Lives Behind the Legends: Cary Grant – Finding Happiness

Lives Behind the Legends: Cary Grant – Finding Happiness

My formula for living is quite simple. I get up in the morning and I go to bed at night. In between, I occupy myself as best I can.
Cary Grant

If there ever was a quintessential classic Hollywood gentleman, it was Cary Grant. Sure, he was handsome, but it was his charm and sophistication that set him apart from the rest. At the same time, there seemed to be a cheerfulness and warmth about him. But underneath the surface was a side that his fans never saw: Cary was a troubled man. Having lived through a traumatic childhood, he was always in search of his identity and a sense of inner peace. When fame and success didn’t turn out to be the answer, he walked some unconventional roads to find the happiness that eluded him.

Cary was born Archie Leach, the son of Elsie and Elias, in Bristol, England. Having grown up in poverty herself, Elsie wanted more for her family and she taught little Archie manners and etiquette from the get-go. He also learned to play the piano and received good grades in school, with encouragement from his devoted mother. This laid the groundwork for the well-mannered gentleman we would come to know later on. What he didn’t know at the time, was the reason his mother was so focused on him: Elsie and Elias had already had a son and he had died at only nine months old. This caused grief so deep, that his mother never truly recovered from it. Archie did notice that his parents fought often. Usually about their lack of money and his father’s frequent boozy nights with his buddies. One day when Archie was 11, he came home from school to find his mother gone. His father informed him that she had gone on vacation for a rest. At first, Archie was simply annoyed that she had not taken him with her, but after two weeks he wondered what he had done to make her so angry. His cousins put an end to his questions by telling him that she had passed away. The truth was that Elias had put Elsie in a mental institution.

Had it been necessary to put Elsie there? Although the mental institution did see a reason to diagnose her with mania, they did not deem her a threat to herself or anyone around her. Little was known about mental health at the time, and ‘husband knows best’ was still the general way of thinking. In fact, Elsie would spend years asking why she couldn’t be released and the reason was that Elias didn’t want her to be. As soon as Elsie was gone, Elias sent Archie to live with his grandmother. From that moment on, the boy rarely saw his father. Unbeknownst to Archie, his father was busy starting a new family with a co-worker he had fallen for. Archie’s grandmother had the same taste for alcohol as her son and a grown Cary Grant would describe her as “a cold, cold woman”.  So at the age of 11, Archie was left to fend for himself.

Cary Grant young
A young Cary Grant

A teacher, perhaps knowing about the boy’s situation, took Archie to the theatre where he helped out with the lighting. There and then, Archie fell in love with the hustle and bustle of the theatre. He had found his people. Archie started working backstage and became familiar with a touring vaudeville group named The Bob Pender Stage Troupe. He joined the group at only 14 and started touring the country. Soon they headed for America. Life on the road was lonely and hard work for little pay. Archie realized he wanted more from life. When he was 18, he left the troupe and headed for New York. Though he initially struggled to get by, the charming Archie went from vaudeville to Broadway in only a few years’ time.

By now, Archie knew that his father had started a new family and he didn’t hold a grudge. He even went back to visit his father, stepmother, and half-brother in England when his finances finally allowed it. People who knew Archie at the time say he had only one thing on his mind: success. Something he later said was a stand-in for the love he craved. So it was no surprise to his friends when he left New York for Hollywood and secured a contract at studio Paramount. The studio changed his name to Cary Grant and he took his new Hollywood persona seriously. From now on, he introduced himself as Cary and he started hanging out with a more sophisticated crowd. Old friends complained that ‘Grant was taking over Leach’. This was not the studio’s doing: Cary desperately wanted to move up in the world and leave his struggling past behind him. The sense of style and impeccable manners his mother had taught him, helped him to easily maneuver in Hollywood’s upper class and he became friends with people like Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Howard Hughes.

Soon, he became a popular leading man in hits like Blonde Venus (1932) and She Done Him Wrong (1933). All he needed to complete his dream life was a family. After chasing women around for years, he fell head over heels in love with Charlie Chaplin’s leading lady Virginia Cherrill. She was his type: slim, feminine, and sophisticated, just like his mother. Virginia and Cary became engaged, so he took her with him when he made his triumphant return to England after becoming a Hollywood actor.

Cary Grant and wife, Virginia Cherrill
Cary Grant and his first wife, Virginia Cherrill

It was 1933; he had just starred in the box-office hit I’m No Angel (1933), and it was the first time in years he would see his family again. But the real reason he made the visit wasn’t to promote his latest hit film – his father had called him weeks before and told him that he really needed to see him. Nervously, father and son went to the pub. Cary had been struck by his father’s change in appearance, later saying he suddenly looked like an old alcoholic. Then, his father told him that his mother was still alive. “I had to put her away”, he told a bewildered and increasingly upset Cary. As Cary ran out of the pub, his father yelled: “You should thank me. I did it for you!”. The news hit Cary so hard that nobody could find him for weeks. Eventually, he checked into a private hospital to dry out after a prolonged bender. His world had turned upside down. A part of him had always felt abandoned by his mother, but it turned out that she had been the one who was abandoned. He would go on to feel incredibly guilty for not looking into his mother’s sudden disappearance and the vague answers he was given. Once he sobered up, he went to visit his mother in the mental institution. He was shocked to see his mother, at only 57, with fully gray hair and missing teeth. She looked at him blankly when he told her who he was. Not comprehending that this fully grown man was her little boy.

Cary quickly left England and tried to create his own happy home: in 1934 he married Virginia. But no matter how much he tried to hide it, his past had a profound effect on his most intimate relationships. “My possessiveness and fear of losing her brought about the very condition it feared: the loss of her,” he would reflect decades later. He drank a lot, flew into jealous rages, and discouraged her from continuing her own career. The revelation of his mother’s disappearance had opened a floodgate of emotions that Cary did not know how to deal with. After only eight months, Virginia filed for divorce.

In 1935 Cary’s father passed away. His feelings towards his father were complicated, but Cary went to England for his final weeks and settled his affairs. His father’s death made him his mother’s guardian and he immediately arranged for her release from the mental institution. The facilities’ documentation noted that she hadn’t had an “attack of mental illness” for 21 years, the time she was admitted. Elsie went to live with her younger brother to acclimate and got to know her son through the many letters they sent each other. In 1937, Elsie rented an apartment with the monthly allowance Cary gave her. It was difficult for Cary to reconcile the woman who’d last taken care of him when he was 11 and who still called him Archie, with his new life as movie star Cary Grant. He never invited her to his home and kept those two worlds separate.

By now Cary had reached star status with movies like Topper (1937) and Bringing Up Baby (1938), but he wanted more. He was almost 40 and eager to start a family. He married classy Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton in 1942, after two years of dating.

During this time World War II had begun. Cary was very worried about his mother, so he moved her into a safer area of Bristol and sent her many letters to check on her. Though England would continue to have a place in his heart, he felt a growing loyalty to his newly adopted home country. He officially became an American citizen and legally changed his name to Cary Grant. Still, Archie Leach was never far away. During this time, he made the movie Penny Serenade (1941) based on who he would have been, had he not become ‘Cary Grant’. He played a struggling Cockney with a difficult relationship with his mother. Elias Leach’s picture is even seen in his fictional mother’s apartment. He poured his all into the film, but it didn’t do well at the box office. Proving to Cary that people were not interested in seeing the real him. He would never become so emotionally involved in a movie again.

The way his past had shaped him also reared its head in his marriage to Barbara. He had worked hard for his money and never forgot what it was like to struggle. He was annoyed by the constant presence of her servants and he didn’t like spending time with her ‘old money’ friends. Cary had many friends in the upper class himself, but they all worked and he respected that. Barbara was embarrassed by him avoiding her friends and felt that he worked way too much. The pair desperately tried to make their marriage work: he took on fewer roles and Barbara agreed to a smaller house and less staff. It didn’t help. They were divorced by the end of World War II.

The end of the war meant that Cary could visit his mother for the first time in years. Still, his visits were always tied to business and he would spend only one or two days with Elsie. On the boat back from one of these trips, he met the actress Betsy Drake. Though there were almost twenty years between them, Cary was fascinated by her mind and knowledge. She practiced yoga, liked to discuss philosophy, and was open-minded.

Cary Grant and wife Betsy Drake
Cary Grant and third wife, Betsy Drake

Once they were in a relationship, it was clear that he had learned from the mistakes he made in his marriage to Virginia. Instead of being opposed to it, he was so supportive of Betsy’s career that he arranged a studio contract and a role in his new film for her. They married in 1949 and for the first time since he had started working, Cary took some time off from filming. While Cary mentored her career, Betsy taught him about poetry, philosophy, and yoga. Betsy even helped him to quit smoking by using hypnotherapy. Cary raved about the practice and started using it to relieve physical ailments as well. After a while, he realized work was still an essential part of his life and he returned to the limelight after 18 months with the spectacular To Catch a Thief (1955).

His marriage to Betsy seemed picture-perfect to everyone around them, but once again Cary became restless. While filming The Pride and the Passion (1957) in Spain, Cary fell for his co-star Sophia Loren. She was very different from his usual type, with her voluptuous figure and dark hair. But Cary fell so deeply in love with her, he even offered to divorce Betsy and marry her. Sophia, who was already involved with future husband Carlo Ponti, declined. Their affair was not just physical: they shared stories about their troubled childhood and the effect it had on them. Cary told her that his childhood was the reason his relationships never worked out. Betsy visited Cary in Spain for a few weeks and realized he was having an affair, but felt that there was nothing she could do. When heading back to America, Betsy’s boat got into a terrible accident and sank. 49 passengers drowned, but Betsy was able to get on a lifeboat.

By the time Cary came back home, their marriage had changed forever. Cary still had Sophia on his mind and Betsy was traumatized by the accident. Desperate, Betsy took a friend’s advice and went to a doctor who worked with a new method: LSD. At the time, LSD was a licensed therapeutic drug, only available to the wealthy through a specialized doctor. It was thought that its psychedelic effects led you to the core of your unresolved trauma and fears and subsequently gave you clarity and release. Betsy found it so healing that she recommended it to Cary. He would go on to take it 100 times under the care of a doctor whom he called ‘my wise Mahatma’. He later said: “When I broke through, I felt an immeasurable beneficial cleansing of so many needless fears and guilts. I lost all tension I’d been crippling myself with”. He also came to a realization about his romantic relationships: “LSD made me realize I was killing my mother through my relationships with other women. I was punishing them for what she had done to me.” Friends were a little wary of Cary’s cry of a rebirth. It certainly was the first step to a more enlightened and relaxed Cary. He admitted to the press that he had hidden behind the ‘Cary Grant’ character and he told his life story openly and without shame. He would continue to rave about LSD therapy but later admitted that “there is no end to getting well”. For Betsy, LSD therapy made her realize that their marriage wasn’t working and they separated amicably after 12 years together.

While filming That Touch of Mink (1962), Cary started dating actress Dyan Cannon. They fell in love and Cary was convinced the LSD therapy had enabled him to finally have a healthy relationship and start a family. Despite Dyan being 25 to Cary’s 58, their relationship progressed quickly. He took Dyan to meet his mother in England, something he usually saved for after the wedding. Dyan later noted that he had been excited to see his mother until the day finally arrived and he became gloomy. Things did not improve when his mother was rather cold to him and rejected the expensive mink coat he had bought her. In the following years, his mother’s letters to him would become more rambling, but she seemed to open up more as well. Whereas before she had always refused to say a bad word about her late husband, she now confided that Elias had ‘deceived’ her and that she regretted not taking a second husband. Cary appreciated her honesty. Elsie was now in her eighties and Cary convinced her to live in a nursing home of her choosing, promising her that she would never be forced to stay.

Cary and Dyan got married and a dream came true for Cary: he finally became a father. In 1966 their daughter Jennifer was born. Cary was overjoyed and told reporters outside of the hospital that she was his “greatest production”. When the new family arrived home, Cary looked at their little girl and told Dyan that this was everything he’d ever wanted. He was so devoted to fatherhood that, after 72 films, he retired completely. For the first time in his life, he didn’t need work to feel fulfilled.
But while he doted on their daughter, he became colder towards his wife. He became more and more domineering and kept persuading Dyan to take LSD therapy. The sessions were traumatizing for her. Eventually, the marriage caused Dyan too much distress and she filed for divorce after three years. After a nasty court battle, which they kept from Jennifer, they settled into a custody arrangement.

Cary still visited his mother in England and had even taken baby Jennifer to meet a glowing Elsie. He recorded Elsie talking about her life, so Jennifer could listen to it when she was older. Elsie passed away peacefully at the age of 95 in 1973. Her tape recordings were kept in a safe Cary had for Jennifer. In this, he put her childhood mementos: drawings, letters, videos he’d made of her. Cary didn’t have anything from his childhood, so he wanted things to be different for his little girl. “I was embarrassed I think, by the extent of his love and devotion to me,” Jennifer later said. As an adult, she would be very grateful for her “time machine”. Fatherhood had finally given Cary the unconditional love and warmth he had always searched for.

Cary Grant and his daughter, Jennifer
Cary and his daughter, Jennifer

Cary had a life outside of fatherhood too: he joined several boards, like those of Faberge and MGM. He was still close friends with colleagues like Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock. In 1981 he entered into his fifth and final marriage, to publicist Barbara Harris, who was 47 years his junior. Barbara later admitted that Cary was wary of women’s motives with him and that she had to prove she was with him for the right reasons. Once she did, she said she couldn’t have wished for “a more loving husband”. Barbara turned his house, which was in a perpetual state of renovation, into a home. Cary became a homebody for the first time in his life and Barbara lent a professional hand as his publicist and personal assistant. Jennifer adored her stepmother.

It may not have been conventional, but Cary finally had the happy life he had always wanted. As Barbara said after his death in 1986: “LSD therapy removed an awful lot of his barnacles. The birth of Jennifer brought him great love, and I think the relationship we had brought him peace. Most of the people who truly knew him commented that he was much more at ease and a much happier person in the later part of his life.”

The sources for this article are Cary Grant: The Making of a Hollywood Legend by Mark Glancy, vulture.com, abcnews.go.com, and closerweekly.com.

— Arancha van der Veen for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Arancha’s Lives Behind the Legends Articles Here.

Arancha has been fascinated with Classic Hollywood and its stars for years. Her main area of expertise is the behind-the-scenes stories, though she’s pretty sure she could beat you at movie trivia night too. Her website, Classic Hollywood Central, is about everything Classic Hollywood, from actors’ life stories and movie facts to Classic Hollywood myths. You can follow her on Twitter at @ClassicHC.

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Noir Nook: Top Films Noir – Part 1

Noir Nook: Top Films Noir – Part 1

Every film noir lover has their best-loved features from this shadowy era of filmmaking. As we begin another year, I’m taking a look at my favorite films noirs. One of the reasons why I love this particular task is because some of my favorites will always remain the same, no matter when or how many times I identify them – while others will change depending on the season, my mood, or even the time of day. The following are the first five of my Top 10 list – next month, I’ll wrap it up with the next five…

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Double Indemnity (1944)

Barbara Stanwyck & Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity (1944)
Barbara Stanwyck & Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity (1944)

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – my favorite film noir of all time is Double Indemnity. It’s absolutely perfect to me. It tells the story of Phyllis Dietrichson, a frustrated and unhappy housewife, and Walter Neff, a bored insurance salesman, and the transformation of the couple’s passion into murder, with Phyllis’s husband being the unlucky recipient.

I love so much about Double Indemnity. The story. Barbara Stanwyck’s much-maligned wig. The clipped way that Fred MacMurray says “Baby.” Heck, the fact that former fun-guy Fred is even IN this movie. Edward G. Robinson, and everything he does and says. And all the noir boxes that are ticked: voiceover narration, flashback orientation, shadows filtered through Venetian blinds, a badass femme fatale, and an anti-hero who thinks he’s running the show – but who’s really not.

Favorite quote:

Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money – and a woman – and I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty, isn’t it?

– Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray)

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Mildred Pierce (1945)

Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, and Eve Arden in Mildred Pierce (1945)
Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, and Eve Arden in Mildred Pierce (1945)

Another film that always and forever will be on any and every top 10 noir list I ever make is Mildred Pierce. It’s not the first noir I ever saw – that honor goes to Double Indemnity – but it was the first noir I ever saw on the big screen. And I’ve been in love ever since. Based, like Double Indemnity, on a novel by James M. Cain, Mildred Pierce centers on the title character (played in an Oscar-winning performance by Joan Crawford), the lengths she goes to support her daughters – one of which is a truly horrid child who grows up to be an even more horrid adult – and the dashing spendthrift she falls for, and who winds up dead.

In addition to Crawford, the film is highlighted by Eve Arden, who plays Mildred’s wise (and wise-cracking) friend; Jack Carson, as the ex-partner of Mildred’s ex-husband, whose attraction to Mildred is superseded only by his affinity for a dollar; and Ann Blyth, whose angelic face was an ideal façade for the villainous Veda Pierce.

Favorite quote:

“Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea – they eat their young.”

– Ida Corwin (Eve Arden)

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Gun Crazy (1950)

Peggy Cummins & John Dall in Gun Crazy (1950)
Peggy Cummins & John Dall in Gun Crazy (1950)

Ever since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by the story of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow – so I was primed and ready to fall in love with Gun Crazy, which is inspired by the exploits of the Depression-era outlaws. Peggy Cummins and John Dall star as Annie Laurie Starr and Bart Tare, star-crossed partners in crime who, in Bart’s estimation, go together “like guns and ammunition.” The two first meet at a gun-shooting competition in a local carnival and before you can say “Bob’s your uncle,” they’re knocking off the Traveler’s Aid Society and robbing banks.

A transplant from Ireland who was cast – and then cast off – as Amber in Forever Amber (1947), Peggy Cummins was made for the role of Annie Laurie Starr.  With her face often an expressionless mask, she was no one-note character; she could be soft and sweet, and earnest as a Girl Scout, or fearless and ruthless and downright scary.

Favorite quote:

“Bart, I’ve been kicked around all my life, and from now on, I’m gonna start kicking back.”

– Annie Laurie Starr (Peggy Cummins)

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The Killing (1956)

Sterling Hayden in The Killing (1956)
Sterling Hayden in The Killing (1956)

Distinguished by its time-bending plot, The Killing is a noir that I dearly love to watch over and over and over again – I have it on VHS and DVD, I’ve seen it on the big screen, and I watch it every time it airs on TV. I simply cannot see it too many times. The film was directed by Stanley Kubrick early in his storied career and centers on a motley crew of individuals – including a mousy cashier, a beat cop deep in debt to the mob, and a bartender caring for his invalid wife – who unite to carry out an intricately designed racetrack heist. The mastermind of the scheme is Johnny Clay, played by Sterling Hayden at his badass best.

The cast includes Marie Windsor, as the mousy cashier’s duplicitous, gold-digging wife; Timothy Carey as a pivotal but ill-fated cog in the heist machinery; and Vince Edwards, playing a hard-boiled character who’s light years away from his role as TV’s Dr. Ben Casey. Also in the cast, making his big-screen debut was comedian Rodney Dangerfield, who can be spotted as a bystander in a scene where a brawl is taking place near the racetrack bar.

Favorite quote:

“You know Fay, the biggest mistake I made before was shooting for peanuts. Five years have taught me one thing, if nothing else: Any time you take a chance, you better be sure the rewards are worth the risk. Because they could put you away just as fast for a ten dollar heist as they can for a million dollar job.”

– Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden)

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Criss Cross (1949)

Yvonne De Carlo & Burt Lancaster in Criss Cross (1949)
Yvonne De Carlo & Burt Lancaster in Criss Cross (1949)

Criss Cross is a noir that, to borrow a phrase from Mary Poppins, is “practically perfect in every way” – yet, it’s woefully underappreciated, in my view. At its core, it features a passionate but deadly triangle populated by Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster), recently returning to his hometown after a lengthy absence; Steve’s ex-wife, Anna (Yvonne De Carlo), who he can’t seem to stay away from; and Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea), head of the local mob and Anna’s new husband. The emotions, suspicions, and deceit swirling around these three are heightened when armored car theft is thrown into the mix – and the term “criss-cross” takes on a whole new meaning.

Yvonne DeCarlo, perhaps best known for her exotic roles in a number of sword-and-sandals flicks, is ideal as the fatal femme in Criss Cross. Early in the film, as we – along with Steve – watch Anna dancing to a soulful Latin beat (with a young, uncredited Tony Curtis, no less), we know exactly why he’s drawn to her like a magnet. And later, as we get to know her better, we know why Steve should have stayed far, far away.

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What are your favorite films noirs? Tune in to the Noir Nook next month for the next half of my Top 10!

– 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: My Man Godfrey (1936)

Silver Screen Standards: My Man Godfrey (1936)

I’m a big fan of screwball comedy, so of course, I enjoy the wacky antics of Gregory La Cava’s 1936 classic, My Man Godfrey, which stars William Powell and Carole Lombard as an unlikely couple brought together by a scavenger hunt and the societal upheaval of the Great Depression. This sparkling romp features one of the nuttiest families you’ll find in classic cinema, with Lombard leading the charge as Irene, a dizzy daughter of the spoiled, spendthrift Bullock family, but there’s a far more serious undertone to the story than its silly surface might suggest. While watching My Man Godfrey again recently, I was struck by the way the screwball elements sweeten a story that’s really about socio-economic inequality, selfishness, and the ways in which the idle rich could transform society for everyone’s benefit if they’d just wake up to the idea that it might be their responsibility to share the wealth. 

My Man Godfrey (1936) William Powell
Scruffy and bedraggled, Godfrey looks like the other forgotten men when he first encounters the Bullocks, but they can’t guess the journey that brought him to the dump or the lessons he has learned there.

The wacky comedy of the movie lures us in and keeps us laughing, thanks to the iconic performances of Powell and Lombard and an impressive supporting cast. The Bullock family is headed by Eugene Pallette as patriarch Alexander, the only member who seems to recognize the precipice of self-destruction on which they teeter. Pallette plays gruff father figures in quite a few top-notch comedies, including The Lady Eve (1941) and Heaven Can Wait (1943), so he’s in his element here, although his protests rarely have much effect on the rest of the clan. Alice Brady plays his wife, Angelica, whose mind is so scattershot that listening to her talk is like watching a rubber ball ricochet around a room. Brady, a veteran of the stage and silent film era, goes for broke with the performance, which earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Her partner in comedy throughout the film is Mischa Auer as Angelica’s “protégé,” Carlo, really just a moocher with a healthy appetite for the Bullock’s food and a desire to avoid any actual labor to justify his existence. Auer also picked up an Oscar nomination, thanks mainly to the scenes where he and Brady tag team with their fast-paced, madcap antics. The least nutty but most pernicious of the lot is Gail Patrick as Irene’s sister Cornelia, who spends much of the picture trying to get Godfrey fired, partly to spite the smitten Irene, partly because Godfrey rebukes her, and partly because she just enjoys stirring up trouble. Taken together, the Bullocks are such a handful that we understand why Molly (Jean Dixon), their shrewd, experienced maid, expects Godfrey to make a speedy exit.

My Man Godfrey (1936) William Powell, Gail Patrick
Godfrey’s ragged clothes stand out in the opulence of the scavenger hunt crowd, but not to his detriment. His dignified poverty calls out their vanity and foolishness, a fact that galls Cornelia especially.

Godfrey, however, has a more serious turn of mind and plans that go far beyond a butler’s paycheck in return for his labors. Taken up by Irene as a “forgotten man” for the wealthy revelers’ scavenger hunt, he’s really a Harvard graduate and scion of a lofty Boston family whose life fell apart after his marriage ended in disaster. Having seen the misery and resilience of the jobless men living at the dump, Godfrey has experienced an epiphany. He’s out to shake things up and make a difference, and that journey is really the heart of the story, even if it’s told in and around the hilarious comedic scenes. Godfrey knows that he was once as naïve and shallow as the Bullocks are now, a point he makes clear to Cornelia, but he has seen up close how the other half lives and realizes that the men society has forgotten have a lot to teach the upper classes about dignity, resilience, and the value of life. Godfrey takes his butler job seriously and strives to do justice to it because he knows that it’s not beneath him to work hard, but he also knows that his privileged background makes him both able and obligated to give the forgotten men of the dump the same opportunity to earn a living.

My Man Godfrey (1936) William Powell, Carole Lombard, Jean Dixon
Godfrey attracts the devotion of both Irene and Molly, who bond over their shared love for the seemingly oblivious butler.

He’s rightfully incensed by the scavenger hunt that equates a suffering human being with a goat or a bowl of goldfish, but he’s not so much angry on his own behalf as is he for the other men he has gotten to know and respect. A lot of Godfrey’s evolution as a character takes place before the story begins, so that we only see the third act, as it were, of his development; he’s already riding the redemptive arc from the nadir of being a suicidal wreck ready to throw himself into the river. That decision feels intentional within the framework of the film, given that this is a story originally being told to people who are actually living through the Great Depression. Godfrey functions as a beacon of hope and a catalyst for change. “Prosperity,” as Godfrey tells his friend, Mike, “is just around the corner,” and Godfrey himself is its agent.

My Man Godfrey (1936) Carole Lombard, William Powell
Irene’s love for Godfrey is so pure that she enjoys even the most mundane tasks, like washing up dishes, as long as she’s with him.

In another kind of movie, Godfrey’s personal growth and business success would be reward enough for his enlightenment, but since this is a screwball comedy he also has to be rewarded – or punished, depending on how you feel – with the disruptive, chaotic life force that a screwball heroine embodies. Life with Irene will never be dull, although it might make rational conversation hard to come by, but Irene also brings an unshakable devotion that was tragically missing in Godfrey’s previous marriage. Irene loves him when she thinks he’s a homeless nobody, she loves him when she thinks he’s a butler, and she loves him when she finds him running a prosperous nightclub. Unaware of the revolution in his circumstances, Irene even brings firewood and food with her to the former site of the dump when she runs away from home to be with him. She might not be logical or wise, but she is faithful, generous, and determined to overcome any obstacle. There’s a lot to love in a personality like that, especially during the Depression, when loyalty, generosity, and determination were needed even more to get through troubled times.

My Man Godfrey is a brilliant comedy, but I appreciate how much more there is to it. It’s social commentary and call to action made palatable by rapid patter and bright laughter. For a similar take on the same themes, pair it with Sullivan’s Travels (1941), or move into full-strength Depression drama with The Grapes of Wrath (1940). My Man Godfrey earned six Oscar nominations, including acting nods for Powell, Lombard, Brady, and Auer, as well as Best Director and Screenplay, but it went home empty-handed in a year of strong contenders.

— 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: In search of the Yeti

Monsters and Matinees: In search of the Yeti

Horror movies of the 1950s fed off real-world fears in a way – it feels so wrong to say – many of us have enjoyed. Paranoia about nuclear war and Communism, among other threats, were turned into a horror movie industry of big bugs (Them!), radioactive horrors (Day the World Ended) and alien attacks (Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

But something else captured the public’s imagination in the 1950s and, while it didn’t create panic or was a danger like nuclear annihilation, it was a much talked about curiosity that remains with us today: the search for the Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas.

Reports of the Yeti and similar creatures can be traced back for centuries, but there was a renewed interest in the creature during the 1950s after climber Eric Shipton took photos of an enlarged footprint while climbing Mount Everest in 1951. Two years later, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who were the first to reach the top of Everest, also reported seeing large, unexplained tracks.

Peter Cushing in a publicity still from The Abominable Snowman.

Talk of the Yeti grew, as did interest in proving its existence. A London newspaper even mounted an expedition to find it. There were so many expeditions that rules were set, and the American Embassy in Kathmandu even issued the memo Regulations Governing Mountain Climbing Expeditions in Nepal – Relating to Yeti from regional guidelines.

There were three rules: Expedition permits had to be purchased through the Nepalese government; a Yeti could be photographed or captured but not killed and all photographs or captured Yeti must be surrendered to the government; finally, any information “throwing light” on the creature’s existence had to be submitted to the government before being made public.

Though not one expedition has yet to produce a Yeti, we do have movies to enjoy.

The Snow Creature (1954), the Japanese film Half Human (1955), Man Beast (1956) and The Abominable Snowman (1957) are four movies from that decade alone, with others following in subsequent years that took on such variations as Big Foot in the U.S. and Sasquatch in Canada.

In the 1950s films, moviegoers often only saw glimpses of the Yeti, like a giant hand, to build suspense about the creature as in Hammer’s The Abominable Snowman.

You’ll notice much documentary-style footage of snowy regions and climbers. There will be footprints (many footprints) and well-meaning researchers spouting things like “This is not a hunting party” to adventurers looking to make a buck. Violence is implied mostly by off-camera screams. The Yeti is shown in pieces, like a hairy arm, or in shadows to build suspense to the big reveal which isn’t very big or scary.

Even with the rich folkloric material and a ready-made beast, the movies generally plod along before dwindling out to the end credits.

Hammer takes on the Yeti

The most intriguing story belongs to the best-known Yeti film of the 1950s, The Abominable Snowman. It was based on the 1955 BBC TV play The Creature by Nigel Kneale, who was inspired to write it after learning that the London newspaper’s expedition for the Yeti did find mysterious tracks but had no explanation for them. Kneale said at the time that he wrote The Creature as his guess to explain the footprints, but he doesn’t give himself enough credit for his thoughtful exploration of the legend. (The TV play was broadcast live twice but was not recorded so it is considered lost.)

Dr. John Rollason (played by Peter Cushing in both the TV and film versions) is studying plant specimens in a Tibetan monastery where he joins adventurer Tom Friend on an expedition to find the Yeti. (Also appearing in both versions is Arnold Marle as the mysterious Lhama.)

Peter Cushing and Forrest Tucker, center, take part in an expedition up the Himalayans for different reasons in The Abominable Snowman.

Before watching the film, put aside your expectations of what you are used to seeing in a Hammer film starring Peter Cushing (it was his second movie for the studio) because that’s not what you get here. It is certainly a tense thriller with horror elements, but Kneale’s considerate script gets the audience in sync with Dr. Rollason who questions what defines a monster and posits the idea of the Yeti being “parallel evolution” to humanity.

The good doctor goes on the expedition much to the chagrin of his wife Helen (Maureen Connell), also a researcher (a part added to the film). She doesn’t trust Tom Friend (played by Forrest Tucker) or the Sherpa guide Kusang (Wolfe Morris) who will take her husband up the Himalayas to learn the truth behind the Yeti.

Rounding out the small party are trapper Ed Shelley (Robert Brown) and Scottish photographer Andrew McNee (Michael Brill), who once glimpsed a Yeti. All play an important role.

It’s clear that Dr. Rollason and Friend have different motivations for the expedition – one is there for science, the other for money and glory. The tension between the two men is palpable and grows through the film.

As they climb higher, the men become strangely affected, especially McNee who hears things others don’t and often gazes into the distance like he’s in a trance. They blame it on the thin air, but you get the feeling they don’t believe it.

Strange things start to happen to men on an expedition in The Abominable Snowman. Forrest Tucker, left, and Peter Cushing help their photographer (Michael Brill) after he falls into another trance.

They do find proof of the Yeti in 13-inch-long footprints that show the stride of something that can stand up to 8-feet tall. The explorers set little bear-like traps that catch one of their own but are easily torn apart by “something” else.

When they finally have proof a Yeti, it sets other things in motion as sad howls and cries are carried on the wind, again affecting the men.

Peter Cushing comes face to face with The Abominable Snowman in the 1957 Hammer Films production.

Dr. Rollason’s empathy for the Yeti grows as he believes they are trapped in the evolutionary process and are hiding in misery of the harsh Himalayan environment to die. (Yes, it’s depressing.) Not only do those compassionate words for the Yeti take this film up a notch, but so does the mystical turn that makes us wonder if they have powers we can’t understand. (And what role does the Lhama play, if any?)

Trivia: The Abominable Snowman was directed by Val Guest, whose work with writer Kneale and Hammer Films also included The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) and Quartermass 2 (1957).

The film was originally going to be titled The Snow Creature, until they learned that title was already taken.

Other films

The Snow Creature (1954) was directed by W. Lee Wilder, brother of Billy Wilder, and written by his son Myles Wilder in the vein of King Kong. Don’t expect that same clever Billy Wilder touch, though.

Botanist Frank Parrish (played by Paul Langton) and photographer Leslie Denison (Peter Wells) are on a Himalayan expedition to study plant life.

But when their Sherpa guide Subra (Teru Shimada) learns his wife has been taken by a Yeti, he forces the group to change course and look for her.

They do find a Yeti and somehow build a cage to transport it down the mountain, then concoct a large, refrigerated box that looks like a telephone booth to get it to California. We know it won’t hold the Yeti, so we bide our time (just a few minutes) until it gets loose and mysteriously makes its way around the city without being seen. (This part of the film recalls a similar setting from one of the best 1950s horror movies.) Good for the Yeti, by the way, who discovers a meat packing freezer where it can eat, be cold and hide for a while.

Though the creature doesn’t do much damage and there’s barely a body count, the cops are out to get it on a boring city-wide creature hunt that slows the film to a crawl.

Half Human (AKA Half Human: The Abominable Snowman) was a Japanese film directed by Ishiro Honda in 1955. It was dubbed and re-edited for its U.S. release in 1958, adding footage of John Carradine explaining the story to his colleagues. (The Japanese version, as expected, is considered superior to the reworked U.S. film.)

A poster for the U.S. release of Half Human.

A reporter meets with two mountaineering students who share a strange tale about their ski trip in the Japanese Alps. They were part of a group that split in two with some going to a friend’s cabin and the others to a lodge. A blizzard strikes and the next day a search party finds the cabin destroyed with a dead body and giant footprints. Rescue efforts can’t resume until the spring thaw, the same time another group led by an animal broker is out searching for the Abominable Snowman.

It gets muddled as the good-guy searchers are targeted by both the bad-guy animal broker and the villagers who honor a “Mountain Lord.” All the while, that Mountain Lord is around and may not be alone.

Trivia: Actors Momoko Ōkōchi and Akira Takarada are well-known for their roles in multiple Godzilla films.

Man Beast (1956) clearly had such a low budget that they couldn’t afford to rent proper winter gear for the characters seen tracking through the Himalayas without scarves or gloves. (They blow into their hands a lot to “warm them up.”)

The title comes from the question most often asked when discussing the Yeti: Is it man or beast? Man Beast has an interesting answer that would make a sold movie. But with such poor acting and low production values, this is not that film.

These hearty explorers climb the Himalayas without gloves or winter gear in Man Beast.

Connie Hayward (Virginia Maynor) is a concerned sister who gets her annoying boyfriend Trevor Hudson (Lloyd Nelson, AKA Lloyd Cameron) to travel with her to the Himalayas in search of her brother. They meet Steve (Tom Maruzzi) who reluctantly agrees to take them to find her brother’s camp, where they learn he is missing. They continue their search with the help of Dr. Erickson (George Wells Lewis) and the strange-looking climber and guide Varga (George Skaff), who has made more expeditions to find the Yeti than anyone else, but also tends to lose at least one member of his team each time.

By the end, the film has traveled into that intriguing territory that it fails to deliver on, with things quickly explained and then wrapped up.

Trivia: Billed as Virginia Maynor, actress Asa Maynor will be familiar to “Twilight Zone” fans as the stewardess in the famous episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

Asa Maynor and William Shatner in Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

 Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

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Classic Movie Travels: Betty White

Classic Movie Travels: Betty White

Betty White Headshot
Betty White

Betty White was an American actress and comedian who has worked across many different mediums and is a beloved icon today. He career has spanned over nine decades within the entertainment industry, with her having the distinction of being one of the first women to produce a sitcom and executing creative control both in front of the camera and behind it. White was to turn 100 on January 17, 2022; sadly, she passed away on December 31, 2021. While her wit and joyful presence will sorely be missed, there is still much to celebrate regarding White’s career.

Betty Marion White was born in Oak Park, Illinois, on January 17, 1922, to homemaker Christine Tess and salesman Horace Logan White. When she was one year old, her family moved to Alhambra, California, followed by Los Angeles, California. White graduated from Beverly Hills High School in 1939 and dreamed of becoming a forest ranger, though women were not allowed to serve in that profession. Instead, she realized an interest in performing, idolizing Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. As a result, she turned to acting.

Betty White young
A young Betty

Prior to this realization, White had already had some experience with performance. In the early 1930s, she appeared on a radio program. Following her graduation, she and a classmate sang songs from The Merry Widow on a television program. She also found work in modeling, though she put her career on hold with the start of World War II, serving with the American Women’s Voluntary Services.

White struggled to find film roles, so she instead appeared in radio programs to execute bit parts or participate in commercials. Eventually, she was offered her own radio show, The Betty White Show, soon followed by co-hosting Hollywood on Television with Al Jarvis on television. When Jarvis left, she hosted the show on her own, receiving a nomination for the Best Actress Emmy Award. In the same year, she co-founded the production company Bandy Productions. White and co-founders George Tibbles and Don Fedderson developed Life with Elizabeth, a sitcom with White portraying the title role. As a result, White became one of the first few women of television.

Betty White early career NBC
Betty White, early in her long career

As the years went on, White became a staple in game shows as well as continued work in television shows. She appeared on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Carol Burnett Show, Mama’s Family, and played the signature role of Rose Nylund in the hit show The Golden Girls. White won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series for the first season of The Golden Girls and was nominated in that category for each subsequent year of the show’s run. Once the show ended, White also appeared in The Golden Palace, The Bold and the Beautiful, and more.

White also carried out various supporting roles in films, including The Proposal (2009) and voiceover work in Toy Story 4 (2019), and hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live in 2010.

In 2012, White won a Grammy Award in the spoken word category for her recording of her best-selling book, If You Ask Me. She was also awarded the UCLA Jack Benny Award for Comedy. Her career was explored in the PBS documentary Betty White: First Lady of Television.

White’s 100th birthday is slated to be celebrated across theaters throughout the United States, with the showing of a documentary-style film celebrating White’s life and career. The film is titled Betty White: 100 Years Young—A Birthday Celebration. The event will still go on in her honor.

Betty White 100th birthday celebration
Betty’s 100th Birthday Celebration will go on in her honor

White was a devoted animal health advocate and humanitarian. She worked with the Los Angeles Zoo Commission (having been a board member), Morris Animal Foundation (as president emerita), African Wildlife Foundation, and more. She regularly donated as well as raised funds for various organizations.

Throughout her career, White was lauded with a vast array of performing and humanitarian awards. White is the only woman to have won an Emmy in all of the performing comedic categories. She was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame in 1995. Moreover, White’s lifelong dream of becoming a forest ranger was fulfilled; she was made an honorary forest ranger in 2010 by the USDA Forest Service.

Presently, there are various points of interest to White’s life and career that remain.

In 1930, White’s family resided at 454 N. Harper Ave., Los Angeles, California. The home remains today.

Betty White home 454 N. Harper Ave., Los Angeles, California
454 N. Harper Ave., Los Angeles, California

By 1940, they resided at 11444 Ayrshire Rd., Los Angeles, California. This home also stands.

Betty White home 11444 Ayrshire Rd., Los Angeles, California
11444 Ayrshire Rd., Los Angeles, California

White’s alma mater, Beverly Hills High School, is located at 241 S. Moreno Dr., Beverly Hills, California.

Betty White Beverly Hills Highschool
Beverly Hills High School

Additionally, White is celebrated at the Los Angeles Zoo with an honorary plaque near the gorilla exhibit. The zoo is located at 5333 Zoo Dr., Los Angeles, California.

Betty White's plaque at the Los Angeles Zoo
Betty’s plaque at the Los Angeles Zoo

White’s handprints are also featured in the Disney Legends Plaza in Disney’s Burbank, California, studios.

Betty White Disney Legends Handprints
White’s handprints at the Disney Legends Plaza

White also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on the Northside of the 6700 block on Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California.

Betty White Hollwood Walk of Fame star
Her Star on The Walk of Fame

White’s work in radio, television, and films continues to be enjoyed by fans across multiple generations all over the world.

–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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What Ever Happened to Orson Welles – Book Giveaway (Jan)

“What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career”
We have Four Books to Giveaway this Month!

CMH is happy to announce our first 2022 Classic Movie Book Giveaway as part of our partnership with University Press of Kentucky! This time, we’ll be giving away FOUR COPIES of What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career by Joseph McBride.

In order to qualify to win this book via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, Jan 29, 2022 at 6PM EST. Winners will be chosen via random drawings.

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We will announce our four lucky winners on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub on Sunday, Jan 30, 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 Jan 30.

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Orson Welles, Victor Millan, Joseph Calleia and Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil (1958)
Orson Welles, Victor Millan, Joseph Calleia and Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil (1958)

And now on to the contest!

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, January 29, 2022 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 “What Ever Happened to Orson Welles?: A Portrait of an Independent Career” #BookGiveaway courtesy of @KentuckyPress & @ClassicMovieHub – #EnterToWin here http://www.classicmoviehub.com/blog/what-ever-happened-to-orson-welles-book-giveaway-jan/

THE QUESTION:
What is your favorite Orson Welles 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: In this intimate and often surprising personal portrait, Joseph McBride challenges the conventional wisdom that Welles’s career after CitizenKane, widely regarded as the greatest film ever made, fell into a long decline. The author shows instead how Welles never stopped directing radical, adventurous films and was always breaking new artistic ground as a filmmaker. McBride is the first author to provide a comprehensive examination of the films of Welles’s artistically rich yet widely misunderstood later period in the United States (1970–1985), when McBride knew the director and worked with him as an actor on The Other Side of the Wind, Welles’s personal testament on filmmaking. To put Welles’s later years into context, the author reexamines the filmmaker’s entire life and career. This newly updated edition rounds out the story with a final chapter analyzing The Other Side of the Wind, finally completed in 2018, and his rediscovered 1938 film, Too Much Johnson.McBride offers many fresh insights into the collapse of Welles’s Hollywood career in the 1940s, his subsequent political blacklisting, and his long period of European exile. What Ever Happened to Orson Welles? serves as a major reinterpretation of Welles’s life and work. McBride’s revealing portrait changes the framework for how Orson Welles is understood as a man, an actor, a political figure, and a filmmaker.

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 it on amazon by clicking below:

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

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Western RoundUp: Hidden Gems, Vol. 4

Western RoundUp: Hidden Gems, Vol. 4

This month I’ll be sharing another round of what I like to call “Hidden Gems,” Westerns which are lesser-known yet entertaining films worth seeking out.

Below are brief sketches of a trio of worthwhile movies from the latter half of the ’50s. Happily, all are available on DVD and/or Blu-ray.

I’d love comments from others who have enjoyed any of these films, and I hope viewers who are unfamiliar with them might seek them out in the New Year.

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Stranger at My Door (William Witney, 1956)

Stranger At My Door Poster

Stranger at My Door, a personal favorite of director William Witney, is a “psychological Western” with some powerful moments. The story concerns a bank robber, Clay (Skip Homeier), who takes refuge at the home of a minister (Macdonald Carey) after his horse goes lame. The minister quickly realizes Clay’s true identity but — despite the danger to his little boy (Stephen Wootton) and his new wife Peg (Patricia Medina) — attempts to break through to Clay with Christian kindness. Things go awry when the sheriff (Louis Jean Heydt) arrives at the farm and realizes Clay’s identity.

Stranger A tMy Door Macdonald Carey Patricia Medina
Macdonald Carey and Patricia Medina, Stranger at My Door

The screenplay by Barry Shipman goes much deeper than this bare bones description sounds, raising interesting questions along the way. There’s a memorable set piece in which a wild horse tears up the farm; the horse is clearly a metaphorical reference to Clay. Peg attempts to shoot the horse but can’t bring herself to do it, symbolizing her own conflicted feelings regarding the stranger in their midst. Like many good movies, Stranger at My Door leaves viewers pondering its themes long after “The End” comes on the screen, though my one quibble about the film is I would have liked to have a few more of my questions answered!

Stranger At My Door Skip Homeier Stephen Wootton
Skip Homeier and Stephen Wootton

Stranger at My Door is compellingly directed by Witney, who specialized in Westerns over the course of his decades-long career in films and television. For those wondering about the horse sequence, the animal was very extensively trained by one of the great stuntmen in the business, Joe Yrigoyen. The movie was filmed in black and white by Bud Thackery.

Stranger at My Door is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.

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The Quiet Gun (William F. Claxton, 1957)

Quiet Gun Poster

The Quiet Gun is a strong film directed by William F. Claxton, best known for his longtime work on TV Westerns such as The High Chaparral and Bonanza. It was written by Eric Norden, adapted by Norden and Earle Lyon from the novel Law Man by Lauran Paine.

In a film which has echoes of High Noon (1952), Forrest Tucker is superb as Sheriff Carl Brandon, a world-weary yet honorable man who won’t ever back down from doing the right thing. Trouble arrives in town in the form of nasty troublemaker Sadler (Lee Van Cleef); more problems arrive on the stagecoach with Teresa (Kathleen Crowley), whose estranged husband (Jim Davis) has stirred up local outrage keeping company with an Indian girl (Mara Corday). The Sheriff’s unspoken feelings for Teresa further complicate matters.

Quiet Gun Forrest Tucker Lee Van Cleef
Forrest Tucker and Lee Van Cleef, The Quiet Gun

Tucker gives a nuanced performance, much of which is communicated nonverbally; there’s a great moment I love where he goes in a saloon and stares down Van Cleef. Tucker has excellent support from a fine cast which also includes Hank Worden, Vince Barnett, and Tom Brown.

Quiet Gun Van Cleef Forrest Tucker
Van Cleef and Tucker

The movie was beautifully filmed in widescreen black and white Regalscope by John Mescall. The film’s Southern California locations included Corriganville, which I wrote about here at Classic Movie Hub earlier this year.

The Quiet Gun is a special movie which I recommend.

The Quiet Gun is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.

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Gunsmoke in Tucson (Thomas Carr, 1958)

Gunsmoke in Tucson Poster

Mark Stevens might not readily come to mind as a Western star, but he was a compelling presence in a handful of ’50s Westerns, including Jack Slade (1953) and Gunsight Ridge (1957).

My favorite of Stevens’ Westerns might be Gunsmoke in Tucson, in which he plays one-time outlaw Chip Coburn, who’s spent eight years in jail thanks to his brother, Marshal John Brazos (Forrest Tucker). Upon his release Chip intends to turn over a new leaf and ranch, and he patiently avoids numerous confrontations arranged by Bodeen (Vaughn Taylor), who’d like to see him back in jail, or worse. But when an innocent farmer (Kevin Hagen) is targeted by one of Bodeen’s men, Chip finally goes into action, backed by his friend Slick (John Ward).

Gunsmoke in Tucson Mark Stevens
Mark Stevens, Gunsmoke in Tucson

Stevens wasn’t conventionally handsome by this point in his career, yet his performance demands viewer attention. What he lacks in size and good looks he makes up for with attitude and charisma. Ward, an actor who was previously unfamiliar to me, is also terrific as Slick. It’s a great deal of fun watching them deal with the bad guys while Chip also resolves his conflicted relationship with his brother.

Gunsmoke in Tucson Mark Stevens Forrest Tucker
Mark Stevens and Forrest Tucker

Gunsmoke in Tucson was nicely filmed in Deluxe color and CinemaScope by William P. Whitley; the film’s locations included Old Tucson. The screenplay was by Robert Joseph and Paul Leslie Peil, based on Peil’s story.

Gunsmoke in Tucson is available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive Collection.

For previous “Hidden Gems” recommendations, please visit Volume 1 (January 2020), Volume 2 (November 2020), and Volume 3 (May 2021).

Best wishes to all my readers for a very happy 2022!

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– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

You can read all of Laura’s Western RoundUp columns here.

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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Film Noir Review: Touch of Evil (1958)

“Your future’s all used up.”

Orson Welles was an architect of film noir before the style had even been identified. His debut release, Citizen Kane (1941), was revolutionary for the artform as a whole, but the film’s shadowy visuals and elaborate flashbacks had the biggest impact on the burgeoning postwar movement. Welles recognized how well his storytelling instincts melded with noir, making it no coincidence that his most notable bids for commercial success, The Stranger (1946) and The Lady from Shanghai (1948), were made explicitly in this style (the former was a mild success, the latter a notorious dud).

Touch of Evil (1958) is a different story altogether. Welles had already spent a decade as Hollywood’s persona non grata by the time the film came along, and the only reliable jobs he was able to book at the time were grandiose supporting parts. He was originally brought onto Touch of Evil as an actor and only an actor, and it took the suggestion of the film’s star, Charlton Heston, for Universal Studios to take him on as writer/director (they had previously struggled to find a suitable fit). Here he was, working with the biggest name in Hollywood, armed with an adaptation of a popular crime novel (Badge of Evil), and free to do whatever he wanted as long as he stayed on schedule. If ever a film looked to be a surefire hit.

The film’s striking half sheet poster.

The fable about the scorpion and the frog comes to mind when discussing Welles’ filmmaking approach. In the fable, the scorpion promises not to sting the frog so long as he allows him to cross the river on his back. The frog agrees, but the scorpion cannot help itself. It stings the frog, resulting in both of their deaths. Welles was a force of nature, and no matter how hard he tried to make a conventional film, he could never fully rein in his idiosyncrasies. Touch of Evil died a miserable death at the box office, much like the Scorpion, but its artistry is absolutely undeniable.

The opening shot of the film has become the stuff of legend. In a single, unbroken crane shot, the viewer is left to grip their armchairs and watch as a car bomb passes through a crowded bordertown street. It’s a technical tour de force, marrying tension, diegetic noise, exposition, and exquisite camera placement to establish the tone and rhythm of Welles’ scuzzy bordertown. If one had to pick a scene to encapsulate the filmmaker’s uncanny command of sight and sound, it would be this. You can practically smell the nighttime air as it passes.

The film’s bravura single take opening.

Mexican special prosecutor Mike Vargas (Heston) and his newlywed wife Susie (Janet Leigh) are among the nearby denizens, and their witnessing of the explosion sets off a chain of events that ripple through the rest of the story. Vargas is forced to cut his honeymoon short to investigate the cause of the explosion, and Susie is left to fend off advances/threats from the notorious Grandi family. 

Vargas’ investigation is complicated by the arrival of local police captain Hank Quinlan (Welles). The man is known for getting results, but his methodology has a reputation for being unethical and/or outright illegal. On the border, nobody looks too closely at the evidence, or whether it may have been planted. Quinlan chews up the scenery from the moment he enters, like so many bowls of chili at the gypsy tent. His grotesqueness is a manifestation of both his physical and moral decay, and the passing moments of clarity we glimpse only come about when he’s forced to reckon with what he’s become. He can’t even remember what decency feels like.

Welles relished playing the oafish Quinlan.

Welles is at his best when he’s tasked with playing boisterous men, and Quinlan certainly fits the bill. There are hints of the titular tycoon in Citizen Kane or the doomed Falstaff in Chimes at Midnight (1965), but what makes the Quinlan performance so exceptional is the way it’s tailored to fit the aesthetic of the rest of the film. Touch of Evil is a noir overflowing with discomforting camera angles and surreal, borderline nightmarish imagery. It’s akin to watching a funhouse mirror come to life, and Quinlan, with his blustering outbursts and uncouth monologues, reads like a corrupted soul that’s been reflected back through the same mirror.

Most audiences single out Heston playing a Mexican as the film’s lone weak point. The actor makes little effort to alter his star persona, save for the mustache and the slightly tanned skin (the term “brown face” had yet to be coined in Hollywood), but I’d actually say that he manages to hold his own against the napalm-like charisma of Welles. It was a wise decision not to have the actor attempt broken English, or tack on “senor” to each of his lines, and perhaps unintentionally, it adds a layer of subtext to the Vargas character.

Quinlan’s corruption clashes violently with Vargas’ virtue.

By presenting Vargas as a Mexican man who speaks English without an accent, the film furthers his disconnect from the Spanish speakers around him. Vargas spends the entire investigation torn between his fellow countrymen and the American lawmen; partially belonging to both without fully belonging to either. There’s not an overt payoff to the character’s identity crisis, but it adds immeasurably to the irony of Quinlan being more experienced when it comes to border crime.

From a visual standpoint, one would have to go frame-by-frame to pick out all of the film’s highlights. It’s one of the most inventive noir releases of all time, as it constantly finds new and different ways to present discomforting exchanges. The scene where Quinlan strangles Joe Grandi (Akim Tamiroff) takes the visual motif of the flashing neon sign to a horrific extreme, with the light only providing glimpses of Grandi’s bulging eyes.

“You’re gonna die here.”

The film’s conclusion alternates between extreme close-ups of Vargas and Quinlan that are so disjointed in presentation that they start to mirror the dulled senses of the latter. Kane may have been Welles at his most revolutionary, but Touch of Evil is Welles at his most flamboyant, and the results are unparalleled in their execution.

It may have died a horrible death upon release, but Touch of Evil has undergone a resurrection thanks to its lasting influence. Alfred Hitchcock borrowed generously from the film when it came time to make Psycho (right down to the use of Janet Leigh in a motel), and its hard to imagine the neo-noir works of David Lynch being the same were it not for slowly unraveling sanity of Welles’ yarn. It’s a film that provides something new each time out, and given how it pushes every trope and trick to the limit, it’s a worthy curtain closer for the classic noir period.

TRIVIA: Because of the studio’s lack of interference (at least, during production), Welles said that Touch of Evil was the most fun he ever had on a Hollywood set.

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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.

Posted in Film Noir Review, Posts by Danilo Castro | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Natalie Wood, Olivia de Havilland and Alla Nazimova – Happy Holiday Three-Book Giveaway (Happy Holidays)

“Natalie Wood: A Life”
“Olivia de Havilland: Lady Triumphant” &
“Nazimova: A Biography”
Three Books for Two Lucky Winners!

CMH is happy to announce our next Classic Movie Book Giveaway as part of our partnership with University Press of Kentucky! This time, we’ll be celebrating the Holidays with a three-book giveaway about iconic actresses!

That said, we’ll be giving away THREE books to TWO lucky winners— Natalie Wood: A Life by Gavin Lambert, Olivia de Havilland: Lady Triumphant by Victoria Amador, and Nazimova: A Biography by Gavin Lambert. And, yes, each winner will win all three books!

Natalie Wood, Olivia de Havilland and All Nazimova biographies

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In order to qualify to win this Prize Package via this contest giveaway, you must complete the below entry task by Saturday, January 1 at 6PM EST.

We will announce our two lucky winners on Twitter @ClassicMovieHub on Sunday, January 2, around 9PM EST. And, please note that you don’t have to have a Twitter account to enter; just see below for the details.

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

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And now on to the contest!

ENTRY TASK (2-parts) to be completed by Saturday, January 1, 2022 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 “Natalie Wood: A Life,” “Olivia de Havilland: Lady Triumphant” & “Alla Nazimova: A Biograpny” #BookGiveaway courtesy of @KentuckyPress & @ClassicMovieHub – Two lucky winners will win all three books  #EnterToWin here: http://www.classicmoviehub.com/blog/natalie-wood-olivia-de-havilland-and-alla-nazimova-happy-holiday-three-book-giveaway-happy-holidays/

THE QUESTION:
What are some of your favorite movies by these actresses? And, if you’re not familiar with their work, why do you want to win these books?

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

NOTE: if for any reason you encounter a problem commenting here on this blog, please feel free to tweet or DM us, or send an email to 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:

The Crane Legacy — with Author Robert Crane

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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 Books:

Natalie Wood: A Life: America watched Natalie Wood grow up on the silver screen. You can still see her childhood in Miracle on 34th Street and her adolescence in Rebel Without a Cause. Her coming of age? Still playing in Splendor in the Grass and West Side Story and countless other timeless movies. From the moment Natalie Wood made her cinematic debut in 1946 in Tomorrow Is Forever to her shocking, untimely death in 1981, the decades of her life are punctuated by movies that even today, reside in the hearts and imagination of the American people. Acclaimed novelist, biographer, critic, and screenwriter Gavin Lambert, whose twenty-year friendship with Natalie Wood began when she starred in the movie adaptation of his novel Inside Daisy Clover, recounts her extraordinary story. He relays to us details about her personal life, from her love affairs to her suicide attempt at twenty-six, the birth of her children to her friendships, her struggles as an actress to her tragic and mysterious death at the age of forty-three. For the first time, everyone who was close to Natalie Wood speaks freely―including her husbands, Robert Wagner and Richard Gregson, famously private people like Warren Beatty, intimate friends such as playwright Mart Crowley, directors Robert Mulligan and Paul Mazursky, and Leslie Caron, each of whom told the author stories about this remarkable woman who was so full of life but always on the brink of despair.

Olivia de Havilland: Lady Triumphant: Legendary actress and two-time Academy Award winner Olivia de Havilland (1916–2020) is best known for her role as Melanie Wilkes in Gone with the Wind (1939). She often inhabited characters who were delicate, elegant, and refined. At the same time, she was a survivor with a fierce desire to direct her own destiny on and off the screen. She won a lawsuit against Warner Bros. over a contract dispute that changed the studio contract system forever, and is also noted for her long feud with her sister, actress Joan Fontaine. Victoria Amador utilizes extensive interviews and forty years of personal correspondence with de Havilland to present an in-depth look at the life and career of this celebrated actress, from her theatrical ambitions at a young age to becoming one of the most well-known starlets in Tinseltown. Readers are given an inside look at her love affairs with iconic cinema figures such as James Stewart and John Huston, as well as her onscreen partnership with Errol Flynn. Amador also details how de Havilland became the first woman to serve as the president of the Cannes Film Festival in 1965, and showcases how, even in her later years, she remained active but selective in film and television until 1988. A new chapter covers de Havilland’s death at the age of 104 in July 2020.Olivia de HavillandLady Triumphant is a tribute to one of Hollywood’s greatest legends―a lady who evolved from a gentle heroine to a strong-willed, respected, and admired artist.

Nazimova: A Biography: A forgotten legend, Alla Nazimova (1879–1945) was an electrifying Russian-born actress who brought Stanislavsky and Chekhov to American theater, who was applauded, praised, adored―an icon of the stage and screen for forty years, before fading into the shadows of time. Gavin Lambert unearthed Nazimova’s unpublished memoirs, letters, and notes, writing an evocative account of her extraordinary life. Nazimova began her career on the stage. Her shockingly natural approach to acting transformed the theater of her day―she thrilled Laurette Taylor, and the first time Tennessee Williams saw her he knew he wanted to be a playwright (“She was so shatteringly powerful that I couldn’t stay in my seat”). She later ventured into film, signing a contract with Metro Pictures before it was MGM and becoming the highest-paid actress in silent pictures, ultimately writing, directing, and producing her own movies and forming her own film company. She was the only actress, other than Mae West, to become a movie star at forty, and was the first to cultivate the image of the foreign sophisticate.

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

Posted in Books, Contests & Giveaways | Tagged , , , , | 28 Comments

Happy Holidays – Free Streaming at Best Classics Ever

12 Classic Movies Streaming at Best Classics Ever!

CMH is happy to say that our friends over at Best Classics Ever have made 12 classic movies available for free streaming as a Happy Holidays gift to us classic movie fans! And, of course, they included a couple of my favorites 🙂

penny serenade
meet john doe

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So, visit Best Classics Ever here to start watching these fun titles!

  • Penny Serenade
  • Meet John Doe
  • Scarlet Street
  • Father’s Little Dividend
  • The Kid
  • Royal Wedding
  • His Girl Friday
  • Angel and the Badman
  • A Star is Born
  • My Man Godfrey
  • Life with Father
  • Little Lord Fauntleroy
his girl friday
little lord fauntleroy

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You can read more about Best Classics Ever and our partnership here.

Hope you enjoy!

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–Annmarie Gatti for Classic Movie Hub

Posted in Best Classics Ever BCE, Posts by Annmarie Gatti, Streaming Movies & TV Shows | Leave a comment