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Friday, December 14, 2018

Geoffrey Keen - The Minister from England

Most avid James Bond fans, like my sister and I, can instantly recognize Bond actors when they appear in other films, no matter how brief their role may be. It's a knack that comes from having seen the movies so many times. For newbies interested in becoming Bond character-actor-spotters, there are three character actors associated with the 007 franchise that are uber easy to recognize: Lois Maxwell who played Bond's loyal secretary Miss Moneypenny, Desmond Llewelyn, the inimitable mechanical genius "Q", and Geoffrey Keen who portrayed Sir Fredrick Gray, head of the Ministry of Defense.

This week, Paula's Cinema Club is hosting the seventh annual What a Character! blogathon, where popular and lesser-known character actors are given the spotlight of attention. Geoffrey Keen is one of those actors whose name may not be familiar to many but his presence certainly is, and that's why we selected him.

My sister and I first saw Keen in the James Bond films and for years, not knowing his name, we simply referred to him as the "minister". As we watched more and more British films throughout the years we found that this nickname suited him well for, like most character actors, he had his little pigeon-hole: that of playing men in high government positions.

He began his career in the 1940s portraying either detectives or sergeants and later inspectors of police forces, but by the mid-1950s he was settling into roles that called for increasing responsibility: supervisors, deans, captains, and superintendents. As early as 1960 he was assistant chief of Naval Staff ( Sink the Bismarck ) and just one year later rose to the highest position he would play in film, that of the Prime Minister ( No Love for Johnnie ).

What was it about Geoffrey Keen that made him so well suited to play magistrates, commissioners, colonels, and the like? His appearance for one thing. He cut an imposing figure, was always well-groomed and cultured ( you'd never catch Keen among lowly people ), and walked in an air of authority. He often carried a stern countenance that told his inferiors that his commands were to be taken with the utmost seriousness.
But this does not mean that he was a hard taskmaster. Quite the contrary. The minister knew how to smile and he always issued his orders with kindness. His roles as magistrates suited him particularly well because Keen seemed to be a man with a keen sense of justice. As a prisoner on trial, I would feel comfort in knowing that he was judging my case. He would weigh the case very carefully and not let the flourishing words of the barristers sway his judgment.

He had a humorous side, too, and while James Bond's assumed flippancy would appear to irritate him, his eyes would twinkle nonetheless. It was this understanding and compassionate side of his nature that earned him the respect of the men and women who served under him.

Keen was born in Berkshire, England in 1916 to Malcolm Keen, a popular stage actor of the 1930s. Malcolm entered films as early as 1917, making his last film appearance in Life for Ruth ( 1962 ). Father and son appeared in three films together: Rob Roy, the Highland Rogue ( 1953 ), She Played with Fire ( 1957 ), and The Birthday Present ( 1957 )...and, like Geoffrey, Malcolm was often given roles of authority: lords, presidents, bishops, and the like. It must have been a family trait.

The younger Keen made his stage debut in 1932 and entered the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts the following year. He had just joined the Royal Shakespeare Company when war broke out in 1939, and Keen enlisted with the Royal Army Medical Corps.

During the war, he appeared in an Army instructional film directed by Carol Reed, and this small part led to him being cast in several Reed films after the war ended: Odd Man Out ( 1947 ), The Fallen Idol ( 1948 ), and The Third Man ( 1949 ).

Keen's filmography throughout the 1950s was quite impressive. He had appearances in some top-notch US and British productions including Walt Disney's Treasure Island ( playing Isreal Hands ); he was a police inspector in The Clouded Yellow ( 1950 ), Hunted ( 1952 ), and the comedy Genevieve ( 1952 ). A brief role as a businessman in Turn the Key, Softly ( 1953 ), was followed by some excellent military roles such as General Nye in The Man Who Never Was ( 1956 ), Sink the Bismarck ( 1960 ), Torpedo Bay ( 1963 ) and The Heroes of Telemark ( 1965 ).

Keen often portrayed men in the medical and religious profession, too, as in Storm over the Nile ( 1955 ), Yield to the Night ( 1956 ), Sailor Beware ( 1956 ), and The Spanish Gardner ( 1957 ) where he played the kindly Dr. Harvey.

During this time, Keen also made a number of appearances in television in series such as The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre, The Wonderful World of Disney ( in the classic mini-series "Dr. Syn, the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh" ), The Saint, Secret Agent, The Persuaders, Mogul, The Venturers, and Crown Court. 

In 1977, Geoffrey Keen made his first appearance as Sir Fredrick Gray, the Minister of Defense, in the 007 film The Spy Who Loved Me. In most of the 007 pictures, Gray could be seen during the initial briefing of Bond's missions, occasionally mid-mission ( where he'd often ejaculate "Bond, what do you think you're doing?!" ) and during any crisis involving the nation's defense, of course.
Shortly after the release of The Spy Who Loved Me, Keen appeared in the Bond spoofs No. 1 of the Secret Service, starring Nicky Henson and Licensed to Love and Kill starring Gareth Hunt. His presence made these imitation Bond films a little bit more authoritative. At this time, Keen eased up on appearing in other films and made only occasional appearances on television and on stage. Instead, he focused solely on the James Bond movies, which included Moonraker ( 1979 ), For Your Eyes Only ( 1981 ), Octopussy ( 1983 ), A View to a Kill ( 1985 ) and The Living Daylights ( 1987 ).

Keen passed away in 2005 at the age of 89 leaving behind two daughters from his three marriages and a legion of Bond fans who adore spotting "The Minister" in the many films he made throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

This post is our contribution to the What a Character! Blogathon being hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled and Paula's Cinema Club. Be sure to click on this link to read more great posts about your favorite character actors of film and television! 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Ten Richest Women in Movies in 1938

Hollywood's ten richest women aren't as rich as they might be, but they are probably richer than they're going to be. Uncle Sam's income-tax arm is getting no shorter, and by the time next March roars in the Government's "take" will deflate huge salaries of movie queens like a pinprick deflates a rubber balloon.

So with our "We have a war to win—" program gaining acceleration, our tax-collection agencies are going "all out" in efforts to keep the Government's sinking fund from disappearing. Hollywood and the movie industry. synonymous with six-figured pay-checks, is the garden spot for the enlarged appetite of the income-tax giant.

And no line is drawn on sex. A beautiful, talented actress when stopped by a traffic officer might let loose of her "charm" and wind up with a pair of ducats to the policemen's ball instead of a date in court. But when the income-tax bugaboo hovers about, the beauty, the talent, and the celluloid wiles of the actress only give her the willies! She thinks her ship has come in, and it has, only the Government holds first, second and third mortgages on it.
Hollywood's ten richest women, all of whom can describe Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (in many ways), know the spelling of the Secretary of the Treasury's name quite well. In return, Morgenthau knows that, based on salaries earned in 1938. Hollywood's "top ten" actresses would be: Claudette Colbert, who grossed nearly $427,000 that year; Irene Dunne, receiver of about $405,000; Joan Crawford, about $305,000; Norma Shearer, a cool, even $300,000; Greta Garbo, alone with $270,000; Ginger Rogers, nearly $208,000; Loretta Young, about $181,000; Deanna Durbin, an even $174,000; Bette Davis, over $143,000; and Myrna Loy. slightly over $140,000.

These salaries all sound like a pretty fair load of country bucks, but even then Uncle Sam's arm was reaching deep into the actresses coffers. Now, with a new income-tax scale about to become a law, digging is going to be deeper.

Assuming the new tax contemplated becomes a law and assuming the salaried person in each case is married, the following are tax totals on high-bracket figures as computed by the Joint Committee of Internal Revenue of the Congress. (These figures are only approximate, but they present a clear picture of what Hollywood's ten richest women are up against under this new tax set-up.)

Tax on a $100,000 income, joint return, would be $53,000, on a separate return, $41,700. On a $250,000 income, joint return would be $159,000, separate, $143,000. On a $300,000 income, joint return would be $202,250, separate $180,000.

Missing from this dollar parade are Shirley Temple, recently absent from pictures, but who still will pay plenty under the new deal tax; Marlene Dietrich for her $130,000; Merle Oberon at $139,000, Jean Arthur, Alice Faye, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Bennett, others. Despite their less pretentious salaries, the Government will get a lot of "national defense" out of their contributions. Remember! On $100,000, under usual exemptions, the Government will get close to fifty percent of a star's salary! — L. R.
Gadzooks! Nearly 50% of a star's salary....and this at the $100,000 tier.  According to the Federal Income Tax brackets of 1941, it was 76% due for taxes on earnings over $400,000.

Just to put in perspective what these actresses were raking in: $1 in 1938 was about the equivalent of $18 today. So you'll have to multiply each salary by 18 to find out what their incomes were that year....I'll do the first one for you: Colbert made $7,644,784 that year and probably paid over to $3,600,000 in taxes alone. Yikes! Current rates state that for earnings over $426,700.00, you'll pay 39.6% plus $123,916.25, so had Colbert earned her $7 mill today she would be paying $3,100,000. 

Movie Magazine Articles, another one of our ongoing series, feature articles like this reprinted for our reader's entertainment. Click here to view the original article online, which is dated Sept. 26, 1941. In the future, simply search "Movie Magazine Articles" to find more posts in this series or click on the tag below. Enjoy!

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Getting of Wisdom ( 1977 )

"Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding." - Proverbs 4:7

Laura Tweedle Rambotham, a delightfully awkward country girl, quickly discovers that at the exclusive Presbyterian Ladies' College in Melbourne, the getting of wisdom entails learning to conform to the behavior of your classmates, regardless of how stuffy and repressive their attitudes may be. It also means following the rules of socializing which she, unfortunately, has not fathomed. Nor will she by the conclusion of the film. 

The Getting of Wisdom, a 1977 Australian production, follows the plight of the plain, unconventional Laura from her first day at school to her graduation from the college four years later. She arrives as a talented, imaginative, outspoken, and overly-confident thirteen-year-old and leaves as a pompous, irritable, and all the more insecure young woman. 

One assumes that as the story unfolds the gradual transformation of an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan full of womanly graces will become apparant...but this does not happen. It is this aspect that made Henry Handel Richardson's classic 1910 novel "The Getting of Wisdom" so amusing. Director Bruce Beresford ( Driving Miss Daisy, Fried Green Tomatoes ), who had delighted in reading the novel as a teenager, wanted to keep this feature of the book when he adapted it to film. 

So often our schoolgirl heroines are shy lovable lambs who are thrown amongst a pack of worldly-wise teenagers eager to toy with their innocence. But Laura is nothing of the kind. She is utterly assured of her own genius and anticipates settling into the school with relative ease. She hopes to impress her way to success both academically and socially but finds that no one appreciates a show-off. After her disappointing arrival - and her first cry - she begins to build an emotional armor constructed of suspicion, fear, and self-doubt. 

As producer Philip Alford commented, "this ugly duckling never becomes a swan, not in the film, but she is taken under the wing of a swan". This swan, the elegant Evelyn Suitor, is one of the few people to have confidence in Laura and like her for who she is - a thoroughly selfish and crusty little girl. She gives Laura the opportunity to soften her heart and be more open and tender but Laura is blind to this. We can only hope that she loses her irritability and obstinacy later in life. 

The Getting of Wisdom, a coming-of-age drama set in the early 1900s, touches on themes of romance, friendship, possessiveness, and acceptance. It was a film project very dear to Bruce Beresford's heart. He felt that there were many qualities in Laura's character that adolescents could relate to, which is quite true. The Ladies College, like most schools, is a microcosm of society where one can study and learn the rules of social intercourse. Unfortunately, the college's inmates are primarily shallow individuals.

"Everyone knows my mother is just a postmistress and does embroidery. I know what it is like not to have pocket money and beautiful clothes."
When Laura first arrives, she discovers that having a mother who works for a living is considered by her prestigious peers to be deeply shameful. Hence, she comes to downplay her homelife and searches instead for other means of gaining acceptance among her classmates. One method is through lies. 

During her second year at the school, she concocts an illicit affair between herself and the handsome new minister Reverend Shepard ( John Waters ), a fantasy that she almost comes to believe herself. She basks in the fame this lie creates for her, but only for a short while. Once her deception is exposed, she is ostracized by all her classmates....except Evelyn. This lovely senior takes a shine to the imaginative youngster. They share a common bond in Schubert and a skepticism towards authority figures, especially the kind that the college is comprised of: uncompassionate self-righteous dictatorial teachers. These include the draconian headmistress Mrs. Gurley, the Reverend Strachey, and Miss Zielinski ( Candy Raymond ). Only Miss Chapman ( Patricia Kennedy ) shows an inkling of interest in the girls, but she does not garner their respect, hence they take no notice of her. 
Like the book, The Getting of Wisdom is a mockery of class, a skillful study of human behavior brimming with shrewd humor, although this humor is much more subdued onscreen. The film is quite faithful to the novel except that Beresford chose to shift Laura's literary ambition to a musical one. Interestingly, he also added a strong sapphic undercurrent, making Laura not only emotionally but sexually attracted to Evelyn. 

"What have those little monsters been telling you? Probably a pack of lies."

Evelyn represents the ideal that Laura is seeking ( Beresford even hints that she represents Wisdom herself ) and while there is satisfaction in being near to and loved by one so graceful it is not enough. Laura's worship of Evelyn and her infatuation with the exoticism that such a sophisticated older student would choose her as a companion eventually turns into obsession and possessiveness with Laura declaring, "I'll never share you with anybody!". In the novel, Evelyn takes this in her usual good humor and the two remain friends after their school years are over. However, in the film, Laura's jealousy turns to bitterness which is played out realistically in one of the many biting scenes in the picture.
16-year-old Susannah Fowle, a Melbourne schoolgirl, was selected from among 6,000 applicants to play the part of Laura. She had no prior acting experience and yet gives a passionate performance primarily through subtle gestures and facial expressions. Fowle makes the character as dislikable as possible; in fact, much harsher than the book leads us to believe her to be. Only at times does Fowle permit us a glimpse at Laura's heart. 

Hillary Ryan, who plays the part of Evelyn Suitor, was an American-born beauty whom Beresford had discovered in London. She should have gone on to have a long career in film but, instead, only made a handful of appearances in television. 
John Waters is marvelous as the dashing but thoroughly boorish new minister and the rest of the cast is equally well-selected, particularly the schoolgirls. All of the teachers are merely caricatures overshadowed by the girls whom they teach. Barry Humphries aka Dame Edna, was an interesting if not daring choice for the role of the puritanical Reverand Strachey, and Sheila Helpmann ( as fearsome looking as her brother Robert ) is suitably impregnable as Mrs.Gurley. 

The cinematography by Don McAlpine is beautiful and innovative. He featured an interesting selection of shots, mixing high and low angle compositions and wide-angles in place of close-ups. 
The Getting of Wisdom is built up of short numerous episodic sequences. While the film unfolds slowly enough these individual scenes are played out too quickly. They are also filled with subtle touches which unfortunately are not emphasized enough to make the audience take notice of them. For example, in the finale, Laura's last-minute decision to play Schubert's Impromptu ( a piece which she had played twice with Evelyn ) at her piano recital instead of the announced Beethoven's Sonata No. 21 is a final touch of defiance to the school she is leaving and an acknowledgment that she is still besotted with Evelyn. The camera pans several teachers and students as Laura begins the piece, but it fails to show the reaction of Mrs. Hicks, the music teacher, whose expression would have clued the audience that Laura was not playing the intended composition. It takes repetitive viewings to fully appreciate scenes like this but if the audience is not hooked on the initial viewing then it is unlikely they will return to give the film a more thorough look. 

Eleanor Whitcomb's screenplay fails to resolve Laura's character and this results in a loss of coherence of the entire film. At the conclusion of the picture we are left waiting for Laura to release the pent-up emotions of the past school year and toss her hat in the air as the poster suggests, but even this she does not do. 
The sum of its parts simply does not equal a whole but overall, the pleasure derived from these individual scenes more than compensate for its inadequacies and The Getting of Wisdom is still worth a viewing. 

Thursday, November 29, 2018

From the Archives: A Little Romance ( 1979 )

Laurence Olivier is looking rather serious, but dapper nevertheless, in this scene from A Little Romance ( 1979 ). This charming coming-of-age film is about two youngsters who steal away to Venice with the aid of an old pickpocket - Olivier. They wish to kiss on the Bridge of Sighs which, according to legend, means they will stay together forever. 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Half a Sixpence ( 1967 )

"But when I'm with you, one and one make two...." 

Prior to leaving for London for his apprenticeship at a tailor shop, Arthur gives his childhood sweetheart Ann a token of his eternal love - a sixpence cut in half. "And though that half a sixpence can only mean half a romance, remember that half a romance is better than none. But when I'm with you, one and one make two, and likewise, two half sixpence joined together make one."

It is a sweet sign of a little boy's affection for his girl and, throughout their adolescence, they correspond with each other daily via letters. One day, Ann ( Julia Foster ) comes up to London to begin her new job in the big city and they arrange to meet in the park, seeing each other for the first time in years. They are two of a kind and are obviously meant for each other, but an unexpected inheritance from Arthur's grandfather leaves the lad suddenly rich and this enormous windfall changes his character making him look for happiness outside of his own backyard. He begins to put on airs and takes a fancy to the fetching socialite Miss Helen ( Penelope Horner ), disowning the company of not only his mates at work but Ann as well.
Half a Sixpence was based on the 1905 novel "Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul" by science-fiction author H.G. Wells. It was first brought to the screen in 1941 as Kipps starring Michael Redgrave and Diana Wynyard. This was a beautiful adaptation but purely dramatic, with no musical numbers. It was not until 1963 that David Heneker wrote 15 songs for the musical adaptation which premiered in London's West End theatre district. 

Tommy Steele, a British singing sensation, starred in this stage production. He was a glove-fit for the role of Arthur Kipps. When the stage show was brought to film in 1967, Steele was already establishing a screen-presence for himself through films such as Tommy the Toreador, The Dream Maker, and The Happiest Millionaire. Steele had a joie de vivre that made him a delight to watch on stage and onscreen. His toothy grin would light up any scene that he was in. In Half a Sixpence, he practically carries the entire film on his own bony shoulders. While the rest of the cast is pleasant enough to watch, they are all really supporting roles to Kipps. 

Julia Foster ( Alfie ) dyed her hair from blonde to brown to play Ann and is charming as Kipps sweetheart. Also in the cast is Pamela Brown, a favorite of director Michael Powell; Cyril Ritchard, a legendary ham; Penelope Horner, always looking lovely in soft-focus; James Villiers, and Jean Anderson. 

Half a Sixpence was aimed toward a more youthful audience and includes a few typical swingin' 60s show scenes and zany moments. Heneker's tunes are easy on the ears with "Half a Sixpence" and "If the Rains Gonna Fall" being the most memorable of all the songs. 

What stands out most in the film is the beautiful cinematography by Geoffrey Unsworth. This man was responsible for the gorgeous filming of British classics such as Scott of the Antarctic, Trio, Turn the Key Softly, and A Night to Remember. Most of Half of Sixpence takes place in the autumn and Unsworth brought out the beauty of the golden hues of England during that time of year. 
Director George Sidney, an excellent director from the golden age of MGM musicals ( The Harvey Girls, Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat, Kiss Me Kate ) did great work with Half a Sixpence. The only disappointing aspect of the film is its length. Some scenes - mainly the musical numbers - are unnecessary or drawn-out excessively. But this seems to have been a fad with musicals in the late 1960s - Hello, Dolly!, Doctor Dolittle, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips are all over two hours in runtime. Overall, Half a Sixpence is not half that bad and if the rains gonna fall then its a great film to sit back and enjoy. 

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Listen to this man speak! Obviously, one of these fellows needs a hearing horn to aid him in this task while the other is looking on a bit incredulously. You probably know all of these character actors, so all you have to do now is name the film that they appeared in together. Simple? Perhaps...perhaps not. But why don't you give it a try anyway... All guesses are free! 

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!


Congratulations to The Tactful Typist for correctly guessing "That Forsyte Woman" ( 1949 ) starring Greer Garson, Errol Flynn, and Robert Young!! In this scene, near the beginning of the film, all of the members of the Forsyte clan are gathered for a family reunion. Behind Halliwell Hobbes is an oil painting of the eldest Forsyte, portrayed by Harry Davenport, who is just off the screen to the right. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

British Pathé: Twig Jewellery by Andrew Grima ( 1964 )

This week I went through a jewelry-making craze and this particular video from the British Pathé collection caught my eye because it discusses one of the jewelry-making processes of Andrew Grima. 
This Italian-born designer was known as the "Man with the Midas Touch". His creations, in those days, were fetching up to £10,000...and he did not reach his peak of popularity at that time! It was during the 1970s that celebrities and members of royalty began purchasing his unique nature-inspired pieces of fine jewelry and that is when he truly made his name as a designer. 

This 3:12 minute clip is fascinating because it gives us a glimpse of his jewelry-making process, which appears to have been assembled by a staff of craftsman and by Andrew Grima himself. I suppose that is the privilege of being a designer, one can hire others to squint through their spectacles at the tiny gemstones. Here, the process of how Grima creates his "twig" recreations in gold is revealed. What I found especially fascinating was the scene of Grima driving his Aston-Martin through the foggy English countryside to gather twigs in the forest. Most people can find twigs in their own backyard but I suppose he was looking for special gnarly twigs. The final result he achieves from his gold casting is beautiful, so it was obviously worth a trek in the woods. 
Today, Grima's children carry on his jewelry business in London. You can see some of the current Grima pieces as well as Andrew's work on their website:

Ready to see twig jewelry being made? Simply click on the link below: 

Twig Jewellery