Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dennis Hoey - A Closer Inspection

"Why, if it isn't Mr. 'Olmes!"

You may know him by his real name, but more than likely you just call out "Lestrade!" when you see him on film. Although Dennis Hoey has become forever associated with his role as Inspector Lestrade in the Universal Sherlock Holmes series, he was a character actor like no other; a competent actor who appeared in nearly 75 films with that burly mug of his that is instantly recognizable.

Samuel David Hyams was born in London in 1892 to Russian immigrants who operated a bed and breakfast in Brighton. While attending Brighton College, the young lad considered entering the teaching profession but war intervened and, while fighting overseas for the home island, he found out what jolly fun it was singing for his fellow soldiers. This led to Hyams deciding that becoming a musical performer might be a very entertaining business. Once back on British soil, he joined up with an acting company and made his first stage appearance in 1919 at London's Drury Lane Theatre. He landed a plumb part as Ali Ben Ali in the London production of The Desert Song which ran for over 400 performances and for the next decade exercised his dramatic skills while touring with Godfrey Tearle’s Shakespearean repertory company.

Early in his stage career, Hyams changed his name to Hoey, most likely to link his name with that of Iris Hoey, a very popular musical comedy star at the turn of the century. He crossed the Atlantic to appear in a few stage productions in New York, notably Katja ( 1926 ), before heading back to England to wed and to dip his toes in that refreshing new pond of opportunity - talking pictures.


Hoey had a number of juicy film parts during the early 1930s, including Baroud ( a Rex Ingram film ), the unforgettably titled Chu-Chin-Chow with Anna May Wong, The Good Companions starring Jessie Matthews, I Spy with Sally Eilers, and Brewster's Millions featuring Jack Buchanan. Hoey also performed in several Stanley Lupino ( Ida Lupino's father ) comedy films  before taking time off to return to the stage and star in light operas. 

In 1937, Hoey moved his family ( which included son, Michael ) to the states and for the next five years kept active in the theatre performing in Pygmalion ( as Colonel Pickering ), Jane Eyre ( which he toured with Katharine Hepburn ), and Virginia along with Nigel Bruce. When war broke out in Europe, Hoey packed up his family once again and headed west to the land of movie stars in the hopes of finding regular film work. Which he did. 

Within three years Hoey appeared in eleven films for 20th Century Fox, demonstrating his flexibility in roles ranging from lords, intelligence officers, and detectives. The 6'2" actor exuded an authoritative presence which made him perfect for these kind of roles. It was most likely his performance as Colonel Woodhue, head of the British secret service, in the spy comedy Cairo that led to Hoey being cast as Inspector Lastrade in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon ( 1942 ). 

The series became so popular that Hoey was naturally called back to Universal studios, where he was under a non-exclusive contract, to revive his role in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death. He would go on to make four more Holmes films for the studio and was pigeon-holed in similar "inspector" roles in the horror classics Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and She-Wolf of London ( 1946 ).

Hoey was really marvelous as the affable Lestrade. He gave substance to a character that was barely sketched out by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and made him a favorite fixture of the series. He brought to the character a proper air of diplomacy in spite of his utter lack of efficiency and was truly a beloved bumbler. Hoey enjoyed portraying Lestrade and even wrote a script for a Sherlock Holmes installment, in which Holmes attempts to solve a mystery surrounding the famous ghost of the Drury Lane theatre. It is a shame this script never was produced, for it would have been a good addition to the series. 

Once back at 20th Century Fox he was able to portray a wide variety of characters in films throughout the mid-1940s. Some of the films he made during this period include National Velvet, A Thousand and One Nights, The Keys of the Kingdom, Kitty, The Crimson Key, Golden Earrings, and The Foxes of HarrowAnna and the King of Siam offered him the chance to play alongside his real-life friend, Rex Harrison. Here, he was cast as a nobleman but, unfortunately, most of his part wound up on the cutting room floor.

In the late 1940s, Hoey continued to stretch his acting muscles in minor roles in adventure and dramatic pictures such as If Winter Comes, Joan of Arc, The Wake of the Red Witch and The Secret Garden and also did a number of radio spots, including playing Lestrade alongside Rathbone and Bruce. 

By the early 1950s however, Hoey's career was on the wane and he turned his attention to the newest medium of wonder : television. Ironically, one of Hoey's last performances was that of Arthur Conan Doyle in an episode of Omnibus ( 1956 ). 

In his final years, Hoey remained in Tampa, Florida with his second wife, basking in the sun and enjoying retirement until his death in 1960. He was estranged from his son, Michael, who later went on to become a successful producer and director. 

One of our favorite annual events - the What a Character! blogathon - is taking place this week over at Aurora's Gin Joint. This is our small contribution to an event that celebrates all those wonderful character actors of the silver screen. Be sure to check out the roster of posts on all your favorites! 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

North West Frontier ( 1959 )

Flame Over India ( released in Britain as North West Frontier ) is a suspenseful epic about smuggling a boy prince out of India's northwestern province to safety in Kalapur after his father, the Rajah, is killed in a massive Islamic uprising. 

English army officer Captain Scott ( the marvelous Kenneth More ) is given last-minute orders to this effect and is left to use his own resources to bring the boy out in safety. Being a loyal soldier, Scott is willing to lay his life on the line before letting any harm come to the young prince and gets a few chances to prove his loyalty to the crown. Most of the English population of the area fled prior to the uprising and only the Governor ( Wilfred Hyde-White ), his wife ( Ursula Jeans ), the prince's American governess ( Lauren Bacall ), a Dutch/Indian news reporter ( Herbert Lom ) and a French gun dealer ( I.S. Johar ) remain, all of whom ask for Captain Scott's assistance in their flight for safety. 

Leaving by horse cannot be considered because of the numerous snipers hiding in the hills, and most of the trains have already left days ago ( filled to the brim and flowing over with Indians ), so unfortunately the only means of train transportation left at his disposal is a decrepit old steam locomotive - Victoria, the Empress of India. Gupta, the engineer of the locomotive has great faith in "his fine lady", and assures the Captain that Victoria will be suitable for the mission.

 "Alright, Victoria is old, I confess that. But she has experience, sahib. And when she has experience, what can go wrong?!" 

What can go wrong indeed! Our cast of characters venture forth on a 300-mile journey through rebel-held territory in the rickety old engine and to add to the danger, they find that an enemy agent is among them - one who is bent on purposely endangering the prince!!

What appealed to me most about this film the first time I saw it was its fine cast ( who can pass up a good Kenneth More film? ), its imperialism era setting and the wonderful plot. When the picture was released in the UK, More received top billing for his performance as the Captain. However, for the US release, he got bumped down to second billing in place of Lauren Bacall. 

At first, Bacall appears to be out of place as the governess, but her performance grows on you as the film progresses. She is excellent as usual and perfectly suited as the head-strong American woman who likes to speak her mind, and who slowly falls in love with the storybook correct Captain Scott. 

North West Frontier is a highly under-rated adventure film and this may be due to it rarely being aired on television. If it had a broader audience it would surely become a favorite with many. Its duel titles does not help matters ( the alternately spelled Northwest Frontier becomes a third title in the mess ).

Filmed in Technicolor on location in India and Spain, the movie plunges into the fray of danger and excitement from the start and although the "enemy" is pretty obvious to discover, Northwest Frontier is filled with many other suspenseful moments throughout its 129 minute run time. 

For those with that inner spirit of adventure, come aboard the Empress of India on a daring ( and dangerous ) journey through the Northwest Frontier and you can be sure you'll not to be disappointed! It's a Boys Own adventure come to glorious life in film. 

This post is our contribution to The British Empire in Film Blogathon being hosted by Phantom Empires and The Stalking Moon. Be sure to check out their sites for a jolly good list of imperial posts! 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Kim ( 1950 )

1885 Lahore, India: 

Colonel Creighton, head of the British-India Secret Service receives a report that the Russians are planning an attack on India via the Khyber Pass…where and when they plan on attacking is unknown. With the help of “Red Beard” Mahbub Ali, their top agent who disguises himself as a horse trader; the “Fat Man”; and an orphan English boy named Kim, they try to uncover the Russian’s plan before it is too late. 

Rudyard Kipling’s thrilling adventure novel “Kim” was brought to the screen in 1950 in brilliant eye-popping Technicolor and boasted a splendid cast with Errol Flynn as the magnificent Red Beard, Cecil Kellaway as the Fat Man, Paul Lukas as the Holy Man ( a Tibetan monk with an unusually strong Austrian accent ), and Dean Stockwell as our boy-hero Kim - a young English lad who learns how difficult it can be to play to spy for the Great Game, especially when he learns that he must forsake his scavenging ways and don the manners of his own people.

"You belong with your own people. A true man, like a true horse, runs with his own breed"

Kipling's novel was based on real-life spying methods during the era of the Great Game. This was the familiar term for the rivalry the British Empire had with Russia for gaining territory ( and supremacy ) in Central Asia. The "game" began in 1813 and continued on for nearly 100 years. In 1885, the year that Kim was set in, the two powers nearly declared war on each other when Russia seized Afghan territory near Panjdeh.

Filmed on location in Rajasthan and Utter Pradash, India ( as well as Lone Pines, California ), the movie gives us a grand tour of India and how it may have looked during the Age of Imperialism, when British troops paraded on grounds outside city walls and wily dangerous characters lurked in dark corners of crowded sadaks. 

The rights to Rudyard Kipling's popular adventure novel were purchased by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the mid-1930s with the intention of casting Freddie Bartholomew in the title role. For unknown reasons, this project was abandoned and not taken up again until the late 1940s.

During this time, Errol Flynn was loaned to MGM from Warner Brothers for two pictures. The first one was That Forsyte Woman where, opposite Greer Garson, he was cast as the unloved Soames Forsythe. His second feature was a choice between King Soloman's Mines or Kim. Both were to be filmed on location. Errol opted for India over Africa and the lead role of Allan Quartermain in King Solomon's Mines was turned over to English actor Stewart Granger...in a very enjoyable version of the story too, if I say so meself. 

Kim is a wonderful adventure film as well – enjoyable for all ages – but alas, it fails to be a truly memorable film, mainly due to its heavy reliance on voice-over narration rather than pictures and dialogue. However, when there is dialogue, it is spoken right from the pages of Kipling’s novel and pleasantly plays on the ears in lyrical fashion.

" You should believe only your eyes…and not the voices of others."

" This is a child’s game, Mr. Luzor "

" It is part of a Great Game ". 

Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the famous British Army scout and founder of the Boy Scout movement, would of fully approved of the lessons this film teaches…..key lessons on observation and judging character; always being aware of one's surroundings and being prepared.

Dean Stockwell is particularly noteworthy as the English sahib living life as an Indian boy. Devoted to his Holy Man, Kim acts as his chelah ( a servant to a monk ) while travelling across India with him in quest of the sacred River of the Arrow. Begging on the streets, climbing across rooftops, cursing passerby's, and donning a dark tan, he is an unlikely suspect to his enemies and hence...becomes a master player of the Great Game.

This post is our contribution to The British Empire in Film Blogathon being hosted by The Stalking Moon and Phantom Empires. It's a ripping good event covering all the grand and glorious films set in the age of Imperialism. Be sure to check it out!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Quiz

Hi Yo Silver....Awaaaaaay! Oh wait, that doesn't look like the Lone Ranger. That doesn't look like a wild west scene either. And is that even Silver pictured?? We'll let you decide that when you correctly guess this scene from a popular film ( popular with a certain fan base, that is ).

As always, if you are unfamiliar with the rules to the game or the prize, click here

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Mummy Trilogy

O Amon-Ra. O God of Gods. Death is but the doorway to new life —we live today; we shall live again….In many forms shall we return, O mighty one."
With these immortal utterances from the Scroll of Thoth, impetuous assistant Ralph Norton ( Branwall Fletcher ) conjured up to life the embalmed remains of 3,700 year old Im-ho-tep, an Ancient Egyptian priest. Shrouded in musty, tattered strips of cloth, Im-ho-tep’s eyes sleepily awoke to gaze at his resurrector before walking off with the scroll in quest of the reincarnation of the soul of his love, Princess Ankh-es-en-amon.
Before he ventures off to Cairo to search for his beloved he removes his bandaged covering and guises himself as a modern Egyptian….an Egyptian who bears a striking resemblance to none other than - Boris Karloff. Zoinks!
The 1932 version of The Mummy created by Dracula director Carl Laemmle Jr. started a box-office bonanza of mummy sagas which spanned over 80 years. To this day he remains quite a powerful character of horror despite his relatively recent creation. Whilst fiendish foes like our sanguinary Count Dracula or the Wolf Man or Frankenstein were developed from legends dating from the 1700-1800s, The Mummy was a character conceived solely for the purpose of this film.

Universal Studio’s story editor Richard Shay was commissioned by Carl Laemmle Jr. to write a Egyptian-themed horror story loosely based on the mystery surrounding the opening of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922. Laemmle was pleased with a nine-page treatment Shay and writer Nina Wilcox Putnam developed about a 3,000 year old magician who never dies and hired John L. Balderstone to write a script surrounding it…he changed the name of our mummy to Im-ho-tep, after the famous architect of the period and history was made.
Although The Mummy was not favored by critics at the time of its release it still remains a cult horror classic and Universal saw enough potential in the story line to resurrect it in a re-make only eight years later, The Mummy's Hand. Unlike the first film, the Mummy remains under-cloth until his supposed demise at the finale of the film.

“ Anck-es-en-Amon, my love has lasted longer than the temples of our gods. No man ever suffered as I did for you. ”
Of course, with all good stories one re-telling is simply not enough and so out popped The Mummy's Tomb in 1942, a completely new take on the story. The writers even went so far as changing the mummy's name from Im-ho-tep to Kharis! This film was set in Massachusetts in the 1970s and featured Lon Chaney Jr. as the mummy, a role he was to reprise in the next two sequels.

The Mummy's Hand ( 1940 ) Western star Tom Tyler portrays the obedient Kharis who, with the aid of a little tana-leaf tea, is sent to kill the defilers of an Egyptian tomb ( played that other Western star, Dick Foran ). George Zucco co-stars as the control-agent of the ancient assassin, and Peggy Moran as his look-alike lover.
The Mummy's Tomb ( 1942 ) - Lon Chaney Jr. gets all wrapped up in the role of the mummy when he is taken to New England by an Egyptian priest to once again revenge the archeologists who defiled his tomb. Tsk, tsk, tsk…those archeologists are something else. Dick Foran, Turhan Bey and Elyse Knox star.
The Mummy's Ghost ( 1943 ) - While experimenting with the Egyptian practice of burning tana-leaves during a full moon to revive a mummy, a college professor "calls" the mummy to himself...it just so happens that one of the students at the college resembles his long-lost love, Princess Ananka. What a small world! Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, Ramsay Ames, and Robert Lowery star.
The Mummy's Curse ( 1944 ) – By some inexplicable happening, the mummy and his ancient princess Anaka are found in a swamp in Louisiana by a construction crew – after they died in a bog in Massachusetts in the last film! In spite of this slight oversight, this film abounds with Bayou atmosphere and contains some great scenes. Dennis Moore, Holmes Herbert, Martin Kosleck, Kay Harding.
In 1958, Hammer Studios, the famed British film company known for horror films began a series of monster classics based on the original Universal Films..... The Curse of Frankenstein ( 1957 ) starring Christopher Lee, The Horror of Dracula ( 1958 ) also starring Christopher Lee, and of course The Mummy ( 1959 ) starring - you guessed it - Christopher Lee. This time shot in Eastmancolor it basically followed the same story line as The Mummy's Hand...namely, a follower of an Egyptian god of yore seeks out to revenge the sacrilege of the princess's tomb by sending the Mummy out to annihilate those who desecrated her gravesite. In this case, it is Stephan Banning and his expedition ( Peter Cushing, Felix Aylmer, and Raymond Huntley ) Once again the success of this film inspired a series of continuing stories....
The Mummy ( 1958 ) – Quite simply a colorized version of The Mummy’s Hand and the Mummy’s Tomb combined, although it has a nice twist at the end with Peter Cushing’s wife bearing a striking resemblance to Princess Anaka and thus saving him from strangulation.
Curse of the Mummy's Tomb ( 1964 ) – European Egyptologists discover the tomb of the ancient prince Ra and are intent on shipping the artifacts to London…against the wishes of someone dead intent on making sure they remain at their rightful place in Egypt. Ronald Howard, Fred Clark, Jeanne Roland, and Terence Morgan star.
The Mummy’s Shroud ( 1966 ) – Once again, The Mummy’s Hand remade. The only standout feature in this film is its corny tagline… “ Beware the beat of the cloth-wrapped feet! ” Starring Andre Morell, John Phillips, and Elizabeth Sellars.
Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb ( 1971 ) – In this retelling of the story there is quite a notable change…the mummy is not a man but a mommy! Yes, the shapely Valerie Leon portrays Queen Tera, an ancient Egyptian queen known for her magical powers. She has a few immortable powers up her sleeve too. James Villiers and Andrew Kier co-star.
But wait there's more! Ah yes, we come to the third set in the Mummy Trilogy. For all the little tikes that weren't born in the golden age of film Universal conjured up a new series of action-adventures in 1999 surrounding our beloved wrapped-up ghoul.
The Mummy ( 1999 ) – An English librarian and an American Foreign Legion officer accidentally unleash the curse of the ancient high-priest Im-ho-tep and must fight off the life-sucking mummy. Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and John Hannah star.
The Mummy Returns ( 2001 ) – In Ancient Egypt, the Scorpion King sold his soul to the god Anubi and was forgotten forever…until that is, Rick ( Brendan Fraser ) and his wife and son discover the bracelet of Anubis which leads them to oasis of Ahm Shere and the Scorpion King and his jackal headed henchmen’s revival. Rachal Weisz, John Hannah and Arnold Vosloo costar.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor ( 2008 ) – The O’Connell family are once again fighting dead people, this time in the Far East where they must battle with a shape-shifting Samurai emperor cursed many a year ago by a witch. Brendan Fraser, Jet Li and Luke Ford star.

 Well, I think this here blog wraps up the trilogy series quite well...pardon the pun.
“ Death is only the beginning ”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Miriam Hopkins - A Daring Diva

Miriam Hopkins ranked among the top film actresses of the 1930s, especially among the critics. Like her peer, Bette Davis, her stellar career spanned from the 1920s through the 1960s and encompassed theatre, radio, television and film. From her first film in 1930 she displayed a verve that made her destined for stardom, but, unlike Davis, she did not have the fighting spunk to make a "comeback" in the 1950s to keep her name in the headlines. 

This minor detail, and the fact that the majority of her films have not been released for home viewing, have contributed to Hopkins becoming one of the most underrated and overlooked actresses of the silver screen.

Whereas stars like Rita Hayworth, Hedy Lamarr, Lana Turner, Constance Bennett are acknowledged and revered in books, blogs, and photo sites, Miriam Hopkins seems to have been buried in the sands of forgotten film greats. And unjustly so. Hopkins possessed more than just a pretty face. She was one heck of a great actress. Although she was capable of portraying any kind of role she was handed, she really excelling at playing provocative and tantalizing hussies. B****s to be precise. This was her forte and no one came close to displaying the talent she had at portraying these kind of women.

The Early Years

Ellen Miriam Hopkins was born into a wealthy Savannah family on October 18, 1902. As a young woman she attended some of the finest educational institutions such as Goddard Seminary and Syracuse University. After studying dance in New York she tried her hand at show business, beginning as a chorus girl and later appearing in local musicals before she attempted dramatic parts during the mid-1920s. While appearing in stock companies in the East Coast she receiving rave reviews for her performances and decided to head out west to California and fight her way to stardom. 

Paramount Studios was eager to sign her to a contract and her experience as a stage actress landed her a plum first part in the film Fast and Loose ( 1930 ). Within a year she was performing opposite Fredric March in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and starring with Paramount's biggest actor, Maurice Chevalier, in Ernst Lubitsch's The Smiling Lieutenant. She went on to make two more films for Lubitsch ( Trouble in Paradise, Design for Living ) which she recalled in later years as being her personal favorites.

Hopkins was basking in the glory of stardom during the early 1930s. It was her most active decade and of the 35 films she made in her entire career, 22 were produced between 1930 and 1937. The majority of these films were huge successes, both financially and critically, notably The Story of Temple Drake, which became famous for clamping the lid on eroticism and sexuality on film and effectively launched the Catholic Legion of Decency into action, putting an end to the pre-production code era. 

Hopkins showed America a new kind of woman, unlike any other seen in Hollywood. She portrayed connivers and schemers and cold-hearted Hannahs with a brassy playfulness that made her irresistible. You knew she was bad, but man was she good at it! 

Some of her most popular films of the 1930s were Dancers in the Dark ( with George Raft ), Two Kinds of Women, Becky Sharp ( the very first three-strip Technicolor feature film ), and the bowdlerized version of Lillian Hellman's scandalous play The Children's Hour - These Three ( 1936 ).


Off-screen Miriam Hopkins had very few actor friends, instead surrounding herself with a company of intellectuals, hobnobbing with - and bedding - many men of the literary set. Some of her closet companions were Theodore Dreiser, William Faulkner, Ward Morehouse and Tennessee Williams. 

Hopkins was known for being very fussy when it came to selecting scripts and wanting final script approval. Although she was an actress highly in demand by many of the studios and a number of directors, her hen-picking of the scripts stirred up the studio heads to boiling point in frustration. In the four short years that she was with Paramount studios her contract was adjusted three times to suit her demands. RKO wanted her to sign with them after her contract expired, but she chose to go with Samuel Goldwyn instead. RKO needn't have fussed over her, for her temperament at Goldwyn led her to being loaned out many times and they managed to snag Hopkins for four films. While at Goldwyn she was also under contract to Warner Brothers ( for three films ) and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. It's no surprise that she earned the nickname "Hoppy".

Her flitting ways proved to be her downfall on many an occasion, especially when some of the film projects she was offered turned out to become hits for other actresses. The Song of Songs ( Marlene Dietrich, 1933 ), It Happened One Night ( Claudette Colbert, 1934 ), Twentieth Century ( Carole Lombard, 1934 ), Peter Ibbetson ( Ann Harding, 1935 ), and To Have and Have Not ( Lombard, 1942 ) were all parts that she had declined. 

In some situations Hopkins just got the short end of the stick. In 1938 the country was abuzz with rumors as to who would play Scarlett O'Hara in Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind. Hopkins auditioned for the role, having an advantage over all the other applicants by being a native born Georgian, but eventually lost the part to Vivien Leigh. This was a sore disappointment to her and to many "Gone With the Wind" fans across America. Just as Clark Gable was America's choice for the part of Rhett Butler, Hopkins was the overwhelming choice in the popular polls for Scarlett. Even Margaret Mitchell herself declared, 

" Miriam Hopkins had been my choice from the beginning, but I [knew] what I had to say wouldn't matter so I said nothing ". 

While Miriam Hopkins was filming The Old Maid ( 1939 ) opposite Bette Davis, she was married to director Anatole Litvak, her third of four husbands. Litvak had directed Davis in The Sisters a year prior and Miriam had suspected that the two had had an affair. In the meantime, Warner Brothers had purchased the story rights to All This and Heaven Too as a vehicle for their leading lady, Ms. Bette Davis. For some reason, Bette turned the project down and so Warners offered it to Hopkins, who had signed a three picture deal with the studio. She was delighted to do the film, but first had to settle her divorce with Litvak ( she wouldn't stand for an adulterous husband of course! ). This meant six weeks in Reno. Alas, while the divorce papers were being finalized, Warners changed their mind about All This and Heaven Too, thinking that the European market would be very bad at the moment with Hitler invading. As a condolence they offered Hopkins Virginia City ( 1940 ) co-starring Errol Flynn and Randolph Scott and then threw her a looper, picking up the All This and Heaven Too project but giving the part this time to Bette Davis. 

Bouts with Bette 

These days Miriam Hopkins is best remembered for the films that she made with Bette Davis, her arch nemesis, and the "Hatfield and McCoy" feud that the two engaged in off-screen. The screen divas couldn't stand the sight of each other and Davis was said to have "thoroughly enjoyed" throttling Hopkins in Old Acquaintance

Miriam Hopkins truly did have enemies in Hollywood, especially among her co-stars, but being the southern belle that she was, never publicly dissed them. On the other hand, Davis, who was asked during an interview on a morning news program whom she had difficulty working with, bluntly sputtered "Miriam Hopkins was a bitch!"

Their feud most likely began in the late 1930s, when Warner Brothers cast Bette Davis in the lead role of Jezebel, a role which Miriam Hopkins had made famous on stage. Her ego was deeply damaged and she thrashed the library in her New York home when she heard on the radio that Davis had won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her part of Julie Marsden.

Audiences adored seeing these two temptresses lock horns and the box-office receipts for The Old Maid inspired Warner Brothers to team up Hopkins and Davis once again for Old Acquaintance, a particularly juicy piece of pulp fiction, ripe with catty scenes. 

The Later Years

During the 1940s, Hopkins focused her talents towards the stage - her true love - and appeared in the comedy The Skin of our Teeth, and the dramatic The Perfect Marriage and Message for Margaret ( 1947 ). She also kept active on radio, performing in The Campbell Playhouse, Lux Radio Theatre, Suspense and Inner Sanctum before she returned to the screen in a supporting role in William Wyler's The Heiress. 

Although the days of being a glamorous leading lady were past, Hopkins did not seem to mind at all, instead focusing her energies on giving stellar performances in character roles, some of which included that of the aging hooker in The Outcasts of Poker Flat ( 1952 ) and the deliciously diabolical role of Laurence Olivier's wife in Carrie that same year. Hopkins was also one of the first major actresses to embrace the fledgling medium of television, appearing in Pulitzer Prize Playhouse, Lux Video Theater, Studio One, and Climax. Television permitted her to perform a wide variety of characters which she had not tackled on stage or in film. One of these roles was that of Norma Desmond in the 1955 Lux Video broadcast of Sunset Boulevard

During the 1960s she performed in a handful of films, notably in the remake of The Children's Hour ( 1961 ) starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. Ironically, one of her last television appearances was that of an aging forgotten film star in "Don't Open Till Doomsday", an especially memorable episode of The Outer Limits. 

Hopkins passed away on October 9, 1972, just nine days shy of her 70th birthday. She was a sophisticated and immensely talented actress who deserves to have a much more exalted position in the Pantheon of classic stars, if only to introduce her to new audiences. Among the appreciative she is not forgotten and never will be. Let's raise a glass in toast to Miriam Hopkins, her incomparable appeal, and all the glory she basked in during her prime.

This post is our contribution to the Forgotten Film Stars blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association. Click here to read more about all of you favorite forgotten film stars...don't forget now!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Faces of Jack Pierce

Jack Pierce himself only had one face, one which wasn't particularly liked in Hollywood, but - as a makeup artist - Pierce created many faces. So many that the few we will highlight in this post will only scratch the grease-painted surface of this man's talent. 

These days Pierce is best remembered for his work in the creation of the "look" of the Universal monsters with the exception of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. It is for this work that he - posthumously - earned a lifetime achievement award from the Hollywood Make-Up Artist and Hairstyle Guild. 

Jack Pierce was born in Greece in 1889 ( he was christened Janus Piccoulas by birth ) and came to America with his parents in the early 1900s. He started in the film industry working as a projectionist and then a stuntman before becoming an actor. Between 1915 and 1925 he played in twelve different films, usually being cast as a villain.

Pierce often applied his own makeup while being an actor and he enjoyed creating different effects to detract from his shortness ( he was 5' 5" ). He got his first chance at applying makeup to other actors when he stepped in to transform actor Jacques Lernier into a speaking simian for his role in Raoul Walsh's The Monkey Talks ( 1926 ). This work was observed by Carl Laemle who hired him full-time at Universal, where one of his very first assignments was applying the makeup for Conrad Viedt in The Man Who Laughs ( 1928 ). 

The 1930s 

Dracula ( 1931 ) 

It was during the 1930s that Pierce rose to fame beginning with his work on Count Dracula in Carl Laemle's Dracula. His imaginative creation of this sanguinary count transformed the character into an iconic figure and set the standard of how vampires should look for years after. Bela Lugosi had his own ideas of how he wanted the character to look but Jack Pierce held his ground and buried the Hungarian under cakes of blue-grey greasepaint, narrowing the actor's eyes until they were debonair slits of glaring menace. 

Frankenstein ( 1931 )

The Monster - another creature whose image we easily take for granted. Mary Shelley wasn't all too specific about the Monster's appearance in her 1818 novel, and so Pierce let his imagination run free and decided to give the pastiched character a flat-topped head with very heavy eyelids. A nice sleepy look. Unfortunately for Karloff, the makeup application was a six hour process involving the attachment of a skullpiece for the black hair, then a layer of cotton and spirit gum for the forehead, followed by a glob of specially designed putty around the eyes, a nice dirty scar, some electrifying bolts, and a topping of green-grey greasepaint. Karloff personally contributed the sunken cheekbones by having a dental bridge removed. 

Murders in the Rue Morgue ( 1932 )

This juicy horror flick gave Pierce a chance to paint Bela Lugosi an entirely different face. The bushy eyebrows of the Count can be seen again, but now they are connected with a bridge of hair, making Dr. Mirakle look like he has one giant eyebrow. 

White Zombie ( 1932 ) 

Once again Bela got to sit in the makeup chair, with Jack Pierce transforming him this time into the devilish voodoo master, Murder Legendre. With curling beard strands, heavy dark eyebrows and a very low widow's peak, Murder was a character guaranteed to frighten women and children out of the theatres. 

The Mummy ( 1932 ) 

Karloff thought the Monster was an elaborate makeup process, but The Mummy offered him a chance to really test his patience. It was complete head-to-toe makeup application. The wrappings of the mummy were treated with flames and acid to age it properly then dipped in collodion ( a strong smelling liquid plastic ) and stretched over Boris Karloff's face. Pierce applied Fuller's Earth over the wrappings after it was dried to give it an "arid" look. Check out this great article on the mummifying process, originally printed in Mechanix magazine. 

The Invisible Man ( 1933 ) 

There really wasn't much monster makeup involved in The Invisible Man, but the coloring applied to all of the supporting players really enhanced the look of the film. This scene doesn't display any of Pierce's skill, just Una O'Connor's facial expression was so good we had to include it. 

The Bride of Frankenstein ( 1935 ) 

One of the reasons that Jack Pierce was not very much loved in the Hollywood circle was because he was such a demanding make-up artist. Film Historian Greg Mank interviewed Elsa Lanchester at one time and this is what she had to say about the Bride's makeup process, " [Pierce] took ages to make a scar that hardly shows under my chin. For a whole hour he would draw two lines of glue, put a red line down the middle, then start making up the white edges of the scar - meticulously done. Well, frankly, I'm sure he could have bought such a scar for ten cents in a joke shop.....After the scar came the eyebrows, and the hair. It's my own hair. I had it lifted up from my face, all the way around; then they placed a cage on my head and combed my own hair over that cage. Then they put the gray-streak hairpieces in afterwards."

The Werewolf of London ( 1935 ) 

This was the first of the Universal "wolf man" films, even though it often gets overlooked in favor of the Lon Chaney version. Henry Hull, who was cast in the title role, objected to Pierce's original concept of how Wolfie should look, claiming that it obscured his features. The final design pleased both Pierce and Hull even though it left barely a resemblance to the actor.

In addition to all of these monster classics, Jack Pierce was kept busy working as the makeup artist for Great Expectations ( 1934 ), Diamond Jim ( 1935 ), Magnificent Obsession ( 1935 ), Show Boat ( 1936 ), and Three Smart Girls ( 1936 ), to name a few. 

The 1940s 

The 1940s was Pierce's busiest decade and he worked on all of the Mummy sequels ( regardless of Chaney's personal dislike for him ), the Frankenstein sequels, and the Dracula sequels. He also created some menacing new faces in films like Man Made Monster ( 1941 ) The Phantom of the Opera ( 1943 ), The Mad Ghoul ( 1943 ) and Cobra Woman ( 1944 ).

The Wolf Man ( 1941 ) 

For Universal's second venture into lycanthrope land, Pierce created an entirely different look for the "wolf man", adding much more hair around the cheekbones and a bushy head of hair. Chaney reportedly hated working with Pierce due to the tedious transformation process he made him undergo, which included having yak hair glued to his face. 

The Scarlet Claw ( 1944 )

This film was the eighth entry in the popular Universal Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. The detective duo set out to the backwoods of Canada to capture a criminal who was once a former actor ( and a makeup artist himself ) and this fellow uses his skill to create different identities for himself, one of which is a fleeting glowing shadow in the marshland. Holmes got to try out some disguises himself and in this scene he is seeing if Watson can recognize him as a messenger. We can't even recognize him as being Rathbone.

In addition to working on The Scarlet Claw, Pierce also designed the makeup for four other Sherlock Holmes films. By the mid-1940s however, mystery and horror films were beginning to wane with the public taste. Pierce found himself doing the work of an everyday Hollywood makeup artist and applying cakes of powder and rouge to celebrities such as Deanna Durbin ( Because of Him, I'll Be Yours ), Susan Hayward ( Canyon Passage, Smash Up: The Story of a Woman ) and Abbott and Costello ( Little Giant and The Time of Their Lives ).

The 1940s brought about unwanted change for a traditionalist like Jack Pierce. Younger makeup artists were dropping the "out of the kit" techniques in favor of the quicker and more comfortable latex forms. Studio heads at Universal were in favor of these techniques because they saved time and cost during the making of a film. Pierce held on to his style and was eventually let go from Universal in 1946. 

Jack Pierce turned to doing television work in the early 1950s and when budget monster classics became the rage in the latter years of the decade he once again took to creating monsters. Some of these included the Beast ( Beauty and the Beast ), The Amazing Transparent Man, and burly conquistador in The Giant from the Unknown. His final work was on Mister Ed, where he was the show's regular makeup artist.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...