Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rob Roy : The Highland Rogue ( 1953 )

" It’s so easy to set the heather on fire, so hard to put it out "

The dying words of Lady Margaret MacGregor are a warning for her beloved son, Rob Roy, to cease his warring ways and make peace with his enemies. Ay, Rob Roy MacGregor, leader of the rebellious MacGregor clan, learns the hard way the truth of his mother's words. 

The setting is Scotland in the early eighteenth century. England has just crowned King George, who is by birth a German. The Scottish people are bitterly disappointed that James Stuart, the son of the exiled King James II, was not crowned instead and they rise in rebellion. England's armies march into the Highlands crushing every uprising until only the small but stubborn band of MacGregor clansmen are still willing to keep the flicker of rebellion alive. 

The King's secretary of state for Scotland, the Duke of Argyll, is sympathetic to Rob and all his fighting men, being a Highlander himself. But when the villainous Duke of Montrose discovers this weakness, he uses it against the Duke of Argyll to usurp his position. He then sets out to capture Rob Roy in the hopes of gaining favor with the new king.

Rob Roy : The Highland Rogue was not the first film depicting the life of the Scottish clan chief. In 1922 a silent version starring David Hawthorne and Gladys Jennings was released in Great Britain. Walt Disney's version brings the pages of history, altered as they may be, to life and through its beautiful cinematography, filmed on location in Scotland, it transports audiences into the heart of the Highlands. What scenes could not be found in Scotland were amply provided for by the marvelous brushstrokes of matte artist Peter Ellenshaw.

Richard Todd is excellent as Rob and he makes it clear to see why this roguish chieftain inspired such loyalty from his clan. Todd gets plenty of support from such talented players as James Robertson Justice, Glynis Johns ( as his beloved Helen Mary MacPherson ), Finlay Currie, and Jean Taylor Smith. Michael Gough and Geoffrey Keen also star. Members of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who had just returned from service in the Korean War were recruited as the MacGregor clansmen. 

This was Walt Disney's fourth live-action film shot in Great Britain. After WWII the assets of American companies were not permitted to be taken out of that country due to the economic devastation England suffered. Since Walt had made great profits overseas from the release of his animated films, he decided to set up a production team in the United Kingdom and use these profits to create more films. Richard Todd and James Robertson Justice had previously teamed up for The Story of Robin Hood and The Sword and the Rose ( with Glynis Johns ), both directed by Ken Annakin. Disney had hoped this film to be directed by Annakin as well but due to contractual obligations Annakin was unable to direct and Harold French stepped in instead, doing an admirable job.

Leonard Maltin considered the film to be "an uncommonly heavy-handed production" with the story doing "little to inspire the audience", but Maltin must have seen Rob Roy with blinders on to give it such off-the-mark criticism. It is an engrossing and briskly paced adventure film filled with well-developed characters. Only the rather abrupt ending leaves more to be desired.

Rob Roy : The Highland Rogue was loosely based on the life of Rob Roy, a Scottish Robin Hood, who became a legend in his own times when a book about his daring rebellions was published in 1723. Even King George I was moved enough to grant him pardon for his crimes. In 1817 Walter Scott wrote a novel about the exploits of this man. This production was based on neither Scott's interpretation nor historical fact, but nevertheless screenwriter Lawrence Watkin wove a grrrrrand tale about the life of this bold renegade.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Disney Films - A Book Review

Author and avid-Disney fan, Leonard Maltin, wrote The Disney Films as a comprehensive guide to all films Disney. At the time it was a novel idea. Disneyania had yet to strike households across America. Today, books with similar subjects can be found in bookstores and libraries in every city, but nevertheless Maltin's original guide remains one of the best. Two hundred illustrations highlight excellent reviews covering each feature-length Walt Disney release from Walt's first resounding success, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ( 1937 ) to the last film that he personally oversaw, The Happiest Millionaire ( 1967 ). Each review features behind-the-scenes facts, quotes from the directors, animators, and leading actors and box-office release information, making it a highly-entertaining read. Published by Crown Publishers in 1973.

The Jeer : The 200+ images are great to look at, but it would really have been nice to see them in color. The fourth edition of the book is practically just a reprint of this original. 

The Cheer : Reading in-depth reviews of some of Walt Disney's rarer films, such as Moon Pilot and Dr. Syn, is a real treat. These films are almost always overlooked by "serious" critics. 

The Skinny : Leonard Maltin has written a book that is a must-have on the bookshelf of any true Disney fan. Today, you can pick up a copy for less than $5.00, which simply means there is no excuse for not owning one yourself. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

James Robertson Justice - A Beloved Bear

If ever there be a man who embodied the qualities one would expect of a highly-educated and distinguished lord of the manor, it be James Robertson Justice. His characters were often authoritative, unswerving, staunch and independent and they were not unlike the true nature of Justice himself. Buried beneath that great ginger beard was a man with a large and lusty passion for life. Like a true Scotsman, he had an equal appetite for pleasure and work. 

James Norval Harald Justice was born in Lee, South London on June 15, 1907. His father, James Justice, was a geologist who had been born in Scotland but turned his back on the country. The younger James saw little of his father growing up, owing to the fact that he was often away travelling the world. 

Justice attended boarding school at Marlborough College in Wiltshire and then preceded to follow in his father's footsteps, studying science at University College in London and geology in Bonn, Germany, but a spot of the highly contagious wanderlust got the best of him and he quit both schools early to try his hand at a variety of odd jobs, including selling insurance, working on a barge, digging sewers, playing rugby, working as a lumberjack, mining gold, teaching in Canada, joining the Mounties, and playing professional ice hockey in London. Another one of his endeavors included working as a reporter for Reuters while both Ian Fleming and Sir Peter Ustinov's father were employed there. It was around this time that Justice developed a love for linguistics, a passion shared by Peter Ustinov as well. He spoke at least seven different languages. 

James had a myriad of interests in addition to this, notably race car driving and falconry, becoming one of the founders of Sir Peter Scott's Wildfowl Trust. During the 1940s Justice met the Duke of Edinburgh through their shared love of falconry. As his friend, the Duke once said "James was a large man with a personality to match. He lived every bit of his life to the full and richly deserves the title 'eccentric'". 

In the late 1930s his wanderlust carried him to Germany once again and here he joined with the League of Nations police force. After the Nazis came to power, Justice turned to fighting in the Spanish Civil War, whence he grew his famous bushy beard. He finally returned to the foggy isle of Britain to join the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, where he was soundly pensioned off after sustaining an injury in battle.

It was during a visit to the Players Club theatre that Justice took up acting for the first time. He stood in for the announcer, Leonard Sachs, during a music hall performance and happened to be spotted by a talent scout in the audience. On the strength of that performance he was recommended for a part in the film For Those in Peril. Justice was 37 years old at the time. He realized that acting could be a very lucrative profession and for once in his life stuck with a job....and a job was all that he considered acting to be. As he often boomed, "I am not a star! I am in this profession to make money." He must have done fairly well, for he drove a Rolls Royce, hobnobbed with the Royal family, and threw lavish parties to entertain his friends. He was known for being very generous and, in the words of Elspeth Huxley, "he was a brilliant raconteur, indifferent to money". Alas, his generosity did not extend to helping his mother, who died of malnutrition just a few years after his father's death in 1953. 

Justice may not have considered his past very exciting and instead enjoyed embellishing the truth by weaving stories to his friends about how he was a Scotsman by birth and was born under a whiskey distillery in the Isle of Skye. 

He began his career in films inauspiciously with a number of minor roles for Ealing Studios, one of which was Vice Versa ( 1948 ) directed by a young Peter Ustinov. Robertson Justice was perfectly cast as the gruff headmaster Dr. Grimstone. In real life, Justice was voted as Rector of the University of Edinburgh and served two three-year terms between 1957 and 1965. Later that year he starred in Whiskey Galore ( 1949 ), a film about the love Scots have for their drink. 

In 1952, Walt Disney cast James as the burly Little John in The Story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Like Alan Hale was to Errol Flynn, Justice was an excellent supporting member to the leading actor, Richard Todd, and the following year they were teamed up again in The Sword and the Rose. This time Justice portrayed King Henry VIII. In their final teaming - Rob Roy : The Highland Rogue - James donned the kilt and grew his hair long for his role as the Duke of Argyll, a proud Scotsman acting as a mediator between the British army and the hostile MacGregor clan led by Rob Roy ( Todd ). 

These were the roles that fit him best and in spite of his ease in comedy films, it was the dramatic pictures that really showcased his natural acting ability. However, as author Richard Gordon once said," Every performance was himself ".

In 1954, Robertson Justice was cast in the comedy medical film Doctor in the House. It was a low-budget production with a cast of relatively unknown actors, but it became the surprise smash hit of the year, launching Dirk Bogarde to stardom and spawning a series of similar sequels. Dr. Lancelot Spratt, the steam-rolling chief surgeon of St. Swithins, became Justice's most memorable role.

Off the set, he was continuing his enjoyment of lusty living. He married nurse Dillys Hayden in 1941, but only a few years afterward his roving eye fell on the beautiful Molly Parkin. She became one of his many mistresses in the coming years. When James and Dillys' only son, James Jr., drowned in 1949, at the age of four, their marriage fell apart and, although they remained married for nineteen more years, they were living separately. Justice used the payment he received for his role as Lancelot Spratt and purchased a cottage in Spinningdale, Scotland, where he lived for the next two decades and indulged in his hobbies of collecting hawks, moths and orchids.

During the mid-1950s, Justice was cast in a number of meaty roles, including that of Vashtar, the master builder in Land of the Pharoahs ( 1955 ), James MacDonald in Campbell's Kingdom ( 1957 ), and Captain Boom in Moby Dick ( 1956 ) which starred Gregory Peck. Justice lent his presence in a total of four films with the American actor, including David and BathshebaCaptain Horatio Hornblower R.N, and The Guns of Navarone, which James also narrated. His powerful voice was in high demand by film studios at this time and he was selected to become the host of Scotland's very first television program This is Scotland in 1957. 

In the UK, Leslie Phillips was fast becoming one of the leading comedic actors and Justice was cast in a number of films starring the smooth-talking Phillips - Raising the Wind, Very Important Person, Crooks Anonymous, and The Fast Lady

Another delightful film he made during this time was the Miss Marple mystery Murder She Said ( 1961 ), starring Margaret Rutherford. Here Justice portrays the irrascible Lord Ackenthorpe, a man who enjoys the good life despite his poor financial state. In real life, Justice was nearing the end of this good life as well. In 1968, shortly after he had completed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ( as Truly's father, Lord Scrumptious ), his wife Dillys divorced him and shortly after sued him for not paying her £50 per month alimony. His beloved cottage in Spinningdale was sold in order to pay the lawsuit. 

Destitute, he turned to his friend Toby Bromley, heir to the Russell and Bromley shoe fortune, to help him out. Bromley offered Justice a cottage on his Hampshire estate and together the two went on to make several wildlife documentaries about their love of falconry.

1968 was a terrible year for Justice and he suffered from a severe stroke on top of it all. He was beginning to look and act like an old disgruntled bear. A series of strokes followed in the coming years and while he continued to make films, they were fewer in between. 

On July 2, 1975 James Robertson Justice passed away at the age of 68. Beside him at the time was actress Irene Von Meyerdorff, his lover of fifteen years, whom he had married just three days before.

Be sure to check out this video of Robertson Justice hosting the television program This is Scotland on Youtube.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Murder is Easy ( 1982 )

The person in question is just the last person anyone would suspect. And so long as no one suspects you...murder is easy "

Who would dream that an English respite could lead to danger and romance? That is exactly what happened for Luke Williams in the television adaption of Agatha's Christies' 1939 novel, "Murder is Easy". Onboard a train en route to London, the visiting American computer analyst meets a little old lady who confesses to him her suspicions of a murderer in her village, along with the name of the next victim. "I feel certain Dr. Humbleby will be next!"  Soon after, she finds herself applied to the pavement in a most unladylike manner and, donning his deerskin hat, Luke sets off for Wychwood to warn Humbleby of his impending doom and unmask the culprit himself. 

Murder is Easy was originally released on January 2, 1982, on CBS. The television movie was one of several Agatha Christie productions ( A Caribbean MysterySparkling Cyanide ), that producer Stan Margulies released in the 1980s. Negotiations for the rights to convert Christie's novels into TV features took three years and, once approved, Margulies immediately set to work in bringing the stories up to date to appeal to American audiences. 

Murder is Easy is headed by a stellar cast, featuring Bill Bixby in the lead role along with a slew of British stalwarts such as Helen Hayes as Miss Fullerton, the little old lady; Lesley Anne Down as Bridget, the requisite love interest; Timothy West as Lord Easterfield, a man who is certain that God is pronouncing vengeance on his enemies; Jonathan Pryce as Ellsworthy, an antique dealer who deals in more than antiques; Olivia DeHavilland as Miss Waynflete, the clever neighborhood spinster; and Shane Briant, as the young needle-jabbing Dr. Thomas. A host of familiar English actors also have brief parts, notably Patrick Allen, Freddie Jones, Leigh Lawson, and Anthony Valentine. Now what is the probability of finding a mystery with such a great cast?

Helen Hayes is delightful but has a much too brief role as Miss Fullerton, the intrepid old gal on her way to reveal her suspicions to Scotland Yard. With the inclusion of this film in the Agatha Christie Miss Marple DVD collection, some fans have mistakenly believed Murder is Easy to be a Marple mystery and found themselves in for a disappointment. Fullerton and Miss Marple share a lot in common however: Fullerton may have appeared to be a dotty old spinster but she had a keen eye for human nature and quickly recognized "that look in the killer's eye before striking". You see, after three times one knows. Alas, Miss Fullerton did not realize that the killer knew what she knew and the poor dear quickly becomes victim number four. 

"This story is quite strange," explained director Claude Whatham in the original publicity notes, "There is no murder at the beginning, just a number of unexplained deaths, which as far as our computer expert is concerned defies the laws of probability. So we have an air of menace, but without anyone to solve a murder. What I'm trying to get is something which is ordinary, but which looks slightly threatening. As far as the visual looks go, I would say it has the brightness you get before a thunderstorm. Everything looks idyllic, but it has an unreal quality about it. For the actors, there are two interpretations for what they do - one is normal, the other is slightly suspect."

Indeed, Whatham did a stellar job in keeping all of the characters looking suspicious. Every one of them has a plausible motive for killing and the available means. Luke Williams finds himself as baffled as the audience and turns to his "bread and butter", his trusty computer, to see if it can uncover the identity of the killer for him....but he finds it takes more than ram power to crack open this case.

The filming of Murder is Easy went underway on July 15, 1981, with the tennis match being the first scene filmed. Lesley-Anne Down had not held a racket since her school days but managed to pull off looking like a respectably good player. Down also was new to driving. She obtained her driver's license only a week prior to filming and, for one scene, was given a $70,000 Aston Martin to drive in keeping with her role as the lady of the manor - the manor being Ashe Manor, which was really filmed at Binfield Manor in Berkshire. 

The picturesque village of Wychwood was in fact the tiny hamlet of Hamleden, an old Roman settlement, with a population of only 150 inhabitants. The town boasts a Norman church, a pub, general store, and butcher's shop, and that's about what we get to see in the film. Hambleden also appeared briefly in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Candleshoe.

Bill Bixby was delighted to be in England for the first time and took off during an afternoon lunch break to visit the nearby village of Bix, hoping it might be his ancestral home. It turned out to be a Roman-named village, with "B IX" standing for Plot B Nine. Unfortunately, he didn't get to see much else of England except for some location driving.

Olivia de Havilland, who stems from an illustrious English family, was also happy to be on British soil and playing the role of an English lady, which oddly enough she had not yet done. She was also delighted to be performing with Helen Hayes, whom she had met only once before.

Helen Hayes arrived in London in a Concorde, flying for the first time in one with her young god-daughter. She was excited to be in London for the upcoming royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and decided to stay after filming wrapped, to stand with the other tourists outside St. Paul's Cathedral and get a glimpse of the preparations. 

The acting of all of these members is far from award-winning. Some of the dialogue is delivered with exaggerated emphasis, but somehow that makes screenwriter Carmen Culver's lines all the more memorable because of it. Who can forget such remarks as "Amy, we're wanting tea!" or "I'm beginning to remember now why I don't get involved with people"?

Murder is Easy is a charming and absorbing whodunnit. It features lovely location filming, a grand cast, and a plot filled with twists and turns. Overall it is a perfect mid-summer mystery to be savored on a warm afternoon with your beloved Wonkey-Pooh and a cup of Earl Grey. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Quiz

Lately we have been posting images with characters at a distance, and that could be impossibly difficult to recognize, so this time around we've got a plum ducky picture of a woman whom we're sure most film fans would instantly recognize. But remember, the idea of the game is to name the film...not the actor. Whoa-ho!

As always, if you are unfamiliar with the rules to the game or the prize, click here


The Tactful Typist is the winner for correctly guessing Sailor of the King ( 1953 ) aka Single-Handed"starring Jeffrey Hunter. The marvelous English actress Joan Hickson had a brief part as the clerk at the hotel where Wendy Hiller and Michael Rennie check in for a romantic evening. Hickson would later find fame portraying the sleuth Miss Marple in the popular television series of the same name. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

The Enchanted Cottage ( 1945 )

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

The enchanted cottage...a harborage to a legend of eternal romance. A beautiful cottage left to live in contented independence of the centuries old structure it once belonged to; standing solid amidst the passages of time to cast its romantic spell on the strangers who pass through its portals. Ah! but not anyone can sense its enchantment...only chosen ones.

Our story begins on a cold wintry morning in a small New England town by the sea. Walking among the rustling leaves outside of this cottage is John Hillgrove ( Herbert Marshall )...a blind man. And yet, a man who can truly see, for he possesses the gift of inner sight; the ability to sense the true nature of a being, and to sense the magical aura an "enchanted" cottage, like the one before him, can cast. Being a composer, he seeks inspiration for his musical skill, and on this beautiful December morning Fate brings him to meet Miss Pennington ( Dorothy McGuire ), a young woman who will one day kindle his imagination with the musical strains of an emotion waiting to be set to music.

Miss Laura Pennington is our rather plain-looking heroine. A lost soul seeking a Home; a place of rest; a place where she can feel she belongs. She hopes to find it in her hometown. Returning after an absence of a few years she comes to the cottage to obtain the position of a maid.

Known locally as "The Witch", Mrs. Abigail Minnett ( Mildred Natwick ) runs the place, and having recently rented it to a soon-to-be-married couple, she's looking for a level-headed woman to help with the housework. Miss Pennington says she does not believe the rumor of the cottage being haunted and is readily given the job. It is not so much her superstitious disbelief that makes Mrs. Minnett hire her, but rather her confession to being lonely....a feeling Mrs. Minnett can sadly relate to.

That afternoon Mr.Oliver Bradford ( Robert Young ) and his fiancee ( Hillary Brooke ) arrive to look over the cottage. They are a young society couple and Oliver is obviously taken by the charm of the place and convinces his fiancee that it is the ideal location in which to spend their honeymoon. Within a week they plan on getting married, but that blissful day will never come, for War is declared soon after and being an Army pilot, Mr.Bradford is swiftly given his overseas departure orders.

Over a year later he returns to the cottage a changed man - a disfigured man. This time it is not a honeymoon oasis he is seeking but rather a place of retreat from his family, his fiancee and the society that brands him an outcast and tries to comfort him with pity. A broken man, he is searching for a new foothold on life. It is not only peace that he shall find at the enchanted cottage, but something even more wonderful.....lasting love.

Originally a stage play written by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero in 1923, The Enchanted Cottage was first brought to the screen in 1924 in a silent film production by First National starring Richard Barthelmess and May McAvoy. RKO released this film adaption in 1945, and Lux used the same cast in a radio play that year as well. Robert Young and Dorothy McGuire were a perfect team ( they had starred together two years earlier in another stage adaption, Claudia ) for this "enchanting" tale and each brings a unique quality to their roles - Dorothy, with her look of inner sadness and breathless timidness, and Robert with his kind and honest appearance that not even a facial scar can alter. Mildred Natwick is marvelous as usual, as the lonely widow with whom time has stood still. And best of all is the magnificent Herbert Marshall. This man is always a pleasure to behold. 

"Through the eyes of Love, one can see everlasting Beauty " is the theme of The Enchanted Cottage, and yet, lying just beneath the surface the film tells other tales. It's a story of kindness: a lonely woman welcoming a stranger into her home, befriending her, and sharing in her happiness and sorrow; a young woman reaching out to a man in need of compassion and sympathetic understanding. It's a story of acceptance: accepting your situation in life and wanting to see it in a brighter perspective; accepting others for who they are and loving them for it. Its a story of Time: the Past frozen on a calender for a widow to remember, the Present being days of war and personal hardship, the Future being the only bright star of hope and happiness. And most importantly, it's a story of truth: eyes that see the true, the real, in a blind world. John Hillgrove tells Oliver that his blindness has opened up new worlds for him allowing him to use senses that show things as they really are, making nature and human beings all the more beautiful to him.....

" Sometimes I feel that before I was blind, and only now I can see "

The Enchanted Cottage is an atmospheric romantic fantasy with lovely music by Roy Webb ( nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Score ) and beautiful cinematography. It leaves a memorable impression on the viewer, and you will want to see it many times over.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

TV/Movie Set : Lassie Come Home ( 1943 )

For this month's featured TV/Movie set we chose the classic Lassie Come Home, not because it's a particularly noteworthy bit of set design, but rather because the movie has two oh-so-cute cottages....and because we happened to have a 'hole bunch o' loverly screenshots handy. 

The Fadden's Cottage

Lassie Come Home was the very first of the Lassie films and it was such a success upon its release that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer made the collie a star of the studio and featured her in a series of pictures : Son of Lassie, Courage of Lassie, Hills of Home, The Sun Comes Up, Challenge to Lassie and The Painted Hills.

The Carraclough Cottage

Like a lot of other Hollywood canine stars, Lassie wasn't her real name and actually - gasp! - she was not a she but a he named Pal. Pal won the role after a nationwide search and played in the next five Lassie pictures, being admirably trained by his owner, Rudd Weatherwax. Pal's long line of heirs continued the Lassie acting tradition for him up until the late 1980s. Incidently, Rudd Weatherwax is one member of a large family of animal trainers and is the uncle of Ken Weatherwax, who is best known for playing Pugsley on The Addams Family television show.

Inside Lassie's home

Lassie Comes Home is undoubtedly the best of all the pooch's films and its simple story was often times remade by a number of studios in the coming years. In this film Lassie follows her beloved master, Joe Carraclough ( Roddy McDowall ) to school everyday and waits outside the schoolhouse at 4pm precisely, when Joe leaves school, to walk home with him. Everyone in the village knows what time it is when they see dear Lassie pass by. Her internal clock never fails her. Of course, her being a big dog makes her have a big appetite and Joe's parents ( Donald Crisp and Elsa Lancaster ) just don't have the money to support her, let alone themselves, being as poor as they are. 

Outside Lassie's home

So to solve this situation they sell Lassie to a kindly dog breeder, the Duke of Rudling, ( Nigel Bruce ) who takes her off to Scotland to groom for some upcoming shows. Lassie doesn't enjoy the duke's idea of prime accommodations however and decides to hike back to his master - it being only several hundred miles to home. On route to Yorkshire he meets a few kind souls who sustain him on his journey, one of them being Rowlie the "pots" man ( played by the adorable Edmund Gwenn ) and the Faddens, Daniel and Dally Fadden ( Ben Webster and Dame May Whitty ).

Who would sell a dog that can curtsy?
Pal was a real ham when it came to acting and - viewer beware - you need a good pile of kleenexs on hand to watch this film. If Academy Awards were given to animals then Lassie would have earned one hands down ( I mean, paws down ) for his performance here.

What a ham!

Like most MGM films of the 1930s-1950s, Cedric Gibbons was billed as the art director with Edwin B. Willis handling the set decoration. Gibbons and Willis had a particular flair for creating old and weather-worn sets and the both the Clarracough and Fadden cottages have the look of being handed down from generations past. 

As poor as Lassie's family was it looks as though they lived in a bigger cottage than the Faddens for they had two bedrooms, with Joe having a room of his own upstairs. Downstairs there was only the main room, a country kitchen with fireplace and a round dining table which doubles as a desk for homework and sewing work.

In the Fadden cottage there is the main room as well with a door leading to the kitchen or possibly to the bedroom. It couldn't be more than 800 square feet and yet how comfortable a home it is! Just the right size. For a couple and a dog, that is....

Another bit of interesting trivia : Ben Webster and May Whitty were husband and wife in real life and you can see their comradery in their scenes together. Reminds us of that other great acting couple, Stringer Davis and Margaret Rutherford. 

After they rescue the poor wee dog during a rainstorm, Dally asks her husband to bring her some milk to feed Lassie with and we get to hear this wonderful bit of dialogue : 

"That's the last of the milk Dally. Won't be any for your tea tomorrow morning"

"It won't matter Dan. I often think we do things just from habit. In America they say that they always drink their tea without milk"

"Well.... that's because they haven't learned any better"

Tsk, tsk, tsk...those Americans are something else. Can't even drink a cup of tea properly!

It's a wonder no one has undertaken to build retirement homes of this size for elderly ( or newlywed ) couples. Although with the amount of "stuff" most people have these days, this size home wouldn't even be big enough to store what the average person has in their garage. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Stephan McNally - A Heavy of the West

Stephen McNally had been an actor for eight years before he played his first western heavy. His role in Winchester 73 in 1950 as James Stewart’s vicious, traitorous brother, Dutch Henry Brown, led to roles as either a heavy or a hero in 12 subsequent westerns in the ‘50s and ‘60s as well as guest star roles on some 16 TV westerns.

Born Horace Vincent McNally July 29, 1913, in New York City, he had aspirations of being an attorney but gave up that career in the late ‘30s, switching gears to avidly pursue acting. He began, using his real name, on stage with The Wookey in ‘41 for 134 performances at the Plymouth Theatre.

Arriving in Hollywood in ‘42 he continued to use Horace McNally in films such as Grand Central Murder, several Crime Does Not Pay MGM shorts, Eyes In the Night, and Laurel and Hardy’s Air Raid Wardens, among others.

Changing his name to Stephen McNally he was notably despicable in Johnny Belinda (‘48), then came his star-maker villainous role in Winchester 73. Signed to Universal-International his heroic side came through in Wyoming Mail (‘50), Apache Drums (‘51), Duel at Silver Creek (‘52) and Stand at Apache River (‘53).

However, I always found his edgy, hard-eyed manner, deep, close-cropped speech pattern and demanding snarl belied an inner viciousness that made him perfect as a heavy in Hell Bent for Leather (‘60) opposite Audie Murphy, Devil’s Canyon (‘53) with Dale Robertson, A Bullet Is Waiting (‘54) with Rory Calhoun and Requiem For a Gunfighter, producer Alex Gordon’s all-star western in ‘65.

Throughout the late ‘50s and into the ‘60s McNally worked heavily on television—guesting as an out and out heavy (or at best as misguided individuals) on "Wagon Train", "Texan”, “Riverboat”, “Laramie”, “Zane Grey Theatre”, “Rawhide”, “Branded”, “Gunsmoke”, “Texas John Slaughter” and “Iron Horse”.

In the ‘70s he primarily turned to working on cop shows such as “Ironside”, “Bold Ones”, “Mannix”, “F.B.I.”, “Rockford Files”, “Switch”, “Police Woman”, etc. For the ‘61-‘62 season he headed up his own crime drama as crusading newspaper reporter Paul Marino on “Target: The Corruptors”. At 67 McNally retired in 1980.

Although his name never became as etched into the annuals of movie stardom as many of his contemporaries, in the long run he left us an interesting array of characters with little redeeming qualities. He died of heart failure in Beverly Hills, CA, June 4, 1994.

Written by Boyd Magers. 

Boyd Magers is an author of numerous books about western films and writer and publisher of the bi-monthly newsletter Western Clippings. Check out his great website for more articles about western actors and to view a sampling of his vast lobby card collection!