Silver Screen Standards: The “Rough Magic” of Forbidden Planet (1956)

Silver Screen Standards: The “Rough Magic” of Forbidden Planet (1956)

The Tempest has always been my favorite Shakespeare play, so my love for the science fiction classic, Forbidden Planet (1956), shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows how much this iconic film owes to the Bard’s romantic tale of island castaways, magic, and romance. In spite of its futuristic trappings and CinemaScope imagery, Forbidden Planet remains, at its heart, a very old-fashioned story, from its depictions of patriarchy and gender to its vision of a spaceship crew. Those traits don’t make for very compelling speculative fiction, especially for a modern viewer of progressive sci-fi like the current crop of Star Trek shows, but they do help to bind Forbidden Planet to its Shakespearean source. The Tempest is really the story of Prospero, a powerful man facing the consequences of his past actions and his changing status as both ruler and father. In Forbidden Planet, Prospero is reimagined as Dr. Morbius (Walter Pidgeon), but the psychological and moral concerns of the protagonist remain the same.

Forbidden Planet (1956) Walter Pidgeon and Robby the robot
As Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) reimagines Prospero, so Robby the Robot serves as a science fiction version of the bound spirit, Ariel.

Morbius doesn’t actually appear until the movie is well underway, but, he’s the central figure of the story, even if the spaceship crew don’t know whom they’re about to encounter when they arrive at Altair IV. The crew, led by Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen), have come looking for a group of colonists who settled on the planet almost twenty years earlier, but only Dr. Morbius and his daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis), are still alive. Everyone else perished in attacks by a powerful, mysterious creature, who once again rampages after Adams and his men land on the planet. As Morbius repeatedly warns Adams to depart, the Commander and his officers begin to suspect that Morbius himself might be responsible for the deadly, invisible being.

Forbidden Planet (1956) Walter Pidgeon and Anne Francis
Like Prospero, Morbius has a daughter, Altaira (Anne Francis), who has grown up isolated from all other human beings.

We might be tempted to view Leslie Nielsen’s handsome young officer as the hero of this story, but, like Prince Ferdinand in The Tempest, Commander Adams is just here to get the girl and deprive the aging father of the total devotion he has previously enjoyed from his only child. Both Prospero and Morbius have to adjust to the idea that their little girls have grown up. In both cases, their total isolation means too many daddy-daughter dances and not nearly enough opportunity for each of them to build other relationships. Prospero’s daughter, Miranda, has known only the monstrous Caliban as a playmate, while Altaira has made do with the company of Robby the Robot, who functionally resembles Prospero’s spirit servant, Ariel, but still lacks the necessary parts to be a potential mate. It’s little wonder that both young women delight in the arrival of a ship full of actual men. “O brave new world, that has such people in it!” Miranda exclaims, while Altaira promptly begins a frank assessment of the physical charms of the trio of men she first meets. They’re both primed to fall for the first handsome guy who shows up, and Commander Adams doesn’t have to demonstrate much personality or skill at romance to win Altaira’s heart.

Forbidden Planet (1956) Leslie Nielsen and Anne Francis
Ripe for romance, Altaira quickly falls for the charms of the handsome Commander Adams (Leslie Nielsen).

Morbius, however, is a far more complex character, a man accustomed to absolute obedience and authority in his castaway kingdom, where he hasn’t had to consider the moral implications of his own choices. After the deaths of the other Bellerophon colonists, Morbius has had no one to challenge his rule or his motives. He considers himself a good man, a benevolent ruler and father, and a singularly qualified controller of the powerful alien technology of the long extinct Krell. Morbius is a man of science, not magic, but Prospero’s magic and Morbius’ science are interchangeable as powers too great for any imperfect man to wield without danger to himself and others. Shakespeare didn’t have Freudian psychology to articulate the idea of the id, but both Prospero and Morbius harbor destructive darkness in their remote idylls; Morbius’ shadow monster is a bigger, scarier, more relentless version of the laughable but still scheming Caliban, a “thing of darkness” that Prospero acknowledges as belonging to him near the play’s end. As Prospero abjures his “rough magic,” so Morbius must recognize and reject his “evil self” in order to be reintegrated into humanity, whether literally or symbolically. Prospero, having already paid a price for his obsession by losing his title and home, voluntarily relinquishes his power as his final act, destroying his staff and books so that others cannot be tempted by them. Morbius must pay a steeper cost for his hubris in order to save Altaira, but the final destruction of Altair IV accomplishes the same end as Prospero’s drowning of his book. Neither man is a god, and both have seen enough to recognize their acquired power as more dangerous than benign. Morbius, of course, has many cinematic and literary brethren among the ranks of  overreaching scientists, but his deep connection to Prospero reminds us how old and often repeated this story is, even as each new generation fails to heed it.  

Forbidden Planet (1956) Walter Pidgeon
Morbius finds that his power has come at a terrible cost; like Prospero, he must destroy the source of his superhuman abilities.

If you enjoy the marriage of Shakespeare and science fiction demonstrated in Forbidden Planet, be sure to check out other classic movies with strong Shakespearean roots, including Strange Illusion (1945), A Double Life (1947), Joe MacBeth (1955), and, of course, West Side Story (1961). Maurice Evans, Richard Burton, and Roddy McDowall starred in a film adaptation of The Tempest in 1960, and Sir John Gielgud played Prospero in a 1991 version called Prospero’s Books. For a delightful comedy treatment of Forbidden Planet and The Tempest, track down a recording of the 1983 jukebox musical Return to the Forbidden Planet. It’s delightfully silly and well worth it if you’re ever lucky enough to be able to catch a live performance.

— 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: Like big-bug films? Try these she-bug B-movies

Classic horror fans are forever grateful to the 1950s, a decade that birthed one of the greatest of all film genres: the big-bug movie.

Multitudes of giant ants, spiders, grasshoppers, shrews and scorpions all treated moviegoers to oversized terrors. Toward the end of the decade, there was a tweak to this formula when the big bug came in the body of a man/bug in the great 1958 film The Fly.

While The Fly deservedly remains in high regard today, there were other films that explored the idea of a human turned killer bug that aren’t as well remembered. These were true B-movies with very low budgets, very fast production schedules and a feminine touch.

Susan Cabot is The Wasp Woman.

In Roger Corman’s The Wasp Woman (1959), a businesswoman goes to extremes to save her beauty empire. In Universal’s The Leech Woman (1960), a depressed wife yearns for her youth to win back her cruel husband’s love. The Snake Woman (1961) was born because snake venom was injected into her pregnant mother. The poor lass who became The Reptile (1966) was the product of a curse, courtesy of Hammer films.

While the age-old search for the fountain of youth is a theme in two of these films, it’s not the driving force in all four. It is, however, the unmistakable theme of The Leech Woman, and it is somberly put into words for viewers in a soliloquy spoken by a 152-year-old character during a secret tribal ceremony:

“For a man, old age has rewards. If he is wise his gray hairs bring dignity and he’s treated with honor and respect. But for the aged woman, there is nothing. At best, she’s pitied. More often her lot is of contempt and neglect. What woman lives who is past the prime of life that would not give her remaining years to reclaim even a few moments of joy and happiness and know the worship of men.”

June (Coleen Gray) listens as Malla (Estelle Hemsley) explains her tribe’s secret to regaining youthful beauty in The Leech Woman. Soon, both women will look much different.

That’s heavy for viewers who sat down to watch a monster movie and there are a few other moments of unexpected depth in the script by David Duncan, who had a nice run writing the screenplays for such genre films as The Black Scorpion, Monster on the Campus, The Time Machine and Fantastic Voyage. I went into The Leech Woman expecting schlock – which I got – but I also left thinking about how society continues to put an unfair emphasis on youth and beauty even today.

The Leech Woman

Middle-aged June Talbot (played by Coleen Gray) is in a loveless marriage to her cruel husband Dr. Paul Talbot (Phillip Terry). He’s 10 years younger and takes delight in ripping her apart. The more he does, the more she drinks and falls into depression.

While he’s disgusted by his wife (he’s a super mean guy), he’s also researching ways to stop the aging process for his own fame and fortune. He seeks old women for his experiments and finds the perfect one in Malla (played by Estelle Helmsley) who arrives looking like a “mummy” and tells fantastic stories of a potion and secret ceremony that can slow death and – with ingredients found only in her homeland – reverse aging.

She convinces Dr. Talbot to fund her trip to her Nando tribe in Africa where she’ll share the potion that can return her youth for one night before she dies. The doctor sees dollar signs and convinces his wife that he suddenly loves her again. Poor June is overjoyed, but her lying husband only wants to experiment on her. Joining them in Africa is a handsome jungle guide who comes in handy later.

June (Coleen Gray), left, tells the newly youthful Malla (Kim Hamilton) the name of man she has chosen to be sacrificed so she can regain her youth. Hint: That’s June’s cruel husband Paul (Phillip Terry) standing between the two women in The Leech Woman.

Now we know what happens to outsiders who watch a secret ceremony – they will be killed to preserve the secret. But Malla isn’t heartless as you can tell by that poignant speech she delivers and she offers June the chance to undergo the same process and experience her youthful beauty one more time.

In a wonderful twist, the magic elixir needs a man to be sacrificed and Malla tells June to pick one guy – any guy. Yes, we’re all thinking of the same guy to be sacrificed, aren’t we?

The transformations for Malla and June are breathtaking. It’s joyful watching them as they see their younger faces in a mirror. Sadly, the effect is only temporary and while Malla is at peace with that, June wants more time.

That feeling grows after she spends a few romantic hours with the handsome jungle guide – enough time for the potion to wear off. The enticing lure of youth turns beautiful June into a murderous beast. Au revoir handsome jungle guide.

June (Coleen Gray) finds happiness where she can during her short bursts of youth in The Leech Woman. Will Grant Williams be her next victim?

June returns to the states posing as her beautiful young niece, leaving a trail of dead men along the way. When she falls for the handsome fiancé (Grant Williams, The Incredible Shrinking Man) of her husband’s nurse (Gloria Talbott, I Married A Monster From Outer Space), she has difficulty fending off her killer urges.

Because so much of the film built up to getting to Africa and back, the end comes much too fast and we don’t get enough of the monster (something these four films have in common). But there’s plenty of scary stuff in Africa, including some of my strange phobias like man-eating lions, killer crocodiles, suffocating quicksand and other gruesome ways to die.

In 1995, Corman would produce a very different – and much sexier – remake of The Leech Woman for his Roger Corman Presents TV series.

Let’s look at the other three films.

The poster image from The Wasp Woman.

The Wasp Woman

Janice Starlin (played by Susan Cabot) is a successful businesswoman whose company bears her name and likeness. For 16 years, her face has been the sole image of her beauty empire, Janice Starlin Enterprises, propelling it into a multimillion-dollar corporation.

She is smart, savvy and attractive. She’s also soft-spoken yet firm when it comes to her company as we see in a board meeting called to learn why her namesake business has lost 14 ½ percent in the last quarter. Only one will tell her truth: profits have plummeted since she retreated into the background, switching to an unfamiliar model in the company’s advertisements. Loyal customers don’t know or trust this new, younger person.

Why did the formerly confident Starlin back away from the public? “Not even Janice Starlin can remain a glamour girl forever,” she says.

But she still needs to save her company and will do so at any cost, even if it means becoming the title monster in Roger Corman’s The Wasp Woman.

With impeccable timing, Dr. Eric Zinthrop (Michael Mark), a chemist fired from a bee farm for experimenting on wasps, is waiting in the reception room.

“I don’t have much time,” she tells him.

“It is I who give you the time … 10, maybe 15 years I give you,” he tells her in a halting accent.

Susan Cabot plays a businesswoman will stop at nothing to save her company – including injecting herself with an extract from a queen wasp’s royal jelly in The Wasp Woman.

His anti-aging experiments have had limited success with enzymes from the royal jelly of a queen wasp. When he injects two rabbits who turn into babies, Janice practically yells “Sold!”

The doctor’s proposal: Help him complete his research and the component can be added to Janice Starlin cosmetics if he gets full credit.

Her demand: She will be the guinea pig for the human trials so she can save her company – and herself.

There will be secrecy over what he’s doing, her employees will start skulking about for answers and Janice will be so impatient that she injects herself without the doctor’s knowledge. She’ll get great results – her secretary tells her she looks 22 – but the side effects are disastrous, even tragic. As they get worse, the doctor can’t help because he’s conveniently been hit by a car and has lost his memory.

From there, we remember the words from earlier in the film when the company chemist tells Janice not to mess around with the dangerous queen wasp, a lethal and carnivorous insect that stings, paralyzes and slowly devours its victims. Janice does the typical queen wasp one better: She may have the oversized head and furry claws of an insect, but otherwise sports a killer fashion vibe with her high heels and stylish outfit.

The Snake Woman

This film suffers the most from a low budget. At times, it does pull you in with talk of a curse, terrified villagers, mysterious deaths and a voodoo doll but it’s too dark to see much. (This is an early film from Sidney J. Furie who directed a varied slate of films including The Ipcress File, The Entity, The Boys in Company C.)

It’s 1890 Northumberland and a doctor has been injecting his wife for years with snake venom to cure her insanity. About to give birth, she’s screaming for him to stop the injections, but he won’t listen. (Another doctor with delusions of grandeur.)

The wife dies after the baby is born ice cold and without eyelids – just like a reptile. The midwife/local witch is shouting about the “devil’s offspring” and rallies a torch-wielding mob to kill the baby. The little one is temporarily hidden, but the mob kills dad and the child disappears. Fast forward 20 years when the village is terrorized by deadly snake attacks blamed on the curse of the serpent child.

A chance encounter on the moors introduces a Scotland Yard inspector (John McCarthy) to a mysterious young woman (Susan Travers) who likes snakes in The Snake Woman.

A respected villager contacts his friend at Scotland Yard who sends a smug young investigator (John McCarthy) to find a scientific reason for the attacks. On the moors while playing a snake charmer’s flute, he meets a lovely young lady (Susan Travers) in a tattered dress named Atheris (the name for bush vipers). He’s smitten, she’s oddly protective of lethal snakes. This relationship clearly has no future.

Unlike the other films here, we are never treated to the image of a “snake woman.” There are snakes, there is a woman but there isn’t the snake woman of the title. However, there is a moment where we see that a “snake” has shed its skin – what it leaves behind doesn’t look like any snake we’ve ever seen. That image alone is worth watching this brief 68-minute film.

The Reptile lobby card

The Reptile

It’s a curse, not vanity, that turns a pretty young woman into the killer title character of Hammer’s The Reptile.

Hammer fans will relax into the studio’s familiar washed-out color, gloomy 19th century setting and a small town in the British countryside with mysterious deaths. The “Black Death” has come to Cornwall where bodies are found with black faces and white lips. It’s so commonplace that at a burial, someone asks, “Who is it this time?”

Harry Spalding (played by Ray Barrett) and his wife, Valerie (Jennifer Daniel), arrive after the unexplained death of his otherwise healthy brother. Townsfolk aren’t happy and even the friendly barkeep Tom (Michael Rippers) warns them off about moving into a quaint cottage owned by Charles. (“He died there,” the barkeep says.)

The title character in The Reptile tries to take a bite out of a visitor.

The cottage is across the moors from a large estate owned by Dr. Franklyn (Noel Willman) where strange happenings are occurring.

The Reptile moves at a leisurely pace, stringing us along with mysterious characters and lurking figures. (Love the atmospheric shots of a servant who is shown in shadow except for a light around his eyes!). It will be a while before we meet the stern doctor’s sad daughter, Anna (Jacqueline Pierce), and even longer before we see the title creature for far too little time. There is an underground cavern with bubbling sulfur springs, but even that is too little, too late.

One lesson I learned from watching these four films is that if you make a movie about women who become killer bugs, go for it. Make them strong and powerful and give us more – even if the she-bug is in high heels and jewelry.

If you want to learn more about big-bug movies of the 1950s, read my previous column for Classic Movie Hub and Monsters & Matinees, “All Bug-Eyed Over Big-Bug Movies.

 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: 75th Anniversary Noir – 2023 Edition

Noir Nook: 75th Anniversary Noir – 2023 Edition

We’ve invested in a new wall calendar around these parts, and you know what that means – time for a look at some great films noirs that are celebrating their 75th anniversary this year! I know that 1947 gets a lot of love when it comes to noir, but I’m here to tell you that 1948 is no slouch in the shadowy classics department.

This month’s Noir Nook takes a look at four of my favorite noirs released 75 years ago. Let me know what you think of them!

Raw Deal (1948)

Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt and Dennis O'Keefe in Raw Deal (1948)
Claire Trevor, Marsha Hunt and Dennis O’Keefe in Raw Deal (1948)

Dennis O’Keefe stars as Joe Sullivan, a convict who has been cooling his heels in the hoosegow for five years for a crime that was committed by his underworld boss, Rick Coyle (Raymond Burr, in a decidedly un-Perry Mason-like role). During his prison stint, Joe is visited by his caseworker, Ann Martin (Marsha Hunt); despite her sage advice to await his parole, Joe breaks out of prison with the help of his loyal girlfriend, Pat Regan (Claire Trevor). Joe’s plans to collect a $50,000 payoff from Rick and flee the country are waylaid when he abducts Ann from her home and an underling of Rick’s tries to kill him. And things are complicated even further by the growing feelings between Joe and Ann.

Favorite quote: Chiseling little doll face. What is she to you that I’m not? She’s got her hooks into you good. She’s wormed her way into you so that you don’t know what you’re saying, where you’re going.

– Pat Regan

Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948)

Robert Newton in Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948)
Robert Newton in Kiss the Blood Off My Hands (1948)

Set in London, this feature centers on Bill Saunders (Burt Lancaster), a luckless former prisoner of war who accidentally kills a bartender with a single punch. Fleeing from the authorities, he hides out in the apartment of Jane Wharton (Joan Fontaine), and a relationship develops between the two, fostered by their mutual loneliness and alienation. Jane exerts a positive influence on Bill, but the upward spiral of his life is stymied with the entrance of Harry Carter (Robert Newton), who witnessed the killing in the pub and is looking to convert his knowledge into a hefty payday.

Trivia tidbit: The film was helmed by Norman Foster, who started his career as an actor in pre-Codes like Skyscraper Souls (1932), Rafter Romance (1933), and State Fair (1933). His first directorial credit was in I Cover Chinatown (1936), in which he also starred.

Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)
Barbara Stanwyck in Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)

This film, based on a radio play, tells the tension-filled story of Leona Stevenson (Barbara Stanwyck), a self-absorbed heiress whose heart condition keeps her confined to her bed, where she communicates with the world via telephone. When, one evening, she overhears two men plotting a murder, she desperately endeavors to intervene, but through a series of phone calls, she not only learns that her husband, Henry (Burt Lancaster), is involved in the scheme, but that she is the intended victim.

Favorite quote:You can’t live on dreams forever. Waiting only weakens you and your dream. My motto is: ‘If you want something, get it now!’

Henry Stephenson

Pitfall (1948)

Lizabeth Scott and Raymond Burr in Pitfall (1948)
Lizabeth Scott and Raymond Burr in Pitfall (1948)

Dick Powell stars as Johnny Forbes, an insurance agent and family man who is bored with his mundane existence and gets more than he bargained for when he’s tasked with retrieving stolen merchandise from an attractive model, Mona Stevens (Lizabeth Scott). When he allows himself to engage in a brief affair with Mona, he discovers that he’s part of a deadly quadrangle that includes Mona’s imprisoned boyfriend (Byron Barr) and a psychotic insurance investigator (Raymond Burr), who wants Mona all to himself.

Trivia tidbit: Pitfall was based on a novel by Jay Dratler, who wrote or contributed to the screenplays for numerous noirs, including Laura (1944), The Dark Corner (1946), Call Northside 777 (1948), and Impact (1949).

What are some of your favorite films from 75 years ago?

– 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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Western RoundUp: Lone Pine Film Locations

Lone Pine Film Locations

This month the Western RoundUp column will pay a return visit to Lone Pine, California, to look at some interesting Western movie locations.

The present-day photos seen in this column were mostly taken when I was in town last fall for the 32nd Lone Pine Film Festival. My husband and I visited numerous movie locations that week, both on our own and as part of festival tour groups.

The Alabama Hills National Scenic Area sign at Lone Pine California
The Alabama Hills National Scenic Area sign at Lone Pine

The Round-Up (1920), starring Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle and directed by George Melford, is believed to be the first feature-length film shot in the Lone Pine area.

This year we took a tour of a new-to-us area along the Owens River, where The Round-Up filmed a number of scenes. What’s amazing is that some of the same wooden fences seen in the movie are still standing, over a century later.

Here’s a screen shot of actress Mabel Scott provided by our guide, Greg Parker:

Mabel Scott in The Round-Up (1920)
Mabel Scott in The Round-Up (1920)

And here’s the exact same fence today:

Lone Pine Fence The Round-Up (1920)
The fence as it stands today

A cabin seen in the film was right here:

Lone Pine cabin location The Round-Up (1920)
Location of where the cabin once stood

Here’s the cabin as it looked in the movie, again thanks to Greg’s screen shot booklet:

The Round-Up (1920)
The Round-Up (1920)

The remains of a decayed wooden bridge which was seen in numerous films including The Round-Up, The Man From Utah (1934) starring John Wayne, and The Nevadan (1950) starring Randolph Scott:

Here’s how it looked in a shot from The Man From Utah:

Owens River Bridge from The Man from Utah (1934)
Owens River Bridge featured in The Man from Utah (1934)

The Round-Up also stars Wallace Beery and features Buster Keaton in a small role as an Indian, Sagebrush Charlie. Last year Kit Parker Films released The Round-Up on Blu-ray, with the print from the Library of Congress 35mm archival master.

John Wayne often worked in Lone Pine while making “B” Westerns in the ’30s. The New Frontier (1935) was one such film:

John Wayne in The New Frontier (1935)
John Wayne in The New Frontier (1935)

The above scene was filmed on a dry lake bed very close to the other locations seen above. Additional movies which filmed scenes on the lake bed include Army Girl (1938), Three Faces West (1940), and the Hopalong Cassidy film Secret of the Wastelands (1941).

Here’s how the lake bed looks today:

Lone Pine lake bed film location
The lake bed location today

Here’s another screen shot, this time seen as William “Hopalong Cassidy” Boyd rode through the area in Secret of the Wastelands:

Hopalong Cassidy in Secrets of the Wasteland (1941)
Hopalong Cassidy in Secret of the Wastelands (1941)

And as it looked facing that direction last fall:

Lone Pine lake bed film location
The lake bed today

Speaking of Hopalong Cassidy, one of the famous rocks in the Alabama Hills is “Hoppy Rock,” which takes its name from the Hopalong Cassidy film Silent Conflict (1948). Here it is as seen in the movie:

Hopalong Cassidy in Silent Conflict (1948)
Hopalong Cassidy in Silent Conflict (1948)

And Hoppy Rock photographed from that side today, accompanied by a shot from another angle:

Some of the other “named” rocks in the Alabama Hills include Gary Cooper Rock and Gene Autry Rock.

I wrote about one of the locations for the Randolph Scott-Budd Boetticher film The Tall T (1957) here in 2021. This time around we’ll look at Anchor Ranch in Lone Pine, where some of the movie’s opening scenes were filmed.

Lone Pine Anchor Ranch entrance sign
Sign for Anchor Ranch

Early in the film Scott’s character visits a friend’s ranch. Here’s a shot with a barn in the background:

Randolph Scott in The Tall T (1957)
Randolph Scott in The Tall T (1957)

Here’s the barn again, still standing today:

Lone Pine The Tall T (1957) barn
The barn still stands today

Scott’s character, Pat Brennan, leans on an iron fence at one point:

Randolph Scott The Tall T (1957) fence
Scott leaning on an iron fence in The Tall T (1957)

Amazingly the fence pole still exists today as well, albeit now on the ground; my husband (at left) and some other members of the tour picked it up for a photo:

Lone Pine Anchor Ranch The Tall T (1957) fence today
Remnants of the fence today

An incredible number of Westerns were filmed in the areas around Lone Pine; look for more location shots here in the future!

For additional Western RoundUp columns on Lone Pine film locations, please visit my past articles from 2021 and 2018. There are even more Lone Pine locations pictured in my articles on the films Hop-a-Long Cassidy (1935) and The Violent Men (1955).

Beyond Lone Pine, additional movie location photos may be seen in my articles on KanabMoabCorriganville, and Iverson Movie Ranch.

The photographs of the Alabama Hills and most of the screen shots accompanying this article are from the author’s personal collection.

– Laura Grieve for Classic Movie Hub

Laura can be found at her blog, Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings, where she’s been writing about movies since 2005, and on Twitter at @LaurasMiscMovie. A lifelong film fan, Laura loves the classics including Disney, Film Noir, Musicals, and Westerns.  She regularly covers Southern California classic film festivals.  Laura will scribe on all things western at the ‘Western RoundUp’ for CMH.

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Silents are Golden: Silent Directors – The Adventurous Nell Shipman

Silents are Golden: Silent Directors – The Adventurous Nell Shipman

Nell Shipman Headshot
Nell Shipman

It’s fascinating how many silent era directors were more than willing to risk life and limb in pursuit of authentic filming locations. Nell Shipman is a prominent example. Known mainly to silent film buffs today, she was an actress, producer and director who made adventure-themed films in her native Canada, at times in the most frigid and remote locations. 

Nell Shipman Director
Shipman on location.

Shipman was born Helen Barham in 1892, to a middle-class family in Victoria, British Columbia. After spending her childhood in Canada her family decided to move to Seattle. In 1905, at only thirteen years old, she decided to become an actress and joined Paul Gilmore’s traveling stage company. During the next few years she grew accustomed to staying in cheap boarding houses and carefully tracking her pennies as the company toured the U.S.

Nell Shipman Young
a young Nell Shipman

While Shipman largely took the difficulties of stock company work in stride, one traumatic experience would have a large impact on her. In her autobiography The Silent Screen & My Talking Heart she described how she was followed back to her room one night and threatened with a knife. She never detailed precisely what followed, but in later years she thought her near-obsessive love of animals became a way of coping with that horrible event.

When she was 18 she married Ernest Shipman, the manager of a stage company in New York. In a couple years they would have a son, Barry, and would move to Hollywood to try their luck in the rapidly-growing film industry. Nell began working as a screenwriter while Ernest became a publicity man. Her acting debut was in the short The Ball of Yarn (1913), and after a couple more years of screenwriting she produced, directed and acted in God’s Country and the Woman (1915) for Vitagraph. This was the first of her films to revolve around capable women and wilderness settings, and she would often be referred to as “The Girl From God’s Country.”

Nell Shipman and bear
With one of her beloved bears.

Having snowy adventure-themed films in mind and wanting them set in her native Canada, Nell would partner with James Oliver Curwood to create the Shipman-Curwood Producing Company. Curwood was a prominent author famed for his novels set in the wilds of Alaska and the Yukon, and Nell wanted to adapt his story  “Wapi the Walrus” for the big screen. Ernest created Canadian Photoplays Ltd. and found investors for the project, and soon Nell’s studio trekked to Alberta, Canada to film what would become Back to God’s Country (1919).

Their location was a tiny settlement by Lesser Slave Lake, 150 miles north of Edmonton, composed mainly of fishermen’s cabins with dirt floors and a dining hall. The winter temps would drop to as low as a bone-chilling 50 below zero, and they had to keep their cameras outdoors so temperature changes wouldn’t cause static. The cold made the two-week shoot not only a grueling experience, but a dangerous one. Director Bert Van Tuyle suffered a bad case of frostbite on his right foot, and actor Ronald Byran developed what turned out to be a fatal case of pneumonia.

Nell Shipman and the Trail of the North Wind (1923) crew, including her son Barry.
Shipman and the Trail of the North Wind (1923) crew, including her son Barry.

The completed Back to God’s Country did become a box office hit–in Canada it was the highest-grossing silent film of the entire era. It followed the story of Dolores, an attractive young woman living with her father in the Canadian wilderness. She marries Peter, a visitor from the city. Tragedy strikes when an outlaw sets his eye on her and ends up killing her father. When Peter is transferred to a remote northern location, the couple intends to journey there by ship. To Dolores’s horror, the captain is none other than the murderous outlaw. Peter gets injured, the ship gets trapped in ice, and Dolores must make a daring journey by dogsled to find the nearest doctor. A heroic dog named Wapi also helps to save the day. The film was not only exciting, but there was also a (tasteful) nude scene where Dolores is shown frolicking in a river–which was exploited by Ernest quite blatantly.

Back to God's Country movie poster
Back to God’s Country (1919)

The success of Back to God’s Country enabled Nell to keep making other adventurous films, such as Trail of the Arrow (1920) and the aptly-named The Girl from God’s Country (1921). By this time she had split from her husband Ernest, thanks to her long-time affair with Bert Van Tuyle. In 1922 she decided to move her company to Priest Lake in northern Idaho, a rustic location that wasn’t too far from Spokane. By this time she also had an impressive zoo of around 200 animals, including wolves, bears, cougars, porcupines, dogs, elk, and eagles, which were frequently featured in her films. To the amusement of the locals, her menagerie was also carted over to Priest Lake on a series of barges.

Nell Shipman bear
Another of Nell’s bears

It was during their first winter in Idaho that a frightening event took place that seemed to come straight from one of Nell’s films. Van Tuyle’s foot, which was still bothering him, developed gangrene and the pain and fever made him go quite literally insane. Nell found him outside hitching up the dog sled and then followed him as he impulsively drove across the frozen lake, refusing to stop. For hours she pursued him by snowshoe, and then with the dogsled when he abandoned it and kept feverishly trudging along, dragging his infected foot. When he finally collapsed they were found by two loggers, and with their help Nell managed to reach the nearest village. Van Tuyle was taken to a hospital and had three toes amputated.

Sadly, Nell’s filmmaking days would be numbered. An angry confrontation at a New Year’s Eve party ended her relationship with Van Tuyle, and her films were having increasingly high production costs. There were also rumors in the Priest Lake community that her animals were beginning to starve–whether from lack of funds, neglect, or the harsh winters seems unclear. She would declare bankruptcy in 1925 and her beloved animals would be taken away–some ended up at the San Diego zoo.

Nell Shipman Hat
Shipman has been credited as a writer, actress, director and producer

Nell and her son Barry would move to New York City, where Nell would marry painter Charles Ayres. They had two children, Charles and Daphne, but got divorced in 1934. Nell would keep busy with various writing projects, including her thoughtful autobiography, but never quite achieved a hoped-for comeback as an actress and director. She passed away in 1970, at the age of 77.

–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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Classic Movie Travels: Darla Hood

Classic Movie Travels: Darla Hood

Darla Hood headshot
Darla Hood

Darla Jean Hood was born on November 8, 1931, in Leedey, Oklahoma. She was born to James and Elizabeth Hood. James worked as a bank teller, while Elizabeth was a housewife. Elizabeth was instrumental in introducing Hood to song and dance, regularly taking her to music lessons in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. By her third birthday, Hood was scouted by Hal Roach Studios casting director Joe Rivkin. After a successful screen test, she and her family traveled to Culver City, California, so that she could appear in the Our Gang shorts.

Initially, she appeared in Our Gang as a character named Cookie. For all her other Our Gang appearances, she carried out the role of Darla. Her character was well-known for being the love interest of Alfalfa, as well as other characters on occasion. Among many screen appearances, she could be seen in Our Gang Follies of 1936 (1935) and The Bohemian Girl (1936) with Laurel and Hardy. Her final Our Gang appearance was in Wedding Worries (1941).

Darla Hood young
a young Darla

As she grew, she pursued more mature roles while attending Fairfax High School. Continuing to exhibit her vocal abilities, she organized a vocal group at Fairfax called the Enchanters, which featured her vocals and the back-up vocals provided by four male students. Upon graduation, the group was booked to partake in a variety show, remaining with Ken Murray’s Blackouts variety show throughout its run in New York City and Hollywood.

Hood married singer and insurance salesman Robert W. Decker in 1949. They divorced in 1957.

Later, Hood appeared solo in nightclubs and as a guest on television shows. She worked with ventriloquist Edgar Bergen as a leading actress in his sketches and performed regularly on The Merv Griffin Show. She also recorded several singles for Ray Note and Acama labels. Rivkin, who discovered her, saw the cover to one of her albums and eventually cast her in what would be her final film role and first adult role in a film—portraying a secretary in The Bat (1959) with Vincent Price.

Darla Hood as Judy Hollander in The Bat (1959)
Darla Hood as Judy Hollander in The Bat (1959)

Hood continued to appear as a guest on many television shows, including You Bet Your Life, The Jack Benny Show, and The Little Rascals Christmas Special. She sang and offered voiceovers on commercials for Campbell’s Soup and Chicken of the Sea tuna. Additionally, she carried out a nightclub act at the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles, California; Copacabana in New York, New York; as well as the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Hood married for the second time to record company executive Jose Granson in 1957, with whom she had three children and remained married until her passing.

Hood was working on organizing a 1989 Little Rascals reunion when she needed to undergo an appendectomy at Canoga Park Hospital. She passed away from heart failure on June 13, 1979. She was 47 years old. Hood is interred at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California.

There are some locations of relevance to Hood that remain today. In 1940, Hood and her parents lived at 911 N. Alfred St., Los Angeles, California. This location no longer stands.

In 1956, she lived at 13802 Runnymede St., Van Nuys, California. The home still stands today.

Darla Hood's 1956 residence at 13802 Runnymede St., Van Nuys, California
Darla’s 1956 residence at 13802 Runnymede St., Van Nuys, California

Hollywood Forever Cemetery is located at 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles, California.

–Annette Bochenek for Classic Movie Hub

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

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

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Monsters and Matinees: A century later, Chaney’s ‘Hunchback’ still amazes

A century later, Chaney’s ‘Hunchback’ still amazes

If you were a moviegoer 100 years ago in 1923, you would have been treated to laughs courtesy of comedy greats Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. You might have held your breath as Harold Lloyd hung dangerously from a clock high above a city street in Safety Last!

You would have been awed by the impressive parting of the Red Sea in Cecil B. DeMille’s big-screen spectacle The Ten Commandments, the biggest hit of 1923.

If you were looking to be frightened, your entertainment choices dwindled dramatically. The number of horror films released in 1923 could nearly be counted on one hand. But among the very few was something very special: Lon Chaney in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Esmeralda (Patsy Ruth Miller) shows kindness to the mistreated Quasimodo (the superb Lon Chaney) in the 1923 silent film The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

We can pause to acknowledge that not everyone considers Hunchback a horror film. If you don’t either, you’re in good company since the esteemed Christopher Lee didn’t think it was a horror film either. Nor did author Carlos Clarens who called the film a “historical spectacle rather than a horror film” in his Illustrated History of the Horror Film. More recently, an article in Paste magazine said it wasn’t hard to make the case that it was “more adventure or romantic drama than it is a horror film, save for one key characteristic: The iconic, unavoidably grotesque appearance of its title character.” (I would add it’s a beauty and the beast story of the most tragic kind.)

But there is horror in Hunchback that is found in its deep cruelty, brutality and malice that caused Variety to call the film a “two-hour nightmare” upon its release.

Chaney had long wanted to make a film of Victor Hugo’s 1831 novel about the mistreated Quasimodo, a deaf, half-blind and deformed man who is the bell ringer at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in 1482. As men of power, greed and lust use and abuse him, he falls in love with and protects lovely young Gypsy dancer Esmeralda. The story’s moral was to teach us not to judge people by how they look.

There were at least three film versions already made when Chaney started to explore his options. Alice Guy-Blanche and Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset co-directed a 10-minute French short called Esmeralda in 1905; a British short of the same name was released in 1922. Both, as expected from the title, focused on Esmeralda. A 26-minute version of the novel under the full title of Hunchback of Notre Dame was released in 1911.

In 1921, Chaney acquired the film rights and was willing to go the extra mile to get it done – even if it meant making it overseas. He had an early deal with the German studio, Chelsea Pictures Company which fell through. But the success of the Chaney films The Miracle Man (1919) and The Penalty (1920) helped Irving Thalberg convince Universal co-founder Carl Laemmle to make Hunchback, as the studio announced it would in August of 1922.

A page from Universal Weekly, a publication of Universal Studios, touts the announcement of Lon Chaney as The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

It wouldn’t be just any film either – it would be a movie of a scale so grand it had never been attempted by Universal before. It took six months to build a 19-acre set with a re-creation the Notre Dame Cathedral including its “Gallery of Kings” – the statues of each king of France that line the western façade – along with surrounding streets. So many extras were used for the film – hundreds were needed for the “Court of Miracles” scene alone – that 3,000 costumes had to be made.

Hunchback was filmed from Dec. 16, 1922 to June 8, 1923 and released on Sept. 6, 1923. The director was Wallace Worsley, an unusual choice at first glance, but he had worked with Chaney to great success on four other films.

At a final budget of about $1,250,000, it was the most expensive film Chaney ever made but it easily made back its budget by pulling in $3.5 million – a fortune in 1923. That box office figure is greater than even Chaney’s most famous film, The Phantom of the Opera (1925).

Becoming Quasimodo

By this time, Chaney had earned the title of “The Man of a Thousand Faces” for his innovative makeup and incredible physical ability to contort his body in ways we continue to marvel at today.

After playing cripples – or pretend cripples – in such films as The Miracle Man, The Penalty, The Shock and Flesh and Blood, Chaney proclaimed that Hunchback would be his final “cripple” role. (Of course, that didn’t last long. In 1927, Chaney was outstanding as a convict pretending to be a cripple in a circus in The Unknown.)

For Hunchback, Chaney kept his makeup faithful to Hugo’s description that Quasimodo’s “whole person was a grimace.”

He had a horseshoe mouth, broken teeth, a little left eye and a right eye that disappeared beneath an enormous wart. His head was huge, topped by bristly hair. His feet were large, hands were monstrous and there was an enormous hump between his shoulders.

“One would have pronounced him a giant who had been broken and badly put together again,” Hugo wrote and that’s what Chaney created.

Despite all the hideous prosthetics, Lon Chaney is able to show the humanity behind Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

To play the deformed bell ringer, Chaney wore a breast plate, shoulder pads and a 70-pound rubber hump that was harnessed to him under a skin-colored rubber suit that was affixed with animal hair. It was incredibly heavy, weighing him down so much that he couldn’t stand erect for the three months of filming, causing him pain. The rubber suit made him unbearably hot, drenching him in sweat daily. He couldn’t even close his mouth because of a device used for his face makeup.

It’s difficult not to focus on that intense makeup when watching Hunchback, yet Chaney had the unique ability to make the audience look beyond the grotesque makeup to really see Quasimodo and feel his pain.

The reviewer for Motion Picture World in 1923 certainly understood: “Here then is a picture that will live forever. Chaney’s portrayal of Quasimodo the hunchback is… a marvel of sympathetic acting. Chaney, in some miraculous way, awakens within us a profound feeling of sympathy and admiration for this most unfortunate and physically revolting human being.”

The Nov. 29, 1923 issue of Bioscope echoed a similar sentiment. “His extraordinary make-up as a veritable living gargoyle reaches the limit of grotesquery (and at moments seems to go a shade beyond it) but his sprawling movements and frantic gestures are brilliantly conceived …”

A review from the trade journal Harrison’s Reports seems prophetic reading it today as it states that “Mr. Chaney’s work will live in the memory when all else will have faded away.”

A century later, those words ring true on Chaney’s Quasimodo – a cinematic work of art.

Also from 1923

“The Unknown Purple” is a 1923 lost film about an inventor who can turn himself invisible.

A search of films made in 1923 revealed only a few possible horror movies. The Wolf Man, starring John Gilbert and Norma Shearer(!), sadly wasn’t what its title suggests. Others are lost like The Unknown Purple with its very intriguing spin on The Invisible Man: A poor inventor uses ultra-violet rays to turn invisible as he seeks revenge against his unfaithful wife and business partner who framed him for a crime. Unfortunately, the rays leave a purple glow causing a problem for this invisible man. I truly wish I could see this film.

The year also brought the third silent film version of The Monkey’s Paw, an adaptation of the 1902 short story by W.W. Jacobs about a monkey’s paw that grants its holder three wishes with terrifying results. If you can get to Britain, you can see an incomplete version of the film.

The Mystery of Fu-Manchu is a 15-part film serial with some dark, but fun, themes.

You can find some episodes of The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu to watch online. Based on the first of the Fu-Manchu novels that Sax Rohmer wrote in 1913, this 1923 film serial had 15 self-contained short episodes that each came with a gimmick such as a haunted house, a snake-head cane with a live killer snake hidden inside, a cat with poisoned claws and a torture cage with rats. Now that’s dark.

Guests at a dinner party are initially mesmerized by the “shadow puppets” created by a strange visitor – until he turns his skills on their shadows in the 1923 German film Shadows: A Nocturnal Hallucination.

One exciting discovery was the German film Schatten – Eine nächtliche Halluzination (also known as Shadows – a Nocturnal Hallucination and Warning Shadows). A flirtatious young wife, a jealous husband, four suitors and a mysterious shadow puppeteer are the ingredients of this psychological horror story filled with shadows, reflections, lust and jealousy. That alternate title of Warning Shadows is a hint about the movie.

A husband’s dinner party for his wife is interrupted by an uninvited visitor with a bag of magic. As the husband’s jealousy grows with each flirtatious glance between his young wife and guests, the puppeteer plays with shadows releasing desires, possessiveness and even violence.

The full-length film was originally made without intertitles, to allow the strong visuals to tell the story. But without them, it is difficult to fully understand what’s happening. Yet it is mesmerizing to watch as the shadows grow and change, projecting things that are real – and not. In one scene, the husband watches shadows from behind a curtain that seem to show his wife being undressed by a man – but that isn’t the case.

A jealous husband lurking behind a curtain is fooled by what he sees in Shadows: A Nocturnal Hallucination.

Director Arthur Robison also plays with mirrors and reflections in the way he does with shadows. As the husband waits outside his wife’s bedroom for a young man to leave, we can see the husband’s horror mount as he hides by the door and sees the reflection of the two in a mirror. When the young man backs out of the bedroom, we see him and the husband in both the mirror and hallway. Perhaps there are two sides to every story?

A reason this film is interesting in theory and visuals and that it features the work of some cast and crew of the 1922 German masterpiece Nosferatu: cinematographer Fritz Amo Wagner, designer Albin Grau, who also came up with concept; and actors Alexander Granach as the puppeteer and Gustav von Wangenheim as a young suitor.

I’ll be watching Shadows: A Nocturnal Hallucination/Warning Shadows again.

 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: Supportive Fellas of Film Noir

Noir Nook: Supportive Fellas of Film Noir

A couple of years ago at the Noir Nook, I remedied my penchant for focusing on the distaff side of noir by shining the spotlight on some of my favorite noir actors. Now that 2023 is upon us, I thought it was about time to show a little more love to the gents; this time, I’m not looking at the main characters, but a couple of fellas in support of the main, who deserve just as much attention.

Chickamaw Mobley (Howard da Silva) in They Live By Night (1948)

Howard Da Silva, Jay C. Flippen, Farley Granger, and William Phipps in They Live by Night (1948)
Howard Da Silva, Jay C. Flippen, Farley Granger, and William Phipps in They Live by Night (1948)

One of my (many) favorite noirs, and one of the few that has made me tear up at the end, They Live By Night stars Farley Granger as Arthur “Bowie” Bowers, who escapes from prison with two other inmates and falls in love with Keechie Mobley (Cathy O’Donnell), the niece of one of his fellow escapees. Like many a noir, this one involves a scheme for “one last job” – and like the best laid plans of mice and men, things don’t turn out as intended.

Howard da Silva plays one of the escaped men, Chickamaw Mobley, who we see in the first scene driving the getaway car, which has been commandeered from the hapless farmer sitting beside him. When the car blows a tire and Chickamaw drives off the road into a nearby field, we get our first glimpse of this guy’s personality. The owner of the car makes one simple remark (“I knew that tire had to go”) and Chickamaw (who, incidentally, is blind in one eye) is off to the races. He tells the man he talks too much, snatches him from the car, and is prepared to shotgun him on the spot – if he hadn’t been stopped by the third convict comrade, T-Dub (Jay C. Flippen), the car owner would surely have met his maker that day. As it is, Chickamaw shoves the man to the ground and wallops him into unconsciousness.

Chickamaw is a mass of contradictions. He appears, at times, to be easy-going and amused by the goings-on around him, but he’s scary, too, and quick to fly off the handle. He’s cold-blooded, as we see with the farmer, and later in the film when a cop tries to detain him after a car accident, but he’s hypersensitive about references to his blind eye. He stresses that the three former inmates have to “look and act like other people,” but he hankers for fame and he’s chafed because the local newspaper “didn’t print a very big piece” about their prison break. Of the three men, it’s Chickamaw who’s the most menacing – the one that you’d least want to be left alone in a room with. But one thing’s sure – you won’t soon forget him.

Marty Waterman (Elisha Cook, Jr.) in Born to Kill (1947)

Elisha Cook, Jr. and Esther Howard in Born to Kill (1947)
Elisha Cook, Jr. and Esther Howard in Born to Kill (1947)

Born to Kill is yet another personal favorite. In it, Lawrence Tierney is the aptly named Sam Wild, who commits a double murder in the first 10 minutes of the film, jumps into an affair with Helen Trent (Claire Trevor), the (engaged) woman who finds the bodies – and then attempts to leap into a higher social stratum by marrying Helen’s wealthy foster sister, Georgia (Audrey Long). Meanwhile, his crimes are on the verge of exposure because Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard), a friend of one of Sam’s victims, is determined to find the man responsible.

Elisha Cook’s Marty is Sam’s bosom buddy and lifelong pal. We don’t know exactly what kind of relationship they have, or how long they’ve had it, but we do know that they were roommates in Reno, and that Marty looks after Sam like a mother bear to her favorite cub. When Sam flees to San Francisco, Marty’s not far behind. When Sam marries Georgia, Marty’s the best man. When Marty learns about the ongoing relationship between Sam and his sister-in-law, he has a few choice words of warning for Helen. And when Mrs. Kraft comes to town and hires a private eye… well, Marty has something to say about that, too.

Marty is the kind of friend we all wish we had. He doesn’t encourage Sam’s misdeeds, but he’s not judgmental, either. He’s supportive and understanding, soothing and empathetic. When Sam tells him about the murders, Marty doesn’t scold, but he does offer his friend some practical advice: “Honest, Sam, you go nuts about nothin’. Nothin’ at all. You gotta watch that,” Marty warns. “You can’t just go around killin’ people whenever the notion strikes you. It’s not feasible.” No matter what Sam does, he can count on Marty to have his back – and not only have his back, but to do whatever he has to do to secure Sam’s safety. It’s Marty’s tough luck that Sam doesn’t realize just how good a friend he has.

Stay tuned for future Noir Nooks, where I’ll explore more first-rate supporting gents. Meanwhile, you can catch both They Live By Night and Born to Kill for free on YouTube and check out these characters for yourself!

You won’t be sorry.

– 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: Twentieth Century (1934)

Silver Screen Standards: Twentieth Century (1934)

Although it’s not as widely celebrated today as Bringing Up Baby (1938), director Howard HawksTwentieth Century (1934) is another go-for-broke screwball comedy with protagonists who are all bonkers. This earlier picture stars John Barrymore and Carole Lombard as dueling divas whose egos are too big for their own good, and each of them is so over the top with hammy histrionics that you can’t take anything they do seriously. For some people that might be too much of a good thing, but I love the fast-paced wackiness of this ridiculous story and the hilarious performances of its stars. If you enjoy the rapid patter of Hawks’ other screwball classics, like His Girl Friday (1940) and Ball of Fire (1941), you’ll delight in the romantic and verbal antics of Barrymore and Lombard in Twentieth Century.

Twentieth Century 1934 John Barrymore, Carole Lombard
Oscar (John Barrymore) and his star Lily (Carole Lombard) share a rare tender moment in their tempestuous relationship.

Barrymore plays Broadway director Oscar Jaffe, who takes eager young actress Mildred Plotka (Lombard) and transforms her into stage star Lily Garland. Oscar gets more than he bargained for, however, as Lily’s ego and need for attention fully match his own, which dooms their partnership both on stage and at home. Lily abandons Broadway for Hollywood, leaving Oscar’s subsequent productions to flop, until the pair meet up again while traveling on the 20th Century Limited. Oscar hatches a plan to get Lily back with help from his two chief assistants, Oliver (Walter Connolly) and Owen (Roscoe Karns).

Twentieth Century 1934 Carole Lombard, Roscoe Karns, John Barrymore
Lily, Owen (Roscoe Karns), and Oliver (Walter Connolly) all endure Oscar’s temper tantrums and machinations.

The movie is adapted from a stage play, which shows somewhat in its limited settings, but most of the action takes place on a train where we don’t notice that confined space as much. It’s the train that gives the movie its name; the 20th Century Limited ran between New York and Chicago from 1902 to 1967. You might, however, justly infer that the title refers to the modernity of the story in its focus on dual careers, rapid change, and the way Hollywood was then luring away stage stars with more money and greater fame. The train speeds along just like the dialogue, carrying its cargo of eccentric characters from one city to another. A moving train is a liminal space where transformation happens and shifts occur; our characters are by no means on solid ground. Oscar, Lily, Oliver, and Owen all vacillate accordingly, between moods, resolutions, states of inebriation, and feelings toward each other, but they’re not the only mutable passengers aboard. Adding to the confusion is Etienne Girardot as Matthew J. Clark, an elderly, milquetoast fellow who is sometimes sane and sometimes mad as a hatter. In his latter state he runs around the train covering everything in sight with “Repent” stickers and leading train employees on a frantic chase. We come to suspect that nobody in or on the 20th Century is likely to be sane.

Twentieth Century 1934 Carole Lombard, John Barrymore
Lily gives Oscar a swift kick in the rear as they clash in one of their constant battles.

While many screwball comedies, including Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby and Ball of Fire, feature a chaotic woman who disrupts an orderly man’s life, Twentieth Century more closely resembles His Girl Friday (1940) with its chaotic man who schemes to regain control of the woman who has gotten away from him. The difference here is that Lombard’s Lily is every bit as unscrupulous and uncontrollable as Oscar; she kicks, screams, throws tantrums, and make scenes with equal enthusiasm. The result is a battle of the hams between Barrymore and Lombard, which is a riot onscreen but would make for an unbearably toxic relationship in real life. Narcissists usually seek out less self-obsessed partners for good reason; there’s not enough room in the relationship for two of them. Oscar and Lily are a perfect match for each other because they’re exactly alike, but they inevitably clash because they both have such enormous egos. Neither of them learns anything from this experience or improves in any discernible way because they’re more like caricatures than human beings, a fact that Lily recognizes and even highlights. “We’re not people, we’re lithographs,” she tells Oscar. “We don’t know anything about love unless it’s written and rehearsed. We’re only real in between curtains.” That truth undermines any hope for a happy ending, and indeed we don’t really get one, but we do get the sense that Oscar and Lily will forever be rushing back and forth between New York and Chicago, love and loathing, getting together and breaking up, like perpetual passengers on modernity’s crazy train.

Twentieth Century 1934 Carole Lombard, John Barrymore
Lily and Oscar spend more time fighting than making up during their train trip, which doesn’t bode well for Oscar’s attempts to win Lily back as both star and lover.

Twentieth Century did bring real change to Carole Lombard’s career, as it launched her into a string of great screwball comedy roles, including My Man Godfrey (1936), Nothing Sacred (1937), and To Be or Not to Be (1942). Barrymore, already a legend of stage and the silent screen, was waning thanks to age and alcoholism and would die at the age of 60 in 1942, just a few months after Lombard perished in a tragic plane crash. See him in the screwball classic Midnight (1939) for a late comedic role, but don’t miss earlier films like The Beloved Rogue (1927), Svengali (1931), Grand Hotel (1932), and Dinner at Eight (1933). Roscoe Karns and Walter Connolly both have memorable roles in It Happened One Night (1934), with Karns also turning up in His Girl Friday and Connolly appearing with Lombard again in Nothing Sacred. For even more screwball delights, see fan favorites like The Awful Truth (1937), The Philadelphia Story (1940), The Lady Eve (1941), and The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek (1943). Twentieth Century can be hard to get on DVD or Blu-ray, but it’s available on a handful of streaming services, including The Criterion Channel. 

— 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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Western Roundup: The Furies (1950)

Western Roundup: The Furies (1950)

This month my Western RoundUp column takes a look at The Furies (1950), an Anthony Mann Western with Barbara Stanwyck heading a top cast.

The Furies Poster

When I wrote about Forty Guns (1957) here last May, I wasn’t planning to do a series on Stanwyck’s ’50s Westerns over the course of the year, but here we are! Forty Guns led me to watch The Violent Men (1955), and those films combined to spark my interest in The Furies. The three films range from good to great; taken both individually and as a group they make fascinating viewing.

In terms of quality I’d class The Furies in the middle of the three; Forty Guns was my favorite for several reasons, including Stanwyck’s chemistry with her leading man (Barry Sullivan). It’s interesting that of the trio, Stanwyck’s role was also the most sympathetic in Forty Guns, though that character was no less ambitious than the women she played in the other two films.

Walter Huston, Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey, The Furies 1950
Walter Huston, Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey

The Furies is the name of the Southwestern ranch owned by T.C. Jeffords (Walter Huston). T.C. is something of a wild man who has carved out his ranch territory by any means possible, including theft and murder.

The widowed T.C. has a curiously…close…relationship with his headstrong daughter Vance (Stanwyck) which is threatened when he brings home a widow, Flo (Judith Anderson), he’s thinking of marrying. The clever Flo schemes to pack Vance off to Europe and assume control of T.C. and his money.

Wendall Corey, Barbara Stanwyck, The Furies 1950
Wendell Corey, Barbara Stanwyck

There are flaws with Flo’s plan, however, including the fact that for years T.C. has been paying creditors with fake notes called “T.C.’s.” When Flo threatens Vance’s control of the ranch, Vance schemes with banker Rip Darrow (Wendell Corey), whose father’s land was stolen by T.C., to buy up the notes and take over the Furies.

There are subplots aplenty, with Vance being attracted to Rip, while in turn she’s loved by an old friend, Juan (Gilbert Roland). The fact Juan is an Hispanic “squatter” on the ranch is a strike against their relationship being anything permanent, and it also seems that Juan’s love isn’t exciting enough for Vance.

Gilbert Roland, Barbara Stanwyck, The Furies 2
Gilbert Roland, Barbara Stanwyck

On that note, in addition to her oddly possessive, physical relationship with her father, Vance has a masochistic streak and seems to enjoy being abused by Rip. A scene where she invites Rip to hit her is an eye-popper. Indeed, Vance’s relationships with both her father and Rip are such that I’m frankly amazed it all was passed by the censors in 1950.

Charles Schnee’s screenplay for this 109-minute film was based on a novel by Niven Busch, who himself wrote the dark, florid screenplays for Duel in the Sun (1946) and Pursued (1947). Touches of those films, including an unusual familial relationship and deadly love, are apparent in The Furies — which, like Pursued, deserves to be called “Western film noir.”

The Furies has very stylized dialogue and staging every bit as over the top as Duel in the Sun, though the film it reminded me of most closely was the later Johnny Guitar (1954). My first viewing of both The Furies and Johnny Guitar left me thinking “This movie is very strange…but I think I like it.”

Wendall Corey, Barbara Stanwyck, The Furies
Barbara Stanwyck, Wendell Corey

The Furies was one of three Westerns directed by Mann which were released in 1950; the first was the classic Winchester ’73 (1950) with James Stewart, and the other was the well-regarded Devil’s Doorway (1950) starring Robert Taylor as a Native American dealing with racism in the post Civil War West.

Having seen many Mann films, including all of his Westerns with Stewart, the rather different, over-the-top style of The Furies was surprising to me, though no less enjoyable. The story comes off as a cross between Shakespearean tragedy and high melodrama.

Stanwyck is excellent as the restless, unhappy Vance, who wants three things: Her father, the ranch, and Rip, and she has no intention of sharing. Her physical reaction when she realizes the extent of Flo’s plotting is a stunner; even more stunning is there’s never any mention of involving the sheriff, even when the characters are away from T.C.’s ranching kingdom.

Gilbert Roland, Barbara Stanwyck, The Furies 1
Gilbert Roland, Barbara Stanwyck

Corey is good as the edgy Rip, who’s seemingly unmoved by Vance’s love and does quite a bit of plotting of his own. Corey’s restrained, rather withdrawn style here works for their relationship, though at times I wished the role were played by someone who struck more sparks with Stanwyck.

The sprawling story doesn’t make quite enough room for the wonderful Roland, and my only real criticism of the film is the disturbing way his storyline came to an end. No more will be said on that point to avoid spoilers, but I’ll be fast-forwarding past that sequence next time I see the film.

Anderson — who also appeared in the previously mentioned Pursued — couldn’t be better as Flo, who freely admits she’s in her relationship with T.C. not just for love, but for the money, which makes life much more pleasant. She’s calculating, certainly, yet not really mean about it; she seems to genuinely like T.C., and the consolation prize she offers Vance for taking over her role at the ranch is a “grand tour” of Europe. Flo, like others, doesn’t count on just how far a Jeffords will go to have what they want, with tragic consequences.

Huston is annoying as the cantankerous T.C., but then I suppose he’s meant to be. The fine cast is rounded out by Thomas Gomez, Wallace Ford, John Bromfield, Albert Dekker, Blanche Yurka, Louis Jean Heydt, Frank Ferguson, Myrna Dell, Movita, and Beulah Bondi in a small but wonderful role as a banker’s wife.

The black and white photography was by Victor Milner, along with the uncredited uncredited Lee Garmes. The score was by Franz Waxman, with costumes by Edith Head. Hal B. Wallis produced for Paramount Pictures.

The Furies Lobby Card 1

Stanwyck is greatly loved for her roles in crime films, dramas, and comedies alike, but as these three films illustrate, she also had a wonderful run in Westerns. I recommend all three Stanwyck films I’ve reviewed this year for excellent viewing.

The Furies is available on Blu-ray and DVD from the Criterion Collection.

– 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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