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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Five Favorite Films of the 1950s

Today is National Classic Movie Day and to celebrate Rick of The Classic Film and TV Cafe is hosting the Five Favorite Films of the 1950s Blogathon, an event that is sure to perplex all of its participants for how can any movie lover narrow down their 1950s favorites to five?! 

What makes it so difficult is determining the criteria that constitute calling a film a favorite. The first thing I eliminated was thinking in terms of Best Pictures or Most Important Films of the 1950s and, instead, I picked only the ones that really made me happy. If just the title of a film makes you happy than it is worth more than ten Best Picture winners. But, even then, it was hard to narrow down because so many of those happy-favorites are seasonal and day/time dependent, such as Favorite Film on a Friday Night ( The Bat, Here Come the Nelsons ), Favorite Film to Watch When the Magnolias Bloom ( Picnic, Giant ), Favorite Saturday Morning Breakfast-in-Bed Musical ( Kiss Me Kate, Annie Get Your Gun ), Favorite Week-Before-Halloween Must-See ( Harvey, The Trouble with Harry ) or Favorite Meaty Drama ( A Catered Affair, A Place in the Sun ). 

Ultimately, it boiled down to the pictures that I enjoy the most because I have fond memories of all the times when I viewed it....those titles that hold a so-dear-to-my-heart place. And, not surprisingly, only two could be considered important films of the 1950s. 

Here are the top no particular order ( Goodness gracious, ordering them would have been impossible! ).

Gigi ( 1958 ) 

The Arthur Freed MGM classic. One of the last great musicals that MGM made. It was based on the book "Gigi" by Colette that tells the story of a young girl named Gigi ( Leslie Caron ) who - upon her blossoming into a woman - becomes the love interest of an old and dear family friend, Gaston ( Louis Jourdan ). As was the custom in Paris, she was instructed in the ways of becoming a good mistress to him for marriage was rare among the rich and influential bachelors of the city. But she does not want to be his mistress and plainly tells him so!

Gigi is not only a personal favorite but a three-generation favorite in our family. My dear Oma Rozi lived for many years in France and always talked fondly of Paris, so this film was especially dear to her and we loved watching it with her. All of us have our favorite scenes. For my father, it is Gaston's walk in the park when he turns from being upset to being in love. For my sister, it is the scenes in Trouville and, for myself, Gaston's visit to Mamita's for camomille tea and a game of cards. 

Journey to the Center of the Earth ( 1959 )

Jules Verne's classic tale of exploration was beautifully adapted to film in 1959 featuring James Mason heading the expedition to the center of the earth. Along for the journey is Pat Boone, Arlene Dahl, Peter Ronson, and Gertrude the Duck. This is one of those adventure films you can never tire of. From the opening at Edinburgh University to their kidnapping in Iceland and their descent into the volcano, each and every scene is a favorite. The film has a beautiful color scheme, great music by Bernard Herrmann and Mason and Dahl's slowly growing romance throughout the expedition also make this film extra charming. 

You're Never Too Young ( 1955 )

Like Abbott and Costello, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis are a comedy duo that you either love or hate. Personally, I love them, even though they did make a number of film duds. You're Never Too Young is a musical remake of The Major and the Minor ( 1947 ) which starred Ginger Rogers and Ray Milland. That film was about a young woman who has to spend a week at a boy's military academy and - in order not to put one particular major in a jeopardizing position - pretends she is a little girl. For the Martin/Lewis film, the gender was changed and the setting is now a girl's private school in Washington state. To make things a little more interesting, the screenwriters tossed in a jewel robbery incident with Raymond Burr playing the thug on the hunt for Lewis. 

The film has its moments of silliness, but overall it is never tiresome. Dean Martin croons some wonderful tunes, the colorful pinewoods/lake setting is fantastic, the gangster addition adds to the merriment, and Diana Lynn ( the leading lady ) is cute as a button. 

The Bat ( 1959 )

Cornelia Van Gorder ( Agnes Moorehead ), a famous mystery writer, rents a secluded mansion in the country in order that she can work in peace on her next novel. But a mysterious killer known as The Bat is on the loose in the neighborhood. His face is cloaked in a black mask and he wears gloves with metal claws to slay his victim's throats! Along with her faithful maid Lizzie ( Lenita Lane ), she attempts to unmask this culprit before he murders them both. 

The first time I saw The Bat was a good 17 years ago when it aired on Cleveland's popular "The Big Chuck and Little John Show" on a Saturday morning. It's a cheaply made film ( from Allied Artists ) but Agnes Moorehead and Vincent Price's presence make it so entertaining. Price was a master in the horror/sci-fi genre but I always thought he was particularly good at mysteries, too. This film, often mistakenly classified as horror, gives him a chance to show just how good he is at keeping the audience baffled as to whether he is a murderer or not. And to tell you the truth, after 20+ viewings, I still don't know the answer to who really was "the Bat" in each scene! 

Picnic ( 1955 )

Picnic is one of those movies that you watch once and then feel a need to re-visit. It is when you go back to it the second time that you find an even deeper meaning in the film, messages of hopes, dreams, failures and successes, change and constancy. It is all about a drifter ( William Holden ) who comes to a small town in Kansas looking for a job. He falls in love with Madge ( Kim Novak ), the most popular girl in town, much to the chagrin of her mother ( Betty Field ) who hopes to see her married to Alan ( Cliff Robertson ). Interwoven in their struggle is the life of a lonesome schoolteacher ( Rosalind Russell ). During the annual Labor Day picnic, each of them feels a sense of desperation to open a new chapter in their life. 

William Holden claimed that he was too old for the part and turned it down initially, but thankfully he was convinced otherwise. His role was supposed to be that of a youth in his mid-20s, but because Holden was indeed older ( 37 years old ) he made the character seem all the more pitiable. 

This is one of my favorite films to watch in May/early June and for years I always thought the picnic was a Memorial Day event because it looked so much like May in the film. If you watch the picnic sequence you'll notice the beautiful cottonwood seeds falling - a clear giveaway that Picnic was indeed filmed in May. 

Want to see more picks of Five Favorite Films of the 1950s? Click here to check out the full roster of classic film bloggers who participated in the event! 

Friday, May 10, 2019

Me and the Colonel ( 1958 )

"In life, there are always two possibilities...."

It is quite common to find a film that begins terrifically, loses a bit of its appeal midway through and then flounders at the end. But it is rare to find a film that begins slowly and then gets better and better until it reaches its climax. This is because screenwriters desire to "hook" their audience within ten minutes through a compelling script. Me and the Colonel is one of those rare films that fall into the latter category of having a slow beginning - and yet, one cannot say that it does not feature a compelling script. Quite the contrary; Me and the Colonel is wonderful entertainment.

Danny Kaye stars as Jacobowsky, a Polish Jew who flees from town to town throughout France trying to avoid the Nazis - as this takes place at the beginning of WWII. He is a clever and extremely resourceful man, a practical survivor. He uses people and situations to help provide him with the tools and opportunities to make his escapes. It is during his attempt to flee Paris that he meets Colonel Prokoszny ( Curt Jurgens ), a proud and stubborn Polish officer, and his aide Szabuniewicz ( Akim Tamiroff ). 

Jacobowsky is reluctant to use the colonel in his escape plan since he is unapologetically anti-semitic and extremely unhelpful. However, as the colonel is Jacobowsky's only chance, he uses him to drive the car that will take them to southern France and to safety in Spain. Their flight from the Nazis is immediately complicated when the colonel "goes the wrong direction" and heads north into German-occupied territory to rescue his mistress Suzanne ( Nicole Maurey ). The colonel has a penchant for getting them into trouble and it is left to Jacobowsky to continually use his inherent wiles to rescue them from one scrape after another along their journey.  It is through Jacobowsky and the colonel's ordeal together that they manage to form a bond of friendship that transcends their differences. 
"You have one of the finest minds of the 12th-century"

Danny Kaye was a marvelous actor. His skill at drama was often hidden behind the humorous masks of the characters he played. Me and the Colonel leans more towards drama than comedy and Kaye does not play Jacobosky for laughs. The publicity department at Columbia Studios attempted to warn Danny Kaye fans who were expecting zany comedy and tongue twisters that "Kaye pulls a switch". It was an uncharacteristic role which he played with impressive ease....and won a Golden Globe for his endeavor.

Jacobowsky has such a beautiful soul and it is so appealing to watch him unfold the various layers of his character throughout the film. Suzanne recognizes what a rare individual Jacobowsky is and is lovingly drawn to him. He - and the audience - are left to wonder whether she feels a romantic attachment to him or simply honors him for his noble character. 

I have always been amazed at how well Danny Kaye was able to play the romantic. Perhaps it is because we expect him to be the clown that his moments of displaying genuine warmth are all the more touching. Me and the Colonel features one of the sweetest love scenes he ever did. Tucked away in a French palace during a thunderstorm, he confesses his love to Suzanne and the predicament he feels he is in due to his loyalty to the Colonel. Not revealing what she feels, she simply asks him if he would like to dance and there, on the beautiful marble floor of the palace, they waltz. 
"More and more I like this Jacobowsky"

Me and the Colonel was nominated for Best Motion Picture at the 1959 Golden Globes and at the Mar del Plata Film Festival. It was based on a play by Franz Werfel ( "The Song of Bernadette" ) and S.N Behrman ( "The Pirate" ) that played for 417 performances on Broadway in 1944 with Louis Calhern, Annabella, Oskar Karlweis and Edward Bromberg as the four intrepid escapees. 

It is a light-hearted but thought-provoking drama generously sprinkled with humorous dialogue. Touches of espionage and the serious undertone of its setting make it reminiscent of Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not To Be ( 1942 ) and Howard Hawks' I Was a Male War Bride ( 1949 ). 
Curt Jurgens, who almost always give a top-notch performance, overdid it in this role and his performance of Prokoszny borders on buffoonery. Yet, he redeems himself at the end of the film and we catch a glimpse of a more tender-natured colonel. Prokoszny is stiff-necked and ego-maniacal but nonetheless endearing. Jacobowsky is willing to give up his life for this man and understandably so. He is courageous and fiercely loyal. The colonel's aide shows equal loyalty to him, as does Suzanne, even though she knows very well that he had affairs with women in every city he stopped at.

"In the cathedral of my heart, a candle will always burn for you!"

The lovely French actress, Nicole Maurey, is always a delight to watch. She is perhaps best known for appearing opposite Bing Crosby in the post-war drama Little Boy Lost ( 1953 ) and for her part in The Day of the Triffids ( 1963 ) where she was once again fleeing France for the Spanish border. 

Me and the Colonel features beautiful location filming throughout France and a great supporting cast which includes Alexander Scourby, Françoise Rosay and the marvelous Martita Hunt in a brief part as a nun who aids our heroes in their escape. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

From the Archives: The Chalk Garden ( 1964 )

At the dinner table, "Puppy" ( Felix Alymer ) relates a juicy tale to Laurel ( Hayley Mills ) about one of the criminal cases he had to judge years ago. Maitland ( John Mills ) looks on in this lobby card scene from the delightful mystery/drama The Chalk Garden ( 1964 ). 

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, May 3, 2019

Adrienne Corri and The Search for Gainsborough

It is always interesting to discover the hobbies that actors have outside of their film and theatrical work. Adrienne Corri, who is perhaps best known for portraying the sensuous red-haired Valerie in Jean Renoir's The River ( 1953 ), had a most interesting passion: Thomas Gainsborough.

The Scottish-born actress had a life-long love of art and in the early 1980s she made a remarkable find: in a dilapidated Birmingham theatre, she spotted an early portrait of the actor/playwright David Garrick hanging upon the wall. She was convinced that it was the work of the English portrait and landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough, whose paintings she was very familiar with.  However, art experts whom she showed the painting to, disagreed with her. So, with admirable persistence, she set out to prove them wrong. Her investigations led to getting access to Bank of England ledgers where she found a record of the payment that Gainsborough had received for painting Garrick's portrait. This discovery revealed that Gainsborough had been commissioned to paint yet another portrait which Corri uncovered in 1982. A stroke of good fortune indeed! 

Adrienne Corri in the delightful "Make Me an Offer" ( 1954 )

In 1984, she published an account of this treasure hunt in an entertaining diary-formatted book entitled "The Search for Gainsborough" published by Jonathan Cape Ltd. 

This entry is a part of our latest series entitled "Did You Know?".....sometimes we just feel like sharing interesting fragments of television and movie history and now we have a place to do just that. If you have a hot tip that you would like us to share on Silver Scenes, drop us a line!

Monday, April 29, 2019

Heimweh....dort wo die Blumen Blüh'n ( 1957 )

Somewhere I read that if you watch one Heimatfilm you've seen them all. That is a bit of a stretch, but it is true that after seeing twenty or so, they begin to blur together. 

In Hollywood pictures you would find character actors who appeared more frequently in one type of genre than in others...e.g Harry Carey Jr. or Edgar Buchanan liked westerns while Marjorie Main and Mary Wickes preferred comedies. In Germany, this was also the case, and many of the main actors and supporting players who starred in Heimatfilms enjoyed that genre and made a number of them. So you cannot rely on the actor's faces to bring to mind the title. Then, the similarities of the titles do not help matters much either. This film, Heimweh....dort wo die Blumen Blüh'n ( 1957 ), is not to be confused with Heimatlos ( 1958 ), Wenn die Alpenrosen blüh'n ( 1955 ), Solange noch die Rosen blüh'n ( 1956 ), or Dort oben, wo die Alpen glühen (1956). Lots of bloomin' titles! 

In this film, you will find a little more drama than usual in a Heimatfilm. A young woman ( Sabine Bethman ) attempts to commit suicide by throwing herself into a river but is saved by a priest  ( Hans Holt ) who is traveling with a busload of sängerknaben ( choir boys ). The priest takes her to the monastery and the boys and the parish staff all try to cheer her, but to no avail. It is not until she enters confession with Father Benedict and tells him the story of her lost romance that she feels her depression begin to subside. Of course, this flashback sequence is for the benefit of the audience who get to witness a little romance between her and her engineer supervisor ( Rudolf Prack ). 

Heimweh has some pleasant moments but on the whole, it is very forgettable. The only memorable part of the film is its theme song "Heimweh" performed by Freddy Quinn and played throughout the movie. Freddy was an extremely popular entertainer from Austria and "Heimweh" ( the German version of Dean Martin's "Memories are Made of This" ) was his first million-selling hit single. So it seems as though Heimweh...dort wo die Blumen Bluh'n was the result of some screenwriters who hurriedly typed out a script to cash in on the popularity of the song. 

The film also features a great supporting cast but unfortunately, their talents are all wasted in parts that are too insignificant. The lovable Joseph Egger could have been a comforting character to the poor young woman but instead, he is in only a few scenes tinkering with a radio or bickering with Annie Rosar, another great actress who has too small a part. 

Hans Holt may be familiar to The Sound of Music fans because he played Captain von Trapp in the original Die Trapp Familie ( 1956 ). Rudolf Prack is always a pleasure to watch, and also in the cast is Paul Horbiger, a legend in German cinema. 

Heimweh....dort wo die Blumen Blüh'n is not yet available on DVD but if you are willing to see where "the flowers bloom" then you can view it on Youtube.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Hot Diggity! Onion soup on Friday! My favorite! And you can be sure that this fellow will give you a generous portion. Don't mind the flies in the soup, they only add to the flavor. 

If you can guess which film this screenshot is from, you have a prize coming your way. If you have no idea what movie this is from, guess a title anyway! There is no penalty for a wrong answer. Check out the full rules to the game here. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

Charlie Chan in Panama ( 1940 )

Detective Charlie Chan finds himself once again in the midst of treachery and danger when he heads down to Panama in this 22nd installment of 20th Century Fox's Charlie Chan film series.

A sinister criminal by the name of Reiner is intent on destroying the U.S naval fleet as it passes through the Panama Canal. Chan, who is working undercover in Panama City, has only one clue to Reiner's identity - he or she was one of the nine passengers aboard the Trans-Panama Airways clipper ship that arrived in Panama City the morning of the death of Chan's contact agent Mr. Godley. Within 48 hours, Chan - with the aid of his Number 2 son - must unmask Reiner and discover how this mastermind will attempt to destroy the fleet.

There were 28 Charlie Chan films made for Fox studios and Charlie Chan in Panama ranks high as a fan favorite. It was based on the 1934 film Marie Gallante starring Ketti Gallian and Spencer Tracy. Screenwriters Lester Ziffren and John Larkin heightened its entertainment value immensely by adding numerous suspicious characters and clever red herrings.
Among the suspects are novelist Clivedon Compton ( Lionel Atwill ), scientist Dr. Grosser ( Lionel Royce ) who is experimenting with infecting rats with the bubonic plague, engineer Richard Cabot ( Kane Richmond ), schoolteacher Miss Finch ( Mary Nash ), tobacconist Achmad Halide ( Frank Puglia ) and a cabaret singer by the fanciful name of Kathi von Czardas ( Jean Rogers ). 

"Bad alibi like dead fish, cannot stand test of time."

Sidney Toler is always wonderful to watch. After Warner Oland's untimely demise, Toler took over the role of the world-famous Honolulu detective and added his own unique touches to the character. Victor Sen Yung makes his fourth appearance as Jimmy Chan, Charlie's Number Two son, and he is a delight as well. Later, he would become famous on television as the chef Hop-Sing in Bonanza
As in most of the Chan films, the atmospheric settings are excellent, with credit going to art director Richard Day ( How Green Was My Valley ) for his beautiful sets. Charlie Chan in Panama was tautly directed by Norman Foster who helmed most of the Mr. Moto series of films.