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!