Film Noir Review: 10 (More) Classic Films Noir for the Holidays

10 More Classic Film Noirs for the Holidays

Novelist Douglas Coupland once said that “Christmas makes everything twice as sad.” His quote may have stemmed from a place of tender melancholy, but here at CMH’s Film Noir section, we’d like to apply it to the lushes and low-lifes that inhabit the holiday’s bleakest cinema.

We released our original ranking of noir films to watch during the holidays last year, but as often the case with lists, we weren’t able to cover everything. As such, we’ve decided to return to the snow-covered streets and dig up whatever titles were overlooked. Here are 10 more classic films noir to watch during the holiday season.

1. Lady on a Train (1945)

Deanna Durbin (right) in Lady On a Train

Deanna Durbin (right) in ‘Lady On a Train’

Lady on a Train remains one of most bizarre entries in the classic film noir canon. It stars Deanna Durbin as Nikki, a woman heading home for Christmas who witnesses the murder and impersonates a nightclub singer in an attempt to uncover the killer. Along the way, she’s forced to sing a few tunes and trade verbal barbs with the victim’s squabbling clan of heirs (including a smooth Ralph Bellamy and a slithery Dan Duryea).

All this is set against a lively holiday backdrop that plays up the inherent charm of Durbin’s predicament. Nothing is taken too seriously here, to the point where many of the scenes resemble a satire on the noir genre rather than the genuine article. Combine that with the crisp, winter cinematography by Woody Bredell, and Lady on a Train is a ride worth taking.

…..

2. The Man I Love (1947)

Robert Alda and Ida Lupino in The Man I Love

Robert Alda and Ida Lupino in ‘The Man I Love’

The Man I Love stars Ida Lupino as a New York nightclub singer who travels to California to visit her siblings for Christmas. She chooses to stay and and lands a gig in a nightclub, but tensions mount once she turns down the advances of her corrupt boss (Robert Alda) to marry a lovesick piano player named San (Bruce Bennett). She’s ultimately faced with the challenge of sticking with San despite his self-destructive lifestyle.

While far from the grittiest of films noir, The Man I Love cultivates the spirit of the genre through doomed characters living in a chilly, unwelcoming city. Enhanced by the trio of lead performances and the committed direction of Raoul Walsh, the film strikes a tragic tone that perfectly suits the more downtrodden holiday viewer.

…..

3. The Reckless Moment (1949)

Joan Bennett and James Mason in 'The Reckless Moment'

Joan Bennett and James Mason in ‘The Reckless Moment’

A forgotten gem from director Max Ophuls, The Reckless Moment deals with regret and the paranoia of covering up a crime. It follows bored housewife Lucia (Joan Bennett) as she attempts to hide the accidental death of a hoodlum who was seeing her teenage daughter. Things become even more problematic when the hoodlum’s partner (James Mason) comes into town looking for answers.

The film is the worst holiday break you could envision for a mother, with children and dangerous criminals coming into contact on a regular basis. Bennett offers a masterful performance, while Ophuls flips the domestic charm of most Christmas fare to comment on the hollow state of the nuclear family. ”We’re getting a blue Christmas tree this year,” Lucia tells her husband via telephone, ignoring the destruction she wrought. “Everything is fine, except we miss you terribly.”

…..

4. Mr. Soft Touch (1949)

Glenn Ford and Evelyn Keyes in 'Mr. Soft Touch'

Glenn Ford and Evelyn Keyes in ‘Mr. Soft Touch’

Where most films noir use the holidays as a tonal counterpoint, Mr. Soft Touch uses it as a ticking clock. Joe Miracle (Glenn Ford) returns from the war to discover that his club has been taken over by the mob. He robs the place in a moment of weakness, but he has to wait a day before he can escape to Yokohama on Christmas Eve. Miracle opts to hide out from the mob and the police at a settlement house, where he meets a kindly social worker (Evelyn Keyes).

Instead of playing things straight up, Mr. Soft Touch wisely combines elements of film noir; namely the heist and the grim mob consequences, with the brighter trappings of the romance genre. Ford and Keyes have marvelous chemistry together, and the snappy direction from both Gordon Douglas and Henry Levin ensures that the film doesn’t overstay its welcome.

…..

5. Cover Up (1949)

William Bendix and Dennis O'Keefe in 'Cover Up'

William Bendix and Dennis O’Keefe in ‘Cover Up’

While some of the aforementioned titles combine film noir with other genres, 1949’s Cover Up is an old fashioned noir mystery. It stars Dennis O’Keefe as an insurance investigator who’s called upon to look into a suicide, only to determine that it may have been a murder. While pressed to find a suspect, he finds that the dead man was a local pariah and that nobody, not even the sheriff (William Bendix), is eager to help.

Cover Up benefits from the combustible pairing of O’Keefe and Bendix; two veterans who know their way around a noir script. The holiday setting is inconsequential, but it adds a great deal of personality to the film as it deals in hallmark noir themes like murder and greed. Nothing groundbreaking, but a cozy viewing nonetheless.

…..

6. They Live by Night (1949)

Cathy O'Donnell and Farley Granger in 'They Live by Night'

Cathy O’Donnell and Farley Granger in ‘They Live by Night’

As the fourth and final entry to be released in 1949, They Live by Night is also the most profound. It follows a pair of star-crossed lovers, Bowie (Farley Granger) and Keechie (Cathy O’Donnell) as they attempt to leave their criminal past behind and start a new life together. The film spans roughly a year, but director Nicholas Ray saves the most heartbreaking moment for Christmas, when the young couple plan to exchange presents.

Bowie’s old partner (Howard Da Silva) shows up and asks him to do one last job, and while a reluctant Bowie agrees, things go south and he and Keechie are forced to go back into hiding. As such, they’re forced to leave their presents behind, including the watch that Keechie was so eager for Bowie to open. It’s as sad a moment as any in a film noir, and its tied inherently to the safety that Christmas is meant to represent.

…..

7. Backfire (1950)

Virginia Mayo and Dane Clark in 'Backfire'

Virginia Mayo and Dane Clark in ‘Backfire’

Backfire was written by the same duo who wrote White Heat, and was even shot before, but it was delayed until after the release of that seminal gangster film. Seen today, and Backfire is very much a thematic precursor. Both deal with theft, betrayal, and the inclusion of Virginia Mayo and Edmond O’Brien as characters with questionable alliances. Not as good as White Heat perhaps, but very much a solid noir with standout performances by the aforementioned stars.

The holidays loom large over the film, with Christmas and New Year’s Eve serving as time markers for naive main character Bud (Gordon MacRae). As he slowly uncovers the fate of his disappeared friend Steve (O’Brien), he realizes that the line between right and wrong is not as clear as it was when they both served in the military. Vincent Sherman directs.

…..

8. Storm Warning (1951)

Steve Cochrane, Doris Day and Ginger Rogers in 'Storm Warning'

Steve Cochrane, Doris Day and Ginger Rogers in ‘Storm Warning’

Storm Warning is easily one of the most racially-charged films noir to be released during the 1950s. The film deals with a dress model (Ginger Rogers) who stops by a small town and accidentally witnesses the Ku Klux Klan commit a murder. She agrees to help the district attorney (Ronald Reagan) prosecute the men involved, but she quickly faces pushback and threats of violence from the rest of the Klan.

While unabashedly a “message film”, like so many noirs of the period, Storm Warning still carries a potent social edge that contrasts nicely with the Christmastime setting. While Rogers may be miscast (Lauren Bacall was the studio’s original choice), the impressive supporting roster of Doris Day, Steve Cochrane, and Reagan gets the film across the finish line with style.

…..

9. Batman Returns (1992)

Michelle Pfieffer and Michael Keaton in 'Batman Returns'

Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Keaton in ‘Batman Returns’

Technically, Batman Returns is a superhero film. We have characters dressed in tights, sinister schemes involving bombs, and cats that can seemingly resurrect the dead. But more than any other superhero flick (besides The Dark Knight), Batman Returns is a modern film noir. Here, the moral clarity established in Tim Burton’s 1989 original is blurred to reflect a world where Batman (Michael Keaton) is just as problematic as the criminals he chases. And of course, its set during Christmas.

Batman’s inability to handle the likes of the Penguin (Danny DeVito), combined with the screen time that Burton dedicates to making the character tragic, causes us to reexamine what we know about trauma. That’s to say nothing about Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer), Batman’s ultimate femme fatale and the one who nearly changes his outlook on heroism. Replace the tights with trench coats and you’ve got a quintessential noir viewing.

…..

10. In Bruges (2008)

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in 'In Bruges'

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in ‘In Bruges’

Darkly comedic and morally chilly, 2008’s In Bruges is a brilliant twist on the film noir hitman. Where classic titles like The Lineup and Blast of Silence focus on the steely efficiency of their main characters, director Martin McDonagh decides to show us the hilarity of being incompetent at such a bleak profession. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star as two mid-level gunmen who are forced to hide out in Bruges following a botched gig.

The infantile Farrell and fatherly Gleeson make for a delightful comedy duo, while their trek through Bruges during the holidays lead to a series of unforgettable and unforgettably violent encounters. By the time Ralph Fiennes shows up as their profanity-spewing boss, one can’t help but be won over.

…..

–Danilo Castro for Classic Movie Hub Danilo Castro is a film noir specialist 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.

Posted in Film Noir Review, Posts by Danilo Castro | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classic Movie Travels: Danny Thomas – Toledo and Memphis

 Classic Movie Travels: Danny Thomas

Danny Thomas HeadshotActor and philanthropist, Danny Thomas.

Many remember Danny Thomas as an individual who made his mark upon the entertainment industry as a nightclub comedian, singer, actor, and producer. His lengthy career included a starring role in a situation comedy, in addition to appearing in a wide range of variety shows. Though valued as an entertainer, he was also a generous and notable philanthropist, founding St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Amos Muzyad “Muzzy” Yakhoob Kairouz was born on his family’s horse farm in Deerfield, Michigan, during a blizzard as one of 10 children. His parents were Charles Yakhoob Kairouz and Margaret Taouk.

Though born in Michigan, the family soon moved. Kairouz grew up in Toledo, Ohio, attending St. Francis de Sales Church, as his parents were Catholic immigrants from Lebanon. He went to Woodward High School and, later, the University of Toledo, where he was a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity. Bishop Samuel Stritch, a native of Tennessee, would confirm him and  become a lifelong spiritual advisor to him.

Danny thomas,age 9 1921 Danny Thomas, age 9 in 1921.

As a child, Kairouz and his brother, Raymond, were a vaudeville team. Once the duo grew up and Raymond got married, Kairouz hitchhiked to Detroit, Michigan, to find work in radio. In 1932, Kairouz began performing on the radio in Detroit on WMBC. During this time, he performed under his anglicized birth name, Amos Jacobs Kairouz.

While working as a struggling young comic, he also executed a variety of odd jobs. Kairouz found work as a kitchen helper and as a punch-press operator’s assistant to lumber yard watchmen. During this time, he met singer Rose Marie Mantell. They were married one week after his 24th birthday. The couple would go on to have three children: Margaret Julia “Marlo”, Theresa “Terre”, and Charles Anthony “Tony” Thomas. Each of the children would find work in entertainment, with Marlo as an actress and producer, Tony as a television producer, and Terre as a singer-songwriter. The couple would remain married until Kairouz’s death in 1991.

Danny and Rose Marie Thomas with their children, Tony, Marlo and TerreDanny and Rose Marie Thomas with their children, Tony, Marlo and Terre.

Once Kairouz moved to Chicago in 1940, he decided to perform under a pseudonym because did not want his friends and extended family to know that he went back to working in clubs. As a result, he came up with the stage name “Danny Thomas,” borrowing the first names of two of his brothers as he continued his work in entertainment.

All the while, Thomas’s faith remained important to him. According to Thomas, “I got through my act at 4:30 A.M. and I went to a 5 A.M. mass to thank God. As I knelt, I saw in the pew in front of me a huge pamphlet with St. Jude’s picture mentioning a novena in honor of a national shrine.” While he was struggling as an actor, he made a personal vow: if he found success, he would open a shrine dedicated to St. Jude, the patron saint for hopeless causes.

Soon after, Thomas would first reach mass audiences through radio by playing Amos, a brother-in-law character on The Bickersons, starring Don Ameche and Frances Langford. He also appeared as postman Jerry Dingle on Fanny Brice’s The Baby Snooks Show, in addition to several appearances on NBC’s radio variety show, The Big Show.

Along with working on the radio, Thomas also shared his talents through film. He made two films with Margaret O’Brien in the late 1940s and later appeared with Betty Grable in the musical film, Call Me Mister (1951). Continuing his musical roles, he portrayed composer Gus Kahn in I’ll See You in My Dreams (1951). By 1952, he worked alongside Peggy Lee in The Jazz Singer, a remake of the original 1927 film.

Thomas found immense success with an 11-year run on the television comedy series, Make Room for Daddy or The Danny Thomas Show. The show was produced at Desilu Studios, where Lucille Ball was performing alongside her husband, Desi Arnaz, in I Love Lucy. In 1970, the series was revived for one season as Make Room for Granddaddy.

Danny Thomas, Rusty Hamer, Sherry Jackson and Jean Hagen in Make Room for Daddy (1953)Danny Thomas, Rusty Hamer, Sherry Jackson and Jean Hagen in Make Room for Daddy (1953).

Off-screen, Thomas became an exceptional television producer, working on shows like The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, That Girl, and The Mod Squad. He often appeared in cameo roles on the shows he produced. In fact, Thomas was responsible for Mary Tyler Moore’s big break in the acting business. Though he turned her down for one of his shows, he recommended her to Carl Reiner, remembering her as “the girl with three names.” Reiner would cast her in The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Over time, Thomas did not forget about his promise to St Jude. Once he became a successful actor in the 1950s, he and his wife began to travel throughout the U.S. in order to raise funds to make St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital a reality. Thomas believed that “no child should die in the dawn of life”, and actively worked to promote his dream. To bolster his campaign, Thomas recorded an album of Arabic folk songs for a St. Jude Hospital Foundation fundraiser.

With assistance from pathologist Dr. Lemuel Diggs and auto magnate Anthony Abraham, Thomas founded the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1962.

Danny Thomas St. Jude Children's Research HospitalDanny Thomas, Founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Out of all of his achievements, Thomas was most passionate about his work for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Thomas once said, “It is my belief that St. Jude Hospital will one day announce to the world the great tidings of a cure for leukemia or cancer or even both. I am proud to beg for this project.” Since its inception, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital has treated children within the U.S. and all over the world, continuing the mission of saving children and finding cures to illnesses.

Thomas died on February 6, 1991, at the age of 79. Two days prior to his passing, he celebrated St. Jude Hospital’s 29th anniversary and filmed a commercial for it, which aired posthumously. He and his wife are interred in a mausoleum on the grounds of the hospital.

While Thomas was not proud of his origin in small towns, there are places in Toledo, Ohio, that acknowledge his time there. In 1930, Thomas was listed as living at 909 Walnut St. in Toledo. This is the property today:

Danny Thomas' residence at 909 Walnut St. Toledo, OhioDanny Thomas’ residence at 909 Walnut St. Toledo, Ohio.

Nearby, there is a Danny Thomas Park, which displays a monument to Thomas. The park is located at 2199 Broadway St. in Toledo.

Danny Thomas Park MonumentDanny Thomas Park in Toledo, Ohio.

Additionally, in 2012, the U.S. Postal Service issued a postage stamp in honor of Thomas.

Danny Thomas U.S. Postage StampU.S. Postage Stamp dedicated to Danny Thomas

Beyond Toledo, the city of Memphis, Tennessee, has Danny Thomas Boulevard, fittingly named after Thomas in the town that houses the hospital he helped establish.

Danny Thomas Blvd, Memphis, TNDanny Thomas Blvd, Memphis, TN

Perhaps the greatest testament of all to Thomas’s legacy is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which actively makes a difference in the lives of children all over the world to this day. According to Thomas’s vision, no child is denied treatment on race, religion, or a family’s ability to pay.

St Jude Children's Research Hospital logo
 Jude Children’s Research Hospital  is one of the world’s premier pediatric cancer research centers. Its mission is to find cures for children with cancer and other catastrophic diseases through research and treatment.

There are so many different ways to remember Thomas’s life and legacy. One of the best ways to honor him is to support the foundation he so loved. Consider learning more about St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and offering your support here.

–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.

Posted in Classic Movie Travels, Posts by Annette Bochenek | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Noir Nook: Five Things You Need to Know About Christmas Holiday (1944)

Noir Nook: Five Things You Need to Know About Christmas Holiday (1944)

Christmas Holiday is a 1944 noir starring Deanna Durbin as a devoted young bride who slowly comes to realize that her husband, played by Gene Kelly, is a charming sociopath and killer. The cast includes Gale Sondergaard as Kelly’s mother, who will stop at nothing to protect her baby boy.

Christmas Holiday (1944) Gene Kelly and Deanna DurbinGene Kelly and Deanna Durbin in Christmas Holiday (1944)

In celebration of the holiday season, this month’s Noir Nook serves up five things you need to know about this interesting and underrated noir.

1. The film is loosely based on the 1939 book by the same name by W. Somerset Maugham. The movie retains the names of the two of the main characters from the book, Charley Mason and Simon Fenimore. In the book, Charley is a Cambridge University grad who looks up his school chum, Fenimore, during a visit to Paris at Christmastime. In the film, Charley is a jilted soldier who is introduced to Fenimore when his plane to San Francisco is forced to land in New Orleans. Several other Maugham novels were made into movies, including Of Human Bondage (1934), The Painted Veil (1934), and The Razor’s Edge (1946).

2. The screenplay was penned by Herman J. Mankiewicz, brother of writer-director Joseph Mankiewicz, and grandfather of TCM host Ben Mankiewicz. Herman changed the setting of the film from a Paris brothel to a New Orleans nightclub and changed the name and occupation of the main character from prostitute Lydia to singer Jackie Lamont. Mankiewicz wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for a number of popular films, including Dinner at Eight (1933), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Citizen Kane (1941), and The Pride of the Yankees (1942). After years of heavy drinking, Mankiewicz died from uremic poisoning at the age of 55.

3. Famously acerbic New York Times critic Bosley Crowther was not a fan of the film, labeling it a “moody and hackneyed yarn,” and was particularly disparaging of Deanna Durbin’s performance. He seemed to be disappointed that the film wasn’t a musical, pointing out that Durbin “sings two numbers only,” and wrote that her speaking voice was “girlish and empty of quality.” He concluded that it was “really grotesque and outlandish what they’ve done to Miss Durbin in this film.” (Geez. Tell us how you really feel, Bos.)

4. Robert Siodmak directed the film. Siodmak is one of noir’s premier directors – among numerous others, he also helmed such gems as Phantom Lady (1944), The Killers (1946), Criss Cross (1949), and The File on Thelma Jordon (1950).

5. The character of Simon Fenimore was played by Richard Whorf, who can also be seen in Midnight (1934), Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942), and Keeper of the Flame (1943). Whorf was truly a Renaissance man. He directed such films as Till the Clouds Roll By (1946) and Champagne For Caesar (1950), produced two Natalie Wood starters, The Burning Hills (1956) and Bombers B-52 (1957), and wrote or directed episodes of several TV shows, including The Beverly Hillbillies and My Three Sons. He also won the 1954 Tony Award for Best Costume Designer for Ondine, which starred Mel Ferrer and Audrey Hepburn.

Richard Whorf PainingA painting by Richard Whorf at only age 15!

Finally – and most personally fascinating to me – he was an excellent painter. He sold his first painting for $100 when he was 15 years old. “Who says,” Whorf asked a reporter in 1963, “that a man has to do one thing?”

Happy holidays!

…..

– 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:

 

 

Posted in Noir Nook, Posts by Karen Burroughs Hannsberry | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Jarmila Novotna: My Life in Song – Book Giveaway (Dec 8 through Jan 12)

“Jarmila Novotna: My Life in Song”
We have Five Books to Give Away via Twitter or this Blog

It’s time for our next book giveaway! CMH is happy to say that we will be giving away FIVE COPIES of  Jarmila Novotna: My Life in Song, Novotna’s memoirs, courtesy of University Press of Kentucky, from now through Jan 12. (plus ONE more copy via Facebook and this Blog — stay tuned for more info).

jarmila novotna- my life in songThis is Novotná’s own English-language version of her best-selling memoir

…..

In order to qualify to win one of these prizes via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, Jan 12 at 9PM EST. However, the sooner you enter, the better chance you have of winning, because we will pick a winner on five different days within the contest period, via random drawings, as listed below… So if you don’t win the first week that you enter, you will still be eligible to win during the following weeks until the contest is over.

  • Dec 15: One Winner
  • Dec 22: One Winner
  • Dec 29: One Winner
  • Jan 5: One Winner
  • Jan 12: One Winner

We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub, the day after each winner is picked at 9PM EST — for example, we will announce our first week’s winner on Sunday Dec 16 at 9PM EST on Twitter. And, please note that you don’t have to have a Twitter account to enter; just see below for the details…

If you’re also on Facebook, please feel free to visit us at Classic Movie Hub on Facebook for additional giveaways (or check back on this Blog in a few days) — because we’ll be giving away ONE MORE cop via Facebook/Blog as well!

Jarmila Novotná acted as diva Maria Selka in 1951's The Great Caruso with Mario Lanza.Jarmila Novotná as diva Maria Selka in 1951′s The Great Caruso with Mario Lanza

…..

And now on to the contest!

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, Jan 12 at 9PM EST — BUT remember, the sooner you enter, the more chances you have to win…

1) Answer the below question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog post

2) Then TWEET (not DM) the following message*:
Just entered to win the “Jarmila Novotna: My Life in Song” #BookGiveaway courtesy of @KentuckyPress & @ClassicMovieHub #CMHContest link: http://ow.ly/WYCW30mVcdH

THE QUESTION:
What is one of your favorite Jarmila Novotna films or performances, and why? And, if you’re not familiar with her work, why do you want to win this book?

*If you do not have a Twitter account, you can still enter the contest by simply answering the above question via the comment section at the bottom of this blog — BUT PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU ADD THIS VERBIAGE TO YOUR ANSWER: I do not have a Twitter account, so I am posting here to enter but cannot tweet the message.

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to clas@gmail.com and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are being overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments…

…..

About the Book:  A legendary beauty, hailed as one of the greatest singing actors of her time, Jarmila Novotná (1907–1994) was an internationally known opera soprano from the former Czechoslovakia. Best known for her performances in Der Rosenkavalier, The Marriage of Figaro, and La Traviata, she was a celebrated performer at the Metropolitan Opera and other theaters across Europe and the United States. A “natural screen actress,” Novotná also appeared in Hollywood hits such as The Search (1948) with Montgomery Clift (with whom she shared an enduring friendship) and The Great Caruso (1951) with Mario Lanza. She was also considered a pioneering “crossover” star who performed on Broadway, and worked in radio and television with Bing Crosby and Abbott and Costello. Throughout this memoir, lavishly illustrated with photos from her personal collection, Novotná shares entertaining stories about her time in Hollywood, an “unending stream of parties”― including those hosted by Louis B. Mayer, co-founder of MGM Studios―alongside such stars as Jimmy Stewart and Elizabeth Taylor. Novotná also offers revealing profiles of many notable artistic figures of the time, including director Max Reinhardt, composer Cole Porter, and conductor Arturo Toscanini, and dignitaries such as Dwight Eisenhower and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia. This fascinating self-portrait offers a window on history and the reflections of a captivating and supremely talented figure who left an indelible mark on the performing arts.

…..

Click here for the full contest rules. 

Please note that only Continental United States (excluding Alaska, Hawaii, and the territory of Puerto Rico) entrants are eligible.

And — BlogHub members ARE eligible to win if they live within the Continental United States (as noted above).

Good Luck!

And if you can’t wait to win the book, you can purchase the on amazon by clicking here:

…..

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Books, Contests & Giveaways, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | Tagged , | 7 Comments

This World Needs Its Dreamers: Clarence Brown’s National Velvet (Exclusive Guest Post by Author Gwenda Young)

“This World Needs Its Dreamers”
Clarence Brown’s National Velvet (1944)
Exclusive Guest Post by Author Gwenda Young

In a reappraisal of National Velvet written in the 1960s, Pauline Kael observed that “it touches areas in our experience that movies rarely touch — the passions and obsessions of childhood.”

Passion and obsession characterize, too, the long, tortuous path that led to the release of the film that made Elizabeth Taylor a star in 1944. By that time, almost a decade had passed since the publication of Enid Bagnold’s novel and Paramount’s purchasing of the rights, with the intention of turning it into a vehicle for Claudette Colbert or Margaret Sullavan. Scripts had been written, talent searches had been conducted, but National Velvet had never quite made it to the shooting stage. In 1939, MGM took it on, and rumors were rife that John Gilbert’s daughter, Leatrice, would play the lead, but the outbreak of World War II scuttled plans to shoot it on location in Sussex, England, and momentum was lost. It was largely due to interest from producer Pandro S. Berman that the project was revived. He’d originally bid for the rights way back in 1935 when he was at RKO and had the notion that twenty-eight-year-old Katharine Hepburn would be perfect for the role of the feisty, horse-mad Velvet Brown. Fast forward to 1941, and now he was at MGM and still eager to get his pet project realized. It was good timing: he arrived on the lot just as Mickey Rooney’s stardom was in the ascent. As far as Berman was concerned, no actor could be better suited to the role of Mi Taylor, the cynical jockey that helps Velvet achieve her dream of riding her horse in the Grand National. For the ‘role’ of director, Berman identified the versatile Mervyn LeRoy but soon switched to Clarence Brown when LeRoy’s schedule got backed up. As it turned out, Brown was a fortuitous choice as it just happened that he was a master at what W.C. Fields had always advised against: working with children and animals.

national velvet movie poster

For the part of Velvet Brown, Berman now had a more age-appropriate star in mind, the exquisite Elizabeth Taylor. She was under contract to the studio and was already getting attention for her roles in Jane Eyre, Lassie Come Home (both 1943) and The White Cliffs of Dover (1943 and directed by Clarence Brown). Taylor’s beguiling looks disguised a formidable ambition and this, along with her fierce devotion to animals, convinced her that she was “born” to play Velvet. She enthusiastically canvassed both Berman and Brown, and later even claimed to have “willed” herself to grow taller to reassure the studio that she had the required physical stamina for the challenging role.

Although it seemed that she was a shoo-in, MGM hedged its bets and, in a bid to generate advance publicity, went on a nationwide talent search in early 1943 that yielded…its very own employee, Taylor. With war still raging in Europe, there was now no chance of shooting in Sussex and Brown had to content himself with location work at Pebble Beach in Monterey (standing in for the Grand National’s Aintree), and on the backlot, where a decidedly artificial-looking “English village” was built, complete with half-timbered houses and imitation foliage, and lit by the banks of lights required for the Technicolor photography (by Len Smith). Actress Angela Lansbury, who had been cast as Velvet’s sister, Edwina, remembered it as an “oppressive” set, mainly because of the heat from the lights and the low ceilings of the sets, but also because she found Brown to be something of an intimidating presence (she recalled he was “numero uno…he ruled the set”).

Whatever of Lansbury’s reservations, others in the cast flourished under Brown’s direction: veteran Donald Crisp delivered a perfectly-judged comic performance as the Brown patriarch, a man whose authority is perpetually undermined by his entire household, including his pets. All of Brown’s skills at directing children were called upon to guide the relatively inexperienced Jack “Butch” Jenkins in the role of Donald, the youngest member of Velvet’s clan. It was Brown’s second time working with Jenkins—another one of his “discoveries” — and he coaxed a memorable performance from the child: there are striking parallels between it and the “performance” delivered by King Charles, a.k.a. The Pie. Both equine and boy are visually arresting screen presences, forces of nature, mercurial in their moods (in a review of the film, the brilliant Manny Farber observed that Jenkins’ Donald “still seems cut off from this civilization and has been wisely left”).

Jackie “Butch” Jenkins, Elizabeth Taylor, King Charles (the horse), and Mickey Rooney in a promotional still for National VelvetJackie “Butch” Jenkins, Elizabeth Taylor, King Charles (the horse), and Mickey Rooney in a promotional still for National Velvet (photo: courtesy of Gwenda Young)

It’s no insult to point out the connections between human and non-human animal performances. because at its heart. National Velvet is all about how we humans relate to the animals that share our world. The callous-yet-charming Donald sees them as beings to collect, categorize, control — the film changed his beloved “spit bottle” of Bagnold’s novel into a specimen bottle in which he amasses helpless insects for further scrutiny — but Velvet, the butcher’s daughter, wins our hearts because of the compassion she shows in her treatment of The Pie. The two encounter each other in a scene that offers a variation of the “boy-meet-girl” of romantic drama: we have the sweeping cinematography, the building-up of tension, the swelling music, but this time the object of love is a magnificent horse, galloping wildly and seemingly impossible to tame. Just as in Brown’s earlier, Of Human Hearts (1937) and his later, The Yearling (1946), where animals are integral to the narrative, albeit as facilitators of human development, it takes a young “uncluttered” mind such as Velvet’s to finally realize that the wildness of the animal is an expression of fear. It is fear, too, that has governed the humans who, to this point, have responded to the Pie with cruelty and violence. In contrast, Velvet (and Taylor) shows fearlessness, compassion and a recognition of the animal as a sentient being. The only “breaking” of the horse comes from the animal himself: Velvet later declares that The Pie would “burst” his heart in his efforts for her.

Mickey Rooney, who delivered a very accomplished performance in a role that required tact — after all, his character is a man in his 20s who forms a close relationship with a prepubescent girl —recalls that he expected Taylor to have to imagine all sorts of (human) scenarios to work herself up to the required emotional state for a scene in which Velvet tends to a colic-stricken Pie. As it happened, the tears came easily for the actress, as she simply imagined what it would be like if “her” horse were to fall ill. It’s a shame that Taylor’s considerable talents as an actress have been overshadowed by the glamor and drama of her private life, because in many of her films, including National Velvet, she delivers performances that are instinctual and deeply affective (and effective).

It is easy, too, to disregard National Velvet, to view it as sentimental, maybe even saccharine, product of a bygone era. Yet that would be to overlook its enduring qualities as a work of entertainment and as a study of human emotions. Observe how delicately, and movingly, Brown directs Anne Revere and Taylor in their scenes together, how the relationship between a mother and her daughter is explored without recourse to high drama, “feminine” tensions or discussion of the men in their lives. Instead, this seemingly remote, stern mother lowers her guard to encourage Velvet to follow her dreams and, in doing so, reveals her own ambitions and achievements. Brown paces the scene in a leisurely fashion, all the better to allow the interaction between the two actresses to unfold in a natural, understated way. This scene also returned Brown to a preoccupation that had dominated his work, especially in his collaborations with actresses such as Pauline Frederick, Louise Dresser, Ruth Clifford and, of course, Garbo: his exploration of a world in which women are confined to limited roles, their ambition scorned, their dreams crushed. Cynics may scoff at the seemingly far-fetched plot of a young girl riding a horse to victory in the Grand National, but National Velvet is about the necessity of dreams and dreamers, and it expresses a hope — so pertinent in 1944 but still relevant today — that a world might be forged that can accommodate both.

…..

–Gwenda Young for Classic Movie Hub

Gwenda Young is a professor of film history and lecturer in film studies at University College, Cork, Ireland. She is the author of numerous articles about film history, including three articles about Clarence Brown, and co-editor of two books of critical essays. In 2003, along with Kevin Brownlow, she curated a retrospective of Brown’s films at the National Film Theatre, London. Her latest book, Clarence Brown: Hollywood’s Forgotten Master is the first full-length account of the life and career of the pioneering filmmaker.

We’re giving away copies of Gwenda’s new book from now through Dec 8; you can enter here. And if you can’t wait to win the book, you can purchase the on amazon by clicking here:

Posted in Books, Guest Posts | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Big Thank You from CMH: The 2nd Annual “Give a Gift, Get a Gift” Promotion

Last Year was so Awesome (Thank You), We’re Doing it Again…
The Give A Gift, Get a Gift Holiday Contest.

it-happened-on-5th-avenue cmh holiday contest

…..

Greetings CMH Fans and Followers! 

We had so much fun last year – and are truly grateful that you all took the time to read and comment on our Contributor posts – that we’ve decided to do it again!

That said, to show our appreciation to our CMH fans and followers — and to celebrate our columnists who take the time to pen such wonderful articles for us — we’re launching the 2nd Annual “Give a Gift, Get a Gift” Holiday Giveaway…

Here’s how the giveaway works:

Over the past two years, we added a variety of monthly CMH columns, each with a niche classic film theme, authored by some of the best writers in the classic film community. To better acquaint you with these fabulous writers and to show them some fan love in return, this contest asks you to read as many of these featured posts as you desire (listed below) and leave a comment of feedback for each of those you’ve read. For every comment submitted, you get an entry into our contest. The more comments you give, the more chances you have to win! And – for those of you that already commented on some of these posts earlier in the year, no problem, just comment again, and each new comment will count toward your entries.

We call the contest Give a Gift, Get a Gift… The gift you’re giving is the gift of time by reading and commenting on the post(s)… The gift you’re getting is an entry (or entries) into the contest… As for me, to show my appreciation for your participation, I have tried to put together some nice prize packages — and all of the DVDs have been purchased by me (they were not supplied by any outside company)…

a night at the opera cmh holiday contest Sanity Clause

…..

The weekly and Grand Prize drawings:

The contest will run from now through December 29, 2018, 8PM EST. In order to qualify to win one of these prizes via this contest giveaway, you must read and comment on as many of the featured posts as you want (links below). For each comment submitted, you will gain one entry into the contest. However, the sooner you get started, the more chances you will have to win – because in addition to the Grand Prizes awarded at the end of the contest, we will also be giving away one DVD a week (as listed below). And, if you win a DVD during one of the weekly drawings, you are STILL ELIGIBLE to win one of the Grand or Runner Up Prizes at the end of the contest! United States (all 50 states) and Canadian residents are eligible this time. All prizes will be awarded via random drawings. Prizes will be shipped to our winners in mid-January.

  • Dec 8: The Bishop’s Wife DVD (1 winner announced Dec 9 at 8PM)
  • Dec 15: The Bishop’s Wife DVD (1 winner announced Dec 16 at 8PM)
  • Dec 22: The Bishop’s Wife DVD (1 winner announced Dec 23 at 8PM)
  • Dec 29: The Bishop’s Wife DVD (1 winner announced Dec 30 at 8PM)
  • Dec 31: Grand Prize Packages (a total of 5 winners… each winner will be announced around midnight on Dec 31 — to help ring in the New Year)
    • Grand Prize #1: winner’s choice of 4 DVDs (listed below) + one surprise gift
    • Grand Prize #2: winner’s choice of 4 DVDs (listed below) + one surprise gift
    • Grand Prize #3: winner’s choice of 4 DVDs (listed below) + one surprise gift
    • Runner Up Prize #1: winner’s choice of 3 DVDs (listed below)
    • Runner Up Prize #2: winner’s choice of 3 DVDs (listed below)

We will announce each week’s winner on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub or this blog, depending how you entered, as noted above.

See full rules below.

barbara stanwyck Christmas in Connecticut trimming trees holiday cmh contest

…..

Here are the DVDs up for grabs (winner’s choice of 3 or 4, as noted above, while supplies last):

  1. Alfred Hitchcock: 20 Films (The Lady Vanishes 1938, The Farmer’s Wife 1928, The Manxman 1926, Easy Virtue 1926, Jamaica Inn 1939, The Lodger 1926, The Ring 1927, Young and Innocent 1937, Rich and Strange 1932, The Thirty-Nine Steps 1935, Secret Agent 1936, Champagne 1928, Blackmail 1929, Juno and the Paycock 1930, Sabotage 1936, The Skin Game 1931, Number Seventeen 1932, The Man Who Knew Too Much 1934, Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Cheney Vase, Alfred Hitchcock Presents: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, trailers)
  2. An Affair to Remember
  3. An American in Paris
  4. The Adventures of Robin Hood
  5. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (39 episodes, 4 films) (includes TV episodes starring Ronald Howard, as well as films including The Woman in Green starring Basil Rathbone)
  6. The Apartment
  7. Barefoot in the Park
  8. Breakfast at Tiffanys
  9. Bullitt
  10. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
  11. Cabaret
  12. Carousel
  13. Casablanca
  14. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
  15. Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
  16. Christmas in Connecticut
  17. The Day the Earth Stood Still
  18. Father of the Bride
  19. Fiddler on the Roof
  20. Four Film Favorites, Classic Holiday Collection Vol 2 (All Mine to Give, It Happened on 5th Avenue, Holiday Affair, Blossoms in the Dust)
  21. Francis the Talking Mule
  22. Funny Face
  23. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
  24. Hello Dolly
  25. Heroes of the Old West (20 TV episodes, 10 films) (includes McLintock and Santa Fe Trail, plus some episodes of The Lone Ranger)
  26. House Boat
  27. How to Marry a Millionaire
  28. The Incredible Mr. Limpet
  29. John Wayne Tribute Collection (25 films plus documentary) (includes Angel and the Badman McLintock and Sagebrush Trail plus a documentary called The American West of John Ford)
  30. The King and I
  31. Life with Father / Father’s Little Dividend
  32. Ma and Pa Kettle, Vol 2. (Four Films: At the Fair, On Vacation, At Home, At Wakiki)
  33. The Maltese Falcon
  34. The Music Man
  35. North by Northwest
  36. Oklahoma
  37. Paris When It Sizzles
  38. Penny Serenade
  39. Rebel Without a Cause
  40. Rio Bravo
  41. The Roaring Twenties
  42. Roman Holiday
  43. Sabrina
  44. Second Hand Lions
  45. Send Me No Flowers
  46. Singin’ in the Rain
  47. Some Like It Hot
  48. Spellbound
  49. The Three Stooges 75th Anniversary Collector’s Edition (Disorder in the Court, Sing a Song of Six Pants, Brideless Groom, Malice in the Palace, Jerk of All Trades, live action color classics, Swing Parade of 1946, cartoons, trailers)
  50. The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
  51. True Grit
  52. West Side Story
  53. Great Cinema: 15 Films (The Snows of Kilimanjaro 1952, Anna Karenina 1948, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court 1952, Tale of Two Cities 1953, Jane Eyre 1971, Legend of the Sea Wolf 1975, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 1953, The Jungle Book 1942, Call of the Wild 1972, Macbeth 1961, Of Human Bondage 1934, Little Men 1940, The Last Time I Saw Paris 1954, David Copperfield 1970, Cyrano De Bergerac 1950)

Barney fife santa clause cmh holiday contest

…..

Here are the links to the blog articles…
(enter as many times as you like… 1 comment on 1 post = 1 entry):

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting on any of the blog posts, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to clas@gmail.com and we will be happy to create the entry for you.

ALSO: Please allow us 48 hours to approve your comments. Sorry about that, but we are overwhelmed with spam, and must sort through 100s of comments every day…

Bonanza Christmas CMH holiday contest

…..

Last but not least, the Rules:

  • Contest will run from Dec 2, 2018 to Dec 29, 2018 at 8pm EST.
  • Limited to United States (yes, all 50 states can enter this time!) and Canadian residents only.
  • Every time you read a column article (from the list above) and leave an eligible feedback comment, you will receive one entry into the Contest.
  • Only one comment per post/article during the contest period is counted as an entry. If you already commented on a post/article at some point earlier in the year (aka before the contest start date of Dec 2, 2018, you can still post a comment during the contest period of Dec 2 through Dec 29 and it will be counted as a new/eligible entry)
  • Each comment must be positive, and must be more detailed than simply “great post!” Some good examples:
    • “Karen, I really enjoyed learning about the noir gem, WICKED WOMAN. Who knew the writing/directing duo behind that film created the story of Doris Day/Rock Hudson classic PILLOW TALK?? Thanks for teaching me something new about classic film!”
    • “Ron, I never thought about how early talkies would completely change movie concessions. That was a fascinating perspective. Thanks!”
  • Yes, you can win the weekly DVD giveaway, and still be eligible to win a Grand Prize or Runner Up Prize package.
  • Spammers (i.e. using bots to make generic comments) are ineligible.
  • Updates will be posted on CMH social media channels on a regular basis.
  • Each winner will be notified by email and/or Twitter and will have 48 hours to respond with their shipping information or a new winner may be chosen. If any Prize or Prize notification is returned as undeliverable, the winner may be disqualified, and an alternate winner may be selected.
  • Prizes will ship after the contest period is over. Please allow up to 2 to 4 weeks for prize delivery. Classic Movie Hub is not responsible for prizes lost or stolen.
  • Family of Classic Movie Hub is not eligible for entry……

The more feedback comments you give, the more chances to win. See? Give a Gift, Get a Gift! We hope you enjoy participating in our Holiday Contest to honor this season for giving.

A Big Thank your for participating! And a Happy and Healthy Holidays to All,

–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Contests & Giveaways, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Pre-Code Corner: The Puzzling Sin of Nora Moran

The Puzzling Sin of Nora Moran

The Sin of Madelon Claudet (1931), Sin Takes a Holiday (1930), The Sin Ship (1931) — pre-Code debauchery can be hard to keep straight — and I’m just referring to these sinful titles right now. That said, I could’ve sworn I’d seen The Sin of Nora Moran (1933) before, but a few minutes in, I realized I hadn’t. There’s simply no way you could forget this story.

If you can untangle it in the first place, that is. At its core, The Sin of Nora Moran tells the tragic tale of young, victimized Nora (Zita Johann). Not only is Nora sentenced to death for the murder of the carnival boss, Paulino (John Miljan), who raped her, but she’s also refused a pardon by her married lover, Governor Dick Crawford (Paul Cavanagh). That’s the main takeaway once you wade through the twists, flashbacks, narrators, hallucinations, and warped sense of morality the film haphazardly unpacks in a way that is evocative, illusory, and downright bewildering. That said, below are five of this bizarre pre-Code’s most intriguing elements — all the more reason to seek out what writer John Cocchi calls “the best independent feature of the Thirties” today.

the sin of Nora Moran movie poster - PHOTO 1 Nora Moran movie poster - PHOTO 2The Sin of Nora Moran movie poster

Looking for A Christmas Movie?
Well, this isn’t it, but apparently Poverty Row distributor Majestic thought otherwise, as The Sin of Nora Moran was released in mid-December 1933, months after the one week shoot wrapped in June. A New York Times article inquired why Majestic thought such a glum subject would be suitable for the season, as The Sin of Nora Moran is the exact opposite of festive. I can’t imagine how holiday audiences would have responded to this movie, unless the Depression somehow made the “tragedy every minute” more tolerable? Who knows, but when you’re cramming an illicit love affair, rape, murder, body disposal, life-changing sacrifice, and suicide into 63 minutes, there truly is no room for light spots to “break the shroud of gloom,” as The Billboard put it.

Nora Moran - John (Alan Dinehart) and Dick (Paul Cavanagh) discussing details of Nora’s (Zita Johann) execution PHOTO 3John (Alan Dinehart) and Dick (Paul Cavanagh) discussing details of Nora’s (Zita Johann) execution — which hasn’t even happened yet — is unsettling, to say the least.

Structure, What Structure?
Critics pointed to The Sin of Nora Moran’s “narratage” assembly, a term coined by the Fox publicity department for The Power and the Glory’s (1933) nonlinear flashbacks, as part of the reason the plot was so hard to decipher. The New York Times dubbed the movie a “bewildering mass of scenes,” while The Chicago Daily Tribune brusquely stated that “it might have been gripping if it weren’t so confusing,” and I’m right there with those reviewers. The picture’s time-traveling episodes seemingly know no bounds: select scenes take place in the past, with some flashbacks even unfolding within flashbacks, and others transpire as dreams or hallucinations. It’s impossible to keep it all straight — but it’s surely fun to try.

Aside from the confusing time component, Nora Moran also bends reality in an astonishing way. Not only do characters sometimes break the narrative in flashbacks to comment on the future and wonder if they can alter it, but the film’s bold spirituality and mystic elements also lean towards the avant-garde. Many of these otherworldly scenes bring blatant discomfort, such as brusque details of an electrocution; Dick and DA John (Alan Dinehart) explicitly discussing Nora’s death, before it happens, while she lies in a casket (John: The current “goes through her head, her arms, and her legs. If you don’t believe it, come to the execution tonight. They’re going to kill her again. The warden wasn’t pleased with the way she died.”); and a transcendent final exchange between Nora and Dick that strongly postulates the afterlife. Disquieting scenes as ethereal as these are not often observed in pre-Codes.

the sin of Nora Moran butt scene - PHOTO 4Of course the filmmakers chose the most salacious (and unflattering, may I add) angle.

Talk About Suggestive
The poster for The Sin of Nora Moran may be more iconic than the film itself. Ironically, the stark image of a blonde woman hanging her head in despair (or shame, or she’s just tired?), dressed in a barely-staying-up-borderline-translucent undergarment is the polar opposite visual of brunette star Zita Johann, at least hair and attire-wise.

Audiences usually expect a certain amount of provocative material from pre-Codes, and Nora Moran delivers with close-up shots of chorus girls’ behinds and a strongly implied rape. However, a good chunk of the risqué matter censors criticized emerges on more twisted psychological grounds than we generally see in this period, some of which I described above: scenes involving frank execution preparations (discussing coffin sizes, a matron lamenting “she has such pretty hair”), stark hallucinations about death and the hereafter, and Double Indemnity vibes in a car scene in which Nora and John dispose of a body… and then John illegally prosecutes her for the murder, which happened in another state. Seriously, nothing is normal or moral in this picture.

Zita Johann the sin of Nora Moran - PHOTO 5This was my first time watching Zita Johann in action. What an enthralling actress.
Zita Johann close up the sin of Nora Moran - PHOTO 6There’s also no shortage of shots of Johann in distress in jail, about to die, in The Sin of Nora Moran.

Zita Johann: Who?
Beautiful, riveting, enigmatic. Johann was not a woman I recognized (I haven’t seen The Mummy), and her filmography solidified my intrigue in her: She appeared in only 8 movies, 7 of those being pre-Codes. “She has brains—that girl!” boasted D.W. Griffith, who directed her debut in his final film, 1931’s The Struggle. She had guts, too: Part of the reason Johann, a respected Broadway actress, made so few movies was that her artistic standards led her to disprove of the studio system. Financial reasons finally swayed her, but the independent actress wasn’t afraid to speak her mind honestly in Hollywood; in fact, she infamously slighted MGM’s Irving Thalberg by inquiring: “Why do you make such rubbish?”

Johann imbued that sense of integrity and personal truth in Nora, too. The actress’ documented spirituality and mysticism are visceral in this picture and lent themselves well to the drastic tonal changes required. From youthful optimism, to credible PTSD, to the poignant joys and heartbreak of first love, to a devastating sacrifice, and finally to the otherworldly hauntings that come with an imminent execution, Johann dramatized Nora’s rollercoaster life ingeniously and convincingly.

zita johann and Paul Cavanagh the sin of Nora Moran - PHOTO 7Is Nora speaking to Dick from beyond the grave? Seemingly, but nothing can be confirmed in this picture.

B-Movie Producer Extraordinaire Phil Goldstone
As the posters proclaim, The Sin of Nora Moran is a Majestic production, an indie outlet run by Phil Goldstone from 1932-1935. Goldstone chiefly operated as a producer, but for some unknown reason, he took over as director from Howard Christy after production began on Nora Moran — a rare move for him. Given the film’s week-long shooting schedule, who knows what effect that personnel change had on the proceedings; there’s also speculation that the picture’s narrative structure was someone else’s brainchild, but who that may have been is anyone’s guess. On top of that, it’s been reported that Goldstone banned set visitors, going so far as to station a guard at the door to look out for reporters, AND he apparently became so enamored with Johann that he had his agent propose to her on his behalf. (She declined.) That all sounds on par with The Sin of Nora Moran’s eccentricities, doesn’t it?

But truly, I’d expect nothing rational of this picture, considering all the other perplexing elements present on and off screen. With the film vacillating through dubious planes of truth, time, and reality, The Sin of Nora Moran may not qualify as a pre-Code classic, but it surely goes down as an intriguing entry!

…..

–Kim Luperi for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Kim’s Pre-Code Corner articles here.

Kim Luperi is a New Jersey transplant living in sunny Los Angeles. She counts her weekly research in the Academy’s Production Code Administration files as a hobby and has written for TCM, AFI Fest, the Pre-Code Companion, MovieMaker Magazine and the American Cinematheque. You can read more of Kim’s articles at I See A Dark Theater or by following her on twitter at @Kimbo3200.

Posted in Posts by Kim Luperi, Pre-Code Corner | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Western RoundUp: Christmas in the West

 

Christmas in the West

In the 1951 Christmas standard “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas,” composer Meredith Willson pays tribute to the popularity of Westerns in that era with the line “A pair of Hopalong boots and a pistol that shoots is the wish of Barney and Ben…”

Thinking about that lyric recently, I was surprised to realize that there are very few Westerns of the ’40s or ’50s which feature Christmas as a significant part of the story.

I was initially inspired to search and see if there’s a Christmas-themed Hopalong Cassidy film, but so far have only found a 1952 episode of the Hopalong Cassidy radio show titled “The Santa Claus Rustlers.” It’s readily available online.

Looking beyond Hoppy, the best-known example of Christmas in a Western is probably John Ford‘s 3 Godfathers (1948), in which John Wayne‘s character arrives successfully and delivers a baby boy rescued in the desert to a frontier town on Christmas Day.

Otherwise, the Christmas pickings in Westerns are fairly slim. Happily, though, both Roy Rogers and Gene Autry made movies featuring Christmas. Here’s a look at this pair of films, which Western fans might wish to incorporate into their holiday viewing:

 …..

The Cowboy and the Indians (John English, 1949)

Cowboy and the Indians starring gene autry movie poster 1The Cowboy and the Indians starring Gene Autry and Champion

This Columbia Pictures film starring Autry is refreshingly different from many movies of the era, presenting a story which is enormously sympathetic to Indians. It’s worth noting that this film preceded by a year Universal’s better-known Broken Arrow (1950), which also presented a fresh viewpoint on Indians, a change of pace from their longtime use as stock villains in Westerns.

The film begins with the narrator explaining the historic battles of Indians vs. Western settlers from the Indian point of view, as defenders of their homeland.

From there we arrive in modern day and meet Gene Autry (playing…Gene Autry!), who is plainly annoyed to discover Indians grazing their sheep on his newly acquired ranch land. He grumbles “Why don’t they stay on the reservation where they belong?” and then heads off to see the chief, entering his home without so much as a knock.

Gene’s irritation quickly changes when he sees an elderly Indian woman in the home is very ill, and he helps arrange her medical care with Nan (Sheila Ryan), the local doctor. Gene is shocked when he learns the woman is suffering from malnutrition, as are many others in the tribe.

Cowboy and the Indians gene autry movie poster 2

Gene tries to interest a local newspaperman in the Indians’ plight, only to be told it’s not newsworthy: “Interest in the noble red man died with Geronimo.” But Gene is determined not to quit and contacts a friend (Roy Gordon) in Washington.

Meanwhile Gene and the tribe contend with an unscrupulous trading post owner (Frank Richards) who cheats the Indians and conspires with others to steal from the tribe. Attempting to see justice done, Gene works closely with Lakoma (Jay Silverheels), an Iwo Jima veteran who will one day be chief. Silverheels portrays Lakoma as a smart, educated man who speaks perfect English, unlike his famous Tonto character from the Lone Ranger TV series.

In a twist Western fans are sure to love, one of the bad guys in The Cowboy and the Indians is played by Clayton Moore, Silverheels’ Lone Ranger costar; seeing Silverheels and Moore shooting at each other in the climactic gunfight is quite fun. It’s a rather remarkable coincidence that the first episode of The Lone Ranger aired the exact same date that The Cowboy and the Indians was released, September 15, 1949.

There’s some fun irony that when the “cavalry” shows up to save the day near the end…and it’s the Indians!

If all this doesn’t sound very Christmas-y, that’s true! There’s no sign of Christmas in this film until the finale, but those scenes are such heartwarming examples of seasonal cheer that they’re worth the wait.

Cowboy and the Indians poster 3

After successfully lobbying Congress for help, Gene turns up at the reservation with trucks of supplies labeled “Gifts from America to the First Americans.” Gene rides horseback ahead of the trucks singing his great 1947 hit “Here Comes Santa Claus.” His foreman (Hank Patterson) rides alongside him, dressed as Santa.

From there we move to the final scene, as the Indian schoolchildren sing a beautiful rendition of “Silent Night.” As the final notes fade out, the movie ends with a shot of a star atop a Christmas tree.

The Cowboy and the Indians is a strong Autry film which is interesting on multiple levels and has good supporting performances from Ryan and Silverheels. The Christmas scenes are the icing on the proverbial cake.

As a postscript, in 1988 Gene Autry would found the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles, described by one source as “dedicated to exploring an inclusive history of the American West.”

…..

Trail of Robin Hood (William Witney, 1950)

Trail of Robin Hood Roy Rogers poster 2.jpgThe Trail of Robin Hood starring Roy Rogers

Forget the title, which strangely has nothing whatsoever to do with the film, and just enjoy this fun movie from Republic Pictures. Roy Rogers plays a U.S. Soil Conservation Service agent named…Roy Rogers, of course! Roy is friends with a retired movie star named Jack Holt, played by…Jack Holt. I find it amusing how frequently characters in these “B” Westerns go by their real names.

Jack owns a Christmas tree farm (filmed around Southern California’s Big Bear Lake) and sells his trees at cost, wanting any family desiring a Christmas tree to have one. He feels it’s a way to help express his gratitude to people who “made it possible for me to become a star.”

Trail of Robin Hood Roy Rogers poster 1

Jack’s business plan doesn’t sit well with businessman J.C. Aldridge (Emory Parnell), who’s out to corner the market on Christmas trees. He sends his daughter Toby (Penny Edwards) to try to close a deal to buy Jack’s land, but he’s not selling.

Unbeknownst to the Aldridges, J.C.’s employee Mitch McCall (Clifton Young) is going to great…great criminal lengths to ensure that his boss can put Jack out of business. However, Mitch hasn’t counted on the determination of Roy or Jack’s friends.

This charming, somewhat goofy little film takes place in what I like to call “Roy Rogers Land,” where there are modern conveniences such as cars and telephones, yet the gun-toting cowboys are much more likely to travel by horse or wagon than a gasoline-powered vehicle! The use of Trucolor, with its washed-out pastels, adds to the movie’s somewhat otherworldly, “place out of time” atmosphere.

Trail of Robin Hood Cowboy Stars

Adding hugely to the fun are the appearances of several Western stars who arrive to help Roy and Jack, including Tom Keene, Crash Corrigan, Allan “Rocky” Lane, Rex Allen, Monte Hale, Kermit Maynard, and Tom Tyler. These scenes will put a smile on the face of anyone who loves “B” Westerns.

Comic relief is also supplied by Gordon Jones as “Splinters,” with Carol Nugent playing Sis, his younger but wiser sister. Sis has a pet turkey named Sir Galahad, who might (or might not) be in danger of being eaten for Christmas dinner.

Needless to say, with the Christmas tree theme Christmas is front and center in this film. Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage join Roy for two Christmas-themed songs, “Get a Christmas Tree for Johnny” and the lovely “Ev’ry Day is Christmas Day in the West.”

This film’s music and sunny good nature will definitely help put viewers in the Christmas spirit.

 …..

Both The Cowboy and the Indians and Trail of Robin Hood are available from varied sources, and Trail of Robin Hood is on the Turner Classic Movies December schedule this year as well.

I’d love to learn about any other Westerns featuring Christmas in the comments!

Merry Christmas to all!

– 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.

Posted in Posts by Laura Grieve, Western RoundUp | Tagged , , , | 15 Comments

Musical Interlude: Singing and Dance Through the Holidays

Singing and Dancing Through the Holidays
Christmas in Musicals

Music can set the mood for the holidays. While tunes may blare out of our radios, some favorites originated in movie musicals, such as the songs “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

I’m a big fan of any holiday film, and it’s even more of a treat when you find a movie musical that has some ‘Christmas’ in it—even if the film isn’t defined as a holiday film. Here are a few holiday musicals that are holiday favorites, or relate to the Christmas holiday in some way:

…..

Sun Valley Serenade (1941)

sun valley serenade Sun Valley Serenade, John Payne and Sonja Henie

Starring: Sonja Henie, John Payne, Glenn Miller, Milton Berle, Lynn Barrie, Joan Davis, Tex Beneke, Ray Anthony, Angela Blue, The Nicholas Brothers, Dorothy Dandridge

Bandleader Phil Corey (Miller) and his big band have a job to perform at a ski resort in Sun Valley, Idaho, on Christmas Eve. As a publicity stunt, the band’s publicist (Berle) said pianist Ted Scott (Payne) will adopt a war orphan. The orphan ends up being a little older than anyone expects — adult ice skater Karen (Henie). Karen stowaways to Sun Valley with the band, interfering with the new romance of Ted and temperamental singer Vivian (Bari).

While not overtly a Christmas movie, I will throw it into the ring because it’s one you should see — if you can get your hands on it. There is so much going for Sun Valley Serenade:

  • It’s one of the few films that band leader Glenn Miller made
  • The song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” was first introduced in the film, and it charted at No. 1, on Dec. 7, 1941, holding the position for nine weeks.
  • Along with the band, Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers perform “Chattanooga Choo Choo”
  • Novelty ice skating numbers with Sonja Henie

The holidays really aren’t mentioned other than the date of the music gig, but this movie is such a treat. There is plenty of ice skating, skiing and big band music that will make you feel cozy.

…..

Holiday Inn (1942)

Starring: Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds, Virginia Dale, Walter Abel, Louise Beavers

Singer Jim (Crosby) and dancer Ted (Astaire) are both in love with the same girl, Lila (Dale). Lila jilts Jim and goes with Ted, so Jim decides to quite show business and live on a farm. He ends up converting his farm into a popular nightclub that is only open during the 15 holidays of the year.

If you are looking for a film to fit most holidays, Holiday Inn would be it (except for Halloween). It highlights Christmas twice, New Year’s twice, Valentine’s Day, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, George Washington’s birthday, Easter, Fourth of July and Thanksgiving. This film even inspired the Holiday Inn hotel chain, according to hotel founder Kemmons Wilson’s obituary. Holiday Inn is notable because Bing Crosby introduced Irving Berlin’s song “White Christmas” in the film. Holiday Inn is now considered a Christmas film because of this tune, but it wasn’t marketed by Paramount as a Christmas film since it covered all holidays. I would like to give readers a heads-up: Bing Crosby does appear in black face during the “Abraham” number, which was unfortunately a popular form of entertainment at this time. Aside from that, Holiday Inn does have excellent music and highlights some other holidays we don’t often seen spotlighted in films.

…..

Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

meet me in st. louis, judy garlandMeet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland

Starring: Judy Garland, Mary Astor, Leon Ames, Margaret O’Brien, Lucille Bremer, Marjorie Main, Tom Drake, June Lockhart, Harry Davenport, Chill Wills, Joan Carroll.

The Smith family lives in St. Louis, MO, and is in a tizzy over the 1904 World’s Fair. The film follows the family through the summer of 1903, Halloween, Christmas and the summer of 1904. Throughout the year, Esther Smith (Garland) falls in love with the boy next door, John Truitt (Drake). Esther’s older sister Rose (Bremer) flirts with older men and her two younger sisters Tootie (O’Brien) and Agnes (Carroll) get into trouble. Their blissful happiness is threatened when their father (Ames) gets a job in New York.

Meet Me in St. Louis isn’t all about holidays, but the climax of the film occurs at Christmas — Esther and John love each other, Dad makes a major life decision, and Tootie beats up snowmen. The Christmas song, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” was also introduced by Judy Garland in this film, and I refuse to listen to any other rendition of that song. I love this whole film, and it truly is one of the best musicals released by MGM. This is one of those films I have watched practically since I was born and after all this time, it still hasn’t gotten old. It’s filmed in gorgeous Technicolor, filled with wonderful songs and is also quite funny. While it features a little of every season, the Christmas scene is my favorite, and I would be remiss to leave the film off this list.

…..

On Moonlight Bay (1951)

Starring: Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Leon Ames, Rosemary DeCamp, Billy Gray, Mary Wickes, Jack Smith, Ellen Corby

Set in 1916, the Winfield family moves to a new neighborhood in town. Their tomboy daughter Marjorie (Day) falls in love with college student William (MacRae), whose ideas about education and banks don’t mesh with Mr. Winfield’s (Ames). Amidst her young romance, Marjorie’s younger brother Wesley (Gray) gets in to all sorts of trouble.

On Moonlight Bay is loosely based on Booth Tarkington’s Penrod series, though the story focuses more on Day’s character rather than the mischievous brother. This film is the Warner Bros. answer to Meet Me in St. Louis, as it features an American family at the turn of the century and is divided up by season. While this isn’t strictly a holiday film, it features a fun Christmas scene. Day is supposed to go to a Christmas dance with MacRae but breaks her leg. However, she’s too embarrassed to tell him that she broke it doing something unladylike — throwing snowballs at neighborhood boys from atop a wall. Billy Gray, inspired by a movie he saw, tells his teacher that Day broke her leg because her father was in a drunken rage — confusion and hilarity ensues. Once everyone figures out the mistake, Doris Day sings a lovely song, “Merry Christmas to All,” while Gray escapes punishment by dressing up like an angel and caroling with the kids in the neighborhood. This is such a heartwarming and family-centric film, and I adore it!

…..

White Christmas (1954)

white christmas castWhite Christmas

Starring: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Dean Jagger, Mary Wickes, Anne Whitfield

The film begins on Christmas Eve 1944, when Bob Wallace (Crosby) and Phil Davis (Kaye) are putting on a Christmas show for their outfit during World War II. They also are paying tribute to General Waverly (Jagger). Wallace saves Davis’s life, and the two partner and become successful musical performers and producers. They meet sisters of an Army buddy, Betty (Rosemary) and Judy (Vera-Ellen). The four decide to spend the holidays in Vermont at an inn where the sisters are performing. The inn happens to be owned by General Waverly, whose business is down because of the lack of snow that season. The men decide to put on a Christmas Eve show to honor him and generate business.

White Christmas is a quintessential holiday film, even though Christmas only appears twice in the film — the beginning and the end. It is supposed to be a spin-off of Holiday Inn, but I do prefer White Christmas to its predecessor. Something about its music and glamorous costumes makes me feel warm and fuzzy. I grew up with this film and it is a staple for the holiday season.

…..

Babes in Toyland (1961)

Starring: Annette Funicello, Ray Bolger, Tommy Sands, Ed Wynn, Tommy Kirk, Kevin Corcoran, Ann Jillian

Mary Quite Contrary (Funicello) and Tom the Piper’s Son (Sands) are going to get married. But dastardly Barnaby wants Mary for himself — she is to inherit money when she marries, and Barnaby wants it. Barnaby tries to kill Tom, but the couple escapes. They find themselves in Toyland where toymakers (Wynn and Kirk) are making toys for Christmas.

Most people know I love Annette Funicello. And I want to say I love Babes in Toyland but I can’t. But I tell myself I do because this movie has so much going for it. Babes in Toyland was supposed to be Walt Disney’s own Wizard of Oz, and it didn’t quite end up that way. It actually was a financial failure. However, there are reasons to watch it: It is gorgeously filmed in bright Technicolor, the costumes are elaborate, the songs are fun – and what a cast! When Annette was married, she even based her wedding dress on the one she wore in this film. This also could be a Disney film many people haven’t seen! It admittedly isn’t really a Christmas film, but they do find people making Santa’s toys and the couple rides off into a snowy wonderland at the end. The original 1934 film with Laurel and Hardy is probably a better film — and actually features Santa — but I hold a soft spot in my heart for this film. Even though I have trouble liking it, I would still defend it in an argument.

…..

Scrooge (1970)

Scrooge albert finneyScrooge, starring Albert Finney

Starring: Albert Finney, Alec Guinness, David Collings, Michael Medwin, Kenneth More, Edith Evans, Paddy Stone

Bitter Ebenezer Scrooge (Finney) is an ornery, unhappy old man who especially hates people and happiness, and Christmas. On Christmas Eve, he is visited by three ghosts (Evans, More, Stone) who show him his past, present and future and persuade him to change his ways before it’s too late.

This film is notable because of all the Christmas Carol adaptations since 1901, this is one of the few big screen, feature film musical adaptations of the Dickens story – the other would be The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992). Scrooge is interesting because it was released at the end of the musical era, and each number is elaborate with dancing and catchy songs — “Thank You Very Much” will be in your head for days. Finney isn’t the strongest Scrooge I’ve seen on film (for me that’s George C. Scott), but he is especially crotchety. He also makes Scrooge sympathetic and you feel sad for him. It’s also a special treat to see Alec Guinness as Jacob Marley.

What’s your favorite holiday musical?

…..

– Jessica Pickens for Classic Movie Hub

Jessica can be found at cometoverhollywood.com and on twitter at @HollywoodComet. In addition to her overall love of classic movies, she has ongoing series on her site including “Watching 1939″ and “Musical Monday.”

 

Posted in Musical Interlude, Posts by Jessica Pickens | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Clarence Brown, Hollywood’s Forgotten Master (Exclusive Guest Post by Author Gwenda Young)

Exclusive Guest Post by Gwenda Young,
Author of Clarence Brown: Hollywood’s Forgotten Master

“Garbo’s Favorite Director” was how many journalists chose to eulogize Clarence Brown when he died in 1987. By referring to Garbo — then alive, still elusive and still the object of curiosity — they hoped to spark some interest in the passing of one of the last remaining directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age. If he was remembered at all, it was by only a small cohort of film history buffs who appreciated the contribution he made to shaping the American screen for over five decades and for enhancing the careers of some its greatest stars, such as Garbo, Gable, Crawford, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Clarence Brown delivers RomanceClarence Brown delivers Romance*

Brown’s relative obscurity, in 1987 and today, can be attributed, at least in part, to his own reluctance to trumpet his achievements. When many of the key appraisals of American directors’ careers were being written in the 1960s and 1970s — by Truffaut, Bogdanovich, and so on — and still-working directors such as Ford, Hitchcock, and Welles were on hand to give insights into their battles with the system, their triumphs and failures, Brown was long retired. Yet he remained a presence in the Hollywood community, if apparently indifferent to maintaining much of a public profile. When Kevin Brownlow attempted to contact him for The Parade’s Gone By…, his seminal book on the American screen, he found him to be elusive quarry; so, too, did Scott Eyman and Patrick McGilligan. Brown’s years in the studio system had accustomed him to the demands of publicists and to the constant interest of the press but playing the publicity game had always been a necessary evil for him: he preferred to stay behind the camera and behind the scenes.

Clarence Brown and Norma Talmadge in a publicity shot for KikiClarence Brown and Norma Talmadge in a publicity shot for Kiki*

When Brown finally relented and granted those precious interviews to Brownlow, Eyman, and McGilligan, it became clear that a forbidding exterior masked a sensitive and perceptive nature. Brownlow was astonished by Brown’s lucidity and his precise recollection of the details of productions in which he had been involved fifty years before, and he soon became convinced that Brown was an important, if overlooked, figure in American film history.

Clarence Brown Brown, daughter Adrienne, and Rudolph Valentino in a 1925 publicity shotClarence Brown, daughter Adrienne, and Rudolph Valentino in a 1925 publicity shot*

This was a man who, after all, was present at the birth of American narrative cinema, working  out an apprenticeship with the great Frenchman Maurice Tourneur (Poor Little Rich Girl; The Blue Bird). As he developed his own directorial career from 1920, Brown quickly realized the potential of film, both as art and technology: perhaps not that surprising, given his college degree was in engineering. He went on to create some of the most innovative and technically-accomplished films of the silent era — his dynamic montage-style editing in The Signal Tower (1924) recalls the work of his contemporary Abel Gance, while the stark expressionism of Flesh and the Devil (1926) aligns him with other masters such as Fritz Lang and F.W Murnau (the latter one of his great influences). In the sound era, Brown would become known as a successful director of some of MGM’s most luminous stars, but he had already built up a formidable reputation as such a decade before: witness the never-bettered performances by Louise Dresser (whom he directed in The Goose Woman and The Eagle), Pauline Frederick (Smouldering Fires) and Rudolph Valentino (The Eagle). It was Brown who truly realized just what an extraordinary talent MGM had in Greta Garbo, and it was he who guided her in the best of her silent films: the risqué Flesh and the Devil and the poignant A Woman of Affairs (1928). And when, in Anna Christie (1930), Garbo uttered her first lines of dialogue (“gimme a vhiskey, ginger ale on the side, and don’t be stingy, baby!), Brown was the director who captured the moment.

Clarence Brown directs William Gargan and Myrna Loy in Night FlightBrown directs William Gargan and Myrna Loy in Night Flight*

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Brown carved a path that sought to balance the demands of the studio system with his own personal interests. For every lavish star production such as Anna Karenina (1935, again with Garbo), there was a more intimate and arguably more affecting offering (for instance, his lovely adaptation of O’Neill’s Ah Wilderness!, which drew from his own memories of growing up in small town America; or his moving paean to rural America, Of Human Hearts).

Clark Gable as Harry with his dance troupe in Idiot’s DelightClark Gable as “Harry” with his dance troupe in Idiot’s Delight*

There can be little doubt that Brown’s critical reputation was negatively impacted by his long association with that most conservative and “safe” of studios, MGM. It cannot be disputed, either, that Brown delivered some less-than-compelling work, sometimes giving the impression of a director operating on auto-pilot. His work at MGM in the 1940s, in particular, has been criticized for its excessive sentimentality (The Human Comedy springs to mind), but in the best of the ‘family’ films he made there he displayed a delicate touch in his direction of novice or relatively inexperienced child actors (Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet, but more strikingly, Claude Jarman in The Yearling and the extraordinary Butch Jenkins in The Human Comedy and National Velvet). MGM family films and dark themes aren’t natural bedfellows, but a closer look at the details and the results of his adaptation of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ The Yearling (1946) reveals, not only his sheer determination to finally get the film made (where Victor Fleming and King Vidor had failed), but the firm stance he took to ensure that the painfully dark emotions of the novel would be faithfully translated to the screen.

Clarence Brown films Porter Hall in the quicksand scene in Intruder in the DustClarence Brown films Porter Hall in the quicksand scene in Intruder in the Dust*

Brown’s last great film, Intruder in the Dust (1949), may not have been the final film of his career, but it can be regarded as the summation of a career. It returned him to his Southern roots — though born in Massachusetts, he was raised in Knoxville, Tennessee—and allowed him to shoot on location in William Faulkner’s home town of Oxford, Mississippi. Brown was always happiest shooting away from the studio, and for Intruder he used the dusty streets of the town and the dense foliage of its rural hinterland to build up the tense, brooding atmosphere. Brown fought to get the film made, arguing with Louis B. Mayer that it was the one film that he simply had to make. He had read Faulkner’s novel before it was even published and had snapped up the rights. Although he would later pitch in with MGM’s promotion of it as a ‘cracking whodunnit,’ in reality Brown viewed the film more as a means to offer a complex — even conflicted — consideration of America’s attitude toward race relations. As a teenager, Brown witnessed the Atlanta race riots (1906) and was forever haunted by what he had seen. Intruder in the Dust, then, was an act of apology, an exorcism of the guilt he felt when he had been powerless to intervene to stop the carnage against the African American citizens who were being lynched on the streets of the city.

As it turned out, Intruder in the Dust was a box-office flop, but it became the critical triumph of his career, garnering raves from white and, more unusually, black reviewers (novelist Ralph Ellison observed that it was the only [white] Hollywood film about race relations that wouldn’t be ‘laughed off the screen’ in a Harlem theater).

Clarence Brown directs Edward Arnold in Sadie McKee as Joan Crawford looks on - The cameraman is Oliver T MarshClarence Brown directs Edward Arnold in Sadie McKee as Joan Crawford looks on. The cameraman is Oliver T. Marsh*

Brown quit Hollywood in 1953, disgusted by MGM’s treatment of his close friend, Mayer, and weary of the climate of paranoia and cynicism that had sprung up as the community battled competition from television and negotiated the tensions and fallout of the HUAC investigations. His filmmaking career and his considerable business acumen had made him a wealthy man, and he simply didn’t need to continue in a business that had become, since the failure of Intruder, something of a daily grind. And yet, despite the brusque exterior and his initial rebuffing of would-be interviewers and biographers, there was something in him that relished the attention and, most importantly, the renewed appreciation of his work. When Kevin Brownlow organized a screening of The Goose Woman (1925) at the Cinémathèque in Paris, Brown watched with a smile as scenes he shot forty years before unfolded on the screen. When the lights went up, he turned to Brownlow and with “a satisfied grin,” admitted “I didn’t know I was that good.”

*all photos courtesy of Gwenda Young

…..

–Gwenda Young for Classic Movie Hub

Gwenda Young is a professor of film history and lecturer in film studies at University College, Cork, Ireland. She is the author of numerous articles about film history, including three articles about Clarence Brown, and co-editor of two books of critical essays. In 2003, along with Kevin Brownlow, she curated a retrospective of Brown’s films at the National Film Theatre, London. Her latest book, Clarence Brown: Hollywood’s Forgotten Master is the first full-length account of the life and career of the pioneering filmmaker.

We’re giving away copies of Gwenda’s new book from now through Dec 8; you can enter here. And if you can’t wait to win the book, you can purchase the on amazon by clicking here:

 

 

Posted in Books, Guest Posts | Tagged , , | 1 Comment