Monsters and Matinees: The ‘It’ Factor of Classic Horror Titles

The ‘It’ Factor of Classic Horror Titles

It.

Two simple letters that form the most innocuous of words, one that we use hundreds of times a day without thinking.

And that’s the point of the word that is defined as “easily identified.”

Not so in the world of classic horror films where “it” is used as a way to not identity the terror, leaving viewers to imagine what horror awaits.

Neither the title nor this lobby card tells us much about It Came from Outer Space.

Think about these film titles where “it” means everything from a sea monster to various alien forms and even a killer tree(!) :

It Came From Outer Space

It! The Terror from Beyond Space

It Came from Beneath the Sea

It Conquered the World

From Hell It Came

I wonder how original audiences reacted when “it” in It Came From Beneath the Sea
was revealed to be this giant octopus.

Other words were used for the same ambiguous effect during the 1950s when sci-fi and horror titles were mysterious (Them!), vague (The Thing From Another World), curious (Day of the Triffids) and downright silly (Gog and The Twonky).

Today, we know the “It” in It Came from Beneath the Sea, the nature of the beast in The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and what was causing the Beginning of the End.

But not so when these films were originally released. When people attended films decades ago, it was without the benefit of social media, television ads and detailed interviews with stars. Today we can learn almost as much as we want before seeing a movie, photos and all. Where’s the fun in that? Instead, imagine going to see a movie where you had no idea what horror awaits.

Many of these indistinct words were repeated so often, they created their own genre.

Even this lobby card doesn’t tell you much about The Brain Eaters.

Brain movies: Creature with the Atom Brain (1955), Brain from Planet Arous (1957), The Brain Eaters (1958).

Giant movies: The Giant Behemoth (1959), The Giant Claw (1957) and Giant from the Unknown (1958, with makeup effects by Jack Pierce).

Beast movies: War of the Colossal Beast (1958), The Beast With a Million Eyes (1955), Man Beast (1956), The Bride and the Beast (1958), Beast from Haunted Cave (1959), and that fun Western-horror-dino mashup Beast of Hollow Mountain (1956). Then the greatest of all beast movies, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953) with stop-motion animation by Ray Harryhausen.

Monster movies: The Monster that Challenged the World (1957), The Monolith Monsters (1957), Monster from Green Hell (1958), The Invisible Monster (1950), Jack Arnold’s Monster on the Campus (1958) starring Troy Donahue, and Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster (1954).

Zsa Zsa Gabor is the lovely queen in Queen of Outer Space – too bad she has a thirst for blood.

Outer space movies: Teenagers from Outer Space (1959), Queen of Outer Space (1958) with Zsa Zsa Gabor as a vampire alien, The Space Children (1958), Fire Maidens from Outer Space (1956), First Man into Space (1959), Battle In Outer Space (1959), our beloved Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) and the ominous I Married A Monster from Outer Space (1958).

I enjoy those dramatic titles that refer to an unidentified impending doom: Bert I. Gordon’s Beginning of the End (1957), World Without End (1956), Day the World Ended (1955), The Night the World Exploded (1957), The Day the Sky Exploded (1958). Each brings a unique terror: giant grasshoppers, atomic war, asteroids, earthquakes.

A favorite title (and movie) is Them! (1954) which features a great B-movie title drop when a traumatized little girl awakens from a catatonic state and repeatedly screams “Them!”

If you come across a classic horror film you haven’t seen that has a cryptic title, do yourself a favor and don’t look it up. The unknown is usually better or at least more fun – even if the monster looks like a cucumber.

* * * * *

The “it” movies

Here’s a brief look at five “it” films, one of my favorite genres.

I love that lobby cards and posters for 1950s horror films often focused on the romance,
not the monster as this one for It Came From Beneath the Sea.

It Came From Beneath the Sea (1955). Top of the list for me and a true genre classic. The title at least gives us a hint that something horrible is coming from the sea. Still, I don’t think 1955 audiences would have expected a giant octopus of such size and strength that its tentacles could rip apart the Golden Gate Bridge. Our creature again comes from the fertile imagination of stop-motion wizard Ray Harryhausen.

It Conquered the World (1956). Roger Corman produced and directed this “it” film about an alien from Venus that wants to take over Earth. A misguided scientist (Lee Van Cleef) believes the creature when it says it wants to help us by ridding us of our emotions. He learns the truth – but is it too late? It might be scary if the triangle-shaped “it” didn’t look like a cross between a cucumber and watermelon. Peter Graves and Beverly Garland co-star.

It Came from Outer Space (1953). One-eyed creatures are the inhabitants of an alien spaceship that crashes in the desert. Richard Carlson is the amateur astronomer no one believes; Barbara Rush is his smart girlfriend who lends a hand. I like these aliens. They have the power to transform into anything they want, including humans, without killing the original. “We have souls and minds and are good,” as one says. I enjoy that funky eye-vision effect as we get the point-of-view shot through that alien eye. I also like that this film has deeper meaning as the aliens repeat they mean no harm but are pushed to extremes by scared humans. Notable co-stars are Charles Drake as the doubting sheriff and Russell Johnson (the professor on Gilligan’s Island).

It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958). In 1973, rescuers head to Mars and find the lone survivor of a previous mission. They return to Earth not knowing their ship carries a killer stowaway. Hmmm … sound familiar Ridley Scott? This film, starring Marshall Thompson, often is cited as the inspiration for Alien and I can see why. Unfortunately, “it” looks like what it is: a guy in a suit with oversized three-fingered claws and a creepy reptilian face.

From Hell It Came (1957). Good idea for something different. “It” is a killer tree and the location isn’t the often-used desert, but Polynesian Islands. But the film looks cheap and the acting is bad. Baranga, the killer tree, is the result of a curse from a wrongly accused man put to death. The creature is person inside a static costume who shuffles along at a slow pace. You’ll be reminded of the talking tree in The Wizard of Oz, but in Oz the tree’s face moved and it talked, adding to a creepy factor missing here.

 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. Toni was the president of the former Buffalo chapter of TCM Backlot and now leads the offshoot group, Buffalo Classic Movie Buffs. She is proud to have put Buffalo and its glorious old movie palaces in the spotlight as the inaugural winner of the TCM in Your Hometown contest. You can find Toni on Twitter at @toniruberto.

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Noir Nook: Favorite Actors of Noir

Noir Nook: Favorite Actors of Noir

In my Noir Nook a couple of months ago, I shined the spotlight on one of my favorite noir bad boys – Walter Neff in Double Indemnity (1944). Inspired by this rare departure from focusing on the femme side of noir, I’m delighted to devote this month’s column to a celebration of some of my favorite actors behind the great characters.

…..

Dan Duryea

Dan Duryea and Lizabeth Scott in Too Late for Tears (1949)
Dan Duryea and Lizabeth Scott in Too Late for Tears (1949)

Unlike his on-screen persona, Dan Duryea was educated at an Ivy League university, was married to the same woman for 35 years, was an active member of the PTA at his sons’ school, and dabbled in gardening, oil painting, and building sailboats in his backyard. “I make a great effort to be extra pleasant the first time I meet anybody,” Duryea once said. “If I’m lucky, I can overcome the aversion they’ve already built up.”

But my aversion to Duryea’s characters is what makes me love him so. He was seen in more than 10 films noirs – my top picks are The Woman in the Window (1945), Scarlet Street (1945), The Great Flamarion (1945), Criss Cross (1949), and Too Late for Tears (1949).

In Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street, he was teamed with Joan Bennett, Edward G. Robinson, and director Fritz Lang; in the first, he was a financier’s bodyguard who tries to extort money from the stodgy college professor played by Robinson, and in the second, he was a completely reprehensible con man (and thinly veiled pimp). In The Great Flamarion, he wasn’t quite the heel that he usually was – in this underrated feature starring Erich von Stroheim and Mary Beth Hughes, Duryea played an alcoholic, third-rate vaudevillian who has the bad luck to be married to a sweet-faced dame with a steely heart and a wandering eye. He was back to form in Criss Cross, though – as Yvonne De Carlo’s mob boss spouse, he was ruthless, vengeful, and downright scary. And, finally, in Too Late for Tears, playing a crook who’s trying to recover a satchel of cash that’s fallen into the hands of a fatal femme, Duryrea was part crafty villain, part hapless sucker.

…..

Sterling Hayden

Sterling Hayden and Jean Hagen in The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Sterling Hayden and Jean Hagen in The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Sterling Hayden lived a life that could have easily served as the screenplays for three movies. He sailed the seven seas (or at least one) as a teenager, waged a bitter public battle over custody of his children, was an outspoken proponent of the virtues of marijuana, and made no secret of his disdain for Tinseltown and the profession of acting. (“I never knew what the damn hell I was doing,” he was known to admit.)

Born Sterling Relyea Walter, the actor appeared in at least six noirs during his career, including two of my all-time favorites from the era: The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and The Killing (1956), and a third that’s rapidly moving up on my list of greatest hits: Crime Wave (1954). The Asphalt Jungle starts Hayden as a small-time hood with an innate sense of honor and an unquenchable love for horses. He’s a standout among a superb ensemble cast that includes Sam Jaffe, Jean Hagen, Louis Calhern, and Marilyn Monroe, turning a criminal into a sympathetic character that you can’t help but root for. In Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, Hayden is the mastermind behind an intricate heist at a racetrack, grabbing and holding your focus every time he’s on the screen. And in Crime Wave, Hayden’s on the other side of the law, playing a hard-nosed, no-nonsense detective with, if not a heart of gold, at the very least, a heart.

…..

Robert Mitchum

Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953)
Robert Mitchum and Jean Simmons in Angel Face (1953)

How could I possibly produce a list of top-notch noir actors and not include Robert Mitchum? This laconic, uber-tough, cooler-than-the-other-side-of-the-pillow actor boasted a colorful past that included a childhood in Hell’s Kitchen, time on a Georgia chain gang, and a widely publicized arrest for marijuana possession. He also, though, was known as a weaver of tall tales. “They’re all true – booze, brawls, broads – all true,” he said. “Make up some more if you want to.”

During a span of six decades, Mitchum appeared in such memorable noirs as The Locket (1947) and Angel Face (1953) – and, of course, he starred in what many consider to be the quintessential noir: Out of the Past (1947). The Locket is a thoroughly unique noir, featuring a flashback within a flashback within a flashback. Somewhere within all those reaches back in time is Mitchum’s character, a talented artist who falls – fatefully – in love with a mentally disturbed kleptomaniac, played by Laraine Day. In Angel Face, Mitchum again chooses not too wisely (and not too well) when he teams up with the innocent-looking but oh-so-deadly Jean Simmons. Although he eventually comes to his senses, his eye-opener comes a bit too late. And, then, of course, in Out of the Past, Mitchum is Jeff Bailey (also known as Jeff Markham), an ex-private detective turned gas station owner – and between careers, he falls hard for a no-good dame and finds himself embroiled in a complicated scheme of murder and mayhem. Now that I think of it, no matter how worldly-wise Mitchum’s characters appeared to be, they could also be vulnerable, sentimental, and downright dopey when it came to the opposite sex.

Stay tuned as I cover more of my favorite noir actors in future Noir Nooks. Who would you like to see on the list?

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

If you’re interested in learning more about Karen’s books, you can read more about them on amazon here:

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Silver Screen Standards: Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Silver Screen Standards: Bringing Up Baby (1938)

Katharine Hepburn was one of my earliest classic movie star idols, and I love all of her films, but the chaotic, eccentric, funny Kate of Bringing Up Baby (1938) remains my absolute favorite.

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant Bringing Up Baby (1938) Baby the Leopard
Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant face down one of the two leopards their characters encounter in Bringing Up Baby.

The picture is a sparkling gem of comic perfection, a screwball sweetheart with a cast of supporting characters so nutty and fun that it’s hard to choose between them, and then at the top of the bill, we get Hepburn and a bespectacled, befuddled Cary Grant, whose delightful chemistry propels the picture through all its wacky turns. Who cares, more than 80 years later, if the film bombed at the box office when it first appeared? Director Howard Hawks might have regretted his choices then, but in the long run, he has been proved right about the crazy characters, the wild comedy, and the madcap atmosphere. No matter how many times I watch it, Bringing Up Baby still makes me laugh with delight from start to finish.

Chaos is queen in this story of leopards, love, and loony misadventure, with Hepburn’s heroine, Susan Vance, as its ultimate embodiment. Her arrival upends the orderly, staid life of Dr. David Huxley, who is literally on the verge of being married to his career in the form of Alice Swallow (Virginia Walker), who declares that “no domestic entanglements of any kind” shall be allowed to interrupt David’s work at the museum. Eager to secure a million-dollar gift to support the museum, Alice sends David out to schmooze with the lawyer of the wealthy patroness Mrs. Carleton Random (May Robson), but from the moment he encounters Susan on the golf course David’s day goes gloriously off the rails. He contends with a loose leopard, a stolen car, a missing dinosaur bone, and a complicated case of mistaken identity all thanks to Susan’s impulsive desire to keep him around by any means necessary. It’s hardly a surprise when their escapades put both Susan and David in danger of a straight jacket, a prison cell, or both.

Katharine Hepburn Bringing Up Baby (1938) Baby the Leopard
Katharine Hepburn gets some close up attention from Baby the leopard.

The screwball level of Bringing Up Baby runs very high throughout, with physical comedy and rapidly fired verbal jokes constantly on offer, and Hepburn and Grant are brilliant at both. I always think of Susan’s “born on the side of a hill” bit when I walk on uneven ground, although Grant’s brief appearance in the lady’s dressing gown – “I just went GAY all of a sudden!” – is probably the most famous scene in the picture. As funny as the two leads are, they aren’t the only source of laughs; everyone they meet is daffy in his or her own way, especially the gardener, Aloysius Gogarty (Barry Fitzgerald) and the constable, Slocum (Walter Catlett). Even Susan’s aunt, the rich old lady with a million dollars, is delightfully eccentric, which helps explain her yen for a pet leopard and her romantic attachment to big-game hunter Major Applegate (Charles Ruggles). When these characters all end up in the same place pandemonium is bound to break loose. Apparently, Hawks regretted not putting any “normal” characters into the picture, but I find each of these nutty personalities endearing, and the actors who play them do such a superb job making each one memorable, from Charles Ruggles and May Robson deciding to run out of the house for absolutely no reason to Walter Catlett’s penchant for running his hand through his hair each time he veers hilariously off-topic. Each of them is always doing something funny whenever they’re on screen, which gives the viewer a lot to take in even in the rare moments when nobody is actually on the move.

Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant Bringing Up Baby (1938) Jail Scene
“Swinging Door Susie” confounds David (Grant) once again with her imaginary confessions at the local jail.

I first saw Bringing Up Baby when I was very young, and it made a huge impression on me at the time, but I find that I appreciate it more with each fresh viewing the older I grow. I catch jokes I missed before, I notice camera tricks with the leopard scenes that I hadn’t caught last time, and I revel anew in how beautiful and hilarious both Hepburn and Grant are, she slim and gracefully athletic and he deliciously rumpled and exasperated. To me, really great comedy is all about the experience of delight in the chaos of life, which is why I have such a deep, abiding love for the screwball genre.

Bringing Up Baby is one of the purest examples of that form, which makes it must-watch viewing for anyone interested in classic comedies. It’s also a great starter classic for kids, who won’t catch the naughtier winks but will love the animals and the cartoon carnival essence of the action. If you’re stuck at home with the family right now, make a date to sit down with Bringing Up Baby and laugh all night. You’ll be glad you did.

— 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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Marilyn: Behind the Icon – Don’t Bother to Knock

Today’s audiences remember the iconic Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and Some Like It Hot when they think of Marilyn Monroe. Very few are aware of Monroe’s earlier dramatic performances prior to her ascension to global prominence. Don’t Bother to Knock (1952) is a rare gem in Monroe’s filmography which showcases her considerable acting chops long before she left Hollywood to study Method Acting at Lee Strasberg’s famed Actor’s Studio in New York. 

Marilyn Monroe don't bother to knock

After completing Clash By Night at RKO in 1951, Monroe returned to her home studio, 20th Century Fox, and received a screenplay adapted from Charlotte Armstrong’s 1950 novel, Mischief. A rival studio’s interest in Monroe as a dramatic actress made Fox executives reconsider the full potential of the contracted player they had relegated to minor, decorative parts such as secretaries and sirens. In fact, Fox made an about-face by considering Monroe for the substantial dramatic leading role of Nell Forbes, a psychotic babysitter who teeters on the edge of madness and eventually terrorizes the child in her charge.

marilyn monroe don't bother to knock 2
Director Roy Baker and Marilyn Monroe Don't Bother to Knock
Director Roy Backer with Monroe

The success of the World War II-themed Morning Departure (1950) drew international attention to the film’s British director, Roy Baker, as well as an invitation from Darryl F. Zanuck to join the team at Fox. Assigned to the new Monroe production, Baker filmed in real time; the duration of the fictional action equaling the run time of the film, both ninety minutes. He also set a tight 28-day shooting schedule involving two weeks of rehearsals, and filmed scenes in the exact sequence they appeared in the film. Busting the myth that Monroe required numerous retakes, Roy Baker printed only her first takes.

Richard Widmark Anne Bancroft don't bother to knock
Richard Widmark and Anne Bancroft

The suspenseful plot of Don’t Bother to Knock followed an airline pilot who is dumped by his girlfriend at a hotel and pursues another guest, a beautiful young woman babysitting a child for a couple in town for an award ceremony. The babysitter becomes psychotic, confusing the man for her boyfriend—also a pilot—who was killed in the war.

marilyn monroe richard widmark don't bother to knock

In the leading male role of pilot Jed Towers, Fox considered Montgomery Clift before selecting Richard Widmark. The actor later became Monroe’s neighbor after she married Arthur Miller and lived in Roxbury, Connecticut.

Anne Bancroft don't bother to knock

Fifteen years before her iconic role as Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate (1967) Anne Bancroft made her screen debut beside Marilyn Monroe as Jed’s girlfriend, Lyn Lesley, a singer in the hotel’s western-themed lounge.

marilyn monroe donna corcoran jim backus don't bother to knock
Monroe with Donna Corcoran and Jim Backus

As the father of Monroe’s babysitting charge, Peter Jones, Jim Backus makes the most of his screen time. Before playing James Dean’s father in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) Jim Backus voiced the near-sighted Mr. Magoo, in a series of animated cartoons beginning in 1949. During the production, Monroe invited him into her dressing room and begged, “Please do Mr. Magoo!”

marilyn monroe lurene tuttle don't bother to knock
Monroe with Lurene Tuttle

Dubbed “The First Lady of Radio,” Lurene Tuttle appeared in fifteen broadcasts per week before transitioning to film and television in roles of wives and mothers. Tuttle is effective as the child’s mother, Ruth Jones. Monroe’s charge, Bunny, is portrayed by nine-year-old Donna Corcoran.

marilyn monroe elisha cook don't bother to knock
Monroe and Elisha Cook Jr.

Elisha Vanslyck Cook, Jr.portrays Eddie, Nell’s empathic and supportive uncle who works at the hotel and obtains the babysitting position for her. He had played neurotic characters and villains such as Wilmer, who tries to threaten Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) in The Maltese Falcon.

donna corcoran marily monroe don't bother to knock

The screenplay by Daniel Taradash (awarded the 1953 Oscar for From Here To Eternity) provides a suspenseful character reveal, as we discover that Nell isn’t just a pathetic waif, but a psychotic woman, in classic film noir style and dialogue.

marilyn monroe don't bother to knock 4

Four years before she set foot into the Actors Studio, Marilyn gives a Method Acting performance, beginning with her entrance. Nell enters the hotel’s revolving door in a simple cotton dress, low heels, a black sweater, and a beret. From behind, we see her outfit is wrinkled as if she had been sitting on the subway for a long time. Apparently, Monroe bought the dress at a discount store in place of wearing a costume designed by Fox’s wardrobe department. Nell’s backstory is cloaked, and Monroe builds the character through use of her body in a manner studied with Chekhov. She moves with hesitancy and scans her environment in a way that suggests she has not been in public for a long time.

marilyn monroe don't bother to knock 8

Nell meets her Uncle Eddie who introduces her to Mr. and Mrs. Jones and Bunny. After Eddie and the couple leave and Bunny is tucked in bed, Nell restlessly wanders the suite. Alone, her mask is removed, and her expression exudes deep pathos and despondency. She rifles through Mrs. Jones’ jewelry and clothing and tries on a negligée, earrings, and a bracelet.

marilyn monroe don't bother to knock 9

Slowly, Nell transforms from an introverted waif to into a glamorous woman, much in the way Norma Jeane Baker Mortensen metamorphosed into Marilyn Monroe. When Nell entertains Jed in the suite and is stunned to learn he is a pilot. Her fingers nervously trace the scar on her wrist as she becomes delusional and believes Jed is her deceased boyfriend, a pilot who died in the war. “You were rescued!” she cries while embracing him. “You came back!”

marilyn monroe don't bother to knock 10

Bunny unexpectedly enters the room and reveals Nell is her babysitter. Nell sends the child back to bed, and Jed expresses concern when he hears her crying in the other room. Nell reveals her own background of neglect when she coldly remarks, “If you don’t pay attention to them, they stop.” At Jed’s insistence, Nell goes to Bunny. “Don’t utter a sound,” she harshly orders the child. “Then we’ll all live happily ever after.” The effect is chilling and demonstrates Marilyn’s talent at this early stage in her career.

marilyn monroe don't bother to knock 11

After Jed leaves in frustration, Eddie checks on Nell and admonishes her for wearing Mrs. Jones’ clothes. “Now stop it, all of you!” Nell shouts with terrifying rage, her eyes wide and crazed. She reaches for an object to throw at him but gains control. Enraged, she hits him over the head with ashtray. Not until The Misfits will Marilyn again have an opportunity to emote such anger and aggression in a role.

marilyn monroe don't bother to knock 12

According to Anne Bancroft, Marilyn disagreed with both Baker and acting coach Natasha Lytess on how to play the final climatic scene, ignoring their advice. “The talent inside that girl was unquestionable,” Bancroft told John Gilmore. “She did it her way and this got right inside me, actually floored me emotionally.”

anne bancroft marilyn monroe richard widmark don't bother to knock

Nell Forbes is a fragmented personality with a blank expression. Sadness, fear, and rage register in Monroe’s face with credibility. She fluctuates from an introverted waif to someone who seems ruthless, even dangerous. Having worked with Chekhov, Monroe learned to delve deep into her own reservoir of painful memories and accessed her own natural talent for portraying vulnerability and madness. Employing Chekhov’s technique of physicality, she frequently held her waist as if the character were preventing herself from succumbing to madness. Perhaps Monroe’s mother, Gladys, served as inspiration. Gladys was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and institutionalized for long periods of time.

Monroe gives a stunning, riveting performance as a damaged woman, and suggests an alternative path her career might have taken if her physical beauty had not dictated the roles Fox gave her. Indeed, her comic performances were gems, which ultimately led to her legendary status, but what heights might she have achieved had she been allowed to experiment with more dramatic roles earlier in her career? Sadly, the film is rarely emphasized as a part of her body of work.

Anne Bancroft don't bother to knock

“It was a remarkable experience!” Anne Bancroft said of her work with Monroe. “Because it was one of those very rare times in Hollywood when I felt the give and take that can only happen when you are working with good actors… There was just this scene of one woman seeing another who was helpless and in pain. It was so real, I responded. I really reacted to her. She moved me so that tears came into my eyes. Believe me, such moments happened rarely, if ever again, in the early things I was doing out there.”

marilyn monroe don't bothat to knock 14

Retrospectively, Don’t Bother to Knock offers chilling biographical elements from Monroe’s life. Like Monroe, Nell is both vulnerable and sexy. Jed lusts after her, unaware of her damaged psyche, just as the public celebrated Monroe’s beauty while knowing nothing of her mental illness and suicide attempts. Monroe was admitted to two psychiatric hospitals in New York eighteen months before her death.

marilyn monroe don't bother to knock collage

Fox capitalized on Marilyn’s sexy image and the sexual tension between the leading characters for the film’s advertising. Lobby posters promoted sex appeal by featuring a pin-up style rendering of Monroe in a strapless red dress beside copy describing her as “a wicked sensation as the lonely girl in room 803.” The trailer touted Marilyn as “America’s most exciting personality” and “the most talked about actress of 1952…every inch a woman…every inch an actress!” With obvious allusions to sex, Richard Widmark is “the guy who didn’t knock,” and Marilyn is “the girl who didn’t care.”

marilyn monroe don't bother to knock 15

In a positive review, Variety announced Monroe “gives an excellent account of herself in a strictly dramatic role which commands certain attention…the studio has an upcoming dramatic star in Miss Monroe.” In his 1952 essay “Blame the Audience,” film critic Manny Farber he pointed to the film as one of the ten best of the year: “Monroe takes her character through several successive changes of mood and makes her transitions from lethargy to seductiveness to sadness to desperation very compelling.” Newsweek hailed her: “Monroe—hitherto typed as a glamour girl—easily comes off best with a surprisingly effective impersonation of a mousy maniac.”

Richard Widmark Marilyn Monroe don't bother to knock

Arguably, Monroe effectively channeled her mentally ill mother and gives a believable performance as a vaguely written character in a script without any description of her personality. Monroe later told friend Hedda Rosten that Don’t Bother to Knock was one of her favorite films and considered Nell her strongest performance.

…..

–Gary Vitacco-Robles for Classic Movie Hub

Gary Vitacco-Robles is the author of ICON: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volumes 1 2, and writer/producer of the podcast series, Marilyn: Behind the Icon.

     
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Retro TV: Classic Film Stars and Television

Classic Film Stars and Television

There is a scene in Joseph Mankiewicz’ classic 1950 film All About Eve between George Sanders’ acerbic critic, Addison DeWitt, and Marilyn Monroe’s Miss Casswell, a “Graduate from the Cocacabana School of Dramatic Art,” in which Casswell has just performed poorly in an audition for a Broadway play.  DeWitt tells her it means she will have to turn to television.

Casswell:  Do they have auditions for television?
DeWitt:  That’s all television is, my dear, Nothing but auditions.

That scene pretty well sums up what the major movie studios, and many of the stars of the time, felt about television — a medium for amateurs, has-beens or never-weres.  But certainly not a medium for stars.  Why — to turn to television would be slumming it.  Yet there were exceptions — even early on.

Some major stars did recognize the potential of television and jumped in at the very beginning.  Bob Hope, for instance, did the first of his hundreds of television specials on Easter, 1950.  This was while he was still a major box office movie star. Of course this was a “special” or, as they were called at the time, a “spectacular” and not a weekly series.  Now that would be going too far. 

Ah, but what about people like Jack Benny and Burns and Allen?  Hadn’t they appeared in popular films? Of course. But they were really top radio stars who were adapting their radio shows to the new medium. Benny hadn’t actually starred in a movie since The Horn Blows at Midnight in 1945 when he came to television with a monthly series starting in 1950 — and you would have to go back even further to the last time Burns and Allen had appeared in a movie together.

Lucille Ball was the “Queen of the B’s” before she became a bonafide TV star thanks to I LOVE LUCY

Lucille Ball was a movie star before she began doing I Love Lucy.  But she wasn’t a major film star in the way actresses like Claudette Colbert or Paulette Goddard were.  She was the “Queen of the B’s” at RKO and worked steadily without really escaping mid-range stardom.  By 1951, her movie career was stalling and television came to the rescue.  I Love Lucy was really a reworking of her radio series My Favorite Husband, in that it recycled scripts and used many of the behind-the-scenes talent, while creating a new format.  Lucy became a major star — but a major television star. 

The same could be said for Robert Young, who had been working in movies for a quarter of  a century when he adapted his popular radio show Father Knows Best for television in 1954.  Good movie roles were drying up and television, especially a television series which he partly owned, would keep his face before the public and eventually pay dividends financially.  Young never made another feature film after he began working on TV.

If a major movie star began working in television, it was usually a star past their prime who had been lured to the new medium to host or star in an anthology series.  Anthology series are not presented as much these days but were actually quite popular during the 1950’s and into the 1960’s.  Anthology shows were usually hosted by somebody who introduced a different play each week, whether dramatic or comic in tone, and sometimes featured a repertory of the same actors along with guest stars. 

Robert Montgomery was a top MGM leading man of the 30’s and 40’s before producing and hosting one of the Golden Age of Televisions finest anthology series, ROBERT MONTGOMERY PRESENTS.

One of earliest examples was Robert Montgomery Presents which ran on NBC from 1950-1957.  NBC was looking for a respectable and (still) marquee name to front its ambitious anthology series and Montgomery was a perfect fit.  He would introduce the episode and, on occasion, even act in the play.  But more important to Montgomery was that he also produced the show and directed many episodes as well as served as a script consultant.  It was the behind-the-scenes activities that interested Montgomery more than the on-air performing.  Eventually Montgomery would even become the television advisor to President Eisenhower.

Loretta Young was another example.  She was an Oscar-winning film actress  whose movie popularity was fading.  By 1953, Young was forty-years old.  Not very old by today‘s standards.  But at the time, especially in Hollywood, an actress turning 40 often meant fewer romantic leads and a transition into character parts.  The anthology series, The Loretta Young Show (which included her dazzling entrances wearing the latest designer fashions to introduce the evening’s play) would allow her to perform many different parts each week, something that films would no longer enable her to do.  One week she could play in a romantic comedy, and the next, a suspense-filled drama, and so on.  She would go on to earn three Emmy Awards during the show’s eight year run. 

Other stars who were seeing a decline in their movie fortunes and who hosted a television anthology series include:  Barbara Stanwyck, Jane Wyman, June Allyson, Joseph Cotton and Dick Powell, who also emerged as a major producer with his Four Star Productions — the three other stars being David Niven, Charles Boyer and Ida Lupino.  Four Star eventually produced such shows as The Rifleman, Trackdown, Richard Diamond, Private Eye and The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor — Taylor, who left MGM in 1958, along with twenty-five years of solid movie stardom, was another example of a one-time big box office name throwing his hat into the television ring in an attempt to prolong his celebrity.

Fred MacMurray was enjoying a movie resurgence when he signed on to star in MY THREE SONS under his own terms in 1960.

Probably the most successful film actor to make the transition into a weekly non-anthology television series at this time was Fred MacMurray.  MacMurray had gone through some lean times during the 1950’s despite working constantly.  However, in 1959 he made a comeback in films with The Shaggy Dog for Walt Disney Productions, which became the third most popular film of the year.  In 1959, he joined the cast of the latest Billy Wilder film, The Apartment, in a leading role, and won ecstatic reviews; the film would go on to win Best Picture for 1960.

So MacMurray was on a roll.  He had another film on the docket at Disney.  However, television producer Don Fedderson badly wanted him to star in his new family television series My Three Sons about a widower bringing up his three rambunctious boys with the help of their crusty grandfather. 

Fedderson met with MacMurray and offered him a good deal of money, along with a partial share of the series profits, if MacMurray would do the show.  MacMurray told him the money was no problem — it was great — but he had heard from his friend, Robert Young, that television was a time-consuming strain that took everything out of a performer.  He wouldn’t have the time to make the films he was being offered by Disney, or to enjoy his favorite pastimes like golf, hunting and fishing.  He declined the offer.

Fedderson thought MacMurray was the only actor he could see play the father role and did some thinking.  He came up with a unique offer for the actor.  MacMurray’s scenes for the entire season would be filmed in 65 non-consecutive days.  This meant that when MacMurray worked, everything revolved around him.  Scripts had to be prepared so that MacMurray’s scenes for several episodes would be filmed during those days, and then the other actors would have to come back and complete the episodes without him.  So, Fedderson made MacMurray the counter offer — he could still have the money and a portion of the profits, and only have to work on the show 65 days.  That would give him 300 days to shoot his Disney movies and enjoy his leisure activities.  MacMurray thought he’d be crazy to turn it down–and, of course, didn’t.  My Three Sons went on to run twelve years (1960-1972) and MacMurray was the only actor on the show to appear in all 380 episodes even though he probably worked the least of all the actors connected with the show.

Jerry Lewis was at the peak of his solo movie box office success when he signed on to star in his own talk/variety show — which turned out to be a huge disaster for ABC.

In the 1960’s some major film stars of the time were beginning to front television shows — particularly variety series.  In 1963, one of the biggest box office stars, Jerry Lewis, was offered his own weekly two-hour(!) talk-variety show on ABC.  He would be paid an astronomical amount – in the millions.  Because of his movie commitments, Lewis paid scant attention to his new TV show and thought he could wing it.  While The Jerry Lewis Show premiered well, it was ragged around the edges and was just too much Jerry! And not necessarily the movie Jerry that film audiences loved, but a darker and yes, more narcissistic version (a somewhat toned-down version of the Buddy Love character from his classic film The Nutty Professor).  The show became a ratings disaster and ABC pulled the plug after thirteen weeks.

Judy Garland was at her late career best when starring in THE JUDY GARLAND SHOW on CBS–unfortunately she had little support from the network.

That same season Judy Garland premiered with her variety show on CBS.  Garland had been one of the great film stars of the 40’s and had made sporadic film comebacks since leaving MGM in 1950, earning an Oscar nomination for the 1954 version of A Star is BornIn 1963, she had just come off of another Oscar nomination for Judgment at NurembergShe had also performed in a very successful TV special for CBS the season before.  Despite her (deserved) reputation for unreliability, CBS offered her a TV-variety show. 

Garland put her all into the show and surprisingly showed up every week, even for rehearsals.  Anybody who has seen this show on DVD or You Tube can see that she was performing near her best at the time.  But CBS didn’t know how to present her.  Furthermore, they put The Judy Garland Show opposite the number one television show in the country, Bonanza.  She was overwhelmed by the Cartwrights, and rather than put Garland in a more friendly time slot, they decided to try changing producers and formats on her — none of which helped.  At the end of the season, the Garland show was cancelled, and with it, a lot of Judy’s confidence.  Many people think that she never recovered from the demise of her 1963-1964 television series.

Dean Martin enjoyed both movie and television success for NBC on THE DEAN MARTIN SHOW during the 60’s.

In 1965, Dean Martin decided to try his hand at a weekly variety series but, like Fred MacMurray, didn’t want to be pinned down doing a show, week after week, when he was still busy making movies, recordings and playing Vegas.  NBC allowed him to only show up on the date of the tapings, and he would watch the run-throughs of rehearsals (complete with a Martin stand-in) for various sketches and songs on a closed-monitored television in his dressing room while practicing his golf swing.  The Dean Martin Show ran for nine years, and part of the fun was seeing Martin taken by surprise by various people who would stop by to say hello, or laughing uproariously at some antics he had no idea was going to happen.  Martin’s cool personality allowed him to get away with this.

In 1968, singer-actress Doris Day moved to television, not in a variety show, but in a family sitcom The Doris Day Show.  Day had been a top ten box office star as recently as 1964, but her films had been declining at the box office, and her manager-husband, Marty Melcher, signed her, without her knowledge, to a CBS TV show.  When Melcher died, Day discovered that he not only signed her to a TV show, but also mismanaged her money – and the only way she could really get out of debt was to do the series.  So she did it for five years through various format and cast changes, and her name made it successful.

If there was any one season when major film stars would make their debut on television it might be the 1971-1972 TV season, when such August movie names as James Stewart, Shirley MacLaine, Henry Fonda, Rock Hudson and Glenn Ford fronted weekly TV shows — and in most cases, failed.

Movie legend James Stewart would seem to have been a sure bet on television, but THE JIMMY STEWART SHOW lasted only one season.

James Stewart had been successful on television, often playing himself as a guest star on television shows headlined by his friends Jack Benny and Dean Martin.  Nobody could play the drawling, aww-schucks “Jimmy Stewart” persona as well as, well, Jimmy Stewart himself.  Furthermore, his movie career was slipping.  His latest film Fool’s Parade was a flop.  NBC came to his rescue with the offer of a weekly family sit-com in which he would play a small-town college professor (married to a much younger woman) with a grown son and a ten-year old son.  The Jimmy Stewart Show would pay Stewart the then highest salary on television of $33,333.33 per episode — or about $800,000 per season. 

Stewart only accepted after director, writer and producer Hal Kantor flattered him.  Kantor told Stewart that no actor could play comedy as well as Stewart.  Kantor sincerely believed this, but he also believed that Stewart would photograph, well, very old.  “He looked 63 going on 73,” Kantor later said.  This made him seem unbelievable as a father of a ten year old son.  Stewart also wanted his real-life wife, Gloria, to play his TV wife, but NBC balked on this — hiring the younger Julie Adams.  While Stewart got along with Adams (and had indeed worked with her in his 1952 film Bend of the River), he never forgave the network for balking on Gloria. 

The network gave what they thought would be a perfect timeslot — Sundays right after The Wonderful World of Disney and just before Bonanza.  Who would dare turn-off Jimmy Stewart?  Well, lots of people did.  Disney turned out to be the 20th highest ranking television series of the season, and Bonanza, while declining in its rating, was still a solid #19.  The Jimmy Stewart Show, sandwiched in between them, ranked #44 for the season.  It appears a lot of viewers switched to the second half of The FBI (ranked # 13) after watching Disney, and then switched back for Bonanza.

THE SMITH FAMILY starring Henry Fonda didn’t catch on for ABC.

Stewart’s great friend Henry Fonda fared even worse.  His TV show which combined police drama with family sit-com, The Smith Family, was on ABC Wednesday nights with lead-ins Bewitched and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.  Unfortunately for Fonda, both of those series were on their last legs.  Bewitched, in its last season, and once a top ten TV show, was now ranked #72 in the ratings.  The Smith Family actually bettered it, but not by much, ranking a dismal #69 in the ratings.

Shirley MacLaine thought doing a television series might help her then sagging movie career. SHIRLEY’S WORLD on ABC was the result.

Shirley MacLaine, not yet forty and a major movie name whose star was dimming, accepted doing her ABC series Shirley’s World – in which she played a jet setting photo journalist – only after producer Lou Grade told her he would finance a movie for her each year she completed a 22-episode run of the TV show.  Shirley’s World was an expensive show to produce, with episodes filmed on location in London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong, among other locales.  As it turned out, Grade only had to finance one movie for Shirley, Desperate Characters, because her TV show was cancelled after finishing next-to-last in the ratings for the season (#77). 

Glenn Ford’s contemporary western crime-drama Cade’s County allowed the low-key leading man to earn $500,000, playing a marshal whose district is in a sprawling desert of some southwestern state (never specified), and who takes on contemporary issues like discrimination and Indian rights while making his patrols in a jeep.  The CBS show had a promising start, ranking #11 for its first week but slowly eroded ending the season ranked #49 before the network pulled the plug.

Of the major movie stars who began television shows in 1971-1972 the only success was Rock Hudson in MCMILLAN AND WIFE.

The film star who had the most success during this 1971-1972 TV season was Rock Hudson, who played a middle aged police commissioner who investigates mysteries, with the sometimes unwelcome help of his youngish wife (Susan St. James) on NBC’s McMillan and Wife. This was part of its NBC Mystery Movie wheel series which also included Dennis Weaver’s McCloud and Peter Falk’s Columbo.  McMillan and Wife was a kind of an updated version of The Thin Man with romantic banter and comic situations in between solving mysteries.  Columbo proved to be the most popular of the “wheel” shows, though the McMillan episodes were also highly rated and overall the “Mystery Movie” ranked #14 for the season.  McMillan and Wife would run for five years (with one more season as McMillan after Susan St. James left the series). 

So, why did shows starring classic films stars like James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Glenn Ford and Shirley MacLaine fail, and Rock Hudson succeed?  It was probably because of a combination of poor time slots and less-than-stellar scripts. As for Hudson, he succeeded not because the McMillan scripts were great (they weren’t), but because he had unmistakable chemistry with his co-star, and was a younger leading man than Stewart, Fonda and Ford.  It was probably also because Hudson wasn’t seen every week, but rather in rotation with the other “wheel” shows.

Since then, of course, it has become more acceptable for movie stars to also appear regularly on television — especially on cable television in movies or even series.  Probably because more television stars are able to make the transition to movie stardom, so they don’t have the same snobbery that some classic movie stars had towards the television medium.   But it still continues to be hit or miss.

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–Charles Tranberg for Classic Movie Hub

Charles Tranberg is the author of eight books on such film and television stars as Agnes Moorehead, Fred MacMurray, Marie Wilson, Robert Taylor, Fredric March and William Conrad.  He has also written books on “The Disney Films” and “The Thin Man” film series.   He is also the author of several articles for Classic Images and Films of the Golden Age.

                                   

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Classic Movie Travels: Frank McHugh

Classic Movie Travels: Frank McHugh

Frank McHugh
Frank McHugh

Frank McHugh was a beloved character actor, whom fans of Pre Code cinema will remember particularly well. He typically carried out roles that provided comic relief in films but also had experience on stage, radio, and television.

Francis Curray McHugh was born on May 23, 1898, in Homestead, Pennsylvania, as one of five children. His parents, Edward “Cutie” McHugh and Katherine Curry “Katie” McHugh had backgrounds in theater and ran a stock theater company in Braddock, Pennsylvania. As a result, Francis began performing at an early age and developed an interest in theater. Moreover, his brother and sister — Matt and Kitty — were also similarly inclined. The trio of children formed an act when Francis was 10 years old. Francis’ formal education would end with the 5th grade.

In 1917, Francis was working in Manhattan as an actor. Francis went to Pittsburgh to find acting roles and to work as a stage manager at the Empire Theater. He worked in stock and traveling companies in addition to gaining experience on Broadway. Later, he would marry Dorothy Spencer. The couple went on to have three children: Susan, Michael, and Peter.

Frank McHugh Headshot
Frank McHugh

Francis would make his Broadway debut in a show called The Fall Guy in 1925. His film debut would occur in If Men Played Cards as Women Do (1929), a short for Paramount. Francis would then be hired on at First National Pictures as a contract player, later being credited as Frank McHugh in film roles.

By 1930, McHugh’s siblings were no longer working on stage as an act. Another brother of Francis’s, Ed, left for New York to work as an agent and stage manager. Like Francis, Matt and Kitty also went on to have film careers.

As his screen career progressed, McHugh took on a wide variety of roles. He often played humorous, easygoing characters and almost always incorporated his trademark laugh in his work.

Completing a vast number and variety of films, McHugh worked alongside some of classic cinema’s greatest stars, developing a close friendship with James Cagney. Their friend group expanded to include the likes of Ralph Bellamy, Frank Morgan, Pat O’Brien, Lynne Overman, Spencer Tracy, and Allan Jenkins, dubbed “The Irish Mafia.”

Frank and Cagney in Footlight Parade (1933)
Frank and Cagney in Footlight Parade (1933)

He would later work with Bing Crosby in Going My Way (1944).

During World War II, McHugh was part of the Hollywood Victory Caravan. The caravan was comprised of 21 film stars who traveled the country by train in order to perform and raise money for the Army and Navy Relief Society. He went on to perform as part of additional USO tours internationally, including a show he created, called “McHugh’s Revue.” McHugh was honored by the U.S. Army for his work with the USO.

Over time, McHugh worked on radio in Phone Again, Finnegan in the 1940s, and Hotel for Pets during the 1950s. From 1964-65, he appeared regularly on The Bing Crosby Show as Willis Walter, a live-in handyman character. His last film role was in Easy Come, Easy Go (1967), starring Elvis Presley.

McHugh passed away in Greenwich Hospital in Connecticut at age 83. He and his wife are buried in the Spencer family plot at Fairview Cemetery, located in West Hartford, Connecticut.

His papers are now housed at the Billy Rose Theatre Division of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.

Today, some of McHugh’s residences still remain.

His childhood home on Locust Alley in Homestead, Pennsylvania, no longer stands. His apartment in 1930, located at 446 Yucca St. in Los Angeles, California, has also been razed.

In 1940, McHugh resided at 4200 Navajo St. in Toluca Lake, California, with his family and their Czechoslovakian maid, Anastasia Vorick. Here is the property today:

4200 Navajo St. in Toluca Lake, California
4200 Navajo Street, Toluca Lake, California

By 1965, McHugh was living at 8 White Birch Ln. in Cos Cob, Connecticut. The property is located in a peaceful, wooded area.

8 White Birch Lane, Cos Cob, Connecticut
8 White Birch Lane, Cos Cob, Connecticut

Today, McHugh is best remembered by film fans for the joy he brought through the many cheery characters he played.

–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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Announcing our Partnership with Best Classics Ever!


Classic Movies and TV Shows for Streaming
The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship 🙂

CMH is absolutely thrilled to announce that we have partnered with Best Classics Ever (BCE), a mega streaming channel dedicated to classic films and TV shows! We will have our own Classic Movie Hub Channel there, where CMH fans can stream lots of classic movies and TV shows for free each month! CMH will be specially curating the movies on our channel, so we’ll be sure to feature a nice selection for fans and we’ll announce the available titles each month!

In addition to our curated CMH Channel, fans can also pivot to the BCE Home Page, where they can watch even more free classic movies and shows on these classic streaming channels – Best Stars Ever, Best Westerns Ever and Best TV Ever.

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Every movie and TV show featured on the CMH Channel and the BCE Home Page can be watched for free. All you need to do is select a film or show, and then click the ‘play’ button. BCE is able to provide this content for free to you because it includes some commercials – so it’s kind of like watching ‘regular’ TV. There is no sign-up necessary to enjoy this free content, and there are hundreds of movies and TV episodes available with this option.

If, instead, you prefer to enjoy your classic movie content ‘straight’ aka commerical-free 🙂 or if you want access to LOTs more movies and shows, please feel free to check out a 7-day free trial. If you like what you see and decide to sign-up for a monthly ad-free subscription, it would cost $1.99/channel per month or $4.99/month for all three channels (Best Stars Ever, Best Westerns Ever, Best TV Ever). There are thousands of movies and TV episodes available through the ad-free options.

Here’s a quick sampling of what you can watch for free right now on BCE:

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I am really excited about this partnership, and I am hoping that it brings everyone LOTs of hours of classic viewing fun! And, what’s even more exciting for me, is that CMH will be working with BCE to help curate the library — so if there’s a classic movie or TV show that you’re hankering to see, let us know and we’ll see what we can do.

Before I sign off, I do want to be transparent here and let you know that there will be some compensation for CMH involved here, but please know that we’ve been working on this with BCE for quite some time and we are very happy with the results 🙂 I am hoping that you will be too!

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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Marilyn: Behind the Icon – Niagara


Marilyn Monroe as Rose Loomis in Niagara

Niagara movie poster

In 20th Century Fox Studio’s black and white trailer for Niagara (1953), the narrator describes Marilyn Monroe’s character as “flaunting her charms as she lured men on and on to their eternal destruction…” A close-up of Monroe is superimposed on the footage of the cascading falls. Monroe, the actress, is described by stilted voiceover as “skyrocketing to new dramatic heights.” Promotional posters featured a rendering of a colossal Monroe lounging across the falls, emblazoned with slogans such as, “Marilyn Monroe and Niagara are a raging torrent of emotion that even nature can’t control!”

Marilyn Monroe in Niagara, shocking pink dress, with a vinyl record

Fox correctly calculated Niagara as a vehicle to propel Marilyn Monroe into overnight global stardom by introducing her as a titillating leading lady of high budget, A-class films. The screenplay describes her role—an adulterous wife plotting her husband’s murder with her lover amid the backdrop of Niagara Falls—as a beautiful girl “with clear eyes and untroubled expression of a girl with no moral restraints whatever.” Perfect material to pry the public from television sets and into theaters.

Written and produced by Charles Brackett, Niagara was a retooled treatment by Walter Reisch and Richard Breen. Beginning in 1950, Brackett obsessed about the idea of a suspense film set in Niagara Falls, subconsciously inspired by a Currier and Ives print of the cascading falls in the men’s restroom of his office.

Marilyn Monroe, Jean Peters, Max Showalter, Niagara

The film’s perspective is told from the perspective of a young couple, Ray and Polly Cutler (Max Showalter & Jean Peters), enjoying a postponed honeymoon to Niagara Falls where they meet George & Rose Loomis (George Cotten & Monroe)—a dysfunctional pair returning to the Falls where they had spent their honeymoon but who are now consumed by jealousy, adultery, and revenge. Niagara Falls symbolizes uncontrolled passion resulting in disaster and death. The message for Post-War 1950s America is that sexuality must be contained and restrained.

Niagara, Joseph Cotten, Marilyn Monroe

Niagara is a rare Technicolor film noir that employs the genre’s traditional use of stark camera angles, dramatic shadows, contrast images, and low-key lighting. The main exception is its use of Technicolor rather than monochromatic film. In true film noir style, the protagonist, George Loomis, has character flaws leading him to ruin. He is suffering from posttraumatic stress from combat in the Korean War, failure in business, and a suggested inability to satisfy his wife sexually. 

Marilyn Monroe in Niagara

This protagonist is betrayed by another staple of film noir, the femme fatale, in the form of his diabolical wife. Rose Loomis is the ultimate femme fatale. She is a cruel and dishonest woman who drives her husband toward madness with her brazen sexuality, in hope to begin a new life with her paramour. Niagara was Marilyn’s only opportunity to portray a villainous, narcissistic woman with virtually no redeeming qualities who conspires with her lover to murder her husband.

Joseph Cotten (1905-1994), whose film debut was in Orson Welles’ classic Citizen Kane (1941), portrays George Loomis. Welles had also directed him in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) and The Third Man (1949). In Hitchcock’s film noir, Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Cotten attracted attention as the menacing uncle who confirms his young niece’s suspicion that he is a serial killer.

Marilyn Monroe, Niagara

Rose’s femme fatale is balanced with a pure and virtuous woman sympathetic and helpful to the protagonist. Jean Peters (1926-2000) is effective in the role of Polly Cutler, the newlywed who soothes George’s agitation. Interestingly, studio memos suggest original casting consideration of Monroe in for the role of Polly, and Anne Baxter as Rose. However, studio mogul Darry; F. Zanuck’s image of Monroe likely cemented her fate as—in the words of the film’s marketing—the “tantalizing temptress whose kisses fired men’s souls.”

Niagara would later be described as a stylized film in the directorial vein of Alfred Hitchcock and suggests how the director may have used Monroe as one of his signature icy blond leading ladies. However, Fox engaged Henry Hathaway (1898- 1985) as director. His film noir classics included The House on 92nd Street (1945), Kiss of Death (1947), and Call Northside 777 (1948) with Jean Peters.

Henry Hathaway and Marilyn Monroe on the set of Niagara

Hathaway’s reputation was that of a tyrant who belittled and cursed his actors. However, he took an immediate liking to Monroe, or perhaps she melted his icy exterior. Hathaway considered Monroe’s opinion when editing the daily rushes and allowed her input to the selection of takes chosen for the finished film.

Max Showalter (1917-2000), known by his stage name Casey Adams, was cast as the gregarious, somewhat “square” newlywed, Ray Cutler.

Richard Allan and Marilyn Monroe, Niagara

As Rose’s lover, Richard Allan (1923-1999) shared a powerful on-screen chemistry with Monroe.

On-location production began on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls during June 1952. Since none of the area’s existing motels and cabins could be photographed with the Falls as a background, Fox’s unit manager, Abe Steinberg, hired a local contractor to build the façade of a five-unit motel described in the script as on the edge of the Niagara River opposite American Falls in Queen Victoria Park. Upon release in early 1953, the film re-established Niagara as Honeymoon Capital of the World. Long after the film’s release and subsequent repeated broadcasts on television, the Niagara Falls Chamber of Commerce continued to receive many requests for information about vacancies at the long ago dismantled, fictional Rainbow Cabins.

Marilyn Monroe, Niagara, red jacket

In an iconic scene, the Niagara Carillon Tower chimes the melody of “Kiss.” Believing the song is a message from her lover communicating that he successfully killed her husband, Rose walks in the direction of the tower, flashing a smile as she dashes off to meet him. Her costume is a red bolero jacket, tight black skirt, and high-heel sandals with ankle straps. In this scene, Monroe created her first iconic image; a walk lasting nearly twenty seconds on screen and comprising one hundred sixteen feet of film. It was the longest and most luxurious walk in cinema history, and the film’s biggest gimmick. Hathaway’s stationary camera focuses on the exaggerated, horizontal sway of Monroe’s buttocks as she walks, her back to the camera, toward the tower. The audaciously allows the audience a voyeuristic moment in a style later synonymous with Hitchcock.

Marilyn Monroe, head shots for Niagara
Marilyn Monroe, various wardrobe tests for Niagara.  red dress, black dress, baby blue dress

For the first time, Monroe was hailed for precision in her acting in a leading role. “The dress is red; the actress has very nice knees,” wrote Otis Guernsey of New York Herald Tribune, “and under Hathaway’s direction she gives the kind of serpentine performance that makes the audience hate her while admiring her, which is proper for the story.” Time hailed its full-bodied assertion, “What lifts the film above the commonplace is its star, Marilyn Monroe.”

In the final analysis, Monroe served Fox well. Niagara cost $1,250,000 and returned $6,000,000 in its first release. She had achieved global stardom. Nearly seventy years after its release, Niagara retains its nail-biting suspense, showcases Monroe’s dramatic talents, and illustrates its leading lady’s transcending appeal and charisma. She had personified the culture’s standard for beauty and sensuality.

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–Gary Vitacco-Robles for Classic Movie Hub

Gary Vitacco-Robles is the author of ICON: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volumes 1 & 2, and writer/producer of the podcast series, Marilyn: Behind the Icon.

     

Posted in Films, Guest Posts, Marilyn: Behind the Icon, Posts by Gary Vitacco-Robles | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Classic Movie Coincidence: June Birthdays – Errol, Basil, Marilyn, and More


Classic Movie Birthday Coincidences:
Errol, Basil, Marilyn & More

I am happy to be starting a new monthly series today, looking at ‘classic movie coincidences’ among stars born in the same month.  Honestly, I thought it would be difficult to find any coincidences at all, but once I took a look at the long list of June birthdays, I was happily headed down an incredibly wonderful rabbit hole.  That said, let me share a few of the stand-out discoveries for me. 

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Errol Flynn (June 20, 1909) and
Basil Rathbone (June 13, 1892)

Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone fight to the death in Captain Blood.

Peter Blood: And that, my friend, ends a partnership that should never have begun.
Well, I’m glad that this partnership continued for at least one more film 🙂

What can I say? These famous dueling swashbucklers share June birthdays and two fun flicks – Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), each of which are among my personal favorites, and always good for a Saturday afternoon matinee.  Whether playing ‘partnership-gone-wrong’ pirates or Norman/Saxon foes, it’s always thrilling to watch these two athletes fence. They’re both so exiting to watch, that I’m never quite entirely sure that Errol is actually going to win!

Fun Facts:

  • Rathbone, who was British Army Fencing Champ twice during WWI, was referred to, by many, as the greatest swordsman in Hollywood history.
  • Rathbone went on to star as Sherlock Holmes in 14 films between 1939 and 1946, and also starred as the sleuth in over 200 radio plays.
  • Lester Matthews, born June 6, 1900, and Ian Hunter, born June 13, 1900, both appeared in The Adventures of Robin Hood with Flynn and Rathbone. Rathbone and Hunter share the same birthday (June 13) with Rathbone being the elder by 8 years.

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Some Like It Hot

Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe in Some Like It Hot

Sugar: If my mother could only see me now.
Joe: I hope my mother never finds out.

So, now for one of my favorite films of all time… Some Like It Hot – which shares five June classic movie birthdays: Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926) as Sugar, Tony Curtis (June 3, 1925) as Joe/Josephine, Paul Frees (June 22, 1920) as Mozzarella the funeral director, I.A.L. Diamond (June 27, 1920) who wrote the screenplay, and director Billy Wilder (June 22, 1906).   Paul Frees also dubbed the falsetto voice for Curtis/Josephine.

Fun Facts:

  • Paul Frees voiced many cartoon characters including villain Boris Badenov in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
  • Paul Frees also has a June birthday connection with Gene Barry, who was born on June 14, 1919. Both starred in The War of the Worlds (1953); Gene Barry played atomic scientist Dr. Clayton Forrester, and Paul Frees provided the dramatic opening narration for the film and also played one of the radio reporters.

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Arsenic and Old Lace

Arsenic and Old Lace – what a bunch of characters 🙂
June birthdays include Peter Lorre (l), Priscilla Lane and Jean Adair (both to the right)

Aunt Martha: For a gallon of elderberry wine, I take one teaspoon full of arsenic, then add half a teaspoon full of strychnine, and then just a pinch of cyanide.

Another priceless film, in my humble opinion… Arsenic and Old Lace shares four June birthdays: Priscilla Lane (June 12, 1915) as Cary Grant’s new bride Elaine Harper, Jean Adair (June 13, 1873) as quirky (to say the least) Aunt Martha, Peter Lorre (June 26, 1904) as ‘plastic surgeon’ Dr. Einstein, and Grant Mitchell (June 17, 1874) as Elaine’s father, the Reverend Harper. A wonderful Halloween treat that can be enjoyed all year round 🙂

Fun Facts:

  • Jean Adair originated the role of Aunt Martha on Broadway, and was given time off from the play to shoot the movie. This was also the case for co-stars Josephine Hull who played Aunt Abby and John Alexander who played Teddy Brewster.  Boris Karloff, who played Jonathon Brewster on Broadway, was denied permission to take a leave of absence from the play, so Raymond Massey was cast in the film instead – hence the fun references to Karloff in the film.
  • Although the movie was filmed in 1941, it wasn’t released until 1944, due to a contract stipulation that prevented the film from being released before the play’s run had ended. The play closed on June 17, 1944, and the film premiered at NYC’s Strand Theatre on Sept 1, followed by nationwide release on September 23, 1944. The NY Times called it ‘good macabre fun’. Yep, that sounds about right to me.

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His Girl Friday

Ralph Bellamy and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday

Bruce Baldwin: He’s not the man for you. I can see that. But I sort of like him. He’s got a lot of charm.
Hildy Johnson: Well, he comes by it naturally – his grandfather was a snake.

A rapid-fire favorite, His Girl Friday, boasts three June birthdays: Rosalind Russell (June 4, 1907) as reporter Hildy Brown, Ralph Bellamy (June 17, 1904) as Hildy’s good-guy fiancée Bruce Baldwin, and Cliff Edwards (June 14, 1895) as reporter Endicott. Poor Baldwin/Bellamy is up against Cary Grant as Hildy’s first husband, Walter Burns, who doesn’t seem keen on letting Hildy get hitched again, at least to someone else.

Fun Facts:

  • His Girl Friday, released in 1940, was adapted from the 1928 Broadway play, The Front Page, which, in turn, was adapted into the film The Front Page in 1931 starring Pat O’Brien as Hildy Johnson, Adolphe Menjou as Walter Burns, and Mary Brian as love interest (in this case) Peggy Grant.
  • The Front Page was also remade in 1974 starring Jack Lemmon as Hildy, Walter Matthau as Burns, and Susan Sarandon as Peggy Grant – and directed by June birthday boy Billy Wilder who also co-wrote the screenplay with June birthday cohort I.A.L. Diamond.

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The Wizard of Oz

Judy Garland and Clara Blandick in The Wizard of Oz

Dorothy: Oh, Auntie Em – there’s no place like home!

The iconic (understatement) classic features three June birthdays: Judy Garland (June 10, 1922) as Dorothy Gale, Frank Morgan (June 1, 1890) as The Wizard (and the compassionate Professor Marvel), and Clara Blandick (June 4, 1876) as Dorothy’s Auntie Em.

Fun Fact:

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June Birthday Girls – Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Now for some quick coincidences:

  • Stan Laurel (June 16, 1890) and Henry Brandon (June 8, 1912) – March of the Wooden Soldiers (aka Babes in Toyland)
  • Stan Laurel and Mae Busch (June 18, 1891); Mae appeared in many Laurel and Hardy films, playing Hardy’s shrewish wife.
  • Mel Brooks (June 28, 1926) and Gene Wilder (June 11, 1933)
  • Ellen Corby (June 3, 1911) and Ralph Waite (June 22, 1928) – The Waltons
  • Nelson Eddy (June 29, 1901) and Jeanette MacDonald (June 18, 1903) – eight films together
  • Georgia Hale (June 25, 1900) and Paulette Goddard (June 3, 1910) – both starred in Charlie Chaplin films
  • June Haver (June 10, 1926), Marilyn Monroe (June 1, 1926), William Lundigan (June 12, 1914) – all starred in Love Nest
  • Jane Russell (June 21, 1921), Marilyn Monroe and Charles Coburn (June 19, 1877) – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
  • George Axelrod (June 9, 1922) wrote the play/screenplay for The Seven Year Itch and the screenplay for Bus Stop. Both films starred Marilyn Monroe
  • George Axelrod wrote the play Goodbye Charlie. Tony Curtis and Pat Boone (June 1, 1934) both starred in the film
  • Max Showalter (June 2, 1917) and Marilyn Monroe – both starred in Niagara. Lester Matthews had a small part in the film as a doctor.
  • Jane Russell and Frieda Inescort (June 29, 1901) – Foxfire
  • Charles Coburn and Louis Jourdan (June 19, 1921) – The Paradine Case
  • Basil Rathbone and Blanche Yurka (June 19, 1887) – A Tale of Two Cities (1935)
  • Basil Rathbone and Clive Brook (June 1, 1887) both starred as Sherlock Holmes in a number of films
  • Basil Rathbone and Ian Hunter – Tower of London
  • Andy Griffith (June 1, 1926) and Jim Nabors (June 12, 1930) – The Andy Griffith Show
  • Russell Simpson (June 17, 1880, some sources say 1877) and Grant Mitchell (June 17, 1874) share the same birthday and both appeared in The Grapes of Wrath.
  • Maria Montez (June 6, 1912) and Moroni Olsen (June 27, 1889) – Cobra Woman
  • Walter Abel (June 6, 1898) and Moroni Olsen – The Three Muskateers (1935)
  • Errol Flynn and Moroni Olsen – Dive Bomber and Santa Fe Trail
  • Errol Flynn, Lester Matthews and Mildred Natwick (June 19, 1905) – Against All Flags

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Brigid Balzen as Salome in King of Kings

More June birthdays – but no coincidences that I can find (yet) – let me know if you see any!

  • Jack Albertson
  • Brigid Balzen
  • William Boyd
  • Pat Buttram
  • Kevin Corcoran
  • Robert Cummings
  • Joan Davis
  • Dudley Diggs
  • Cliff Edwards
  • Lionel Jeffries
  • Sessue Hayakawa
  • Susan Hayward
  • Judy Holliday
  • Lena Horne
  • Moe Howard
  • Louis Jourdan
  • Martin Landau
  • Harry Langdon
  • Madeleine Lebeau
  • June Lockhart
  • Paul Lynde
  • Dean Martin
  • E.G. Marshall
  • Jerry Mathers
  • Donald McBride
  • Hattie McDaniel
  • Dorothy McGuire
  • Eleanor Parker
  • Gail Patrick
  • Slim Pickens
  • Robert Preston
  • Anne Revere
  • Dennis Weaver
  • Lois Weber
  • Johnny Weissmuller
  • May Whitty
  • Mary Wickes

You can check out all our June birthdays by visiting our Birthday Database here.

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Classic Movie Coincidence, Posts by Annmarie Gatti | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Marilyn: Behind the Icon – Exclusive Blog Series by Author Gary Vitacco-Robles

Marilyn: Behind the Icon Blog Series

I am so happy to announce that, in celebration of Marilyn Monroe’s birthday tomorrow, June 1, CMH will be launching an exclusive Marilyn: Behind the Icon blog series, penned by author Gary Vitacco-Robles. The series will run through August 5, which is the anniversary of Monroe’s death.

Gary’s blog series will explore Monroe’s memorable and hidden films and performances. From her portrayal of a psychotic babysitter in Don’t Bother to Knock to her triumphant, Golden Globe Award-winning performance in Some Like It Hot, Gary will help us deconstruct what contributed to Monroe’s enduring appeal.

We’ll be posting Gary’s first article about Niagara, tomorrow morning, so stay tuned 🙂

Marilyn as Rose Loomis in Niagara

If you’re interesting in further exploring Gary’s work, please feel free to check out his books, ICON: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volumes 1 & 2, or his podcast series, Marilyn: Behind the Icon.

Last, but not least — A Big Thank You to Gary for creating this series for us!

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Guest Posts, Posts by Annmarie Gatti, Posts by Gary Vitacco-Robles | Tagged , | 2 Comments