Sunday, April 20, 2014

Promoting the Parade


Fred Astaire and Judy Garland pose for a publicity shot during the making of Vincent Minnelli's "Easter Parade"  ( 1948 ). Such a dapper couple!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

No Highway in the Sky ( 1951 )

When No Highway in the Sky was released in 1951, James Stewart had already established a reputation for playing everyday heroes and champions of social justice in such films as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ( 1939 ) and The Mortal Storm ( 1940 ). 

In this British-made film, based on a novel by Nevil Shute ( author of the post-apocalyptic "On the Beach" ), Stewart plays a mild-mannered aeronautical engineer immersed in research conducting stress tests on the tail structures on the new Reindeer fleet of aircraft at the RAE. Mr. Theodore Honey's life consists of long hours spent at the laboratory and more hours spent at home - if he can find his home - working on calculations and raising his adolescent daughter Elspeth. 

Science is his life and mathematical truth is his goal. He has no time for people or a social life. 

"You don't understand...I'm a scientist. Science is very exacting, it requires the utmost concentration. I can't be concerned about people"


He finds, however, that science can not always be separated from the subjects it involves. Dennis Scott ( Jack Hawkins ), the new supervisor at the firm, takes an interest in Mr. Honey's research and his startling statement that the tail on every Reindeer will break off after 1440 hours of flight time. He orders Mr.Honey to go to Labrador, Canada to observe the wreckage of a former Reindeer flight that crashed. It is en route that Mr. Honey's life becomes changed and his principles re-examined when he discovers that he is on board a Reindeer plane that has reached the 1400 hour limit. He must convince the pilot to turn back before the point of no return or else see the lives of every passenger endangered.

Theodore Honey is a timid, introverted man; his shoulders are slightly stooped and his appearance is disheveled. He is a nondescript character whom one would not readily approach and yet, Miss Corder ( Glynis Johns ) and Monica Teasdale ( Marlene Dietrich ), an airline stewardess and a famous Hollywood actress whom he befriends on the flight, are drawn to him. They see a gentle, caring man who is willing to put their lives before his very own. Like Mr. Honey, the imminent disaster makes them see their life in a new perspective and each become so affected by his sincere concern for them that they both return to England to help him clear a charge of lunacy.

" If you believe in something, you believe in doing something about it, don't you? " 

No Highway in the Sky is a sharply written story, with moments of humor and suspense interwoven into a taught 98 minutes. Henry Koster ( Harvey ) does a splendid job of directing this film and never lets it lose its entertainment value for one moment. It clips along at a leisurely pace and tends to grow on you as it progresses and you come to know each of the characters in turn. 

Janette Scott, as Honey's daughter Elspeth, plays a pivotal role in drawing all these characters together. We see that it is her constant praise of her father's intellectual capabilities that convince Mr. Scott that Honey may not be the crackpot scientist he seems to be. He is fascinated with Mr. Honey and at the same time puzzled at the way he lives and let's his child live. When Miss Corder and Monica Teasdale come to stay with Elspeth they too are drawn to her in love - and pity - and she quickly brings out their maternal instincts. 


James Stewart enjoyed eccentric roles such as Mr. Honey and he really bit into this part and brought to the character of this boffin the convincing persona of a man who believes in his convictions and has the courage to fight for them. Stewart made him a much more lovable and admirable character than the Mr. Honey that Nevil Shute wrote of in his novel.

Marlene Dietrich's character is not quite necessary but an highly engrossing figure nonetheless, while the always lovely Glynis Johns provides an added romantic element to the story. Keep an eye out for Kenneth More, who is featured in a brief role as the airline pilot. Two years later, with his appearance in Genevieve, Kenneth More would launch himself as a star in British films. Other familiar character actors can be spotted throughout such as Wilfred Hyde-White, Ronald Squire, Felix Aylmer and Niall MacGinnis.


In addition to being an excellent film, No Highway in the Sky was an onscreen voice to the increasing safety concerns of the modern air travel and sadly, it had a prophetic undertone...on March 3, 1953 the de Havilland Comet was the first commercial jetliner to crash. Three fatal accidents occurred before the Comet was pulled from service and its design re-evaluated. Metal fatigue was found to be the cause.

This post is our contribution to The James Stewart Blogathon, a celebration of this All-American legend, being hosted by The Classic Film and TV Cafe. Be sure to check out all of the other splendid articles on his life and films.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Hollywood Home Tour - Jean Arthur

For this month's Silver Scenes bus tour, Al is going to take us past the home of one of the sweetest actresses in Hollywood. Take it away, Al!

512 N Beverly Dr
"Welcome back to the bus, everybody. I hope you have had a good stretch of the legs, for we're off to the far corners of Beverly Hills to take a gander at a lovely cottage, owned by a most lovely lady - Jean Arthur. 

"Jean Arthur started her career in Hollywood in 1923, debuting in the silent film Cameo Kirby, directed by John Ford. However, she really hit stardom in the 1930s when she became the everyday heroine in Frank Capra's classics You Can't Take it With You, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. During the 1940s, her and her husband, producer Frank Ross, lived in this charming home. 

"Although it looks cozy on the outside, it is deceptively large within, spanning 4,300 square feet. This Spanish stucco house has four bedrooms and three baths. I don't know much more about it, other than that, folks. Ms. Arthur no longer lives here....so please don't bother the current resident. After her final film appearance in Shane she left the limelight of Hollywood and now lives in a beautiful little cottage in Carmel overlooking the Pacific. "


Up-to-Date Note: The Carmel Point cottage Jean Arthur lived at, once known as "Driftwood", was put up on the market in 2012 for $4,295,000. Beautiful photos of the house, outside and inside, can be seen here


Monday, April 7, 2014

Nugget Reviews - 10

This selection of the Nugget Reviews is a mixed grab bag for sure, with some entertaining fare tossed among the more lackluster flicks. Alas, there be no golden nuggets this time around. 


Escapade in Florence ( 1962 ) 14k


An art student in Florence discovers a painting hiding under another that he purchased and discovers a group of forgers in town. Tommy Kirk, Annette Funicello, Nino Castelnuovo, Ivan Desney. Walt Disney Studios. Directed by Steve Previn. 

The Walt Disney made-for-television movies never did have the quality of the feature films the studio released....however, they did often present location filming - something the feature films rarely did. Annette sings many a colorful tune ( penned by the Sherman Brothers of course ) and, along with Tommy, rides around on his Vespa seeing the beauty of Firenza, while chasing down the art thieves. Some scenes are rather sleep-inducing, but overall it's a fun film. 

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School for Scoundrels ( 1960 ) 14k


A young man, intent on impressing a new girl he met, decides to enroll in the College of Lifemanship, where Mr. Potter instructs all his pupils in the art of being "one up" on every one else. Or, as the alternate title continues, "How to Win Without Actually Cheating". Ian Carmichael, Terry-Thomas, Janette Scott, Alastair Sim. Associated British Picture Corporation. Directed by Cyril Frankel.

School for Scoundrels is based on Stephen Potter's delightful One-Upmanship and Lifemanship books and boasts a plumb ducky cast : Janette Scott is adorable, Sim is very simmy, Terry-Thomas has a decent meaty role ( or should I say toothy? ) and it's nice to see Ian Carmichael in his pre-Wimsey days. While it entertained for most of its run, the ending tended to droop a bit. An interesting bit of trivia : Cary Grant was keen on doing a filming of the stories but couldn't find an American audience for it. Hard cheese old boy! 

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Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase ( 1939 ) 14k


Someone is trying to scare two old spinsters from their home in order that they may forfeit on their inheritance. Nancy Drew and Ted Nickerson try to help and discover a hidden tunnel in the process. Bonita Granville, John Litel, Frankie Thomas, Warner Brothers. Directed by William Clemens. 

Some may think the Nancy Drew series of the 1930s were just average run-of-the-mill entertainment, but we've got a soft spot for Nancy and her sleuthing shenanigans and this film ranks as one of our favorites in the series. How Ted puts up with Nancy is a wonder! She has him chase pidgeons around town, pushes him in a basement to spend a night with a killer, and steals his belt ( "You don't seem to understand Nancy...that's the only thing that's keeping my pants up!" ). It's a great little mystery and great fun to watch. 

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Holiday for Lovers ( 1959 ) Elct.


A psychiatrist and his wife travel to South America to stop their daughter Meg from becoming an engaged to a shiftless artist. Clifton Webb, Jane Wyman, Paul Henried, Carol Lynley, Jill St. John, Gary Crosby. Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by Harry Levin. 

The domestic comedies of the 1950s were a mixed lot of solid entertainment and downright dreadful films. This one ranks nearer to the latter. The actors, talented as they are, can't make out what to do with this script. The tag line hailed "It's a holiday of Joy! A holiday of Fun!" but the principal characters have neither joy nor fun on their escapade and neither do we.  The film winds up being a dramatic comedy that isn't very funny nor dramatic. Gene Tierney was originally cast as the mother role, but collapsed during the making and had to be replaced by Joan Fontaine...who had an emotional breakdown as well. Diane Baker and Diane Varsi were both signed to parts ( as Meg ) and withdrew from the film. That tells you everything. 

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A Life at Stake ( 1954 ) Fool's Gold


An architect discovers that his business partner and her husband want to do away with him for the $150,000 life insurance policy they took out on him. Keith Andes, Angela Lansbury, Douglas Dumbrille, Jane Darwell. Hank McCune Productions. Directed by Paul Guilfoyle. 

This film thinks itself much more cleverer than it is. In fact, the only thing it is, is downright confusing. Angela Lansbury runs both hot and cold at the same time like a cheap faucet while she tries to lure Andes to his demise. Poor Andes, he didn't need any luring to get that accomplished, all he had to do was read the movie's tagline...he was following " a cheat at heart from her painted toes to her plunging necklace". The movie is in the public domain now and can be found online, where it is best to view it ( since it is free ). 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Screenwriter - Philip Dunne

Certain names, when rolling on the credits, are guarantees that you are in for a good film. Philip Dunne is one of those names. He was one of the most prolific writers at 20th Century Fox during the heydey when Darryl F. Zanuck headed the studio, writing the scripts to films such as How Green Was My Valley, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, David and Bathsheba and The Robe

Philip Dunne started working at Fox studios in 1930 as a script reader but when they fired him, during one of their recurring financial crises, he obtained a job at MGM where he worked on his first script, The Student Tour. Although the script was very bad, according to Dunne's own opinion, it led him to becoming a junior writer for Jesse L. Lasky, an independent producer at Fox. Here, he collaborated with Rowland Lee on an original script for a film called I Am Suzanne and on the swashbuckler The Count of Monte Cristo ( 1934 ) starring Robert Donat. The New York Times praised the script and its high fidelity to Dumas dialogue, remarking that it was amazing how well his words had survived in lucidity and grandeur through over a century. In truth, only seven words of dialogue were from Dumas' own writing! Philip Dunne had not even read the book prior to writing the script. 



Later, Dunne attributed the success he achieved in his career as a screenwriter to Rowland Lee. After contributing work on several screenplays for Jesse L. Lasky ( Helldorado, Under Pressure, Magnificent Obsession, The Last of the Mohicans ), Dunne received a telegram in 1935 announcing that he had received a long-term contract from Darryl F. Zanuck to work at 20th Century Fox studios. He remained there for twenty-five years. 

Angharad: 
Look now, you are king in the chapel. But I will be queen in my own kitchen. 

Mr. Gruffydd 
You will be queen wherever you walk.

Angharad 
What does that mean? 

Mr. Gruffydd 
I should not have said it. 

Angharad 
Why?

Mr. Gruffydd 
I have no right to speak to you so. [he starts to leave]

Angharad 
Mr. Gruffydd, if the right is mine to give, you have it. 

The 1940s were Dunne's golden decade, an era when he wrote a number of extremely fine scripts for some of the best films to come out of 20th Century Fox. It all began with Stanley and Livingstone, released during that prime year in Hollywood - 1939. This film established Dunne as an excellent screenwriter at the studio and led him to many other fine projects, such as The Rains Came ( based on Louis Bromfield's bestseller ), and Johnny Apollo. In late 1940, Zanuck handed Dunne the novel "How Green Was My Valley" and asked him to write an epic script for an epic film. How Green Was My Valley was going to be 20th Century Fox's answer to Gone with the Wind. Twelve weeks later, when Dunne submitted his four-hour long script, as promised, he was told that it was "twice too long". Along with director William Wyler, Dunne worked to cut the script to a manageable length, but couldn't find out how until Roddy MacDowall was selected as the leading character, Huew. He was such a delightful child that Dunne and Wyler decided to eliminate their original idea of having Huew grow to manhood mid-way through the film ( Tyrone Power was supposed to have played Huew as a man ). 

How Green Was My Valley earned ten Academy Award nominations, winning in the best picture, best director, best supporting actor, best cinematography and best art direction categories. Here Comes Mr. Jordan snagged the Best Writing, Screenplay award, which left Dunne disappointed. Nevertheless, he bounced back quickly and began work on Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake ( 1942 ) starring Tyrone Power. 


The Late George Apley ( 1947 ) was another one of Dunne's witty screen adaptations. John P. Marquard, author of the novel, once told Dunne that he preferred his screenplay to the George S. Kaufman stage adaptation. The production was a happy one; it was a great success at its premiere at Radio City Music Hall and the New York Times gave it rave reviews, but alas, outside of the East, it did not fare well at the box-office. Nevertheless, since the production team enjoyed each other's company so much, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, producer Fred Kohlmar and Dunne reunited to bring another best-selling novel to the screen - the delightful The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. 

Dunne spent seven weeks in the desert splendor of Palm Springs working on the script and, even though he did not have to alter the book's dialogue very much, created a highly entertaining fantasy which, once again, only fared moderately upon its release. However, since then, it has become one of 20th Century Fox's most endearing films, and as Dunne said in his autobiography "I am asked more questions about The Ghost and Mrs. Muir than about any other picture of mine except How Green Was My Valley"


Captain Gregg: 
[discussing Mr. Fairley] And the way he was smirking at you, like a cat in the fishmonger's! You should have slapped his face!
Lucy Muir: 
Why? I found him... rather charming.
Captain Gregg: 
"Rather charming" Now you're starting to talk like him!
Lucy Muir: 
How in blazes do you want me to talk?!
Captain Gregg: 
That's better!

In the 1950s, Dunne, his wife Amanda and their three daughters, moved to a Malibu beach house built to suit. It would remain their home for the next 40 years and become a social and political hotspot for Hollywood liberals throughout the next decade. Dunne was active in politics ever since he arrived in Los Angeles in the early 1930s. During World War II he headed the Motion Picture Bureau of the Office of War Information, helped form the Committee for the First Amendment ( along with William Wyler and John Huston ) and was also one of the founders of the American Screen Writers Guild. 


Biblical films were all the rage in the 1950s and it was work on one of these ( David and Bathsheba ) that earned Dunne his second Academy Award nomination. David and Bathsheba proved to be a box-office success and the big brass at Fox, not one to turn their heads to a profit-making venture, decided to plunge the studios talents into another dramatic biblical adaptation - The Robe. This film, starring Richard Burton and Jean Simmons and featuring the talented writing of Dunne, became an even greater success than David and Bathsheba, grossing over $36,000,000 upon its release. 

Quickly following on its heels was a sequel, again penned by Dunne, entitled Demitrius and the Gladiators ( 1954 ). An entertaining - but lesser known - film about an Egyptian doctor during the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, The Egyptian ( 1954 ), was Dunne's final screen assignment before he ventured into becoming both a screenwriter and director. 


One of his first films, The View from Pompey's Head, was a lovely little melodrama, dripping with soap and starring some mighty pretty folk such as Dana Wynter and Richard Egan. Dunne must of enjoyed being in control of the filming of the scripts that he penned, for he directed ten more films in the next ten years, including Ten North Frederick, Blue Denim, In Love and War, Wild in the Country and Lisa. 

His final film, Blindfold ( 1965 ) gave him the cue that it was time to end his directing career. Talented as he was, his pencil was indeed sharper than his camera eye. During the 1970s and 1980s, Dunne quit the entertainment industry entirely and concentrated on writing as a syndicated columnist and essayist for the Los Angeles Times and Time magazine. He also worked on his memoirs, Take Two: A Life in Movies and Politics, which much of this article was based upon. 

Philip Dunne passed away on June 2, 1992 at the age of 84....but like most writers, his words will never pass on, always being revived on the screen with each subsequent viewing of his films.

You must make your own life amoungst the living and, whether you meet fair winds or foul, find your own way to harbor in the end. 
( The Ghost and Mrs. Muir )

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Since we are going to highlight biblical films next month as a special feature, we thought we'd make this round of the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game follow in that general direction. And when we say general direction...we mean general. Now that ought to confuse you! 

If you are not familiar with the rules to The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, just click here

Good luck guessing! 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Stately Ghosts of England ( 1965 )

Margaret Rutherford, the intrepid actress best known for portraying the medium Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit and Jane Marple in the Murder She Said series had, in 1967, earned an Academy Award for her performance in The V.I.Ps and was awarded the title, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire that same year. Prior to this crowning achievement she had an even more exciting experience....she was thrust among the living and the dead in a one hour television special The Stately Ghosts of England. 


In this program, which aired in 1965, the stout dame guided us on a tour of some of the oldest and grandest castles of Great Britain. However, their architecture and interior decor were not the highlight of the tour - instead, she attempted to beckon the spirits to make an appearance for NBC's audience in great Britain and the United States, where eager ectoplasm enthusiasts gathered around their teles to see what they could not see. 

Within the one hour timespan, Margaret Rutherford, her husband Stringer Davis, and Tom Corbett, one of England's most famous clairvoyants, traveled in a 1909 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost to visit three stately homes of England. 


The first, Longleat in Wiltshire, belonging to Lord Henry Thynne, the Marquess of Bath, was the setting of a duel provoked by the most ancient of sins - adultery. In the dark dismal hall leading to the upstairs chambers, Sir Thomas Thynne, with a flash of steel, slew his wife's lover. Lady Louisa Thynne died shortly after and joined her darling in the afterlife. However, she didn't quite make it...judging from the moans that are resounding in the corridors.  

"Lord Thynne, have you ever seen the ghost?"
"No, I never actually myself, seen or heard the supernatural" 

And so they carried themselves upstairs to have a chat with a woman who had seen the ghost. "Well, I didn't actually quite really see the ghost myself, it was more like a sinister presence that I felt ". 

Tom Corbett, being a clairvoyant ( one who sees ghosts ) had no trouble seeing her, of course, but for the viewers benefit, our team arranged to have a ghost camera - that wonder of the ages - set up to capture her fleeting presence on celluloid. To their satisfaction ( but hardly ours ), they did capture a shaft of light which appeared for a few seconds. 


Off they whisked themselves away to their second destination, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Goldsmith, owners of the charming cottage once belonging to Nell Gwynne, the famous stage actress and mistress of King Charles II. Unlike most ghosts, this lovely lady walks the floors of her dwelling in peace, choosing to remain to cherish the happy moments she spent in her home. Upstairs, however, is a more tempestuous spirit. The footsteps of a suicidal cavalier can be heard roaming the wooden passages leading to the bedrooms. The poor man is lost in limbo, still searching for the missing wing of his manor. Honestly, the current owners should have notified him of the change in the house's structure. 

More startling than these spirits, however, is when Tom Corbett actually speaks! 

"Do you know you have a third ghost?" he quietly announces, before promptly pursing his lips once again. The rest of the cast wander off to the bridge to not see the lady standing there, while Dame Margaret Rutherford chooses to snoop inside the Goldsmith's barn. Here, she points out an airplane belonging to Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, who once worked on the property. 


On their third and final visit, the ghostbusters are off to Beaulieu, an abbey in Hampshire. This crumbling ruin was built by hand by the monks of the Cistercian order in the thirteenth century, and rudely repossessed by King Henry VIII, a despisor of the church, to be given as a gift to Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Though the monks peacefully allowed their physical property to be taken from them, in spirit, they refused to budge. Spunky monks they be! 

The current owner, a descendant of the Earl, cordially conveys the story of the ancestral ghosts of the former abbey. Once again, he utters those profound words echoed throughout the special, "I, myself, have not seen the ghosts", but, he explains, his sister heard their rhythmic musical chanting...as had a number of other townsfolk. The Earl's sister, surely a relative of Margaret Thatcher, relays her account of hearing the sounds of a primitive radio which was sending out easy-listening signals of comfort and peace. Our trio, anxious to tune into this station, sit outside the walls of the abbey, with tape recorder in hand, ready to document these songs for posterity. 



Margaret Rutherford sums up the program and her personal feelings succinctly with the words, "Let those deny who will, I for one choose to believe in them".

This program perfectly suited the talents of Margaret Rutherford, not only because she had a flair for the dramatic, but because she, herself, was a believer in the spiritual and the occult. Indeed, she was the ideal host to the ghosts. 

The Stately Ghosts of England is available for viewing here

This post is our contribution to The Big Stars of the Small Screen blogathon, hosted by Aurora at How Sweet it Was! . Be sure to check out all the other great posts about film stars on television! 


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