Monsters and Matinees: From Villain to Wronged Man, the Diverse Horror Roles of Vincent Price

From Villain to Wronged Man,
the Diverse Horror Roles of Vincent Price

It’s October, the time of year when the world realizes it’s OK to watch scary movies every day – and horror film fans are right there with suggestions whether you’ve asked for them or not.

This year I thought it would be fun to share ideas based on horror film subgenres like vampires, witches, haunted houses and the like.

In horror films, actors – even some of the best – tend to repeat the same role or same type of film. (And there’s nothing wrong with that!) But as I compiled a list of assorted types of horror films, it was surprising to see the same actor playing such varied roles: Vincent Price. That would seem obvious given that he’s a horror icon, but it served as a reminder of how talented he was as an actor.

  • Played a gifted, but wronged, sculptor pitifully seeking to replicate his Marie Antoinette in House of Wax.
  • Was a caring, concerned family member in The Fly.
  • Chewed the scenery as the multifaceted and macabre Abominable Dr. Phibes.

Price has even played the holy grail of horror: a Universal monster. And I don’t mean that briefest of cameos in the comic gem Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, but his starring bit in a role that’s easy to overlook – because you don’t see him.

That’s Vincent Price under the bandages as the title character in The Invisible Man Returns.

Price as a Universal monster

Though we associate Universal’s The Invisible Man with the sympathetic portrayal by Claude Rains in the 1933 James Whale film, Price was the title character in the decent 1940 sequel The Invisible Man Returns (1940).

He plays Geoffrey Radcliffe, a man who is hours away from death after being wrongly convicted of murdering his brother. After all else fails, his fiancée Helen (Nan Grey) and their friend Dr. Frank Griffin (John Sutton) set a desperate escape plan into motion. Griffin is the brother of John Griffin, the scientist played by Rains in the original film who discovered a serum for invisibility that came with a side effect of madness.

In the time since, Frank has been researching an antidote to the deadly side effect. Though he hasn’t found it, he still injects Geoffrey to help him escape and safe his life. Unfortunately, the madness part of the serum kicks in much sooner than expected, complicating efforts to continue work on the antidote while searching for the real murderer.

A lobby card for The Invisible Man Returns.

The story is everything we expect, with the bonus of the mystery surrounding the killer. At a quick 81 minutes, it’s also a good use of classic movie time.

With Price playing the title character, we know he will rarely – if ever – be seen. That initially didn’t matter since there was the expectation that his iconic voice would be the star. But this was an early role – Price was not yet 30 – and his voice wasn’t as strong and eloquent as it would later become.

There are two other good reasons to watch this film. The Oscar-nominated special effects are by John P. Fulton, who also did the groundbreaking work in the original film. Then there’s the supporting cast: Cecil Kellaway as a Scotland Yard inspector, Cedric Hardwicke as family friend Richard Cobb and Alan Napier in a small but important role as Willie Spears.

Here are more suggestions of Vincent Price films by genre.

Great classic film actors Joseph Cotten, left, and Vincent Price in The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

Mad genius: The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971) is a crazy, colorful dark comedy mashup of “The Phantom of the Opera”/mad genius/vengeful husband/sadistic killer tropes. Price plays the multitalented good doctor, concert pianist, theologist and scholar thought to have died in a car accident. Instead, he has been biding his time to get vengeance on the doctors he holds responsible for his wife’s death. “Nine killed you, 9 will die,” he says to a photo of his beautiful, but dead, wife. (The accident left him without a voice, forcing him to speak with a chord he attaches to his neck that replicates his voice.)

Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) has invented a strange contraption that allows his voice to be heard in The Abominable Dr. Phibes.

It’s one of the many quirky things in the film, but nothing is as odd as his “home” where an organ rises through the floor into a room with a stage flanked by musical robots (The Dr. Phibes Clockwork Wizards) and a dance floor where he twirls around his lovely, but silent, assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North). In her stage-worthy outfits, she willingly helps him carry out his deadly deeds as he enacts the 10 curses of the Pharaohs on the guilty including boils, bats, frogs, locusts, death of the first born and darkness. (Wait, if there are nine doctors, who is the 10th victim?).

The deaths are grisly – or at least “yucky” by today’s standards – and Price wonderfully hams it up throughout. Giving a strong dramatic performance is the great Joseph Cotten as one of the endangered doctors. (Finally, an aging classic movie actor is not played for laughs in a horror film.)

Shakespearean horror: Theatre of Blood (1973).  Price did quite well by the works of Edgar Allen Poe, so why not try some Shakespeare? This is similar to Phibes as far as the revenge factor. Here, Price plays Shakespearean actor Edward Kendal Sheridan Lionheart who seeks revenge on members of the Theatre Critics Guild who belittled him. His method of murder: killing each one by enacting a murder scene from Shakespeare. Bonus: Diana Rigg plays his daughter.

Vincent Price is quite charming in The House on Haunted Hill.

Haunted house: The House on Haunted Hill (1959). From the mind of movie showman William Castle who was known for his gimmicks, this haunted house film has a bit of camp, some jump scares and big entertainment value. Price is millionaire Frederick Loren who offers five strangers $10,000 each if they last the night in a haunted house as part of a celebration for his fourth wife, Annabelle (Carole Ohmart). The scenes of the sniping husband-and-wife are the best part of the film, as they wield their sharp words like weapons against each other. This is more of a fun ride than horror house, and that is the film’s charm. The Castle gimmick used here was “Emergo,” in which a skeleton “emerged” above moviegoers in theaters at early screenings.

[Read more from Monsters and Matinees on The House on Haunted Hill and William Castle.]

A publicity shot for The Tingler shows the shadow of the title creature above the head of Vincent Price.

Creature Feature: The Tingler (1959). The same year as The House on Haunted Hill, Price starred in a second William Castle film. It’s remembered for Castle’s “Percepto” gimmick that had seat buzzers placed throughout theaters, but I wish it was more appreciated for the awesome title creature – one that was created from fear. “Many people die in fear, I wonder how many die of fear,” wonders Dr. Warren Chapin (Price) before discovering that the tingle up our spine is a creature that lives within us all. The film plays with the audience and our perception of what’s happening, something Price helps as a kindly doctor who is also a jealous husband and a crazed scientist who seemingly will stop at nothing to finish his experiments. Enjoy the brilliant pops of red Castle splashes through the film.

Vincent Price spends his nights fending off vampire-like humans, victims of a plague that left him The Last Man on Earth.

Vampires/zombies: The Last Man on Earth (1964). Whether you consider this a vampire film, a zombie flick or a mix, you’ll still find Price a sympathetic survivor of a mysterious plague who unfortunately is not as alone as the title would lead us to believe. In this Italian-made adaptation of master writer Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, Price is a doctor immune to a plague that has killed off the world, turning the few survivors into creatures who feed off humans. Like vampires, they sleep during the day, hate garlic and die by a stake through the heart. An overwhelming feeling of doom hangs over this film.

Witches: Witchfinder General (1968, AKA Conqueror Worm). Set in 1645 where folklore and superstition reign, lawyer Matthew Hopkins (Price) travels the lands torturing innocent villagers into confessing to be witches and hanging them. The tables are turned when a soldier (Ian Ogilvy) tracks him after Hopkins assaults his fiancée and murders her uncle, a priest. Price, who is deadly serious as the sadistic Hopkins, considered it one of his best performances.

 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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Classic Movie Travels: Evelyn Keyes

Classic Movie Travels: Evelyn Keyes

Evelyn Keyes Headshot
Evelyn Keyes

Best known for portraying Scarlett O’Hara’s little sister, Evelyn Keyes had a lengthy career that extended far beyond her time in Gone with the Wind (1939). Born Evelyn Louise Keyes on November 20, 1916, in Port Arthur, Texas, she was the daughter of Methodist minister Omar Dow Keyes and Maude Keyes. Keyes was the youngest of five children, with older siblings named Norma, Julia, Mary, and Garrett. Sadly, her father passed when she was a toddler, leading the family to relocate to Atlanta, Georgia, and live with her grandparents.

During her teenage years, Keyes studied voice, dance, and piano, and performed in various clubs in the Atlanta area. She hoped to one day become a ballerina but her entry in a beauty pageant opened the door to working as a chorus girl. Keyes moved to Hollywood soon after and crossed paths with Cecil B. DeMille, who signed her to a contract.

After executing several smaller roles for Paramount Pictures, Keyes secured her role as Suellen O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. Next, she signed with Columbia, appearing in various B-movie dramas. Some of her movies following Gone with the Wind included Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), The Jolson Story (1946), Johnny O’Clock (1947), The Mating of Millie (1948), and her final major role in The Seven Year Itch (1955).

Ann Rutherford, Vivien Leigh, and Evelyn Keyes in Gone with the Wind (1939)
Ann Rutherford, Vivien Leigh, and Evelyn Keyes in Gone with the Wind (1939)

Throughout her life, she had four marriages. She was first married to Barton Bainbridge, who committed suicide in 1940. Her following marriages were to Charles Vidor, John Huston (with whom she adopted a child named Pablo), and Artie Shaw.

Beyond her time in movies, Keyes occasionally performed on stage, including a touring production of No, No, Nanette. She also carried out guest appearances on The Love Boat and Murder, She Wrote.

Evelyn Keyes in The Seven Year Itch (1955)
Keyes in The Seven Year Itch (1955)

Aside from her work on the stage and screen, Keyes enjoyed traveling and had residences in England, France, and Mexico, even speaking Spanish and French fluently.

Keyes passed away on July 4, 2008, at the age of 91 in Montecito, California.

At this point, much of Keyes’s early residences have been razed. In 1920, her mother and siblings lived at 840 Spring St. in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1930, they lived at 1081 Sells Ave. SW in Atlanta. By 1935, Keyes lived at 11147 Aqua Vista in Los Angeles, California, with Bainbridge, later moving to 2461 N. Gower St. in Los Angeles in 1940. None of these residences remain.

Thankfully, Keyes donated memorabilia to the Museum of the Gulf Coast, located in her hometown at 700 Procter St., in Port Arthur, Texas. Various tributes to her can be viewed there.

Museum of the Gulf Coast in Port Arthur, Texas

In addition to viewing her hometown display, fans of Keyes can also learn more about her through her own recollections. Keyes wrote three books: I Am a Billboard, Scarlett O’Hara’s Younger Sister, and I’ll Think about That Tomorrow.

"Scarlett O'Hara's Younger Sister: My Lively Life In and Out of Hollywood" by Evelyn Keyes Book Author
“Scarlett O’Hara’s Younger Sister: My Lively Life In and Out of Hollywood” by Evelyn Keyes

Though few tributes to Keyes remain, it is heartening to see her remembered in her hometown and to know that her life and experiences were documented in her books.

–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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Lives Behind the Legends: Hedy Lamarr – The Beautiful Inventor

Lives Behind the Legends: Hedy Lamarr – The Beautiful Inventor

Hedy Lamarr Inventing
Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr is known as one of the most beautiful actresses to come out of classic Hollywood. She was so alluring, that the looks of animated characters such as Snow White and Catwoman were inspired by her. But Hedy just might be the ultimate example of the old adage ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’. She wasn’t just a glamorous classic Hollywood actress, she was also a bright and talented inventor whose greatest invention still impacts our lives today. It’s almost too much to fathom; few people are as beautiful as her, even less achieve her level of fame and she was a talented inventor as well. Her life story is a compelling one, with her extraordinary beauty working both for and against her. It’s safe to say that Hedy was a unique and inspiring individual who should be known around the world. But the average person doesn’t realize that their Wi-Fi and Bluetooth were made possible by a classic Hollywood actress named Hedy Lamarr.

Hedy Lamarr came from a privileged background. As an only child of wealthy parents, she had everything she wanted while growing up in Vienna. Her parents stimulated her development in every way: she had ballet and piano lessons, was taught multiple languages, and played several sports. Hedy was a creative and inquisitive little girl. Although she grew up in a time when girls were seen and not heard, her parents encouraged her to think for herself. Her father would answer all of her questions and explain to her how things like paper presses and streetcars worked. She soaked knowledge up like a sponge and would take apart her music box to see how it worked and put it back together herself. This was only one of her many hobbies. She was fascinated by stories and the stage and would act out fairytales in front of her patient parents. As she grew into a teenager, the beautiful Hedy was praised more and more for her looks. She foresaw an opportunity and she dropped out of school at 16 to pursue acting. The ambitious Hedy quickly found success with the controversial film Ecstasy (1933), in which she appeared naked and simulated an orgasm.

Hedy Lamarr in Ecstasy (1933)
Lamarr in Ecstasy (1933)

As a beautiful, young starlet Hedy had plenty of suitors. One of them was Fritz Mandl, the rich chairman of a leading weapon factory. They were married when Hedy was 19. She enjoyed the luxurious life they led at first, but quickly grew bored. Hedy liked listening to conversations Mandl had about the workings of his products but wasn’t allowed to participate. She had given up her career and was now nothing more than a trophy wife. More worryingly, was that Fritz was insanely jealous and possessive. Hedy was not allowed to leave the house without him and she became a prisoner in her marriage. Here, her inventiveness came in handy. She had attempted to flee before, but he had intercepted her. So she concocted a plan: she hired a maid that looked like her, put a sleeping pill in her tea, switched their outfits, and left.

She fled to England and subsequently followed MGM studio boss Louis B. Mayer on a ship that headed towards America. Her ambition hadn’t waned and Hedy was ready to get back to work. Hedy knew what she was doing when she wore the last designer gown she owned and walked into the ship’s restaurant. All heads turned towards her and Mayer offered her a contract then and there. Once again, her looks and determination had gotten her ahead in life – a fact that Hedy was all too aware of. When they arrived in Hollywood, Mayer promoted his new star as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’. The film Algiers (1938) proved to be her big break and the studio made her star in film-after-film. There was one thing Mayer had not counted on, though: Hedy was so much more than just beautiful. She was smart and ambitious and she knew that they were not giving her quality films to star in. They quarreled often and he quickly labeled her as ‘difficult’.

Hedy’s attention shifted when World War II began. She was heartbroken as she watched her beloved Europe suffer. Hedy still had an inventive mind and she had started writing ideas for inventions in her notebook. Her marriage to Mandl had given her a particularly keen insight into weaponry. As she watched World War II unfold from across the Atlantic, she knew she could put her talents to good use. At the time, a big problem was jammed torpedoes – the Nazis would jam their adversary’s torpedo, switch its direction and let it land onto ships filled with scared World War II evacuees. This hit home for Hedy, who was trying to get her mother safely out of Europe. She came up with an ingenious idea: instead of having the radio guidance transmitter and the torpedo’s receiver fixed on one frequency, let it ‘hop’ to different frequencies. They would jump simultaneously from frequency to frequency, making it impossible for the enemy to locate and block a message before it had moved to another frequency. Hedy knew this was a good idea, but she needed a partner to make it work. She found composer and fellow inventor George Antheil – he immediately saw the genius in Hedy’s idea and used his skills with pianos to good use. He used a player-piano roll to randomly change the signal sent between the control center and the torpedo. A player-piano mechanism, which he had earlier used to score his Ballet Mécanique (1924), controlled the frequency-hopping sequence. Their invention is known as “frequency hopping”.

Hedy Lamarr Frequency hopping Invention Patent
Hedy with her “frequency hopping” invention

The two worked on the idea for several months. Hedy later remembered sitting on her living room rug with George and laying matches on the rug to simulate the wiring. Finally, they sent their idea to the National Inventions Council, a new organization for inventions that helped with the military defense during the war. The Council liked what they saw and suggested that they file a patent. Their patent was granted on 11th August 1941 as a ‘Secret Communication System’. The highly critical members of the National Inventions Council were excited about the invention, but some work needed to be done to make it viable. This took a long time and Hedy became restless. While shooting films like Ziegfeld Girl (1941) and Come Live With Me (1941), she was still coming up with inventions.

She would sit on her floor working out ideas with Antheil or write furiously in her notebook full of ideas until late at night. Notorious businessman and engineer Howard Hughes recognized Hedy’s intelligence and potential. He told her that she could use his equipment and staff whenever she wanted. She tried out multiple inventions. One of them was a cube that would turn into a soft drink when adding water. She perfected it, before realizing that water had different qualities in every city, so it wouldn’t work. Hedy had more success when redesigning the wing shape for Hughes’ airplanes. She felt that they were too slow, so she invented a more aerodynamic shape based on fish and birds.

News of the Secret Communication System spread when The New York Times printed an article with the headline: ‘Hedy Lamarr Inventor – Actress Devises ‘Red-Hot’ Apparatus For Use In Defense’. It remarked that the invention was so vital that the government refused to give them any details. The Los Angeles Times picked up the story and added that 30,000 inventions had been submitted to the National Inventions Council, only 100 had been accepted and only half a dozen were considered ‘red-hot’. Though there was obvious excitement surrounding the invention, the government took its time in approving it.

By now, America was at war as well and Hedy wanted nothing more than to help. She had many more ideas for inventions to be used for defense and offered her services to the government. She later said: “I could feel there were more important things in the world at that time than motion pictures.” Despite her ‘red-hot’ invention, the government still refused to see her as more than just a beautiful actress. They advised her to help the war effort by selling bonds, like many of her peers were doing. Disappointed but determined to help in any way she could, Hedy went on tour to sell war bonds. She would go on to sell about $25 million, which would be $343 million today. Although she was proud of that accomplishment, she knew she could help the war effort much more with the Secret Communication System. By now, the government had finally approved it and had given it to the navy.

Eventually, the devastating news came: the navy deemed it too difficult to implement. Even though Antheil had worked hard to make the system as small as a wristwatch, his biggest inspiration became its downfall. As soon as the navy officers read about the piano mechanism they said: ‘What do you wanna do, put a player piano in a torpedo?’. They threw the patent aside and it was shelved for almost two decades.

In the meantime, Hedy struggled with her superficial image. In real life, Hedy never liked glamour. She lived in a farmhouse, wore simple clothes, and little to no make-up.

Hedy Lamarr at home in her normal state
Lamarr at home

She famously stated that “any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid“. Still, big boss Louis B. Mayer only gave her parts in films like White Cargo (1942), in which she played the exotic sexual interest of the protagonist. Once her studio contract was over, she set out to produce her own films. Taking the reign suited her and she was one of the first actresses to do so. The first few films did reasonably well and she decided to create her own epic, based on the success of her earlier film Samson and Delilah (1949). The Loves of Three Queens was about three great women in history and how their beauty got in the way of love. Hedy gave it her all, poured her own money into it, and played all three women. Unfortunately, she could not find a studio to distribute the movie and she lost her money.

By the ’60s, her career was virtually non-existent and she turned to plastic surgery. Although she hated that her looks had gotten in the way of people taking her seriously, she secretly felt that it was the only reason people were interested in her at all. She was well aware of the part her looks had played in her success in Hollywood in the past and she needed work. Even in the plastic surgeon’s office, Hedy’s inventive mind was an asset. She suggested different techniques to tighten the skin and let the surgeon try them out on her. They worked wonders and became commonplace in Hollywood.

In 1969, Hedy went on a quest to find out what happened to her Secret Communication System. She found out that it had been used during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. All of America’s navy ships had been equipped with her and Antheil’s invention for missile-guided torpedoes. At this point, Hedy was living off of $300 a week. Since her patent had been used so successfully, she asked for compensation. She was told the patent had conveniently expired just before it was used. Hedy knew this wasn’t true and that they had to have worked on the patent for the last few years, but there was nothing she could do. In years to come, evidence would arise, but by then it was too late to sue. In the following decades, her invention would be used to create cell phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS. In these cases, there were no ‘enemies’ trying to intercept the signal, but frequency hopping allows users to communicate simultaneously without interference. If a signal fails or is obstructed the connection doesn’t just stop, it ‘hops’ to another frequency. 

While her invention was changing the world, Hedy struggled. During her Hollywood heyday, the studio had kept her on a regular diet of uppers and downers. A regular practice to keep their biggest stars on a tight schedule. Later on, she became the victim of the infamous ‘Dr. Feelgood’ whose vitamin shots were actually filled with methamphetamine. This caused her to behave more and more erratically. She lost her last film role, in Picture Mommy Dead (1966), due to a shoplifting scandal in 1965. Her past came back to haunt her as well. She wrote her autobiography with the help of two ghostwriters who took their liberty with the truth. Hedy was shocked to find the book rife with sexual anecdotes. They named the book ‘Ecstasy’, after the controversial movie that made her famous. Despite her lawsuit, or maybe because of it, the book became a bestseller.

Hedy Lamarr in court in 1966 following her shoplifting scandal
Lamarr in court in 1966 following her shoplifting scandal

As her life unraveled, Hedy tried to hold onto the one thing that had never failed her: her beauty. She was obsessed with plastic surgery, went too far, and ultimately became a caricature of her former self. The looks people once raved about were now mocked. Hedy started living in seclusion, only seeing a handful of friends who lived nearby. Over the years, she had six unsuccessful marriages and two children. But even her children and grandchildren could not convince her to see them in real life, She would only speak to them over the phone and she sent her grandchildren signed pictures from her Hollywood days.

Hedy would keep inventing until her death in 2000. In her final years, she invented a fluorescent dog collar, modifications for the supersonic Concorde airliner, and a new kind of stoplight. Inventor Carmelo ‘Nino’ Amarena spoke to her in 1997 and later recalled: “We talked like two engineers on a hot project. I never felt I was talking to a movie star, but to a fellow inventor.

In May 1990, Forbes magazine printed an interview with Hedy which mentioned her invention and how much it had affected society. It was the first time since the early 1940’s that the mainstream press spoke of it. The press picked up the story and people in science took notice. In the late 90’s she received in short succession: the Millstar Award from Lockheed, the Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, the Electronic Frontier Foundations Award, the Chariot Award of the Inventors Club of America, and the Viktor Kaplan Medal from Austria. Hedy, by now in her eighties, let her son pick up the awards. He passed along the message that she hoped her invention would do good and that she was happy it was not made in vain.

All in all, her invention is now worth around $30 billion. Hedy never received any of it and spent her final days in a modest apartment in Miami. Still, the recognition her invention received meant a lot to her. Or as she said to her son: “It’s about time!“.

Hedy’s beauty was both a gift and a curse. Without it, she wouldn’t have been a successful movie star in Hollywood’s golden age. Yet, it made her a commodity to be used and it kept people from seeing what was underneath. Really, it was their loss: her inventive mind was extraordinary. Scientists today have pointed out how amazing it is that someone without an education in the field had such a keen understanding of the inner workings of science. You can’t help but wonder what Hedy could have accomplished if only more people had taken her seriously. It’s a testament to her determination and strength of character that even with very few people believing in her abilities, she managed to create an invention that has changed the world in so many ways. How different would our lives be without cell phones, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS?

But while we all know names like Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, Hedy Lamarr is not known to many people other than classic Hollywood fans and interested scientists. Thankfully, more and more people and organizations are trying to give Hedy the credit she so deserves. Google did a ‘Google Doodle’ of her on her 101st birthday, actress Susan Sarandon produced the documentary Bombshell about Hedy and her invention and Germany chose her birthday as their Inventors Day. With STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields trying to get more girls involved, Hedy would be their perfect poster woman. Her story is inspiring and shows that you don’t have to be one thing or another. Hedy was smart ánd beautiful, inventive and creative, ambitious, and an idealist.

Forget money, fame, and recognition, what she really hoped was that her invention would make the world a better place. So if you’re reading this on your phone or on the computer through Wi-Fi, give Hedy a little thanks. It wouldn’t be possible without her.

— 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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“Hitchcock and the Censors” & “Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism” – Book Giveaway (Oct)

“Hitchcock and the Censors” &
“Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism”
Two Hitch Books for Two Lucky Winners!

CMH is happy to announce our next Classic Movie Book Giveaway as part of our partnership with University Press of Kentucky! This time, we’ll be celebrating October with two books about the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock!

That said, we’ll be giving away two books this month — Hitchcock and the Censors by John Billheimer and Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism by Paula Marantz Cohen. And, yes, each winner will win both books!

Two Hitchcock Books


In order to qualify to win this Hitchcock Prize Package via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, October 30 at 6PM EST.

We will announce our two lucky winners on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub on Sunday, October 31, around 9PM EST. And, please note that you don’t have to have a Twitter account to enter; just see below for the details.

So, to recap, there will be TWO WINNERS, chosen by random, and each winner will win BOTH of these books:


And now on to the contest!

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, October 30, 2021 at 6PM EST

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 “Hitchcock and the Censors” and “Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism” #BookGiveaway courtesy of @KentuckyPress & @ClassicMovieHub – Two lucky winners will win both books  #EnterToWin here:

What is your favorite film by Hitchcock and why? And, if you’re not familiar with his work, why do you want to win these books?

*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 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…


Don’t forget to check our chats in our Screen Classics Discussion Series with University Press of Kentucky and @CitizenScreen. You can catch them on Facebook and YouTube:

The Crane Legacy — with Author Robert Crane


Jayne Mansfield: The Girl Couldn’t Help It — with Author Eve Golden


Vitagraph: America’s First Great Motion Picture Studio – with Author Andrew Erish:


Jane Russell and the Marketing of a Hollywood Legend – with Author Christina Rice:


Growing Up Hollywood with Victoria Riskin and William Wellman Jr:


About the Books:

Hitchcock and the Censors: Author John Billheimer traces the forces that led to the Production Code and describes Hitchcock’s interactions with code officials on a film-by-film basis as he fought to protect his creations, bargaining with code reviewers and sidestepping censorship to produce a lifetime of memorable films. Despite the often-arbitrary decisions of the code board, Hitchcock still managed to push the boundaries of sex and violence permitted in films by charming — and occasionally tricking — the censors and by swapping off bits of dialogue, plot points, and individual shots (some of which had been deliberately inserted as trading chips) to protect cherished scenes and images. By examining Hitchcock’s priorities in dealing with the censors, this work highlights the director’s theories of suspense as well as his magician-like touch when negotiating with code officials.

Alfred Hitchcock: The Legacy of Victorianism: This provocative study traces Alfred Hitchcock’s long directorial career from Victorianism to postmodernism. Paula Cohen considers a sampling of Hitchcock’s best films — Shadow of a Doubt, Rear Window, Vertigo, Psycho — as well as some of his more uneven ones — Rope, The Wrong Man, Topaz — and makes connections between his evolution as a filmmaker and trends in the larger society.

Click here for the full contest rules. 

Please note that only United States (excluding the territory of Puerto Rico) and Canada entrants are eligible.

Good Luck!

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



–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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Film Noir Review: The Harder They Fall (1956)

“Some guys can sell out; some guys can’t.”

Humphrey Bogart is the icon of film noir. Despite working tirelessly in genres like drama, romance, and comedy, the man, affectionately known as “Bogie,” is best remembered for the dozen or so noir films he made between 1940 and his death in 1957. The iconography of the man is so transcendent, in fact, that the signature trench coat and fedora look so often associated with noir is pulled from one of his non-noir releases, Casablanca (1942).

All things considered, the ties between Bogart and film noir are justified. It was the one-two punch of High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon (both 1941) that made him a star, it was the commercial gloss of The Big Sleep (1946) that made him and Lauren Bacall Hollywood’s reigning “It” couple, and it was the psychopathy of In a Lonely Place (1950) that resulted in some of his finest acting. The movement was good to Bogart, and he to it, which made it fitting that his final release, The Harder They Fall (1956), fell squarely within the film noir wheelhouse.

Bogart “pulls no punches” on the film’s poster.

The Harder They Fall is a straightforward boxing noir, replete with the fixed fights and crooked promoters. The narrative hook that helps the film stand out is that it’s told from the detached perspective of sportswriter Eddie Willis (Bogart). Willis hit the skids when his newspaper folded, and he’s resorted to doing PR work for manic promoter Nick Benko (Rod Steiger). The crooked nature of the gig reaches a breaking point, however, when Benko recruits a massive boxer named Moreno (Mike Lane) and begins fixing all of his fights so he can increase ticket prices. Who needs good boxing when you can pay to gawk at size?

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Budd Schulberg, which is fitting, given the similarities to Schulberg’s scripts for On the Waterfront (1954) and A Face In the Crowd (1957). All three films deal with artifice of schemers, and the lengths that individuals must go to break through and restore the balance of truth. Willis is perhaps the least likely candidate for martyr, given his willingness to promote Moreno early on, but the gradual transformation that the character undergoes is one of the film’s strongest elements.

Eddie Willis (Bogart) tries to balance empathy and exploitation.

Bogart was no stranger to playing tough guys with hearts of gold. He’s the quintessential actor when it comes to this archetype, and several decades into his career, he was still finding different ways to package these familiar tropes. The feigned toughness of his earlier roles gives way to a fatherly relationship with the clueless Moreno, and the delicate line Bogart walks between empathetic and exploitative is masterfully balanced. Willis isn’t a monster, he’s merely a guy doing an unpleasant job.

On the flip side, Willis gets an enormous kick out of insulting Benko and his team. Bogart’s laconic delivery was still sharp as ever, and one of the film’s singular pleasures is seeing it collide with Rod Steiger’s brash intensity. The two men were separated by a generation and an acting approach, but despite Bogart’s apathy towards the “Method” style, their scenes together have an undeniable rhythm. It helps that screenwriter Philip Yordan provided them with some choice dialogue. My favorite line comes from Willis in a moment of supreme disillusion: “A man past his forties shouldn’t have to run anymore.” It perfectly sums up the mindset of a man who’s had enough.

Dueling approaches: The sardonic Bogart and the manic Steiger.

The biggest issue the film has is the relatively nondescript plotting. The direction by Mark Robson is solid, but the events unfold at an awkward pace, especially towards the final act. It robs the ending of its rightful momentum and pulls some of the enjoyment out of repeat viewings. Robson was no slouch when it came to boxing-themed noir, as his masterful film Champion (1949) can attest, so it makes this a particularly strange case of the right ingredients resulting in a slightly (just slightly) underwhelming stew.

I’d also chalk up some of my underwhelmed feeling about the finale to the story, which takes the relatively bland route of having Willis pen an expose on the boxing industry. In comparison to the grandiose gestures of other Schulberg protagonists, it feels like an ending that was slightly defanged.

Mark Robson’s direction evokes his earlier with horror master Val Lewton.

Ironically, the film was released with two different endings, furthering the notion that it didn’t know where it wanted to go. The second ending is even more slight than the first, as Willis merely calls for an investigation into the sport of boxing. A punchier outcome would have done wonders here.

The Harder They Fall, despite its unflattering title and uneven pacing, is a worthy swan song for Bogart. The actor was diagnosed with lung cancer shortly before production started, and despite the physical pain he was experiencing, he never let it inhibit his work. He remained at the top of his game, and his presence helps to elevate this decent film into the realm of being very good. Such is the power of Bogart and film noir. Few combinations have ever been so consistently fruitful.

TRIVIA: The film was loosely based on the life of boxer Primo Carnera, who unsuccessfully tried to sue the film’s makers on the grounds that it damaged his reputation.


–Danilo Castro for Classic Movie Hub

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

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Western RoundUp: Preview – 2021 Lone Pine Film Festival

Western RoundUp: Preview – 2021 Lone Pine Film Festival

The 31st Lone Pine Film Festival – October 7-10, 2021
The 31st Lone Pine Film Festival – October 7-10, 2021

After a challenging year and a half, it’s wonderful to see some beloved aspects of “normalcy” returning here in the United States.

One such example is the Lone Pine Film Festival, which returns to Lone Pine, California, for its 31st edition in October 2021.

Last year, like many film festivals, the Lone Pine Festival went “all virtual.” I was impressed with what was presented online and wrote about it here at Classic Movie Hub.

This year the festival will be held in Lone Pine from October 7th through 10th. The theme is “The Great Western Comeback.”

Lone Pine Film Festival 2021, "The Great Western Comeback"
This year’s theme is “The Great Western Comeback”

The Lone Pine Film Festival strikes me as the ideal experience as we ease back into normalcy. While the screenings take place indoors, much of the festival takes place in the great outdoors, so those preferring to limit their time indoors have numerous options. Outdoor activities available at the festival include the opening night buffet and closing night campfire, numerous movie location tours, a parade, a stunt show, a panel discussion, a nondenominational Sunday morning Cowboy Church service, and horseback riding.

The festival begins with a buffet reception in the parking lot of Lone Pine’s Museum of Western Film History, where it’s often possible to mingle with some of the festival’s special guests.

This year the guests will include Patrick Wayne, Claude Jarman Jr., Bruce Boxleitner, Robert Carradine, Darby Hinton, William Wellman Jr., Jay Dee Witney (son of director William Witney), Wyatt McCrea (grandson of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee), Cheryl Rogers Barnett (daughter of Roy Rogers and stepdaughter of Dale Evans), and Diamond Farnsworth (son of Richard Farnsworth).

Discussion moderators will include Rob Word and Steve Latshaw. Musician Jay C. Munns, a festival regular I’ve heard accompany several silent films at past festivals, will also be on hand.

There will be approximately 20 films shown at this year’s festival. Highlights from the film schedule include:

Red River (1988) Movie Poster
Red River (1988)

*An opening night screening of a TV version of Red River (1988), postponed from the 2019 festival. James Arness, Bruce Boxleitner, and Gregory Harrison starred in the roles played in the original 1948 film by John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, and John Ireland. Boxleitner will be on hand for a Q&A session with Rob Word. I’ve met Boxleitner at past festivals; he loves classic movies!

The Grey Fox (1982) Movie Poster
The Grey Fox (1982)

*The Grey Fox (1982) starring Richard Farnsworth, introduced by his son Diamond.

Hangman's Knot (1952) Movie Poster
Hangman’s Knot (1952)

*Hangman’s Knot (1952), starring Randolph Scott and Donna Reed, with costar Claude Jarman Jr. present for a Q&A session.

Rio Grande (1950) Movie Poster
Rio Grande (1950)

*John Ford‘s Rio Grande (1950), starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, with Claude Jarman Jr. and Patrick Wayne participating in interviews. Wayne had a small part in the film, his first screen role, while Jarman played Wayne and O’Hara’s son and even learned to perform Roman riding for the film alongside Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. I wrote about my love of Rio Grande for Classic Movie Hub in March 2020.

The Great Man's Lady (1942) Movie Poster
The Great Man’s Lady (1942)

*Wyatt McCrea and William Wellman Jr. present The Great Man’s Lady (1942), which starred Wyatt’s grandfather, Joel McCrea, directed by Wellman’s father, William Wellman.

Under Western Stars (1938) Movie Poster
Under Western Stars (1938)

*The world premiere of a 4K remaster of Under Western Stars (1938), starring Roy Rogers, introduced by Cheryl Rogers Barnett.

The Long Riders (1980) Movie Poster
The Long Riders (1980)

*Robert Carradine will be present for a screening and discussion of The Long Riders (1980), in which he appeared with his brothers David and Keith, as well as the Quaid, Keach, and Guest brothers.

Hidden Valley (1932) Movie Poster
Hidden Valley (1932)

*Hidden Valley (1932) with Bob Steele, whose “B” Westerns I’ve really come to appreciate thanks to past festivals.

High Sierra (1941) Movie Poster
High Sierra (1941)

*High Sierra (1941) with Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. The final car chase was filmed outside Lone Pine, and Bogart’s car may be seen in the Museum of Western Film History!

There will be 15 different tours available at this year’s festival, some of which will take place at two or three different times over the course of the long weekend. A majority of the tours will feature locations from movies shown at the festival, including The Cattle Thief (1936) with Ken Maynard, The Cisco Kid and the Lady (1939) with Cesar Romero, the Hopalong Cassidy film Bar 20 (1943), Border Treasure (1950) with Tim Holt, the previously mentioned Hangman’s Knot (1952), and the outstanding crime film The Hitch-Hiker (1953), which was directed by Ida Lupino.

There will also be a sunrise tour of the Alabama Hills, a tour of Alabama Hills sites that were photographed by Ansel Adams, and another tour focused on the area’s geology.

Those considering attending the festival might want to know that I’ve been in Lone Pine three times since August 2020 and have always found ample options for eating outdoors if that is desired.

As I write there are not currently state or local mask or vaccine card mandates, but visitors should, of course, be aware that that is subject to change. Inyo County, where Lone Pine is located, currently recommends but does not mandate wearing masks indoors, and the festival also encourages them when inside.

The Lone Pine Film Festival is always a favorite, melding varied activities with a relaxed vibe, in a gorgeous Western setting. I highly recommend attending if at all possible.

To get a more detailed sense of the festival experience, readers can also check out my preview of the 2019 Festival as well as my post-festival article on some of the fun had that year.

For more on the Lone Pine Film Festival, including ticket information, please visit the festival website.

– 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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Cinemallennials: Casablanca (1942)

Cinemallennials: Casablanca (1942)

Casablanca Cinemallennials

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Cinemallennials, it is a bi-weekly podcast in which I, and another millennial, watch a classic film that we’ve never seen before, and discuss its significance and relevance in today’s world.

In this episode, I talked with Alexandra Riba about one of the most iconic and beloved films of all time, Casablanca.  From its multi-dimensional characters and timeless themes to its writing, cinematography, and score, Casablanca is often referred to as ‘the perfect film.’ Many filmmakers have been influenced by its themes and elements – some have included direct references to it in their films, while others reflect some of its brilliance into their own works.

Casablanca - Humphrey Bogart, Claude Rains, Paul Henreid, Ingrid Bergman
Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), joins Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), Victor Lazslo (Paul Henreid), and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) for a drink.

Set during WWII, Casablanca follows the story of American Richard Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), owner of Rick’s Café Américain in refugee-filled Casablanca, who must decide whether or not to help his former lover, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and her freedom-fighter husband Victor Laszlo (Paul Heinred) escape Casablanca so that they can continue their fight against the Nazis.

Casablanca - Humphrey Bogart and Dooley Wilson
Rick’s Cafe – Humphrey Bogart and Dooley Wilson (on piano)

The film was adapted from an unproduced 1940 stage play by Murray Burnett and Joan Alison called Everybody Comes to Rick’s. The story was based on Burnett’s experiences when he traveled with his wife to Vienna in 1938 to help Jewish relatives smuggle money out of the country, and later, when they both frequented a nightclub in the south of France, where a black man played jazz and the clientele consisted of French, refugees, and Nazis.  

Casablanca - filming Humphrey Bogard and Ingrid Bergman
Director Michael Curtiz behind the camera capturing one of cinema’s greatest finales.

Many of the cast were refugees themselves, fleeing their own countries and eventually making their way to America. Conrad Veidt who plays Major Stasser, the menacing Nazi officer, defied propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels by identifying himself as Jewish when asked to declare his race in a questionnaire meant to purge the film industry. Veidt was not Jewish, but his wife was, and there was nothing in this world that would compel him to break off his relationship with her or to break off his support of the German Jewish community. Helmut Dantine who played Jan (the young refugee who gambles to try to earn money to purchase travel visas for him and his wife) was imprisoned in a concentration camp after opposing the Nazis in Austria before being released and arriving in California. Madeline Lebeau, who plays Yvonne – and who has a beautifully impactful scene in which she is crying while passionately singing La Marseilles –made the exact journey to freedom many wanted to make in Casablanca. After fleeing from the Nazi invasion of France, Lebeau and her husband obtained transit visas and eventually arrived in America. These are only a few examples of the journeys that influenced the emotionally resonant performances in the film that still impact audiences all over the world today.

Casablanca - Conrad Veidt and Madeline Lebeau
Conrad Veidt as Major Strasser and Madeline Lebeau as Yvonne.

During this episode, Alex and I will be discussing topics such as doing what’s right in order to help others, how non-action can beget violence, and the relationship between sacrifice and love. Throughout Casablanca, the main characters are presented with a choice to do the right thing (and lose everything they love in order to benefit the world) or to benefit themselves alone (and keep the things they love the most). This moral dilemma still resonates today as more and more global conflicts arise, but by watching Casablanca, we as the younger generation can be made aware of how our choices can impact others and the world around us.

I hope you enjoy this episode of Cinemallennials, which you can find here on apple podcasts or on spotify. Please reach out to me as I would love to hear your thoughts on Casablanca, especially if you’re a first-time viewer too!

— Dave Lewis for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Dave’s CMH Cinemallennials articles here.

Dave Lewis is the producer, writer, and host of Cinemallennials, a podcast where he and another millennial watch a classic film that they haven’t seen before ranging from the early 1900s to the late 1960s and discuss its significance and relevance in our world today. Before writing for Classic Movie Hub, Dave wrote about Irish and Irish-American history, the Gaelic Athletic Association in the United States, and Irish innovators for Irish America magazine. You can find more episodes of Cinemallennials, film reviews and historical analyses, on Dave’s website or his YouTube channel.

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Classic Conversations: Ben Mankiewicz on His Grandfather’s Oscar-Winning ‘Citizen Kane’ Coming to Theaters

TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, grandson of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz

Among classic movie lovers, the topic of the greatest film of all time is one that always leads to a lot of controversy. I tend to be an outlier when I read such lists. I’m shocked by all the people who call Vertigo the best film ever, there are so many other Hitchcock films I prefer. I’ve never seen Ozu Yasujiro’s Tokyo Story or Carl Dreyer’s La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. I appreciate Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now but am more of a fan of his Godfather trilogy. I studied Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin in film school and admire its achievements, but I don’t think it would even make my Top 25. I adore Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain but I lean toward Vincente Minnelli’s The Band Wagon as my favorite MGM musical of that era. But there’s one film that always appears on the lists of all-time greats that I never quibble with: Orson Welles’ 1941 film Citizen Kane, co-written by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz.

If you’ve never seen the extraordinary Citizen Kane on the big screen, now’s your chance! For the film’s 80th anniversary, TCM Big Screen Classics, together with Fathom Events, is screening Welles’ masterpiece around the country on Sunday, September 19, and Wednesday, September 22.  Just go to this link and type in your city or zip code to find theaters near you that will be showing the film. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this spectacular achievement, loosely based on the life of media moguls such as William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, Samuel Insull, Harold McCormick, and others. Yes, Hearst really did prohibit mention of the film in his newspapers, which severely hurt the film at the box office, yes, he went after Orson Welles in a big way, and yes, part of Hearst’s enmity towards Welles was based on his perception that the film also skewered his love, actress Marion Davies. But no, neither Orson Welles or Herman Mankiewicz in any way based the tragic Susan Alexander Kane on Davies. Both men knew Marion Davies and knew the successful actress and glittering personality to be the polar opposite of the unfortunate second Mrs. Kane. 

Herman J. Mankiewicz

I had a chance this week to talk to TCM host Ben Mankiewicz, the grandson of Citizen Kane’s storied screenwriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz—one of the few screenwriters in history to be portrayed in not one but two feature films (by John Malkovich in the 1999 film RKO 281, and by Gary Oldman in last year’s Oscar-nominated Mank). Ben will be providing filmed commentary for the theatrical screenings next week and I was delighted to join the roundtable discussion of journalists talking to him about the legacy of this film. I asked Ben what kind of lore this film had in his life as he was growing up. Did he grow up watching it and acknowledging his grandfather’s work, or did he come to appreciate it more later on?

Orson Welles as Charles Foster Kane

“I definitely came to appreciate it more later on,” Ben replied. “I grew up in DC and my father (the late Frank Mankiewicz) was a fairly big deal in Democratic politics. He worked closely with Bobby Kennedy, and then, after Kennedy was murdered, he ran George McGovern’s presidential campaign. My dad was always the smartest person in any room he was in. Growing up, I knew there was this Hollywood wing of the family that my dad had very consciously fled from. I always knew that Herman had written Citizen Kane and I was aware of the family line—that Orson Welles had somehow tried to steal the credit for my grandfather’s movie! But, to be honest, movies back then were not that important to me. That changed in college but it was really when I was in my twenties that I started to get a lot more interested. I remember watching Citizen Kane with a lot more cognition of my grandfather’s role and thinking, ‘Okay, this is obviously very good and it’s very clever, and it sounds like a Mankiewicz wrote it, but I’m pretty sure this Welles guy deserves a tremendous amount of credit no matter how much of the script he actually wrote!’ I mean, yes, I think Herman deserves the overwhelming lion’s share of the credit for writing the screenplay but let’s not kid ourselves: this is Orson Welles’ movie. Period.”

Mankiewicz talked to us about last year’s Mank which told the story of the writing of Citizen Kane and the relationship between his grandfather and young Orson Welles.  “I thought it was a wonderful movie. I started sobbing at the title card, for crying out loud! You know, I never met my grandfather (Herman died in 1953) but the character that David and Jack Fincher and Gary Oldman gave us was exactly how my father described him. It was like my father had talked to Fincher, but he didn’t, he died in 2014. When I watched the film I just kept thinking how much my dad would have loved it—this exploration of my grandfather as this urban, smart, funny guy, yet also a drunk and a gambler who was reckless and filled with self-loathing. My dad would have recognized that torture that Herman put himself through and which, frankly, was the reason why my dad, who would’ve been a great screenwriter, wanted nothing to do with the movies.”

“When I see my grandfather’s work in Citizen Kane, I know that I am never, ever going to come close to matching that accomplishment! But that’s okay. My name has certainly opened doors for me and given me a lot of advantages even if I know I’ll never be able to match my ancestors.” Mankiewicz was asked what he might ask his grandfather if he could interview him on his TCM set. “To be honest, I would probably get hung up on the self-loathing. It seems pretty clear that Herman saw value in Kane and knew he’d written something that mattered, but he could never really shake this idea that what he was doing wasn’t worthwhile. My guess is that it came from his own father, the one who had first emigrated here from Poland in the 1880s. Herman and Joe (Ben’s great-uncle, the Oscar-winning director, screenwriter, and producer Joseph L. Mankiewicz) had that struggle throughout their lives. 

With its incredible cast of actors including Welles, Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Everett Sloane, Ruth Warrick, and Dorothy Comingore, most of them making their film debuts, its brilliant and innovative cinematography by Gregg Toland, and its Oscar-winning screenplay by Welles and Herman J. Mankiewicz, don’t miss the chance to see the 80th anniversary screening of Citizen Kane on the big screen where it belongs. And, for the record, Ben Mankiewicz agreed with me about Vertigo. “Not even on my Top 10 list of favorite Hitchcock films!” Duh…North by Northwest and Rear Window leave that film in the dust! [Now I better hide from my classic movie friends…]

–Danny Miller for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Danny’s Classic Conversation Articles Here

Danny Miller is a freelance writer, book editor, and co-author of  About Face: The Life and Times of Dottie Ponedel, Make-up Artist to the StarsYou can read more of Danny’s articles at Cinephiled, or you can follow him on Twitter at @dannymmiller

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Silents are Golden: A Closer Look at – Sunrise (1927)

Silents are Golden: A Closer Look at – Sunrise (1927)

German director F.W. Murnau, probably best known for his horror classic Nosferatu (1922), is also renowned for his masterpiece Sunrise (1927). This beautifully stylized drama about the travails of a young rural couple has universal appeal – its full title is Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. More than a few historians have made the case that Murnau’s poetic film is nothing less than the finest silent ever made.

Sunrise (1927) George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor
The two stars, George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor.

Thanks to the flurry of interest in his artistic 1924 feature The Last Laugh, Murnau was whiled away from Germany by William Fox who offered him a pricey 4-year contract. Fox had been hoping to compete with other big studios and wanted to have the prestige of having a talented European director in his stable. He had also been deeply impressed by Murnau’s The Last Laugh (1924), an Expressionist masterpiece. Murnau was not only happy to deliver, but also brought a crew of top German screenwriters, cinematographers, designers, etc. along with him. This included Carl Meyer, one of the writers of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, (1920), and designer Rochus Gliese, the mastermind behind Sunrise’s elaborate sets. Other European directors had come to work in Hollywood before, but once Hollywood saw what Murnau could do, it would arguably never be the same.

Murnau decided to base his first American film on the story “A Trip To Tilsit” by Herman Suderman. It had its dark elements, and could easily have been treated more cynically by a different director: A young farmer is tempted away from his loving wife by a conniving “vamp” from the city. The vamp wants him to murder his wife and frame it as an accident so they can run off together, and after initial misgivings, he agrees. When the day arrives, however, he’s unable to go through with the murder, and the poor wife flees from him in terror. Deeply remorseful, he follows her and asks for forgiveness. Finally, he wins back her trust, and during a day in the city, they begin to fall in love with each other all over again.

Sunrise (1927) George O'Brien and Margaret Livingston
The farmer and the tempting vamp, Margaret Livingston

The story has a quasi-fairytale quality, with its unnamed characters known only as “The Man,” “The Wife,” and “The Woman from the City.” The year and the exact setting are unclear since the couple’s clothing looks vaguely Old World while the vamp has on a stylish, all-black outfit. Landscapes are shrouded in fog, and the bright, exciting city has impossibly wide streets. Murnau, accustomed to German Expressionism, wanted Sunrise to be stylized without sacrificing a sense of realism. Thus, the settings are slightly dreamlike, giving the feeling of a remote farm, and the feeling of a city seen by a country couple for the first time.

Sunrise (1927) George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor City
The main character explores the Big City.

Ingenious camera and design tricks were key to the dreamlike quality Murnau wanted. The camera appears to float behind George O’Brien during the night scenes in the swamp, a difficult feat to pull off in the days before Steadicam. This was done by simply fastening the camera to tracks that ran in a “t” shape on the studio’s ceiling. Dramatic lighting and in-camera dissolves added to the Expressionist effect and intertitles were used sparingly (the most famous involves the word “drowned,” which wavers and “drips” down the screen).

Sunrise (1927) Melting text scene effect
“Couldn’t she get drowned?”

The famous city set (which cost $200,000) used forced perspective to appear much wider and grander than it was, with the buildings in the background being built much smaller than the ones closer to the camera. Reportedly, Murnau completed the illusion by hiring little people to walk in the background. Numerous cameramen, set designers, filmmakers, and other industry folk came to check out Murnau’s sets and see what the top German talents could do in Hollywood – Sunrise‘s design would be deeply influential. (And the city set would be used in subsequent films, too.) All in all, it took five months to prepare the sets in an era when many Fox films were churned out relatively quickly.

Sunrise (1927) City set
The famous city set.

For his leads, Murnau chose George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor. O’Brien had first come to Hollywood to become a cameraman and ended up doing stunt work and bit parts before starring in John Ford’s The Iron Horse (1924). Gaynor had also done bit roles before signing with Fox in 1926, and by 1927 was famed for her sensitive, wholesome characterizations. Previously, O’Brien and Gaynor had been paired in the very successful 7th Heaven (1927), which had made them household names. Both would deliver wonderful performances in Murnau’s film, with touches of Expressionism–most evident in O’Brien’s body language early on.

Sunrise (1927) Janet Gaynor and George O'Brien
Gaynor and O’Brien.

Sunrise was also given a “sound on film” score that added sound effects, enhancing the experience. 1927 was the same year The Jazz Singer was released and is considered the official start to the talkie era. Thus, any use of sound was all the rage. At the New York premiere, Fox’s Movietone documentary shorts preceded the feature and were admired for their “natural sound” almost as much as the feature itself.

While it had highly-publicized premieres (the west coast opening was attended by a number of stars) and attracted many critical accolades, Sunrise only performed modestly at the box office. But its influence would turn out to transcend temporary, monetary gains. Its fluid camera movements and brilliant design inspired many directors, who tried using the Murnau touch in their own films. It was considered the high point of the silent era – an era that was soon about to end.

Its place in cinema history has only grown over the years, often making prestigious“top ten greatest films” lists. In 2012 Sight & Sound ranked it #5. Its timeless appeal has been evident to every generation who gets to experience it–and inevitably, fall in love with it.

Sunrise (1927) title card
Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans


–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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Silver Screen Standards: Claude Rains

Silver Screen Standards: Claude Rains

I couldn’t decide between several movies I had in mind for this month’s column, and then I realized that they all had something in common – Claude Rains.

Rains is one of those actors whose presence makes any film better, whether he’s appearing in melodrama, horror, period adventure, or film noir. While he’s rarely the leading man, Rains commands the screen so thoroughly that he always holds his own and sometimes even steals his scenes from the ostensible leads. His magnificent voice and acting range serve him well in many of classic Hollywood’s most iconic pictures, from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and Casablanca (1942) to Now, Voyager (1942) and Notorious (1946). It’s no surprise that he earned four Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actor but fairly incredible that he never actually won, especially because it’s so hard to imagine these enduring classics being nearly as great without him.

The Invisible Man (1933) Claude Rains
Rains broke into movie stardom with his incredible performance as the title character in The Invisible Man (1933), in which an ambitious scientist experiments on himself and becomes a homicidal maniac.

Claude Rains was born into an acting family in London on November 10, 1889, and he made his own stage debut at the age of 11. His service in World War I left him nearly blind in one eye due to a gas attack, but after the war, he was able to resume his acting career and relocate to the United States, where he worked on Broadway until movie stardom came calling with his breakout debut performance in James Whale’s 1933 horror masterpiece, The Invisible Man. Although he returned to horror occasionally and to great effect, especially in The Wolf Man (1942), Rains avoided being typecast and played a variety of roles in several genres, where his characters ranged from the paternal to the suave and even homicidal. Having arrived in Hollywood rather late in his career, and in his mid-forties, Rains still managed to appear in nearly 80 films and television programs before his death in 1967 at the age of 77 (he also managed to fit in six marriages and five divorces). His final film appearance came in 1965 with the role of King Herod in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Rains’ voice made him a star, given that he was literally invisible throughout his first starring role, but his later pictures proved that his talents went far beyond his voice. He could brood, stare, and smirk with equal brilliance; he could kill with kindness or a wolf-headed cane. He transformed himself into a preening Prince John, almost unrecognizable in a page boy wig, in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), but he needed only a uniform and a jaunty amorality to become Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca (1942).

Casablanca (1942) Claude Rains
Bogart and Bergman are great, but Casablanca (1942) wouldn’t be the same without Rains’ slippery but likable Louis.

His ability to slide between likable and villainous modes served him particularly well in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Notorious (1946), and The Unsuspected (1947), although he could and did play morally upright types, especially in his films with Bette Davis. In Now, Voyager (1942) his kindly, paternal doctor guided Bette’s heroine through emotional upheaval, while in Mr. Skeffington (1944) he played the long-suffering title character opposite Bette’s vain, tragic socialite. It was hardly a stretch to cast him as the Devil in Angel on My Shoulder (1946), as so many of his best characters have a devilish air about them, although his angelic role in Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941) is more surprising. Costume dramas and period films saw him in a variety of guises, playing the Earl of Hertford in The Prince and the Pauper (1937), Napoleon III in Juarez (1939), Julius Caesar to Vivien Leigh’s Cleopatra in Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), and finally King Herod in the star-studded biblical epic.

Personally, I prefer a wicked Claude Rains to a virtuous one, and my favorite performances from the actor are his title role in The Invisible Man and his duplicitous Nazi in Notorious. In the first role, Rains cuts loose with murderous abandon and also highlights his talent for a darkly comical turn, while in the second he plays a far more covert sort of murderer whose expressions suggest the dangerous edge beneath his smooth veneer. His Prince John in The Adventures of Robin Hood is delightfully horrible, but he has to share the villains’ spotlight with Basil Rathbone, and his tortured title character in Phantom of the Opera (1943) actually gets far too little screen time to make enough impact on the audience, especially in comparison with other adaptations of the story. Rains gets a meatier part to play in The Unsuspected, where his magnificent voice perfectly suits his role as the host of a murder mystery radio program.

The Wolf Man (1942) Claude Rains
Rains plays a stern but ultimately tragic father to Lon Chaney Jr.’s cursed title character in The Wolf Man (1942).

If you’ve seen all of his most memorable pictures and want more, The Unsuspected is definitely a top pick, but Rains also makes noteworthy appearances in Kings Row (1942), Moontide (1942), and Where Danger Lives (1950). If you’re just starting to appreciate Rains’ career, see his four Oscar-nominated performances in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Casablanca, Mr. Skeffington, and Notorious, and then move on to other major roles in The Wolf Man, Now, Voyager, and Deception (1946). For a really deep dive into Rains’ life and work, check out the 2008 biography, Claude Rains: An Actor’s Voice, by horror film historian David J. Skal and Rains’ daughter, Jessica Rains.

— 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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