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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

From the Archives: The House of Seven Hawks ( 1959 )

"Just what does this paper mean?" Robert Taylor seems to be asking. It is obviously written in Dutch and he thinks the Frenchwoman Nicole Mauray would know Dutch....and he is correct, in "The House of Seven Hawks" ( 1959 ) she does! This film was one of Robert Taylor's lesser-known pictures, but it is a good mystery with some nice on-location filming in Holland. 

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, September 14, 2019

The Prince and the Pauper ( 1962 )

Mark Twain had a knack for writing stories that appealed to the common people, especially to children. Most everyone has at one time imagined what it would be like to switch places with someone else. The grass is always greener on the other side. And, in this case, the grass just happens to be in the court of the King's palace, so why wouldn't it be greener? 

Even in 1532, little pauper boys pondered this question. Tom Canty wants to catch a glimpse of the king in London. He doesn't see the king but instead, he finds himself invited into the palace by none other than the young Prince Edward! Since the boys share an uncanny resemblance, they decide to switch places for a few hours...only those few hours turn into several days and they both find it difficult to convince anyone that they are not whom they seem to be. 

Walt Disney made a number of great made-for-television movies in the 1960s for his series "The Wonderful World of Disney" and, like most of his feature film productions, the movies had generous budgets. The Prince and the Pauper has a top-notch cast, great costumes, and some really impressive sets. Artist Peter Ellenshaw created some beautiful matte shots to expand the sets and evoke the 16th-century setting.
Sean Scully is marvelous as our leading lad and gives a convincing portrayal of both the prince and the pauper. Scully, the son of Australian actress Margaret Christensen, caught the eye of Walt Disney Studios after he appeared in the CCF ( Children's Film Foundation ) production Hunted in Holland ( 1961 ). Following his appearance in The Prince and the Pauper, he was cast in two more Disney productions: Almost Angels ( 1962 ) and The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh ( 1963 ). 
Guy Williams ( Zorro ) also stars as Miles Henson, a nobleman who befriends the prince while he is in disguise as a beggar. Even though he does not believe the boy's story to be true, he plays along addressing the prince as "your majesty" and helps rescue him on more than one occasion. Donald Houston has a meaty part as Tom's abusive alcoholic father who, after he murders the local priest ( Niall MacGinnis ), joins up with "The Ruffler" ( Nigel Green ), a man who commands a band of thieves. Also in the cast is Laurence Naismith, Paul Rogers, Geoffrey Keen, and a young Jane Asher. 
The Prince and the Pauper was not one of the Disney classics that I grew up with and it does not seem like it would be your typical childhood favorite even though it packs in its share of excitement. There's swordplay, a good Twain story, and fine acting, yet there may be just a tad too much "talk" to capture a child's interest. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Private Life of Henry VIII ( 1933 )

The name of Charles Laughton has become synonymous with that of King Henry VIII, a role that he portrayed both onscreen and on stage. Laughton was 34-years old when he played the part of this beer-gulping, head-chopping monarch, and his delightfully raucous portrayal remains a highlight in a career of top-notch performances. 

British film-maker Alexander Korda had his first international success with this peek into the "private life" of the oft-married monarch King Henry VIII. The picture should have been titled The Private Loves of Henry VIII for the focus of much of the film is on Henry's wives. 

As the introductory written statement proclaims, "Henry VIII had six wives. Catherine of Aragon was the first; but her story is of no particular interest--she was a respectable woman. So Henry divorced her."

We do not get to see Catherine of Aragon, instead, the film opens with Anne Boleyn ( Merle Oberon ), who is making preparations for her execution.
"Will the net hold my hair together when my head falls?" 

Queens must think of the appearance they make to their subjects, even after death. Anne Boleyn knows her fate well enough. She recognizes the glances of affection that King Henry VIII ( Charles Laughton ) gives to Jane Seymour ( Wendy Barrie ) and realizes that his only course of action will be to have her put to death....which he promptly does. 

Poor Jane Seymour has a short tenure as the king's wife as well, but she at least dies a natural death. And then Henry spies the beautiful Katherine Howard ( Binnie Barnes ), a lady of the court. She is the object of affection for Squire Thomas ( Robert Donat ) but when she realizes that the king is smitten with her, she gladly sets her eyes upon the crown instead. Love is freely sacrificed to the god of ambition.

"Love eternal...since yesterday afternoon, until tomorrow morning?" - Katherine Howard
"When I say love, I mean love." - King Henry VIII
It is Katherine whom we are led to believe that the king loved the most among his many wives, but when he discovers her relationship with Squire Thomas, he nevertheless sets her head rolling. Anne of Cleves ( Elsa Lancaster ) and Katherine Parr ( Everley Gregg ) take turns wearing the band before Henry disgustedly exclaims in his old age, "Six wives - and the best of them was the worst of them."

The Private Life of Henry VIII is filled to the brim with delicious dialogue by Lajos Biro. The picture leans more toward satire than drama and it is this winning combination of humor amidst such serious British history that makes The Private Life of Henry VIII so novel and so very entertaining. It was one of the first films from England to become successful in America and throughout Europe. With his earnings from the production, Alexander Korda went on to launch London Films, one of England's most prestigious film studios. 
In spite of the plot's focus on the wives of the enormous monarch, it is King Henry himself who takes center-stage throughout the film due to the magnificent presence of Charles Laughton. The actor bears a striking resemblance to the real Henry and his mannerisms most certainly must have matched that of the king. Nearly twenty years later, he would play King Henry VIII again in Young Bess ( 1953 ).

In fact, the entire casting for The Private Life of Henry VIII was excellent. Binnie Barnes gives an alluring performance as Katherine Howard and Merle Oberon, too, makes an impression with such brief screentime. Elsa Lancaster has a wonderful part as one of the few wives that Henry did not bed. Her sequence - and her clever method of remaining a virgin - is one of the most amusing in the film. And lastly, dear Robert Donat gives a rare supporting role and offers a hint to the audience on what a great leading man he will soon become. 

Also in the cast is John Loder, Miles Mander, William Austin and Lady Tree. 
The Private Life of Henry VIII has been beautifully restored through the Criterion Collection and is currently available on DVD and through online streaming via their channel. 

This post is our contribution to The Costume Drama Blogathon being hosted by Debbie Vega of Moon in Gemini.  It will be running till the 8th of September so be sure to check out all the other great reviews of favorite costume drama films.

Friday, August 30, 2019

At the Earth's Core ( 1976 )

Kevin Connor is best known for directing a series of rather cheesy popcorn sci-fi/adventure film adaptations of Edgar Rice Burrough novels, a series which began with The Land That Time Forgot ( 1975 ).  Most of the films had great casts, adequate special effects and plenty of Jules Verne-ion atmosphere which helped off-set some of the - unfortunately frequent - boring scenes. 

Alas, At the Earth's Core's 89-minute runtime was made up primarily of yawn-inducing moments.  It had a great story premise but, like many of Kevin Connor's movies, was bogged down by too much emphasis on our heroes escape from the primitive tribe that was enslaving them. In this case, the tribe being the Mahars. 

Peter Cushing gives a wonderful performance as the doddering Dr. Perry. This bespeckled British scientist has invented a machine called the Iron Mole which can bore through the Earth. Along with his partner, American financier David Innes ( Doug McClure ), they embark on a journey to the center of the Earth and discover a labyrinth where giant flying reptiles known as the Mahars rule a band of cavemen-like slaves. These slaves help to create tunnels where the Earth's molten lava is channeled away from their underground lair. Every once in awhile the Mahars get hungry and select a sacrificial victim to feast on. Princess Dia ( Caroline Munro ) is chosen to be their next dinner but David intervenes and rescues his newfound sweetheart, destroying the whole tunnel system in the process. 
A simple plot and a good one ( not unlike H.G Wells' First Men in the Moon ) but those darn Mahars were given too much of the film's attention. I am sure the male audience would have preferred the camera to linger on Caroline Munro rather than the giant reptiles. Not that there weren't other creatures to distract.....there were pig-snouted slave-drivers, giant rhino-like dinosaurs, and the mandatory pterodactyl. Yet, combined, they still weren't enough to wake-up the audience. 
It was refreshing to see Peter Cushing play a role so unlike the self-assured professor roles that he usually played in the Hammer films. Dr. Perry is eccentric but endearing and it would have been nice to see this character reappear in another film. Doug McClure gives his usual good performance and Caroline Munro is pleasant on the eyes ( she doesn't have much dialogue ). The remaining cast is obscured behind make-up, with the exception of Godfrey James and Cy Grant. 
At the Earth's Core was riding on the heels of the success of Kevin Connor's last film, The Land That Time Forgot ( 1975 ), and, in spite of its dull script, was very popular at the box-office. Connor would stick with his formula and make two more similiarly-themed films: The People That Time Forgot ( 1977 ) and Warlords of Atlantis ( 1979 ). 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Professor Piccard "10 Miles Above the Earth" ( 1931 )

Today's newsreel from British Pathé is quite fascinating - Professor Augustes Piccard has just landed in Switzerland ( May 27, 1931 ) after becoming the first human being to enter the stratosphere. He reached an altitude of 51,775 ft ( nearly 10 miles ) in his unusual spherical gondola and witnessed the curvature of the Earth for the first time in history. 
Professor Piccard's thirst for exploration extended to the deep deep ocean and, beginning in the late 1930s, he worked to design a similarly built steel gondola which would take a man under the sea. He called it a bathyscaphe and, in 1954, it did indeed take a man down to over 13,000 ft underwater. 

Piccard was not only an inventor and explorer but a physicist as well. However, his most important claim to fame is that he was the inspiration for the character Professor Calculus in Herge's famous Tin-Tin cartoons! 

Want to see the Professor in action? Check out "10 Miles Above the Earth" ( 1931 ) by clicking here

Similarly themed news clips from British Pathé:

10 1/2 Miles Above the Earth ( 1932 ) - 1:53 minutes

Professor Piccard and the Diving Bell ( 1940-1949 )  - 0:37 minutes

Professor Piccard Test the Bathysphere ( 1953 ) - 0:56 minutes

Friday, August 23, 2019

From the Archives: Dorothy Provine and Jody McCrea

Dorothy Provine and Jody McCrea ( son of Joel McCrea and Frances Dee ) are seen out on the town in this 1960s candid photo. Dorothy Provine dated a number of men in the late 1950s-early 1960s including Frank Sinatra, Alan Ladd Jr., Richard Chamberlain, Glenn Ford, and Roger Moore, but this "date" with McCrea may have just been for publicity purposes. 

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 :

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Assignment in Brittany ( 1943 )

"Every second throbs with suspense and danger!" 

For once, those exclamatory theatrical heralds were right: Assignment in Brittany is packed to the brim with non-stop adventure. There is so much fast-paced excitement that if you do not have your ears peeled, you may lose some of the plot line. 

French heart-throb Jean-Pierre Aumont plays Pierre Matard, a captain in the Free French forces, who is sent to a small village in France disguised as Bertrand Corlay ( also Aumont ), a suspected Nazi collaborator. Since Pierre bears such a striking resemblance to this man, his task is to weasel out information about the location of a U-Boat base that the British believe is in the vicinity. For the audiences benefit, he accomplishes this mission in one and one-half hours filled with exciting moments of danger. 

Of course, all good resistance fighters end up falling in love on their missions and, in this case, Captain Pierre falls for the fiancee of his look-a-like Bertrand: Anne Pinot ( portrayed by the lovely Susan Peters ). 

Director Jack Conway was a veteran of silent films and numerous MGM "A" pictures ( A Tale of Two Cities, Libeled Lady, Boom Town, The Hucksters ). He was an excellent director and was capable of handling comedies, dramas, and action films with equal ease. Unfortunately, this was the only war/espionage film that he directed. The final scene of the destruction of the U-boat base is especially well-filmed and really caps off the picture with a bang. 

Like many films that were made in the midst of the war, the brutality of war is not softened to appeal to audience tastes. In one scene, many of the friends that Aumont's character comes to know are executed in front of his eyes. The Nazis are portrayed as the fiendish brutes that they were.

Assignment in Brittany ( 1943 ) marked the debut of Jean-Pierre Aumont, who had arrived in Hollywood just a year earlier and could barely speak English. It was stage actress Katharine Cornell who discovered the handsome Jean Gabin-esque actor and cast him in her play "Rose Burke". Shortly after he was signed to an MGM contract and made this film and another war drama, The Cross of Lorraine, that same year. Aumont himself had earned the Legion of Honor and Croix de Guerre medals for his service in North Africa with the Free French Forces from 1939-1940. While in Hollywood, he helped raise funds for the Resistance and returned to fight in 1944.  

Also making her American debut was Swedish actress Signe Hasso. She made a number of excellent war films, usually playing a heroine but, in this film, she is quite the vixen.

Like most MGM pictures, the production values on Assignment in Brittany are top-notch with great sets by Cedric Gibbons and Edwin Willis, costumes by Gile Steele, music by Lennie Hayton, and excellent cinematography by Charles Rosher ( Annie Get Your Gun ). The script to the film was based on a Helen MacInnes novel that was serialized in 1942 in "The Saturday Evening Post". MacInnes was a prolific author of espionage novels and, in 1943, MGM had turned another one of her books into a box-office hit - Above Suspicion
Assignment in Brittany has the usual elements that you would hope to find in an espionage film: suspicious double-face characters, secret codes, danger behind every corner, plenty of Gestapo agents, and the classic escape-in-disguise ( this time taking place within a church in France ).

The movie also boasts a strong supporting cast of MGM stock actors such as Margaret Wycherly, Richard Whorf, Reginald Owen, Alan Napier, Miles Mander, and John Emery. A young Darryl Hickman is given a meaty role as a little French freedom fighter.