Saturday, July 11, 2020

Magic Couples of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Movies have always reflected the hopes and dreams of the public, especially in terms of romance. Since almost every movie genre - from mysteries to swashbucklers, from war to love stories - features a leading man and a woman, it is not surprising that thousands of different screen couples exist on film. Only a relatively few couples created real magic, and of these, a surprising number worked for MGM.

At the studio with "more stars than there are in heaven," Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg acted as divine matchmakers. If a couple proved successful in a film, it was likely they would be recast as a team, especially if they were both under contract to MGM. Thalberg, for example, noticed a chemistry between Joan Crawford and Clark Gable when they co-starred for the first time in Dance, Fools, Dance ( 1931 ). He set the story department to finding scripts that would suit the two actors. Subsequently, Crawford and Gable made eight films together, in most of which she played the working girl who rose to fame and glamour, and he was the rugged he-man who loved her. Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, the perennial happy-go-lucky teenagers, co-starred in nine MGM movies. And Myrna Loy and William Powell, the quintessential happily married couple of the forties, made thirteen films together in as many years. 

What made a great screen couple? The answer is as difficult to determine as it is to explain what makes a relationship work in real life. Like all great lovers, screen couples exude mystery and wonder. "We're inevitable, " John Gilbert tells Greta Garbo in Queen Christina ( 1934 ), "Don't you feel it?" She does and so do we. Great lovers always seem inevitable, part kismet, and part coincidence. 

Casting two actors together creates a third entity, a single ideal. And no movie studio in the world paired couples together with as much frequency as MGM. In some cases, screen couples served to perpetuate a series, such as Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O'Sullivan in the Tarzan films, or Lew Ayres and Laraine Day in a succession of Dr. Kildare episodes. But the great MGM screen couples came to symbolize a singular aspect of romance: Greta Garbo and John Gilbert ( Temptation ); Clark Gable and Jean Harlow ( Lust ); Joan Crawford and Clark Gable ( Glamour ); Myrna Loy and William Powell ( Sophistication ); Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy ( Sentimental Love ); Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney ( Good, Clean Fun ); Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon ( Enduring Love ); Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn ( Mutual Admiration ). 

Perhaps the popularity of these couples can be attributed to moviegoers' longing for the romantic ideals these costars projected on the screen. Certainly, their popularity also was a reflection of the times. Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy sang sentimental arias to each other, lavishly adorned in period costumes, while the world suffered through the Great Depression. Their love was always chaste and their relationship was as idealized as someone like Louis B. Mayer couple imagine. In Mrs. Miniver ( 1942 ), Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon stoically endured the hardships of World War II. ( Winston Churchill said that the movie did more for the war effort than a fleet of destroyers ). But the common bond and the lasting appeal of the majority of screen couples from this era also had to do with equality of the sexes. 
We may think of the liberated woman as a phenomenon of the seventies, but just look at the female characters of the thirties and forties. They were women who stood up to their men; Women who could wisecrack, work, even fight, if necessary, for the things they wanted and for the men they loved. They were equal partners in solving a crime, running a business, singing duets, or dancing on Broadway. These women held their own with men in the bedroom, the boardroom, and even the barroom, when necessary. In a classic scene from The Thin Man ( 1934 ), Myrna Loy discovers that William Powell has consumed six martinis, and tells the waiter, "....bring me five more martinis, Leo, and line they right up here."

These women matched their men, drink for drink, or any other way, and the men loved them for it. 

The influence of MGM's screen couples continues today on late-night television and in video rental stores, where these movies of yesteryear are still popular, reinforcing the fantasies created by Hollywood's most powerful dream machine. Obviously, we still want to believe that, in real life, Loy and Powell or Garson and Pidgeon stay happily married for decades. "Ah! Sweet mystery of life, " as Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy would croon. And the mystery was this: Why can't real life work like the movies?

- Peter Hay

The above article was an excerpt from "MGM: When the Lion Roars", written by Peter Hay and published by Turner Publishing Inc ( 1991 ). 

Thursday, July 9, 2020

From the Archives: The Treasure of Lost Canyon ( 1952 )

Catch that chicken, Mr. Powell!!

The Treasure of Lost Canyon is one of those films that get lost among all of the other features that came out in the early 1950s, but it really is quite a treasure in itself. Its a sweet family film about a country doctor who adopts an orphan boy and their quest for a lost treasure chest of gold coins. The story was based upon Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Treasure of Franchard". 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Book Review: Harryhausen - The Lost Movies

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of stop-motion special effects maestro Ray Harryhausen. I've been enjoying re-watching many of his films throughout the year but doubly entertaining is discovering all the wonderful books written about Harryhausen and his work. 

A recent find is Harryhausen-The Lost Movies written by John Walsh. This glossy 188-page book from Titan Books is packed with illustrations, storyboard sketches, posters and photographs that shed some light on the nearly 70 film projects that Ray Harryhausen began but never completed. These were ideas that were conceived but never quite made it to the incubation stage. 

Some of them are really quite fascinating - The Time Machine ( 1954 ), King of Geniis ( 1969 ) and Conan ( 1969 ). Also interesting are the projects that Ray Harryhausen turned down - Moby Dick ( creating the whale model of Moby Dick for the 1956 film version ) and Night of the Demon ( 1959 ). 

The title is a little misleading because the book is mainly comprised of "Unused Ideas" and were not films that were lost overtime - merely potential projects that went unrealized. But, title confusion aside, Harryhausen - The Lost Movies ( $39.95 ) makes a great addition to the library of any Harryhausen fan. 

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea ( 1961 )

"Dive! Dive!"

Film producer/director Irwin Allen let audiences dive deep into the waters of adventure with Voyage of the Bottom of the Sea, his second of three feature films that he made at 20th Century Fox studios in the early 1960s. Prior to gaining a reputation as "The Master of Disaster" because of his disaster-themed films of the 1970s, Allen tried his hand at writing, producing and directing adventure pictures. His first production for Fox - Lost World ( 1960 ) - was co-written by Charles Bennett and its success at the box-office led to the two men collaborating on another Jules Vernes-like story. They took some inspiration from "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and created a clever story about a modern era atomic submarine 

Walter Pidgeon stars as the cigar-chomping Admiral Nelson, inventor and commander of the newly-built atomic sub Seaview. The Seaview is on diving trials in the Arctic Ocean when they discover boulder-size pieces of ice crashing into the sea around them. They surface and find that temperatures are over 100 degrees and the sky is aflame. A meteor shower had pierced the Van Allen radiation belt and caused it to catch on fire. Admiral Nelson and his right-hand man, Commodore Emery ( Peter Lorre ) believe that the Earth can be saved from burn-up if a missile were to be shot into the Van Allen belt to create an explosion. According to their calculations, this missile can only be launched from the Mariana Islands, and so the Seaview races to the south to reach the islands before the entire world burns. 
Along for the ride is Dr. Susan Hiller ( Joan Fontaine ), a psychologist who is studying crews for their reaction to stress, Vice-Admiral B.J. Crawford ( John Litel ), and Congressman Parker ( Howard McNear ). The voyage progresses smoothly until doubts begin to arise in the mind of Captain Lee Crane ( Robert Sterling ) as to whether the admiral is making a sound and safe decision. Lt. Connors ( Barbara Eden ) has complete faith in the admiral but cannot explain the unusual happenings onboard the Seaview...acts of sabotage that appear to be of Admiral Nelson's doing. 
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is a fun adventure flick packed with action. The race-against-time element makes the story exciting enough, but Allen threw in a touch of mystery with the added story of the saboteur. There are also two octopus attacks and a great mine-field sequence. 

The Van Allen radiation belts had only recently been discovered when Irwin Allen began writing Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and so much about them was still unknown. The idea of the Van Allen belt catching on fire was later proven to be impossible, but at the time, it probably sent shivers down audiences thinking about it being an actual possibility. 

Even though most of the film takes place within the confines of the Seaview, the film never feels stagebound. The sets, created by Herman Blumenthal, were very imaginative ( they were later reused for the television series ). The Seaview itself is an especially good design. 
Irwin Allen plunged $1.5 million dollars into the making of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and it paid off handsomely. Critics gave the picture mixed reviews but audiences loved it and the movie raked in over $8 million dollars. 

Teen singing-sensation Frankie Avalon helped to lure in the young female audience. His part was not very dramatic and, surprisingly, he didn't sing in the film but you can hear his voice crooning the opening credits. 

Also in the cast was Michael Ansara ( who fell in love with and married Eden after making the movie ), Regis Toomey, Henry Daniell, Skip Ward and Mark Slade. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

From the Archives: Gun for a Coward ( 1956 )

Janice Rule is clinging to her newly-found boyfriend Jeffrey Hunter in this publicity photo for "Gun for a Coward" ( 1956 ), an entertaining western from Universal Pictures. Fred MacMurray was the star of the film but this handsome young couple provided all of the romantic interest. 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

This seems like a photo of two rather stuffy but industrious looking gentlemen - or are they not what they seem? Are they crooks? I'll let you figure that one out as you ponder which film this screenshot was taken from. 

If you have no idea what this game is about, simply click on this link here for the rules and the prizes. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

British Pathe - Bottle Gardens ( 1965 )

Live in an apartment? Don't have room for a garden? Start a bottle garden! That's what the chap in this 1965 British Pathé newsreel did. 
All you need is a large bottle, dirt, plants, and a teaspoon on a stick, and you'll be growing a tropical garden in no time at all. You'll probably need a little patience, too, to "drop" the plants in properly but they look quite lovely when they are displayed all in a row. 

Supposedly, bottle gardens date back to Victorian times when the bottles were used to transport the flowers in ships from exotic locations to England. If you decorate them with a bow, they would probably make a great gift as well! Why give someone a bouquet of flowers when you can give them a garden? 

Ready to watch Bottle Gardens? Simply click on the link below: 

Bottle Gardens ( 1965 ) - 1:49 minutes

Similar British Pathé newsreels: 

Garden without Soil ( 1950 ) - 1:38 minutes

Roof Flower Garden ( 1958 ) - 1:24 minutes

Carnation Farm ( 1966 ) - 2:08 minutes