Monsters and Matinees: Exploring the cinematic roads to ‘The Lost World’

Meet Professor George Edward Challenger, a clever and gruff man with an adventurous spirit but impossible behavior.

He lives up to his name by being a challenge to everyone he meets while also issuing challenges to colleagues and foes. He’s a meaty character who is a “full-charged battery of force and vitality,” as described by his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in the 1912 novel The Lost World. No wonder he has attracted such actors as Wallace Beery, Claude Rains and John Rhys-Davies to play him in three of the multiple screen adaptations.

The 1925 silent version was the first screen adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.

Though Conan Doyle is better known as the literary father of Sherlock Holmes, The Lost World is famous in its own right. The slim novel opens with an extended scene of a young newspaper reporter whose girlfriend won’t accept his proposal until he does something memorable. Lucky for him, Professor Challenger has returned from South America where he claims he found the existence of dinosaurs. Instead of being heralded for the discovery, Challenger is a joke in the British science community where his ill-temper doesn’t help his case. Only a new expedition with witnesses will prove he’s not a fraud.

Though Doyle’s Lost World has dinosaurs, it is not the basis for the 2007 film of the same name, but rather a distant relative. Jurassic Park author Michael Crichton paid homage to Doyle’s novel by using the title The Lost World for his sequel to both the novel and film.

The first film adaptation of Conan Doyle’s novel was made in 1925, and though it was silent, the imagery was enough to startle and amaze moviegoers at the time.

The directing is tedious, but the dinosaur scenes often exceeded my expectations and I suspect they will at least surprise you. Of course, they can’t compare with today’s CGI-dinosaurs and other technological marvels, but, like Jurassic Park, the original Lost World film showed audiences something they previously could only imagine.

That’s thanks to the legendary Willis O’Brien, a pioneer in the art of stop-motion animation who created one of the greatest beasts in cinematic history with King Kong.

O’Brien had tinkered with dinosaurs starting with his first film, The Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy (1917). It was one of several prehistoric shorts he would make for the Thomas Edison Company including The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918). But these were only about 5 minutes in length, and O’Brien, though always creative, was using primitive puppetry. Watch those shorts and you will be impressed by how much his talents progressed in only eight years for The Lost World, in which he used 18-inch dinosaurs, and then again when he shook the film world with King Kong.

Wallace Beery wears a perpetual frown as Professor Challenger in The Lost World (1925).

The original movie

Professor Challenger (played with bombast and wild hair by Wallace Beery) is suing the London Record Journal for doubting his tales of dinosaurs while on expedition on a South American plateau. The only “proof” Challenger has about the dinosaurs is a diary kept by another explorer, Maple White, that includes descriptions and hand-drawn pictures. White was lost on the original expedition and a diary is not enough to convince anyone that dinosaurs are alive.

The combative Challenger, now the joke of the science community, won’t talk to reporters to help his case. Still, clumsy young reporter Ed Malone (Lloyd Hughes), who needs to do something “dangerous” to win over his fiancée, volunteers to cover Challenger.

During a speech, Challenger challenges a room of doubters to join him on an expedition to prove the existence of the dinosaurs. Though he gets heckled, an expedition is set. Joining Challenger are the reporter Malone, big-game hunter Sir John Roxton (played by the esteemed Lewis Stone), doubting Professor Summerville (Arthur Hoyt) and Paula White (Bessie Love), daughter of Maple White.

We’re quickly on an expedition with dangers lurking before we spot our first prehistoric creature: there’s a native with a spear hiding in the bushes, an angry leopard, a mean-looking gorilla who will be lurking about throughout the film. (He’s clearly a guy in a suit, but ape-men are part of the original novel and later adaptations.)

A Pterodactyl sits at the top of a summit in the 1925 version of The Lost World.

Luckily, it doesn’t take long to spot our first dinosaur and it’s a spectacular Pterodactyl flying over the pinnacle where Maple White was lost (this pivotal scene is replayed in subsequent versions). Then there’s a Brontosaurus – perfectly harmless “unless it happens to step on us,” Challenger tells his group – but also the vicious meat-eating Allosaurus.

They reach the chasm where Maple White was last seen, cutting down a tree to help them cross to the other side. But trees have leaves, a perfect snack for a dino who accidentally dislodges the tree while munching and traps the explorers with seemingly no way back to camp.

If that’s not enough, a volcano decides to erupt. Our trusty adventurers now need to find a way down the pinnacle, escape the dinosaurs (and that pesky ape-man) and get away before the volcano erupts. Did I mention the love triangle, too? There’s plenty of drama.

An Allosaurus is in a fighting mood in The Lost World (1925).

Though the dinosaurs are often in long shot, the scenes still do their job. O’Brien has his creatures on the move through thick foliage, battles and running from lava. That movement lends them a realism they wouldn’t have if they were static.

Without really spoiling the story, they do make it back to civilization (was there any doubt?) with a specimen that, like all creatures that find themselves in a big city (King Kong, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms) will get loose and wreak havoc.

So break down The Lost World with me to its basics. A man claims to have seen dinosaurs/monsters. No one believes him. There is a diary with a map. Unimaginable danger lurks about. People get trapped with no way home. Mountain caves provide shelter. And there’s a volcano. Perhaps if they escape, they have a trophy to bring to the big city where it will surely get loose.

Sound familiar? Absolutely. The Lost World was the inspiration for a century of films to follow with similar elements such as King Kong, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and yes, the Jurassic Park/Jurassic World/Lost World films. At the same time, Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World followed a tradition of other grand adventures in new worlds such as those written by Jules Verne in the 1880s, Mysterious Island and Journey to the Center of the Earth (which also have multiple adaptations worth watching).

Dangers lurk everywhere in Irwin Allen’s colorful 1960 version of The Lost World.

Other adaptations of The Lost World

The timeless story of The Lost World has been irresistible to filmmakers with multiple versions made for film and television. They generally follow the same storyline with the same characters – Professor Challenger, Professor Summerlee, a reporter, a respected big-game hunter and a young woman with a relationship to someone in the story. The location may change, characters are added and some versions follow closer than others. But the actors playing Challenger are all up to the challenge and give viewers a jolly good time. Here are just two of the other adaptations, each called The Lost World.

1960 film. Directed by Irwin Allen.

Grab the popcorn. This is a fun and very colorful adventure yarn that throws in much more than dinosaurs with cannibals, a giant spider (as bad as it looks, it’s still a giant spider), carnivorous plants, dangerous caverns, a sea creature and lots of lava. We can clearly see Allen’s penchant for disaster films in an early stage.

The gang’s all here for Irwin Allen’s The Lost World including in the front row, Fernando Lamas, Michael Rennie, Jill St. John (and dog), Ray Stricklyn, Claude Rains and Jay Novello.

A red-haired and fiery Claude Rains and his umbrella lead the way as Professor Challenger, the regal Michael Rennie is Lord John Roxton and Al (David) Hedison is our reporter Al Malone. There is the addition of Fernando Lamas as a helicopter pilot named Gomez, who travels with his guitar and is apt to break into a lovely ballad. Jill St. John plays Jennifer Holmes, the publisher’s daughter, whose impractical outfits are reason enough to watch at times. A native girl (Vitina Marcus) helps them out.

David Warner, left, and John Rhys-Davies make excellent frenemies in The Lost World (1992).

1992 TV movie. Directed by Timothy Bond.

This clearly has that look of a made-for-TV movie, but I didn’t mind. Casting John Rhys-Davies and his bellowing voice as Professor Challenger is a no-brainer and ups the entertainment value substantially. The late David Warner play Summerlee; a young Eric McCormick is our newspaper reporter. There’s no Sir Roxton in this version, though he’s not missed because Summerlee has much more to do – and did I mention he’s played by David Warner?

The young female along this time is a photographer named Jenny Nielson (played by Tamara Gorski) whose rich family contributed to the trip. Also along for the ride: A young newsboy stowaway and pretty native Malu (Nathania Stanford) who will guide them and create a love triangle that thankfully doesn’t get in the way of the plot.

An adorable dinosaur in The Lost World (1992).

The action moves to Africa giving us more to fear, including two warring tribes, one of which likes to feed people to the dinosaurs. Still, this film has much more humor than the other versions and isn’t quite so scary since some of the dinosaurs look so warm and cuddly. At the end, our adventurers promise to return to their new friends which they do in the sequel Return to the Lost World, filmed simultaneously with the same cast and director.

And still more

Yes, there are more adaptations, although they aren’t as readily available for viewing. Here’s a super quick take on three. You can also find some animated versions, too.

1998: Handsome Patrick Bergin took on the role of Challenger in this American-Canadian made-for-TV film. Set in Mongolia, it goes for the terror instead of the laughs.

1999: This Australian-Canadian TV series aired for three seasons (22 episodes each) with New Zealand actor Peter McCauley as Challenger.

2001: Bob Hoskins is another solid choice as Challenger in this BBC production, considered the most faithful adaptation of the novel by the Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia. James Fox, Matthew Rhys and Peter Falk co-star.

 Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Toni’s Monsters and Matinees articles here.

Toni Ruberto, born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., is an editor and writer at The Buffalo News. She shares her love for classic movies in her blog, Watching Forever and is a member of the Classic Movie Blog Association. Toni was the president of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now leads the offshoot group, Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs. She is proud to have put Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces in the spotlight as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown contest. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.

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Noir Nook: Femme Entrances – Part 2

Noir Nook: Femme Entrances – Part 2

Last month, I offered up four femmes who provided us with some of the best entrances in film noir: Cora Smith (Lana Turner) in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946), Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) in Double Indemnity (1944), Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) in Out of the Past (1947), and Alice Reed (Joan Bennett) in Woman in the Window (1944). This month, I’m wrapping up this series with four more noir femmes with memorable entrances.


Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)

Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)
Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946)

The story of Gilda has a number of themes and several moving parts, including jealousy, revenge, passion, and a “tungsten cartel” (whatever that is) – but at its core is the thin line between love and hate. In the title role, Rita Hayworth plays the mysterious Gilda, whose past is almost completely unfamiliar to us, except that we know she once loved and somehow lost one Johnny Farrell (Glenn Ford), the right-hand man to casino owner Ballin Mundson (George Macready). We find this out when Ballin returns from a trip with a new wife: Gilda. And it’s Gilda’s reunion with Johnny that provides the backdrop for her iconic entrance. Johnny arrives at Ballin’s home, eager to see his boss after his time away. When Ballin opens the door to his bedroom, we hear – along with Johnny – the sultry sounds of a woman’s voice, vocalizing along with a record. As recognition slowly registers on Johnny’s face, Ballin calls out, “Gilda. Are you decent?” Our gaze is taken inside the room where Gilda, from a position below the camera, suddenly sits up, tosses back her mane of hair, and smilingly queries, “Me?” She then sees Johnny as he emerges from the shadows, and her smile fades. “Sure,” she says, pulling up her dress to cover one shoulder. “I’m decent.” It’s an introduction that will practically take your breath away.


Ava Gardner in The Killers (1946)

Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster in The Killers (1946)
Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster in The Killers (1946)

The Killers opens with two hitmen hunting down ex-boxer Ole Andersson (Burt Lancaster), and fatally shooting him in his bed. The remainder of the film focuses on the attempts of an insurance investigator (Edmund O’Brien) to find out who killed Ole and why. As the story unfolds through a series of flashbacks, we get to know Ole, his girlfriend Lilly Harmon (Virginia Christine, later the pitchwoman for Folgers Coffee), his best friend (Sam Levene), and Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner), the woman who steals his heart. More than 30 minutes into the film, we meet Kitty when Ole and Lilly attend a party. Upon their arrival, they’re greeted by the tinkling of piano keys and ushered over to the hostess of the shindig, Kitty, who’s seated on the piano bench with her back to us. She’s dressed in a satiny black, one-shoulder gown, and even before we see her face, we suspect that she’s something special. Mind you, her entrance isn’t at all flashy – it’s brief and low-key. When she’s introduced to Ole and Lilly, Kitty turns toward them, flashes a pleasant smile, offers a simple “hello” and then turns away again. The exchange lasts less than five seconds, but Ole’s drawn to her like he’s made of steel and Kitty has magnets sewn into the hem of her dress. (And in that same span of time, Lilly knows that her relationship with Ole has come to an end.)


Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy (1950)

Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy (1950)
Peggy Cummins in Gun Crazy (1950)

Gun Crazy tells the tale of Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins) and Bart Tare (John Dall), star-crossed lovers a la Bonnie and Clyde who are adept at gun play, fall madly in love, and go on a crime spree. The film’s action begins when Bart returns home after an army stint and hooks up with two boyhood chums to attend a local carnival. When the trio pays a visit to a sharpshooting show – which is right up the gun-loving Bart’s alley – he gets his first eyeful of Laurie. Before she enters, she’s introduced to the crowd by Packy (Berry Kroeger), the carnival’s owner and manager, who gives her quite a build-up, calling her “the famous, the dangerous, the beautiful… direct from London, England, and the capitols of the continent… so appealing, so dangerous, so lovely to look at!” Following this, we hear a series of shots and see smoke from the gunfire – and into the frame enters Laurie, dressed in a western outfit and a gun in each hand. With a sultry gaze, she surveys the crowd, spots Bart (who is excitedly leaning forward in his seat with a face covered in grin), points a gun at him, and pulls the trigger. Bart is hooked.


Jean Wallace in The Big Combo (1955)

Jean Wallace in The Big Combo (1955)
Jean Wallace in The Big Combo (1955)

One of my best-loved noirs, The Big Combo stars Cornel Wilde as Leonard Diamond, a highly principled detective who is determined to bring down local mob boss Mr. Brown (Richard Conte). Jean Wallace is Susan Lowell, a fragile, unstable socialite who is not only Mr. Brown’s mistress, but also the object of Diamond’s desire from afar. We meet Susan as the film opens, in the bowels of a boxing arena. Clad in a strapless black cocktail dress and heels and accompanied by the sounds of the roaring crowd, Susan is running in and out of the shadows; we soon see that she is being chased by two men – Mingo (Earl Holliman) and Fante (Lee Van Cleef), who are minions of Mr. Brown. After managing to elude them for a while, she’s finally caught, with one man on each side and Mingo holding onto her arm. Susan asks them to let her go, but they refuse. (“Mr. Brown is mad already. We lost you for two minutes.”) Susan promises that she won’t run away and Mingo releases her arm. When he does, without missing a beat, Susan smacks him in the face with her clutch purse, gives a haughty sniff, and walks away, her head held high. It may not be the first femme entrance you think of, but it’s one you won’t forget.

And that’s it! Do you have any favorite femme entrances? Let me know!

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:

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Silver Screen Standards: Bombshell (1933)

Silver Screen Standards: Bombshell (1933)

Bombshell (1933) Jean Harlow bed
With tousled curls, Lola wakes to another day of chaos and early morning studio calls.

Played a different way, Bombshell (1933) would be a tragic drama about the relentless pressures and manipulation faced by a young actress in 1930s Hollywood, and certainly that was a reality that many stars, including Jean Harlow, knew all too well. I find it difficult sometimes to watch Harlow, as sparkling and vivacious as she is, without being constantly aware of the devastating brevity of her life, but we owe it to her to celebrate her comedic genius by laughing at her salty, feisty characters, especially the impulsive, hard-working Lola Burns. Bombshell tells a lot of ugly truths about Hollywood, but it does so with satiric glee, and it features a wealth of crackerjack supporting performances that Harlow keeps pace with like a true champ.

Bombshell (1933) Lee Tracy and Jean Harlow
Despite their constant conflict, Space and Lola have history and chemistry together, and Space resents the other men in Lola’s life.

Harlow plays a semi-autobiographical role as Hollywood It Girl Lola Burns, who makes five pictures a year and supports an extravagant retinue of relatives, parasites, and pets. Her problems are compounded by the studio’s unscrupulous publicist, Space Hanlon (Lee Tracy), who torments Lola with his lies and setups but also jealously undermines her relationships with other men. Fed up with her household and Space’s manipulative plots, Lola flees to a desert resort, where she soon falls into a romance with handsome, aristocratic Gifford Middleton (Franchot Tone), who claims he has never even heard of the famous movie star.

Bombshell (1933) Franchot Tone, Mary Forbes, C. Aubrey Smith, Jean Harlow
Lola falls for Gifford (Franchot Tone), but his aristocratic parents (Mary Forbes and C. Aubrey Smith) are not impressed by her movie star status.

The action of Bombshell never lets up; it approaches comedy in a manner appropriate to its title, with gags blowing up every scene and conversation. It’s stuffed with wacky characters, played by iconic comic actors, and each of them seems determined to steal every scene. Fast-talking Lee Tracy leads the pack with his trademark wisecracks and patter, but Frank Morgan gives him stiff competition as Lola’s incorrigible father, blustering his way through whoppers and looking absurdly dapper in his striped trousers. The equally sharp Una Merkel plays Lola’s opportunistic secretary, Mac, who holds her own against Lola’s male relatives in both hilarity and crookedness, while Louise Beavers plays the loyalist of the lot as Lola’s maid, Loretta. Beavers’ role might have been just another stereotypical maid part for a Black actress, but Loretta gets some very good scenes early on, especially her bit about the ruined negligee and her bold retort to Mac about knowing where the bodies are buried. Even small roles are filled by top-notch players like Pat O’Brien, Ted Healy, C. Aubrey Smith, and Isabel Jewell.

Bombshell (1933) Frank Morgan Jean Harlow
Lola’s father (Frank Morgan) holds forth with another stream of lies about the family history for a magazine interview with the star.

It would be easy to get lost in such a whirlwind, but Harlow shines throughout. Her Lola is a woman of endless variety; she’s glamorous in spangled gowns, sweet for the orphanage committee, furious with Space, and gaga for Gifford, but Harlow makes each mood memorable. Her pining for a baby is noteworthy among the picture’s more dramatic moments, especially when Space’s machinations crush her dream. Just when we’ve decided that she’s really a victim and sensibly done with the movie business, Harlow reveals the truth about Lola’s ambition and vanity, with some help from the ever-scheming Space, of course. Lola thinks she wants retirement and domesticity, but she also wants to sign autographs, beat out her rival for a role, and have her disappearance talked about in all the newspapers. She isn’t charmed that Gifford has never heard of her; she’s shocked. She careens from romance to romance and from one urge to the next, making her departure from Hollywood just another mercurial whim. Only in the middle of the chaos does Lola look like the grounded one. Outside it, we realize that the whirlwind suits her. Harlow, known for her bad girl roles and sex appeal, makes both the softer side and the zaniness of Lola appealing, investing the character with her own tremendous screen presence.

Victor Fleming is uncredited for his directorial work on Bombshell, but he also directed Harlow in Red Dust (1932), the film Lola Burns is supposed to be shooting retakes for with the famous barrel scene. For more of Harlow’s most memorable roles, see The Public Enemy (1931), Dinner at Eight (1933), and Libeled Lady (1936). Lee Tracy also appears in Dinner at Eight, but you can see more of him in Pre-Codes like Doctor X (1932), The Half-Naked Truth (1932), and Blessed Event (1932). The delightful Una Merkel also teams with Harlow in Red-Headed Woman (1932), Riffraff (1936), and Saratoga (1937), while Franchot Tone reunites with her in The Girl from Missouri (1934), Reckless (1935), and Suzy (1936). I like Harlow in all of her pictures, but I’m especially fond of Hold Your Man (1933) and Wife vs. Secretary (1936).

— Jennifer Garlen for Classic Movie Hub

Jennifer Garlen pens our monthly Silver Screen Standards column. You can read all of Jennifer’s Silver Screen Standards articles here.

Jennifer is a former college professor with a PhD in English Literature and a lifelong obsession with film. She writes about classic movies at her blog, Virtual Virago, and presents classic film programs for lifetime learning groups and retirement communities. She’s the author of Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching and its sequel, Beyond Casablanca II: 101 Classic Movies Worth Watching, and she is also the co-editor of two books about the works of Jim Henson.

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Exclusive Interview with Greg Schreiner of Marilyn Remembered

Marilyn Monroe – Her Life and Legacy

Classic Movie Hub is happy to share an exclusive interview — our friend and fellow film fan, Nina Boski interviews Greg Schreiner, the founding member and president of Marilyn Remembered, the longest-running Marilyn Monroe fan club in existence today. In this interview, Greg talks about, “Who is Marilyn Monroe?”

Please take a look at Nina’s interview as we celebrate the life and legacy of Marilyn Monroe during the 60th anniversary of the star’s death.

A big thank you to Nina for this interview!

Nina Boski is a producer and writer, known for Goodnight Marilyn and LifeBites Live (2012).

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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Classic Movie Travels: Betty Grable

Classic Movie Travels: Betty Grable

Betty Grable
Betty Grable

Betty Grable was one of World War II’s most celebrated pin-up girls, in addition to being a gifted actress, singer, model, and dancer. A top box office star, she was one of the highest-paid women of her day.

Elizabeth Ruth Grable was born on December 18, 1916, in St. Louis, Missouri, to John and Lillian Grable. She was the youngest of three children. Her siblings were Marjorie and John Grable.

Grable was nicknamed “Betty” from an early age and was simultaneously pressured by her mother to work in the entertainment industry. She entered beauty contests and won many of them, though she possessed a fear of crowds. Grable also suffered from sleepwalking.

Baby Elizabeth Ruth "Betty" Grable
Baby Elizabeth Ruth Grable

At 12 years old, Grable and her mother traveled to Hollywood, where Grable studied at the Hollywood Professional School and Ernest Blecher Academy of Dance. Grable lied about her age to secure film roles, claiming that she was 15 years old. She made her film debut as an uncredited chorus girl in Happy Days (1929).

In the following year, Grable worked under the pseudonym Frances Dean and signed with Samuel Goldwyn, making her one of the initial Goldwyn Girls. As a result, she appeared in small movie roles, including Whoopee! (1930). Though she was also uncredited in this role, she led the film’s opening number.

By 1932, Grable signed a contract with RKO Radio Pictures. There, she attended acting, singing, and dancing classes through the studio’s drama school. Her first credited screen role was in Probation (1932). She could also be seen carrying out minor film roles in Cavalcade (1933), The Gay Divorcee (1934), and Follow the Fleet (1936).

Betty Grable young
a young Betty Grable

During this period, Grable married former child star Jackie Coogan in 1937. Unfortunately, Coogan was dealing with a lawsuit against his parents pertaining to the loss of his childhood earnings, which added stress to their relationship. They divorced in 1939.

After RKO, Grable moved on to a contract with Paramount Pictures. She appeared in a string of college films, including This Way Please (1937) and College Swing (1938). This led to her being typecast as a student in other film roles.

In 1939, she appeared with her then-husband Coogan in Million Dollar Legs (1939), which gave Grable her nickname. The film did not perform well and Grable was released from her contract.

At this point, Grable turned to Broadway, where she experienced success. She starred in DuBarry Was a Lady (1943) alongside Ethel Merman and Bert Lahr, which was an instant hit.

By 1940, Grable was tired of the entertainment industry and considering retirement. She was invited to go on a personal appearance tour, which she accepted. This tour brought her to the attention of 20th Century-Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck. He was impressed by her work on Broadway and cast her as the female lead in Down Argentine Way (1940), with Grable replacing Alice Faye in the role. Grable’s performance of “Down Argentine Way” is a memorable moment in the film.

Betty Grable Down Argentine Way (1940)
Grable in Down Argentine Way (1940)

Thanks to the success of Down Argentine Way, Grable was cast in Tin Pan Alley (1940) alongside Faye. Despite tabloids touting a rivalry between Grable and Faye, both Grable and Faye admired each other and remained friends until Grable’s passing.

After casting Grable in musicals, Fox placed her in more dramatic roles for A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941) and I Wake Up Screaming (1941). Both films were career successes for her, though Grable would go on to thrive in the musical genre. Grable soon found herself the number-one box-office draw.

In 1943, Grable posed for her iconic pin-up shot for photographer Frank Powolny. She posed in a one-piece bathing suit with her back to the camera, peering over her shoulder. This pose was effectively chosen for Grable, who was pregnant with her first child. The picture was released as a poster and became the most requested photo for G.I.s stationed overseas, surpassing Rita Hayworth’s famous 1941 photo.

Betty Grable famous pin-up photo 1943
Grable’s famous 1943 pin-up photo

At the same time, Grable married trumpeter Harry James in 1943. The couple had two children: Victoria and Jessica. While their marriage lasted for 22 years, it was challenged with alcoholism and infidelity, leading to divorce in 1965.

Grable went on to star in Pin Up Girl (1944) and Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe (1945). She also appeared in The Dolly Sisters (1945) with June Haver, since Fox was promoting Haver as Grable’s blonde bombshell successor.

After Grable departed Fox, the studio struggled financially. She returned to Fox to appear in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947), though the film was not a success for the studio. Her role in Mother Wore Tights (1947), however, was a hit.

By the 1950s, Grable worked to renegotiate her contract with Fox, in pursuit of stronger scripts and more varied roles. She appeared in Meet Me After the Show (1951), though soon went on strike when Fox refused her a higher salary and more autonomy in selecting film roles. Due to her strike, she was replaced by Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953) and by June Haver in The Girl Next Door (1953). When she reconciled with Fox, she starred in The Farmer Takes a Wife (1953), but the film was a flop.

Betty Grable and June Haver in The Dolly Sisters (1945)
Betty Grable and June Haver in The Dolly Sisters (1945)

Next, Grable appeared in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) with Monroe and Lauren Bacall. Tabloids falsely told of a rivalry between Grable and Monroe but the two got along. Grable later refused a lead role in There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954), which led to her being suspended from her contract again. After making a few more film appearances, her last role would be in How to Be Very, Very Popular (1955) for Fox.

After working in films, Grable developed a live act in Las Vegas, Nevada, performing at various hotels with then-husband Harry James. She went on to star in different stage productions in Las Vegas, including Hello, Dolly. She also reprised her role on Broadway in 1967.

Betty Grable in her Las Vegas performance of Hello, Dolly! (1966)
Grable in her Las Vegas performance of Hello, Dolly! (1966)

Grable was also romantically involved with dancer Bob Remick. They remained together until her passing.

Grable passed away from lung cancer on July 2, 1973, in Santa Monica, California. Her funeral occurred two days later and was attended by her two former husbands and many of her Hollywood peers. “I Had the Craziest Dream,” featured in Springtime in the Rockies (1942), was played on the church organ in her memory. Grable is entombed at Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood, California. She was 56 years old.

Grable’s childhood home at 3858 Lafayette Ave., St Louis, Missouri, no longer stands. By 1940, Grable and her mother were residing at the Essex House, which is an Art Deco landmark. It stands at 160 Central Park South, New York, New York.

Betty Grable New York The Essex House Residence 1940's
The Essex House, Grable’s 1940’s NYC residence

Grable also has a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame, located at 6350 Delmar Blvd., St. Louis, Missouri.

Betty Grable's star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame
Grable’s star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame

Grable’s image is featured as nose art on Sentimental Journey, a B-17G Flying Fortress bomber, based at the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa, Arizona. The bomber is featured at various airshows throughout North America. The Commemorative Air Force Museum is located at 2017 N. Greenfield Rd., Mesa, Arizona.

Betty Grable's famous pin-up photo featured on the Sentimental Journey bomber
Grable’s famous pin-up photo featured on the Sentimental Journey bomber

A bust of Grable is displayed in the Hall of Famous Missourians, within the Missouri State Capitol. The building is located at 201 W. Capitol Ave., Jefferson City, Missouri.

Betty Grable bronze statue the Hall of Famous Missourians
A bronze bust of Grable commemorating her in the Hall of Famous Missourians

In Hollywood, Grable has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honoring her work in films. The star is located at 6525 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California.

Betty Grable Hollywood Walk of Fame star
Betty Grable’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star

Additionally, Grable’s handprints and leg prints were immortalized in the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theatre, located at 6925 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, California.

Betty Grable Grauman's Chinese Theatre handprints
Grable’s handprints at the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, CA

–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

Annette Bochenek pens our monthly Classic Movie Travels column. You can read all of Annette’s Classic Movie Travel articles here.

Annette Bochenek of Chicago, Illinois, is a PhD student at Dominican University and an independent scholar of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She manages the Hometowns to Hollywood blog, in which she writes about her trips exploring the legacies and hometowns of Golden Age stars. Annette also hosts the “Hometowns to Hollywood” film series throughout the Chicago area. She has been featured on Turner Classic Movies and is the president of TCM Backlot’s Chicago chapter. In addition to writing for Classic Movie Hub, she also writes for Silent Film Quarterly, Nostalgia Digest, and Chicago Art Deco SocietyMagazine.

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Film Noir Review: The Wrong Man (1956)

“An innocent man has nothing to fear, remember that.”

Alfred Hitchcock was nothing if not a dramatist. He loved taking trivial settings and inundating them with so much tension that something as trivial as delivering a glass of milk or watching a neighbor could be a matter of life or death. He was, after all, the “Master of Suspense.” What then, becomes of Hitchcock when he’s forced to tone down his exaggerated tendencies and tell a true story? The answer can be found in The Wrong Man (1956).

The Wrong Man is an outlier in so many ways. It’s the only Hitchcock film directly based on true events (others took real-life inspiration), the only one to eschew traditional set pieces, and the only one that sees the director’s trademark “mistaken identity” schtick explored to its grimmest and most logical conclusion. The Wrong Man is a devastating viewing experience when stacked against the cheeky thrills of North by Northwest (1959) or the drawing room intrigue of Dial ‘M’ for Murder (1954), and much of it comes down to its film noir ethos.

A lobby card featuring a deleted scene (and cameo from Hitchcock.)

Hitchcock and noir ran adjacently for the 1940s and 50s. They only occasionally overlapped, and when they did, a la Shadow of a Doubt (1943) or Strangers on a Train (1951), they still gave audiences a vicarious jolt. They may have had the window dressing of film noir, but they were thrillers at heart. The Wrong Man bucked this trend. It was Hitchcock embracing the unremittingly bleak, and it holds up remarkably well for being one of his less-celebrated releases.

The film revolves around Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda), a jazz musician who never quite hit the big time. He carves out a meager living at the Stork Club in New York, but he still needs an influx of cash if he’s going to help his wife Rose (Vera Miles) pay for a dental procedure. He visits an insurance company with the hopes of finessing a deal, but while there, he gets identified as the man who robbed the company twice before. He’s taken into custody by the end of the night.

Henry Fonda dazzles in his only Hitchcock collaboration.

Manny’s arrest is among the most terrifying sequences in Hitchcock’s entire career. There are no stabbings or sudden bird attacks, but the depiction of his booking, fingerprinting, and subsequent incarceration is so unflinching that it borders on cruelty. We’re forced to sit and watch as Manny (and Fonda, one of our most beloved American actors) is treated like a common hood, even though we know he’s innocent. It’s maddening, and the film knows it.

Fonda is mesmerizing in what turned out to be his only Hitchcock collaboration. He radiates a put-upon decency from the moment he enters the frame, and the quiet dignity he musters despite being forced to suffer countless indignities is something that cannot be taught. Take, for example, the moment he gets handcuffed. While it could’ve easily been played up for dramatic effect, and used as a springboard for a Brando-esque breakdown, Fonda prefers to keep things subdued. He simply looks down at his shackled wrists, letting the sadness in his eyes communicate what we already know to be true.

A man trapped: Manny faces a life behind bars.

Another standout moment is when Manny is placed behind bars. Hitchcock’s camera launches through the slot in the jail cell, and what we find on the other end is a man who chooses to turn his back to us. We see a slight head tilt, then a head slumped in defeat. There’s a sense of moral humiliation that runs throughout Fonda’s performance, and it’s what makes The Wrong Man simultaneously powerful yet difficult to watch.

Hitchcock may have seemed an odd choice to tackle the material, which was adapted from the Maxwell Anderson novel The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero, but in truth, he had been dying to tell this story his entire life. Hitch’s upbringing came with a crippling fear of the police, which many attributed to the night his father chose to punish him by sending him to jail for the night. The police are not demonized in The Wrong Man, but they are seen as intimidating forces who wield power far more callously than they ought to. Manny’s wife is pushed to the brink of sanity and then some over the course of the film, and the police do little to quell her concerns, or even suggest that Manny may be innocent.

Henry Fonda and Vera Miles in a promotional still.

The aesthetic choices support this unflinching outlook. The lush color palette that had adorned Hitchcock’s previous films is replaced with high contrast black-and-white. The elaborate crane shots are ditched for a gritty, documentary-style approach that made the whole thing feel like an A-list newsreel. Then there’s the jazz-tinged score by Bernard Herrmann. The composer was Hitchcock’s most important collaborator during his most fruitful period, and while The Wrong Man may not reach the highs of his other Hitch scores, Herrmann gives the film exactly what it needs.

I’m not going to pretend that The Wrong Man is Hitchcock’s crowning achievement as a filmmaker, or that it will top anybody’s list when it comes to listing his masterpieces, but there’s something to be said for the fact that it would be considered a minor classic were it made by any other filmmaker. The Wrong Man is creatively elevated by Hitchcock’s involvement, but commercially compromised because fans will always go into it expecting something slick and entertaining. 

It’s left turns like these that would eventually allow Hitchcock to hit pay dirt with Psycho (1960), a film that not only recycled The Wrong Man’s casting of Vera Miles but the black-and-white cinematography and moral indifference. It’s well worth revisiting on its own as the most overt film noir in the director’s entire career.

TRIVIA: The Wrong Man boasts early, uncredited appearances by actors Tuesday Weld and Harry Dean Stanton.

…..

You can find all of Danilo’s Film Noir Review articles here.

Danilo Castro is a film noir aficionado and Contributing Writer for Classic Movie Hub. You can read more of Danilo’s articles and reviews at the Film Noir Archive, or you can follow Danilo on Twitter @DaniloSCastro.

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Western RoundUp: Another Look at Western Movie Locations!

Western RoundUp: Another Look at Western Movie Locations!

It’s time for another look at some Western movie locations!

This year I’ve visited several interesting film-related places, starting with Bronson Canyon in Los Angeles’s Griffith Park. Bronson Canyon is home to a cave which has appeared in numerous films; the most significant Western to be filmed there was John Ford‘s The Searchers (1956).

Many scenes in The Searchers were filmed in Monument Valley, but the scene where John Wayne says “Let’s go home, Debbie” to Natalie Wood was filmed at the “back” entrance to the cave. The cave is actually a tunnel with two entrances.

Natalie Wood and John Wayne in The Searchers (1956)
Natalie Wood and John Wayne in The Searchers (1956)

In the final scene John Wayne rides his horse down this hill:

Bronson Canyon
Bronson Canyon

The cave is currently blocked off with chain-link fences, but I have a photo from 2020 looking out the back of the cave toward where Ethan rides down the hill.

Bronson Canyon Cave
Bronson Canyon cave

The cave’s best-known role? It was the Bat Cave on the 1960s TV series Batman. Here’s a shot of the front of the cave, where the Batmobile would exit.

Bronson Canyon Cave entrance
Bronson Canyon cave aka the Bat Cave!

This spring we took a road trip which included a brief stop in Keeler, California. Keeler is a few miles from Lone Pine, a movie location I’ve written about here numerous times, and is close to being a ghost town; the current population is around ten people.

Keeler Train Station
Keeler Train Station

There’s a fascinating old train station, the Carson and Colorado Railroad depot, which looks as though it would blow over in a strong wind. The information I’ve found online indicates it may date from the 1880s.

Carson and Colorado Railroad Depot
Carson and Colorado Railroad Depot in Keeler

This train station is seen in the Hopalong Cassidy film Sinister Journey (1948).

The station was also seen in the silent classic Greed (1924), directed by Erich von Stroheim.

John Ford’s 3 Godfathers (1948) filmed in Keeler, but I’ve been unable to match up train station shots from that film with what’s still standing. For good measure, the crime film I Died a Thousand Times (1955), starring Jack Palance, filmed at a gas station in Keeler.

Our next road trip destination was Utah, where we visited three national parks and one state park. We particularly loved Moab, which is perhaps the most significant John Ford location after Monument Valley.

One afternoon we drove down the highway outside Moab which parallels the Colorado River; thanks to books and websites we were able to find some wonderful locations, starting with Fisher Towers.

Fisher Towers is seen in the background of Ford’s Wagon Master (1950), one of my favorite films. The Bureau of Land Management sign at Fisher Towers even mentions the Ford connection!

Fisher Towers visitor sign
Fisher Towers visitor sign

First, here’s a screenshot from Wagon Master of Russell Simpson and Kathleen O’Malley on the lead wagon:

Fisher Towers Wagon Master (1950)
Fisher Towers seen here in Wagon Master (1950)

And here’s how Fisher Towers looks today:

Fisher Towers
Fisher Towers today

Warlock (1959) with Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark also shot at Fisher Towers, as did the John Wayne film The Comancheros (1961).

A little further down the river is Red Cliff Lodge, which was originally George White’s Ranch, where Rio Grande (1950) filmed.

There’s a big open area near some of the lodge’s guest cabins…

Set location for Rio Grande (1950)
Set location for Rio Grande (1950) today

… and it was quite a thrill to look at screenshots of the movie’s famous “Roman Riding” sequence and realize we were standing where Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., and Claude Jarman Jr. filmed that wonderful scene.

Rio Grande (1950) "Roman Riding" scene
Rio Grande (1950) “Roman Riding” scene

The rock formations in the background match up perfectly!

We also found the spot on the Colorado River where Wayne and his officers rode into the “Rio Grande” to speak with the Mexican officer.

Set location for Rio Grande (1950)
Set location for Rio Grande (1950) today

Here’s a screenshot of that scene to show how the backgrounds match up.

Rio Grande (1950)
Rio Grande (1950)

Taza, Son of Cochise (1954) and Rio Conchos (1964) also filmed in the Moab area; Taza filmed in Arches National Park and Rio Conchos filmed at Dead Horse Point State Park — as did the previously mentioned Warlock and The Comancheros.

Here’s one of the impressive vistas at Dead Horse Point State Park:

Dead Horse Point State Park
Dead Horse Point State Park

For additional Western RoundUp columns on Western film locations, please visit my past articles on KanabCorriganvilleLone Pine, and Iverson Movie Ranch.

– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

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Silents are Golden: The Rise Of The “Underworld”– 5 Gangster Films From The 1910s

Silents are Golden: The Rise Of The “Underworld”– 5 Gangster Films From The 1910s

Long before James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson starting making a splash in Hollywood, gangsters had been showing up on the American silent screen. While the “gangster” genre wasn’t as well defined as it would be in the 1930s, many of its familiar tropes – slangy dialogue, shootouts, brassy dames, nattily-dressed ring leaders – got their start even earlier than the Roaring Twenties itself.

Elmer Booth in The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
Elmer Booth in The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)

The chase sequences that livened up so many early silents were key. In the 1900s, the era when most people saw “moving pictures” via traveling shows, any film with an exciting chase scene was bound to be a crowd pleaser. Comedies of course abounded with comic chases, but recreations of fast-paced criminal activity like stagecoach holdups, bank robberies and pursuits by police were also popular–the most famous example probably being The Great Train Robbery (1903). Many of these films were basically Westerns – a wildly popular genre, and certainly the forerunner (or perhaps we can say wellspring) for the Depression-era gangster picture.

Interestingly, we start seeing films with recognizable “gangster” tropes in the 1910s, a few years before the era of Prohibition and Capone. At the time people were flocking from the country to cities to find work, and the problem of urban crime was a common topic. Organized gangs in New York City had been well known since the 19th century, especially the ones formed by Irish, Italian, and Chinese immigrants. Public fascination with these gangs’ power struggles was soon reflected in the movies. Let’s consider the following films: 

5. The Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)

Lillian and Dorothy Gish in The Muskateers of Pig Alley (1912)
Lillian and Dorothy Gish in The Muskateers of Pig Alley (1912)

Recognized today as the great-grandaddy of the gangster film, The Musketeers of Pig Alley was a gritty two-reeler directed by D.W. Griffith. The four words of its first title card, “New York’s Other Side,” set the stage not only for its setting in the city’s crowded tenements, but arguably for the 1930s crime dramas to come. The plot even has hints of film noir, too – quite an achievement for an 18-minute film.

Set in the slums of New York, it concerns a young couple (played by Lillian Gish and Walter Miller) whose lives are affected by the rival gangs in their neighborhood. The highlight of the film is the tense shootout scene between the gangs, where a tight closeup shows two gangsters carefully creeping along a wall. A cocky, very Cagney-esque Elmer Booth plays the leader of one of the gangs. The gun fights, the rundown neighborhoods, the tough dames, the charismatic crime leaders, even the “gangsters’ ball” – it’s all there, over 100 years ago.

4. The Gangsters and the Girl (1914)

The Gangsters and the Girl (1914)
The Gangsters and the Girl (1914)

Very much in the category of “crime drama,” this Selig three-reeler starred Betty Burbridge and future star Charles Ray. “The Girl,” Molly Ashley, is framed for a shoplifting crime she didn’t commit and is sentenced to jail, but sympathetic crook Jim Tracy captures her to save her from the penitentiary. She lives with the gang at their hideout as they try to steal funds to help her and her father, but they’re infiltrated by the police detective John Stone in disguise. As Molly gets to the know the detective and learns his true identity, she begins to struggle with whom she should turn in, John or Jim.

Filmed in Los Angeles but with several rooftop shots carefully angled to suggest New York City, The Girl and the Gangsters has the kind of plot that’s pretty familiar to us today. Interestingly, the crooks are shown in a more sympathetic light than their mid- to late-1930s counterparts, when the production code was enforced.

3. The Making of Crooks (1915)

Jack Pickford in The Making of Crooks (1915)
Jack Pickford in The Making of Crooks (1915)

Starring a young Jack Pickford in one of his bigger early roles, this film is a cautionary tale about the dangers of billiard rooms for impressionable youth, especially ones frequented by unsavory characters. A druggist Walton, accused of selling dope-laced candy to children, is freed from prison after the mob boss Lee O’Neill intervenes. Walton opens a seedy billiard room, and the young Italian Tony becomes one of his pool sharks. Tony soon becomes acquainted with Hazel, O’Neill’s daughter, and soon tragedy ensues.

Much less lenient to the underworld than films like The Girl and the Gangsters, The Making of Crooks delivers a dark ending and a strong moral message. It’s not far removed from classics like Angels With Dirty Faces (1938), with its similar – if more subtle – message.

2. Reggie Mixes In (1916)

Douglas Fairbanks and Bessie Love in Reggie Mixes In (1916)
Douglas Fairbanks and Bessie Love in Reggie Mixes In (1916)

A minor Douglas Fairbanks film, it has his familiar mix of drama and comedy within the setting of New York’s Bowery neighborhood. When Reggie drives a lost little girl home, he meets an impoverished young woman named Agnes. He begins to court Agnes, but unfortunately his romantic rival is the local gang leader Tony Bernard. Eventually Reggie is attacked by Bernard’s gang, and soon must face a hand-to-hand fight with Bernard.

While lesser known than many of his other 1910s features and saddled with a rather routine gangster plot, Reggie Mixes In does feature a fairly intense fight scene between Reggie and Bernard. It’s more realistically choreographed than some movie fights, being more of a tight grapple than a showy flinging of fists.

1.The Mother and the Law (1919)

Robert Harron and Mae Marsh in The Mother and the Law (1919)
Robert Harron and Mae Marsh in The Mother and the Law (1919)

This gritty drama was originally filmed by D.W. Griffith in 1914, and it was eventually expanded and incorporated into his mighty epic Intolerance (1916). Following this, it was tinkered with a little more before being released in 1919 as a stand-alone drama.

Starring Mae Marsh and Bobby Harron in two of their finest performances, The Mother and the Law had more of a definite “underworld” theme and shared some similarities with The Musketeers of Pig Alleya gang leader is even referred to as “the Musketeer.”Marsh and Harron play a young couple whose lives are torn apart after “the Boy,” attempting to leave his old life in a gang, is accused of murder. When he’s sentenced to be hung, his young wife searches for a way to save his life. Tragic and touching in turns, it illustrates both the hopelessness that leads some to take up a criminal life as well as how difficult it is to escape it.

Films like these remind us that many movie tropes stretch back much further than we imagined. They also show us something unexpected: that certain “gangster” tropes not only predated the Roaring Twenties, but in a sense evolved along with the era itself, making these films fascinating and unique time capsules.

–Lea Stans for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Lea’s Silents are Golden articles here.

Lea Stans is a born-and-raised Minnesotan with a degree in English and an obsessive interest in the silent film era (which she largely blames on Buster Keaton). In addition to blogging about her passion at her site Silent-ology, she is a columnist for the Silent Film Quarterly and has also written for The Keaton Chronicle.

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Noir Nook: Femme Entrances

Noir Nook: Femme Entrances

Recently, during a viewing of The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) on TCM, I tweeted about Lana Turner’s first appearance in the film, stating that it was one of the best screen entrances, ever. One of my followers suggested that I conduct a poll to garner opinions on other contenders for this title, and I loved the idea! So, in this month’s Noir Nook, I’m shining the spotlight on what I believe are four of the greatest femme entrances in film noir; next month, I’ll conclude this series with a look at four more. Let me know what you think of these choices and tell me if you have others that should be considered!


Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Lana Turner as Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Lana Turner as Cora Smith in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Turner plays Cora Smith, the wife of a roadside diner owner who teams with drifter Frank Chambers (John Garfield) to murder her husband (Cecil Kellaway). Cora is many things – frustrated, sexy, ambitious, smart. And she knows how to enter a room. We first meet Cora shortly after Frank’s not-so-serendipitous arrival at the diner, as he’s waiting for his burger to finish cooking. A lipstick falls to the floor and Frank tracks its path, right to a pair of gams that literally take his breath away. Along with the audience, Frank’s gaze travels upward to see Cora, dressed all in white, in shorts, top, and turban, as she holds out her hand for the lipstick Frank has retrieved. Having recovered from his initial shock, Frank cheekily makes Cora come to him for the item, and she does, sauntering easily across the floor before returning to the doorway, applying the lipstick, flashing Frank a look of disdain, and retreating back into her house. Of all the femme entrances on my list, Cora’s is my absolute favorite.


Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944)

Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944)
Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944)

In my favorite noir, Barbara Stanwyck is the deadly and duplicitous Phyllis Dietrichson, who teams with insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) to murder her husband (Tom Powers). If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because the source materials for both The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity were novels by James M. Cain, who based both stories on a real-life 1920s murder case. Phyllis’s entrance comes when Walter stops by her house in an effort to get an auto insurance renewal from Mr. Dietrichson. The mister isn’t at home, but Phyllis is, which Walter finds out when she appears at the top of a staircase. She’s clad only in a towel – she was sunbathing, you see – and although she initially hangs back modestly in the shadows, she steps forward tentatively when Walter introduces himself, and with a little more interest when he explains that he’s from an insurance company. “Is there something I can do?” she asks. Her honey-silk voice combined with her bare shoulders and legs cause Walter to stutter and stammer and make a few bad jokes, but Phyllis is completely in control. We can practically see the wheels turning as she instructs her maid to show Walter into the living room while she puts on some clothes. When we see her again, she’s descending the staircase and we’re given a close-up of Phyllis’s high heels and her “honey of an anklet” – and we get an idea of why Walter is unable (or unwilling) to resist her.


Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1947)

Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1947)
Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1947)

Out of the Past, which many consider to be the quintessential noir, stars Robert Mitchum as private dick Jeff Markham, Kirk Douglas as Whit Sterling, a ruthless but refined gangster, and Jane Greer as Kathie Moffat, Whit’s lover, who absconds after shooting him and – allegedly – stealing $40,000. Whit hires Jeff to find Kathie, but the private dick gets more than he bargained for when he finds her. Our first glimpse of Kathie comes in Mexico, where Jeff has followed her trail, and where he waits patiently, day after day, in a dimly lit local café. “And then I saw her,“ Jeff’s voiceover recalls, “coming out of the sun, and I knew why Whit didn’t care about that forty grand.” What we – and Jeff – see is Kathie entering the café, dressed all in white, from her wide-brimmed hat to her heeled shoes, a flowy, fitted dress, and clutch purse, looking for all the world like some sort of sophisticated, untouchable angel. She sits wordlessly at a table near Jeff and lights a cigarette. And Jeff is drawn to her like a moth to a flame.


Joan Bennett in The Woman in the Window (1944)

Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson in The Woman in the Window (1944)
Joan Bennett and Edward G. Robinson in The Woman in the Window (1944)

Edward G. Robinson stars as Professor Richard Wanley who, at the film’s start, is bidding a summer’s farewell to his wife and children (one of whom is played by Bobby Blake, later best known as TV’s Baretta). Later, on his way to meet friends at his club, Wanley is mesmerized by the portrait of a beautiful dark-haired woman in a storefront window. The woman in the painting is Alice Reed (Joan Bennett), and she makes her entrance after Wanley leaves the club and is once again drawn to the painting. As he stands gazing at it, he suddenly sees another woman’s image in the reflection of the storefront window and realizes that it is the painting’s subject, seemingly come to life. He turns to see that standing near him is Alice Reed, who reveals that she posed for the painting and admits that she visits the storefront to watch people’s faces as they look at the painting. Moments later, just before they stroll off together, she links arms with Wanley and informs him: “I’m not married, I have no designs on you, and one drink is all I care for.” Unfortunately for Wanley, this is noir, and his future with Alice doesn’t end with one drink.


Visit the Noir Nook next month for my next four femme entrances!

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Karen’s Noir Nook articles here.

Karen Burroughs Hannsberry is the author of the Shadows and Satin blog, which focuses on movies and performers from the film noir and pre-Code eras, and the editor-in-chief of The Dark Pages, a bimonthly newsletter devoted to all things film noir. Karen is also the author of two books on film noir – Femme Noir: The Bad Girls of Film and Bad Boys: The Actors of Film Noir. You can follow Karen on Twitter at @TheDarkPages.
If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:

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Silver Screen Standards: Celebrating Screwball

Silver Screen Standards: Celebrating Screwball

The world can be a sad, scary place much of the time, and when I feel overwhelmed by bad news there are certain kinds of classic movies that ease my anxiety and remind me to embrace joy where I find it. The screwball comedy is one of my favorite tonics for dark days, and for good reason. Forged in the misery of the Great Depression, screwball celebrates laughter in the midst of chaos and scrappy survivors who persevere no matter how absurdly terrible their lives become. Modern comedy can be cruel; so often it laughs at characters instead of laughing with them, but screwball makes us fall in love with its wacky protagonists even as they fall in love with each other. Screwball is special for many reasons, but some of its best elements are its lively heroines, its absurd situations, and its ultimate emphasis on the joy of life.

The screwball comedy genre emerged just as the Hays Code cracked down on the more explicit sex comedies of the early 1930s, forcing filmmakers to get creative in their depictions of sexual tension and desire. The physical comedy and wacky chaos convey passion the same way that dance expresses it in musicals, and audiences still get the idea. Certain directors leaned into the comedic opportunities of the genre, including Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges, Mitchell Leisen, and George Cukor, among others, with Sturges making a rapid-fire series of screwball comedies in the early 1940s.

Screwball stars are some of classic Hollywood’s most beloved icons: Claudette Colbert, Cary Grant, Barbara Stanwyck, Joel McCrea, Katharine Hepburn, and Carole Lombard, just to name a few. The films themselves are delightfully madcap but also quite willing to tackle the most serious issues of their day, from the Forgotten Man of the Great Depression and unplanned pregnancy to divorce and wartime housing shortages.

The Lady Eve (1941) Henry Fonda Barbara Stanwyck
As Jean, Barbara Stanwyck keeps Henry Fonda’s Hopsy perpetually bewitched, bothered, and bewildered in The Lady Eve (1941).

With leading men like William Powell, Clark Gable, Grant, and McCrea, the heroes of screwball are no slouches, but screwball men are often serious fellows who need their lives thoroughly shaken up, and screwball heroines are there to get the job done. The first thing Barbara Stanwyck does when she sees Henry Fonda in The Lady Eve (1941) is drop an apple on his head, and from there she literally trips him up at every turn. The screwball heroine might be a mobster’s moll, a smart career gal, or a pampered heiress, but she always brings needed renewal through chaos and upheaval. She breaks rules, ignores conventions, makes demands, takes chances, and never relents until the inevitable happy ending arrives. Sometimes she learns a lesson or two along the way, as Colbert’s and Hepburn’s spoiled heiresses do in It Happened One Night (1934) and The Philadelphia Story (1940), but she’s just as likely to be as unteachable as Lombard’s and Hepburn’s scatterbrained socialites in My Man Godfrey (1936) and Bringing Up Baby (1938). Screwball heroines are forces of nature; it’s not necessarily their job to change because they already embody the fullest versions of themselves. The heroes, however, are often stuck, repressed, frustrated men who need a beautiful wrecking ball to break them out of their unsatisfying status quo.

It Happened One Night (1934) Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert
Down and out on the road, Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert resort to stealing carrots, sleeping in haybales, and hitching rides in It Happened One Night (1934).

As the wrecking ball image suggests, the action of screwball comedy can be extreme, which makes it as unpredictable as the tricky baseball pitch for which it’s named. Sure, we expect a happy ending, but all kinds of crazy things can happen along the way. Our protagonists might find themselves in jail, kidnapped by the mob, robbed, attacked by leopards, in the newspaper headlines, or penniless in the rain in Paris in nothing but an evening gown, which happens to Claudette Colbert at the beginning of Midnight (1939).

Bringing Up Baby (1938) Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant
Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant encounter not one but two leopards during their misadventures in Bringing Up Baby (1938).

Real life isn’t usually quite as absurd as a screwball plot, but we recognize the truth in not knowing what could happen next. Sometimes we’re on top, but more often we’re struggling to get by, and the reversals of fortune in screwball make us laugh because they’re so ridiculous and also because we sympathize. Even if Cary Grant has never accidentally torn the back of your dress off in public, you’ve experienced embarrassment akin to what Hepburn’s heroine feels in that scene in Bringing Up Baby. Sometimes the misadventures take a dark turn, as they do for Joel McCrea in Sullivan’s Travels (1941), reminding us of real adversity and, hopefully, making our troubles look less dire in comparison. The ups and downs show our protagonists at their best, as beautifully dressed as Stanwyck and Fonda on the cruise ship in The Lady Eve, and at their worst, as bedraggled as Gable and Colbert trying to hitch a ride in It Happened One Night. One of my favorite things about screwball is the way it liberates its actresses from having to be glamorous all the time by putting them into hilarious but relatable situations, whether that’s Jean Arthur with pigtails and a face full of cold cream in The More the Merrier (1943) or Veronica Lake dressed as a penniless boy in Sullivan’s Travels.

Sullivan's Travels (1941) Joel McCrea
Joel McCrea finds joy in the unlikeliest place, while in prison, in Sullivan’s Travels (1941).

However wild the turns of fortune may be, screwball comedies end happily because the joy of life is one of the genre’s most important themes. Yes, it’s scary and confusing and sometimes terrible to be alive, but it’s also wonderful and sweet and worth it to keep trying. You never know what lucky break or unexpected happiness might be just around the corner. In screwball, absurd good luck is just as possible as absurd bad luck, as long as the protagonists don’t stop trying.  You could even find out that your unrequited crush has a conveniently single identical twin, as Rudy Vallée and Mary Astor discover in The Palm Beach Story (1942). The unlikely couples who end these movies in love or at the altar might seem destined for divorce down the road, but that’s a problem for another story – or a perfect starting point for The Awful Truth (1937), The Philadelphia Story, and The Palm Beach Story.

The More the Merrier (1943) Jean Arthur, Charles Coburn and Joel McCrea
Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea aren’t glamorous in their bathrobes, but they are very relatable in The More the Merrier (1943).

Life is change and chaos and uncertainty, but screwball reminds us to roll with the punches and even laugh at our own misfortunes while we hang on for better times. It’s no wonder Depression and WWII Era audiences responded to these movies, and it’s a shame we don’t see more similar comedy being made today, when most of us could really use a morale boost. Luckily, we do have these delightful classics to revisit and enjoy whenever we feel overwhelmed by the weight of our modern world.

In addition to the films already mentioned, check out classics like Twentieth Century (1934), Libeled Lady (1936), Nothing Sacred (1937), Holiday (1938), His Girl Friday (1940), Ball of Fire (1941), and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1944). For more musical variations on the screwball theme, try Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers pairings like The Gay Divorcee (1934) and Carefree (1938).

— Jennifer Garlen for Classic Movie Hub

Jennifer Garlen pens our monthly Silver Screen Standards column. You can read all of Jennifer’s Silver Screen Standards articles here.

Jennifer is a former college professor with a PhD in English Literature and a lifelong obsession with film. She writes about classic movies at her blog, Virtual Virago, and presents classic film programs for lifetime learning groups and retirement communities. She’s the author of Beyond Casablanca: 100 Classic Movies Worth Watching and its sequel, Beyond Casablanca II: 101 Classic Movies Worth Watching, and she is also the co-editor of two books about the works of Jim Henson.

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