Classic Movie Travels: Clifton Webb

Classic Movie Travels: Clifton Webb

Clifton Webb Headshot
Clifton Webb

Clifton Webb was a gifted actor of Hollywood’s Golden Age, which succeeded in various film genres. He was born Webb Parmelee Hollenbeck on November 19, 1889, in Indianapolis, Indiana, to Jacob and Mabel Hollenbeck. His parents separated soon after Webb’s birth.

A few years later, Webb’s mother took on the name Mabelle and moved with her son to New York City. There, she married copper-foundry worker Green B. Raum.

In his teen years, Webb adopted the stage name Clifton Webb and worked as a professional ballroom dancer. His Broadway debut occurred in The Purple Road in 1913, with his mother being a fellow cast member. After a string of successes on Broadway shows, namely comedies and musical revues, he also worked in vaudeville shows as well as silent films. One of his early silent film roles was in New Toys (1925), though he would concentrate on a stage career for many years.

Webb grew to acclaim in Broadway theatre, particularly excelling in musicals. He had the distinction of introducing “Easter Parade,” “I’ve Got a Crush on You,” “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan,” and more on stage.

Clifton Webb young
a young Webb

Webb’s breakthrough performance came in Laura (1944). Against objections from 20th Century Fox head Darryl Zanuck, director Otto Preminger cast Webb in the role of Waldo Lydecker. At this point, Webb was in his mid-fifties, and Preminger wanted an actor in the role who would really surprise the audience. His appearance was a memorable one and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Due to this positive reception, Webb signed a contract with Fox and worked for them for the duration of his film career. Webb appeared in other dramas such as The Dark Corner (1946) and The Razor’s Edge (1946), earning another Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in the latter.

Webb also turned to film comedies, starring as Mr. Belvedere in Sitting Pretty (1948). This role earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. The film was followed by sequels Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949) and Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell (1951). He would also appear as the family patriarch in Cheaper by the Dozen (1950), which fared well at the box office, and also appeared briefly in the film’s sequel, Belles on Their Toes (1952).  His final box office success was playing an angel in For Heaven’s Sake (1950).

Clifton Webb and Gene Tierney in Laura (1944)
Clifton Webb and Gene Tierney in Laura (1944)

Webb went on to star as John Philip Sousa in Stars and Stripes Forever (1952). He also appeared in Three Coins in the Fountain (1954), The Man Who Never Was (1956), The Remarkable Mr. Pennypacker (1959), and more. Fox worked on creating Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959) with Webb in mind, but Webb had to back out of the project due to illness. His final role was in Satan Never Sleeps (1962).

Shirley Temple and Clifton Webb in Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949)
Shirley Temple and Clifton Webb in Mr. Belvedere Goes to College (1949)

Webb passed away on October 13, 1966, from a heart attack and was interred next to his mother at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. He was 76 years old.

Today, some points of interest pertaining to Webb’s life remain. He was born near Brookville Rd., in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1900, he lived in New York with his mother and stepfather at 101 17th St., New York, New York. By 1910, he resided at 214 W. 83rd St., New York, New York, while working as a singer. These homes no longer stand.

In 1925, Webb lived at 205 W. 57th St., New York, New York. He is listed as head of the household at this point. The building remains today.

Clifton Webb's NYC residence at 205 West 57th Street, New York, NY
Webb’s NYC residence at 205 West 57th Street, New York, NY

In 1955, Webb maintained a home at 1005 N. Rexford Dr., Beverly Hills, California. The home no longer stands.

Webb was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his work in motion pictures. His star is located at 6850 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California.

Clifton Webb's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Webb’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Since 1969, the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television has offered the Clifton Webb Scholarship in honor of Webb.

–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, Leading Ladies

Western RoundUp: Final Resting Places, Leading Ladies

In my last Western RoundUp column I shared photographs of the final resting places of a number of Western sidekicks and supporting Western players.

That column was focused on male actors, and this time around we’ll be sharing the gravestones of a baker’s dozen of leading ladies from both “A” and “B” Westerns.

Loretta Young headstone
Loretta Young 1913-2000

We’ll begin by paying our respects to Oscar-winning actress Loretta Young, who is buried with her mother at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California.  Film fans might not associate Young with Westerns, but she made some very good ones, including the delightful The Lady From Cheyenne (1941), in which she helps bring women the right to vote in 1860s Wyoming. That’s a film I’ve very much been hoping comes to DVD!  Young also starred with Gary Cooper and Dan Duryea in the Western comedy Along Came Jones (1945) and best of all, she costarred with William Holden and Robert Mitchum in a story of pioneering settlers, Rachel and the Stranger (1948).

Polly Ann Young headstone
Polly Ann Young 1908-1997

All three of Loretta Young’s sisters are buried at Holy Cross, and two of them appeared regularly in “B” Westerns.  Loretta’s oldest sister, Polly Ann Young, appeared in several ’30s Westerns opposite stars such as John Wayne, Buck Jones, and Tim McCoy.  Wayne, in fact, was a good friend of the Young family, and his first marriage took place in Loretta Young’s backyard.

Sally Blane headstone
Sally Blane 1910-1997

Another of Loretta Young’s sisters, actress Sally Blane, was originally born Elizabeth Jane Young.  She appeared in ’30s “B” Westerns opposite Hoot Gibson and Randolph Scott.  Sally was married to actor-director Norman Foster, who directed Loretta in the aforementioned Rachel and the Stranger; he would later direct Disney’s Davy Crockett and Zorro for television.  Foster is buried next to his wife.

Joan Leslie headstone
Joan Leslie 1925-2015

Actress Joan Leslie is also buried at Holy Cross.  Leslie was in several fine ’50s Westerns; my favorites are Man in the Saddle (1951) with Randolph Scott, Woman They Almost Lynched (1953) with John Lund and Audrey Totter, and Jubilee Trail (1954) with Forrest Tucker; the latter is a Technicolor film which deserves a Blu-ray release.  All three of these titles are worthy viewing.

Rita Hayworth headstone
Rita Hayworth 1918-1987

Also at Holy Cross is the gravesite of Rita Hayworth, who appeared in “B” Westerns early in her career.  She was still billed under her birth name, Rita Cansino, when she appeared in films such as the Three Mesquiteers Western Hit the Saddle (1937) and Tex Ritter’s Trouble in Texas (1937).  After changing her name to Rita Hayworth, she costarred in The Renegade Ranger (1938) with George O’Brien and Tim Holt.  As I discussed here in a 2019 column, “B” Westerns provided training and a path to bigger stardom for numerous actresses.

Marguerite Chapman headstone
Marguerite Chapman 1918-1999

Our final stop at Holy Cross is at the mauseoleum which is the last resting place of Marguerite Chapman. Chapman’s Westerns included the fine Relentless (1948) opposite Robert Young and one of Randolph Scott‘s best ’40s Westerns, Coroner Creek (1948).  She was also in one of Audie Murphy‘s earliest Westerns, Kansas Raiders (1950).

Janet Leigh headstone
Janet Leigh 1927-2004

Janet Leigh deserves mention here for her starring role in the outstanding Anthony Mann Western The Naked Spur (1953), which also starred James Stewart and Robert Ryan.  Leigh’s remains are at Westwood Village Memorial Park.

Cathy O'Donnell headstone
Cathy O’Donnell 1923-1970

Cathy O’Donnell also starred opposite James Stewart in an excellent Western directed by Anthony Mann, The Man From Laramie (1955).  She’s at Forest Lawn Glendale next to her husband, producer Robert Wyler, and his brother, the great director William Wyler, whose Westerns included The Big Country (1958).

Patrice Wymore headstone
Patrice Wymore 1926-2014

Patrice Wymore starred opposite her husband, Errol Flynn, in the well-regarded Rocky Mountain (1950).  She’s buried at Forest Lawn Glendale next to Flynn, whom she outlived by over half a century.  Wymore also starred opposite Kirk Douglas in The Big Trees (1952).

Julie Bishop headstone
Julie Bishop 1914-2001

Julie Bishop, who is buried under her married names, is also at Forest Lawn Glendale.  She was one of the wonderful actresses who starred in one of my all-time favorite Westerns, Westward the Women (1951), directed by William Wellman; I wrote about that movie’s locations here in 2021.  Early in Bishop’s career, acting under the name Jacqueline Wells, she appeared in “B” Westerns opposite Tom Tyler, Tim McCoy, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry.  Bishop was the mother of actress Pamela Susan Shoop.

June Storey headstone
June Storey 1918-1991

Another “B” Western leading lady, June Storey, is at Pacific View Memorial Park in Corona del Mar.  She was one of Gene Autry‘s most frequent leading ladies, appearing opposite him in 10 films. Her last Western was Song of the Prairie (1945) opposite Ken Curtis, later known for singing with the Sons of the Pioneers and as Festus on TV’s Gunsmoke.

Virginia Mayo headstone
Virginia Mayo 1920-2005

Virginia Mayo is buried next to her husband, actor Michael O’Shea, at Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, California.  Mayo did fine work in a number of Westerns; favorites include Colorado Territory (1949) with Joel McCreaThe Proud Ones (1956) with Robert Ryan, Fort Dobbs (1958) with Clint Walker, and Westbound (1959) with Randolph Scott.  The latter film tends to be ignored as a more minor title among Scott’s collaborations with director Budd Boetticher, but accepted on its own terms I find it quite enjoyable viewing.

Gloria Grahame headstone
Gloria Grahame 1923-1981

Finally we pay a visit to actress Gloria Grahame at Oakwood Memorial Park in Chatsworth, California.  Grahame starred in one of my very favorite lesser-known Westerns, Roughshod (1949), which I wrote about here in Hidden Gems, Vol. 2.  Grahame also played Ado Annie in what one might consider a Western musical, Oklahoma! (1955).

We’re very fortunate that all of these ladies made wonderful contributions to the Western film genre.

For additional photos of burial sites of Western stars, please visit my posts from May 2019February 2022, and November 2022.

– 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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Silver Screen Standards: Destry Rides Again (1939)

Silver Screen Standards: Destry Rides Again (1939)

The Western was new territory for leading man James Stewart in 1939, when he starred in director George Marshall’s star-studded, action-packed take on the oater, Destry Rides Again, but the film would usher Stewart into a genre where he clearly felt at home. He would go on to star in iconic Westerns for the next several decades, including Winchester ’73 (1950), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), How the West Was Won (1962), and The Shootist (1976), but his first foray into the genre remains a special moment in his career. Destry Rides Again stars the pre-war Stewart as our hero, a mild-mannered milk drinker with an unassuming manner that makes him an unlikely lawman for a wild frontier town. It’s a funny, rambunctious comedy with moments of drama; today we would call it a “dramedy” and know what to expect, but the mix gives the movie a modern feel in spite of its self-aware, old-fashioned Western tropes. A delightful cast featuring Marlene Dietrich, Charles Winninger, Una Merkel, Mischa Auer, Jack Carson, and Brian Donlevy also makes this a must-see movie for classic film fans, even if Westerns aren’t their usual fare.

Destry Stewart Winninger
Wash (Charles Winninger) doubts the suitability of young Tom Destry (James Stewart) for the tough job of cleaning up Bottleneck.

Stewart plays Tom Destry, Jr., the son of a famous lawman who is summoned to crime-ridden Bottleneck by his father’s old deputy, Washington “Wash” Dimsdale (Charles Winninger). Wash has been appointed Sheriff by the band of crooks who run the town because he’s an elderly alcoholic whom the villains see as a joke, but Wash is disappointed when Tom turns out to be a good-humored young man who doesn’t even carry guns. The saloon boss, Kent (Brian Donlevy), and crooked Judge Slade (Samuel S. Hinds) initially smirk at Tom’s seeming inadequacy, but everyone in Bottleneck soon learns that Tom is far more capable than they expected. Kent’s star attraction and girlfriend, Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich), is also impressed by Tom, but her interest in the young deputy conflicts with her involvement in Kent’s criminal schemes.

Destry Stewart Dietrich
Stewart’s mild-mannered hero attracts the attention of the gorgeous Frenchy (Marlene Dietrich), who entertains a rough crowd in the local saloon.

In his pictures before World War II, Stewart is often a mild, amiable character, tall and good-looking but by no means masculine in the same way as Western stars like John Wayne or even Joel McCrea. Young James Stewart doesn’t look like he belongs on a horse, and it certainly wasn’t the kind of movie he had done before. His other big picture of 1939, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, earned him his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor, and it’s easier to see the connections between that role and his Oscar-winning performance in The Philadelphia Story in 1940. Still, there’s an unexpected rightness about Stewart as Destry that presages the many Western roles to come, some of which, especially the 1950s pictures with director Anthony Mann, probe the darker side of his postwar persona as provocatively as Stewart’s thrillers with Alfred Hitchcock. Stewart’s collaborations with iconic Western director John Ford are also memorable, especially The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), in which Stewart and John Wayne share the lead roles. It’s worth noting, too, that Stewart’s last screen credit, for his voice work on An American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991), is a Western, a final bow more than fifty years after his first Western role. Destry Rides Again serves as the starting point for an essential part of Stewart’s career, even if it’s not the genre with which he is most associated today.

Destry Stewart Donlevy
Saloon boss Kent (Brian Donlevy) initially thinks Destry a joke, but he soon realizes the deputy is a threat to his schemes and his relationship with Frenchy.

Stewart is definitely the star of the movie, but Destry Rides Again also relies on its excellent supporting cast and gives them many memorable scenes in which to shine and play with the traditional genre types their characters embody. Dietrich, also new to the genre, has an especially delicious role as Frenchy; her musical numbers enliven the mood while her wavering loyalties keep the audience guessing about her motives. Dietrich’s fight scene with Una Merkel, who plays the more socially acceptable Lily Belle, is an absolute riot and a chance to see the women of a Western cut loose. Merkel also has terrific comic chemistry with Mischa Auer as her hen-pecked Russian husband, whom Lily Belle insists on calling by her previous husband’s surname. Charles Winninger nails the comedy and pathos of his role as the former deputy sunk into alcoholic buffoonery but still capable of turning himself around, and Brian Donlevy grins with malicious glee as the crime boss who runs the town. The only weak spot in the lineup might be Irene Hervey as fellow newcomer and love interest Janice Tyndall, who is completely overshadowed by Dietrich’s Frenchy and doesn’t have enough scenes or purpose to establish her character’s appeal to Tom. Hervey might have done more with the role had the role itself been better, but she has to share her few scenes with the forceful presence of a young Jack Carson as Janice’s brother. Fans of character actors will appreciate even minor players like Samuel S. Hinds, Billy Gilbert, and Virginia Brissac, who, like Carson, make the most of their time onscreen.

Destry Stewart Catfight
Destry has to break up a chaotic catfight between Frenchy and Lily Belle (Una Merkel) after Frenchy cons Lily Belle’s husband out of his pants.

If you enjoy lively Westerns, Destry Rides Again fits the bill in spades, but it’s also a good introductory Western for those who might have steered clear of the genre in the past. Stewart’s hero, lanky, kind, and quick with a funny story, is an antidote to the gun-toting machismo that sometimes repels viewers, and the energetic comedy keeps the heavier scenes from being too grim. Dietrich’s performance is hilariously parodied by Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles (1974), which makes a good follow-up feature for a weekend double bill. George Marshall directed a remake, Destry (1954), starring Audie Murphy in the title role, and the story also inspired a Broadway musical in 1959 and a TV series in 1964. For even more James Stewart Westerns, try Bend of the River (1952), The Man from Laramie (1955), or The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), which sees Stewart team up with fellow Western star and real-life best friend Henry Fonda for an amusing comedy about two aging cowboys who end up in charge of a brothel.

— 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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Film Noir Review: Marlowe (1969)

“It would give me great pleasure to see you do something foolish.”

The private detective struggled to find footing in the swinging sixties. The occupation, as far Hollywood was concerned, almost went extinct in the decade prior (save for a few exceptions: Kiss Me Deadly being the most notable). The first half of the sixties was all about super spies, secret agents, and the campy tone that accompanied them. The James Bond franchise, the Matt Helm franchise, etc.

When the private detective did come back around, he traded in postwar cynicism for post-hippie mockery. Harper (1966) got the ball rolling, and when it proved a hit, the guy who turned it down, Frank Sinatra, opted to make Tony Rome (1967). These detectives were conscious of the tropes they perpetuated, and went about them with a wink. The winking era didn’t peak with Lew Harper or Mr. Rome, however. In a supreme case of irony, it peaked with the character most closely associated with the classic era: Philip Marlowe. More specifically, Marlowe in Marlowe (1969).

The original lobby cards for Marlowe.

This is a silly film. The most famous scene involves henchman Winslow Wong (Bruce Lee) karate-chopping his way through Marlowe’s office, while the latter just sits there and watches. It reeks of the type of gimmicky that typified the Bond films of the day, and is arguably one of the least noir-sequences ever put into an official noir. If one were looking from a particularly critical vantage point, they could argue that it resembles something out of the Batman TV show. The flat lighting and Marlowe’s mugging (his rationale when the rubble gets discovered is to blame “termites”) certainly welcome the comparison.

The film has a slightness to it that did little to distinguish it from its peers, and truthfully, the adaptation by writer/director Paul Bogart leaves much to be desired. It’s messily told, and the motivations of the characters are harder to follow than they are in the Chandler novel (which is saying quite a bit). 

The calm before the storm. The storm being Bruce Lee.

Here’s the thing, though: Marlowe is actually pretty fun. It’s no classic, and it pales in comparison to the Raymond Chandler adaptations that preceded it (well, barring The Brasher Doubloon), but taken on its own merits, it’s a charming romp with a wonderfully wry James Garner performance at its core.

Garner occupied the rare space between television A-list and movie B-list. He was preternaturally likable in both, but it often seemed like he was better suited to the small screen. This was no doubt the result of opportunity. Garner was never going to get a script that guys like Steve McQueen and Paul Newman didn’t pass on first, whereas with TV, he was given priority. He’d already distinguished himself with the hit series Maverick, and Marlowe was a rare chance to brandish his gift for playing tough fast-talkers. If done right, it could have led to increased stardom and sequels, as was the case with Harper and Tony Rome.

Marlowe taking a beating, per usual.

Garner brings a lot to the table. His Marlowe has a snappy comeback for everyone he encounters, and he makes the more ludicrous elements of the plot mesh through sheer force of charm. He also has terrific chemistry with the rest of the cast, which includes (to be is not limited to) Carroll O’Connor, Rita Moreno and William Daniels. Moreno and Bruce Lee are particularly good here, as they rely less on mugging and bring some real emotional weight to the proceedings. The former’s final scene, which I will leave unspoiled here, is one of the best in the entire film.

The Marlowe sequel might not have materialized in a literal sense, but in a rare case of things working out in Noirville, we got a spiritual sequel. Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell liked Garner’s performance in the film, and with Cannell having been the creative behind Maverick, decided to update the formula with a modern-day twist. They took the central premise of Marlowe, renamed him Rockford, and went on to hit pay dirt with the classic detective series The Rockford Files. Anyone who likes the series will no doubt find much of its classic components in their embryonic form via Marlowe (Marlowe and Rockford share specific lines, co-stars, and even the same phone number).

Marlowe fumbles his way to the finish line.

Marlowe would go on to have radical reinventions in the decades that followed, which has led to Garner’s version being lost to time. It’s understandable, given the cult status of the other films, but there’s still plenty to like here, if for no other reason, the fact that it’s an unfamiliar corner of the detective’s legacy. Besides, spending a few hours on a Rockford Files prequel doesn’t sound too bad.

TRIVIA: James Garner was taking martial arts lessons at the time Marlowe was being filmed. His teacher? None other than Bruce Lee.


You can find all of Danilo’s Film Noir Review articles here.

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

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Silents are Golden: A Closer Look At – The Son of the Sheik (1926)

Silents are Golden: A Closer Look At – The Son of the Sheik (1926)

After covering the iconic film The Sheik a couple months ago, I thought it’d be fitting to visit its equally iconic sequel. I hope you enjoy it!

The Son of The Sheik (19266) Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky
Rudolph Valentino and Vilma Banky.

A lot happened to Rudolph Valentino in the five years between his big starring roles in The Sheik (1921) and its exciting sequel, The Son of the Sheik (1926). Having first achieved fame as Julio in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921), Valentino was quickly pigeonholed as the screen’s great “Latin Lover,” his Italian ancestry being deemed “exotic” in that time period. While many of his ‘20s films focused on living up to that image, he jumped at opportunities to branch out. He would play a bullfighter in Blood and Sand (1922), an Indian prince in The Young Rajah (1922), and a French barber who disguises himself as an 18th century nobleman in Monsieur Beaucaire (1924). One of his most popular roles was the Russian lieutenant in The Eagle (1925), a crowd-pleasing mix of romance, drama and action.

Blood and Sand (1922) Rudolph Valentino
Blood and Sand, one of Valentino’s personal favorite roles.

But despite these years of eclectic roles under his belt, Valentino agreed to return to his most iconic role of Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan for The Son of the Sheik (1926) – playing both the original character, now in his old age, and his virile son Ahmed. While this might seem surprising at face value, the lushly-photographed sequel gave Valentino chances to show his red-blooded fighting skills, partake in some truly steamy love scenes, and use the dual role to prove his acting range.

The Son of the Sheik (1926) younger Ahmed Rudolph Valentino
As the younger Ahmed.

The original The Sheik, based on the popular romance novel by E.M. Hull, was a big hit but also received some criticism for being “tamer” than the book. Director George Melford also played it safe in some dated ways, such as lightening Valentino’s naturally tan complexion so that he almost matched his fair costar Agnes Ayres. George Fitzmaurice’s The Son of the Sheik, also based on an E.M. Hull novel,would finally make Valentino’s character the menacing, exotic he-man of many viewers’ dreams. In some ways it also honored his status in cinema – which even at the time was already iconic.

The Son of The Sheik (1926) George Fitzmaurice directing Rudolph Valentino and Velma Banky
Fitzmaurice directing his two leads.

Valentino’s recent films hadn’t been box office extravaganzas, and he’d recently walked out on a contract with Famous Players-Lasky and signed with United Artists. The idea of doing a sequel may have been inspired by Douglas Fairbanks, who had recently released Don Q, Son of Zorro (1925), the followup to 1920’s popular The Mark of Zorro. United Artists president Joseph M. Schenck would also be capitalizing on Valentino’s “sheik” image, which persisted in sticking around–fans were always hoping to see him in more desert romances.

By this point in the 1920s there was a growing self-consciousness in the movie industry and a fresh awareness of pop culture, which we can discern in The Son of the Sheik’s knowing winks to the original film. Both Valentino and Ayres seem to enjoy reprising their original roles (while aged with makeup), and the younger Ahmed is introduced in a dreamy flashback sequence that seems to be a nod to Valentino’s romantic symbolism to his fans.

The Son of The Shiek (1926) Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres
Valentino and Ayres.

Valentino’s main costar this time around was Vilma Banky as the dancer Yasmin, a beautiful blonde whose fair skin contrasted well with his “Arabian” complexion–no skin-lightening for him this time around. Having worked together previously in The Eagle, they had a lovely rapport onscreen. Their love scenes, played out in appropriately moonlit desert surroundings and captured with lingering closeups, can certainly be filed under “Valentino fan service.”

The Son of the Sheik is daring in other ways too, much in the vein of the novel. Most infamous is the scene where Ahmed, having gotten Yasmin alone and believeing her responsible for his being kidnapped and tortured, stalks towards her while extreme closeups show her horrified eyes. While the film discreetly cuts away from any lurid action, the aftermath of Yasmin in tears on a bed leaves no doubt what occurred. Controversial in retrospect, strangely enough this was the type of menacing scene audiences had been expecting in the original The Sheik – and the menace had finally arrived, five years later.

The Son of the Sheik (1926) Velma Banky and Rudolph Valentino
Fun Fact: The Son of the Sheik (1926) is the oldest sequel to be inducted into the National Film Registry.

With its action, adventure, love scenes, beautiful cinematography and lush costumes, The Son of the Sheik was determined to be everything The Sheik had tried to be – and more. While the original had its charms, the sequel went above and beyond and included a truly magnificent performance by Valentino. That performance would turn out to be especially poignant.

The Son of the Sheik (1926) Velma Banky Rudolph Valentino kiss
Banky and Valentino

Initially released to first run theaters in major U.S. cities in the summer of 1926, The Son of the Sheik was promoted by Valentino in a nationwide tour of personal appearances. At the time his health was growing shakey and he complained of having stomach pains. On August 15, while at a party in a friend’s New York City apartment, he collapsed. At the hospital doctors discovered he had a perforated stomach ulcer, and unfortunately the resulting emergency surgery was unsuccessful. Peritonitis set in, and after lingering for several days he passed away on August 23.

The nation – indeed, the world – was shocked by the death of the screen idol, especially when he appeared to be so much in his prime on the screen. Two weeks after Valentino’s death The Son of the Sheik went into general release, eventually earning over $1 million as saddened fans flocked to see his final performance. His life may have come to a heartbreakingly premature end, but there’s bittersweet comfort in knowing that he left the world with a performance that will always be remembered.

Rudolph Valentino illustrated as The Sheik
Valentino illustrated as The Sheik

–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: Beyond Lugosi – 9 Classic Film Actors who Played Dracula

9 Classic Film Actors who Played Dracula

Say the name Dracula and who do you see? Most likely Bela Lugosi.

The Hungarian actor remains the face of Bram Stoker’s iconic character even for some who have never seen him play the role. So here’s a surprising fact that I have to remind myself of: Lugosi only played Count Dracula twice on film: First in the original 1931 Universal film, then 17 years later when he donned the cape again in the comedy Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

Christopher Lee, in contrast, played Count Dracula 10 times and he remains equally memorable.

But perhaps it’s because Lugosi starred in so many horror films that we equate him with the face of Dracula. He also was in two other non-Dracula vampire films, Mark of the Vampire and The Return of the Vampire. Whatever the reason, Lugosi has owned the character since he walked on stage in the 1927 Broadway production of the play from Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderson. (Just look at the face on Halloween plates and decor and tell me it doesn’t look like Lugosi.)

Bela Lugosi remains the cinematic face of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but there other actors who took on the role who are worth noting.

Lugosi is credited with creating the makeup, style of dress and mannerisms for the stage and bringing them to the Universal films. (Stoker’s original description of his creation was of a “tall old man, clean shaven, save for a long white mustache.” For that look, see Francis Ford Coppola’s sumptuous 1992 Bram Stoker’s Dracula.)

There are hundreds of vampire films but a decidedly smaller number that are retellings of Dracula or use the character, not a generic creature. And while we love Bela Lugosi, let’s take a quick look at other actors who have played Dracula. This list only includes films made up to 1980, my upgraded cutoff for the classic movie genre, otherwise there would be entries on two of my favorites: Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Luke Evans in Dracula Untold (2014).

The unforgettably demonic face of Max Shreck in Nosferatu.

Max Shreck in Nosferatu (1922). OK, this is the only film here without Dracula in its title or as the name of the vampire. But it is a Dracula film as proven by the fact that Bram Stoker’s widow fought the production for what could have been the first case of copyright infringement. That led to an order for all copies of the film to be destroyed. Decades later, copies began to resurface, and the once-thought lost film was found. Shreck’s nightmarish portrayal of the vampire is notable for its demonic look. He’s a repulsive creature with rat-like facial features – a hideous contrast to the sensual cinematic vampires to follow. Orlock’s makeup would be replicated for the 1979 Werner Herzog remake Nosferatu: The Vampyre starring Klaus Kinski.

Carlos Villarias and Lupito Tovar starred in Universal’s Spanish-language version of Dracula, made at night after the Bela Lugosi movie was done filming for the day.

Carlos Villarias in Dracula (Spanish, 1931). The advent of talking pictures caused more than one adjustment for the film industry including ways to reach the foreign-language market. For some studios, including Universal, that meant making a second version of the movie in Spanish like Dracula. During the day, Tod Browning filmed the Lugosi Dracula; at night, the sets were turned over to director George Melford to make a Spanish-language version of the film. Sometimes the cast even used the same markings for actors that were used by the Browning crew. Dracula would be the most famous role for Vallarias, who was born in Spain. His portrayal was met with mixed reviews but was generally lauded. His co-star Lupito Tovar recalled in interviews how Vallarias rehearsed by himself and when he came to the set “he was absolutely marvelous … never did you need to do a second take,” she said. Tovar’s grandsons are filmmakers Chris and Paul Weitz who announced earlier this year that they would co-write and direct Spanish Dracula, a film about their grandmother and the making of this film.

Christopher Lee played Dracula in seven movies for Hammer Films.

Christopher Lee in multiple films. Though Lugosi’s halting speech pattern and hypnotic gaze captivated audiences in 1931, it wasn’t until Hammer Films started its vampire franchise that the creature became overtly sexual. Thank the casting of the handsome, aristocratic and imposing Christopher Lee that made his Dracula both sexy and terrifying. His first of seven appearances as Count Dracula for Hammer was the 1958 film Dracula (released in the states as Horror of Dracula). His screen presence could be so intense that you could watch Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1965), without realizing Lee never spoke a word. In total, Lee played the role 10 times during his illustrious career.

Dracula (John Carradine) is awakened by a deranged scientist in House of Frankenstein. Notice that he’s wearing the Ring of Dracula.

John Carradine in multiple films. Tall and gaunt, Carradine isn’t the typical physical idea of Dracula. But he has that hypnotic “stare down” look and that’s a big part of the character. Carradine played Dracula twice for Universal pictures in the monster mash-ups House of Frankenstein (1944) and House of Dracula (1945); later, he was part of the campy horror WesternBilly the Kid vs. Dracula (1966).

Jack Palance

Jack Palance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula/Dan Curtis’ Dracula (1974). Jack Palance is one scary dude and that would seem to indicate his portrayal of Dracula would be more evil than romantic. However, this adaptation of Stoker’s novel by Richard Matheson used the idea of a reincarnated love story between the Count and Lucy that would again be used in the similarly titled Bram Stoker’s Dracula from Francis Ford Coppola. Palance has the natural ability to look dangerous without doing a thing, so watching his restraint and softness in scenes with his great love is a pleasant surprise. The film is directed by Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) who previously worked with Palance in the TV movie The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1968).

Francis Lederer takes his Count Dracula to small-town California in The Return of Dracula.

Francis Lederer in The Return of Dracula (1958). Lederer was tall, dark, handsome and stoic as the Count who takes over the identity of an artist he murders and then visits his American family in his search for “freedom.” In a nice touch, Lederer wears his coat on his shoulders like a cape. The actor is from Prague, so his accent and halting speech will be reminiscent of another Dracula.

Love the funky graphics for the 1977 BBC version of Dracula starring Louis Jourdan.

Louis Jourdan in Count Dracula (1977). This BBC miniseries is clearly a product of the ‘70s with psychedelic graphics used to increase scary moments. Jourdan puts an intriguing spin on the Count: he’s handsome, elegant and hip in his black suit, but there is a blank intensity to his face that makes him appear soulless.

George Hamilton was both debonair and goofy in Love at First Bite.

George Hamilton in Love at First Bite (1977). If you like your Dracula suntanned, handsome, regal and with a sense of humor, here he is in this parody from director Stan Dragoti.

Frank Langella gave Dracula a romantic sensuality.

Frank Langella in Dracula (1979). Like Lugosi, Langella originated his Count Dracula on Broadway in the Hamilton Deane/John L. Balderdash play. Langella said he wanted to separate himself from Lugosi and Lee in his portrayal and he succeeded: “I decided he was a highly vulnerable and erotic man, not cool and detached and with no sense of humor or humanity. I didn’t want him to appear stilted, stentorian or authoritarian as he’s often presented. I wanted to show a man who, while evil, was lonely and could fall in love,” he’s quoted in Film Review magazine (1979). His seductive and graceful portrayal made the film more of a Gothic romance than a horror film. Langella’s performance is echoed by the gorgeous yet menacing score by the great John Williams.

 Toni Ruberto for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

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Noir Nook: In Living Color Noirs

Noir Nook: In Living Color Noirs

If there’s one thing that’s certain about film noir, it’s that it encompasses a lot of uncertainty. All noirs don’t have femmes fatales. They’re not all set in urban areas. They don’t all have detectives or Joe Normal characters led astray by bad women.

And they’re not all in black and white.

For my money, film noir is all about the feeling, the mood, the STORY – not whether or not it’s in color. Although the vast majority of classic noir features are in black and white, a color film with all the other markings of noir is still film noir. In other words, with a nod to Shakespeare, a color noir by any other name will still have you on the edge of your seat.

This month’s Noir Nook takes a look at my Top Five noirs that are in vibrant, living color. Check ‘em out and see if they give you that noirish feeling…

Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

Cornel Wilde and Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven (1945)
Cornel Wilde and Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

My favorite color noir, Leave Her to Heaven (1945), stars Gene Tierney in her Oscar-nominated performance as Ellen Berent, a more-than-slightly unhinged socialite whose intense, possessive love impacts all of those around her. The hapless humans under her spell include her father, whose passing before the film’s opening is attributed to Ellen by two of the film’s characters – one says that Ellen “loved him too much,” and the other states quite plainly that Ellen “pressed him to death.” Another victim of Ellen’s unique brand of love is her husband, Richard (Cornel Wilde), who Ellen meets on a train and marries after a whirlwind (and that’s putting it mildly) romance. While initially entranced by Ellen’s beauty, poise, and charm, Richard soon finds that Ellen doesn’t want any interferences in their union, whether it’s from her sister and mother, Richard’s disabled brother, or their own unborn child.

Niagara (1953)

Marilyn Monroe in Niagara (1953)
Marilyn Monroe in Niagara (1953)

Set at – you guessed it – Niagara Falls, Niagara (1953) centers on a love triangle between the vibrant and excruciatingly sexy Rose Loomis (Marilyn Monroe), her unstable older husband, George (Joseph Cotten), and her luckless lover, Patrick (Richard Allan). Turning the triangle into a quintet, of sorts, are Ray and Polly Cutler (Casey Adams and Jean Peters), a homespun honeymooning couple who become more involved in the lives of the Loomises than they may have desired – an involvement that eventually includes more than one murder.

Slightly Scarlet (1956)

Arlene Dahl and John Payne in Slightly Scarlet (1956)
Arlene Dahl and John Payne in Slightly Scarlet (1956)

This film’s colorful title refers to titian-haired sisters Dorothy and June Lyons, played by Arlene Dahl and Rhonda Fleming. As Slightly Scarlet (1956) opens, Dorothy, a kleptomaniac (not to mention a nymphomaniac), has just been released from the pokey into her sister’s custody. Besides having to deal with her troubled sibling, June also finds herself in the midst of a scheme by local hood Ben Grace (John Payne), who wants to exploit Dorothy’s prison record to circumvent the mayoral candidacy of June’s fiancé, played by Kent Taylor. And matters are further complicated when Ben double-crosses his boss, Solly Caspar (the always great Ted deCorsia), who plans to use Dorothy in his attempt for revenge. It’s sometimes convoluted, but you’ll have a noirish good time.

House of Bamboo (1955)

Robert Ryan in House of Bamboo (1955)
Robert Ryan in House of Bamboo (1955)

A remake of the 1948 Richard Widmark starrer The Street With No Name, House of Bamboo (1955) is set in Japan and stars Robert Ryan as Sandy Dawson, a highly intelligent but callous leader of a gang of thieves. Dawson selects his crew from a specialized pool – they’re all ex-cons who were dishonorably from the Army. But he finds that he’s too smart for his own good when he meticulously investigates and hires a young American, Eddie Spanier (Robert Stack), for his number-one man, only to learn that Spanier isn’t what he appears to be. The film’s climax features an unforgettable scene involving the revolving planet Saturn on top of Tokyo’s Matsuya department store.

A Kiss Before Dying (1956)

Joanne Woodward and Robert Wagner in A Kiss Before Dying (1956)
Joanne Woodward and Robert Wagner in A Kiss Before Dying (1956)

In A Kiss Before Dying (1956), based on the novel by Ira levin (which won the 1954 Edgar Award for Best First Novel), Robert Wagner is Bud Corliss, a charming, crafty, and highly ambitious college student who is determined to lift himself above his station. However, Bud’s painstaking plans for a future with wealthy fellow student Dorothy Kingship (Joanne Woodward) come crashing down when she tells him she’s pregnant and likely to be disinherited by her father. Bud’s no quitter, though – he promptly comes up with an alternative plan; unfortunately, that plan doesn’t bode well for Dorothy.

If you’ve never seen a color noir (or you’re in the camp which maintains that a color film simply can’t be a noir), check these out. I think you’re going to like what you see.

– Karen Burroughs Hannsberry for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

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Classic Movie Travels: Betty Compson

Classic Movie Travels: Betty Compson

Betty Compson headshot
Betty Compson

Betty Compson was born Eleanor Luicime Compson on March 19, 1897, in Beaver, Utah. Her parents were Virgil and Mary Compson. Her father worked as a mining engineer and gold prospector, in addition to owning a grocery store. Her mother worked as a maid.

Compson’s father passed away when she was young and she began to seek employment opportunities in her teen years. After completing her second year of high school at Salt Lake High School, she worked as a violinist at a Salt Lake City, Utah, theater at the age of 16. Later, she would begin playing in vaudeville sketches and touring with her sketches, until she was noticed by Hollywood producers. Producer Al Christie offered her a contract, paving the way to her first silent film, Wanted, a Leading Lady (1915).

In 1916, she appeared in over 20 films, with the vast majority of them being for Christie. After the success of The Miracle Man (1919), she went on to work for Paramount. Compson followed this experience with the creation of her own production company, Betty Compson Productions, offering her autonomy and control over financing and screenplays. Her company’s first film was Prisoners of Love (1921), in which she appeared in the role of Blanche Davis.

Compson on the cover of Motion Picture Classic Magazine, March 1922
Compson on the cover of Motion Picture Classic Magazine, March 1922

After Paramount refused to give Compson a raise, she signed a contract with a film company in London, starring in four films, including Woman to Woman (1923) and The White Shadow (1923). Both of these films were written by Graham Cutts and Alfred Hitchcock. They proved to be popular and Paramount offered her a raise.

Compson returned to Hollywood and appeared in The Enemy Sex (1924), directed by James Cruze, whom she married in 1925. They divorced years later, close to the release of her first sound film, The Great Gabbo (1929). Her divorce left her nearly bankrupt, forcing her to sell her home and several possessions.

When Comspon’s Paramount contract was not renewed, she turned to freelance work for low-budget studios. She appeared in The Belle of Broadway (1926), The Ladybird (1927), The Big City (1928), Court-Martial (1928), The Docks of New York (1928), and The Barker (1928). She received an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in The Barker but lost to Mary Pickford for Coquette (1929).

Compson’s final success was The Spoilers (1930) with Gary Cooper. She tested for the role of Belle Watling in Gone with the Wind (1939) but did not receive the role. However, she secured a small role in Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941).

Betty Compson Paramount Portrait
Betty’s Paramount portrait

Compson married twice more. She married producer Irving Weinberg in 1933, though the marriage ended in 1937. Next, she married boxer Silvius Gall and stayed married to him until his passing in 1962. Her final film role was in Here Comes Trouble (1948).

After leaving the film industry, Compson started a cosmetic line and assisted her husband with his Ashtrays Unlimited business.

Compson passed away on April 18, 1974, from a heart attack at age 77. She was interred alongside her mother at San Fernando Mission Cemetery in San Fernando, California.

In 1910, Compson and her family resided at 273 S. 400 E., Salt Lake City, Utah. By 1930, she lived at 4400 Oakwood Ave., Los Angeles, California with Cruze. In 1934, she resided at 7315 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California, with Weinberg. The homes no longer stand.

Compson’s 1940s home remains at 441 Randolph St., Glendale, California. She lived here with her mother and a lodger named James Kinney.

Betty Compson 1940's residence at 441 Randolph Street, Glendale, California
Compson 1940’s residence at 441 Randolph Street, Glendale, California

Compson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, honoring her work in motion pictures. Her star is located at 1751 Vine St., Los Angeles, California.

Betty Compsons star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Betty’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

–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

Final Resting Places – Western Sidekicks & Supporting Actors

This month I’ll be sharing additional photos of the final resting places of several Western movie actors.

My chief focus in this column is on some of the great Western sidekicks and supporting actors, and we’ll begin with George “Gabby” Hayes. Hayes appeared in films alongside William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, John Wayne and more. Hayes, who passed away at the age of 83, is buried at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.

George "Gabby" Hayes (1885 - 1969)
Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery
George “Gabby” Hayes (1885 – 1969)
Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery

Also at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, near his longtime costar Gene Autry, is sidekick Smiley Burnette, who was only 55 when he passed on in 1967. Relatively early death seems to be a recurring theme in this month’s column, as will be seen below.

Smiley Burnette (1911 - 1967)
Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery
Smiley Burnette (1911 – 1967)
Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery

I was touched to note that Gene Autry’s good friend, fellow cowboy star and singer Monte Hale, is buried just a couple spots away from Autry. Hale and his wife Joanne cofounded the Autry Museum of the American West along with Gene and Jackie Autry. You can read more about the museum in my January 2019 column. Hale lived to be 89.

Monte Hale (1919 - 2009)
Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery
Monte Hale (1919 – 2009)
Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Cemetery

Fuzzy Knight, who was born John Forrest Knight, was a familiar sidekick and supporting player in countless “B” Westerns. He died at age 74 and is at Valhalla Cemetery in North Hollywood.

Fuzzy Knight (1901 -1976)
Valhalla Cemetery, North Hollywood
Fuzzy Knight (1901 -1976)
Valhalla Cemetery, North Hollywood

Also at Valhalla is Douglass Dumbrille. One may not associate this Canadian-born supporting actor with Westerns, but he periodically appeared in the genre. I fondly recall him as the Marshal in one of my favorite “B” Westerns, Flame of the West (1945), which starred Johnny Mack Brown. An interesting bit of trivia is that late in life Dumbrille married the much younger daughter of his friend, actor Alan Mowbray (memorable in the Western My Darling Clementine); despite their considerable age difference, the marriage was a success and lasted nearly 14 years, until Dumbrille’s passing in 1974 at the age of 84.

Douglass Dumbrille (1889 - 1974)
Valhalla Cemetery, North Hollywood
Douglass Dumbrille (1889 – 1974)
Valhalla Cemetery, North Hollywood

James Millican was a longtime bit player who became an outstanding supporting player of the ’50s in Westerns such as Dawn at Socorro (1954) and Red Sundown (1956). Sadly his life was cut short by cancer at the age of 44; he was buried at Forest Lawn Glendale.

James Millican (1910-1955)
Forest Lawn Glendale Cemetery
James Millican (1910-1955)
Forest Lawn Glendale Cemetery

Also at Forest Lawn Glendale is character actor Louis Jean Heydt, whose resemblance to Millican sometimes causes confusion among film fans. Millican and Heydt even played brothers Ed and John Jennings in the Western Al Jennings of Oklahoma (1951), with Dan Duryea in the title role. Heydt died relatively young himself, only 56 when he had a heart attack while performing in a play in Boston.

Louis Jean Heydt (1903 - 1960)
Forest Lawn Glendale Cemetery
Louis Jean Heydt (1903 – 1960)
Forest Lawn Glendale Cemetery

Another great character actor who died young was Millard Mitchell, who passed on at the age of 50; like Millican and Heydt, he’s buried at Forest Lawn Glendale. Mitchell’s great Western roles were in a pair of Anthony Mann Westerns starring James Stewart; Mitchell played “High Spade” in Winchester ’73 (1950) and grizzled Jesse Tate in one of his last films, The Naked Spur (1953).

Millard Mitchell (1903 - 1953)
Forest Lawn Glendale Cemetery
Millard Mitchell (1903 – 1953)
Forest Lawn Glendale Cemetery

Winchester ’73 costar Stephen McNally is also at Forest Lawn Glendale; he memorably played villain Dutch Henry Brown in that film. McNally alternated between supporting roles and villains in favorite Westerns such as Audie Murphy‘s The Duel at Silver Creek (1952) and Hell Bent for Leather (1960) and heroes in Westerns such as the great Val Lewton produced film Apache Drums (1951). McNally, born Horace McNally, was originally an attorney educated at Fordham University Law School before turning to work on Broadway and in films. McNally was 82 when he passed away in 1994.

Stephen McNally (1911 - 1994)
Forest Lawn Glendale Cemetery
Stephen McNally (1911 – 1994)
Forest Lawn Glendale Cemetery

William Bishop is another Western actor who died at an early age; he was just 41 when he died of cancer in 1959. His memorable Westerns included Coroner Creek (1948) with Randolph ScottThunderhoof (1948) with Preston Foster, and Cripple Creek (1952) with George Montgomery, to name just a few. Bishop was the nephew of screenwriter Charles MacArthur and his wife Helen Hayes; he was also thus the cousin of actor James MacArthur. Bishop’s ashes are at Woodlawn Cemetery in Santa Monica.

William Bishop (1918 - 1959)
Woodlawn Cemetery, Santa Monica
William Bishop (1918 – 1959)
Woodlawn Cemetery, Santa Monica

The great character actor James Gregory wasn’t in many Westerns, but he merits mention here as he was in a personal favorite of mine, Gun Glory (1957). I wrote about Gun Glory, which starred Stewart Granger, here in a 2019 column on “Unexpected Western Leads.” I visited Gregory’s gravesite at Sedona Community Cemetery while on a 2021 trip to Sedona, Arizona.

James Gregory (1911 - 2002)
Sedona Community Cemetery
James Gregory (1911 – 2002)
Sedona Community Cemetery

When I visit these cemeteries I appreciate the opportunity to take time to reflect on how each of these actors enriched cinema history and indeed, my own life as I have enjoyed their work.

For readers wondering about the absence of any actresses from this post: I intend to return to this topic in the future, focusing solely on Western Leading Ladies.

For additional photos of the burial sites of Western stars, please visit my columns from May 2019 and February 2022.

– 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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Film Noir Review: I Walk Alone (1947)

“Don’t worry about me, kid. I just got outta prison, not college.”

Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas are a unique duo in film history. They aren’t comically inclined, like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, nor do they showcase the chummy camaraderie that made Paul Newman and Robert Redford such a likable pair. Their collaborations were terse, gritty, and barring the goofy swan song Tough Guys (1986), they rarely saw eye to eye. The magic of Lancaster and Douglas lied in the tension. They never quite seemed at ease with one another, and we could never take our eyes off them as a result.

Lancaster and Douglas got their start in the film noir of the late 40s. Both hit home runs in their screen debuts, and established the personas they would go on to perfect over the next several decades. The former, debuting in The Killers (1946), was a chiseled sap, a man whose chivalry and decency proved his undoing. The latter, debuting in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (also 1946), was a shyster, a sleaze who would cross anyone he needed to in order to get ahead. They were the perfect yin and yang, which Paramount producer Hal B. Wallis took note of when he was casting the 1947 release, I Walk Alone.

The film’s kinetic promotional poster.

Contrary to the film’s title, I Walk Alone thrives on the chemistry between its stars. It’s a rare case of a star-studded cast in which none of the stars have yet broken out, and the result is a killer, often overlooked noir that kicks off the Lancaster-Douglas mythos.

The premise is simple as it is effective: Frankie Madison (Lancaster) and Noll “Dink” Turner (Douglas) are bootleggers during Prohibition. They get into a shootout with potential hijackers and the two men are forced to split up when police arrive on the scene. Frankie gets caught and sentenced to 14 years of prison, while Noll is free to build a bootlegging empire. The former gets out and looks up his old pal, expecting a cut of the profits, but Noll makes it abundantly clear that he doesn’t owe him squat. Neither man is willing to budge, and war is effectively declared.

There are power struggles abound between these three.

It’s clear from the jump that Lancaster and Douglas are dynamite together. Their approaches to characterization are radically different: Lancaster is the tortured soul fighting his bad tendencies, while Douglas is the louse who has to fight off fleeting moments of decency. They’re essentially a venn diagram of morality, which makes the overlap in the center all the more compelling. It’s generally easy to determine who will win in a given standoff, even if both sides are played by stars, but the actors bring such conviction to Frankie and Noll that the viewer is genuinely unsure of where things will go.

The supporting cast isn’t too shabby either. Lizabeth Scott plays Kay Lawrence, the nightclub singer who dates Noll and gradually falls for Frankie. It’s not a groundbreaking part, but Scott is in her element, bringing the same weary seduction that she provided in Martha Ivers and Dead Reckoning (1947). A lesser actress would have made the Kay scenes feel like filler between the meat of the plot, but Scott’s chemistry with both men ensure that they’re just as compelling.

Wendell Corey’s Dave (right) tries to play both sides.

Wendell Corey also delivers the goods in what turns out to be a crucial part. He’s Noll’s bookmaker, Dave, and while he’s spent the last decade and a half turning a blind eye, his reunion with Frankie reignites his sense of decency. He’s the character who’s most aware of the crimes that have gone on, and Corey manages to communicate said conflict through his subtly manic mannerisms. Few actors were better at being externally calm while being internally conflicted. He’d made his debut alongside Lancaster and Scott the year prior, in the supremely bizarre Desert Fury (1947), and the Dave character proved he was no flash in the pan.

Byron Haskin was a journeyman filmmaker whose biggest credits were as the special effects artist for household names like John Ford and Raoul Walsh. He never reached the A-list, but as evidenced by this film and Too Late for Tears (1949), he could snap off a taut film noir with the best of them. There’s no fat on the bone here, given the 97-minute runtime, and Haskin avoids the narrative detours that would (and did) sink other noir releases of the era.

The film was one of many Wallis releases starring Lancaster and Scott.

I Walk Alone is not a flawless release, and Lancaster and Douglas would go on to have more notable collaborations, but it’s criminally underrated in terms of giving fans what they want. It’s a perfect encapsulation of what made both actors so appealing at the start of their careers, and better yet, it gives them a chance to showcase their talents alongside one another. It’s no classic, but it’s a cult film ripe for rediscovery.

TRIVIA: Lux Radio Theater aired an hour-long adaptation of I Walk Alone in 1948. Lancaster and Scott reprised their roles.


You can find all of Danilo’s Film Noir Review articles here.

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

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