Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Smiling Ghost - 1941

“The Smiling Ghost” (1941) is one of those fast-paced scary/silly B-movies that the Warner Bros. studio could knock out in its sleep.  There’s a lot to amuse here, and a bit of a mystery, but mostly it’s a lot of scary house clichés as harmless as a handful of candy corn.
Unless you’re allergic to candy corn.

Or unless candy corn offends you.

There’s only one offense here in this well-intentioned free-for-all, and that’s the stereotyped character of Willie Best, who plays the longsuffering assistant of Wayne Morris.  To Mr. Best’s credit, he gets some good lines and his delivery is hysterical.  I think he probably gets more screen time than anybody in this movie except for Wayne Morris.

Wayne Morris, a befuddled victim/suitor who agrees to pretend to be engaged for one month to a jinxed girl for $1,000 (her former fiancés are all either incapacitated or dead), is a sweet fellow who really needs Willie Best to look after him.  I like how when they are called to the attorney’s office to set up the deal, the receptionist asks which gentleman is the client, not presuming that it’s the white guy and calling them both gentlemen.  Willie takes charge and speaks up, because it always takes poor slow Wayne a minute to sort things out: “The light-complected gentleman here.”

Alexis Smith is the “Kiss-of Death-Girl” who cannot hold onto her fiancés. We see how early in her career she’s been cast as the cool beauty, a template that would stay with her for many years.

Barbara Marshall is the sane and sassy girl reporter, because you just have to have a girl reporter in these things.
Alan Hale is the butler, but not in the Arthur Treacher mold.  He’s a regular Joe, who talks gruff and carries a gun.  He’s supposed to guard Wayne Morris, because Wayne is supposed to break the curse.  If he lives.

Helen Westley is the sharp old grandma who set up the caper, and Lee Patrick is a cousin who covets the family jewels.

And I have to smile at Renie Riano in a typically small, stereotyped and funny role as The Homely Woman.  She's a game gal.

Wayne Morris meets the dour extended family, including a crazy uncle, played by Charles Halton, who shrinks heads in his laboratory.  Mr. Morris settles into to a spooky night, oblivious to the fact he might be victim number four.
We have secret panels, cobwebs in the cellar, cobwebs in the family crypt, a fog-shrouded graveyard, and best of all, a thunderstorm during which we hear peals of “The Storm” from Rossini’s William Tell, which you will recognize from many, many Warner Bros. cartoons.

A murderer wanders the mansion, and though we get glimpses of a waxy face with dark, sunken eyes and a sickeningly fixed grin, the identity of the monster is withheld until the end.  He lends some excitement to the proceedings, but for my money, the scariest sight in this movie is the fellow, one of the former fiancés who lived, but who is now paralyzed—encased in an iron lung.  Jeez, those things were frightening. 

And if you think about it, just the shot of watching the patient through the mirror mounted on the top of the machine suggests a disembodied head.

You don’t have much time to think about the plot, even if you wanted to, because there’s too much going on, a few fistfights, a couple magnificent tumbles down a very long staircase, and a romantic triangle when the girl reporter and the Kiss-of-Death Girl become rivals for the hapless hand of Wayne Morris.

True love conquers all in the end, including one disgruntled smiling ghost.
One of my favorite lines, when the Justice of the Peace arrives to perform a midnight wedding, “The Justice of…stuff is here.”

Happy Halloween.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Frankenstein Monster Woos Ann Blyth

In the spirit of the upcoming Halloween (or Samhein, for you Celtic types) festivities, we have one of those sneaky tabloid newspaper shots proving all those whispered rumors that the Frankenstein Monster had a torrid love affair with Ann Blyth. 

Or, maybe the big guy just felt like fish for dinner.  "Mermaid...g-o-o-o-d."

Or maybe Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid, in which Miss Blyth starred as the, well, mermaid, wrapped in late February 1948 just as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was in the middle of shooting.  Glenn Strange, as the Monster, and Ann Blyth, neighbors on the Universal studio backlot on this day, took a moment to clown around.

Makeup master Bud Westmore was responsible for the remarkable transformation of both of them. 

A match made in heaven.  Or just at the wrap party.

Next year, as announced a couple weeks back, we'll take a long, leisurely perusal of Ann Blyth's career on film, TV, radio, and the stage.  So far, from my research, I'm able to state confidently there was nothing romantic between her and Dracula or the Wolfman.  However, I did see an ad in Action Comics from 1949 (link to the image here) where Superman flies off with the mermaid in his arms in a little cartoon publicity for Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid. Clearly, we may note from these intimate encounters with Superman and the Frankenstein Monster, if the fella was tall, dark, and fictional, Ann couldn't keep her hands off him.

Next week, on Halloween, we'll take a look at The Smiling Ghost (1941), a B-comedy/horror that brought together Wayne Morris, Brenda Marshall, and Alexis Smith early in their careers.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Beret Trivia Answers

A drumroll, please...the answers to last week's beret festival:

A - Grace Kelly in a very early TV drama from Studio One, an episode called "The Rockingham Tea Set" broadcast in January 1950.

B - Eve Arden in My Reputation (1946), which we covered here.

C - Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945), which we blogged about here.

D - Claire Trevor in Crack-Up (1946), discussed here.

E - Arthur Hunnicutt in The French Line (1954), discussed here.

If I'm ever in a classic film trivia contest, I want Caftan Woman on my side.

Maybe sometime I'll break down and tell you fine folks my coonskin cap story.   When I feel I know you better.

By the way, check out the smashing lineup of lurid noir B-movie posters at Mark's Where Danger Lives blog.  Here's a sample.  Please note the black beret on the woman of seemingly questionable virtue.  One size fits all.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Beret. Hat of the Stars. Really.


Now that the cooler months are setting in, it’s time to pay tribute to my favorite headgear—the beret. 
For many, many years, a black beret has been my chapeau of choice, mainly because they’re warm, they go with every coat you have, and they tend not to leave you with hat hair as much as, say, an acrylic knit hat when you pull them off.  And you don’t really have to take them off if you don’t want to.  This lady is perfectly chic sitting down to a highball with hers.
I have gotten many comments over the years on my beret—especially derisive comments from a sister who thinks I’m weird.  However, she brought back a Navy blue one from Paris for me once, so you can see even she’s a good sport about my fondness for the beret.
Although she claims to have been mortified when someone told her that she recently saw her sister. My sister asked, “Which one?” 

The lady said, “That one with the beret.”
I have received a few French greetings from time to time.  Though my first name is French and I wear a beret, my command of that lovely language is limited to counting to ten and knowing that when you're driving in Montreal, "Droit Suelement" means right only.
One fellow, opening a door for me at, I think, a bank, remarked, “Ooh-la-la!”  I like to think it was in reference to me and not the hat, but that may just be a pitiful fantasy.

Last spring, a family member was ill and I conferred with the doctor in the hospital corridor.  The next time I spoke with him he did not recognize me because, he said, the first time I was wearing a beret.


Once at church, a visiting priest from overseas broke ranks in the recessional and came over to me, saying in broken English, “I like you hat.” 
The blogger replied, “Thank you, Father,” genuflecting as he passed, and bit her lip so as not to laugh over the determined organist thumping out Holy God We Praise Thy Name.

Ah, yes, Ite Missa est.  You betcha.

So if you, too, live in a climate where it can get so cold your nose hairs freeze, I recommend a nice woolen beret.  A black one will go with every coat you have.
A white one?  Well, this debonair chap has his own style.

Tell me who these beret-wearing folks are and from what movies.  One hint, though, the first one is not from a movie, but from the old Studio One TV show.


Next Wednesday the 16th, I’ll be speaking at the Ames Privilege Community Room in Chicopee, Massachusetts for the Chicopee Historical Society on three fellows from the Ames Manufacturing Company during the Civil War.  I’ll have copies of my new book to sign.  It’s also available as an eBook from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and Smashwords.  It’s available in paperback currently from Barnes & Noble, CreateSpace and Amazon.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

And the Winner is...


Thanks so much to everyone who emailed to enter the contest.  I'll be running another one next month.


I'll be speaking to the Chicopee Historical Society on the exploits of three guys from the same Northern factory during the Civil war: a Medal of Honor winner, a teenager who later worked with Augustus St Gaudens and other famous scupltors producing bronze statuary, and the owner of the company - James Tyler Ames. The ironies and coincidences that link them are a chapter of my forthcoming book, and I hope to have some copies on hand for the occasion. The event is at Ames Privilege Common Room, lower Springfield St, Chicopee, Mass., Wednesday, Oct. 16th at 6 p.m. Love to see you there.

I have a new project for this blog in the works for next year, an experiment of sorts.  I'd like to explore the career of Ann Blyth--movies, radio and TV appearances, and stage work.  I've been kicking this idea around for a couple months and what particularly interests me is examining the relationship between Hollywood, TV and theatre in the 20th century through the trajectory of one person's career.  Ann Blyth's own career path, the apparent fact that she hasn't had much play on most blogs that I can find (including mine), and that she is still with us and, as anyone who has seen the Robert Osborne interviews conducted last spring for the TCM Film Fest, is a most articulate and valuable representative of her industry.  We spend a lot of effort on our blogs to celebrate the work of so many greats who are long gone.  It's also important, when we find the opportunity, to celebrate those who are still with us.
I'll still blog on other topics and movies, and join in the occasional blogathon when I can, but for the most part, 2014 is going to be The Year of Ann Blyth.  I'll post more info on this in December.  The next few months will be the hunter-gatherer stage for me as I collect material.  I've seen probably a third of her films and some TV work, but I'd like to see all of them if I can.  Not all are easily available, so knocking them off my list is going to be a challenge. 
I'm hoping the series will generate some thoughtful discussion among us, as I appreciate your comments and value your opinions.

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