Silents are Golden: Silent Superstars – The Sparkling Marion Davies

Silents are Golden: Silent Superstars – The Sparkling Marion Davies

One of the most well-known actresses of the 1920s screen, Marion Davies is one of the few silent stars whose personal life was not only inseperable from her career, but in more recent decades tended to overshadow it. But nowadays, as more and more of her films are being restored and made available, it’s become clear that Davies was first and foremost a sparkling talent, and certainly one of our most important pioneering comediennes. 

Marion Davies Headshot
Marion Davies

The youngest of five children, most of whom would appear onstage in one way or another, Marion Cecilia Douras was born on January 3rd, 1897 in Brooklyn. Thanks to a stutter that would persist throughout her life, she was in and out of public schools and eventually educated at a convent in Hastings, New York. She and her sisters (her one brother Charles drowned when she was a baby) were encouraged to take ballet and tap-dancing lessons by their mother Rose, who believed careers on the stage would put them in proximity with wealthy suitors. Her stage name was settled early on when her whole family adopted the name “Davies” after seeing it on an advertisement, believing it less “foreign-sounding” than “Douras.”

Although very bright, Davies was bored by school and decided to drop out and pursue the more exciting life of a showgirl. She became part of a chorus line in the 1914 musical Chin-Chin and soon made it to Broadway revues. Her stage work was supplemented by modelling for illustrators like Howard Chandler Christy, known for his World War I posters and picturesque “Christy Girls.” In 1916 the nineteen-year-old Davies became part of the famed Ziegfeld Follies, where she mainly did dancing routines due to her stutter.

Marion Davies Flapper style
Davies’ in 1920’s flapper style

The beautiful blonde with the winning smile was soon attracting “stage door Johnnies,” but the most persistent turned out to be William Randolph Hearst, the powerful newspaper tycoon. She recalled him attending numerous Follies shows, always sitting in the front row, and sending gifts of chocolates and trinkets. Hearst, who was in his fifties, was already married and he and his wife Millicent had five sons. Nevertheless, he continued to pursue Davies and she soon became his official mistress.

Just prior to the relationship with Hearst, Davies had written and starred in the modest film Runaway Romany (1917), directed by her brother-in-law. By now she was making a name for herself as a performer and wanted to keep pursuing films. In 1918 Hearst decided to helm her screen career, forming the Cosmopolitan Production Company and giving her all the big budgets and rampant publicity she could possibly need. While it seems certain that Davies would’ve been successful in films on her own, having both talent and show business connections, Hearst’s backing was definitely a huge bonus.

Marion Davies Cecilia of the Pink Roses (1918)
A pretty ad for Cecilia of the Pink Roses (1918).

The first film under the new arrangement was Cecilia of the Pink Roses (1918), where Davies played a spunky Irish girl from a poor family. While it’s often assumed that Hearst insisted on putting Davies in costume pictures, most of her films were the kind of dramas and light comedies that were “in” at the time. Interestingly, The Belle of New York (1919) had Davies playing a young woman who joins the Follies, and The Cinema Murder (1919) focused on a love triangle between an actress, her young lover, and a Wall Street tycoon hoping to make her his mistress–both plots surprisingly close to home. All in all, she averaged two to four pictures per year and her star rose steadily.

Marion Davies Enchantment (1921)
Publicity still for Enchantment (1921).

By the early twenties Davies was playing more flapper-esque characters in films like the big hit Enchantment (1921). The following year Hearst would pour $1.5 million into When Knighthood Was In Flower (1922), making it the most expensive film made at the time. It was one of Davies’ genuine costume pictures, some of the others being Little Old New York (1923) and Janice Meredith (1924). But Davies was starting to prefer comedy, having a knack for timing and funny impersonations. Her turning point was probably Beverly of Graustark (1926), where she plays a student who impersonates her cousin Prince Oscar in order to protect the threatened throne of Graustark. She clearly has fun with the role, and it paved the way for her beloved comedies The Patsy (1928) and Show People (1928).

Marion Davies, William Haines, Charlie Chaplin in Show People (1928)
Chaplin makes a cameo besides Davies and William Haines in Show People (1928).

While not making pictures Davies spent much time with Hearst and lived openly with him–Millicent wouldn’t consent to a divorce. At the time Hearst owned multiple expensive residences, including a 14-room beach house in Santa Monica and even a Welsh castle. But these were modest in comparison to his magnum opus, the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Designed by Julia Morgan under Hearst’s close supervision, it was an opulent 115-room mansion set amidst acres of gardens, pools and guest houses. For 30 years Hearst and Davies would be host to countless celebrities, from movie stars to royalty, often dozens at a time.

William Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies
Hearst and Davies in their castle.

Offscreen, despite her undeniable privileges Davies turned out to be a rarity: a warm, humble and extremely generous woman much-loved by her Hollywood peers. She contributed a great deal to charity and also established the Marion Davies Children’s Clinic. Throughout the ‘30s she devoted herself more and more to both Hearst and her charitable efforts, although happily she had discovered her stutter didn’t bother her while making talkies. Her last film would be Ever Since Eve (1937), released the year she turned forty.

Marion Davies 1930s
Davies in the early 1930s.

Powerful as Hearst had been, his business started declining in the ‘30s and Davies eventually started assisting him out of her own pocket. In the ‘40s his health also declined and he and Davies left San Simeon for Beverly Hills. She was at his side when he passed away in 1951, although for his family’s sake she tactfully didn’t go to the funeral.

While she eventually married a man named Horace Brown it wasn’t a happy union and they soon separated. Davies continued to focus on charity work, especially on funding the prevention of childhood diseases. Her long history with alcoholism contributed to her declining health in the late ‘50s and in 1961 she passed away from jaw cancer. Numerous stars attended her funeral and she was laid to rest in the famed Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Marion Davies young
Silent pictures were right up my alley.
– Marion Davies

For a long time Marion Davies has been strongly associated with Orson WellesCitizen Kane (1941), where she was assumed to be the inspiration for the untalented singer Susan Alexander. This cast a shadow on her legacy which Welles himself tried to counter, stating “she was the precious treasure of [Hearst’s] heart for more than 30 years.” Happily, that shadow has been lifting ever since Davies’ films have been made available. Steadily, and not too slowly, she’s regaining her rightful stature as a bright star and an influential comedienne of the 1920s.

–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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Five Fun Facts: A Star is Born (1937)

Five Fun Facts: A Star is Born (1937)

a star is born janet gaynor

1) Pick a number, four or five…

So, how many versions of this movie are there, really? Well, most classic film fans would say a definite ‘four,’ end of story — which would be the 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, the 1954 version starring Judy Garland and James Mason, the 1976 re-make starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, and the latest version starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in 2018. But, did you know that 1932’s What Price Hollywood? had a very similar storyline, aka the rise of an up-and-coming star and the fall of her alcoholic mentor, and that the plots were so similar that RKO almost filed a plagiarism lawsuit?

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2) Whose on first?

Janet Gaynor and Fredric March were each nominated for an Academy Awards for this film (Best Actress and Best Actor) but did not win. However, did you know that Janet Gaynor won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Actress (in 1929, for her performances in 7th Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise), and Fredric March was the first actor to ever win an Academy Award for a horror film (in 1931, for his performance in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)?

And, although it didn’t win, this 1937 version of the film was the first all-color film to be nominated for Best Picture.

janet gaynor oscar
Janet Gaynor and her Best Actress Oscar

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3) Something borrowed

The Oscar that Janet Gaynor’s character receives in the film is her own Best Actress Oscar, which, as noted above, she won in 1929.

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4) And the Grand Total is…

All told, the four versions of A Star is Born earned 25 Academy Award nominations, with three wins (1937 for Best Original Story, 1976 for Best Original Song “Evergreen” and 2018 for Best Original Song “Shallow”). The 1937 film also won an Honorary Award for W. Howard Greene for the color photography (not counted in the 25 because it wasn’t a competitive award).

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5) You are my inspiration [insert name here]…

So, what real-life movie star couple is this movie based on? Well, I don’t know if we can really say for sure, but some believe that the 1937 version drew its inspiration from the marriage of Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay.

barbara stanwyck and frank fay
Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Fay

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Well, those were my five facts. Would love to hear about any that you’d like to share 🙂

AND – as part of our partnership with Best Classics Ever – you can stream His Girl Friday for free this month on the Classic Movie Hub Channel. Just click here, join for free (no obligation), scroll down and click on the CMH Channel button — and watch for free. Lots of other free movies to watch every month as well, so feel free to explore.

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Stream for free this month on Best Classics Ever.

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

You can read more Five Fun Facts blog posts here.

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Monsters and Matinees: ‘Soylent Green’ came too close to predicting life in 2022

‘Soylent Green’

The year is 2022.

Smokestacks spew thick, dark fumes. Fires burn out of control. People wear masks to shield themselves from dangers in the air. Garbage overflows. Hunger and unemployment are rampant.

We understand all of that from the impressive two-minute opening montage for Soylent Green.

Though the film is best known for having one of the most memorable lines in movie history – which we won’t spoil here for those who don’t know it – Soylent Green is worth watching today to examine how close the 1973 film came to portraying our real world in 2022.

Soylent Green poster

It’s chilling how many of the film’s predictions came true: Ecological disasters, dying oceanic ecosystems, overpopulation, the power of the 1 percent, euthanasia, misogyny and its version of plant-based “Impossible” food.

Watching director Richard Fleischer’s sci-fi film today, though, we realize Soylent Green is not really science-fiction anymore.

Based very loosely on “Make Room! Make Room!,” Harry Harrison’s 1966 novel that did not include that shocking secret that was created for the film, Soylent Green is a dour, dystopian movie set in a colorless world that is part police drama, part murder mystery and part ecological disaster film.

Soylent Green Charlton Heston
Charlton Heston plays a police detective in 2022 whose murder investigation leads him into danger in Soylent Green.

It is surprisingly violent and misogynist and not pleasant to watch. No one hesitates to hit women who live in a world where the best they can hope for is to become “furniture” – the term given to those who “come” with apartments for super-rich men.

People are literally treated like garbage. The dead are taken by sanitation crews to waste disposal plants without any ceremony or mourning time. If hungry crowds get unruly, the “scoops” – garbage dump trucks that scoop people from the street – are called in.

Soylent Green garbage truck
Modified garbage trucks called “scoops” dispose of unruly people in Soylent Green.

“Soulless” is the way actress Leigh Taylor-Young described the film while introducing it at the 2022 Turner Classic Movie Film Festival.

“You see characters trying to hold on to their humanity to dire results,” she said, adding the film is about what happens when “power and greed have overtaken the world.”

(Read more from Leigh Taylor-Young at the end of this story.)

* * * *

The film plot

In the year 2022, the world is suffering greatly from the greenhouse effect and overpopulation. (In New York City, the population is 40 million; compare that to the 8.4 million living there today.) Wildfires are raging. Oceans are dying, people are starving. Unemployment affects half the population causing most people to live in stairwells or on the streets; the fortunate get to share a tiny indoor living space.

NYPD Detective Frank Thorn (Charlton Heston) is lucky in that he shares what can barely be considered a room with his older friend Sol Roth (Edward G. Robinson) who is a “police book” – a researcher/academic who helps Thorn with his investigations.

Only the wealthy live in apartments that look like exquisite penthouses but are built with high security features.

William R. Simonson (played by Joseph Cotten in a much too short appearance) is a kindly and wealthy gentleman who lives with a young woman named Shirl (Taylor-Young). We can sense their mutual affection and wonder if they are father and daughter. No. Shirl is the “furniture” that comes with the apartment, but she is treated well by Simonson.

When Simonson is brutally murdered very early in the film (that’s Stephen Young as the homeless activist/killer who pops up a few other times), the case is given to Thorn. His initial investigation in Simonson’s apartment is not what the viewer would expect. He becomes more interested in the trappings of the wealthy that we all take for granted today: air conditioning, running water in the bathroom, the smell of a bar of soap, a taste of bourbon that brings out the reaction of a kid who has never had a drink before. (Watch Thorn’s face when he learns there is hot water in the shower.)

Soylent Green Charlton Heston soap and water
Charlton Heston revels in the smell of soap, running water and brandy (background, right) that he finds in the apartment of a wealthy murder victim in Soylent Green.

Clearly not the most ethical guy around, Thorn stuffs a pillowcase with soap, pencils and papers for Sol, drink and food – two apples, a single stalk of limp celery and a piece of beef that brings Sol to tears. “How did we come to this?” Sol cries as he prepares a feast out of the meager offerings.

They each savor a leaf of lettuce and an apple. Sol introduces Thorn to beef stew. The joyful look on their faces speaks volumes.

“I haven’t eaten like this in years,” Sol says.

“I’ve never eaten like this,” Thorn says.

Soylent Green Charton Heston and Edward G Robinson
Their faces say it all in this scene where Edward G. Robinson makes Charlton Heston beef stew – food he has never seen before – in Soylent Green.

There is a lovely tenderness between the two men, who are more like father and son than friends or co-workers.

The scene helps underscore the food problem that causes people to wait in the equivalent of a bread line for cracker-like pieces of Soylent Red and Soylent Yellow – “high-energy vegetable concentrate.” The new hope to combat world hunger is Soylent Green, a “miracle food of high-energy plankton … gathered from the oceans of the world.” It’s so popular and in such short supply that you can only get it on Tuesdays – Soylent Green Day.

* * * *

Discovering the truth

Though it looks like Simonson was killed in a burglary gone wrong, Thorn doesn’t buy it. He thinks it was an assassination, perhaps with the help of Simonson’s bodyguard Fielding (Chuck Connors) who conveniently got Shirl out of the apartment. Thorn’s suspicions are raised at Fielding’s apartment, where he sees that he “seems to do pretty well for himself,” especially after noticing a spoon with $150-a-jar strawberry jelly on it. (The man notices the details.)

Soylent Green Chuck Connors and Leigh Taylor-Young
Chuck Connors plays a bodyguard who suspiciously lives beyond his means in Soylent Green. He’s pictured with Leigh Taylor-Young.

In a biographical survey, Sol learns that Simonson had connections to Soylent – he became a board member after Soylent bought out his company – and to shifty Governor Santini (played by Whit Bissell).

“Your dead one was a very important man,” Sol tells Thorn. “Soylent controls the food supply for half the world.”

As they put the pieces together, powerful people – including the governor – get nervous. Thorn is taken off the case and sent in as one of the riot police (check out their silly silver football helmets). Unfortunately, it’s the same day they run out of Soylent Green and hungry people – dressed in drab, colorless clothing that makes them look like they are in a war camp – lose it. The riot police deal with them by heartlessly calling for the “scoops.”

Soylent Green Oceanograph Survey Report
The book that holds the key to long-kept secrets in Soylent Green.

Meanwhile, Sol has read the books Thorn took from Simonson’s apartment, “Soylent Oceanographic Survey Report, 2015-2019.” He Consults with other “Books” at “The Supreme Exchange” where he confirms a secret so horrible that it is only whispered. The Exchange asks him to find proof of this grotesque news so they can help put an end to it.

But what Sol has learned is so unimaginable that he leaves Thorn a note after deciding it’s time to “go home,” a euphemism for ending his life at a government-assisted suicide clinic. There, Sol’s life will end in a peaceful room with his favorite colors and music as he watches serene images of nature, animals and oceans. Thorn arrives just in time to say goodbye and is drawn to tears witnessing the images of the colorful, beautiful world that once was Earth.

With his last words, Sol whispers the terrible secret to Thorn who races off to expose the truth leading to the climax at the Soylent plant. There, Thorn sees the truth for himself and screams out the hideous secret that became a famous phrase now emblazoned on T-shirts, posters and internet memes as part of the film’s legacy.

* * * *

The real Soylent

Soylent Green real soylent plant-based food product
The plant-based Soylent food product you can buy today.

Yes, there is a real Soylent plant-based food product that you can get online and at such large retailers as Walmart and Target.

It was created by four software engineers working in Silicon Valley around 2013 who were living off frozen meals and ramen noodles at the time.

They decided that they wanted to engineer better food for themselves. “Food can be simplified for the better,” the soylent.com website states.

The name did come from the original novel and the website has a funny video that’s an homage to the movie’s final scene as an animated plant gives an alternate definition to Soylent as it is in the movie.

* * * *

More from Leigh Taylor-Young

Before the screening of Soylent Green at the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival in April 2022, actress Leigh Taylor-Young spoke to fans about making the movie along with filmmaker and illustrator William Joyce.

“It’s incredible to represent the film today,” said Taylor-Young, an environmentalist, who once served as special advisor in Arts & Media for the United Nations Environment Programme which is tasked with coordinating responses to environmental issues within the United Nations system.

Leigh Taylor-Young at TCM Film Festival screening of Soylent Green
Leigh Taylor-Young shared her thoughts about making Soylent Green during a talk with William Joyce at the 2022 TCM Classic Film Festival. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for TCM)

She was hesitant about making the film, she said, but is “very, very glad I made it primarily for the people I met. … Sometimes for me, the human experience has far surpassed what I’m doing as an actor.”

That would include working on Soylent Green with actors Charlton Heston and Edward G. Robinson.

Heston was a serious person, she said, but also “lovely and very respectful” especially during their more intimate scenes. The palpable tenderness between the two characters comes from what they have each gone through, she added.

“What he’s up against, he doesn’t have (tenderness); he’s got to survive and she is surviving as well,” Taylor-Young said.

Soylent Green was the 101st film for Edward G. Robinson and it was also his last. Unknown to the cast and crew, Robinson was dying of cancer. That’s especially poignant considering Robinson so beautifully plays his final scene where his character, Sol, ends his life in a government euthanasia facility.

She spoke of that scene and her instant connection with the actor. “He was a beautiful being,” she said. His scene where he goes to a dying center is “one of the most amazing scenes of living and dying that anyone has ever shown. It is beautiful.”

 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: Spring Trivia – Joan Bennett, Robert Mitchum, Ann Blyth, Robert Ryan, Jean Hagen, and Richard Widmark

Spring Trivia – Joan Bennett, Robert Mitchum, Ann Blyth, Robert Ryan, Jean Hagen, and Richard Widmark

There aren’t many things I love in life more than classic movie trivia. In celebration of spring, this month’s Noir Nook is serving up some trivial tidbits on some of my favorite noir actors and actresses and some of their iconic noir films. Enjoy!

Joan Bennett

Spring Trivia Joan Bennett

Joan Bennett’s first noir was The Woman in the Window (1945), starring Edward G. Robinson and Dan Duryea, and directed by Fritz Lang. The film was a critical and box-office success, and afterward, Bennett, her husband, producer Walter Wanger, and Lang formed an independent film company, called Diana Productions after Bennett’s oldest daughter. The first film produced under the Diana Productions banner was Bennett’s second film noir, Scarlet Street (1945). Like The Woman in the Window, this film also starred Robinson and Duryea, and was helmed by Lang.

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Robert Mitchum

Spring Trivia Robert Mitchum

In 1947, Robert Mitchum appeared in two films noirs – the first of these was The Locket, where he played an artist who is tormented by an unspeakable crime committed by the woman he loved. The actor earned wildly contrasting notices from critics. The reviewer for the Los Angeles Daily News was impressed by his performance, writing that he “makes the cynical, sarcastic painter a character of some force.” The typically acerbic Bosley Crowther disagreed in The New York Times, however, insisting that Mitchum gave a “completely monotonous and inexpressive performance. There is not the slightest hint about this rigid face of the temperament of an artist, even granting that the fellow he is representing is a moody sort.”

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Ann Blyth

Spring Trivia Ann Blyth

For her role as the venomous Veda in Mildred Pierce (1945), Ann Blyth was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress, making her, at age 17, the youngest actress up to that time to be honored. Blyth was expected to win, but the Oscar was awarded instead to Anne Revere for her performance as Elizabeth Taylor’s mother in National Velvet. Years later, Revere herself said that she was surprised to have won the Academy Award over Blyth: “My winning was such an upset, some of the papers the next day were still dazed and wrote things like: ‘Anne Revere, who played the troublesome teenager in Mildred Pierce, won the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award last night.’”

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Robert Ryan

Spring Trivia Robert Ryan

Robert Ryan starred in 1949 in one of noir’s best offerings, The Set-Up, where he played an aging boxer who was, according to one description, “one punch away from being punch-drunk.” Ryan didn’t have to do much acting during the boxing sequences. When he was eight years old, his father arranged for him to take boxing lessons, and years later, at Dartmouth College, he became the first freshman to win the college’s heavyweight boxing championship, a title he held throughout his four years of intercollegiate competition.

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Jean Hagen

Spring Trivia Jean Hagen

Jean Hagen is perhaps best remembered for two roles she played during her career: Doll Conovan in The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). In the former, she was outstanding as the would-be girlfriend of a low-level hood, infusing her portrayal with steely determination, sensitivity, and pathos. After the film’s release, director John Huston said that he cast Hagen in the role because “she has a wistful, down-to-earth quality rare on the screen. A born actress.” However, most critics failed to take notice of Hagen’s first-rate performance, overlooking her in favor of the flashier role played by Marilyn Monroe. In later years, Hagen would quip, “There were only two girl roles, and I obviously wasn’t Marilyn Monroe.”

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Richard Widmark

Spring Trivia Richard Widmark

In his big screen debut, Richard Widmark was featured in Kiss of Death, which starred Victor Mature and Coleen Gray. Widmark played the supporting role of Tommy Udo, a psychopath with a menacing, high-pitched giggle. For his notable performance, Widmark won the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor (he lost to Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street). “I thought, ‘Geez, this is easy.’” Widmark later said of the numerous accolades he received for his first film. “I haven’t come close since.”

Stay tuned to the Noir Nook for more trivia in future months!

– 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: The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

Silver Screen Standards: The Most Dangerous Game (1932)

The Most Dangerous Game (1932) has a lot in common with King Kong (1933): the same sets, the same producers, one of the same directors, and some of the same cast, but it’s a tighter, low-budget production without the supersized special effects. The great ape movie is the more famous of the two, but this tense jungle thriller is also a true classic; it’s short, lurid, and energetic, a wild ride through the jungle that takes just over an hour to enjoy. The film and its source material, a 1924 short story of the same title by Richard Connell, have inspired quite a few other “hunting people for sport” movies, including an upcoming 2022 adaptation, but it’s hard to beat this Pre-Code version from directors Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack, especially with stars like Joel McCrea and Fay Wray as the elusive prey.

Dangerous Game Zaroff
Leslie Banks plays the sinister Russian Count Zaroff with fierce intensity.

The action begins when big game hunter Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea) barely survives the wreck of a yacht on which he has been traveling with a group of well-heeled gentlemen; everyone else goes down with the ship or gets eaten by sharks. Bob makes it to the shore of a nearby island and there becomes a guest of the elegant but intense Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks), a fellow big game hunter who rejoices at Bob’s arrival. Zaroff has two other guests, the perpetually inebriated Martin Trowbridge (Robert Armstrong) and his sister, Eve (Fay Wray), the survivors of a previous shipwreck. Eve tries to warn Bob that their host is not what he seems, and Bob soon learns that Zaroff has given up hunting animals and now lures ships to wreck near his island so that he can hunt human beings instead. Bob and Eve are forced to run while Zaroff pursues them around the island with the help of his brutal lackeys (Noble Johnson and Steve Clemente) and bloodthirsty dogs, but this time Zaroff has chosen a victim who knows how to fight back.

Dangerous Game Fay Wray
Eve is already suspicious of the Count before Bob’s arrival, even though her brother thinks their host is a grand sort of fellow.

While the story could be filmed as an action adventure or thriller, this adaptation leans into the horror and the opportunity to pack the picture with plenty of Pre-Code sex and chills. Fay Wray’s particular peril as the lone Eve in this lethal garden is obvious; the Count and his henchmen leer at her constantly, and the Count repeatedly suggests that his lust will be aroused by his next successful hunt. It’s little wonder that Eve chooses to head into the jungle with Bob rather than stay behind in the fortress, and she keeps up remarkably well considering her completely impractical attire. Of course, Eve and Bob have less attire as the hunt progresses, with Eve’s gown in tatters after a few hours running through the jungle. The Count has declared that he has no intention of killing her, as female prey are off limits to hunters, but his trophy room is gruesome enough as it is, with severed heads from his previous victims on display. The trophy room scenes were originally more extensive and grotesque, but it turned out that even Pre-Code horror had its limits, and shots of Zaroff explaining the tableaux of his preserved human trophies ended up being cut.

Dangerous Game Mccrea Banks
Horrified by the Count’s idea of sport and his gruesome trophy room, Bob refuses when the Count invites him to become a fellow hunter.

The small cast gives the leads enough opportunity to deliver great performances in spite of the short run time, with Leslie Banks absolutely riveting as Count Zaroff. Although the scarred villain has long been a problematic trope, Banks brings an unusual level of realism to the role as a result of a World War I injury that damaged one side of his face. His performance launched the English stage actor into a second career in British films, including roles in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Jamaica Inn (1939), and Henry V (1944). Joel McCrea, tall, muscular, and very American, makes a perfect foil to Banks’ lean Continental Count; his character is not naturally introspective, as we learn in the opening scene, but his narrative arc provides a crash course that disabuses him of his notion that prey enjoy the hunt just as much as the predator. Wray, while the object of all those heated stares from menacing males, still gets to play a sharp observer who brings more than screams to the story, while her King Kong costar Robert Armstrong is perfectly irritating as the drunken brother. The two actors playing Zaroff’s henchmen also deserve attention; both Noble Johnson and Steve Clemente appear in King Kong as native characters but play Russians here. In reality, Johnson was African-American and Clemente Mexican-American, and both of them had long careers that started in the silent era, often in uncredited roles. Neither has any lines in The Most Dangerous Game, but as silent film veterans they don’t need any in order to convey their characters’ dangerous natures.

Dangerous Game Joel Mccrea and Fay Wray
In the jungle, Bob and Eve lay traps for the Count and struggle to stay ahead of his hunting party.

A double feature of King Kong and The Most Dangerous Game makes for a fascinating comparison of the overlapping sets and cast, but for more Pre-Code jungle horror you might try the silent West of Zanzibar (1928), its remake Kongo (1932), or Island of Lost Souls (1932). For more movies based on the short story, check out A Game of Death (1945), starring John Loder and directed by Robert Wise, or Run for the Sun (1956), starring Richard Widmark and Jane Greer.

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— 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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Lives Behind the Legends: Greta Garbo – Social Butterfly

Lives Behind the Legends: Greta Garbo – Social Butterfly

Greta garbo smiling

Greta Garbo’s most famous quote is undoubtedly ‘I want to be alone.’ But it wasn’t Garbo who said this, it was her character in Grand Hotel who uttered those famous words. Garbo herself made a more nuanced statement: ‘I never said, “I want to be alone.” I only said, “I want to be left alone.” There is all the difference..’ Because despite her hermit-like image, she was no recluse. Away from the public eye, Garbo had a secretive but lively social life. The elusive star combined two opposite sides of the spectrum into one mysterious personality: a homebody who loved routine and a social butterfly about town.

Though she is seen as an enigma by many, plenty can be learned about Garbo’s personality throughout her life. As a child in Sweden, Garbo’s childhood was spent in bleak poverty. She later remembered being ‘sad’ as a child. Though she was shy and already had a penchant for spending time alone, she was never without friends. Garbo had a lively imagination and had already decided that she wanted to be an actress. She would stage little shows telling her friends and even her two older siblings exactly how to perform. She later admitted that even though she was the youngest sibling, she had always felt and behaved as the eldest. So it comes as no surprise that her childhood friends would later describe her as ‘bossy’. But she was also said to be ‘loads of fun’ and ‘always ready for mischief’. Garbo, as she referred to be called in her adult life, would stay in touch with some of them even as she was heading towards old age. But one pattern had already emerged: she had no problem cutting friends off. As a 14-year old she wrote to a friend, that she did not like her trying to hang out with Garbo’s other girlfriends. Ending the letter with: ‘If this letter offends you, you don’t need to write to me again.’ Her friendships were always on her terms.

After her father died when she was 14, Garbo had to work to help support her family. She became a soap girl at a barbershop. As always, she was shy at first. But when comfortable, she was fun, with a sharp sense of humor. Some customers enjoyed her company so much, they asked for her specifically. Once she was accepted into the Royal Dramatic Training Academy, she was finally surrounded by like-minded people. She could talk for hours about acting and have fun with a new group of friends. Still, she was keenly aware that she was one of the poorest students, struggling to make ends meet. Maybe that’s why, as another student later commented, Garbo could be lost in her own world. Making everybody wonder if they truly knew her.

When director Mauritz Stiller discovered Garbo, their bond became intense. Though it reportedly remained platonic, he was the only one who could ever boss her around. She trusted his direction completely and he became her mentor.

Greta garbo and Mauritz Stiller
Greta Garbo and Mauritz Stiller

So you can imagine their joy when they were both offered a contract by American studio MGM. She was nervous about leaving her family and home behind but knew that this was an amazing opportunity.

In America, she was incredibly lonely. Garbo could not speak English yet and Stiller was occupied with impressing MGM. Meanwhile, her studio gave her the usual star treatment: her hairline and teeth were straightened, eyebrows plucked and she had to lose 33lbs. Garbo also had to pose for the required starlet photos, something she would refuse as soon as she became a star. That did not take long as her first American feature Torrent catapulted her to stardom.

She co-starred with John Gilbert in her third American film The Flesh and the Devil and the two began dating. He encouraged her to join him at social events and her world opened up more. Though he even proposed to Garbo, she later said she was only with him because she was lonely and didn’t speak English. Adding, with her usual cynical sense of humor: ‘Well, at least he was pretty.’ After Gilbert, Garbo dated but steadfastly refused to get serious with anybody. ‘”Wife” is such an ugly word,’ she later quipped.

The centre of her social life in those days was Salka Viertel. The Jewish Polish screenwriter and her husband had an unofficial salon for European artists at their home. Here, Garbo socialized with people like composer Igor Stravinsky, director Max Reinhardt and actors like Charlie Chaplin and Johnny Weissmuller.

Although her social life had progressed, she still struggled in Hollywood. In letters to her friend Mimi Pollak in Sweden she described her life as: getting up early to go to set, work 12 hours and then be too exhausted to do anything else. ‘Like a machine,’ she wrote. Her sadness, loneliness and frustration are tangible in the letters she sent during her Hollywood years. When her beloved sister Alva passed away, the studio wouldn’t allow her to go back to Sweden to attend the funeral. This no doubt added to her resentment towards Hollywood.

Fame proved to be overwhelming for Garbo and she soon refused to do interviews or answer fan mail. The studio decided to capitalize on this and promoted her as a mysterious European beauty, only adding to her popularity. She was devastated when Stiller, who never made the impression on Hollywood he had hoped, moved back to Sweden and died only a few years later. Restless, she took up long night walks with a hat pulled low over head, so as not to be recognized. Long walks would be her main form of relaxation for the rest of her life.

Garbo never liked the ‘vamp’ roles the studio cast her in. ‘I cannot see any sense in dressing up and doing nothing but tempting men.’ Though she admitted to friends that she didn’t care enough to fight for better roles either. ‘I have sold myself and have to remain here,’ she wrote in another letter to Mimi Pollak.

Greta, Mimi and Sven
Mimi Pollak, Greta Garbo and her brother Sven

Garbo was never truly happy with her work. ‘Oh, if once, if only I could see a preview and come home feeling satisfied,’ she remarked. Her frustration with Hollywood reached its apex in 1942. After the release of The Two Faced Woman, Garbo left Hollywood for good. People were shocked: she was only 35 and still at the height of her fame. Garbo later explained: ‘I was tired of Hollywood. I did not like my work. There were many days when I had to force myself to go to the studio. I really wanted to live another life.’

At the time of her retirement, World War II was in full swing and Garbo worried about her homeland. Salka Viertel and her European salon were of great comfort. She was introduced to millionaire George Schlee. Though he was married, he would be Garbo’s frequent companion until his death in 1964. He even bought a house in the south of France where she spent so much time, locals still refer to it as ‘Garbo’s house’.

In the early 1950’s, Greta made some major life decisions. She became a naturalized U.S. citizen and bought an apartment in New York. She would call this apartment home for the rest of her life. Though Sweden would remain close to her heart, her closest relatives now lived in the U.S. as well: her brother Sven, his wife and daughter had also settled down here.

There were rumors that Greta had become a recluse, which probably stems from Garbo’s intense dislike of her own fame. Therapist Eric Drimmer, who had treated her for six months, wrote that celebrity was the true cause of her anxiety. He compared her response to gathering crowds and fans asking autographs to ‘if a normal human being is suddenly faced with a dangerous wild animal.’ Although she had quit acting, her fame would never diminish. Crowds still gathered once she was recognized, some fans went ‘Garbo watching’ in the hopes of getting a picture of her on one of her walks and she had a stalker for twenty years. So Garbo did everything she could to keep a low profile. She dressed casually and avoided crowded places. Thankfully, there were little tricks she knew. For instance, she always insisted on getting the worst table near the kitchen door at a fancy restaurant, so nobody would realize a celebrity was dining there. She chose her friends carefully and demanded that they respected her need for privacy.

She was close to photographer Cecil Beaton, art dealer Sam Green and poet Mercedes de Acosta. The latter is rumored to have been so obsessed with her, Garbo ended the friendship in the 1960’s. Aside from the ‘creative crowd’, she hung out with famous jet setters like Aristotle Onassis and Cecile de Rothschild. These were the kind of people who knew how to handle a friend who had such fame and success. But if they did not adhere to the rules and boundaries she set within these friendships, she still had no problem cutting people off.

Garbo by Cecil Beaton
A picture of Garbo made by her friend Cecil Beaton

Though she didn’t work anymore, she had many hobbies. Garbo collected art and loved interior design. She had made sound investments over the years, allowing her to spend her money freely. She often browsed antique stores, went to auctions and even designed a rug for her apartment. She enjoyed playing tennis and swimming, remaining fit well into old age. Her appreciation for acting and storytelling never left: she was an avid theatre-goer. Travelling was a big part of her life as well. She developed a steady routine: in early June she would leave for Europe, accompanied by people like George Schlee or Cecile de Rothschild, returning early September. In fall/winter she took trips to California to visit old friends. In between trips she stayed in her beloved apartment in New York, which took up the entire fifth floor of the building. She enjoyed days to herself, in which she also stuck to somewhat of a routine: getting up early for yoga or meditation, eating toast for breakfast in front of the television, calling friends, shopping for fruits and vegetables, going for a long afternoon walk and eating dinner on a tray in front of the bedroom television. Here, her companion was Claire Koger, her loyal housekeeper for thirty years. Even when Claire couldn’t clean anymore because of arthritis, Garbo kept her on. Claire would remain her companion at home, until Garbo’s death.

Despite her need for alone time, her social life remained active. Still, the press would always refer to her as a reclusive classic Hollywood star. Her great-nephew Derek revealed: ‘If you look at her date books, she’s out and about, meeting people, going to dinner, going to people’s homes for the weekend. She was private, but for a recluse, she had a very active social life. I forget who said it, but somebody called her “the hermit about town”.’ In the 1960’s, Garbo’s beloved brother Sven passed away and she grew even closer to his wife and her niece Gray. Once Gray grew up, she became the most important person in Garbo’s life. The two went to Jamaica together every spring, Gray and her family visited Garbo weekly and they all spent the holidays together. Gray’s son Derek remembers Garbo teaching him and his siblings how to do cartwheels, giving them funny gifts and playing practical jokes on them. When he graduated, he moved to New York and lived five blocks away from her. He saw her frequently: ‘Family and friends would all assemble at 5 for cocktails at her apartment and then go out to dinner or a play or whatever we were doing. That was a weekly event.’ He describes her as ‘extremely funny’.

Greta having fun with friends
Garbo having fun with friends on a yacht

‘Fun’ and ‘funny’ are adjectives friends and family described her with all of her life. And yet the public perception of her is so vastly different. It is true that Garbo suffered from depressive episodes throughout her life, but as with anyone, this does not define her. In her memoirs, Mercedes de Acosta writes that Garbo ‘will always be Nordic with all its sober and introvert characteristics.’ But she rejects the notion that Garbo is morose or serious, writing : ‘she is serious when there is something to be serious about.’ Adding that Garbo could have her ‘literally rolling on the floor with her sense of comedy.’ Garbo’s great-nephew Derek, who is part of her estate, admitted that there is ‘more myth than reality’ around Garbo.

Hollywood likes to define people. Garbo was defined by words such as ‘mysterious’, ‘serious’ and ‘introverted’. But people are three-dimensional beings. Garbo was all of those things, but she could also be described as ‘funny’, ‘social’ and ‘adventurous’. It’s a testament to Garbo’s ability to keep her personal life private that people still buy into Hollywood’s definition of her. Her image as a recluse does not jive with someone who traveled extensively, had a lot of friends and acquaintances and enjoyed spending time with her family. Maybe we should retire the image of Garbo saying ‘I want to be let alone’ in Grand Hotel and replace it with an image of her teaching her grand niece and nephew cartwheels on the grass.

The sources for this article are Garbo by Robert Gottlieb, Loving Garbo by Hugo Vickers, New York Magazine (January 8, 1990), Garboforever.com, townandcountrymag.com, theguardian.com, newyorker.com, smithsonianmag.com, closerweekly.com, theparisreview.org, latimes.com, dailymail.co.uk, and greta-garbo.de/com.

…..

— Arancha van der Veen for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Arancha’s Lives Behind the Legends Articles Here.

Arancha has been fascinated with Classic Hollywood and its stars for years. Her main area of expertise is the behind-the-scenes stories, though she’s pretty sure she could beat you at movie trivia night too. Her website, Classic Hollywood Central, is about everything Classic Hollywood, from actors’ life stories and movie facts to Classic Hollywood myths. You can follow her on Twitter at @ClassicHC.

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What’s Streaming on Best Classics Ever in May 2022

What’s Streaming on Best Classics Ever in May 2022
John Wayne, Moms Love Mystery, and More!

May is a big month for movies, as our friends at Best Classics Ever are debuting three all-new collections just in time for Memorial Day, Mother’s Day, and John Wayne’s birthday.

Are you a fan of classic war films? This month’s Memorial Day Collection features classics starring James Cagney (Blood on the Sun), Ingrid Bergman (Arch of Triumph), and Van Johnson (Go for Broke!), plus the Best Classics Ever debut of The Big Lift, Three Came Home, Battle of Blood Island, The Steel Claw, Iron Angel, Hell In Normandy, and Wake Me When the War Is Over.

blood on the sun

Fans can also celebrate Mother’s Day all month long with the Moms Love Mystery collection featuring classic whodunits and noir thrillers such as The Lady Confessesstarring Mary Beth Hughes and Hugh Beaumont, and Nancy Drew… Reporter, the second Warner Bros. feature film starring Bonita Granville as the iconic sleuth.

On May 26, film fans will celebrate the birthday of the legendary John Wayne – born in 1907 in Winterset, Iowa. Best Classics Ever is paying tribute with its first Wayne collection: For the Love of The Duke, featuring eight Wayne westerns from the 1930s and 40s, plus his rare comedic appearance opposite Evalyn Knapp in 1933’s His Private Secretary.

His Private Secretary 1933

There’s more mystery on the way this month, as Classic Movie Hub celebrates with a trio of FREE Mysterious May features: A Shriek In the Night, And Then There Were None, and Cheating Blondes. Also, John Wayne’s not the only one celebrating a birthday in May. Classic Movie Hub invites you to stream more May Birthdays with James Mason and David O’Selznick (A Star is Born), Fred Astaire (Royal Wedding), Mary Astor (The Kennel Murder Case), and John Payne (Kansas City Confidential).

And if you’re so inclined you can read some fun facts about And Then There Were None in our Five Fun Facts post here

and then there were none movie poster

Here’s the list of everything happening at Best Classics Ever in May:

Memorial Day Collection

Blood on the Sun (1945)
The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954)
Arch of Triumph (1948)
Stage Door Canteen (1943)
Three Came Home (1950)
The Big Lift (1950)
Go For Broke! (1951)
Battle of Blood Island (1960)
The Steel Claw (1961)
Iron Angel (1964)
Hell In Normandy (1968)
Wake Me When the War Is Over (1969)
Black Brigade (1970)

Moms Love Mystery Collection

Nancy Drew, Reporter (1939)
Blonde Ice (1948)
Lady Gangster (1942)
The Lady Confesses (1945)
Hold That Woman! (1940)
Big Town After Dark (1947)

For the Love of The Duke: The John Wayne Collection

His Private Secretary (1933)
The Dawn Rider (1935)
West of the Divide (1934)
The Trail Beyond (1934)
The Desert Trail (1935)
Rainbow Valley (1935)
The Star Packer (1934)
The Lawless Frontier (1934)
Angel and the Badman (1947)

Classic Movie Hub Presents… Mysterious May

A Shriek In the Night (1933)
And Then There Were None (1945)
Cheating Blondes (1933)

Classic Movie Hub Presents… May Birthdays

A Star Is Born (1937)
Kansas City Confidential (1952)
The Kennel Murder Case (1933)
Royal Wedding (1951)

About Best Classics Ever:Obsessed with classic cinema? So are we! At Best Classics Ever, you can stream an epic library of beloved films and television shows, including rare gems waiting to be rediscovered, from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Even better, Best Classics Ever is a community for film fans to learn more about their favorite movies and stars. Watch exclusive interviews and insight from today’s top cinema historians, hosts, and writers FREE without a subscription at our Hollywood Canteen. Best Classics Ever is available for mobile and desktop and on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, iOS, and Android devices.

Start streaming now here.

You can read more about Best Classics Ever and our partnership here.

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

#sponsored

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Classic Movie Travels: Virginia Dale

Classic Movie Travels: Virginia Dale

Virginia Dale Headshot
Virginia Dale

Actress and dancer Virginia Dale was born Virginia Paxton in Charlotte, North Carolina, on July 1, 1917. Her parents were mechanic Joel Paxton and Lula Helms Paxton. Dale was one of six children: Jay, Frances, Frieda, Joey, and an unnamed infant. Tragically, the infant and Frieda did not survive to adulthood.

As a child, Dale attended schools in the Charlotte area. She later worked with her sister, Frances, to develop a dance act called The Paxton Sisters, leading her to appear in Broadway shows such as Him and The Final Balance. The duo was discovered by Darryl F. Zanuck at a New York nightclub and signed a contract with 20th Century Fox, where Dale took on the stage name of Virginia Dale.

Virginia Dale in Buck Benny Rides Again (1940)
Dale in Buck Benny Rides Again (1940)

Dale worked in several different musical films throughout the 1930s and 1940s, including Idiot’s Delight (1939), Buck Benny Rides Again (1940), Love Thy Neighbor (1940), and Kiss the Boys Goodbye (1941). She is best known for her performance as Lila Dixon in Holiday Inn (1942) alongside Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.

Virginia Dale and Fred Astaire in Holiday Inn (1942)
Virginia Dale and Fred Astaire in Holiday Inn (1942)

In the 1950s, she transitioned to television, appearing in shows such as The Adventure Patrol and The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. Dale appeared in Love That Brute (1950) and Danger Zone (1951) in the 1950s before culminating her on-screen work with the television miniseries Nutcracker: Money, Madness & Murder.

Dale passed away from emphysema on October 3, 1994, at 77 years old. She was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park—Hollywood Hills in Los Angeles, California.

Today, there are very few locations in connection to Dale’s life that exist, though some have been razed over time. Her 1920 home at 24 S. Cecil St., Charlotte, North Carolina, no longer stands, as is the case for her family’s 1930 home at 1103 E. 9th St., Charlotte, North Carolina.

By 1935, she was living with her sister, Frances at the Hotel Edison, which stands today at 228 W. 47th St., New York, New York.

Hotel Edison, 228 West 47th Street, New York, NY
Dale’s residence at the Hotel Edison, 228 West 47th Street, New York, NY

Her 1948 home at 3231 Hyperion Ave., Los Angeles, California, no longer remains.

Forest Lawn Memorial Park—Hollywood Hills is located at 6300 Forest Lawn Dr., Los Angeles, California.

While there aren’t many locations to visit in her memory, several of her films are commercially available to enjoy today.

–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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Western RoundUp: Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958)

Western RoundUp: Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958)

Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958) movie poster
Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958) movie poster

A frequently seen theme in the Western film genre is a disparate band of travelers banding together against a common foe, most often Indians.

One of the most famous Westerns featuring this theme is John Ford‘s Stagecoach (1939). Two lesser-known but solid examples which have been featured here in previous posts are Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957), which I wrote about here in November 2020, and Escort West (1958), which I discussed in May 2021.

This month we’ll look at another film with this storyline, Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958). Ambush at Cimarron Pass was a Regal Film distributed by 20th Century-Fox. It stars Scott Brady, Margia Dean, and Clint Eastwood, who had started his film career in small roles just three years previously.

It’s nice to note that two of the film’s cast members, Eastwood and Dean, are still with us today. Eastwood will be 92 in May 2022, and I was inspired to watch this film thanks to the recent 100th birthday of the film’s leading lady, Margia Dean. Dean was born April 7, 1922.

Another cast member, Ray Boyle, just passed away very recently, in January 2022. Boyle, who plays Johnny Willows, was 98.

Scott Brady, Frank Gerstle and Clint Eastwood in Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958)
Scott Brady, Frank Gerstle, and Clint Eastwood in Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958)

Ambush at Cimarron Pass takes place shortly after the end of the Civil War. Brady stars as Sergeant Matt Blake, who’s leading a small band of cavalry soldiers through Apache territory. Their mission is to deliver a shipment of guns to a fort a few days away, along with Corbin (Baynes Barron), who has been arrested for his plans to sell the guns to Indians.

Along the way Blake and his men are waylaid by a group of men led by former Southern officer Captain Sam Prescott (Frank Gerstle). Prescott and his men, including Keith Williams (Eastwood), are Southerners who resent the Yankee cavalry soldiers, but they all have a much bigger problem dealing with Apache Indians. The two groups agree to work together to get to the safety of the fort.

The Apaches soon show up in the area with a woman they’ve kidnapped, Teresa (Dean), and use her as a distraction to steal the group’s horses. The men find themselves having to walk to the fort along with Teresa, their only protection being the rifles that the Indians still want. It’s a true Catch-22: The rifles are a means to keep the group alive, but the guns also attract the Indians who are determined to acquire them.

A lobby card for the film

One by one several of the men in the group are picked off by the Indians or die for other reasons, ultimately leaving about half of the men and the one woman attempting to make the last, most dangerous treacherous leg of the journey to the fort.

Ambush at Cimarron Pass is admittedly a rather middling movie; it’s not particularly distinguished but it moves quickly, with a short 73-minute running time, and I enjoyed watching it. It’s always interesting to me to see what fresh spins filmmakers put on a tried-and-true story.

In addition to enjoying the familiar storyline, I particularly appreciated that the movie was filmed extensively at Iverson Movie Ranch, which I wrote about in my column last month. Much of the movie was shot outdoors in territory which has become quite familiar to me, and it was fun to watch the backgrounds closely and recognize places I’ve been.

Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958) Iverson movie ranch
The cast at Iverson Movie Ranch

Unfortunately some very noticeable soundstage interiors are intercut with the outdoor filming, but that was par for the course in the era. Happily most of the film was shot outside, which gives the film a more authentic feel.

Brady, the younger brother of actor Lawrence Tierney, was a veteran of many Westerns, including some of my personal favorites such as The Gal Who Took the West (1949), Johnny Guitar (1954), and The Storm Rider (1957). He’s solid as the commanding Sergeant Blake, a natural leader who risks himself first, whether it’s going in alone to meet with Captain Prescott’s group or handing over his canteen to Williams.

Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958) Scott Brady
Scott Brady as Sgt. Matt Blake

Without a great deal of running time to work with, Eastwood sketches a character who begins with such deep resentment of Yankees that he would have killed Blake if not interrupted. Gradually he comes to realize that Captain Prescott’s wisdom is correct: They must measure the man, not the uniform. When Sergeant Blake gives Williams his canteen and tells him to hang on to it, he looks at Blake in a new way.

Dean’s character begins as a traumatized woman who initially shows courage, managing to warn the men of the Indians’ plans to steal the horses, but sadly it comes too late. Once physically recovered from her ordeal, she quickly flips to being something of a flirt, seemingly looking for a protector among the men.

When Williams asks Teresa if she wants to go to Texas with him but doesn’t propose marriage, she instead makes a move on Blake, clearly viewing him as a more dependable man. And if his reaction to her kiss is any indication, she might have success in landing him.

Scott Brady, Margia Dean, Ambush at Cimarron Pass (1958)
Scott Brady & Margia Dean

Dean was a former Miss California who played many bit parts in Lippert Productions, while Westerns such as this one gave her some of her biggest and best roles. Some years ago Dean shared career memories with Mike Fitzgerald for the Western Clippings site. In that interview she said, “I thought, at the time, Clint would be a star, but I never dreamed he’d become the superstar he is today.

Dean didn’t care for her leading man, Brady, and said they had a feud, but rather intriguingly she shared fond memories of his brother Lawrence Tierney. Tierney was known in Hollywood as a “tough guy” who could be on the scary side offscreen, but she remembered him as “a very nice guy.”

In the supporting cast I particularly liked Gerstle as the Southern captain with a good head on his shoulders. The cast also includes Irving Bacon, William Vaughn, Ken Mayer, Keith Richards, John Damler, John Frederick, and Desmond Slattery.

The film was directed by Jodie Copelan, whose film career started with The Guilty (1947), a solid “B” suspense film starring Don Castle and Bonita Granville (as identical twins!). Copelan went back and forth from films to television, with his TV work including many episodes of The Gene Autry Show and The F.B.I.

Ambush at Cimarron Pass was written by Richard G. Taylor and John K. Butler, based on a story by Robert A. Reeds and Robert W. Woods. It was filmed in black and white Regalscope by John N. Nickolaus Jr.

I found Ambush at Cimarron Pass a relatively minor yet enjoyable Western which was worth a look. Eastwood fans will particularly want to check it out for insight into the early stages of his career.

Ambush at Cimarron Pass is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.

– 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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Film Noir Review: I, the Jury (1953)

“I never wanted the world. Just room enough for the two of us.”

Mike Hammer has a strange cinematic history, especially when compared to other classic detectives. He toiled in B-movie adaptations while P.I. ‘s like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe were given the A-list treatment. Kiss Me Deadly (1955) is the lone Hammer film that’s considered a masterpiece, but even then, the treatment of the Hammer character and the plot as a whole was radically altered from the novel.

The writer behind Hammer, Mickey Spillane, hated Kiss Me Deadly, and would later try to nullify the film’s impact by starring in his own vehicle, The Girl Hunters (1963). It was a decent translation, but in his later years, Spillane himself admitted that it was lacking in style. In truth, the only film adaptation he spoke highly of was the first one: I, the Jury (1953). Overshadowed by the legacy of the aforementioned films, I, the Jury remains the most authentic Hammer experience ever put on the big screen.

Every thrill in the book… in 3-D.

The authenticity of the film can be traced to its creators. Victor Saville was a producer who saw a cash cow in Spillane’s paperbacks, and felt their blending of sex and violence would be undeniable if properly adapted. Harry Essex was a screenwriter who helped mold the terrain of 1950s film noir, and knew exactly how to pull excitement from predictable story beats. He was also keen on directing, and saw I, the Jury as a chance to showcase his talents.

As someone who was underwhelmed by the film on first viewing (Kiss Me Deadly was my only reference point at the time), I can now say that I, the Jury is the perfect entry into Hammer’s world. It goes to such great lengths to emulate the style of the novel that the character’s narration comes off as though he’s reading the actual pages. Essex proved himself to be an economical storyteller with the screenplays for Kansas City Confidential and The Las Vegas Story (both 1952), but here, he arranges scenes with a surgeon-like precision. It’s as though being forced to pare down the sex and violence found in the novel allowed Essex to expediate an already lean narrative, and the result is a breakneck 87 minutes.

Hammer mourns the loss of his best friend.

The story is really just a premise: Hammer (Biff Elliot) discovers that his old army buddy Jack Williams (Robert Swagner) was killed under mysterious circumstances in his apartment. The bull then proceeds to wreck the china shop that is New York as he tries to locate Williams’ killer and make them pay. Along the way, Hammer runs afoul of a cunning therapist (Peggie Castle) and a crackpot crime boss named Kalecki (Alan Reed).

Elliot was not a versatile actor, as evidenced by his relatively quiet career, but he’s effectively cast here. He does a fine job of capturing Hammer’s blunt-force approach to detection, and his ability to seem at once dense and thoughtful is trickier than it may initially seem. It’s nothing remarkable, especially when compared with the heightened vanity that Ralph Meeker brought to the part in Kiss Me, Deadly, but it’s direct and visceral. Elliot’s choices look even better when compared to the softer, less edgy performances given by Robert Bray in My Gun Is Quick (1957) and Darren McGavin in the TV series Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (1957-59).

Hammer tussles with an endless array of heavies.

The supporting cast are made up of reliable character actors, starting with the aforementioned Castle (the self-appointed “girl they loved to kill”) and running down to Preston Foster as Hammer’s steadfast police connection, Pat Chambers. They rattle off the curt Spillane dialogue with glee, while leaning into the two-dimensional aspects of their respective characters. Nobody does this better than Elisha Cook, Jr. as Bobo, a simpleton who manages to win us over despite having ties to a deadly gang. The shot of a slain Cook, dressed as Santa Claus, and laying on a stoop, is arguably the most noirish Christmas image of all time.

The stunning imagery doesn’t stop there. I, the Jury may benefit from taut direction and a colorful cast, but it’s the cinematography by John Alton that truly pushes it into cult classic territory. The film unveils one gorgeous sequence after another, whether it be the pulsing neon conversation in Hammer’s office or the single-light source interrogation conducted by Kalecki’s men. Then there’s the 3-D component, which Alton had to take into account during production. The film was originally made to capitalize on the 3-D craze of the 1950s, and the cinematographer’s deft handling of cigarette butts and various room structures gives the film a subtlety and cleverness that few 3-D releases could match. The fact that it works as both a 3-D and 2-D release is a testament to its overall quality.

Hammer looks on from the slain Bobo.

Then there’s the ending. Hammer navigates his way through a twisted web of lies and murder, and finds himself at the apartment of his therapist squeeze. He figured out her involvement in Williams’ death, and he holds a gun on her from the moment she enters. She proceeds to undress, partially out of practicality and partially out of an attempt to seduce him. The dialogue grows increasingly intense, with the emotions of both characters bubbling closer to the surface. Alton’s camera fixes in on the couple during their final embrace, and then we hear, beneath the frame, the firing of a gun. It’s unclear who was shot, until the therapist drops to the floor. “How could you?” she asks, to which an unflinching Hammer states: “It was easy.”

It’s a breathtaking scene, manifesting all of the sex and death and that makes the Hammer novels so enticing. It’s the best ever distillation of the character and his detached worldview, and for Alton, one of his best ever visual showcases. It would justify the price of admission on its own.

I, the Jury should not be approached as a masterpiece. It’s a cheap film noir that sets out to entertain, and it does precisely that. If you approach the film on these very simple foundations, then you will be endlessly pleased.

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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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