Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year, Strangers!

At Last: The Charles family spends some quality time together--finally--in 1936's After the Thin Man.

One of my favorite scenes in After the Thin Man (1936) is when Nick and Nora, exhausted after solving the Wynant case and just back from a cross country train journey, come home to that beautiful mansion high up in San Francisco. Wanting nothing more than to “sleep for a week”, the sleuthing couple are dismayed to discover a wild party in progress, ostensibly in their honor, and they find that virtually all of their “guests” are complete strangers! Even Asta seeks refuge from the drunken revelry!

So here’s hoping that your New Year’s festivities are memorable for all the right reasons and that you’re all in the company you know and enjoy.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Paul Newman: Saying Goodbye to a Legend

First, let me say that I'm not one to bore people with what I dream, and people usually don't care to know what other people think or feel, and that it's rude to talk about oneself. But there's a bit more to this dream than the usual fragmented imagery I experience. So I thought I'd share:

I was in the downtown area where I live and instead of the New Age "art park" that exists there now, there was an old, dilapidated, federal-style bank. The area around the bank was fairly run down and the weather was cold and everything a drab gray. As I headed towards the bank entrance, Paul Newman walked out, hands in his trenchcoat pockets. He wore a golfer's cap, a light khaki trenchcoat, and pearl-gray slacks. He was older, in his seventies, and we began a conversation. We walked around the bank and the downtown area. He spoke with that great voice of his, as he sounded in his later years. Our discussion had a subdued quality, and I could hear Newman thinking in the pauses between the times he spoke. He was so knowledgeable and wise, yet world weary. I was enraptured by every word he said and didn't speak much, but when doing so, it was in that placid, thoughts-between-speaking manner that matched his own. I don't remember what we said to one another, but the atmosphere was one of great empathy and understanding. Shift then to me walking inside the bank, which was smaller on the inside than it was outside, and when I informed the teller that I had just spoken to Paul Newman, she said: "Mr. Newman owns the bank." That Newman owned the bank was testament to his vast wealth, but the fact that he walked around anonymously and without drawing attention to who he was and how much money he had, was typical of his great character. The dream was a way of saying goodbye to him and perhaps a way to express grief. The experience was therapeutic, as I have had a rough time accepting his death. Of course, I never knew Paul Newman, but have been profoundly affected by his work, both onscreen and his charity work. There'll never be anyone quite like him.

Monday, December 29, 2008

2009 Unreleased DVD Wishlist

When asked by the young Reverend Billy Graham if he’d pray with him, President Harry S. Truman reportedly replied: “Well, it can’t hurt.” Now I’m not praying for these movies to be released on DVD in 2009, but wishing for them certainly couldn’t hurt. My list is far from comprehensive, but these are the ones that lead the pack:

A Bill of Divorcement (1932) John Barrymore, Katharine Hepburn. Kate's feature-film debut; who wouldn't want that? Directed by perennial favorite George Cukor.

Fast Company (1938) Melvyn Douglas, Florence Rice. Joel and Garda Sloane, rare book dealers turned husband & wife detectives.

Fast and Loose (1939) Robert Montgomery, Rosalind Russell. Same characters, another murder mystery; my favorite casting combination of the three-film series, though not my favorite film in the series.

What a Couple: Robert Montgomery & Rosalind Russell in what will likely be the cover to a DVD release of 1939's Fast and Loose.

Fast and Furious (1939) Franchot Tone, Ann Sothern. Here's the favorite! Yet another incarnation of Joel and Garda Sloane. Ann Sothern is incredibly cute--and gorgeous.

She Moves Me: Ann Sothern plays Garda Sloane in 1939's Fast and Furious.

Vivacious Lady (1938) James Stewart, Ginger Rogers. A slap-happy good time of a film, with nightclub singer Ginger falling in love with engaged small-town teacher Stewart.

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936) William Powell, Jean Arthur. A trifle compared to the other 1936 releases that starred William Powell, this husband and (ex)wife detective team movie has always amused me.

Skyscraper Souls (1932) Warren William, Maureen O’Sullivan. Pre-Code naughtiness in a film that would appear to be a commentary on the Empire State Building. Beautiful Deco sets and a delightfully debauched scene with Maureen O’Sullivan being plied with booze.

Johnny Eager (1942) Robert Taylor, Lana Turner, Van Heflin. The film that proved to me that Taylor could act. He plays a gangster who falls in love with the district attorney’s daughter (Turner). Van Heflin won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar as Taylor’s alcoholic pal.

World Weary: Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe in 1975's Farewell, My Lovely.

Farewell, My Lovely (1975) Robert Mitchum, Charlotte Rampling. The movie I've been waiting the longest for on DVD. It needs to be done right, unlike the cruddy pan-and-scan edition pictured above. Farewell, My Lovely is also one of my favorite novels of all time. As for the film, I prefer it to the infinitely more famous Chinatown. At least David Shire’s excellent music score is available.

So now it's wait and see time. It'll be interesting to see how many--if any--of these movies will make it to DVD in the coming year.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Jose Ferrer in Whirlpool (1949)

The plot of Otto Preminger’s Whirlpool (1949) concerns Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney), the kleptomaniac wife of a respected but inattentive psychiatrist, Bill Sutton (the oddly-cast Richard Conte) and how she is framed for a murder via hypnosis by a slimy quack, David Korvo (Jose Ferrer) who works his way into her confidence.

Whirlpool is not a movie to watch obsessively like other Preminger efforts Laura or Fallen Angel, and the film lacks the swirling imagery of its own theatrical trailer. In fact, Whirlpool cries out for a surreal hypnotism sequence, and it’s disappointing that the scene in the film itself is ineffective. Perhaps Preminger was relying solely on Jose Ferrer's power, because this lesser Otto entry is worth savoring just for Jose Ferrer’s lascivious performance as Korvo, who uses hypnotism to aid his murder plot and frame the lovely Gene Tierney for the deed. Whirlpool was only Jose Ferrer’s second film but he steals the movie from his first appearance onscreen and his absence is keenly felt whenever he’s not seen, as he delivers many of screenwriter Ben Hecht’s best lines:

“A successful marriage is usually based on what a husband and wife don’t know about each other.”

“I hope your new marriage will give you something to live for---if only a divorce.”

“You’re in top form today…almost makes me lonesome for your faded charms.”

I was so impressed with this early Ferrer performance (only his second movie) that I wanted his scheme to succeed! Ferrer makes it easy to like him; his entire performance is hypnotic, with his mellifluous voice pulling Tierney into his murder plot. Ferrer's Korvo is quick witted and charming and his appeal is helped by the fact that the Tierney and Conte characters are complete idiots! Weary flatfoot Charles Bickford is just too…weary…to care. If Whirlpool is to qualify as a Film Noir, it’s Bickford’s police Lieutenant Colton who is the typical Noir character: a tired-out, widower cop who just wants to believe that Tierney’s Ann Sutton is the killer of her husband’s patient, Theresa Randolph (Barbara O’Neil), who Korvo romanced and then bilked for $60,000. You know a movie’s in trouble when the audience cheers for the villain. But who cares? Ferrer is brilliant and makes off with every scene he’s in.

Jose Ferrer was at the cusp of a great career when he made Whirlpool. He had already earned a Best Supporting Actor nod for his film debut, 1948's Joan of Arc. In 1951, Ferrer would go on to win a Best Actor Oscar for his role in Cyrano de Bergerac and receive another nomination in 1953 for his portrayal of artist Talouse- Lau Trec in Moulin Rouge (1952). Ferrer worked steadily during the next few decades, appearing in dozens of TV movies and series like many actors of his era. For those unfamiliar with his work, Whirlpool is a good place to start, even if the film is no masterpiece, Jose Ferrer makes it all worthwhile.

Weaving His Web: David Korvo (Jose Ferrer) hypnotizes lovely but dopey Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney) in 1949's Whirlpool.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Two Kinds of Noir Heat

American posters for The Postman Always Rings Twice weren't as revealing as this French rendering, but if they were, the film may have set some box-office records just based on the artwork's sex appeal! Postman has some pretty hot stuff in it, with Lana Turner's white shorts and headwrap outfit doing a number on generations of men since the movie's release in 1946.

Pure as the Driven Snow: Lana Turner in "The Postman Always Rings Twice."

This Italian poster for 1953's The Big Heat burns for an entirely different reason. Evil incarnate Lee Marvin looks like he's rising from the fires of Hell. The pot of scalding coffee Marvin's character ended up wearing was just about as hot; ask Gloria Grahame...The movie's brutality stayed with me for days after I first saw it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I Wanted to Strangle Uncle Billy...

Chalk another one up for Frank Capra. He's one of the few directors able to manipulate my emotions to the point of agony. Every time I watch It's a Wonderful Life I can feel my agitation grow; my palms get sweaty and I'm filled with a sense of dread as I await the scene where George Bailey's Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) will lose the savings & loan's money and it winds up in Mr. Potter's evil hands. It's always been a source of aggravation to me, but George Bailey is "the richest man in town", so I guess if they can forgive and forget, then so can I. No hard feelings, Uncle Billy. Besides, we can always depend on the our banks to keep our money safe, right? BTW, Thomas Mitchell has managed to irritate me in two classic movies. He also made me resentful of him in High Noon, where Mitchell played the mayor of Hadleyville, and he practically talks the churchgoers out of helping Gary Cooper's desperate Marshal Will Kane. But then again, if Mitchell's characters don't do the things they're supposed to do, we don't get two of the greatest movies ever made.

"Who Cares?" Dept: Hollywood Dreamland has a new computer and after getting used to its quirks, I can say that we are back on track. So no more blogging at work with my head on a swivel. Maybe I can even edit the text before posting! Nothing's worse than knowing that my fellow bloggers will see the numerous sentence fragments, misspellings, and hastily cut and pasted text while I'm "distracted" by my job.

I hope that everyone will have a grand olde Christmas and that your gifts will include some classic movie DVDs. I can't imagine the day without at least one of my cinematic heroes or heroines staring back at me from the DVD box!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

20 Favorite Actresses Meme

Raquelle over at Out of the Past has "tagged" me for my 20 Favorite Actresses. However, my top ten actresses are so dear to me that a "bottom ten" would pale in comparison, so I'll refrain from including them. Normally I'd provide a few words on why each actress is a favorite, but I'll save those thoughts for future entries, when I can dedicate more time (and love!) to them. Anyway, the top ten, in alphabetical order:

Irene Dunne

Jean Harlow

Susan Hayward

Katharine Hepburn

Carole Lombard

Myrna Loy

Gail Patrick

Ginger Rogers

Rosalind Russell

Barbara Stanwyck

I hereby tag Caitlin at Fire & Music.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Non-Holiday Holiday Listening

With the Christmas vacation approaching, Hollywood Dreamland is throwing a goodnatured Scroogian Wrench into the works that represent the “tidings of comfort and joy”, by showcasing some blatantly non-Christmas film music choices for the next two weeks of (hopefully) work-free bliss. I’m not big on Christmas music to begin with ("Winter Wonderland" is the worst song ever written), so I immerse myself in my favorite film music to get through the holidays, which often leads to much reflection and sometimes it can get to be downright solipsistic! The following selections emphasize the pain, romance and intense feelings associated with the holidays. So here’s a trio of film scores to pass away the time:

I’ll Cry Tomorrow- Lillian Roth’s life had its share of tough times and Susan Hayward’s gritty performance would be aided by Alex North’s jazzy, modernistic score, which would help lead Susan's version of Lillian Roth out of the gutter and back into the spotlight. I’ll Cry Tomorrow is occasionally reminiscent of North’s own A Streetcar Named Desire with a smoldering intensity and beautiful pathos on several cuts. Star Susan Hayward sings beautifully on three songs, especially the title tune (lyrics by Johnny Mercer), which is so good I get chills whenever I hear it, especially the way she sings the line, "...who could say to a heart that is full of spring/they've written a blue song/for us to sing." Hayward also performs fine renditions of “The Vagabond King Waltz” and “Happiness is a Thing Called Joe”; a song I never liked until I heard Hayward sing it. North's underscore is moody, with swanky brass and sweeping strings, along with a "childhood waltz" from the character's happier times. Cues like “Ashamed”; “String Chord/Reel Heel”; and “Stood Up/Shattered/Tortured” are the highlights, bringing Roth’s true story to life. North was reaching a career peak in 1955 and his star was still ascending.

Lust For Life- Miklos Rózsa's music for the 1956 Vincent Van Gogh biopic has long been a favorite and it’s music that evokes the vivid colors of the artist's work. In fact, much of the score recalls spring and the fields in which Van Gogh worked. Rózsa also excels at revealing Van Gogh’s torment. Even those who haven’t seen the movie or have the slightest knowledge of the painter can follow his short-happy life through Rózsa’ s music.

Joy in the Morning- A personal favorite score of mine, even though it's from a film I have never seen and have no interest in watching! Best described as "achingly beautiful", Bernard Herrmann’s haunting, romantic, pastoral, and yes--joyous--music for this 1965 Richard Chamberlain-Yvette Mimieux flop. Herrmann’s personal life makes this score essential listening, as he was going through a divorce and a career crisis, which culminated in a split from longtime artistic collaborator, director Alfred Hitchcock. Joy in the Morning would prove to be the last score Herrmann composed during the studio era. Strings and woodwinds dominate the score, and while comparisons to well-known Herrmann works like Vertigo and Marnie are inevitable, lesser Herrmann is still infinitely superior to most better-known scores from the same period. One caveat: avoid Richard Chamberlain's rendition of the Fain-Webster title tune!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

In Memoriam: Van Johnson

Whenever I think of Van Johnson, his performance in The Caine Mutiny comes to mind. It was his part as the lieutenant who leads the crew against Humphrey Bogart's neurotic Captain Queeg that caught my attention. Johnson came off as so heroic and embodied the "regular Joe" role he did so well. That performance alone convinced me that Johnson was a fine actor, and I routinely came to his defense among those who would dismiss him as a mere MGM studio fabrication. Offscreen, Johnson endured a near-fatal accident which would have ended his career, to say nothing of his life. It's fascinating, gripping, and worthy of a film of its own.

In 1942, Johnson was driving to a screening of the Tracy-Hepburn film, Keeper of the Flame when another driver came from the opposite direction toward him and forced his car off the road. Johnson's convertible rolled over several times before crashing into a ditch. Johnson was still conscious, but realized that the convertible's top had sliced the top of his skull. His head was nearly severed across the skull, and was kept only in place by skin and hair. The rollover also put dirt and debris into his head cavity, right on Johnson's exposed brain. A passing motorist hailed an ambulance and police, and when they arrived, they informed Johnson that they could not help him because his accident had come a few feet outside of their jurisdictional boundary! The medics actually asked him to crawl across the boundary so they could take him to the hospital. Johnson proceeded to drag himself across the street and he was finally taken to the hospital. The film Johnson had been working on, A Guy Named Joe, had its production delayed on Louis B. Mayer's order while Johnson recuperated. Of course, Van Johnson subsequently emerged as a popular leading man throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and lived a very long life, dying yesterday at age 92.

Selected Filmography:

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wanted: Movie Star Biographies

Recently, I acquired two movie star biographies published in the mid-1970s, when there was a renewed fascination with the Golden Age of Hollywood: Vivien Leigh: a Biography by Anne Edwards and Long Live the King by Lynn Tornabene, a Clark Gable bio. The Gable book lacks a filmography and nothing is mentioned of Gable's affair and illegitimate child with Loretta Young, which is understandable given that the child's existence wasn't known at the time of the book’s publication. I’ll admit I bought the book more for its sections on Carole Lombard, and those are in fact interesting, but I get the sense that the author didn’t like Lombard. The Leigh book disappoints because of the strict emphasis on Leigh herself, and I like to get a feeling for the era in which the star lived. It would have been nice to know of Leigh’s working relationship with Warren Beatty in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, but Beatty is only mentioned once in the entire book!

I'll Cry Today: Susan Hayward has yet to receive a first-rate biography

Those two disappointing bios made me realize how many Golden Age movie stars don’t have decent biographies in print. In searching for books on my favorite performers, I realized that the majority of the stars I love aren’t represented with a recent, decent, in-print biography. Some notable examples:

Susan Hayward- I’m currently obsessed with her, and my M.O. is to absorb everything I can on my current fascination, but there’s very little on her life and career out there. Even the all-knowing, error-free Wikipedia only has a brief entry on her. I’ve gotten a few good Hayward anecdotes from other stars’ biographies, and that’s all.

William Powell- No wonder one of MGM's leading lights is largely unknown by the general public today: no biography! It would be fascinating to read behind-the-scenes stories of the Thin Man movies, and the tough time Powell had during 1937-38, when fiancé Jean Harlow died and Powell himself battled cancer, keeping him out of movies (watch the Another Thin Man trailer; MGM emblazons the bottom of the screen with “Welcome Back, Bill!” a reference to Powell’s extended absence).

Carole Lombard- The “Hoosier Tornado” needs a full-scale biography. Lombard was not just married to Clark Gable, but a dedicated American patriot, swore like a sailor, and died young in a plane crash. A new bio on her should address whether or not she was rushing back home because she believed Gable was carrying on an affair with Lana Turner. Turner denied this, I’m not sure if it is true, but the myth persists.

Dana Andrews- Andrews was another popular leading man with personal struggles, and for my money, the personification (for better or worse) of the WWII-era American male. A career overview would be great, and the good movie star biographies excel at this.

That's just for starters. The list goes on and on. But since we’ve bemoaned the lack of prominent movie star biographies, a future entry will praise the better movie star books available. In the meantime, Raquelle at the always-interesting Out of the Past blog has posted an exhaustive list of currently available biographies.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Backstage Beauties: 1956?

This striking image taken backstage at the 28th Academy Awards says it all: Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly were, as the song goes: "lovely to look at." The two Oscar-winning beauties were presenters that evening: Grace for Best Actor (Ernest Borgnine won), and Audrey handed out the big prize, Best Picture for 1955, Marty. The two actresses are so charismatic that it took me awhile to realize that there were actually other people in the room with them. That's star power.

UPDATE: After doing some additional fact checking last night in Mason Wiley and Damien Bona's Inside Oscar, I have to conclude that the LIFE magazine photo archive got the photo's date wrong...possibly. Their archive dates this photo March 21, 1956 but it's most likely March 30, 1955 when both women were up for Best Actress. Audrey Hepburn for Sabrina and Grace Kelly for The Country Girl. It also makes sense that the two women would be backstage together, as both were presenters in 1955: Kelly presented the Documentary awards and Hepburn the Story & Screenplay award. Both were presenters the next year at the 1956 Oscars-- Kelly was on hand to give the Best Actor award--but Audrey Hepburn appeared only on film, reading off the Best Picture nominees from London, according to Inside Oscar. If any Audrey Hepburn experts out there can confirm her whereabouts during that period, please chime in, as Hollywood Dreamland prides itself on getting its facts straight!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center

It made my day when Ann from The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center commented on how much she enjoyed Hollywood Dreamland. There's even an entry at their site with a favorable review of our humble corner of the blogosphere:

"A blogger down in Florida writes about old Hollywood and he has several posts about Katharine Hepburn. His is called 'Hollywood Dreamland; Musings on the Golden Age of Hollywood.' This is right up our alley right?
He muses about “The Philadelphia Story,” “Holiday,” and one of Hepburn’s favorite directors, George Cukor.
“Hollywood Dreamland” is a fun blog for you to bookmark if you like the old days in Los Angeles."

I was impressed with the effort going into constructing "The Kate" in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. The KHCAC details the progress in the theater's construction and is scheduled to open in Summer, 2009.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

"I Used to Work in Movies"

"Carole, I have a feeling that my work in the four movies we made together will be forgotten..."

A lot of movie stars went over to television after their big screen careers fizzled. I’m sure they were happy for the steady work and paycheck, but at Hollywood Dreamland, we prefer to remember them in their prime and without commercials… Going on three generations now, these performers are best known for their TV roles more than anything they accomplished while movie stars. But I came to the realization that my immersion in classic film is such that I now associate them with their earlier movie careers rather than their often tepid roles in TV sitcoms. Besides the fact that I detest 99% of all sitcoms, I think their work on TV pales considerably to their work in film.

Lucille Ball- Yes, she’s positively immortal to television viewers as the squawking Lucy Ricardo/Carmichael in those two perpetually rerun sitcoms, but whenever I see her in my favorite Golden Age movies--Stage Door (1937) and The Dark Corner (1945), I still wonder how stardom eluded her on the big screen. She was beautiful, too.

Fred MacMurray- To many he will be cardigan-wearing, pipe-smoking patriarch Steve Douglas in the My Three Sons sitcom, but to me he’ll always be Carole Lombard’s co-star in the four films they did together in the 1930s. And let’s not forget MacMurray’s great role as murderous insurance salesman Walter Neff in 1944’s Double Indemnity. He also turned in good performances as weasly heels in The Caine Mutiny (1954) and The Apartment (1960). MacMurray is the star who initially inspired this entry. I was surprised to see him as such an engaging character in the 30s and impressed with his playing spineless villains, too. Two of MacMurray's future My Three Sons co-stars, William Frawley and William Demarest worked with him in movies during the 1930s. By the way, MacMurray is the dashing fellow pictured in this blog's masthead.

Agnes Moorehead- One of the great character actresses. Take a look at her 1940s filmography for the excellent films she’s in. Moorehead was best when she played a malicious bitch. I love her in those movies, especially 1947's Dark Passage. But Agnes Moorehead week-in-and-week-out is just too much for me to take. As Bewitched star Elizabeth Montgomery’s meddlesome mother, Endora ( “Endura” at my house) she’s as irritating as Hell.

Donna Reed- Sweet, pretty, "Girl Next Door" Reed is a site to behold in her various film appearances, whether it's in Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Human Comedy (1944), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) and especially her Oscar-winning role in From Here To Eternity (1953), Reed was wonderful. As TV’s Donna Stone in The Donna Reed Show, she’s just blah.

Loretta Young- She did some pre-Code films that stir my blood, and won an Oscar for 1947’s The Farmer’s Daughter, then she got real goody-goody and took that routine to TV in a wildly successful program.

Andy Griffith- Griffith radiated sleaze in Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd (1957) and charm in No Time for Sergeants (1958). Then it was off to Mayberry, California---uh, North Carolina to mete out his brand of homespun justice to the likes of Gomer, Goober, and Howard Sprague. And Warren. Let's never forget Warren, so that he never happens again.

Raymond Burr- Burr was often cast as a brutal “heavy” in film, but went on to true fame as lawyer Perry Mason and wheelchair-bound police detective Robert Ironside in two long-running shows—with great themes, I might add. It is Burr’s hands clenched in hatred from 1947's Desperate that are seen in the intro montage to Turner Classic’s Film Noir program, Darkness at Dawn.

Robert Young- Another “boy next door” type in the 1930s, he’s best remembered today as Jim Anderson in Father Knows Best and Marcus Welby, M.D., in addition to a series of Sanka decaf coffee commercials.

So there you have it. Some of the movie stars that did some great work on the Silver Screen only to have it erased by weekly exposure and subsequent decades-long reruns to achieve pop culture immortality, but we at Hollywood Dreamland prefer to remember them as they were, larger than life on the big screen.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Coming Soon: The Susan Hayward Craze of 2009

I’m rushing this entry out because I Want to Live! is on Turner Classic Movies this morning, but my Susan Hayward obsession has been building for quite some time. When Jonas Nordin's great post on Lillian Roth went up last month, I knew I had to get my own entry going. Whereas Dana Andrews, the subject of this blog's previous post, was praised for his acting subtlety, Hayward is his stylistic opposite, but oh-so appealing for her brassy, over-the-top performances. Anyone looking for subtlety in a Susan Hayward performance had better look elsewhere!

Susan Hayward (1917-1975) has now entered that rarified company of my other beloved redheads: Myrna Loy and Katharine Hepburn. Loy dazzled me in the 1930s with her Nora Charles sophistication, cool elegance, and unflappable demeanor. While Hepburn’s independence, determination, and keen mind enchanted me in the 1940s (and onward!), Susan Hayward is that 1950s woman that appeals to me because of her penchant for giving her all onscreen.

There was a time when I believed that the 1950s was a decade devoid of great actresses and that the Eisenhower era’s film stars could be neatly divided into the empty beauty and the dull, mousy homemaker. The era’s other notable stars, Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor were fine actresses, but they didn’t “grab me” like my 1930s & 1940s favorites, and for years they were the exceptions to my “the 1950s were bad for women” phase. So let me officially declare my fascination for Susan Hayward. She’s obviously the right choice, as she possesses everything I like in my favorite 1930s & 1940s dames. Hayward embodied all the great attributes: tough yet vulnerable, a great beauty, at least I think so—I’m uncertain what the consensus is on her looks—her great, husky voice, and she gave her all in every movie she ever did. She toiled in Hollywood for ten years until her breakthrough year of 1947, when she received an Oscar nomination for Smash up: the Story of a Woman. Hayward was a favorite of her peers, receiving five Best Actress nominations from 1947-1958, finally winning for 1958’s I Want to Live! But it was not Hayward’s well-known movies that made me realize she was great. A little puff of fluff from 1957 called Top Secret Affair, co-starring another intensely-burning actor, Kirk Douglas. The two leads are fun to watch and seeing Hayward in a not-so intense mode opened me up to seeing her in her more familiar territory.

However, I wasn't truly sold on All Things Susan Hayward until I got the soundtrack to I’ll Cry Tomorrow. Originally, I bought the score for composer Alex North’s wonderful underscore and despite the presence of Hayward’s vocals. But what sealed the deal for me was hearing Hayward's beautiful, after-hours vocal (accompanied by Jazz quartet) on I’ll Cry Tomorrow’s title cut. (A review of the score is forthcoming). I knew then that Susan Hayward would figure prominently in my film-watching future. I've only watched a handful of her movies, so the upcoming year will find me dedicating a lot of time to her. I look forward to exploring this great actress’ filmography.

I Want to Smile: Hayward in a photo shoot for LIFE magazine, 1949.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Dana Andrews: An Appreciation

I was twenty when I first became aware of Dana Andrews . His performance in 1946's The Best Years of Our Lives was nothing short of amazing. If I had discovered his movies when I was, say, 10 or so, he no doubt would have joined the likes of Lee Marvin and Steve McQueen as the cinematic heroes my friends and I emulated at the playground. That is, minus all that drinkin' and carousin'; that aspect of cinema tough guys didn't register to this fifth grader. And given the number of war movies Andrews (1909-1992) starred in, he would have been wildly popular among my World War II-obsessed friends. I was mesmerized by Andrews’ screen presence and saw right away that his appeal wasn’t in the way he delivered his lines, but rather his reactions to events around him. Everything the viewer needed to know about a Dana Andrews character was registered on his face. When I started reading up on Best Years’ Oscar wins, I was disappointed, but not surprised, that Andrews didn’t get nominated for the film-- or anything else-- during the course of his career. I knew then that I had a new movie hero. I’m a sucker for an underdog.

Whenever I think of Dana Andrews, two images come to mind: The scene from The Best Years of Our Lives in the soon-to-be-scrapped bomber and how his character confronts his wartime trauma while reliving the sheer terror of that experience; and Where the Sidewalk Ends, when Andrews’ character, after accidentally killing a suspect, stays up the entire night at the police precinct ruminating about what to do. The worn out look on his face come morning is simply brilliant.

As I saw more of his films, I realized that Andrews was his own man; he wasn’t explosive or menacing like the tightly-wound Robert Ryan, and he lacked the smart-alecky disposition of another favorite, Glenn Ford. And even when Andrews is playing a man on the edge, he doesn’t erupt like Ryan might, but instead boils from within, so deep that it only faintly registers on his face, but it’s so well done that I shake my head with amazement at his ability to burn so subtly. Maybe that's reading more into Andrews’ performances than what's actually there, but whatever it is that he’s trying to convey comes across loud and clear and registers right away, even in my chickpea-sized brain. He has some moments in Fallen Angel (1945) where it’s blatantly obvious what is going on in his character’s head, especially when it involves luscious Linda Darnell’s character, Stella. Andrews came of age during a time when men were expected to keep their emotions under wraps, Andrews is able to show the viewer what his character is feeling and thinking without saying a word. I’m blown away by his style, which never-- despite the claims made by some movie buffs-- comes off as “wooden.”

Now, since I’m (ostensibly) an adult, I see Dana Andrews in a different light and with that a whole new wave of associations. I’ve read much about that WWII generation and with the death of my own relatives, it’s obvious to me that Andrews is representative of the “Greatest Generation.” His tightlipped, keep-a-lid-on-his-emotions persona reminds me of my grandfather. Every time I see a Dana Andrews movie, my Generation Envy kicks in and I can’t help but think of how I’d have behaved had I lived in Dana’s time and gone through the things that men like my grandfather went through during their service in World War II. For me, my fascination with that generation is also what makes Dana Andrews so appealing.

The man had his share of personal battles. He was an alcoholic, having overcome that addiction by the late-sixties. Andrews briefly gave up acting to become the president of the Screen Actors Guild (1963-65) and then upon his return, toiled in some truly dreadful horror and cult movies during the 1960s & 1970s, and appeared in numerous TV movies. Like another Twentieth Century Fox star, Henry Fonda, Andrews would spend that decade in films unworthy of his talent and stature. However, unlike Fonda, Andrews would not enjoy a comeback. There would be no career-capping Oscar win, nor any Lifetime Achievement Awards. Andrews would die in 1992, essentially forgotten. I was acutely affected by his death. Upon learning the news, I immediately thought of that Best Years bomber scene and how it held so much meaning for me and realizing that this actor-- completely unknown to many under the age of fifty-- was a treasure. I haven’t seen every one of his movies, but I have yet to be disappointed by anything he’s done. I know that there’s something more going on in a Dana Andrews performance than what the character says, and his brilliance is such that he doesn’t have to say anything at all.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gail Patrick: Deco Dame, Part III

Let's begin December with the third installment of our continuing tribute to a Hollywood Dreamland favorite, character actress Gail Patrick.

Majestic Gail: Gail in an interesting dress from an undated glamour shot. If she’d worn that dress onscreen, I’m sure many women would have been declaring how much they liked it. Because when an article of clothing appears in a movie, it has to be beautiful, right?

Tearful Gail: Pic taken by the paparazzi during Gail’s divorce from her first husband, Robert Howard Cobb. He and Gail’s union lasted a mere four years, 1936-1940. Cobb was the owner of the legendary Brown Derby restaurant and inventor of the famous Cobb Salad. But since he's upset Gail so much, we know what Mr. Cobb can do with his stinkin' salad, right?

Smart Girl Gail: Here’s a publicity still from an obscure 1935 film, Smart Girl, proof again that Gail had the best eyebrows in Hollywood. Her co-star is Kent Taylor. I’d never heard of him, but he’s got 110 screen appearances and when I scan his filmography, there isn't a single film of his I've seen!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Our Miss Lombard is working hard this Thanksgiving to record your comments.

It's two days before Thanksgiving 2008, and Hollywood Dreamland will be using this valuable vacation time to recharge its blogging batteries, which are surprisingly depleted in this, our first month of existence. For those in the U.S., here's hoping that any forced family "togetherness" will include the viewing of a classic movie.

If you'd like to send your own Thanksgiving wishes, our secretary, Miss Lombard, will be happy to jot down your comments. Just be careful not to startle her, as she's given to flights of Screwball wackiness...

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Ginger Rogers' Oscar Moment

Thanks to a tip from Carrie at her excellent blog, Classic Montgomery, I was able to search LIFE magazine's photo archives and found another picture of Ginger Rogers' Oscar win at the 13th Annual Academy Awards in 1941. "The little Rogers gal" looks genuinely moved and in awe of the moment, in what would be the pinnacle of her career.

1941 also marked the first year that Oscar results were kept secret from the press and public until the actual opening of the envelope, so I'm sure that Ginger wasn't acting when she was announced as the winner (for Kitty Foyle). The presenter is stage actress Lynn Fontanne.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

War Finds Andy Hardy: The Human Comedy (1943)

One of my favorite movies from the 1940s is The Human Comedy (1943; MGM), an episodic coming-of-age story depicting World War II’s affect on the fictional small town of Ithaca, California. Its central character is young Homer Macauley, who is dealing with his father’s death as well as the absence of his older brother, now overseas in the army. In order to help out the family, Homer takes a job as a messenger at the local telegraph office.

Those familiar with Mickey Rooney will no doubt have seen MGM's Andy Hardy series. It chronicled the idyllic life of Judge James Hardy and family in the "Anytown" of Carvel, California. Judge Hardy's son, the "irrepressible" Andy, engaged in wholesome shenanigans but always learned a valuable lesson by each film's end. I've always seen The Human Comedy as the dark flipside of the Hardy series. Comedy's Homer Macauley has no father and must make his own way through the world. Like Andy, Homer has a dedicated mother and goodwilled sister, but Homer, at 17, is the man of the house. And unlike Carvel, his hometown of Ithaca has several of its citizens serving abroad in the war. It is a dark, uncertain time in this particular "Anytown, U.S.A."

The Human Comedy is often regarded as a film of its time; a World War-II propaganda film extolling the virtues of American life. It
is at once sentimental, sad, uplifting, sentimental, joyous, and with a romantic view of the world and its future possibilities. It depicts an idealized America that never existed, yet it is unabashedly in love with the ideal of America. A genuine attempt is made through the film’s imagery and dialogue-- sometimes preachy but more often poetic-- to convey to the wartime viewer what it was our soldiers were fighting for, by romanticizing what they had "back home." The film's message is effectively conveyed by the film's narrator, the late Matthew Macauley:

"I am Matthew Macauley. I have been dead for two years. So much of me is still living that I know now the end is only the beginning. As I look down on my homeland of Ithaca, California, with its cactus, vineyards and orchards, I see that so much of me is still living there - in the places I've been, in the fields and streets and church and most of all in my home, where my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions still live in the daily life of my loved ones."

The film was directed by the underrated, unheralded, and just plain unappreciated
Clarence Brown, who, after finishing The Human Comedy, went on to direct, in succession: The White Cliffs of Dover, National Velvet, and The Yearling. The Human Comedy also features, for my money, the best performance that Mickey Rooney ever gave, earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Rooney detractors expecting another mugging, hammy performance from him will be impressed by his brilliance in The Human Comedy. The movie would receive four additional Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Director, Cinematography, and would win for Best Story (William Saroyan). In an interesting twist of fate, Saroyan would win the Oscar even though much of his original story was altered by Hollywood screenwriters. Saroyan would later publish The Human Comedy as a stand-alone book and include numerous elements (like social commentary) that did not make the finished film. The book, like the film, was a hit.

A number of vignettes run through the course of the film, but the movie’s center is Rooney’s Homer Macauley. His character endures the pains of growing up amid the most tumultuous world events that would profoundly affect him, his family, and his hometown. There are the typical coming-of-age trials and tribulations: Homer’s attempts at getting a date for the town social, competing against a rival for a girl’s affections, the big school hurdle competition, and the humiliation of having to sing a telegram to his rival at the latter’s birthday party. But Homer finds himself with ever-growing, decidedly adult responsibilities. Whether it be tending to the kindly, but perpetually inebriated co-worker at the telegraph office (the wonderful Frank Morgan), or dealing with the traumatic events during his workday, as when he must read the Department of War telegram he delivers to the mother of a soldier killed in action. Homer must break the news to her himself because the soldier's mother cannot read English. Her reaction—and Homer’s—are heartbreaking. There’s also a touching scene featuring Van Johnson as Homer’s brother, Mark, as he and his fellow soldiers are en route to the battlefield aboard a train and who find comfort by joining in a gospel hymn. And then there’s the film’s finale, which is about as over-the-top as Hollywood gets, and which I won’t reveal here, but it works beautifully.

While the emphasis here is on Rooney's parts of the movie, it should be noted that The Human Comedy is episodic, with several characters receiving substantial screen time. In one of the extended sequences not involving Rooney's character, the film's pro-American aspects are heavily applied, notably the scene where two characters (played by James Craig & Marsha Hunt) see the various ethnic cultures "in action" in Ithaca, in an early example of "diversity" or "melting pot" philosophy. It is the most propagandistic portion of the film. This heavy handedness sometimes works against the movie's total success, and those elements pale in comparison to the powerful Rooney scenes.

The Human Comedy is a memorable film, an example of Americana that will fascinate anyone with an interest in the American "Home Front" of World War II. It is very much an MGM-style production, with that studio’s typical gloss and sentimentality. It was reportedly MGM boss Louis B. Mayer's favorite film. Thematically, The Human Comedy in some ways owes a stylistic debt to Our Town (1940), but is closer in spirit to Mrs. Miniver (1942) (with its focus on the British home front), and Since You Went Away (1944). Like The Human Comedy, all are Oscar-nominated films that serve as representative takes on Hollywood’s view of WWII’s home front.

The Human Comedy next airs on Turner Classic Movies (U.S.) January 19 at 11:45am (est).

On the Job Humiliation: Homer Macauley (Mickey Rooney) must sing a telegram to his hated rival, Hubert Ackley III (David Holt) in 1943's The Human Comedy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Cary Grant in The Philadelphia Story (1940)

I’ve changed my name. Why? Because C.K. Dexter Haven was one of Cary Grant’s greatest characters. You could say his performance was…Yar. Yar is defined in The Philadelphia Story as something---in the movie, a boat—that's easy to handle and moves along smoothly. The same could be used to describe Cary Grant’s performance in the film.

1940—there’s that year again-- was stellar for Cary Grant. Grant starred in My Favorite Wife, His Girl Friday, and The Philadelphia Story. When approached for the role, Grant would demand-- and get-- top billing. Plus a $100,000 salary, which he donated to British War Relief. And while fellow cast members Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, and Ruth Hussey all received Oscar nominations, the former Archibald Leach would get snubbed come Oscar time. Knowing this as I became enamored with the film, I found myself concentrating on Grant’s understated performance as C.K. Dexter Haven. His was a thankless role, as he’s sandwiched between Hepburn’s persona-defining character, Tracy, and Stewart’s funny, Oscar-winning role as writer Macaulay “Mike” Connor. Grant must achieve a fine balance. He must be likable enough for the audience to want Hepburn to go back to him, but at the same time display some flaws and be annoying enough for Hepburn to wage a war of words with him for most of the film. These thankless, unheralded performances are the types of roles I’ve always liked. In fact, other leading men like Glenn Ford and Dana Andrews made entire careers out of solid, dependable, yet seemingly unnoticed performances.

About C.K. Dexter Haven: He’s a recovering boozer, and he and Tracy split two years before (memorably depicted in the film’s immortal opening sequence). Now that Tracy is about to marry self-made schlub George Kittredge (John Howard), Dexter comes barging back into her life and brings two reporters from Spy magazine (is that where that 1990s rag got its name?) to cover her impending wedding. C.K., however, would appear to be blackmailing his ex-wife (whom he calls “Red”) by forcing her to allow the unsavory Spy to cover her wedding or else Dexter will reveal the “dirt” he has on Tracy.

I was so impressed with Grant’s performance. It’s something I can’t quite explain. Grant’s subdued brilliance in TPS demonstrates an onscreen confidence that I hadn’t seen from him before. Sure, there were similarities with Grant characters like Walter Burns in His Girl Friday, but as C.K. Dexter Haven there’s little of that other character's arrogance. Dexter sometimes comes off as cynical, but he’s wiser now that he’s “dried out.” He knows exactly how to push Tracy’s buttons. His role here was not showy like co-star Stewart’s. Grant never got credit for being a great actor, but as Dexter, he reveals a duality of character, which Grant would bring to fruition in 1946’s Notorious. And while Grant doesn't reach the level of darkness as he does in the Hitchcock film, Dexter has his demons; he’s been a drunk and he lost the woman he loved, and to get her back, he must deal with two rivals: Tracy’s fiancé, George, and even the man Dexter himself brought into this affair, Macaulay Connor. Grant was emerging as a classic leading man and I find his performance to be real, with a subtle, biting wit that makes this and many other Cary Grant performances mesmerizing. It does wonders in his rapport with Katharine Hepburn. Grant displays a confidence that is downright appealing. He’s the kind of character I’d like to emulate! In the classic drunk scene with Stewart, Grant underplays and makes Stewart look even better. The scene’s humor succeeds because of Grant’s performance as it does with Stewart’s. There’s an awkwardness in Dexter’s reactions to the pixilated Macaulay and the improvisation by the two actors only adds to the scene’s charm.

1940 was a watershed year for Grant, he appeared in four films altogether, three of them classics, and solidified the Cary Grant Persona. In discussing his role in The Philadelphia Story, I realized that I could have been talking about almost any Cary Grant performance. He was that good. So was he just playing himself in all those films? There's that conundrum: if acting is defined as becoming the role one is playing, and-- knowingly or not-- providing elements of one’s own personality into a role, and a Movie Star is defined as “merely” injecting the various nuances of an established persona, then when does an actor “end” and a movie star begin? I really don’t care. Whatever one wants to call him, Cary Grant was yar in The Philadelphia Story.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ralph Meeker Night On TCM

I just found out that Turner Classic Movies is dedicating tonight's prime time schedule to forgotten tough guy Ralph Meeker. Meeker (1920-1988) is best known for his definitive take on Mickey Spillane's iconic detective, Mike Hammer, in 1955's Kiss Me Deadly. If you haven't seen the film, do so... now! The DVD appears to be out of print in the U.S., so TCM's your best bet.

Ralph Meeker's Mike Hammer is one bad man. He wears a naturally menacing leer on his smug mug and doesn't hesitate to manhandle an elderly desk clerk, slap, punch, and shove a thug down a flight of steps, tell a nosy old woman to shut up, or snap a valuable Caruso record in half in front of its owner's eyes. And he's the hero of the film! Kiss Me Deadly is such a dark film with some genuinely disturbing imagery. Much has been written about the film's subtext and meaning, but I avoid delving too deeply into those things because I’m tired of having my favorite films drained of their vitality through turgid analysis. I can only say that the movie is an atmospheric masterpiece, with great performances from well-known character actors (Paul Stewart, Jack Elam, Albert Dekker) rising stars (Cloris Leachman in her film debut), and unknown players (Maxine Cooper and Gaby Rogers) who seemed to exist solely within the film.

"I don't care who I pummel, just so I'm dishin' out some hurt!"

Meeker's brilliant portrayal of Mike Hammer is sacred to me. And because of his absolute mastery of this role, I have purposely avoided reading anything about his private life---wouldn't want to spoil the image (heck, Noir nasty men Dan Duryea and Richard Widmark were dedicated family men!) I have of him. So partly because of my own choosing, Ralph Meeker remains a mysterious figure to me. I never saw him in anything before I saw Kiss Me Deadly, but have seen his work in a few films, like the Barbara Stanwyck vehicle Jeopardy (1953) as well as his brief role in another gritty movie, the Frank Sinatra film, The Detective (1968). He also appears in a childhood favorite of mine, Kiss Me Deadly director Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen (1967). I’ve also seen some of his many TV appearances from the 1970s, but Ralph Meeker will forever be etched in my memory as Mike Hammer.

TCM airs Kiss Me Deadly tonight at 11:30pm (est.) along with:

I no longer get TCM and I haven't seen those last three movies, so you'll get the "Meeker Edge" on me if you see them.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Random Raves: His Girl Friday (1940)

Five years ago, I gave up watching His Girl Friday twenty minutes into it. The rapid-fire dialogue was “distracting”, the plot “dragged”, so I just tuned out. A subsequent attempt at watching it a year or so later also failed. I watched it all, and was bored silly.

What a dope I was!

I’m a recent convert to this film and considering the talent involved with it, that’s surprising: Howard Hawks is among my favorite directors--El Dorado (1967) is my favorite film of all time-- Cary Grant is brilliant in everything I’ve ever seen him in, and Rosalind Russell’s career was made with her performance, though I first became smitten with her after seeing her take bitchiness to the highest plane in The Women (1939). So two years ago I gave the film another chance. By then, I had become familiar with Screwball Comedies and had seen a number of 1930s movies in general and had loved them. This time around I was immediately pulled into the plot, I was enamored with the characters, and the dialogue was brilliant. The film was always great; I just wasn’t ready for it before.

A brief synopsis: His Girl Friday begins as former reporter Hildy Johnson, now divorced from her husband and editor, Walter Burns (Cary Grant), stops by the newspaper offices to inform Walter of her impending marriage to ho-hum insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy). Walter, always trying to influence Hildy, urges her to come back to the paper and remarry him. The two strong-willed professionals pick up where they left off, with biting verbal exchanges delivered in wonderful, machine-gun fashion. Hildy is intent on marrying Bruce, but when a big story breaks, she and Walter get pulled into the maelstrom, and Hildy must decide if she will start a new life with Bruce, or if her life and career with Walter matters most while bedlam breaks out around her.

His Girl Friday, like legendary composer Duke Ellington, is “Beyond Category.” The film's reputation is as a comedy even though it has some dramatic moments, it manages to stretch across the boundaries and entertain as both. Like real life. I'm not big on plots, because a film's main draw for me is its characters. Actors who react to one another and who are so natural in their characterizations that they’re not acting at all. They don’t speak the lines, they mean them! It’s why I love Golden Age pairings like Tracy-Hepburn, Bogart-Bacall, Powell-Loy, Grant-Hepburn, and now, Grant-Russell. It’s two characters responding to each other and we are quickly clued into their past relationship, everything we know about that relationship is further emphasized with each great line of dialogue. Grant trades in the sometimes-awkward, klutzy leading man of The Awful Truth and Holiday, and replaces it with a domineering, sometimes dark side of the Grant persona in the Walter Burns character (which would best be seen in Hitchcock’s Notorious). Beginning with His Girl Friday, Grant was to embark on a series of great roles himself. Director Howard Hawks’ set was fast and loose, with Hawks allowing improvisation from his players. Grant’s dialogue with Russell was often made up on the spot, with Russell employing a writer to provide her with her own “improvised” retorts to Grant’s barbs.

It was surprising to discover that the film’s star, Rosalind (aka "Roz") Russell (1907-1976) failed to earn an Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress. 1940 was a competitive year for Best Actress, but I took it for granted that I’d see Russell’s name on the list of nominees, seeing as the film has earned decades of praise and namedropping-- Not a chance! As a matter of fact, the film itself didn’t get nominated for Best Picture and this was during a time when there were ten films per year up for the big prize. I’ve seen all the Best Actress nominees’ films and none of those performances can surpass Rosalind Russell’s brilliance in His Girl Friday. In fact, the movie stands as Rosalind Russell’s defining moment on film (as far as I’m concerned, her latter-career role in Auntie Mame (1958) runs a distant second).

Of all the things that are great about His Girl Friday, its best attribute is Rosalind Russell’s performance as Hildy Johnson. It's wonderfully played and impossible to imagine anyone else in the role. Among the noted actresses who turned down the part: Ginger Rogers, Jean Arthur (who didn’t like working with Hawks), Carole Lombard, Claudette Colbert, and Irene Dunne. It’s shocking, considering how good a showcase the role was and Hawks’ sterling reputation as an A-List director. The Hildy Johnson role is the typical Hawksian dame. Witness her triumphant return to the newspaper office. Among the male reporters, she’s “one of the boys”, yet she’s feminine without being feminist and tough without being hard. Hildy never cries foul because of her gender and it’s never an issue. She’s capable of taking care of herself, and not gullible, never falling for Walter’s stock lines and gives just as good as she gets. She does have one great moment of vulnerability and--without spoiling the ending-- it pulls together the most important element of the story, characterwise, and it lets the viewer know even more about Hildy and her dilemma. It's a beautiful realization of the two leads' relationship and stands as one of the best moments in the film by who I consider the "real" Best Actress of 1940, Rosalind Russell, in a movie I had to watch three times in order to appreciate its many charms.