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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Monsters and Matinees: A lifetime of being terrorized by ‘Grizzly’

Not all movie monsters fade away with the end credits.

They might make a lasting impression because of their greatness (Universal monsters), uniqueness (The Blob) or silliness (Attack of the Killer Shrews). They can feed on our fears or leave us with new ones like being afraid to swim in the ocean (Jaws).

In extreme cases, they leave us with life-long phobias that have no basis in reality. Take me for example: I’m terrified of quicksand (from watching Tarzan movies), walking into another dimension (The Twilight Zone) and seeing an apparition behind me in a mirror (too many films to mention).

The jaws of death in Grizzly, a 1976 horror film that owes a lot to the classic Jaws.

My biggest irrational fear: being mauled to death by a bear.

I stay clear of bear exhibits at zoos and other attractions. I don’t go near the woods and certainly won’t camp out overnight. Even staying in a cabin isn’t an option because bears can break windows and knock down walls. I know it’s true because it happened in Grizzly.

The 1976 creature feature about a powerful bear who could rip through barriers, was resistant to guns and as smart as humans was so terrifying that I watched it only once as a kid and never again. Yet an extreme fear of being a Grizzly victim stays with me today.

Family and friends laugh about it. They send birthday cards with pictures of bears and forward bear memes and articles. It became, pun intended, too much to bear. Finally, it was time to face this fear and that meant going back to where it started: to Grizzly. Would it be as horrifying to watch as an adult as my childhood memories led me to believe? I was surprised at the answer.

The movie

Grizzly opens with a nice helicopter ride over a national park. The pilot is talking to two senators about needing the government’s help in protecting national parks from campers and the damage they do. (Bad things always follow a speech like that.)

Suddenly, a lovely musical score by Robert O. Raglan (performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra of London, no less) begins to soar along with the gorgeous overhead shots of picturesque mountains, forests and streams. It’s serene and romantic – are we watching a travel video or a horror film? Both. (That music returns again and again and was one of the surprises of rewatching the Grizzly.)

Cut to the busy town below that’s overrun by backpackers and campers despite it being off season. There are so many that Forest Ranger Michael Kelly (played by Christopher George) has brought his crew together to deal with the problem. “We’ve got more backpackers pitching tents than raccoons in the woods,” quips one of the rangers.

An innocent camper becomes the first victim of the title character in Grizzly.

They’ve got a right to be concerned because those backpackers are about to meet the title character.

Two young female campers are the first victims and authorities are perplexed. Perhaps the girls got too close to a cub (save that for Grizzly II). Or the bear was hungry.

“But bears don’t eat people!” Ranger Kelly insists.

“This one did,” the coroner replies.

Leading the hunt for the bear, Ranger Kelly is joined by war veteran and our helicopter pilot Don Stober (played by Andrew Prine) and the park’s naturalist Arthur Scott (Richard Jaeckel) who camouflages himself in animal hide and arrives with bad news.

As Ranger Kelly, Christopher George makes it his mission to find the deadly Grizzly.

“We’ve got a grizzly – and then some,” Scott says. It’s at least 15-feet tall – twice the normal size, judging by its claw marks on a tree – and weighs more than 2,000 pounds. That massive size can mean only one thing: It’s an ancestor of the Arctodus ursus horribilis – the mightiest carnivore during the Pleistocene era.  

“What is a million-year-old grizzly doing here?” he’s asked.

“He’s looking for food,” Scott replies.

The film gets into a routine from there: People hunt the grizzly. The grizzly hunts the people. Someone dies. Someone does something stupid. Someone else dies. The hunt continues and it starts again.

This is not a movie where bodies are simply discovered either. Each death is telegraphed, with the tension building as the grizzly stalks its intended victim. The music abruptly becomes ominous. We see the clueless victim from the grizzly’s point-of-view. The grizzly grunts, huffs, growls yet only the viewer hears him. (“Run!” we scream in our heads. “Run!”)

There’s not much a human can do against a bear that stands at least 15 feet tall and can take on a helicopter as in this scene from Grizzly.

Immense claws pound the ground as the grizzly gets closer, the music speeds up. It’s intense. There’s none of that fake “teen popping up in a bear costume” schtick to lighten things up, either. (The film’s only comic relief is a scene of backpackers running down the mountain as an evacuation order is announced.)

At multiple points you’ll think “Oh no … the bear is not going to kill (fill in the blank).” Oh, yes it will – this bear is heartless and will claim more victims than you might imagine before it is done.

And it may remind you of another movie monster.

Borrowing inspiration from a classic

On its release, Grizzly was ripped apart for being an unabashed copy of Jaws, made a year earlier.

Judging from the film’s poster that proclaims “The most dangerous Jaws in the land,” it seems the studio would relish the comparison.

In addition to a similar plot (just insert bear for shark), the characters are the same. We see the Roy Scheider authority figure in Christopher George; the grizzled Robert Shaw shark hunter in Richard Jaeckel’s naturalist; the Richard Dreyfuss role is now the pilot who wants to protect nature; and the mayor who won’t close the beach is the park supervisor who, you guessed it, won’t shut down the park.

Grizzly isn’t anywhere near as good, of course. Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote that it was “such a blatant imitation of Jaws that one has to admire the depth of the flattery it represents, though not the lack of talent involved.”

While my second viewing made those Jaws comparisons clear, that didn’t matter to the adult me who still finds creature features entertaining even if the effects and story don’t hold up.

Let’s take the nightmarish images of bloodied limbs flying across the screen that have haunted me since that first fateful viewing. Today those scenes look so phony you can picture the person just off camera throwing the fake prosthetics. Yet it didn’t matter. It was the idea that a bear could rip your arm or leg off that terrified me, not the ketchup-like blood and the fake arm.

And there was the crux of my lifelong phobia of bears. No matter how weak the movie or how fake the effects may have looked, it was the idea that one of those large claws could slice through my flesh and bone while I walked through the woods picking flowers that was terrifying.

It’s something I could never have imagined without seeing Grizzly. It doesn’t matter that today I see the movie with the flaws I never noticed as a child, the result is the same. Watching Grizzly today didn’t ease my fear of bears, it solidified it. This city-dweller still won’t take chances when it comes to bears.

A long-awaited sequel

Grizzly may have been bashed by critics, but not by moviegoers. Made for only $750,000, it was a financial hit as it pulled in $39 million. Money talks so there was a sequel. If you never heard of it, that makes sense since it would take 37 years to make it to the screen.

Grizzly II: Revenge, also called Grizzly II: The Predator and Grizzly II: The Concert, grew to film folklore after sitting on the shelf for nearly four decades. Part of the curiosity about the film grew because of the brief appearances by future stars George Clooney, Laura Dern and Charlie Sheen. (Given their stardom today, the trio was given top billing in the film and on the posters.)

A young Laura Dern and George Clooney are about to meet a very angry bear in Grizzly II: Revenge.

It was filmed in Hungary in 1983 by André Szöts, whose only other directing credit was a TV movie titled Vasárnap Budapesten.

The story is simple: After poachers kill a cub, a mama grizzly goes on the attack – at a rock concert. (The filmmakers staged a rock concert in Hungary for the film that also stars John Rhys-Davies and Louise Fletcher.)

But a producer left early in filming, taking money with him. There were behind-the-scenes fights. And the mechanical bears either broke down or were stolen, depending on the report you read.

The film remained unreleased until producer Suzanne C. Nagy cut through the legalities, added some stock footage, trimmed it a bit, played up the appearances by Clooney, Dern and Sheen and premiered Grizzly II: Revenge at the 2020 Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival. The reviews have not been kind as it was called a “grievous sequel” by the New York Times and “a terribly shot, badly dubbed, weirdly framed, disjointed rip-off of Jaws,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Judge for yourself. Both Grizzly and Grizzly II: Revenge are available to watch through streaming and rental services.

 Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

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Noir Nook: “Killer” Noir

Noir Nook: “Killer” Noir

Film noir is not easy to define. Sometimes, it’s not even easy to determine whether a film is noir or not. Whenever I’m asked to describe film noir, I respond that generally speaking, noir films portray a universe typified by corruption, pessimism, and hopelessness, and are commonly distinguished by shadows, reflections, and unique camera angles.

I like to also note that the titles of noir features often contain words that serve as a telling descriptor of this era of filmmaking – such one-word titles as Desperate, Pitfall, Caught, Cornered, and Framed are ideal indicators of the noir sensibility, as are frequently used words in noir titles like ‘fear,’ ‘guilty,’ ‘strange,’ ‘cry,’ and, of course — ‘kill.’

In this month’s Noir Nook, I’m taking a look at my top five noirs with some derivation of the word ‘kill’ in the title – or, as I like to think of them: ‘killer’ noirs.

The Killers (1946)

Loosely based on a short story by Ernest Hemingway, this film opens with the murder of a gas station attendant and ex-boxer known as ‘The Swede,’ by two hired killers. The remainder of the film, consisting of numerous flashbacks, focuses on the efforts of an insurance investigator to determine who killed the Swede and why.

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

The film stars Burt Lancaster as the Swede, here making his big-screen debut. The cast also includes Ava Gardner, as duplicitous femme fatale Kitty Collins; Edmond O’Brien as the insurance investigator; and William Conrad and Charles McGraw as the memorable murderers of the film’s title.

Noir veteran Robert Siodmak earned an Academy Award nomination for his direction of The Killers (he lost to William Wyler for The Best Years of Our Lives) – it was one of numerous noirs he helmed, including Phantom Lady (1944), Cry of the City (1948), and Criss Cross (1949).

The Killing (1956)

This film centers on an intricately, intelligently designed plan to carry out a racetrack heist. The scheme involves an odd mixture of characters possessing a variety of motives, including a mousy cashier who is desperate to hold onto his gold-digging wife, a bartender caring for his beloved, invalid spouse, and a policeman whose penchant for gambling has left him dangerously in debt.

Marie Windsor and Sterling Hayden in The Killing (1956)
Marie Windsor and Sterling Hayden in The Killing (1956)

Using a unique, non-linear storytelling technique, director Stanley Kubrick – who was only 28 when the movie was released – entwined a large cast to create a fascinating film that’s one of my all-time favorites. Some of the film’s most memorable characters were brought to life by Sterling Hayden, as the mastermind of the heist; Elisha Cook, Jr., as the cashier; Marie Windsor as Cook’s spouse; and Vince Edwards, who throws a monkey wrench into the entire proceedings.

Born to Kill (1947)

Featuring two particularly unsavory lead characters, Born to Kill focuses on a double murder, the man responsible for the killings, and the woman who knows he’s responsible but is drawn to him in spite of – maybe even because of – his crimes.

Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill (1947)
Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney in Born to Kill (1947)

Lawrence Tierney plays the aptly named Sam Wild, a social-climbing psychopath who doesn’t hesitate to kill even though he’s warned by his buddy (Elisha Cook, Jr., again) that it “just isn’t feasible.” And the woman who can’t stay away from him is portrayed by the always excellent Claire Trevor. Others in the cast include Isabel Jewell, as Laury Palmer, one of Sam’s luckless victims; Esther Howard, a friend of Laury’s who tries to find her pal’s killer; and Walter Slezak, a canny private detective.

The film was directed by Robert Wise, whose pedigree not only included several first-rate noirs – notably The Set-Up (1949) and Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) – but also such classics as West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965). During his career, he won four Academy Awards and numerous other well-earned accolades.

The Killer Is Loose (1956)

Wendell Corey, who often gets a bad rap for his rather nondescript characters, appears in this feature as you’ve never seen him before, playing “Foggy” Poole, an unbalanced escaped convict, bent on some eye-for-an-eye revenge against the cop who accidentally – but fatally – shot his wife.

Joseph Cotten and Rhonda Fleming in The Killer is Loose (1956)
Joseph Cotten and Rhonda Fleming in The Killer is Loose (1956)

The cop is portrayed by Joseph Cotten, and his wife – the object of Foggy’s vengeful desire – is played by Rhonda Fleming. Others on hand include Alan Hale, Jr., best known for his role as the Skipper on TV’s Gilligan’s Island, and John Beradino, who some of you may recognize from the ABC soaper General Hospital, where he played Dr. Steve Hardy from 1963 until his death in 1996.

The Killer Is Loose was directed by Budd Boetticher, who directed Randolph Scott in the 1956 western Seven Men From Now and went on to helm five more acclaimed westerns starring Scott, known as the Ranown Cycle (named after Scott and his producer, Harry Joe Brown).

The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

An especially timely noir, given the world’s current pandemic state, this feature is about a woman who smuggles stolen diamonds from Cuba – but that’s not all she’s brought with her. Unbeknownst to her, she’s also been infected with smallpox, and upon her return to the Big Apple, the disease quickly begins to spread.

Charles Korvin and Evelyn Keyes in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)
Charles Korvin and Evelyn Keyes in The Killer That Stalked New York (1950)

The smuggler/smallpox carrier is Sheila Bennet, played by Evelyn Keyes. As she grows increasingly sicker, it turns out that she’s not only being pursued by health officials trying to stop the disease from mushrooming, but also by federal authorities trying to track down the hot diamonds. And that’s not all – Sheila also discovers that her husband (Charles Korvin), who involved her in the smuggling racket, is two-timing her – with her SISTER! Let’s just say that there’s a lot going on in Sheila’s life.

Unlike the other directors in this “killer” group, the director of The Killer That Stalked New York – Earl McEvoy – is all but unknown today, and only helmed three feature films during his career. He had more experience (although usually uncredited) as an assistant director on such films as The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) and The Stratton Story (1949). Sadly, he died in 1959 at the age of 45.

And that’s my top five ‘killer’ noirs! Do you have any ‘killer’ noirs on your favorites list? Leave a comment and let me know!

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

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Classic Movie Travels: Donald Meek

Classic Movie Travels: Donald Meek

Donald Meek Headshot Hat
Donald Meek

A beloved character actor, Thomas Donald Meek was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on July 14, 1878, to Matthew and Annie Meek. Meek was one of four children, with two older sisters named Annie and Maggie as well as a younger brother named Marcus. His family moved to Canada and, later, the United States, eventually settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, Meek worked selling dry goods but was also eager to perform on the stage. At the age of eight and long before his family’s move, Meek expressed an interest in acting, first performing publicly in a comic pantomime.

Next, Meek joined an acrobatic team called “The Marvells,” touring throughout the U.S. but leaving the troupe after sustaining many fractures after a fall. Following six months of recovery, he fought during the Spanish-American War in Cuba. There he was wounded in battle and also lost his hair after falling ill with yellow fever. When World War I came about, he enlisted again. Meek served as part of the Canadian Highlanders as a corporal.

Donald Meek You Can't Take it With You (1938)
You Can’t Take it With You (1938)

Acting would lead Meek to tour the world. He toured several countries as part of a stage version of Little Lord Fauntleroy and lost his Scottish accent during his wartime travels. After his first few Broadway roles, Meek would find consistency in taking on comedic roles.

Meek would marry Isabella “Belle” Walkin in Boston in 1909, and the couple would relocate to Hollywood. The couple would remain together until Meek’s passing.

As movies grew in popularity, so did Meek’s interest in them. Though he worked at various studios, he took on scores of roles with rapidity and quickly became a highly sought character actor. Among his screen appearances were The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938), You Can’t Take It With You (1938), Stagecoach (1939), State Fair (1945), and dozens more. In total, Meek would execute over 120 roles in film.

Donald Meek State Fair (1945)
State Fair (1945)

Though Meek wished to retire one day and grow hybrid roses, he was not able to realize this dream. He passed away from leukemia on November 18, 1946. At the time of his passing, he was working on Magic Town (1947). Meek was 68 years old.

Today, some of Meek’s residences remain.

In 1910, Meek and his wife lived at 105 Clarendon St. in Boston, Massachusetts, though the home no longer stands.

By the 1930s, they were living in California. In 1936, they lived at 11200 Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, California, but this home no longer remains. Their 1940s home at 1977 Mandeville Canyon Rd., however, does stand. The home housed Meek, his wife, and their cook, Edna Leslie. This is the home today:

Donald Meek 1977 Mandeville Canyon Road, Los Angeles, CA
1977 Mandeville Canyon Road, Los Angeles, CA

Their home at 1500 Beverwil Dr. also stands today and is pictured here:

Donald Meek 1500 Beverwil Drive, Los Angeles, CA
1500 Beverwil Drive, Los Angeles, CA

Meek was posthumously awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His star is located on the East side of Vine Street’s 1700 block in Los Angeles.

Donald Meek star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Meek’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Though few tributes to Meek exist, his face continues to be a familiar one to classic film fans.

–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

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Western RoundUp: Hour of the Gun (1967)

Western RoundUp: Hour of the Gun (1967)

It’s been a few months since I devoted a Western RoundUp column to a single film, so this month I’ll focus on my first-ever viewing of Hour of the Gun (1967).

Hour of the Gun (1967) Movie Poster
Hour of the Gun (1967)

In doing so, I’m also returning to the topic of Wyatt Earp.  I previously wrote about Earp on film for Classic Movie Hub in 2018, focusing in that column on Frontier Marshal (1939), Tombstone: The Town Too Tough to Die (1942), and Wichita (1955).

In Hour of the Gun Earp is played by a taciturn James Garner, with Jason Robards as Doc Holliday.  I’ll note at the outset that in discussing the film I’ll be going into some detail, assuming many readers are familiar with the general outlines of the characters.  Those seeking to avoid spoilers may wish to watch the film prior to reading this review.

James Garner, Jason Robards and Robert Ryan in Hour of the Gun (1967)
James Garner, Jason Robards, and Robert Ryan in Hour of the Gun (1967)

Hour of the Gun was directed by John Sturges, who had previously directed another film on the Western legend, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957).  That film starred Burt Lancaster as Earp and Kirk Douglas as Doc.  It’s still on my future Wyatt Earp viewing list along with Tombstone (1993) and Wyatt Earp (1994).

One of the unique things about Hour of the Gun is apparent as the opening credits begin: The movie begins, rather than ends, with the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

I’ve only seen one other movie which “frontloads” the gunfight at or near the beginning, Dawn at Socorro (1954).  The Socorro characters are not named Earp, Holliday, or Clanton, but they are very clearly based on them.

Jason Robards, Frank Converse and James Garner in Hour of the Gun (1967)
Frank Converse, Jason Robards, and James Garner

As also depicted in Tombstone: The Town Too Tough to Die, shortly after the O.K. Corral Morgan Earp (Sam Melville) is gunned down while playing billiards.  The combined incidents of the O.K. Corral and Morgan’s death leave Earp and Ike Clanton (the great Robert Ryan) as mortal enemies, with Earp determined to hunt down Clanton and his gang by fair means or foul.

Earp is accompanied on his quest by the loyal Doc, whose ability with a gun belies the fact that he’s in failing health.  One by one they track down members of Clanton’s gang, leading to a climactic confrontation with Clanton himself.

James Garner Hour of the Gun (1967)
James Garner

The script by Edward Anhalt conceives Earp in far different terms than the gentlemanly Earp of a Fonda, Scott, or McCrea; this Wyatt mostly (but not completely) stays within the confines of the law, but he’s frankly a rather mean man.  Earp cares about his family and his friend Doc – though he and Doc try to hide it most of the time with brusque talk – but anger is the consuming emotion in his life.

It’s quite interesting to see Garner, so often identified with more lighthearted characters, in such a tightly wound role.  There’s a stunning scene in the last half hour of the film where Earp shoots someone over and over and over yet again, long past the point of necessity, as he unleashes his rage.

James Garner Hour of the Gun (1967)
James Garner

At the movie’s end, though Earp assures the dying Doc he’ll take a prestigious law enforcement job in Arizona, he tells their friend Dr. Goodfellow (Karl Swenson) that he has no intention of doing so.  As Earp rides away, a lonely future seems to stretch before him.

Although in some respects Garner’s performance is fairly one-note, at the same time he’s a good enough actor to be compelling.  The viewer watches him closely, trying to infer what’s going on in his mind from his actions and especially the look in his eyes.

James Garner Hour of the Gun (1967)
James Garner

Robards is quite good as Doc, managing to avoid pathos despite Doc’s alcoholism and poor health.  This Doc at times seems to be the voice of Earp’s conscience, particularly when Wyatt determines to follow Clanton into Mexico without a badge.  Doc also provides what levity exists in the film; it’s interesting that Robards and Garner flip expectations in this regard.

Ryan has relatively little screen time, but all eyes are on him whenever he appears.  He’s frankly terrifying, controlling a large gang of rough men with ease.  His performance caused me to remember Spencer Tracy‘s comment when working with Ryan on Bad Day at Black Rock (1955): “He scares the hell out of me.”  It’s remarkable acting from someone who offscreen was a quiet family man who co-founded a private elementary school.

Jason Robards, James Garner and Monte Markham in Hour of the Gun (1967)
Jason Robards, James Garner, and Monte Markham

Other pleasures of Hour of the Gun include William Windom in a small but entertaining role as a gambler who owes Doc money and is drafted to serve as a deputy, and a young Jon Voight as villainous Curly Bill Brocius, a role played in previous films by actors including Joe Sawyer and Edgar Buchanan.  

The supporting cast also includes Steve Ihnat, William Schallert, Albert Salmi, Charles Aidman, Lonny Chapman, Larry Gates, Monte Markham, and Richard Bull, who like Karl Swenson was later a longtime regular on TV’s Little House on the Prairie.

As befitting a John Sturges film, there are some excellent action scenes, beginning with the gunfight which opens the movie; another particularly good sequence is a gunfight at a train station, choreographed in an exciting fashion.

Robert Ryan in Hour of the Gun (1967)
Robert Ryan

While the depiction of gunfight deaths is relatively restrained in most of the movie, there are a couple of violent moments which tag the film as being made in the late ’60s, including a character taking a bullet in the forehead.  It wasn’t more violence than I could handle, but it was definitely more than I expected.

The film feels slightly padded at 110 minutes, and I think it could have been shaved down closer to 90 without viewers missing anything of significance.  A good example is a prolonged sequence of a woman, never seen again, waking up her husband in time for him to witness an attack on Virgil Earp (Frank Converse).  A full minute probably could have been excised right there.

James Garner, Jason Robards and Robert Ryan in Hour of the Gun (1967)
Hour of the Gun (1967)

I was somewhat amused by a title card over the gunfight telling viewers “This picture is based on fact.  This is the way it happened.”  That statement can be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, for too many reasons to detail here.

The fine cinematography was by Lucien Ballard, with much of the movie filmed on location in Arizona and Mexico.  The score was by the great Jerry Goldsmith.

Overall I felt Hour of the Gun, while not reaching greatness, was a solid, worthwhile entry in the cinematic history of Wyatt Earp.

– 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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Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood – Book Giveaway (Sept)

“Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood”
We have Four Books to Giveaway this Month!

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 giving away FOUR COPIES of Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood” by Robert S. Birchard.

In order to qualify to win this book via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, Sept 25 at 6PM EST. Winners will be chosen via random drawings.

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Cecil B DeMille's Hollywood

We will announce our four lucky winners on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub on Sunday, Sept 26, around 9PM EST. And, please note that you don’t have to have a Twitter account to enter; just see below for the details.

To recap, there will be FOUR WINNERS, chosen by random, all to be announced on Sept 26.

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Cecil B. DeMille

And now on to the contest!

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, September 25, 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 “Cecil B DeMille’s Hollywood” #BookGiveaway courtesy of @KentuckyPress & @ClassicMovieHub – #EnterToWin http://www.classicmoviehub.com/blog/cecil-b-demilles-hollywood-book-giveaway-sept/

THE QUESTION:
What is your favorite Cecil B. DeMille film and why? And, if you’re not familiar with his work, why do you want to win this book?

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

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

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

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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:

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

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

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

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Growing Up Hollywood with Victoria Riskin and William Wellman Jr:

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About the Book: Cecil B. DeMille was the most successful filmmaker in early Hollywood history. Cecil B. DeMille’s Hollywood is a detailed and definitive chronicle of the screen work that changed the course of film history and a fascinating look at how movies were actually made in Hollywood’s Golden Age. Drawing extensively on DeMille’s personal archives and other primary sources, Robert S. Birchard offers a revealing portrait of DeMille the filmmaker that goes behind studio gates and beyond DeMille’s legendary persona. In his forty-five-year career DeMille’s box-office record was unsurpassed, and his swaggering style established the public image for movie directors. DeMille had a profound impact on the way movies tell stories and brought greater attention to the elements of decor, lighting, and cinematography. Best remembered today for screen spectacles such as The Ten Commandments and Samson and Delilah, DeMille also created Westerns, realistic “chamber dramas,” and a series of daring and highly influential social comedies. He set the standard for Hollywood filmmakers and demanded absolute devotion to his creative vision from his writers, artists, actors, and technicians.

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:

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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Film Noir Review: Where Danger Lives (1950)

“I didn’t fall in love with a woman – I fell in love with a patient.”

Robert Mitchum was part of a generation of leading men who rose to prominence in film noir. Along with Burt Lancaster, Alan Ladd, and Kirk Douglas, he was a B-lister who’s pulpy charisma catapulted him to A-list status. While these other stars used noir as a stepping stone, however, Mitchum stayed firm. He continued to prioritize noir well into the 1970s, confidently earning the moniker that Eddie Muller bestowed upon him: “the quintessential noir protagonist”.

Mitchum’s resume is stocked with classics, chief among them Out of the Past (1947), The Night of the Hunter (1955), and Cape Fear (1962), but the lesser noir titles are often the ones that speak to the quality and longevity of his artistry. One such title is the John Farrow-directed Where Danger Lives (1950), which puts a uniquely energetic spin on Mitchum’s doomed sap persona.

“Mitchum (and Domergue) in action!”

Dr. Jeff Cameron (Mitchum) is due to finish his shift at the hospital when a suicide victim is rushed into the emergency room. The victim is Margo Lannington (Faith Domergue), who becomes smitten with the doctor and begins seeing him in secret. Their romance reaches a breaking point when it’s revealed that Margo is married, but a series of tragic events conspire to keep these two lovers together. They ditch San Francisco and head for the Mexican border, all the while contemplating possible murder charges.

The notion of a fugitive couple was nothing new by 1950, but screenwriter Charles Bennett manages to inject some interesting wrinkles into the main dynamic. Firstly, Cameron is not a criminal, nor is he trying to escape a criminal past, like so many of Mitchum’s other characters. He’s a model citizen with a respectable practice, making his slide into deviancy all the more tragic. Secondly, Margo is not a malicious woman. She has moments of ruthlessness, but her actions are couched in instability rather than malice. The script goes out of its way to suggest that Margo has genuine feelings for Cameron, and hopes that he doesn’t become wise to her checkered psychological past.

Love on the rocks: Mitchum runs into yet another doomed noir romance.

Those who’ve seen Where Danger Lives know the most distinct element of the film is the concussion that Cameron suffers during the first act. Margo’s husband hits him over the head with a fire poker during a heated struggle, and the side effects of the injury handicap him throughout the rest of his escape. It’s a simple, inspired choice from both a narrative and aesthetic standpoint. Narratively, it dulls Cameron’s wits and makes him more susceptible to Margo at a time when he needs them most. Aesthetically, it allows cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca to emphasize dimly-lit close ups, drawing out the sleepiness in Mitchum’s eyes like few films ever have.

Mitchum always cuts an imposing figure onscreen, but here, he’s allowed to give a more fully realized physical performance. The confidence of his strut gives way to a gradual loss of bodily function, resulting in painful falls or near-crashes on the freeway. The final act of the film is downright painful to watch, as the entire half of Cameron’s body stiffens from paralysis. The vulnerability this imbues is rare in the gallery of Mitchum saps, as most of them feign control until the very end. Cameron doesn’t even bother pretending— he knows he’s doomed.

Mitchum’s dwindling physical state is one of the film’s inspired touches.

Faith Domergue is a worthy sparring partner for the reeling Mitchum, especially when she leans into her character’s unstable side. Domergue was a protege/former lover of Howard Hughes who never got the chance to shine as brightly as she could have, and it’s evident from her work here that she was far more than a pretty face.

The scene where she tries to smother Cameron with a pillow is set afire through her body language and increasingly hyperactive delivery. It’s a scenery-chewing moment that Domergue nails without sacrificing the kernel of humanity that makes her character so tragic. In the end, Margo is a noir casualty we know all too well: someone who wants a happy life so badly they’re willing to commit atrocious acts to get it.

“Nobody pities me!”

Where Danger Lives is by no means a classic– the film loses steam when the couple drive through Arizona, and the finale, while dramatic, is too eager to undercut the bait-and-switch of Cameron’s “murder”– but it has enough unique elements to distinguish itself as a terrific noir. The implementation of a debilitating injury as a ticking clock is one that still feels inspired today, and the game performances by Mitchum, Domergue, and Claude Rains (in a wicked cameo) makes this trek to the dangerous side of life well worth taking.

TRIVIA: While Cameron describes his injury as a concussion, his symptoms are more consistent with that of an evolving subdural hematoma.

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–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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Silents are Golden: 5 Flapper-Themed Films From The 1920s

Silents are Golden: 5 Flapper-Themed Films From The 1920s

In the mood for a film about the Roaring Twenties? Something lighthearted with plenty of bobbed hair, short skirts, hip flasks, and jazz? (Personally, my answer is always “yes.”) Save your modern takes like The Great Gatsby (2013) or Midnight in Paris (2011) for a different time–why not go straight to the source and watch a couple of popular flapper flicks from the 1920s itself?

Joan Crawford in Our Dancing Daughters (1928)
Such as Our Dancing Daughters (1928)?

When I say “flapper flick,” I mean silents that revolve around the era’s fun-seeking youth culture, not just films that happen to have a lot of cloche hats. The idea of a “flapper” seemed to really take shape around 1922 when the term morphed from a general term for an impetuous teenage girl to signifying a jazz-loving, bobbed-haired young woman always on the lookout for a fun time. (Her male counterpart was the “sheik,” who tended to favor slicked-back hair, loud vests, and baggy trousers.) Studios were always keen to capitalize on trends, so it didn’t take long for frothy comedy-dramas about partying flappers (with all the relevant clichés) to show up regularly in movie theaters.

Here’s a selection of some of my favorite “flapper films,” perfect for kicking back after a long day with some popcorn (and maybe a highball or two, if you’re feeling extra authentic). I’m betting you’ll get a kick out of them!

5.  Our Dancing Daughters (1928)

Joan Crawford dancing the "Charleston" on a table in Our Dancing Daughters (1928)
Joan Crawford dancing the “Charleston” on a table in Our Dancing Daughters (1928)

Yes, the sparkling, Charleston-dancing lead actress is that Joan Crawford, who had won numerous dance contests before making her way to Hollywood. In fact, this was the very film that made her a star, a rival to established names like Clara Bow.

We follow the story of Diana, the popular jazz baby who’s a virtuous girl at heart, and her friend Ann, who seems sweet and innocent but who’s really a scheming gold digger. When Diana becomes interested in a handsome man from a wealthy family, Ann schemes to get him for herself. “Wild” party scenes in vast Art Deco mansions complete with showers of balloons liven up the story, and seeing a youthful, vivacious Crawford is a surprising treat.

4.  Our Modern Maidens (1929)

Joan Crawford and Anita Paige in Our Modern Maidens (1929)
Joan Crawford and Anita Paige in Our Modern Maidens (1929)

A followup of sorts to Our Dancing Daughters, this film again stars Crawford (in her last silent role) and also adds Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (watch for the party scene where he imitates his famous father!).

Crawford is a carefree heiress who’s engaged to a diplomat and unwittingly gets herself involved in a love triangle. The story has some surprisingly scandalous moments; however, it might still seem secondary to the huge parties that are the big centerpieces of the film – and of course, there’s all that Art Deco and fashionable clothing to gawk at again.

3.  The Plastic Age (1925)

Donald Keith and Clara Bow in The Plastic Age (1925)
Donald Keith and Clara Bow in The Plastic Age (1925)

Quite a few Clara Bow features are great examples of flapper films, and this one also does double duty as a “college film”–another popular subgenre. More and more young people were attending college in the 1920s, and “college life” – at least, its fun side revolving around big football games and coed parties – was a familiar topic.

While Bow is the real draw of the film, its star was Donald Keith, playing the athlete Hugh Carver. Hugh is clumsily trying to get through his freshman year at Prescott College when he meets the popular Cynthia, who introduces him to life with the “fast set.” After a few parties too many start to affect his grades, his father gives him an ultimatum: “make good” or you can’t come home.

Based on a popular 1924 novel, The Plastic Age was a huge hit and the first big film that Bow appeared in. The rest, as you undoubtedly know, is history.

2.  Synthetic Sin (1929)

Colleen Moore in Synthetic Sin (1929)
Colleen Moore in Synthetic Sin (1929)

Who was considered the flapper of her generation? Arguably it was the slender Colleen Moore with her iconic straight bob – no one less than F. Scott Fitzgerald himself said, “I was the spark that lit up flaming youth, and Colleen Moore was the torch.”

Like in The Plastic Age, Synthetic Sin offers two themes for the price of one – a story of a small-town girl trying to make good, and a look into the gangster underworld of New York. The ambitious young Betty gets the part of a “wicked” woman in her sweetheart’s play, but she isn’t up to the task, and the play bombs. Deciding she needs some “sinful” experience, Betty decides to go to New York City and soak up some of that wicked local color. Naturally, she gets (innocently) involved with a criminal gang. The plot is all the more fascinating when we consider that the gangsters are based on the kind of real-life figures audiences would have read about in the papers.

1.Why Be Good? (1929)

Colleen Moore in Why Be Good? (1929)
Colleen Moore in Why Be Good? (1929)

Another Colleen Moore vehicle, you arguably can’t get much more “Jazz Age” than this frothy feature. Bobbed hair, trendy frocks, partying, necking, night clubs, Art Deco, fast cars, hip slang, hooch flasks –Why Be Good? truly has it all. Even a Charleston contest!

Moore plays Pert, a spunky, self-assured jazz baby who adores dancing all night in the hippest of clubs. Of course, she’s actually a “good girl” at heart, just happening to be – as she puts it – “naturally too hot for this old folks’ home!” At a club one night she meets the handsome Winthrop, a department store owner’s son, and after they flirt and dance all evening he considerately drives her home. When all the partying makes her late to work the next morning, she discovers to her surprise (and embarrassment) that her new boss is no other than Winthrop.

This sleekly-produced film knows all the flapper tropes – almost too well – and is also highly aware of how flapper culture was being discussed at the time. It’s an excellent time capsule in more ways than one.

So! I hope you’re intrigued enough to check out at least a couple of these films. Since much of the exciting Jazz Age is familiar to us more from modern movies and Halloween costumes, it’s fascinating to see how flappers were portrayed in the actual 1920s, when the culture was fresh and new.

Flapper fashion 1920s
Iconic flapper fashion of the 1920s

–Lea Stans for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

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