Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Quiz

Lately we have been posting images with characters at a distance, and that could be impossibly difficult to recognize, so this time around we've got a plum ducky picture of a woman whom we're sure most film fans would instantly recognize. But remember, the idea of the game is to name the film...not the actor. Whoa-ho!

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Enchanted Cottage ( 1945 )

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

The enchanted cottage...a harborage to a legend of eternal romance. A beautiful cottage left to live in contented independence of the centuries old structure it once belonged to; standing solid amidst the passages of time to cast its romantic spell on the strangers who pass through its portals. Ah! but not anyone can sense its enchantment...only chosen ones.

Our story begins on a cold wintry morning in a small New England town by the sea. Walking among the rustling leaves outside of this cottage is John Hillgrove ( Herbert Marshall )...a blind man. And yet, a man who can truly see, for he possesses the gift of inner sight; the ability to sense the true nature of a being, and to sense the magical aura an "enchanted" cottage, like the one before him, can cast. Being a composer, he seeks inspiration for his musical skill, and on this beautiful December morning Fate brings him to meet Miss Pennington ( Dorothy McGuire ), a young woman who will one day kindle his imagination with the musical strains of an emotion waiting to be set to music.

Miss Laura Pennington is our rather plain-looking heroine. A lost soul seeking a Home; a place of rest; a place where she can feel she belongs. She hopes to find it in her hometown. Returning after an absence of a few years she comes to the cottage to obtain the position of a maid.

Known locally as "The Witch", Mrs. Abigail Minnett ( Mildred Natwick ) runs the place, and having recently rented it to a soon-to-be-married couple, she's looking for a level-headed woman to help with the housework. Miss Pennington says she does not believe the rumor of the cottage being haunted and is readily given the job. It is not so much her superstitious disbelief that makes Mrs. Minnett hire her, but rather her confession to being lonely....a feeling Mrs. Minnett can sadly relate to.

That afternoon Mr.Oliver Bradford ( Robert Young ) and his fiancee ( Hillary Brooke ) arrive to look over the cottage. They are a young society couple and Oliver is obviously taken by the charm of the place and convinces his fiancee that it is the ideal location in which to spend their honeymoon. Within a week they plan on getting married, but that blissful day will never come, for War is declared soon after and being an Army pilot, Mr.Bradford is swiftly given his overseas departure orders.

Over a year later he returns to the cottage a changed man - a disfigured man. This time it is not a honeymoon oasis he is seeking but rather a place of retreat from his family, his fiancee and the society that brands him an outcast and tries to comfort him with pity. A broken man, he is searching for a new foothold on life. It is not only peace that he shall find at the enchanted cottage, but something even more wonderful.....lasting love.

Originally a stage play written by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero in 1923, The Enchanted Cottage was first brought to the screen in 1924 in a silent film production by First National starring Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy. RKO released this film adaption in 1945, and Lux used the same cast in a radio play that year as well. Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire were a perfect team ( they had starred together two years earlier in another stage adaption, Claudia ) for this "enchanting" tale and each brings a unique quality to their roles - Dorothy, with her look of inner sadness and breathless timidness, and Robert with his kind and honest appearance that not even a facial scar can alter. Mildred Natwick is marvelous as usual, as the lonely widow with whom time has stood still. And best of all is the magnificent Herbert Marshall. This man is always a pleasure to behold. 

"Through the eyes of Love, one can see everlasting Beauty " is the theme of The Enchanted Cottage, and yet, lying just beneath the surface the film tells other tales. It's a story of kindness: a lonely woman welcoming a stranger into her home, befriending her, and sharing in her happiness and sorrow; a young woman reaching out to a man in need of compassion and sympathetic understanding. It's a story of acceptance: accepting your situation in life and wanting to see it in a brighter perspective; accepting others for who they are and loving them for it. Its a story of Time: the Past frozen on a calender for a widow to remember, the Present being days of war and personal hardship, the Future being the only bright star of hope and happiness. And most importantly, it's a story of truth: eyes that see the true, the real, in a blind world. John Hillgrove tells Oliver that his blindness has opened up new worlds for him allowing him to use senses that show things as they really are, making nature and human beings all the more beautiful to him.....

" Sometimes I feel that before I was blind, and only now I can see "

The Enchanted Cottage is an atmospheric romantic fantasy with lovely music by Roy Webb ( nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score ) and beautiful cinematography. It leaves a memorable impression on the viewer, and you will want to see it many times over.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

TV/Movie Set : Lassie Come Home ( 1943 )

For this month's featured TV/Movie set we chose the classic Lassie Come Home, not because it's a particularly noteworthy bit of set design, but rather because the movie has two oh-so-cute cottages....and because we happened to have a 'hole bunch o' loverly screenshots handy. 

The Fadden's Cottage

Lassie Come Home was the very first of the Lassie films and it was such a success upon its release that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made the collie a star of the studio and featured her in a series of pictures : Son of Lassie, Courage of Lassie, Hills of Home, The Sun Comes Up, Challenge to Lassie and The Painted Hills.

The Carraclough Cottage

Like a lot of other Hollywood canine stars, Lassie wasn't her real name and actually - gasp! - she was not a she but a he named Pal. Pal won the role after a nationwide search and played in the next five Lassie pictures, being admirably trained by his owner, Rudd Weatherwax. Pal's long line of heirs continued the Lassie acting tradition for him up until the late 1980s. Incidently, Rudd Weatherwax is one member of a large family of animal trainers and is the uncle of Ken Weatherwax, who is best known for playing Pugsley on The Addams Family television show.

Inside Lassie's home

Lassie Comes Home is undoubtedly the best of all the pooch's films and its simple story was often times remade by a number of studios in the coming years. In this film Lassie follows her beloved master, Joe Carraclough ( Roddy McDowall ) to school everyday and waits outside the schoolhouse at 4pm precisely, when Joe leaves school, to walk home with him. Everyone in the village knows what time it is when they see dear Lassie pass by. Her internal clock never fails her. Of course, her being a big dog makes her have a big appetite and Joe's parents ( Donald Crisp and Elsa Lancaster ) just don't have the money to support her, let alone themselves, being as poor as they are. 

Outside Lassie's home

So to solve this situation they sell Lassie to a kindly dog breeder, the Duke of Rudling, ( Nigel Bruce ) who takes her off to Scotland to groom for some upcoming shows. Lassie doesn't enjoy the duke's idea of prime accommodations however and decides to hike back to his master - it being only several hundred miles to home. On route to Yorkshire he meets a few kind souls who sustain him on his journey, one of them being Rowlie the "pots" man ( played by the adorable Edmund Gwenn ) and the Faddens, Daniel and Dally Fadden ( Ben Webster and Dame May Whitty ).

Who would sell a dog that can curtsy?
Pal was a real ham when it came to acting and - viewer beware - you need a good pile of kleenexs on hand to watch this film. If Academy Awards were given to animals then Lassie would have earned one hands down ( I mean, paws down ) for his performance here.

What a ham!

Like most MGM films of the 1930s-1950s, Cedric Gibbons was billed as the art director with Edwin B. Willis handling the set decoration. Gibbons and Willis had a particular flair for creating old and weather-worn sets and the both the Clarracough and Fadden cottages have the look of being handed down from generations past. 

As poor as Lassie's family was it looks as though they lived in a bigger cottage than the Faddens for they had two bedrooms, with Joe having a room of his own upstairs. Downstairs there was only the main room, a country kitchen with fireplace and a round dining table which doubles as a desk for homework and sewing work.

In the Fadden cottage there is the main room as well with a door leading to the kitchen or possibly to the bedroom. It couldn't be more than 800 square feet and yet how comfortable a home it is! Just the right size. For a couple and a dog, that is....

Another bit of interesting trivia : Ben Webster and May Whitty were husband and wife in real life and you can see their comradery in their scenes together. Reminds us of that other great acting couple, Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford. 

After they rescue the poor wee dog during a rainstorm, Dally asks her husband to bring her some milk to feed Lassie with and we get to hear this wonderful bit of dialogue : 

"That's the last of the milk Dally. Won't be any for your tea tomorrow morning"

"It won't matter Dan. I often think we do things just from habit. In America they say that they always drink their tea without milk"

"Well.... that's because they haven't learned any better"

Tsk, tsk, tsk...those Americans are something else. Can't even drink a cup of tea properly!

It's a wonder no one has undertaken to build retirement homes of this size for elderly ( or newlywed ) couples. Although with the amount of "stuff" most people have these days, this size home wouldn't even be big enough to store what the average person has in their garage. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Stephan McNally - A Heavy of the West

Stephen McNally had been an actor for eight years before he played his first western heavy. His role in Winchester 73 in 1950 as James Stewart’s vicious, traitorous brother, Dutch Henry Brown, led to roles as either a heavy or a hero in 12 subsequent westerns in the ‘50s and ‘60s as well as guest star roles on some 16 TV westerns.

Born Horace Vincent McNally July 29, 1913, in New York City, he had aspirations of being an attorney but gave up that career in the late ‘30s, switching gears to avidly pursue acting. He began, using his real name, on stage with The Wookey in ‘41 for 134 performances at the Plymouth Theatre.

Arriving in Hollywood in ‘42 he continued to use Horace McNally in films such as Grand Central Murder, several Crime Does Not Pay MGM shorts, Eyes In the Night, and Laurel and Hardy’s Air Raid Wardens, among others.

Changing his name to Stephen McNally he was notably despicable in Johnny Belinda (‘48), then came his star-maker villainous role in Winchester 73. Signed to Universal-International his heroic side came through in Wyoming Mail (‘50), Apache Drums (‘51), Duel at Silver Creek (‘52) and Stand at Apache River (‘53).

However, I always found his edgy, hard-eyed manner, deep, close-cropped speech pattern and demanding snarl belied an inner viciousness that made him perfect as a heavy in Hell Bent for Leather (‘60) opposite Audie Murphy, Devil’s Canyon (‘53) with Dale Robertson, A Bullet Is Waiting (‘54) with Rory Calhoun and Requiem For a Gunfighter, producer Alex Gordon’s all-star western in ‘65.

Throughout the late ‘50s and into the ‘60s McNally worked heavily on television—guesting as an out and out heavy (or at best as misguided individuals) on "Wagon Train", "Texan”, “Riverboat”, “Laramie”, “Zane Grey Theatre”, “Rawhide”, “Branded”, “Gunsmoke”, “Texas John Slaughter” and “Iron Horse”.

In the ‘70s he primarily turned to working on cop shows such as “Ironside”, “Bold Ones”, “Mannix”, “F.B.I.”, “Rockford Files”, “Switch”, “Police Woman”, etc. For the ‘61-‘62 season he headed up his own crime drama as crusading newspaper reporter Paul Marino on “Target: The Corruptors”. At 67 McNally retired in 1980.

Although his name never became as etched into the annuals of movie stardom as many of his contemporaries, in the long run he left us an interesting array of characters with little redeeming qualities. He died of heart failure in Beverly Hills, CA, June 4, 1994.

Written by Boyd Magers. 

Boyd Magers is an author of numerous books about western films and writer and publisher of the bi-monthly newsletter Western Clippings. Check out his great website for more articles about western actors and to view a sampling of his vast lobby card collection! 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Movies in Our Time : Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century - A Book Review

Author and film blogger, Jacqueline T. Lynch has recently released a collection of articles from her blog, Another Old Movie Blog, in her latest book entitled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mirrors and Mimics the Twentieth Century available to purchase at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

This hefty paperback features reviews of over 50 films in the context of the time in which they were made, with a focus on Hollywood-made pictures. Gold Diggers of 1933, History is Made at Night, Shadow of a Doubt, Old Acquaintance, Love Letters, Since You Went Away, The Best Years of Our Lives, A Foreign Affair, I Want You, Storm Center, Peyton Place, and Strangers When We Meet are all reviewed and grouped into chapters such as "Before the Storm", "World War II", "Strange New World" and "The Fabulous, Frightening Fifties".

The Jeer : The articles should have been edited for this book edition and many read like a real-time blog, making you wonder what the author was referring to by "tomorrow" or "last week". It also would have been nice to see longer chapter introductions describing how the films fit in with the changing times. While the cover design is great, the back side leaves more to be desired and many of the photographs are highly pixelated. 

The Cheer : Lynch has an easy-flowing style of writing that keeps you entertained throughout numerous chapters. The majority of her reviews are just a few pages in length making it great for nightly reading. The reviews are very insightful and she sheds new light on some old classics. Among the more popular films ( King KongMr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mrs.Miniver ), are thrown in some obscure titles too ( Keep Your Powder Dry, Dreamboat, Witness to Murder)....always a boon! 

The Skinny : Check out Jacqueline Lynch's blog Another Old Movie Blog first and if you like her reviews then you may definitely want to consider buying the book. Otherwise, try it in the ebook edition instead. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Swiss Family Robinson ( 1960 )

"It was a good thing we set out to do. We were right, and all that hasn't changed just because we were shipwrecked."

Papa Robinson's plans of providing a new home for his family in the burgeoning colony of New Guinea go awry when the ship carrying them from Switzerland to the new land gets shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean after a fierce storm. Robinson ( John Mills ), his wife ( Dorothy McGuire ), and their three sons Fritz ( James MacArthur ), Ernest ( Tommy Kirk ), and Francis ( Kevin Corcoran ) find themselves abandoned by the ship's crew and left to survive on their own. They construct a raft and make their way to a nearby island where they build a home and make a new life for themselves, all the while awaiting to be rescued.

Swiss Family Robinson is loosely based on Johann Wyss' classic novel of the same name published in 1812. Wyss' story had potential but it lacked the action that Disney was seeking for this family adventure film. 

As director Ken Annakin recalled...

"While we were in the mountains near Zermatt shooting Third Man on the Mountain, I remember Bill Anderson saying to me that The Swiss Family Robinson was the subject Walt was toying with as a next picture. I read the book. It was very old-fashioned, and I wondered what Walt's approach was going to be. Bill Anderson and I returned to Burbank and we sat down with Walt. He said, 'Well now, let's throw the whole book out the window. Let's just keep the idea of a Swiss family emigrating, trying to emigrate to America. They get shipwrecked, but they are able to save all the things in the ship. They then make a life on an idyllic island, I think you ought to think of all the things you might like to do, all the animals you could use in an entertaining way. Let's make it a wonderful show for the whole family, with all ideas possible.'"

Walt Disney assigned sketch artist John Jensen to work with director Ken Annakin in creating a storyboard for Swiss Family Robinson. Every scene and every camera angle was plotted in detail. Disney then took the storyboard to screenwriter Lowell S. Hawley and told him to write a story based on what was drawn. It was a novel way to pen a script and turned out to be an excellent way! 

Swiss Family Robinson became Walt Disney's grandest live-action film to date. The entire film took 22 weeks to shot at a cost of approximately $4,000,000. It was also one of the few Disney pictures to be filmed in widescreen. No Hollywood studio sets were used in the making of the movie. It was shot entirely on the Caribbean island of Tobago, providing an authentic tropical backdrop for the intrepid family's escapades. A menagerie of animals were assembled - exotic birds, snakes, tigers, zebras, elephants, lizards and monkeys - and flown to the island to give the appearance that the Robinsons got stranded on a South Pacific island filled with wild creatures. 

The elaborate jungle sets, designed by John Howell, John Hoestli, and Peter Murton, took 5 months to build. The most impressive was, undoubtedly, the tri-level family treehouse which included a stove, hot running water, a skylight roof, and a pirate-proof living room....all the comforts of home. The treehouse became such a beloved edifice that it was given a permanent home at Disneyland, where it was re-constructed in 1962.

"The world is full of nice ordinary people living in nice ordinary little houses on the ground. But didn't you ever dream of a house up on a tree top?"

A previous film version of Swiss Family Robinson was released by RKO in 1940 starring Thomas Mitchell, Edna Best, Tim Holt, Freddie Bartholomew and Terry Kilburn. This adaptation focused on the father's desire to stay on the island and have his sons grow into capable men through the survival skills they were learning on the island, while his wife pined to go home to London to resume her social life.

Walt Disney's version had a much happier tone and the Robinson family displayed the proper attitude that one should have when getting stranded ( in any situation ) : to make the best of it.

As with most Disney films, casting was paramount and Swiss Family Robinson was filled with seasoned and attractive players.  John Mills is ideal as the patriarch of the family striking just the right note of commanding know-how, tempered with humor. Clearly he was a man not disappointed with the situation but thoroughly enjoying the whole escapade. 

Unlike Edna Best's portrayal of Mother, McGuire has her become a woman who supports her husband in his decisions and keeps quiet about the trials of the island...unless worry prompts her to cry out.

The lovely Janet Munro joins the cast as Roberta, the young woman whom Fritz and Ernst rescue from pirates when they take their kayak journey around the island. MacArthur and Kirk were certainly a drawing feature for the young female audience who no doubt would have loved to have been stranded on an island with the boys. Moochie is the only performer who gets out of hand in the film, and seems to be bent on getting himself, and the family, into danger. Rounding out the cast is the legendary Japanese actor Sessue Kayakawa as the leader of the pirates, and Cecil Parker as Roberta's grandfather.

Swiss Family Robinson was released just before Christmas, on December 21, 1960. Critic reviews for the film were mixed, with the New York Times calling it a "grand adventure yarn" while other reviewers found it overlong and the final pirate attack a slapstick travesty. Those critics had their blinders on and failed to realize that the film was made in the spirit of fun and reckless abandon. Nevertheless audiences realized this and they came in droves to see it. The film became the No.1 grossing picture of 1960, earning over 20 million dollars at the box office, nearly twice the return of the second top-grossing film of the year, Psycho.

Swiss Family Robinson gives audiences a ripping good adventure to enjoy and makes for ideal Saturday morning viewing. It has all the key ingredients of an entertaining film - a great story, perfect cast, stellar special effects, and beautiful cinematography. Through the Robinsons we can vicariously enjoy the life of castaways and live out the dream of having a sprawling tree pad...and all within the short span of two hours.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

This month's edition of the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game we consider to be quite easy, but then again, scenes from favorite films are always easy to recognize...especially when you take the screenshot yourself! 

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