Monday, March 30, 2009

Movie Blogs I Love, Part I

Professor Henry Hill Says: "Allow me to introduce to you the most fabulous of people and their most amazing blogs!"

I've had the pleasure of following several fine movie blogs in the months since I started Hollywood Dreamland, so I'd like to shamelessly gush over these fellow writers' efforts. They're all excellent writers from whom I've learned much. In no particular order of preference:

Princess Fire & Music- Hard to believe that Caitlin is only twenty. When I was her age, I was a total dope---in my case, some things never change. She, on the other hand, has great insight and appreciation of classic movies, even though she hasn't even been watching all that long. I just wish she'd post more!

Twenty-Four Frames- If I had more patience and analytical skills, Hollywood Dreamland would be more like John Greco's blog. We often have the same interests and coincidentally post them at the same time, like our recent Burt Lancaster entries.

Movie Viewing Girl- Some great discussions in her comments section. Yes, I'm envious...Wendymoon's blog has all-around great presentation and content.

The Movie Projector- I try not to read R.D. Finch's brilliant analyses of film because I feel daunted afterwards. Still, it's excellent reading and thought provoking.

Lolita's Classics- A new blog and it's catching on quickly. She's prolific, enthusiastic, and has a wide range of tastes.

Asleep in New York- Ginger Ingenue is a great writer and her love of Golden Age stalwarts is infectious! Dana Andrews, Cornel Wilde, Gene Tierney, etc. She also takes time to discuss the lesser-known actors of the era.

Classic Hollywood Nerd- Self-depracating title aside, Nicole's blog has made huge improvements, seemingly overnight. Her recent "How Does an Obsession begin?" caught on with many classic movie blogs.

Classic Film Oasis- An oasis, indeed! It's been a pleasure reading Genevieve's work. Classic movies are in good hands there.

Give me the Good old Days- El Brendel? Who's El Brendel? Check out Louie's blog and find out!

All Talking! All Singing! All Dancing!- I've learned more about the pre-Code era from Jonas Nordin's page than from anywhere else. Brilliant stuff.

Cinema Splendor- I like to think that every young person getting interested in classic movies will possess Sarah's love of the era. I know of no greater Natalie Wood fan!

Classic Montgomery- Carrie has a classy site dedicated to this distinguished and dapper 1930s leading man. Bob was overdue for such attention, now he's got it.

Hollywood Heyday- The early days of Hollywood. Day by day. Mesmerizing stuff.

Dear Old Hollywood- Robby Cress is the ghost who haunts old Hollywood's haunts...the lucky guy!

The Dino Lounge- aka Coolness is Timeless. Keith is a pally with a love for all things "Rat Pack", and he covers Dean Martin's movie career with expertise. Go check it out, swingers!

Silents and Talkies- Kate Gabrielle has touched on a novel idea, and is a smashing success! She does drawings of movie stars and they're really good! She's caught on like wildfire!

Dreaming in Black and White- Graciebird is another up and coming blogger with a great style and has a fine new blog, which I recommend without hesitation.

I'll no doubt discover more movie blogs by the time of the next "Movie Blogs I Love" entry, and if I left out anyone, you will be shamelessly plugged in Part II. If I don't, I'll have trouble:

"Trouble, oh we got trouble, Right here in River City! With a capital "T" that rhymes with "P" and that stands for Pool..."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

In Memoriam: Maurice Jarre

Film composer Maurice Jarre died today. Best known for his Oscar-winning scores for the films Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), and a Passage to India (1984). Jarre's compositions from those films became widely covered radio and Easy Listening standards. It's impossible to recall Doctor Zhivago without thinking of Jarre's Lara's Theme. His collaborations with director David Lean remain one of the great composer-director partnerships in movie history. Younger readers may remember his moving score for 1989's Dead Poet's Society, particularly the touching finale, with Keating's students paying tribute to their "fallen Captain", played by Robin Williams. Maurice Jarre was 84. Rest in peace, maestro.

Somewhere My Love: Jarre's 'Lara's Theme' is one of the great musical melodies of the 1960s.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Warner Brothers Archives


Just a reminder that Warner Brothers is opening its archives! Fans will be able to purchase DV-Rs of obscure, previously unavailable Warners' films (like 1934's Men in White) for $19.95 a title and directly from Warners. This is legit, not bootlegs. The movies are said to be remastered and in their correct aspect ratio. There are video samples for those who want to see if the quality is up to snuff. I haven't gone through the entire list, and more are being added, but it looks to be a good idea.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Philip Marlowe on Film: The Big Sleep (1978)


"What did it matter where you lay once you were dead? In a dirty sump or in a marble tower on the top of a high hill? You were dead, you were sleeping the big sleep, you were not bothered by things like that. Oil and water were the same as wind and air to you. You just slept the big sleep, not caring about the nastiness of how you died or where you fell. Me, I was part of the nastiness now. Far more a part of it than Rusty Regan was. But the old man didn't have to be. He could lie quiet in his canopied bed, with his bloodless hands folded on the sheet, waiting. His heart was a brief, uncertain murmur. His thoughts were as gray as ashes. And in a little while he too, like Rusty Regan, would be sleeping the big sleep."

~Philip Marlowe (Robert Mitchum) in The Big Sleep~


In 1978, British director Michael Winner (Deathwish) filmed his version of Raymond Chandler's 1939 novel, The Big Sleep. Winner's take on the tale was set in the-then present day and had weary, smart-aleck private investigator Philip Marlowe based in England, the character having remained there after presumably serving in the U.S. army during World War II. Despite that, the film is largely faithful to the novel, but with typical 1970s gratuitous sex and violence to make it more palatable and less "old fashioned" to 1970s audiences. Though considering the censorship practices in the 1930s, those more unsavory elements probably would have been in the book had the times permitted it. I initially preferred this version over the much-lauded 1946 version (directed by Howard Hawks and starring Humphrey Bogart as Marlowe) and found the change of location interesting. This was Mitchum's second crack at playing the knight in rumpled suit, having appeared in 1975's Farewell, My Lovely. The Big Sleep gets much criticism because A) It's directed by Michael Winner, who is largely reviled in Great Britain for being a Grade A Jerk and name-dropping snob, and sub-par filmmaker. and B) Chandler's romantic, ghostly, and morally decayed Los Angeles is replaced as the locale by soggy, scruddy-weather England.

The cast here is quite impressive, with James Stewart as invalid General Sternwood, and Sarah Miles and Candy Clark as his troubled daughters. The cast is rounded out by Richard Boone, Oliver Reed, and Joan Collins. Mitchum seems to be enjoying himself here, even if his weariness is less in evidence than is depicted in the novels. In fact, he's downright cheery, even when replicating sequences from the actual novel. Though I love Mitchum in about everything, even total dreck, his potrayal of Marlowe still isn't right for the character. He's in esteemed company, because no one has gotten the role down perfectly and the man who could play him to perfection never got the chance. Still, Winner's The Big Sleep touches most bases, with Mitchum's delightful voiceover, hardboiled delivery tempered with age and the typical labyrinth-style plotting that makes the detective genre so appealing. In fact, the script improves on one of Chandler's best lines:

"I met her [Carmen] in the hall, she tried to sit in my lap. I was standing up at the time."

Jerry Fielding's score is also right at home with its high-modernist, dissonant sound that fits this mystery so well. It punctuates and moves the action along quite nicely. It works particularly well in the film's opening, when Marlowe is driving up to the Sternwood estate with the camera positioned at the front of the detective's car.

But what works against this version is the decided lack of Golden Age glamour that made Film Noir so appealing. This is more of a gritty crime drama and while it succeeds on that level, the 1970s were definitely not the apex of glamour, and neither were its stars. The supporting cast tries gamely to measure up to the genre but even B-Stars like Audrey Totter and Marie Windsor could work wonders in the most trifling of material, whereas Sarah Miles, and Candy Clark are merely adequate in their respective roles. Maybe it's because I could accept an aging Mitchum as the lead, but have grown accustomed to the faces that populated so many Noir films in the 1940s and early fifties.

For a decade that was best-known for its attempts at realism, the 1978 remake of The Big Sleep fails when it comes to that aspect of Chandler. The author's world has to be the sadly romantic Los Angeles circa 1940, just as Faulkner must be in the American South and McMurtry in the American West. I still like this take on the Chandler classic--a lot-- but the definitive version of any of the author's books has yet to be made.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"Laura Five-O"

1944: Cop Mark Dixon (Dana Andrews) is gah-gah for Laura Hunt.

1971: Cop Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) is coo-coo for Mrs. Mondrago.

Remember the TV show Hawaii Five-O? There's a fourth season episode, Highest Castle, Deepest Grave, which is a nod to Otto Preminger's Laura. In the Five-O story, cop Steve McGarrett (Jack Lord) takes on a ten-year-old missing persons case when the skeletons of two people are found in a cave. McGarrett discovers that the wife and alleged lover of millionaire industrialist Mondrago (Herbert Lom) have been missing for ten years. When McGarrett goes to the industrialist's home, the tough cop becomes mesmerized by the painting of Mondrago's missing wife, whose daughter Sirone (France Nuyen) just happens to uncannily resemble!


I won't reveal the ending, but there's a lot to like about this episode. "Highest Castle, Deepest Grave" is also noteworthy for the appearance of 1940s character actor Jeff Corey, who plays the artist who painted that Laura-esque portrait. He gives a tremendous performance and is another example of those Golden Age actors being able to steal any scene they're in! Corey is really good in this! There's also a lush, romantic, love theme by Morton Stevens for McGarrett's feelings towards the woman in the portrait. Classic movie fans will get a kick out of the homage to Laura and old Hollywood, as I certainly did. After watching the show, I went and put on my Laura DVD...

"Ever See Laura?"

Sunday, March 15, 2009

An Enduring Sex Appeal

In 1997, I was at a Borders book store looking to buy a copy of The Best Years of Our Lives (on VHS!) and as I was perusing the video section, there were two girls also browsing. They were no more than 14 years old. One of them was in the classic movie section when she saw the cover for A Streetcar Named Desire with Marlon Brando on the cover. The girl said to her friend, “Wow, he’s hot!” I was pleased that a nearly fifty-year-old picture of Brando could still elicit that reaction, even if the man himself was by 1997 the size of a streetcar. Anyway, I said to myself, “Now if only they’d give the movie a chance.”

Fast forward (keeping the VHS theme) ahead twelve years to last week at my job. A few colleagues and I were discussing movies—a conversation I instigated, naturally—and somehow Raquel Welch got mentioned. I boldly declared that if she were a young star today, that she would be the world’s biggest star. I expected silence or resistance to my claim, but instead I received universal agreement! Stories were told about how so and so’s father thought she was great back in ‘68 and that Raquel still looked amazing. Another victory! Unfortunately, I couldn’t think to myself “Now if they’d only watch One Million Years B.C.", as that would defeat my purpose in getting people into watching old movies!

It’s not surprising that young women today (or twelve years ago) would find someone like Brando attractive. He was the embodiment of youth, was “dangerous”, and was completely different than any movie star before him. Those girls didn’t know that, but the sex appeal was still in evidence and it got a favorable reaction. Maybe it’s because 1950s icons like James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, and Elvis Presley have been marketed and advertised so intensely that their look has become the norm for what defines sexy. After all, the youth culture took root in the 1950s and movie stars like Brando, Dean, and Monroe as well as rockers like Elvis left all that was popular before it in the trash heap, for better or worse. Raquel Welch was in her heyday during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and is remembered by a generation, especially Vietnam War veterans (this includes my own father) for her appearances with Bob Hope in those USO tours. Her cavewoman bikini outfit is iconic for its camp value but more so for its sex appeal. We as classic movie lovers should be thankful it isn’t all forgotten. The media believes that the general public can only handle a few things at once and so our collective memory is strictly short term. Yet the instances where old movie stars still resonate are causes for celebration because in a world where anything older gets forgotten so quickly, I have to be happy that at least a few things from a time I spend a lot of time immersed in can still have a powerful effect on a largely indifferent and unknowing general public.

Okay, sermon over-- I’ve got a date to watch Raquel in
100 Rifles.

37C-22 1/2-35 1/2: Raquel Welch in her 1960s prime.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Movie Quick Takes

I’m not usually one to review movies on a regular basis, but I’ve been catching up on some films I’ve wanted to see and one that I hadn’t watched in twenty-five years. Here are some capsule reviews of some movies I’ve seen over the past few weeks. I rank them on a 1 to 10 scale, with ten being the highest.

From Hell (2001) 6.5/10 I liked this quite a bit, even if Heather Graham is entirely too beautiful to be an 1880s "unfortunate." Funny, I never gave her a thought until I saw her all "Retroed up" in Victorian-era costume and she's quite a looker! Ian Holm is one of the world's great actors and he proves that again here. The depiction of drug abuse is also well chronicled. They sure used some serious drugs in the 19th Century! And the boomers thought that *they* invented substance abuse... I would have liked to have known more about the Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp) character, though.

Tulsa (1949) 3.5/10 Finally got Turner Classic Movies back after an eighteen month hiatus(!) and this was the first movie I watched. It held my interest only because Susan Hayward is in it, and she is the best thing about this by-the-numbers tale. In fact, in The Films of Susan Hayward book, there’s a still from this movie of an oil-splattered Hayward and yet she still looks ravishing! Unfortunately, the print of this film was just ravaged and must be public domain because the one TCM aired was washed out and damaged.


Lilies of the Field (1963) 5.5/10 Hard to believe I'd never seen this movie before and while it's a pleasant diversion, with Jerry Goldsmith's score eminently listenable (it's fun to hear the Hour of the Gun similarities), the movie is no masterwork. Sidney Poitier should not have won Best Actor over Albert Finney that year. Oh well. Sidney's overdubbed "singing" (it obviously wasn't him) didn't endear me to the film, either.

A Patch of Blue (1965) 7/10 Much better Poitier here, with an assuredness and relaxed characterization that shows what a great screen actor this guy is. This has a great performance by Shelley Winters (Best Supporting Actress) and Elizabeth Hartman acquits herself nicely, considering she had to share the screen with those titans. A gem of a Jerry Goldsmith score. The variation of the theme when the two are making beaded necklaces is absolutely charming.

The Mechanic (1972) 7.5/10 The Mechanic is warmly nostalgic! The fact that a movie about assassins qualifies as “warm nostalgia” says just how up in the clouds I was as a kid...I guess you could say, as they do in the movie, that "I lived in my mind." I watched it when I was 13 one Saturday afternoon and was completely fascinated by it. Now, having seen it recently, I appreciate it on a whole new level. There's a scene that never left my memory all these years: when Bishop (Charles Bronson) takes McKenna (Jan-Michael Vincent) to a martial arts exhibition and discusses the concept of the "old master" and the "new master." I'd forgotten which film that came from; it turned out to be this one. I think I may be becoming obsessed with this movie, mainly because the Bronson character is sophisticated, philosophical, and a man of taste! He listens to Beethoven while plotting his next hit and admires paintings by Bosch in his Mulholland Drive home. Yes, Charles Bronson: Man of Taste. It's an interesting take on action movies. The two principals have a teacher-student relationship and I like the old master imparting his wisdom on the talented newcomer. The movie boasts a knockout of a music score, an edgy, prickly, avante-garde effort by the “other” Jerry, Jerry Fielding (1922-1980). I just paid big bucks for three CDs of his that I foolishly passed on when they were first announced. I’m dumb like that.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How Does an Obsession Begin?

This questionnaire originated over at Classic Hollywood Nerd, though the title is stolen from Movie Viewing Girl's blog. I've never been accused of NOT being a scavenger...Anyway, seeing as I could use a break from some of the long-winded stuff I’m working on, I submit for your approval:

Who was the actor/actress that you were first interested in?

Steve McQueen. While most kids my age were marveling over Star Wars and Harrison Ford, I was pretending I was McQueen’s Captain Hilts character from The Great Escape while pedaling my bike as fast as I could. My childhood “Holy Trilogy” of McQueen adventure epics were The Great Escape, The Sand Pebbles, and Papillon. That hasn’t changed! My close friends and I worshipped this guy’s movies! McQueen turned out to be a not-so nice human being, but I “judge the art, not the artist.”



Childhood Icon: Steve McQueen could do no wrong. I'm still looking for that color of sweatshirt.

How old were you when you really began watching old movies?

Five.

What was the first old movie that caught your interest?

One of the "Universal Monster movies": Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolfman, and the Abbott & Costello variations thereof. With Frankenstein being my all-time favorite. I reminisce about it here.


Who is currently your favorite actor?

I'm not tellin'!


Second place in this favorite actor category would be a revolving door policy of various 1960s actors. As Trixie once told me, “Your love of 1930s women is only overridden by your love of 1960s tough guys.” So true, but Steve McQueen, Lee Marvin, James Coburn, Burt Lancaster, Charles Bronson, and Clint Eastwood---are all jockeying for second place to ---. It's interesting to note that I haven't written about him yet...

Who is currently your favorite actress?

I guess when all is said and done I’ll take Katharine Hepburn. Any dame who can go toe-to-toe with the best actors of their respective generations (Spencer Tracy and Peter O’Toole) has got to be my favorite.

What is your favorite old movie and why?

I’m not tellin’—yet. A lengthy blog entry is in progress. Stay tuned.

How many old movies do you own? How many old movies do you have recorded/on the dvr?

Not as many as I’d like. A lot less than everyone else who's answering this! I also have a lot of 1960s-70s TV shows that compete for my attention. I don’t have a Tivo/DV-R recorder…

If you could go back in time and visit any actor/actress, who would it be?

I’d love to play poker and drink tequila late into the night in a tent in the middle of the desert with John Wayne, John Ford, Ward Bond, and the other stock cast members on the set of one of Ford's cavalry epics. Oh, the ripe conversations they must have had!

Who is one actor/actress that you want to know more about?

I’m usually disappointed when I read too much about a beloved movie star. But I’ll say Robert Ryan.

What film could you watch over and over again?

Impossible to pick just one, but if I had to live my life in a movie, it’d be as Nick Charles in a never-ending Thin Man film.

What is your favorite Hitchcock film?

B&W: Strangers on a Train
Color: North by Northwest

Who is your favorite director?

I don't think I really have one. Today, I’ll say George Cukor---but tomorrow it might be…Richard Brooks, Leo McCarey, Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, John Ford, Howard Hawks...it's impossible to choose a single director.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A Carole Lombard Picture


The Carole & Co. blog has the inspired idea to post a favorite Carole Lombard picture and since I'm recharging my blogging batteries *and* recovering from a trip to the dentist, gazing upon The Lovely Lombard will no doubt speed up my recovery...let the healing begin. This has become my new favorite Carole Lombard photo, and that's saying something, seeing as she was the most photogenic movie star ever. She's not the Hollywood Dreamland poster girl for nothing...

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Poll Results: Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday

The poll results are in! The majority of you say that your favorite 1950s Audrey Hepburn performance is her Oscar-winning role in Roman Holiday. The vote tally:

Roman Holiday- 19
Sabrina- 10
Funny Face- 3
Love in the Afternoon- 3
Nun's Story- 1

It's not surprising, because her turn as Princess Ann is the template that Hepburn (1929-1993) would use in some variation in virtually every role in her career: the sweet, lovely, awkward woman who is uncomfortable and often painfully unhappy with her lot in life, whether it be as a princess, the daughter of a chauffeur (Sabrina), the party girl (Breakfast at Tiffany's), or the unhappily married woman (Two for the Road). It is Hepburn's most frequent onscreen personality. Audrey Hepburn was a solid actress but was really a movie star--and one of the best of her era. She honed that persona in the aforementioned films, which are her most popular. She has an appeal to many women, particularly young women who can no doubt relate to her. She also benefits by being one of the fashion icons of the 20th century. But it is her magnetic charm, radiant beauty and vulnerability about to bubble over as first seen in films like Roman Holiday that earns her new fans some fifty years later.


All Aglow: 1953 Best Actress Audrey Hepburn with her prize.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Gail Patrick: Deco Dame, Part VI

The tribute that would not die! March brings another entry in my ongoing Gail Patrick appreication! Part VI is a series of pictures finding Gail looking her absolute best as well as a photo from a film in which she is the lead. The lack of available Gail Patrick starring roles on DVD is frustrating, but all good things to those who wait...at least that's what I keep telling myself.

Garbo Gail: This glamour pic finds her in "I vant to be alone" mode. The angst-ridden persona was not a characterization she specialized in, but she sure sells the idea here.

Pulse-Pounding Gail: This is one of the best-looking photos of her I've seen! Looks like a chorus girl get-up; it may be from 1935's Mississippi, a Bing Crosby vehicle which is--you guessed it--unavailable on video.

Long Tall Gail: The statuesque beauty filled those evening gowns as well as any other...

Movie Mag Gail: Gail got her fair share of magazine covers, as her appearance on the September, 1939 issue of Cine-Mundial proves.


King of Alcatraz Gail: Pictured here with Lloyd Nolan, King of Alcatraz (1938) with a plotline not unlike 1935's China Seas, dealing with a pirated freighter. King of Alcatraz marked the film debut of Robert Preston. The future Music Man would also co-star with Gail in 1939's Disbarred.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Husband and Wife Detectives


Ever since I saw The Thin Man I’ve been fascinated with the concept of the “Husband and wife sleuthing team.” It’s probably my number one “Silver Screen Dream”, to exist in an ongoing, never-ending Thin Man movie. For those who don’t know, William Powell and Myrna Loy perfected the genre in that first Thin Man entry, which was adapted from the Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name. Hammett based his novel on the tippling and banter of he and paramour Lillian Hellman. The original movie was a surprise hit largely due to the sparkle between the two stars. MGM had the making of a hit movie series. In all, Powell and Loy would play the roles in six Thin Man films.

Before I became enamored with Nick and Nora’s adventures, I was a Film Noir devotee and routinely dismissed what I saw as “lightweight” detectives like Nick Charles and other “non-tormented” characters. I was big on tormented protagonists; in fact, I still am. However, when I became obsessed with the 1930s, Nick Charles became my new hero. He was cool, calm, collected, and always ready with a glib remark. In other words, everything most of us are not. He didn’t want to be a private detective anymore, especially since he married Nora, the inheritor of her wealthy industrialist father’s fortune. Comfortably well off Nick and Nora drink to excess (it is the recurring gag in the first two films, reflecting the nation’s joy at the repeal of prohibition). The couple crack wise with one another, play the ponies, dine at the finest restaurants, stay at the best hotels, and generally act as though there is no Great Depression. Nora meets and is amused by the many colorful characters from Nick’s days as a detective and chides him for the dubious company he kept. What’s more, the crooks that Nick “sent up the river” have nothing but affection and admiration for him! In the middle of all this revelry and amusement, Nick solves the occasional murder. Nora is Nick’s catalyst, often urging him into action, asking about his previous adventures and pestering him about taking on another case, which is never for payment but rather to assist the police, who are always too happy to have his help. Oh, and they have a delightful wire-haired terrier, Asta, (female in the novel, male in the films), who is practically a partner in the Charles’ adventures.


The Thin Man series is a rarity in that it's one of the few times in film that a couple is shown in the “ever after” stage of the romance. Nick and Nora are a happy, confident, and well-adjusted couple who enjoy one another's company; it's not a concept that Hollywood has embraced--then or now-- with any degree of regularity. Subsequent attempts to replicate this formula have been marginally successful and Nick and Nora remain the exception to the rule; they remain the model for the concept. William Powell would appear in a film that attempted to replicate the magic he had with Myrna Loy, 1936’s The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, which featured Powell alongside Jean Arthur. In it Powell is a doctor whose ex-wife drags him into yet another murder case, which was the reason he divorced her!


After devouring the Thin Man movies multiple times, my quest for similar crime fighting couples grew. My search for similar fare led me to upon Joel and Garda Sloane of the Fast series, written by Harry Kurnitz. The characters appeared in three movies produced by MGM during 1938-39 and featured three different couples as the rare book dealer turned detectives:

Fast Company: Melvyn Douglas and Florence Rice. Married book-dealers Joel and Garda Sloane try to clear a friend in the murder of a rival book-seller.

Fast and Loose: Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell. Joel and Garda Sloane investigate the killing of a noted collector.

Fast and Furious: Franchot Tone and Ann Sothern. The couple get mixed up with murder during a beauty pageant.


Why MGM didn’t sick with one couple is a mystery in itself. Perhaps it was because the search for another couple with Powell-Loy style chemistry proved elusive. All three films have their charms, and I regularly bounce back and forth between which is my favorite, with the present frontrunner being Fast and Furious, as Tone is a delight and Ann Sothern is…irresistible! The men play Joel Sloane in varying degrees: from a dry and subtle wit (Melvyn Douglas), to more obviously comedic (Bob Montgomery & Franchot Tone). The various Gardas are alternately silly, meddlesome, and unlike the supercool Nora Charles, jealous of the attention their husbands receive from the lovely young ladies. It’s unfortunate that a regular duo wasn’t used. We’re still waiting for the Fast films to appear on DVD.


A "novel" twist on husband-wife detectives is the series of mystery novels by George Baxt. Baxt (1923-2003) employs famous movie couples as the protagonists. The intriguing concept is perhaps best realized in his last novel, The Clark Gable & Carole Lombard Murder Case. Amateur detectives Gable and Lombard are in pursuit of a kidnapper of movie star babies amid the backdrop of Gone with the Wind’s premiere, though the plot is also a nod to the Lindbergh baby kidnapping of 1932. Lombard’s Screwball persona and Gable’s wisecracking propels the tale, which is best read for its atmosphere of the era and allowing the on screen personas of the two stars to be the focus. George Baxt had previously written The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers Murder Case, with its Cold War-era intrigue in Moscow and early 1950s Hollywood, and The William Powell & Myrna Loy Murder Case. Not husband & wife teams, but the public saw them that way, even though the stars were “just good friends.” The Powell and Loy mystery has the duo investigating an infamous Hollywood madam’s death, and the actors are buoyed by their experience as a silver screen sleuthing team! I just wish that Baxt had just written the "Continuing Adventures of the Thin Man", but give him credit for trying something different.



Television has tried its hand at husband and wife detectives as Nick and Nora Charles would re-emerge in a 1957 TV series, starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk. But it just wasn’t the same having Nick and Nora amid bongo-playing beatniks and Nick sans the fedora. Lawford possessed zero comic ability, though Phyllis Kirk wasn’t bad as Nora. The last gasp would appear to be the 1979-84 TV series Hart to Hart, starring Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers, with 1930s character actor Lionel Stander as their butler. The Harts also had a dog, “Freeway”, though he wasn’t a wire-haired terrier. The series was successful and was clearly patterned after Nick & Nora. The show’s been off the air for over twenty-five years, so is that all? Are there no more crime solving couples out there? Is the genre dead? Perhaps it’s time for another crack at making funny, sophisticated married couples “hip” again. If not, we’ll always have William Powell and Myrna Loy’s Nick and Nora.



In Dreams: William Powell & Carole Lombard would've made a great onscreen detective team.