Classic Movie Travels: Mary Kornman

Classic Movie Travels: Mary Kornman

Mary Kornman
Mary Kornman

Mary Kornman was born Mary Agnes Evans on December 27, 1915, in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Her parents were David Lionel Evans, a railroad manager, and Verna Comer. Eugene Kornman, cameraman for Hal Roach, married Verna and adopted Mary.

Soon enough, Kornman found herself a leading actress in the Our Gang series, working in over 40 shorts. Kornman’s first appearance in the series was in Young Sherlocks (1922). Kornman’s little sister, Mildred, also worked in the series as a regular but did not have a speaking part.

Mary Kornman young

As Kornman grew and was phased out of Our Gang, she and fellow former Our Gang actors Scooter Lowry and Johnny Downs performed as a vaudeville act. During this period, she also attended Beverly Hills High School.

In 1934, she married cameraman Leo Tover in Yuma, Arizona. She appeared alongside former Our Gang actor Mickey Daniels in the teenaged version of the series entitled The Boy Friends. She and Tover divorced in 1938.

Kornman continued her acting career in several Bing Crosby shorts in addition to films like Flying Down to Rio (1933), The Desert Trail (1935) as a love interest to John Wayne, and Queen of the Jungle (1935) serial. In Flying Down to Rio, she has several brief lines. Among them is, “What have these South Americans got below the equator that we haven’t?”

Mary Kornman older

In 1940, Kornman retired from acting and married horse trainer Ralph McCutcheon. They met when she purchased a horse and was looking for a trainer to teach it some tricks. Their love for animals brought them together and they were married until her passing. McCutcheon’s ranch was named Rancho Maria in honor of Kornman. They enjoyed living on their ranch and Kornman kept in touch with friends from her Hollywood days.

Kornman passed away on June 1, 1973, in Glendale, California, from cancer. She and McCutcheon are buried at Linn Grove Cemetery in Greeley, Colorado.

Today, there are few points of interest pertinent to Kornman’s life. In 1920, she lived with her mother and step-grandfather, Wilbur Fowler, before her mother married Eugene Kornman. The home was located at 5452 Romaine St., Los Angeles, California. This home no longer stands.

In 1930, she lived at 215 S. Hamilton Ave., Beverly Hills, California, with her mother, sister, and lodger Pauline Brown. This home stands today.

hamilton - Mary Kornman she lived at 215 S. Hamilton Ave., Beverly Hills, California, with her mother, sister, and lodger Pauline Brown
215 S. Hamilton Ave., Beverly Hills, California

In 1940, she resided at 1321 Alta Vista Blvd., Los Angeles, California, which also stands.

Mary Kornman resided at 1321 Alta Vista Blvd., Los Angeles, California
1321 Alta Vista Blvd., Los Angeles, California

Rancho Maria remains at 25933 Sand Canyon Rd., Santa Clarita, California, and has been the site of numerous film and television shoots.

–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: Final Resting Places, A Tribute to Western Filmmakers

Final Resting Places, A Tribute to Western Filmmakers

This month we’ll be again paying tribute to Western filmmakers as we visit their Southern California gravesites.

We’ll begin by honoring several Western directors. The prolific George Sherman began his career in ’30s “B” Westerns. My favorite Sherman films are his Universal Westerns of the late ’40s and early ’50s, which are always well-paced and exciting. Sherman titles I like include Black Bart (1948), River Lady (1948), Border River (1954), and Dawn at Socorro (1954). He’s buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

George Sherman final resting place
George Sherman

Also at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills is director Andre De Toth. De Toth was married for several years to Veronica Lake, the star of one of his best Westerns, Ramrod (1947); Lake’s leading man in that “Western noir” was Joel McCrea. De Toth also directed several Randolph Scott Westerns, including Man in the Saddle (1951) and Riding Shotgun (1954). His most impressive Western might have been Day of the Outlaw (959), which I wrote about here in my column on “Snowy Westerns.”

Andre De Toth final resting place
Andre De Toth

Multi Oscar winner William Wyler is buried at Forest Lawn Glendale alongside his brother Robert and Robert’s wife, actress Cathy O’Donnell. Wyler worked on all types of films over his long career. He started out working on silent Western shorts; his feature-length Westerns included an early version of the “3 Godfathers” story called Hell’s Heroes (1929); The Westerner (1940) with Gary Cooper; and an all-star cast in The Big Country (1958).

William Wyler final resting place
William Wyler

Cecil B. DeMille isn’t always associated with Westerns, but he made several over his long career, including The Plainsman (1936) and North West Mounted Police (1940) with Gary Cooper and Union Pacific (1939) with Joel McCrea and Barbara Stanwyck. DeMille is in the DeMille family plot at Hollywood Forever.

Cecil B DeMille final resting place
Cecil B. DeMille

Michael Curtiz was another versatile director who worked in every genre. He made multiple Westerns with Errol Flynn, including Dodge City (1939), Virginia City (1940), and Santa Fe Trail (1940). Two of those films costarred Olivia de Havilland, who years later would appear opposite Alan Ladd in Curtiz’s The Proud Rebel (1958). I wrote about The Proud Rebel here in 2020. Curtiz is buried at Forest Lawn Glendale.

Michael Curtiz final resting place
Michael Curtiz

Errol Flynn is likewise buried at Forest Lawn Glendale, alongside his wife Patrice Wymore. Aside from his Westerns made with Curtiz, Flynn was in several other Westerns, including Silver River (1948), Montana (1950), and Rocky Mountain (1950). The latter film costarred Wymore.

Errol Flynn final resting place
Errol Flynn

The great cinematographer Archie Stout is also at Forest Lawn Glendale. Stout worked extensively with both John Wayne and John Ford, with his films including Angel and the Badman (1947), Fort Apache (1948), and Hondo (1953), as well as second unit work on She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950), and Wagon Master (1950).

Archie Stout

Nicholas Musuraca is most commonly associated with his cinematography of film noir titles such as Out of the Past (1947), but he also filmed many Westerns. He worked on several Tim Holt “B” Westerns both before and after Holt’s service in World War II. He also shot Devil’s Canyon (1953) with Dale Robertson and Virginia Mayo. Musuraca is interred in the mausoleum at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City.

Nicholas Musuraca final resting place
Nicholas Musuraca

The great cowboy star Tom Mix is at Forest Lawn Glendale. In recent years I’ve loved getting to know some of Mix’s silent Westerns, such as Just Tony (1922). In addition to his silent films, Mix appeared in sound Westerns through the mid ’30s. Mix tragically died in an Arizona car accident at the age of 60.

Tom Mix final resting place
Tom Mix

Earlier this year I paid my first visit to San Fernando Mission Cemetery in Mission Hills, California. A number of prominent filmmakers are buried there, including three-time Oscar winner Walter Brennan. Brennan made many Westerns in his long career, including William Wyler’s The Westerner (1940), in which Brennan won an Oscar for playing Judge Roy Bean. Other favorites include My Darling Clementine (1946), Red River (1948), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Far Country (1954), and Rio Bravo (1959), which I reviewed here.

Walter Brennan final resting place
Walter Brennan

Another Rio Bravo cast member, Estelita Rodriguez, is also at San Fernando Mission Cemetery. Rodriguez played Consuelo in that favorite Howard Hawks Western. She also appeared in numerous Roy Rogers Westerns.

Estelita Rodriguez final resting place
Estelita Rodriguez

We’ll close this month’s tour of final resting places with a tribute to Virginia Vale, who is interred at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills under her birth name, Dorothy C. Howe. Vale was George O’Brien’s leading lady in half a dozen of my all-time favorite “B” Westerns; she would later tell an interviewer that O’Brien was “a gem of a fellow.” At her request she even designed some of her dresses for the films, which were later reused in other RKO Westerns. She was later a longtime competition judge for the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

Virginia Vale final resting place
Virginia Vale, born as Dorothy C. Howe

For additional photos of the burial sites of Western filmmakers, please visit my columns from May 2019February 2022November 2, 2022November 29, 2022, and April 25, 2023.

– 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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Silents are Golden: Chaplin’s Year At The Keystone Film Company

Silents are Golden: Chaplin’s Year At The Keystone Film Company

In August 1913, Charlie Chaplin wrote a letter to his brother Sidney to share some exciting news:

“I have had an offer from a moving picture company for quite a long time but I did not want to tell you until the whole thing was confirmed and it practically is settled now–all I have to do is to mail them my address and they will forward a contract. It is for the New York Motion Picture Co., a most reliable firm in the States–they have about four companies, the ‘Kay Bee’ and ‘Broncho,’ [and] ‘Keystone’ which I am to join…”

Charlie Chaplin
 Chaplin circa 1912-13.

Famed today for the many classic comedies he made in the late 1910s and the 1920s, it’s easy to forget that Chaplin became a household name during his sojourn at Keystone. By 1913 Chaplin, whose English music hall career began when he was a child, had spent the past several years working as a top comedian in Fred Karno’s famed comedy company. While on a lengthy tour of the U.S.A., somewhere along the way he was contacted about appearing in films. The move to the screen would truly change his life.

The slapstick-heavy Keystone studio was home to popular names like Mabel Normand, Ford Sterling, and Roscoe Arbuckle as well as the famed group of Keystone Cops (a loosely-defined group played by whatever actors were handy at the time). It was also wildly prolific, releasing two or more one-reel comedies a week. Fast-paced and full of over-the-top costumes and makeup (especially where fake mustaches were concerned), Keystone comedies revolved around romantic rivalries, burglaries, misplaced bombs, cheap saloons, dance halls, chase scenes, and various misunderstandings–just about anything was ripe for satire and hyperbole. It was a strange environment for a young British music hall star to get used to, but it didn’t take long for Chaplin to prove himself.

Charlie Chaplin Acting alongside Mabel Normand in Mabel’s Married Life (1914)
Chaplin acting alongside Mabel Normand in Mabel’s Married Life (1914).

It’s thought that Keystone was looking to replace their comedian Fred Mace, who was planning on leaving. Accounts vary as to who spotted Chaplin first–some say it was the N.Y.M.P head Adam Kessel, some say it was executive Harry Aitkin, and Keystone boss Mack Sennett even claimed that he and Mabel Normand spotted him when they attended a Karno show in New York City. Whatever the case, in the spring of 1913 Karno manager Alf Reeves received a telegram from the New York Motion Picture Company, famously reading: “IS THERE A MAN NAMED CHAFFIN IN YOUR COMPANY OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT…”

In early December 1913 Chaplin found himself at the Keystone Film Company gates. The studio was in a hilly suburb of Los Angeles that used to be called Edendale, only a short drive from Echo Park. At the time, it consisted of some bungalows and farm buildings converted into offices and dressing rooms, with a large open air stage with white cloth hanging overhead to soften the sunlight. The shy Chaplin watched as a crowd of noisy Keystone actors headed to lunch, and felt too intimidated to make an appearance. The next day he still couldn’t bring himself to go in, and the third day Sennett finally called him to ask where he’d been.

Keystone studio in 1914
The Keystone studio in 1914.

His first Keystone film was Making a Living, released February 2, 1914, where he plays a “would-be reporter” trying to impress a girl with his new job at a newspaper. When a romantic rival at the paper takes a sensational news-worthy photo, Chaplin’s character steals the camera and tries to pass off the photo as his own. Still musing over what his Keystone persona should be, Chaplin donned a top hat, long buttoned coat, cravat, monocle, and peculiar drooping mustache–perhaps drawing on his dandy-ish Archibald Binks character from his Karno days.

Making a Living (1914)
Making a Living (1914).

It only took until his second released Keystone film for his famed “Little Tramp” character to be born–or the “look” of the Tramp, at least. The split-reel Kid Auto Races at Venice (1914) was filmed on location in Venice Beach, capturing a real soapbox derby. The premise was simple: a camera crew tries to film the race, but Chaplin’s “annoying bystander” keeps strutting and posing in front of the lens, trying to get on camera. The unusual breaking of the fourth wall is still very funny today. Chaplin wears the small mustache, derby hat, tight coat and baggy pants that he’d don for the rest of the silent era. Some sources say he borrowed various items from other Keystone comedians, but it’s likely that he improvised the look from simply rummaging through the studio’s wardrobe department. The look might actually have been created for his third released film, Mabel’s Strange Predicament (1914)–but Kid Auto Races was unleashed on the world first.

Charlie Chaplin Trying to take over the shoot in Kid Auto Races
Chaplin trying to take over the shoot in Kid Auto Races.

Other Chaplin Keystone roles came fast and furious throughout 1914, from a quick appearance as a Keystone Cop in A Thief Catcher (only rediscovered a few years ago) to various romantic rivals, drunks, villains, flirts…whatever the flavor of the day was. He battled Ford Sterling in Between Showers, played a bumbling movie fan in A Film Johnnie, flirted with a landlady in The Star Boarder, and impersonated an actress in The Masquerader. Audiences loved him, and soon “Keystone Charlie” was the studio’s biggest draw.

Charlie Chaplin with Mabel Normand and a bashful Mack Swain in Gentlemen of Nerve (1914)
Chaplin with Normand and a bashful Mack Swain in Gentlemen of Nerve (1914).

Interestingly, his Keystone persona is a far cry from the “sentimental Charlie” most people associate with his ‘20s features. Keystone Charlie is always ready to kick someone through a doorway or sling bricks at a romantic rival. He flirts with men’s girlfriends, wanders drunkenly through respectable hotels, and cheerfully sits way too close to annoyed girls in parks. In a nutshell, he acts the way any mischievous boy wishes he could behave–and largely gets away with it.

Charlie Chaplin kicking a lady in Recreation (1914)
Charlie kicking a lady in Recreation (1914).

In August 1914 Chaplin proudly wrote to Sidney again: “Well, Sid, I have made good. All the theaters feature my name in big letters i.e. ‘Chas Chaplin here today’…It is wonderful how popular I am in such a short time and next year I hope to make a bunch of dough. I have had all kinds of offers…” By the end of 1914, the star had headed to the Essanay studio in Chicago, which promised him a weekly salary higher than what Sennett was willing to pay. His great silent classics were still on the horizon, but his sojourn at Keystone had given him priceless experience and inspiration to draw upon in the years to come.

Charlie Chaplin

–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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Noir Nook: Shadows in the Victorian Age

Noir Nook: Shadows in the Victorian Age

Western noir. British noir. Sci-fi noir. Neo-noir.

So many types of noir these days. And there’s a new one – new to me, at least: Gaslight noir.

I recently discovered this category of films on the Criterion Channel, where they were curated by film critic and historian Farran Nehme under the title, “Noir by Gaslight.” These films are set in the late 19th century, but they contain the tone, mood, and characteristics of the classic noir period of the 1940s and 1950s. The “Noir by Gaslight” collection includes several features with which I was already familiar – including Ladies in Retirement (1941), Gaslight (1944), and The Suspect (1944) – but thanks to the series, I discovered several new-to-me features. And of these, there are three that are not only first-rate, but just happen to be based on true stories (my favorite tango!): Blanche Fury (1948), So Evil My Love (1948), and Madeleine (1950). These three first-rate gaslight noirs are the focus of this month’s Noir Nook.


Blanche Fury (1948)

Blanche Fury - Valerie Hobson and Stewart Granger
Valerie Hobson and Stewart Granger in Blanche Fury

Blanche Fury is the only one of the three features that’s filmed in color – a blazing Technicolor unlike any I’ve seen before – but that doesn’t lessen the impact of this tale. It focuses on the title character (Valerie Hobson), a domestic servant whose meager existence turns around when she’s hired as the governess for her rich uncle’s granddaughter, Lavinia (Susanne Gibbs). Once installed on the Fury estate, Blanche attains the security she craves by marrying her weak-willed cousin, Laurence (Michael Gough). There’s no love involved in the union, however, and Blanche quickly becomes involved in a passionate affair with Philip Thorn (Stewart Granger), a groom on the property. The illegitimate son of the estate’s former owner, Thorn’s passion for Blanche is exceeded only by his desire to claim his rightful inheritance – no matter who has to die in order for him to do it.

I wasn’t certain at first whether I would like Blanche Fury – in fact, I wasn’t even sure I’d finish it. I think I was initially thrown off by the startling color (which included an odd, and not necessarily flattering, shade of lipstick on star Valerie Hobson), and it took me a while to get used to it. But once I did, I was able to appreciate the variety of characters, especially Blanche, who is one of the most fascinating, contradictory, and multifaceted femmes fatales that I’ve yet to encounter – she’s cantankerous with the older women she cared for, fiercely protective of Lavinia, dismissive and inflexible toward her husband, and with her lover . . . well, she’s many different women with him.


So Evil My Love (1950)

So Evil My Love - Ray Milland and Ann Todd
Ray Milland and Ann Todd in So Evil My Love

This feature stars Ann Todd as Olivia Harwood, a missionary’s widow who encounters con man and thief Mark Bellis (Ray Milland) when she nurses him through a bout of malaria on a ship from the West Indies to England. The straitlaced Olivia falls under Mark’s nefarious spell and under his guidance, she establishes herself as live-in companion to a wealthy, but unhappily married (and a bit unstable), childhood friend (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Once there, she becomes the sole source of Mark’s income by stealing stocks, bonds, and a variety of small valuables from her friend’s home, and even resorts to blackmail before a series of events brings the scheme to a deadly halt. (Speaking of deadly halt, So Evil My Love serves up an ending that literally left me with my mouth open. It’s one of my favorites in all of film noir.)

As with Blanche, I was intrigued by Olivia. When we first meet her, she comes across as a rather noble sort – on the ship from the West Indies, she initially refuses to nurse the passengers who’ve contracted malaria, but she then agrees to assist, almost against her own will – as if she couldn’t help being helpful. But with the release of her passion for Mark, we also see the unleashing of something else, something far more sinister – and something that wasn’t introduced by Mark but was part of her nature all along. She simply needed Mark’s unique brand of attention to unlock something that had been inside her all along.


Madeleine (1950)

Madeleine - Ann Todd
Ann Todd in Madeleine

Ann Todd also stars in the third of my favorite new-to-me gaslight noirs – hers is the title role in Madeleine, playing the eldest daughter of an upper-class Glasgow family, who is having a secret affair with a handsome but social-climbing shipping clerk, Emile L’Angelier (Ivan Desny). Madeleine is also being courted by William Minnoch (Norman Wooland), an upstanding citizen who meets the approval of her strict father (Leslie Banks), but when she decides to end her illicit dalliance with Emile, her lover refuses to return the many letters Madeleine has written over the years. Instead, he threatens to turn them over to her father if she doesn’t marry him. Unfortunately for Emile, Madeleine doesn’t react well to ultimatums.

Like Blanche and Olivia, her sisters under the crinolines, Madeleine is an interesting character. At first glance, one would never guess that she could be so devious and duplicitous – nor so passionate and carefree. But she was no fool, no ingénue led astray by her desires. Once she began to appreciate the benefits associated with the socially suitable Minnoch, her passion for Emile started to cool – she’d sowed her wild oats and was now ready to move on to greener, more respectable pastures. This feature, directed by Todd’s then-husband David Lean, serves up a decidedly ambiguous ending, but it’s one that I found to be both appropriate and satisfying.


If you’re not familiar with gaslight noirs, do yourself a favor and seek out this riveting collection of films. In addition to the Criterion Channel, many can be found streaming for free on YouTube, Tubi, Plex, or the Roku Channel. Trust me – you’ll have a blast finding out that shadows are just as ominous and unforgiving in the Victorian Age as the ones you see in the 20th century.

– 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: Jane Eyre (1943)

Silver Screen Standards: Jane Eyre (1943)

I’ve spent the fall of 2023 swimming in the wake of Jane Eyre, both the original 1847 novel by Charlotte Brontë and the 1943 adaptation starring Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles. I’ve been teaching a class about the novel for one lifetime learning program and hosting a film series of Gothic thrillers for another, so it’s fair to say that my imagination has run toward shadowy corridors and secret sins, especially with the Criterion Channel serendipitously dropping a feature collection focusing on “Gaslight Noir,” a genre that owes a lot of its plot points and atmosphere to Brontë by way of the 1940 film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. Jane Eyre is such a rich, complicated text that we see a new film adaptation of it almost every decade, and its cinematic influence spreads far beyond straightforward retellings, but the 1943 version possesses unique charms in spite of its infidelity to its source material, mainly in its iconic cast and its terrifically moody ambience. It’s a picture that warrants return visits even though more recent adaptations, like the 2006 and 2011 versions, have merits of their own for dedicated Jane Eyre fans.

Jane Eyre - Peggy Ann Garner
Peggy Ann Garner plays young Jane, an unloved orphan whose stormy temper stems from her unhappiness.

My favorite part of the 1943 adaptation is actually the first act, which follows the novel by introducing us to young Jane and her early misfortunes. Child star Peggy Ann Garner plays this version of Jane, although her performance is somewhat eclipsed by the radiance of a very young – and uncredited – Elizabeth Taylor as Jane’s tragic friend, Helen Burns. Little Jane is a tempestuous, opinionated, truth-telling heroine, unfit for Victorian society but all the more lovable to readers and viewers for the very qualities that make her an outcast. Garner’s young Jane isn’t impossibly lovely like Taylor, but there’s a fierce energy in her that perfectly suits the character. She’s a survivor, unlike the martyred angel Taylor plays. Garner also benefits from outstanding supporting actors who revel in their villainous roles, with Agnes Moorehead oozing disdain as the resentful Mrs. Reed and Henry Daniell absolutely loathsome as the sadistic and hypocritical Mr. Brocklehurst. Although the plot elements of this section can be seen in almost every Shirley Temple movie, they work so well here precisely because Garner isn’t made out to be a cute, curly-haired tyke with sugar in her smile, and there’s no happy family waiting to rescue young Jane, just years of bitter loneliness and deprivation.

Jane Eyre - Peggy Ann Garner Rebel
At the merciless Lowood School, Jane suffers both physical and psychological torment at the insistence of the sadistic headmaster.

Joan Fontaine takes over as the adult Jane, although she’s far too tall and fair to be an accurate depiction of Brontë’s tiny, dark heroine, whom Rochester repeatedly describes as elfin. Fontaine plays a more reserved Jane, making Garner’s performance critical to our understanding of her character as someone who feels much more than she expresses. I don’t love Fontaine’s version of Jane; I think several of the more recent adaptations boast better Janes who more closely resemble the literary original in both appearance and feisty demeanor. Fontaine, however, has continuity on her side, having already played the nameless heroine of the 1940 film adaptation of Rebecca, which leans very heavily on Jane Eyre for its inspiration. Ironically, Rebecca lets Fontaine look much less glamorous, while Jane Eyre lights her up like Renée Jeanne Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), emphasizing the heroine’s Christian faith and martyrdom rather than her blunt manner and self-possession. Fontaine’s Jane isn’t plain, but she embodies a vision of Victorian womanhood that simultaneously conforms to the beauty standards of 1940s Hollywood, neither of them what Brontë had in mind for her original version of the character.

Jane Eyre - Joan Fontaine
Joan Fontaine plays Jane as an adult, although this version of Jane is far more angelic than the original novel depicts.

Luckily, Fontaine also has a tremendously interesting supporting cast backing her up, including Edith Barrett as Mrs. Fairfax, Hillary Brooke as Blanche Ingraham, and Margaret O’Brien as Adèle. O’Brien, as the third child star to have an important role, makes for a fascinating contrast with Garner and Taylor, especially as a little girl who has wealth and comfort but still lacks a loving parent to care for her. If Fontaine is too sweet and lovely for a proper Jane, her leading man, Orson Welles, has all the stormy temper and dark, brooding looks required for Mr. Rochester. Welles’ version of the Byronic hero is mercurial, sometimes even cruel; he burns with the torment of his secrets and his growing passion for Jane. Many great actors have played Rochester, including George C. Scott, Timothy Dalton, Ciarán Hinds, Toby Stephens, and Michael Fassbender, but when I think of Edward Rochester calling out for Jane it’s always Welles’ deep, tortured voice that I hear. The 1943 film is a little kinder to Rochester in its conclusion than Brontë chose to be, but Welles still conveys the demeanor of a man who has sinned and paid the price for it.

Jane Eyre - Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles
Fontaine might not be a canonically accurate Jane, but Orson Welles makes a spot-on Rochester, with a devilish look and a temper to match.

There are more than a dozen film and TV adaptations of Jane Eyre, some more faithful to the novel than others. If you’re looking for movies that share the era and atmosphere of the 1943 version you might sample the spate of films made in the years after Rebecca opened the floodgates for Eyre adjacent Gothic tales. Some of my favorites are I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Spiral Staircase (1946), Dragonwyck (1946), and Blanche Fury (1948). For a unique double feature, check out the fictionalized Brontë sister biodrama, Devotion (1946), in which Joan Fontaine’s sister, Olivia de Havilland, plays novelist Charlotte Brontë. Like the 1943 Jane Eyre, Devotion varies widely from its source material, so be sure to read up on the novelist if you want the real story about her life.

— 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: Film Masters has a Clear Vision for Restoring the Classics

Film Masters has a Clear Vision for Restoring the Classics

Classic film fans know what it’s like to sit through a movie that’s all scratched up or crackles and pops; that’s too hard to see and too difficult to hear.

Yet we take it in stride because we know it’s the only way to see movies that have suffered from decades of deterioration.

As a fan of 1950s sci-fi and horror movies, I know this well. The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews are two favorites and I’ve watched prints of them that are in such rough shape that I have to squint to make out the images. Not anymore.

The Giant Gila Monster terrorizes teens in small-town Texas. (Courtesy Film Masters)

That’s the good news I learned after watching the new home video double feature of the two movies from Film Masters. Though I’ve watched both countless times, it was like seeing them for the first time.

Both were noticeably crisp, clean and “seeable” for lack of a better word. No longer was I straining to make out the creatures. I could have counted the leaves on the ground the Gila was slithering through on his way to another victim. And I could sense the sharpness of the oversized (fake) teeth of the shrews. Even background items like stacked pans on a stove were now evident, providing added depth.

Before: This grainy and slightly blurry image of teens ready to party in The Giant Gila Monster is from “before” the restoration from Film Masters. (Courtesy of Film Masters)
After: The same scene is crisp and clean in the restored version of The Giant Gila Monster. (Courtesy Film Masters)

But don’t take it from me. Here’s what film scholar Jason A. Ney said in his commentary for The Killer Shrews:

“When I first saw this remastered version, it was like the scales fell from my eyes. I’m confident in saying that because of how good this new release looks and sounds this is now the definitive home video version of this movie. It can now be appreciated for what it is both good and bad because this has to be the best it has looked since it debuted in a Dallas theater in 1959.”

The Giant Gila Monster and The Killer Shrews were released together in September in a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD which is fitting since they premiered as a drive-in double feature. They are the first two movies in a new home video series from Film Masters, a film restoration and distribution company launched by Phil Hopkins.

The name of this film historian and industry veteran may be unfamiliar and that’s OK, he said. It’s by design.

“I’m not looking for the spotlight – I’m looking to put the spotlight on movies,” he said recently during a lengthy phone conversation to discuss Film Masters. “We love the old movies and want them to look pretty and newer than they did previously.”

Judging by Gila/Shrews, Film Masters has achieved that goal.

A journey into classics

As a kid, Hopkins’ fascination with movies was fueled by reading William K. Everson’s Classics of the Horror Films.

“You read about them, and you wanted to see them,” he said about the films in the book, which he stills owns. “It’s a primer on everything I grew to love.”

So, he looked for a way to watch the movies, but recalled seeing only “crappy versions” of films such as the ones Bela Lugosi made for “Poverty Row” or small B-movie studios. The realization that there were “orphaned films that weren’t getting a lot of love and attention” gave Hopkins a mission “to track down films and make them better looking.”

Phil Hopkins has devoted his life to finding and restoring classic movies. (Courtesy Film Masters)

That’s what he has done for more than 20 years as the man behind such cinematic home video/restoration endeavors as Film Chest, The Film Detective and now Film Masters.

You also would have seen films he has helped restore at festivals and on Turner Classic Movies including the widely hailed premiere of The Sins of Nora Moran in May 2020. (It was originally on the schedule for the canceled 2020 TCM Film Festival.)

When Hopkins first began doing this work, the home video market was evolving from tape to DVDs which were growing in demand. While they did the best they could with the movies, Hopkins said, “we didn’t have the resolution or quality back then.”

Times have changed.

“With the technology we have now with HD film scanners and restoration tools, we can do things that were impossible 20 years ago. We can take a very damaged film print and make it look brand new. And in the past five years technology has been a game changer,” said Hopkins, a self-professed film geek.

He talked about his excitement when he saw “The Vampire Bat” (1933) for the first time with an audience after it was restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archives. (Film Detective released that film on home video in 2020.)

“People were saying ‘wow it looks amazing.’ They appreciate the film more in a clean presentation.”

Before: This is a scene before The Killer Shrews was restored. (Courtesy Film Masters)
After: The scene is noticeably sharper after the restoration. Also notice the cast is partaking of its favorite on-screen pastime: drinking. (Courtesy Film Masters)

Giving movies a clean presentation is the main reason why Hopkins chose Gila/Shrews as the first releases for Film Masters. Though the films were successful on their original release, they have fallen out of favor because of the continued deterioration of the prints.

“I really felt they were in great need of restoration,” Hopkins said. “People never got to appreciate how good these films were. They got a bad rap because they were kicking around on poor-quality film prints,” he said.

Film Masters plans to have a new “special edition” home video release monthly with original bonus material such as booklets, audio commentaries and special features.

“I wanted to present these movie in context with a back story and bring together a combination of people who could bring the background,” he said, referring to authors like Larry Blamire, film historians including Tom Weaver and film collector, producer and historian Sam Sherman.

“You can take out the booklet, watch the special features and the beautiful new restoration,” he said.

While Film Masters has an obvious passion for horror and sci-fi – future “special edition” releases include Roger Corman’s Beast from the Haunted Cave with Ski Troop Attack and The Devil’s Partner with Creature from the Haunted Sea – there’s more beyond those genre films.

“It would be a lot easier to do this financially if we just did horror and sci-fi, but I’m trying very hard to make sure we don’t just do that,” Hopkins said. While silents and non-genre classics don’t sell like horror and sci-fi, “they are important to put out. We have to find the balance because we love all film.”

First up is the 1934 version of The Scarlet Letter. The film was scanned in 4k from the 35mm preservation print made from the original camera negative and restored by Janice Allen at Cinema Arts in conjunction with UCLA Library Film & Television Archives. Hopkins attended the 2023 Cinecon Classic Film Festival to present the restored movie with actress Cora Sue Collins, who played young Pearl. The interview and photos from the event are part of the Film Masters release of The Scarlet Letter available Nov. 21.

Child actress Cora Sue Collins, pictured with Colleen Moore, was at the 4K world premiere of The Scarlet Letter at Cinecon. She participated in a Q&A that is included on the new home video release by Film Masters. (Courtesy of Film Masters)

And Hopkins wants to do more. “I wish I had 10 of me and I would put out 10 titles a month,” he laughed.

To that end, the company has hundreds of movies ready to go with a plan for a Film Masters Archive Collection, similar to the Warner Archive on-demand service.

Beyond home video, Film Masters has a robust website and YouTube Channel. There are movie trailers and a blog with stories written by a consortium of horror film scholars and enthusiasts such as a piece on Cinema by the Sea by Don Stradley (four films that used the sea as a character) and The Dark Side of Lucy on how the famous comedian also excelled in dramas and noir, by Karen Burroughs Hannsberry. The Film Masters TV YouTube Channel also has full-length films, movies in Spanish and entertaining 5-minute shorts on “Legendary Faces.”

It’s a multifaceted approach that, in the end, is all about the love for these movies by Hopkins and his collaborators.

“We’re not trying to promote these movies as Citizen Kane. These are B-horror movies that we grew up with as kids,” he said. “We have an appreciation for them. They are fun.”

A quick glance at the movies

The Giant Gila Monsters and The Killer Shrews were two Texas-made films from radio mogul Gordon McLendon and director Ray Kellogg. McLendon was an interesting character who also ran a chain of drive-ins throughout Texas where these films were shown as a double feature. The importance of the men is underscored in the extras on the home video release where you can watch the films in theatrical (1:85:1) and TV (1:33:1) formats.

An archival interview with actor Don Sullivan, the hard-working teen with a great voice in The Giant Gila Monster, is one of the film’s bonus features. You can’t help but feel for Sullivan as he shares his disappointment in not rising above B-movies. (Courtesy Film Masters)

Giant Gila Monster

As the title implies, a giant Gila is roaming about the backwoods of a small Texas town. Not surprising with McLendon’s radio background, the film has a cool teen soundtrack of instrumental music, but the best music is the creepily seductive “Gila” motif.

Extras: An archival interview between actor Don Sullivan and author Bryan Senn from 2000 is like listening to a podcast. It is 90 minutes long and definitely perks up when they discuss Sullivan’s films. You’ll hear nuggets about Monster of Piedras Blancas (1960) like the creature “looked scarier in person than it did on film,” as well as Sullivan’s wardrobe malfunctions with too-small swimming trunks.

But it was sad hearing how he never made more than SAG minimum and his disappointment in not rising above B-movies. “My movies were so mediocre. I just felt … demoralizing as an actor,” he said.

Also included: the restored 35mm trailer for the film.

Commentary:  Members of “The Monster Party Podcast” live up to their name by talking, joking and sharing tidbits about the film, its history and the cast and crew. These guys will make sure you know that Gila is pronounced hee-la. An entertaining bunch, they would be fun at a live event.

One of the title characters from The Killer Shrews. (Courtesy Film Masters)

The Killer Shrews

Ken Curtis (Festus from Gunsmoke) stars in and produced this film about well-meaning experiments (aren’t they always) on a small island that go wrong when tiny shrews (think rats) are turned into oversized dog-like killers.

Extras: There are original radio spots, plus the documentary Ray Kellogg: An Unsung Master from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures that was written by historian C. Courtney Joyner and narrated by Larry Blamire. Kellogg, who was very good with miniatures and optical effects, quietly had an amazing career from his days as a WWII cameraman with John Ford, to co-directing The Green Berets with John Wayne, doing miniatures for The Day the Earth Stood Still and even photography on Gone with the Wind and The Adventures of Robin Hood. (Kellogg is so important that he’s also discussed in the commentary by Jason A. Ney.)

Ken Curtis produced and acted in The Killer Shrews and produced The Giant Gila Monster.

Commentary by Jason A. Ney: I like that in addition to giving the history about making the movie, Ney references what we’re seeing on the screen to explain how and why things were done in the film.

Ney explains comparisons to Night of the Living Dead and suggests playing a drinking game while watching Shrews, a film where the characters always seem to have a drink in their hands.

Toward the end, Ney says he hopes that people listening to his commentary about the film get a “better understanding of who made it, why it was made and where it fits under the umbrella of a great decade for science-fiction films.”

I was struck by that comment because it’s exactly what Hopkins and his collaborators want to do through Film Masters, too, and they’re doing it well.

 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. 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/X at @toniruberto.

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Classic Movie Travels: Jack Benny

Classic Movie Travels: Jack Benny, from Illinois to California

Jack Benny
Jack Benny

Benjamin Kubelsky was born in Chicago, Illinois, on February 14, 1894, to Meyer and Naomi Kubelsky. Meyer worked as a saloon owner and haberdasher, emigrating to the United States from Poland; Naomi emigrated from Lithuania. Though Kubelsky was born in Chicago, he grew up in Waukegan, Illinois, adopting Waukegan as his hometown.

Kubelsky began studying the violin when he was six years old, with his parents hoping that he would one day become a professional violinist. By age 14, he played in dance bands as well as in his high school orchestra. Kubelsky did not enjoy practicing and struggled academically, leading to his expulsion from high school. He attempted to complete business school, but ultimately decided to play violin in vaudeville theaters.

In 1911, Kubelsky performed in the same theatre as the Marx Brothers. Their mother, Minnie, admired Kubelsky’s violin playing and invited him to be part of the act. Kubelsky’s parents refused the offer, believing that their son was too young to travel as a vaudevillian at the age of 17; nonetheless, this opened the door to a long friendship between Kublesky and the Marx Brothers.

Kubelsky formed a vaudeville musical duo with pianist Cora Folsom Salisbury. This became a point of contention with a violinist named Jan Kubelik, who thought that Kubelsky’s name was too similar to his. As a result, Kubelsky changed his name to Ben K. Benny.

Once Salisbury left the act, Benny partnered with pianist Lyman Woods, gradually integrating comedy into their routine for five years.

Benny joined the U.S. Navy during World War I, leading to a brief pause in his show business career. During this period, he entertained fellow sailors with his violin and comedy.

After the war, Benny crafted a solo act called “Ben K. Benny: Fiddle Funology.” Once again, another performer named Ben Bernie threatened Benny with legal pressure to change his name, as Bernie had his own violin and comedy act. In response, Benny took on the first name of Jack, which led to the stage name he maintained for the rest of his career: Jack Benny.

In 1922, Benny attended a Passover Seder with Zeppo Marx, where he met Sadie Marks. By the time Benny and Marks met again in 1926, Benny fell for her. They married in 1927, and adopted a daughter named Joan.

In 1929, Benny signed a contract with MGM, appearing in The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929). Benny typically performed as a wisecracking master of ceremonies in his early film roles.

Beyond working in films, Benny was especially interested in radio. After a stint of playing in nightclubs, Benny was invited to appear on Ed Sullivan’s radio program, cementing his interest in a future in radio.

Jack Benny Radio

Marks worked in the hosiery section at the May Company on Hollywood Blvd. One day, Benny called on her to perform as a substitute in one of his routines, which led to her performing regularly with Benny. She took on the stage name Mary Livingstone.

The Jack Benny Program was a major success for Benny, beginning in 1932 to 1955. Benny portrayed a penny-pinching, miserly character, who functioned as the punchline to numerous jokes. Strategically, Benny played the violin badly as part of his character. Moreover, he gave ample opportunities for his supporting cast members to shine as talents in their own right, typically including the core cast members of Livingstone, Don Wilson, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Phil Harris, Dennis Day, and Mel Blanc. Despite his radio character, Benny was humble, philanthropic, and an advocate for racial equality. Throughout his career, Benny would often allude to his Waukegan hometown, even hosting the premiere of Man About Town (1939) at Waukegan’s Genesee Theatre.

Benny’s show transitioned to television, retaining the vast majority of the radio show’s stars. Audiences delighted in the visual component of Benny’s character in addition to the inclusion of visual gags through the medium. The television program also included more guest stars, including the likes of Marilyn Monroe, James Stewart, and Humphrey Bogart.

Benny’s radio and television career overlapped with his film career. He appeared in Broadway Melody of 1936 (1935), Buck Benny Rides Again (1940), Charley’s Aunt (1941), George Washington Slept Here (1942), To Be or Not to Be (1942), The Horn Blows at Midnight (1945), and more. Benny was caricatured in numerous cartoons, with one of the most notable cartoons being The Mouse that Jack Built (1959). In this cartoon Benny, Livingstone, Anderson, and Wilson, all provided voices for their characters. Blanc, already a major voice talent at Warner Bros., reprised his role as Benny’s Maxwell. Benny also made a guest appearance in It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Jack Benny Film

In the years to follow, Benny toured and performed with his violin. One of his last television appearances occurred in 1974, recreating radio skits with Mel Blanc on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Benny was slated to prepare for starring in the film version of The Sunshine Boys (1975), but his failing health prevented him from doing so. Benny requested that his best friend, George Burns, take on the role. Burns carried out the role and went on to win an Academy Award for his portrayal in the film, leading to a resurgence in his career. At age 80, Burns became the oldest Oscar-winning actor.

Benny passed away from pancreatic cancer on December 26, 1974. He was 80 years old. He was interred at Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery in Culver City, California. Per his will, he arranged for Livingstone to receive a single red rose each day for the rest of her life.

There are many tributes to Benny in his hometown and beyond.

A statue of Benny stands at the corner of Genesee St. and Clayton St., Waukegan, Illinois. This area is dubbed Jack Benny Plaza. The statue depicts Benny holding a violin, in addition to several symbols and details pertaining to Benny’s show and career on the statue’s pedestal. There is an additional marker in this area honoring Benny’s work as a violinist.

Jack Benny Waukegan Statue
Jack Benny at the corner of Genesee St. and Clayton St., Waukegan, Illinois

Genesee Theatre is across the street from Jack Benny Plaza. This is where the premiere of Man About Town was held on June 25, 1939. Benny and his cast of radio players were the focus a parade in town and also broadcast an episode of The Jack Benny Program in Waukegan. The theatre is also home to the Jack Benny Lounge, named in Benny’s honor. The Genesee Theatre is located at 201 N. Genesee St., Waukegan, Illinois.

Genesee Theatre is across the street from Jack Benny Plaza.
The Genesee Theatre across the street from Jack Benny Plaza

There is a mural across the street from the Genesee Theatre, which honors notable individuals from Waukegan, including Benny.

Jack Benny Mural
Mural across the street from the Genesee Theatre

The Walk of Stars Park is located at the corner of Sheridan Rd. and Grand Ave., Waukegan, Illinois. Benny has a star honoring his work as a comedian and violinist as well as noting that he attended Waukegan High School.

Jack Benny Walk Stars
Jack Benny Star at The Walk of Stars Park

Jack Benny Junior High School, now Jack Benny Middle School, was dedicated during Benny’s lifetime. Benny was present at the dedication and exceptionally proud to have this tribute in his hometown. He also helped fund various areas of the school and engaged with students throughout the dedication, visiting classrooms and playing violin with the school orchestra. The building stands at 1401 Montesano Ave., Waukegan, Illinois. This is also the home of the 39ers, in honor of Benny’s perpetual 39 years of age.

Jack Benny Junior High School, now Jack Benny Middle School
Jack Benny Junior High School, now Jack Benny Middle School

The Jack Benny Center for the Arts is located at 39 Jack Benny Dr., Waukegan, Illinois. There are exhibits in honor of Benny displayed inside, including materials showcasing the premiere of Man About Town and his work with the Waukegan Symphony Orchestra.

The Jack Benny Center for the Arts is located at 39 Jack Benny Dr., Waukegan, Illinois.
The Jack Benny Center for the Arts at 39 Jack Benny Dr., Waukegan, Illinois

Benny spent his childhood at the Kubelsky home on 518 Clayton St., Waukegan, Illinois. This home stands and has a plaque attached to it, noting that Benny lived there.

Jack Benny spent his childhood at the Kubelsky home on 518 Clayton St., Waukegan, Illinois.
Jack Benny’s childhood home at the Kubelsky home on 518 Clayton St., Waukegan, Illinois

Benny and Livingstone rented a home at 808 W. Grove Ave., Waukegan, Illinois, in the 1930s. This home also stands.

Benny and Livingstone rented a home at 808 W. Grove Ave., Waukegan, Illinois, in the 1930s
808 W. Grove Ave., Waukegan, Illinois

Benny and Livingstone resided at 1002 N. Roxbury Dr., Beverly Hills, California. The home stands today.

Benny and Livingstone resided at 1002 N. Roxbury Dr., Beverly Hills, California
1002 N. Roxbury Dr., Beverly Hills, California

Benny also had a home in the Movie Colony in Palm Springs. The home stands at 987 N. Avenida Palos Verdes, Palm Springs, California. It still has repetitions of a gilded letter “B” on the gate.

Avenida - Jack Benny's home at 987 N. Avenida Palos Verdes, Palm Springs, California
987 N. Avenida Palos Verdes, Palm Springs, California

In the 1940s, Benny maintained a property at 355 E. Valmonte Sur, Palm Springs, California, which stands. 

Benny also had an estate in the 1960s at 424 W. Vista Chino, Palm Springs, California, which stands.

Jack Benny estate in the 1960s at 424 W. Vista Chino, Palm Springs, California
424 W. Vista Chino, Palm Springs, California

Benny is honored with a statue at the Television Hall of Fame, located at 5220 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood, California.

Jack Benny TV Hall of Fame
Jack Benny Television Hall of Fame statue

There is an additional statue of Benny at the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center, located at 12505 Cultural Center Dr., Rancho Cucamonga, California.

Jack Benny statue at the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center, located at 12505 Cultural Center Dr., Rancho Cucamonga, California
Jack Benny statue at the Victoria Gardens Cultural Center in Rancho Cucamonga

Jack Benny Dr. in Rancho Cucamonga, California, is named in Benny’s honor.

Jack Benny Rd. in Rancho Mirage, California, is also named after Benny.

Benny has three stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, celebrating his work in motion pictures, radio, and television. The stars are located at 6650 Hollywood Blvd., 1505 Vine St., and 6370 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California, respectively.

Jack Benny Star Hollywood Walk of Fame

Benny’s prints can be found in the forecourt of the TCL Chinese Theatre, located at 6925 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, California.

Jack Benny Grauman's Theater Prints

Hillside Memorial Park Cemetery is located at 6001 W. Centinela Ave., Los Angeles, California.

–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: Showdown (1963)

Western RoundUp: Showdown (1963)

Showdown (1963) is part of the new Audie Murphy Collection III from Kino Lorber Studio Classics.

Showdown Poster 1
Showdown starring Audie Murphy, Kathleen Crowley, and Charles Drake

I shared news of this summer’s Murphy Blu-ray releases here in July, and a few weeks ago I followed up with a review of Destry (1954) from Collection II.

Collection III features three films; in addition to Showdown, the movies are Hell Bent for Leather (1960) and Posse From Hell (1961). I really liked both those films and previously reviewed Hell Bent for Leather here in January 2022.

To my best knowledge, none of these films has been available in the U.S. on DVD or even VHS.

As a big fan of Murphy’s Westerns, I’ve been quite curious about the new-to-me titles. Having just watched Showdown, I can report that in relative terms it’s one of his weaker films, though I still found enough worthwhile to recommend it.

As the story opens, bronco buster Chris Foster (Murphy) and his friend and coworker, Bert Pickett (Charles Drake), arrive in a small Western town to cash paychecks for the previous six months of work.

Bert gets drunk, and an ensuing saloon fight results in the two men being chained up. The town lacks a jail and instead men are chained to a pole in front of the marshal’s office, with iron collars around their necks.

Showdown Poster 4

Chris and Bert have the misfortune to be chained up alongside a killer, Lavalle (Harold J. Stone) and some of his henchmen, including Caslon (Skip Homeier) and Foray (L.Q. Jones). These are bad, bad men.

Lavalle’s men force Chris and Bert to help them break down the pole and escape, chains and all; Chris and Bert have little choice but to follow along.

During the escape Bert picks up some negotiable bonds in the express office; he figures the sheriff will think Lavalle took them and he can live a life of financial ease. Chris is horrified by Bert’s poor judgement, but that becomes the least of his worries when Lavalle learns about the bonds and demands that Bert cash them in another town. If Bert doesn’t return with the money, Chris will be killed.

Eventually Bert’s ex-girlfriend Estelle (Kathleen Crowley) also enters the picture, as circumstances lead her to try to make off with the bonds herself!

Showdown Poster 2

I found Showdown kind of a “mixed bag.” The film is quite grim and some aspects are visually unappealing. The heavy iron collars around numerous characters’ necks for a significant amount of screen time made me claustrophobic just looking at them! I winced right along with the characters when the collars are later hammered off.

The other weak link is the screenplay, written by Ric Hardman under the pseudonym Bronson Howitzer. While Murphy is appealing as always as the stalwart, honorable hero, we’re not provided much back story, and he’s the lone person in the film worth rooting for.

More nuanced supporting characters would have helped, along with sharper dialogue; some of the lines get quite florid, especially for Crowley.

On the plus side, director R.G. Springsteen moves things along briskly, with the film clocking in at just 79 minutes.

While I didn’t like looking at the “men in chains,” the film’s Alabama Hills scenery, shot outside Lone Pine, California, is majestic. A great deal of the film was shot around Lone Pine, a definite plus in my book.

When Murphy daringly rides his horse down a steep hill, it was filmed in a cliff area outside Lone Pine which is seen in films far less often than the Alabama Hills. I took a photo of the cliff area last year.

Cliff from Showdown outside Lone Pine

Charles Drake had costarred in one of Murphy’s very best Westerns, No Name on the Bullet (1959), which is also available on a Kino Lorber Blu-ray.

While Drake’s No Name on the Bullet character was admirable, a philosophical doctor who sparred with Murphy, his character here is much closer to the unstable man he played in Winchester ’73 (1950), which I reviewed here in 2019.

Bert makes a series of bad decisions, only partly redeeming himself late in the film which he tries to deter Chris from risking his life for him. I was left wondering how somewhat educated as a veterinarian could otherwise be so stupid — and why Chris put up with him for a couple of years!

Drake is solid as always in the role, but as written the character is rather exasperating.

Kathleen Crowley has long been familiar to me, having been the most frequent female guest star on my all-time favorite TV Western series, Maverick (1957-62). Over the years she appeared in a number of Western films, including The Silver Whip (1953), Westward Ho the Wagons! (1956), The Quiet Gun (1957), and The Phantom Stagecoach (1957).

Audie Murphy and Kathleen Crowley 1
Audie Murphy and Kathleen Crowley

Unfortunately Crowley’s character in this film is problematic, due to a combination of poor acting and writing. Estelle is initially a duplicitous character; when she later gives Murphy a sob story about her life it’s impossible to tell whether it’s the truth or an attempt at manipulation. That uncertainty about her true intentions continues almost to the end of the movie; as a result, we don’t really see character growth because we don’t know what’s real and what’s not.

While the overwrought writing didn’t help, an actress of more depth might possibly have brought more shadings to the character.

The supporting cast includes Strother Martin, Charles Horvath, Dabbs Greer, and Harry Lauter. Look carefully to spot early “B” Western star Bob Steele as a poker player.

The movie was shot in black and white by Ellis W. Carter. The Lone Pine vistas look absolutely majestic.

Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray print looks and sounds very good. The lone extras for this film are a newly mastered trailer as well as trailers for three additional Murphy films available from Kino Lorber.

Showdown blu ray

While Showdown might have been somewhat disappointing, I love Hell Bent for Leather, which has only improved on further acquaintance, and Posse From Hell has been an excellent new discovery. Given the fact that this set is the first time for all three films to be available in the United States, I recommend the collection for fans of Westerns and/or Audie Murphy.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

– 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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Silents are Golden: 12 French Silent Film Recommendations

Silents are Golden: 12 French Silent Film Recommendations

Thanks to pioneering inventors like the Lumière Brothers, who famously held the first public showing of motion pictures in Paris on December 28, 1895, France is often considered the birthplace of cinema. And beyond producing early cameras and projectors, France also contributed a great deal to the artistic side of cinema from the very beginning, inspiring filmmakers all over the world.

If you aren’t too familiar with early French films and are wondering where to start, here are a dozen eclectic recommendations ranging from whimsical short comedies to delicately-acted dramatic features.

12. The Merry Frolics of Satan (Les Quat’Cents Farces du diable, 1906)

The Merry Frolics of Satan (Les Quat'Cents Farces du diable, 1906)

Georges Méliès was one of the first filmmakers to recognize that film was wonderfully suited to telling imaginative, whimsical stories. Everyone’s familiar with the iconic A Trip to the Moon (1902), but another gem is The Merry Frolics of Satan, an adaptation of Faust. The charm of seeing our main characters sailing through the stars in a flying carriage pulled by a strange skeletal horse simply has to be experienced yourself.


11. Max Takes a Bath (Max prend un bain, 1910)

Max Takes a Bath (Max prend un bain, 1910)

Years before the idea of a “movie star” would take hold in the 1910s, the dapperly-dressed comedian Max Linder was being recognized for his dozens of short, charming comedies, paving the way for all the comedians to follow him. Max Takes a Bath is readily available online and is a nice showcase for his subtle, situation-based humor with touches of absurdity.


10. La Roue (The Wheel, 1923)

La Roue (The Wheel, 1923)

Abel Gance’s (very) lengthy drama follows the travails of Sisif, a railroad engineer and widower who adopts the orphaned baby girl Norma. He raises her along with his little son Elie in a cottage surrounded by a railyard. Norma blossoms into a lovely young woman, and to his own horror, Sisif finds himself growing obsessed with her–and the tragic twists don’t end there. A darkly psychological tale, La Roue is stuffed with innovative editing and haunting visuals that greatly influenced fellow filmmakers, including some astonishing lightning-fast montages.


9. Ménilmontant (1926)

Ménilmontant (1926)

This exquisite, 40-minute piece of avant-garde by Dmitri Kirsanoff opens with a sudden, startling murder, and then follows two sisters as they try to start a new life in a poor neighborhood of Paris. One of the sisters falls for a charming young man, but in time she discovers he’s seduced her sister, too. Poetic and tragic, but nevertheless containing glimpses of hope, it features a wonderfully delicate performance by Kirsanoff’s wife Nadia that you won’t soon forget.


8. Visages D’enfants (1926)

Visages D’enfants (1926)

Plenty of silent dramas did indeed have subtle, realistic storytelling, and few prove it better than this gem by Jacques Feydar  It was filmed in the Swiss village of Grimentz and starred the child actor Jean Forest, who Feydar had discovered in Montmartre, Paris. Telling the story of a boy whose beloved mother passes away and who soon finds himself at odds with his new stepmother and stepsister, it’s a poignant work with many wonderfully naturalistic touches.


7. The Italian Straw Hat (1928)         

The Italian Straw Hat (1928)

On the day of his wedding, Fadinard’s horse eats a lady’s hat while she’s trysting with a lover behind a bush. Since going home hatless would surely wreck the lady’s reputation, the couple insist that Fadinard be responsible for finding an exact replacement–and fast. Rene Clair’s mildly risque farce adapts an 1850s play and sets it in 1895, and also imitates some of the early films from that Belle Epoque era.


6. The Haunted House (1907)

The Haunted House (1907)

Often confused with several practically identical short films–the 1900s being a time when filmmakers copied each other shamelessly–Segundo de Chomón’s six-minute film features a house morphing into a face, a freaky crepe hair-bedecked demon, several odd-looking travelers and a brilliant stop motion sequence of a “ghostly” tea service. De Chomón worked in France for Pathé Frères and made a number of very Méliès-like films. Readily available online, The Haunted House’s surreal, anything-goes imagery is a particularly nice fit for Halloween.


5. The Policemen’s Little Run (1907)

The Policemen’s Little Run (1907)

When Mack Sennett talked about being inspired by French comedies, he was certainly thinking of a film like The Policemen’s Little Run. Short and sweet, it shows an impish dog stealing a leg of mutton from a butcher shop and being pursued by an entire bungling police force. You might call it a blueprint for the Keystone Cops films from the 1910s. The scene of the dog and cops climbing a building–thanks to some clever trompe l’oeil–will bring a smile to any face, if you ask me.

4. Cœur fidèle (Faithful Heart, 1923)

Cœur fidèle (Faithful Heart, 1923)

A tragic love triangle drama set in the ports of Marseille, Cœur fidèle took a lot of inspiration from La Roue’s innovative camerawork and editing. The director Jean Epstein was also a film critic during the ‘20s and he clearly took a keen interest in cinema’s artistic side. His story of the abused servant Marie, pursued by the loutish Petit Paul while she secretly loves the dockworker Jean, is masterfully filmed and brimming with creativity.


3. Ballet Mécanique (1924)

Ballet Mécanique (1924)

If you’re at all attracted to the avant-garde, you’ll enjoy this Dadaist film, the ancestor of countless experimental works that followed. A dizzying smorgasbord of montages, repeating shots, animation, dissolves, specials effects, and so on, it’s accompanied by a hyperactive soundtrack of bells, whistles, horns and pianos. Charlie Chaplin also shows up several times as a Cubist-style animation–the original title is technically Charlot présente le ballet mécanique.


2. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Not only is The Passion of Joan of Arc one of the greatest silent films, but it’s one of the greatest films ever made, period. Its daring art style and cinematography somehow floats free of typical time periods–it stands on its own as a work of art. Jeanne Falconetti’s performance does more than justice to the great French saint, making the film a deeply emotional and moving experience.


1. Napoléon (1927)

No list of French silent film recommendations could be complete without mentioning Abel Gance’s masterpiece, one of the most ambitious and creative epics of the 1920s. The runtime is staggering–over five hours–but so are Gance’s achievements, from his fearless use of in-camera effects to his willingness to strap the camera to running horses and pendulums to create exciting shots. The famed “triptych” ending even experimented with the format of the screen itself. It was a film that was truly ahead of its time.

Varied as they are, these twelve recommendations are just scratching the surface of the many French silents you could watch. Take that as a happy challenge, and enjoy your future viewings!

–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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Monsters and Matinees: It’s only a Horror Movie – unless it’s True

It’s only a Horror Movie – unless it’s True

Horror films can sometimes be too much even for the most fervent fan.

Maybe it’s a scene so gross that you close your eyes.

Or the minute you realize there’s a demon involved, and you change the channel (devil movies are a huge no for me).

Perhaps there’s a scene so terrifying that you turn on the lights like I do with The Haunting and that masterful moment when Julie Harris thinks a friend is next to her until she realizes that, no, that’s not a human. (If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about.)

That’s when we tell ourselves “It’s only a movie. … It’s only a movie” and that usually works.

But what if it’s not only a movie? What if it was real?

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was one of multiple films that drew on real killer Ed Gein as inspiration – in this case, for the character of Leatherface.

“What happened is true. Now the motion picture that’s just as real.”

– Texas Chainsaw Massacre

That was the tagline for Tobe Hooper’s groundbreaking 1979 film that drew some inspiration for its chainsaw-wielding maniac Leatherface from a real killer. The film was creepy enough on its own, then became much darker learning there was some smidgen of reality in it.

True-life murderers are a frequent theme of “based on a true story” horror films, as are hauntings and paranormal activities.

Take real paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren who have become their own film franchise that started with the 2013 movie The Conjuring and continued with its direct sequels and then the Annabelle and Nun movies. In total, they have made more than $2 billion at the box office. And there’s more.

The Warrens also were called in for other cases that were the basis of earlier movies like The Amityville Horror. That film is a good place to start as we look at eight times real life became reel life in classic horror movies.

Actors James Brolin and Margot Kidder in a scene from The Amityville Horror. Notice the top windows of the house are lit to appear like “eyes” in this film based off a real haunting.

The Amityville Horror (1979)

Posters for The Amityville Horror show a Dutch Colonial house that is the same architecture of the real home that is the basis for this film. To illustrate that, the two distinctive half-curved windows under the gambrel roof are brightly lit to look like demonic eyes. The image has always haunted me.

Making the house feel alive was an integral part of this movie based on a haunting in Amityville, N.Y. where Ronald DeFeo Jr. shot and murdered six members of his family in 1974. Only 13 months later, the Lutz family bought the house despite knowing its history. At a friend’s request, they agreed to have the house blessed, but it didn’t quite work out as planned.

They left after only 28 days because of frightening experiences including a “greenish-black slime” with a mind of its own.

The film, directed by Stuart Rosenberg and starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder, was based on a book by Jay Anson. Although many of the scariest details were later debunked, the story has remained popular, becoming the basis for multiple books and movies, including a 2005 remake by Michael Bay. Plus, I still can’t look at a Dutch Colonial house without being creeped out.

Yes, even Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds had a basis in the reality of a bird attack in a seaside California town.

The Birds (1963)

In 1961, Alfred Hitchcock heard of an account in the Santa Cruz Sentinel of birds inexplicably attacking the small seaside town of Capitola in Santa Cruz County. It was reported that “hordes of seabirds were dive-bombing their homes, crashing into cars and spewing half-digested anchovies onto lawns.”

Hitch reached out to the paper for help in researching his next film which was based off the Daphne du Maurier novella “The Birds.” The final movie, set in a fictional seaside town in California, contained similar images as described at the time of bird attack, including crashing into homes and cars, terrorizing residents and even killing people.

It wasn’t until 2011 that researchers finally found an explanation for that long-ago California bird attack and a few other “animals acting strangely” incidents by linking them to poison from a toxic algae that resulted in disorientation and seizures, among other problems.

The title character of The Blob eats its way through a small town looking for more victims.

The Blob (1958)

I was blown away a few years back when my young niece, only 11 at the time, shared a YouTube video about how The Blob was based on a true story. “Inspired by” is a better description, but it’s still unsettling.

In the film, a gelatin-like substance from a meteorite absorbs people and grows large enough to engulf a diner while Steve McQueen and his teen buddies try to convince the adults of the danger.

Newspaper articles often inspired film writers.

The inspiration was a 1950 article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Two Philadelphia police officers saw something fall from the sky and found a large mass about 6 feet in diameter that “gave off a purplish glow, almost a mist, that looked as though it contained crystals,” the paper reported. Unfortunately, it dissolved in about 25 minutes, leaving nothing for investigators to see. I still believe it happened.

The Exorcist (1973)

As a student at Georgetown University, William Peter Blatty read a Washington Post article with the headline Priest Frees Mt. Rainier Boy Reported Held in Devil’s Grip. It was about the real exorcism in 1949 of a boy who was seemingly possessed. Multiple priests were brought in with between 30 and 40 exorcisms reportedly performed.

This haunting image from The Exorcist captures the sense of horror that pervades this film.

The story inspired Blatty’s 1971 novel The Exorcist which he turned into the screenplay for the Oscar-winning film starring young Linda Blair as a teen possessed by a demon. Among the similarities between the reel/real stories were the use of the Ouija board, attacks on priests and all the vomiting.

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope was inspired by the 1924 Leopold-Loeb murder case. The film starred John Dall, left, James Stewart and Farley Granger.

Rope (1948)

This Alfred Hitchcock psychological thriller is usually discussed in terms of its technical achievement of appearing like it was filmed in one continuous take. It wasn’t, but it came close by using only four cuts with some nifty sleight-of-hand like a person walking in front of the camera to create the illusion.

But there’s something else that’s interesting about the film. It was based on the 1929 play Rope’s End by Patrick Hamilton that told of the Leopold-Loeb murder case, considered the first “trial of the century.” In 1924, two University of Chicago students murdered a teen under the belief that their “innate superiority” would help them pull off the perfect crime. It didn’t. They were caught and sentenced to 99 years in prison.

In the film, the murderers are played by Farley Granger and John Dall who kill a friend, put his body in a trunk in their apartment and then host a dinner party. Arrogant, aren’t they? Jimmy Stewart is their former professor and one of the party guests.

Anthony Perkins starred as Norman Bates in Psycho, one of multiple film characters that had similarities to real killer Ed Gein.

Psycho (1960) and

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

These two well-regarded, but quite different horror movies, both drew inspiration from notorious Wisconsin murderer Ed Gein – called the Butcher of Planfield – in the 1950s.

The convicted murderer also was a grave robber who – this gets gross – would take the bones and skins of corpses and create keepsakes including lampshades and a suit made from skin, like Leatherface’s mask in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Psycho was based off the 1959 novel by Robert Bloch who lived less than 50 miles from Gein. While Bloch didn’t mean for Bates – the reclusive young man who kept his mother’s mummified body in his house – to be a stand-in for Gein, the two had many similarities. Both were loners in rural areas who worshiped their mothers, wore women’s clothes and were murderers.

Gein was the inspiration for other film killers including Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.

Psycho spawned an ill-advised shot-for-shot 1998 remake by Gus Van Sant, along with three sequels, a TV movie and series (Bates Motel).

The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

The poster for “The Town That Dread Sundown” touts the fact that the film is based off a true story.

This is another terrifying story based off a heinous true-life serial killer. For 10 weeks in 1946, a murderer dubbed “The Phantom of Texarkana” – a region at the Texas/Arkansas border – attacked eight people, killing five. He was never identified.

That led to the film’s poster proclamation that the killer “still lurks the streets of Texarkana, Ark.” City officials were among those not pleased with that tagline and threatened to sue if it wasn’t removed, but it remained on many posters.

The image of the killer’s face covered by a hood was disturbing and has since become a frequent film image. Among the mostly amateur cast were Ben Johnson and Dawn Welles (Gilligan’s Island). Ryan Murphy and Jason Blum produced a 2016 sequel.


The fact that a film is based on a true story can draw viewers in, but also keep some away. I am, if you can’t already tell, in the latter category. (Give me a big-bug horror movie any day because I know that can’t happen. Right?)

You can tell me that I’m missing some good films and to get over it, but here’s the thing: Even writing about these movies is too much for me. I started this piece early one evening but once it got dark my anxiety started to rise. I could feel my heart beat faster as I typed about devils and demons. I freaked out so much I stopped writing, quickly left the room, turned on more lights and watched a piece of romantic fluff to shake the foreboding mood I was in.

I continued to write the next day during daylight hours and was fine. But as I finalized the story in late afternoon, the lights started to flicker. I could feel my heart again beat faster – and the lights kept flickering for a good 20 minutes. I’ve never been so happy to finish an article.

And that’s my true story about horror films.

 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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