Thursday, June 29, 2017

Mini posters from the flea market

Someone discovered the two small posters, mounted but unframed, at a flea market.  My Little Chickadee (1940), starred Mae West and W.C. Fields, as pictured, in the comedy western.  These two stars were old vaudevillians. Their skits were polished from decades of performing their well-known characters live in theaters across the country.  The movie is less an amusing look at the nineteenth century American West as it is a revival of early twentieth century popular entertainment...and a spoof by both stars about their own stage personas.

The poster is modern souvenir kitsch, such as you may find on the walls of any home of a classic film fan.  The art department of Universal Studios would marvel at this.  

Stanley and Livingstone (1939), from 20th Century Fox, was made the year before My Little Chickadee, and likewise looked back on a more innocent if more adventurous era as the reporter played by Spencer Tracy attempts to track down the missionary in the wilds of Africa.

We were on the brink of entering World War II when these movies with old-fashioned themes became hits of the modern era.  The posters are in public domain, copied and copied, and put on mugs, magnets, and any other handy item that will hold a brightly colored illustration.  The merchandizing is not publicizing the movie anymore, however; it's publicizing the art department of the studio.  Unsung and forgotten, but whose work is still appreciated, and apparently, still just as marketable as the movie.
My thanks to Gail Watson for these posters and her knowledge of collectibles.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A salute to two classic film bloggers

I'd like to shine the spotlight today on two fellow classic film bloggers and their splendid achievements: Raquel Stecher, and John Greco.

Raquel pens the Out of the Past blog, which is celebrating a ten-year anniversary. Have a look at her anniversary post here.  I've been a regular reader of her blog for many years, and probably among my favorite posts are about her annual participation in the TCM Classic Film Fest.  Her exploration of classic movies has brought her on a wonderful journey, which she shares with us with eloquence and enthusiasm.

John Greco, who writes the Twenty Four Frames blog likewise shares his passion and knowledge on classic film in very entertaining and informative posts, but John also has other talents: he is a professional photographer (you can peruse and purchase some of his work here at Fine Art America), and also a writer.

John's latest eBook is a collection of short stories called Devious Tales.  With a decidedly noir streak and some very surprising endings, this book of dark tales will intrigue and fascinate fans of mysteries.

Classic film bloggers seem to enjoy a wide range of interests and excel at many talents, and my admiration for Raquel and John is not only for their blogs, but that their blogs have led to other adventures.  Well done!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

March of Time: Teen-Age Girls - 1945

The March of Time short subject Teen-Age Girls (1945) is a window on a societal ripple in postwar America that is, unusually, both dated and prescient.  The documentary examines the emergence of teens as a new and important demographic, particularly females in this case, with a lighthearted and even amused attitude, but with a curious reservation—perhaps not unlike the way a parent first notices that a child isn’t a child anymore.

This is our final post in this series about how Hollywood depicted children during World War II.  The March of Time apparently felt, and perhaps not wrongly, that the dawn of the Teen-Age was as likely to be as influential a force in American society as the nuclear age.  The narrator begins:

Of all the phenomena in wartime life in the United States, one of the most fascinating and mysterious…has been the emergence of the teenage girl in her own right.

This was not something Hollywood evidently considered earlier in the war, when the worldwide emergency seemed to put children’s needs secondary and yet led to a future where teens would dominate the culture and even the economy.

In almost a spoof of an anthropological study, a group of sociologists and psychiatrists sits around a conference table while a teenage girl narrates her world for them in an authoritative interview.  We are shown scenes of empowered bobbysoxers in sweater sets and pearls, rolled up jeans and oversized white Oxford shirts, loafers and lipstick, and she tells them about her tribe.  The narrator concurs:

Where once teenagers were without group identity, lingering diffidently in the uncertain period between childhood and womanhood, today they constitute one of the most highly individualized and acutely noticeable groups in the nation.

Acutely noticeable perhaps, but individualized?  The teen girl authority emphasizes just the opposite—an almost authoritarian attitude of fitting in.

If a girl doesn’t dress right, the way everyone else is dressing, she’s just out…You want them to think I’m different or something?

They want their own rooms, their pinups, their pin money.  There is also a rather proud and defiant desire to not be, or even appear to be, intellectual.  

We don’t have time to read newspapers much.

When the teen authority announces that her tribe thinks about serious and important things, and even discusses them in a radio talk show with other teens, we are seen a circle of them around a microphone discussing whether they should go steady with just one boy, or more. 

They gather at slumber parties and like it when boys catcall at the windows.  Despite this,

We’re not in a hurry to grow up—get all serious and morbid like older people.

The documentary notes that the music and fashion industries were already starting to pay attention to this new demographic, though it would be another decade before the cultural and economic scales would tip irrevocably to young adults.  Perhaps their elders were rendered meek, fatigued and demoralized by what they had endured during the war years to the point of not being able to keep their teen girls from hogging the phone.  What the enemy didn’t get out of them, their own American teens finished them off.

However, the complaining and impertinent squeak from the girls would be child’s play indeed compared to the revolt by the next generation in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which would in turn be considered mild compared to today’s cell phone zombies whose interaction when pulled away from their texting is frequently one of rude disdain minus the revolution.  Did their evolution begin with the bobbysoxers in their sweater sets and “keep out” signs on their bedrooms?  

The kids with latchkeys on strings around their necks, coming home to an empty house because the folks were at the war plant and big brother was in the Marines became, in their twenties in the 1950s, the Silent Generation.  If they were conformists and uninvolved politically, nevertheless their buying power would change American society, though after their first declaration of independence in 1945, they appeared to lose steam.  Feminism would come to their daughters before it came to them.  Would Hollywood ever really pay attention to them?  In the late 1950s and early 1960s they would be parodied as company men and housewives, (indeed, unlike their Rosie the Riveter mothers, this generation might have been the first where most of them did not work outside the home, or become involved in a home business) consumers of washers, dryers, and tranquilizers.  The flower power generation’s revolt was geared at World War II era parents, so the Silent Generation even missed the prominence of being defied.

How ironic, to form the vanguard of this new dynamic force in society—the teenager—to be “acutely noticeable” as teens in 1945 and yet to fly under radar for decades to come.  March of Time’s Teen-Age Girls was released this day, June 15, 1945.  The war in Europe had ended, but there was still fighting in the Pacific.  A pause at the beginning of the last summer of the war brought a reflection on what the postwar world would be—and a brief thought to the teens among us who had collected scrap for the war effort, and wrote to servicemen, and wanted, somehow, to matter.

This is the end of our series on Hollywood’s depiction of children during World War II.  Previous posts in this series are:

The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

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

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Search - 1948

The Search (1948) is tenderly filmed.  The plot of the story carries the weight of the world and the eternal suffering of children during war, but lifts our hearts, though they may be breaking, as if on wings of angels.  Those angels are UNRRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation) workers, and a young GI, and even us, if we have taken this movie to heart and take something away from it.

This is the fourth post in our series on how Hollywood depicted children during World War II.  This time, we leave the well-fed American kids behind, and step back to Europe in the aftermath of war.  It is said that the first casualty of war is truth.  The final byproduct is refugees. 

We encounter a small boy, one of the millions of refugees after World War II who have been released from concentration camps.  He is brought with nameless others to an UNRRA central tracing bureau to be processed and, if possible, reunited with relatives searching for them.  The movie takes on documentary-like qualities as we follow the children upon their arrival, sleeping in a boxcar on top of each other, ragged, sallow, starving, and sick—and terrified of the UNRRA personnel in uniform.  It is how they began their journey to the concentration camps; it is how the war ends for them.

Aline MacMahon, one of Hollywood’s finest and most valuable players, is in charge and interviews the kids in many languages.  Ivan Jandl plays Karel, a boy who was separated from his mother at Auschwitz.  His father and sister are dead.  He does not speak, only automatically repeats, “Ich weiss nicht,” (I don’t know) to answers put to him.  He is like a zombie, wooden, haunted, and barely able to function.  He also suffers from amnesia from the trauma of the concentration camp.  His number is tattooed on his arm.

In a moment of panic, he and another boy escape and wander the ruins of this German city.  Attempting to cross a river, the other boy drowns.  Though director Fred Zinnemann crafts a gentle telling of the story, it is nevertheless unblinking in its frank observations of the tragedies we witness.  Karel loses only his knitted cap in the water, and when that is recovered by UNRAA staff, they believe him to have drowned as well.

Alone now, Karel wanders aimlessly, until he meets Montgomery Clift, an Army engineer, part of the army of occupation.  Clift feeds him, takes him back to the building he shares billeting with Wendell Corey.  In days to come, the boy is cleaned, dressed in new clothes, and Clift teaches him English by naming objects in pictures torn from magazines.  Karel seems contented, but he still cannot emotionally or by memory connect with his past.  Clift wants to take him back to America.

That involves tremendous red tape. 
Eventually, he will take him to the UNRAA camp to help facilitate his adoption of Karel, whom he calls Jim.  This was Montgomery Clift’s first film, and he is a marvel of natural and riveting screen presence.  Many of his joking remarks and responses to the boy seem ad libbed and he has a wonderful off-the-cuff and in the moment delivery.  He is a lighthearted young man, quick with a funny quip, but the deeper he becomes involved with the boy the more sober he becomes.  (And his character may remind us of his role in The Big Lift-1950, which we covered here.) When he tries to form a plan to get the boy to the U.S., Wendell Corey counters that it is impractical and the rules impeding this are necessary: “We’d have all of Europe in America if we didn’t have those rules.”

Clift responds, “So what?”

“You’re the one who used to make cracks about those filthy DP’s, remember?”

“I did?"

“Yes, you did.  Not so very long ago, either.”

Clift answers, “Well, now I’ve learned something.”

Indeed he has, and we still struggle with that argument today.

Mr. Clift has a nice, easy rapport with the Ivan Jandl, who was from Czechoslovakia and only made a handful of films.  He is a splendid interpreter of this role: unaffected, natural, and perhaps wise beyond his years in his intuitive relationship with the camera.  It is also a wise choice on the part of director Zinnemann to follow the boy with long scenes of no dialogue.  We see deeper into the child’s world if we are allowed to adopt his mindset and we can do this more easily if we take on his silent observation of the world around him.

One of the most affecting scenes in the movie is when Wendell Corey’s wife and young son arrive to share their housing.  Clift will be rotated back to the U.S. very soon, but Corey will be part of the army of occupation for a while yet.  Karel observes Corey’s son interacting with his mother.  At one point, the son cries and the mother comforts him.  This triggers a long dormant memory in Karel.  He asks Clift, “What is a mother?”  Charmingly inventive, Clift points to one of the magazine photos thumbtacked on the wall of their room that he has used to teach the boy English.  It is a photo of a long-eared funny-looking bloodhound sitting next to a smaller pup.  Presumably, he has used this photo to teach the boy the word “dog.”  Now Clift points to the bigger dog and says, “This is the mother.”  Then to the puppy, “This is the child.”

Karel chews on this a while, and grows distressed. Looking at the photo, his expression becomes pained, and he struggles with a scene that remains in his mind of a woman who had been with him in the camp.  As he sits and almost like an automaton, draws lines on a paper, he suddenly remembers the pattern of the chain link fence in the camp.  Earlier in the film, we are given a flashback scene of when his mother was taken from him, separated into a different camp.  She calls to him, and kisses him through the small opening in the chain link fence.

It all comes back to Karel now, and he sobs, and he demands that Clift help him find his mother.  “Where is my mother?  I have a mother.  I know I have a mother.  Where is she?”  Clift believes Karel’s mother is dead, and tries to distract him with talk of going to America.  Karel is angry, and sneaks out in the night.

We follow him again across the ruins of war-torn Germany, until eventually; Clift finds him and takes him to the UNRRA camp where he hopes to begin the paperwork of adopting Karel.

Earlier in the film, we are shown that Karel’s mother, played by celebrated opera singer Jarmila Novotna, whom we also saw here in The Great Caruso (1951), has survived and is searching for him.  In a nail-biting series of circumstances, they continually miss each other.  Aline MacMahon helps to put together clues, and we are given the gift of finally seeing mother and son reunited.  I don’t know if we could take this movie if that didn’t happen.

The Search is really a very simple story, simply filmed, about very complicated geopolitical issues, and that is the wonder of it.  It allows us to see a large picture on a very small scale and connect with it in a personal way.  The movie was filmed, at least in part, in Europe so the location shooting is stark and genuine.  We do not have the optimistic and jingoistic approach of helping children in wartime as we saw in The Piped Piper.  We were still fighting the war then.  We are in the aftermath now, where at least as far as the mind of a child refugee is concerned, the world is borderless, without nationalities or allegiances—but it is not free.  It is a nightmarish maze of confusing obstacles.  Every grownup who displays compassion is a monumental hero.  

Come back next Thursday when we finish our series with a look at another March of Time short subject, a world away and back to America with the dawn of a new age—not the nuclear age, but the Teen Age.

Our previous posts in this series are:

The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

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

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Youth Runs Wild (1944) and Youth in Crisis (1943)

Youth Runs Wild (1944) and Youth in Crisis (1943) show us American teens led into juvenile delinquency during World War II.  For children on the home front, the war means neglect – and danger.

This is the third post in our series on how Hollywood depicted the experiences of children during World War II.  Have a look at The Piped Piper (1942) here, and On the Sunny Side (1942) and You, John Jones! (1943) here.

Youth Runs Wild, directed by Mark Robson, features Glen Vernon and Tessa Brind as star-crossed pair of teens successfully navigating their awkward years and the nation at war. They are left behind and left out.

We are shown even in the film’s first moments the message that, in the wartime emergency, we are not taking proper care of our children.  Jean Brooks walks down a city street with her three-year-old son, while a truck plows over a sign cautioning drivers about children at play.  As she proceeds through a working-class neighborhood, she stops at one rundown workers’ row house. Her parents live here with her fifteen-year-old brother.  Miss Brooks is returning home to live with them while her soldier husband is away.

Art Smith and Mary Servoss are her folks, who both work the night shift at the local war plant and sleep during the day. Their son, played by Glen (or Glenn) Vernon, is in trouble at school, skipping class to work in a local garage to earn money for a present for his girl.

Tessa Brind, literally the girl next door, is the oldest of three daughters of a couple who also work at the war plant. Her parents are even more neglectful, they go out to bars after work, or bring friends home to play cards (one friend openly leers at their teenage daughter) leaving the housework and the care of their younger daughters to Tessa. (Using her birth name of Smylla Brind, she was Ann Blyth’s understudy in the Broadway drama Watch on the Rhine in 1941, and went on to play the role of Babette in a touring company.  A writer and an artist as well, Brind would later take the name of Vanessa Brown in her acting career.)

Glen and Tessa have a sweet, rather innocent relationship, a stark contrast to their rough surroundings and rougher companions. Interestingly, they carry the story, unlike more established stars playing supporting roles including Kent Smith, who plays the soldier husband of Jean Brooks, discharged from the military hospital; Lawrence Tierney, a shady guy (he’s Lawrence Tierney, what else?); and Bonita Granville, who is a smart-talking tough moll for Tierney.  She provides the only gloss for this B-movie.

The neglected teens – seemingly thrown under the bus by their parents – will have unlikely support from Kent Smith, Tierney, and Granville, adults on the periphery of their lives and with no responsibility toward them, but who actually help them turn their lives around. Tierney, at first leading Tessa Brind astray, helps Glen get away from the cops when he and his buddies (including Dickie Moore) are committing a crime.  He regularly sends kids to the war plant at night to steal tires off the cars in the parking lot to sell on the black market in his garage.  Tires of course were rationed during the war.  This time, he doesn’t want Glen involved because he’s such a nice kid from a nice family.  (The car the boys are robbing has a toddler in the back seat crying.  This is probably the most heart-wrenching scene of the movie, but it actually happened that parents busy in war plants locked their children in their cars, having no other place to put them and no babysitters. There are no comments made about the baby in the car, we just see it and so the effect and our shock is far more profound.)

Bonita Granville takes Tessa under her wing when her folks kick her out of the house and she gets her a job in a dive. Ultimately, it is up to Kent Smith to put things right, taking Tessa to his in-laws house to live where she will be safe and protected; taking the boys under his wing and being responsible for them when they are paroled for stealing the tires; and helping his wife run a daycare in the small backyard of the company row house.

Things we may wonder about but which are never discussed in this movie: fifteen-year-old Frankie smoking openly in front of the grown-ups and no one seems to mind (cigarettes were rationed too.  Where did he get them?) And the fact that Kent Smith never gets to have a reunion scene with his wife and baby.  It’s all about the teens.

Not every kid can count on a Kent Smith in his life and so the message of Youth in Crisis (1943), an Academy Award-nominated March of Time short subject is quite important in wartime.  More terse and blunt, this interesting documentary carries the same message about the tension and anxiety of children during war and the teens going astray.  We begin with a line of young men stripped to their shorts undergoing examination at the Army induction center.  Most of them look no older than teens themselves.  We are told that many men are being rejected because of mental and emotional problems and the documentary explores what could be long-lasting effects on our society from these young people who are so troubled during the war years.

Teens without supervision are shown flaunting authority, getting in trouble, smoking marijuana, and the girls are portrayed as being the easy prey of servicemen on leave.  There is a mixture of frankness and delicacy in the delivery of the message of sexually transmitted disease and the alarming statistics of the sharp rise in crime since 1941 in burglary, rape, and prostitution.  Crime rates had actually dropped during the Depression.

Latchkey kids are seeing coming home to a house of dirty dishes and no mom.  Women are seen at war plants.  As a remedy, we are shown teen clubs and with a positive message and image of an articulate African-American youth speaking his mind in front of a group of white peers, and a roster of boys letting out their pent-up energy in the gym with the names showing variety of ethnicities.  There’s a lot packed into this short documentary: toddlers needing daycare, rising prices, rationing, race riots, and teens growing up too fast.

What happened to this generation of wartime excitement and angst?  They began smoking early, drinking early, and suffered growing pains like perhaps no other generation before.  Not old enough to fight in the military, they still felt the fallout of the world at war.  They were told they had to do their bit for the war effort, but there was apparently no assigned role, or not enough for them to do.

The documentary, though showing parents at the war factories, particularly women, does not indicate that women workers are to be blamed for the delinquency of the children.  It was still 1943 and moms were still needed the war plant.  But one wonders if, upon the end of the war, when so many women were let go from the factories, even ones who wanted to keep their jobs, their being forced out of the factories was a result of messages in such films as Youth Runs Wild, and Youth in Crisis?  Teens developing too much autonomy for good or ill was a concern during wartime, but it was a necessary evil when our hands were tied fighting a bigger evil.  The 1950s would see a return to what was considered a woman’s traditional place in the home. But the teens?

That did not stop the teenager from becoming a new force in society.  The genie was already out of the bottle and there was no putting it back.  We’ll take up that topic in a future March of Time documentary.

Come back next Thursday when we take up the plight of a child concentration camp survivor in post-war Berlin with Montgomery Clift in The Search (1948).

The audio book for Ann Blyth: Actress. Singer. Star. is now for sale on, and on Amazon and iTunes.

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

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