siviglia with no cartoon accompaniment.  It was thrilling…and something else I didn’t expect.  It was funny.  Several of us in the audience began to chuckle in a way I’m sure Rossini, despite the opera’s being a comedy, didn’t intend, because those of us who were familiar with the Bugs Bunny cartoon The Rabbit of Seville (1950), were imagining the progress of the cartoon in our minds, especially the part where bugs splashes hair tonic and rubs it into the scalp of the unfortunate Elmer Fudd.  Later on in the program, Daugherty pointed this out and said this audience reaction to the overture was a common occurrence for that reason.  He ran into it many times.  We knew the cartoon from the music, and we knew the music from the cartoon--or at least, many people's introduction to classical music was through cartoons of that period.

He also gave credit to the woefully uncredited Arthur Q. Bryan, voice of Elmer Fudd (and so many old-time radio characters), which warmed my heart.  He pointed out several fascinating facts about orchestration and lauded the Warner Bros. music department.  (And some jaw-dropping stats on Wagner's music in What's Opera Doc? - 1957) If this traveling show visits your local symphony, it’s well worth catching a performance.

There were children in the audience, as to be expected, but not as many as I thought there would be.  Some were dressed down, even in pajamas—the publicity wing suggested wearing pajamas and even suppled cereal and milk before the show to emulate the old Saturday morning cartoons experience.

Other kids were dressed in their best, as befitting the symphony, and that was nice to see.  The conductor took a quick hands-up poll and revealed that most people in the audience had never been to the symphony before, and he expressed the hope that this would be a fun introduction for them and that they would return.  I hope so, too.  Especially the kids. 

One of the most wondrous revelations for them, and maybe even some of their parents, was to see that music on a screen, whether in a cartoon or a movie, doesn’t just happen.  A lot of people playing a lot of different instruments, mostly at the same time, is what makes the music, and in cartoons, much of the special sound effects come from the orchestra as well.  Maybe some of those kids might take up music after seeing all those people on stage playing all those instruments right in front of them.  How many eyes, I wonder, drifted down from the big screen to the violinists, to the percussion section (especially after so many failures of Acme products for Wile E. Coyote)?

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

Our greatest gift from the Greatest Generation was freedom from fascism. Relive, and celebrate, how evil was faced, discussed, dramatized...and fought. Classic films were Hollywood's weapon.

Get your copy of my book Hollywood Fights Fascism here at Amazon in print or eBook, or FREE here for a limited time at Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and a variety of other online shops.

  ************

Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Movies in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century and Hollywood Fights Fascism and Christmas in Classic Films. TO JOIN HER READERS' GROUP - follow this link for a free book as a thank-you for joining.

 

 

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Night Train to Munich - 1940


Night Train to Munich
(1940) is an astonishingly lighthearted escaping-the-Nazis caper with disarming wit and considerable humor, yet it is not parody.  For the British film industry to produce such a flippant combination of suspense over the characters’ dangerous predicament, and yet mockery of the enemy, during the early months of World War II is a tribute to that nation’s superb dry wit as a shield against misfortune.



The movie is based partly on a 1939 short story, but director Carol Reed cobbled together a menagerie of spy thriller aspects and English music hall sensibilities to create a movie that would likely not have been produced in Hollywood.  Not that we didn’t have our share of both thrillers and mockery of the enemy in those days, but American emotions always seem to tend to taking a clear stance and never budging, which we seem to regard as a virtue; whereas the English, or perhaps European, notion is to shrug the shoulders, poke a swift jab, and break off when the dustup becomes boring, no longer serving a purpose, or it’s time for tea.  At that point, the enemy becomes not a threat, but a bore.


Certainly, the movie, being filmed during that “is that all there is?” period of the war known jokingly as the Sitzkrieg, a play on the word Blitzkrieg, which is the horror that was being done to Poland while the U.K. and France and western Europe waited for months for the enemy to strike westward, and so emotions in Great Britain might not have been as riled up as they would be, for instance, when the movie was finally released on July 26, 1940.  The Battle of Britain, when the island was fighting for its life under constant bombing and expecting invasion any minute, began two weeks earlier on July 10th and would continue through October.  One imagines by that time there must have been less superior chortling and more nail biting in the theater.



The storyline of the film begins much earlier, before the war, just after the Nazis have marched into Czechoslovakia in March 1939.  We begin with what will be a series of wonderful models (I love the use of models for scenery in that era) of the mountain retreat where Hitler slams his fist on a map of the Sudetenland with lots of bellowing.  We see actual newsreel footage of the Anschluss, and then cut to plot exposition.  James Harcourt plays an inventor working on a special formula for armored metal plating, which will be invaluable in what may be the coming war.  He is urged to leave Czechoslovakia at once to avoid capture of himself and his formula by the Nazis.


He waits anxiously at the airport, the plane ready to take off, but his daughter, who was to leave with him, has not arrived.  She is Margaret Lockwood, and she is detained by the Nazis and sent to a concentration camp.  Her scientist father escapes to Great Britain.




In the concentration camp, whispering through a barbed-wire fence, she makes an alliance with fellow inmate Paul Henreid, who we first see boldly mouthing off to the authorities and taken away to be beaten for his defiance.  He arranges escape with Miss Lockwood, making contact with one of the guards who was a former student of his.


Soon they are on a small launch to England and arrive safely, though they must be careful about trying to locate her father because neither of them has a passport or permission to enter the country.  It is not wartime yet, and they would not be considered refugees (though one would think being chucked into a concentration camp would make them qualify for refugee status).  They go for help to an eye doctor friend of Henreid’s already established in England, and when Henreid is alone with him, he asks for an exam and is told to read the eye chart.


Great macular degeneration!  The eye chart is written in code!  Henreid and the doctor give each other the Nazi salute!  Henreid is a bad guy!  The “escape” was planned.


But he’s not the mastermind.  He’s “just following orders” as their saying goes, and he is told to keep close tabs on Margaret Lockwood, expecting she will eventually find her father and lead them to him so they can drag him back to Germany.



Lockwood, after having placed an ad in a newspaper, is contacted and told to look for Gus Bennet in a seaside town.  Gus Bennet turns out to be a cheesy music hall performer pushing sheet music sales by singing cheery prattle, complete with straw boater, the most popular headgear of entertainers and flam-flam artists.



Gus is played by Rex Harrison, singing with gusto and an unrepentant blasé attitude.  He is silly, flighty, but he reunites her with her father, who is now working for the British government.  Gasp!  Rex is a secret agent working for the government!  He doesn’t seem the type, but apparently singing ditties is his unusual cover.  However, he when he takes off the straw boater, there still isn’t a serious bone in his body.  His personality doesn’t change at all, which is an intriguing wrinkle.  He seems slightly bored with everything.


But he’s not the luckiest or perhaps most thorough agent.  The scientist and his daughter, thanks to Henreid’s watchfulness, are captured again and taken to Berlin.  Rex suggests that he be the one to go to Berlin to bring them back, as he had spent some years there and is familiar with the city.  We next see Rex in a German uniform pretending to be an officer staying in the same hotel (now used as Nazi headquarters) as Margaret Lockwood, her father, and their captors.  His personality is still the same, still offering glib comments faintly washed with thin coat of pretended innocence.  Catch the elaborate, “This is a fine country to live in,” sequence.  This is all a lark to him, especially his machinations to get to Margaret.  He tells the Nazi authorities that she is an old lover of his and is still carrying a torch for him.  He offers to romance her for the sake of the Fatherland and her father’s secrets.  Getting an adjoining room, he explains his plan to her.  Up until now, he has thoroughly irritated and disgusted her, but she is willing to play along to save her father.


Rex remarks, “If you could find me unbelievably attractive, so much the better.”

She responds with deadpan seriousness, “All right, I’ll try.”


He arranges that they should be caught together in her room, to give the Nazis assurance his plan is working.  Such a playful, open suggestion of unmarried sex is not usually found in American films, and it’s a hoot.



We finally get to the train part, to Munich, at night, and there he continues his cheeky and irreverent treatment of the Nazi guards as irrelevant, while Margaret plays along, doggedly pretending to be in madly love with him.  The biggest danger appears in the form of two middle-aged British tourists, who blow Rex’s cover by one of them recognizing him as an old school chum.  They are Charters and Caldicott, played respectively by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne.  They move about with the quick prattle but the mental fog of music hall comedians, but in the end, they reason it best to help Rex with his problem of shaking the Nazis off his tail.  King and country and all that, you know.


They’d better hurry.  It’s now September 1939 and war is being declared.



A climax suddenly becomes fierce as Henreid chases them to a mountain lodge where their only escape to Switzerland is by suspended tram over a deep snowy chasm, Henreid shooting at them until the very last moments.


As is usually noted in discussions of this film, the characters of Charters and Caldicot, played by the same actors, first appear in The Lady Vanishes (1938) directed by Alfred Hitchcock, that also has some other similar elements to this film.  The duo would appear as the same characters in a few other films as well, which is quite a novelty for supporting players in minor roles.  I like to think Charters and Caldicot are still out there somewhere, and we might run into them someday.


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Our greatest gift from the Greatest Generation was freedom from fascism. Relive, and celebrate, how evil was faced, discussed, dramatized...and fought. Classic films were Hollywood's weapon.

Get your copy of my book Hollywood Fights Fascism here at Amazon in print or eBook, or FREE here for a limited time at Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and a variety of other online shops.

  ************

Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Movies in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century and Hollywood Fights Fascism and Christmas in Classic Films. TO JOIN HER READERS' GROUP - follow this link for a free book as a thank-you for joining.

 

Thursday, April 11, 2024

FREE eBook - HOLLYWOOD FIGHTS FASCISM


I'm offering a free eBook you can download at this link of my HOLLYWOOD FIGHTS FASCISM -- an exploration of some of the most inspirational classic films that struck the conscience of a nation and spurred us to action against the enemies of democracy.

Our greatest gift from the Greatest Generation was freedom from fascism. Relive, and celebrate, how evil was faced, discussed, dramatized...and fought. Classic films were the weapon.
You can download the eBook for free for a limited time from this link -- it will give you a choice of receiving it from your preference of Apple, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Angus & Robertson, or several other online shops.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Margie - 1946


Margie
(1946) is a sweet paean to the 1920s, and though not a musical, is sprinkled here and there with tinny renditions of popular 1920s hits from gramophones, radios, pianos, and even a little bit from star Jeanne Crain (not tinny at all), who plays the title character.


There was a string of post-World War II movies harkening back to a simpler, more innocent (or so we thought) time, and we add Margie to movies like I Remember Mama (1948), Good News (1947) which we covered here, Cheaper by the Dozen (1950) which also starred Jeanne Crain, and Life with Father (1947), which we covered here.

Margie follows a misfit high school girl and her friends in a series of episodes on the ups and downs of Margie’s social life, and the unfortunate repeated collapsing of her bloomers around her ankles when the waistband gives out.  A mortifying experience for an ungainly girl who is desperate to fit in with the glamorous kids.  Margie longs to be popular, especially with the school’s most popular boy, but her only claim to fame is being a champion on the high school debate team.  Her theme: “Get the Marines Out of Nicaragua!” 

We Ruth McKenney fans will instantly recognize the rallying cry from her nostalgic short stories.  The movie storyline is by author Ruth McKenney and her husband Richard Bransten, based on some of the stories she published in The New Yorker magazine (the script was written by F. Hugh Herbert).  These short stories were published in a few book collections, most notably My Sister Eileen, which of course, lent its title and a couple episodes in the book to a successful stage play, then a successful musical; and two movies, one a comedy and one a musical.  Also, a short-lived TV show. 

The real-life hijinks of Ruth and her sister Eileen as they (tried to) conquer New York City are lively and funny, but my favorites are actually the adventures of Ruth and Eileen as small children going to the movies.  Their impressions of silent movies, the horror of Lon Chaney, and the even more vivid horror of a train speeding directly at the camera and therefore, the audience, that sent an entire theater of children at the Saturday matinee running for their lives never fails to crack me up no matter how many times I read it.  And I’ve read them a lot.

I’m still waiting for someone to make a movie or TV show from little Ruth and Eileen’s moviegoing experiences.  To be sure, there is something warm and familiar, and yet Homeric with humorous exaggeration, in personal memoir; think of Ralphie and the Red Ryder BB gun of Jean Shepherd’s memoirs in a later generation.  The movies from the post-World War II era mentioned above were all based on personal memoirs, except Good News, which at the time the musical played on Broadway in 1927 was not nostalgic, but rather, current events.

Margie falls somewhere in between the grade-school Ruth and Eileen in the Midwest around the First World War and early Twenties, and the adult Ruth and Eileen of New York, and while Margie’s sweet innocence is quite the opposite of young Ruth and Eileen, who may have been stumblebums but told with Ruth’s wry and unsentimental narration, came off more like the Katzenjammer kids than a lovely girl in a coming-of-age story.


Margie
is told in flashback.  We begin in the present day, with Jeanne Crain as an older, more mature Margie rummaging through items, and memories, in the attic while her teenage daughter gawks at the old gramophone, the old photos in an album, and her mother’s famous faulty bloomers, which Miss Crain looks upon now without an ounce of her old embarrassment, but with wise humor.  Since the flashback takes place only about twenty years earlier, we may assume she is only in her late thirties, but she seems middle-aged with her upsweep hairdo and glasses.

Her daughter is played by winsome Ann Todd (aka Ann E. Todd), who appeared in several movies in the late 1940s, always in small, supporting roles.  Some of her films we’ve covered here are Cover Up (1949), On the Sunny Side (1942), and My Reputation (1946).


The daughter wants to know about the good old days, and Margie calls forth several incidents from her teens.  Barbara Lawrence plays her next-door neighbor and best friend, who is also the most glamorous girl in school and therefore has the best boyfriend, “Johnikins” played by Conrad Janis, who with his porkpie hat, racoon coat, snazzy red jalopy and disdain for everyone but himself, is really kind of a drip.


Alan Young, in his first movie role, is the nice misfit boy who follows Margie around like a puppy dog.  Hattie McDaniel is Cynthia, the family housekeeper, but unfortunately, she doesn’t get to shine much in this movie. 


Esther Dale has a fine role as Margie’s blunt and outspoken grandmother, with whom she lives.  She is a former suffragette, who has the chains she was bound to the White House fence with on her mantle in pride of place.  “A woman’s place is wherever she makes it!”


Margie’s father, played by Hobart Cavanaugh, is a widower, and lives in bachelor’s digs in another part of town, leaving his daughter to be raised, as was often the custom of the day, by a female relative.  He visits her once a week, and this is a poignant, even sad thread to the story.  She loves her father and looks forward to his visits, but he is shy and awkward with her.  Making matters more uncomfortable for Margie among friends who have both parents, is that her father is a mortician.  He will provide two of the loveliest moments in the film: first, when he escorts her to her high school prom and she beams at having him as her special date.  “I’ve waited sixteen years for the privilege,” he remarks gallantly. 

When they dance a waltz, she notes that it is the first time they’ve ever danced together, but he says it is the second.  The first was “one time in your room when you were about three months old.”  I love Papa.


When she delivers her rousing, theatric debating team resolution to “Take the Marines out of Nicaragua!” he is filled with pride at her presence at the podium but is also spellbound by her message.  He broods on it through the rest of the movie, and believes his daughter is right.  The Marines should be removed from Nicaragua, it is “rank imperialism.”  At the end of the movie, in a nice jest, we see a headline that he has just accepted an appointment as ambassador to Nicaragua.


Though Margie is captivated by Johnikins and jealous of his attention to her friend, she nevertheless has also developed quite a crush on the new French teacher in school, Mr. Fontayne.   Played by Glenn Langan, he will also prove to be a gallant figure in Margie’s life, helping hide the evidence when she loses her bloomers again at a skating party, and returns them to her later in a most delicate and tactful manner.  Through his interactions with Margie through the course of the movie, he will become smitten with her, and it is revealed by another teacher that he is not much older than his students.  


At the end of the film, Margie’s husband comes up to the attic to see what has become of his wife and daughter, and yes, it’s Mr. Fontayne.

A good part of the movie appears to be filmed outside on location, with real snow in the neighborhoods.  


The ice-skating party scene is particularly fun to watch for the constant movement of the skaters and the camera.  The soft Technicolor and the nostalgic themes make it a warm and pleasant movie.  A flaw one might pick at is that none of the girls’ hair styles resemble 1920s hairdos, but rather reflect the post-War 1940s – a similar complaint about Good News, actually.

But see for yourself.  Here’s a link to Margie on YouTube.  Catch it while you can.

For those who celebrate, a very blessed and Happy Easter this coming weekend!

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


Our greatest gift from the Greatest Generation was freedom from fascism. Relive, and celebrate, how evil was faced, discussed, dramatized...and fought. Classic films were Hollywood's weapon.

Get your copy of my book Hollywood Fights Fascism here at Amazon in print or eBook, or FREE here for a limited time at Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and a variety of other online shops.

  ************

Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Movies in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century and Hollywood Fights Fascism and Christmas in Classic Films. TO JOIN HER READERS' GROUP - follow this link for a free book as a thank-you for joining.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Beulah Bondi in "The Pony Cart" episode of THE WALTONS


Beulah Bondi in “The Pony Cart” episode of The Waltons, is “still on the top of her game,” or so recalled Judy Norton-Taylor, who played “Mary Ellen” in the popular family television drama.  It is a performance worth noting for that, and also because it was Miss Bondi’s very last role, and because she won an Emmy for it.


This is my entry in the 10th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon hosted by Terence at A Shroud of Thoughts blog.  Have a look at the other great posts listed.

“The Pony Cart,” season 5, episode 10, broadcast December 2, 1976, is actually the second appearance of Beulah Bondi on the program, having introduced the character of Martha Corinne Walton two years earlier in season 3, an episode called “The Conflict,” broadcast September 12, 1974.  In that episode, Martha Corinne, who is the Grandfather Zeb’s (played by Will Geer) sister-in-law, having married his older brother Henry, is being forcibly removed from her home.  She lives in a cabin in the mountains.  She, her son Boone and her great-grandson and his wife have to leave the area when a new highway is to be built and the land has been taken by eminent domain. 


In “The Pony Cart,” it is summer 1937 and Martha Corinne comes to visit the Waltons, bringing with her some personal treasures as gifts to everyone.  At first she is a welcome guest, a part of their family history.  Indeed, she still dresses in old-fashioned ways including a bonnet when she goes outside.  She settles into family life, but soon proves to be an irritant for her outspoken opinions and suggestions, and everyone from Grandma Walton (played by Ellen Corby, with whom she appeared decades earlier in It’s a Wonderful Life) to some of the kids chafe under her strong, independent personality.  She pokes her nose into everyone’s business, and it is actually pretty funny, if it’s not your business.


Brother Ben, played by Eric Scott, is constructing a pony cart in the family’s sawmill, and Martha Corinne takes special interest in this; it is something like her, a time traveler from the past and gentler days.  In her time, they called it a shay.  She interferes here as well, telling him the best way to build it. 

Understanding she has worn out her welcome, she asks John-Boy, played by Richard Thomas, to take her back to her new home, but first to ride up to the remains of her old cabin and to visit her husband’s grave in the mountains.  On that trip, she remarks on what is the saddest prospect of all about growing old: “The sad thing is to see your kin and your friends go, one by one.  That’s the hardest part.”

She is teary-eyed upon standing on the ruins of her cabin, which she and her husband had built together in the late 1800s.

She has an attack of angina, and admits that being 90 years old, “I’m wore out.”  He wants to take her back to the Waltons’ house, but she refuses.  “I’ve got too much pride,” but agrees only when he promises not to tell anyone she is dying.

Back at the Waltons, where nobody is at first all that happy to see her again, they later relent and coddle her when John-Boy tells them the truth about Martha Corinne’s health.  She is furious.  “Now they’re all waitin’ for me to drop dead so they can pick me up before I hit the floor…I don’t want to be dead before I die.”


She is given the project of painting Ben’s pony cart, and fashions it into a lovely piece of folk art with stenciled flowers.  Ben gives her the first ride when it is finished, and along the road, she asks to be let out to stretch her legs near a patch of wildflowers.  As Ben pulls away, intending to circle around and come back, Martha Corinne is alone for the moment, blissful in the sunshine, picking flowers, when suddenly, another attack of angina, and bending over, she looks upward toward the sky, squinting, not exactly in distress, but rather a look of almost childlike curiosity.  There is a slow fadeout, and we know that Martha Corinne has passed away, peacefully enjoying her final earthly moment in nature.


I can still recall the first time I saw the episode and tearing up at this scene.  Having watched it again for this blogathon, it retains its power and delicacy.

What makes the episode especially interesting is that Martha Corinne is the focus of the entire episode.  The subplots that occur reflect her place in the story.  With exquisite respect to a veteran actress, the episode is given over to her, and Beulah Bondi has the strength and skill to command the entire episode; she is in nearly every scene.

At age 87, she won the Emmy for “Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series.”  Her last film had been in 1963, and had made only a handful of television guest appearances in between.  “The Pony Cart” and its resultant Emmy was a triumphant way for a marvelous actress to end her long career.  Miss Bondi passed away in 1981 at 92 years old.

Compare this performance with her devastating turn as the elderly woman parted from her husband in Make Way for Tomorrow (1937), which we discussed here. 

Here’s a clip of Beulah Bondi sweetly recalling her husband on their wedding day in the first episode, “The Conflict.”

Have a look here at Judy Norton-Taylor’s remembrance of and touching insights on “The Pony Cart” episode here on her YouTube channel devoted to The Waltons.

For more posts on great TV show episodes by some great bloggers, have a look here at the roster for the 10th Annual Favourite TV Show Episode Blogathon!

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Jacqueline T. Lynch is the author of Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. and Movies in Our Time - Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century and Hollywood Fights Fascism and Christmas in Classic Films. TO JOIN HER READERS' GROUP - follow this link for a free book as a thank-you for joining.

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