Monday, March 31, 2014

Screenwriter - Philip Dunne

Certain names, when rolling on the credits, are guarantees that you are in for a good film. Philip Dunne is one of those names. He was one of the most prolific writers at 20th Century Fox during the heydey when Darryl F. Zanuck headed the studio, writing the scripts to films such as How Green Was My Valley, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, David and Bathsheba and The Robe

Philip Dunne started working at Fox studios in 1930 as a script reader but when they fired him, during one of their recurring financial crises, he obtained a job at MGM where he worked on his first script, The Student Tour. Although the script was very bad, according to Dunne's own opinion, it led him to becoming a junior writer for Jesse L. Lasky, an independent producer at Fox. Here, he collaborated with Rowland Lee on an original script for a film called I Am Suzanne and on the swashbuckler The Count of Monte Cristo ( 1934 ) starring Robert Donat. The New York Times praised the script and its high fidelity to Dumas dialogue, remarking that it was amazing how well his words had survived in lucidity and grandeur through over a century. In truth, only seven words of dialogue were from Dumas' own writing! Philip Dunne had not even read the book prior to writing the script. 



Later, Dunne attributed the success he achieved in his career as a screenwriter to Rowland Lee. After contributing work on several screenplays for Jesse L. Lasky ( Helldorado, Under Pressure, Magnificent Obsession, The Last of the Mohicans ), Dunne received a telegram in 1935 announcing that he had received a long-term contract from Darryl F. Zanuck to work at 20th Century Fox studios. He remained there for twenty-five years. 

Angharad: 
Look now, you are king in the chapel. But I will be queen in my own kitchen. 

Mr. Gruffydd 
You will be queen wherever you walk.

Angharad 
What does that mean? 

Mr. Gruffydd 
I should not have said it. 

Angharad 
Why?

Mr. Gruffydd 
I have no right to speak to you so. [he starts to leave]

Angharad 
Mr. Gruffydd, if the right is mine to give, you have it. 

The 1940s were Dunne's golden decade, an era when he wrote a number of extremely fine scripts for some of the best films to come out of 20th Century Fox. It all began with Stanley and Livingstone, released during that prime year in Hollywood - 1939. This film established Dunne as an excellent screenwriter at the studio and led him to many other fine projects, such as The Rains Came ( based on Louis Bromfield's bestseller ), and Johnny Apollo. In late 1940, Zanuck handed Dunne the novel "How Green Was My Valley" and asked him to write an epic script for an epic film. How Green Was My Valley was going to be 20th Century Fox's answer to Gone with the Wind. Twelve weeks later, when Dunne submitted his four-hour long script, as promised, he was told that it was "twice too long". Along with director William Wyler, Dunne worked to cut the script to a manageable length, but couldn't find out how until Roddy MacDowall was selected as the leading character, Huew. He was such a delightful child that Dunne and Wyler decided to eliminate their original idea of having Huew grow to manhood mid-way through the film ( Tyrone Power was supposed to have played Huew as a man ). 

How Green Was My Valley earned ten Academy Award nominations, winning in the best picture, best director, best supporting actor, best cinematography and best art direction categories. Here Comes Mr. Jordan snagged the Best Writing, Screenplay award, which left Dunne disappointed. Nevertheless, he bounced back quickly and began work on Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake ( 1942 ) starring Tyrone Power. 


The Late George Apley ( 1947 ) was another one of Dunne's witty screen adaptations. John P. Marquard, author of the novel, once told Dunne that he preferred his screenplay to the George S. Kaufman stage adaptation. The production was a happy one; it was a great success at its premiere at Radio City Music Hall and the New York Times gave it rave reviews, but alas, outside of the East, it did not fare well at the box-office. Nevertheless, since the production team enjoyed each other's company so much, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, producer Fred Kohlmar and Dunne reunited to bring another best-selling novel to the screen - the delightful The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. 

Dunne spent seven weeks in the desert splendor of Palm Springs working on the script and, even though he did not have to alter the book's dialogue very much, created a highly entertaining fantasy which, once again, only fared moderately upon its release. However, since then, it has become one of 20th Century Fox's most endearing films, and as Dunne said in his autobiography "I am asked more questions about The Ghost and Mrs. Muir than about any other picture of mine except How Green Was My Valley"


Captain Gregg: 
[discussing Mr. Fairley] And the way he was smirking at you, like a cat in the fishmonger's! You should have slapped his face!
Lucy Muir: 
Why? I found him... rather charming.
Captain Gregg: 
"Rather charming" Now you're starting to talk like him!
Lucy Muir: 
How in blazes do you want me to talk?!
Captain Gregg: 
That's better!

In the 1950s, Dunne, his wife Amanda and their three daughters, moved to a Malibu beach house built to suit. It would remain their home for the next 40 years and become a social and political hotspot for Hollywood liberals throughout the next decade. Dunne was active in politics ever since he arrived in Los Angeles in the early 1930s. During World War II he headed the Motion Picture Bureau of the Office of War Information, helped form the Committee for the First Amendment ( along with William Wyler and John Huston ) and was also one of the founders of the American Screen Writers Guild. 


Biblical films were all the rage in the 1950s and it was work on one of these ( David and Bathsheba ) that earned Dunne his second Academy Award nomination. David and Bathsheba proved to be a box-office success and the big brass at Fox, not one to turn their heads to a profit-making venture, decided to plunge the studios talents into another dramatic biblical adaptation - The Robe. This film, starring Richard Burton and Jean Simmons and featuring the talented writing of Dunne, became an even greater success than David and Bathsheba, grossing over $36,000,000 upon its release. 

Quickly following on its heels was a sequel, again penned by Dunne, entitled Demitrius and the Gladiators ( 1954 ). An entertaining - but lesser known - film about an Egyptian doctor during the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt, The Egyptian ( 1954 ), was Dunne's final screen assignment before he ventured into becoming both a screenwriter and director. 


One of his first films, The View from Pompey's Head, was a lovely little melodrama, dripping with soap and starring some mighty pretty folk such as Dana Wynter and Richard Egan. Dunne must of enjoyed being in control of the filming of the scripts that he penned, for he directed ten more films in the next ten years, including Ten North Frederick, Blue Denim, In Love and War, Wild in the Country and Lisa. 

His final film, Blindfold ( 1965 ) gave him the cue that it was time to end his directing career. Talented as he was, his pencil was indeed sharper than his camera eye. During the 1970s and 1980s, Dunne quit the entertainment industry entirely and concentrated on writing as a syndicated columnist and essayist for the Los Angeles Times and Time magazine. He also worked on his memoirs, Take Two: A Life in Movies and Politics, which much of this article was based upon. 

Philip Dunne passed away on June 2, 1992 at the age of 84....but like most writers, his words will never pass on, always being revived on the screen with each subsequent viewing of his films.

You must make your own life amoungst the living and, whether you meet fair winds or foul, find your own way to harbor in the end. 
( The Ghost and Mrs. Muir )

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Since we are going to highlight biblical films next month as a special feature, we thought we'd make this round of the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game follow in that general direction. And when we say general direction...we mean general. Now that ought to confuse you! 

If you are not familiar with the rules to The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, just click here

Good luck guessing! 

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Stately Ghosts of England ( 1965 )

Margaret Rutherford, the intrepid actress best known for portraying the medium Madame Arcati in Blithe Spirit and Jane Marple in the Murder She Said series had, in 1967, earned an Academy Award for her performance in The V.I.Ps and was awarded the title, Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire that same year. Prior to this crowning achievement she had an even more exciting experience....she was thrust among the living and the dead in a one hour television special The Stately Ghosts of England. 


In this program, which aired in 1965, the stout dame guided us on a tour of some of the oldest and grandest castles of Great Britain. However, their architecture and interior decor were not the highlight of the tour - instead, she attempted to beckon the spirits to make an appearance for NBC's audience in great Britain and the United States, where eager ectoplasm enthusiasts gathered around their teles to see what they could not see. 

Within the one hour timespan, Margaret Rutherford, her husband Stringer Davis, and Tom Corbett, one of England's most famous clairvoyants, traveled in a 1909 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost to visit three stately homes of England. 


The first, Longleat in Wiltshire, belonging to Lord Henry Thynne, the Marquess of Bath, was the setting of a duel provoked by the most ancient of sins - adultery. In the dark dismal hall leading to the upstairs chambers, Sir Thomas Thynne, with a flash of steel, slew his wife's lover. Lady Louisa Thynne died shortly after and joined her darling in the afterlife. However, she didn't quite make it...judging from the moans that are resounding in the corridors.  

"Lord Thynne, have you ever seen the ghost?"
"No, I never actually myself, seen or heard the supernatural" 

And so they carried themselves upstairs to have a chat with a woman who had seen the ghost. "Well, I didn't actually quite really see the ghost myself, it was more like a sinister presence that I felt ". 

Tom Corbett, being a clairvoyant ( one who sees ghosts ) had no trouble seeing her, of course, but for the viewers benefit, our team arranged to have a ghost camera - that wonder of the ages - set up to capture her fleeting presence on celluloid. To their satisfaction ( but hardly ours ), they did capture a shaft of light which appeared for a few seconds. 


Off they whisked themselves away to their second destination, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Goldsmith, owners of the charming cottage once belonging to Nell Gwynne, the famous stage actress and mistress of King Charles II. Unlike most ghosts, this lovely lady walks the floors of her dwelling in peace, choosing to remain to cherish the happy moments she spent in her home. Upstairs, however, is a more tempestuous spirit. The footsteps of a suicidal cavalier can be heard roaming the wooden passages leading to the bedrooms. The poor man is lost in limbo, still searching for the missing wing of his manor. Honestly, the current owners should have notified him of the change in the house's structure. 

More startling than these spirits, however, is when Tom Corbett actually speaks! 

"Do you know you have a third ghost?" he quietly announces, before promptly pursing his lips once again. The rest of the cast wander off to the bridge to not see the lady standing there, while Dame Margaret Rutherford chooses to snoop inside the Goldsmith's barn. Here, she points out an airplane belonging to Sir Geoffrey de Havilland, who once worked on the property. 


On their third and final visit, the ghostbusters are off to Beaulieu, an abbey in Hampshire. This crumbling ruin was built by hand by the monks of the Cistercian order in the thirteenth century, and rudely repossessed by King Henry VIII, a despisor of the church, to be given as a gift to Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Though the monks peacefully allowed their physical property to be taken from them, in spirit, they refused to budge. Spunky monks they be! 

The current owner, a descendant of the Earl, cordially conveys the story of the ancestral ghosts of the former abbey. Once again, he utters those profound words echoed throughout the special, "I, myself, have not seen the ghosts", but, he explains, his sister heard their rhythmic musical chanting...as had a number of other townsfolk. The Earl's sister, surely a relative of Margaret Thatcher, relays her account of hearing the sounds of a primitive radio which was sending out easy-listening signals of comfort and peace. Our trio, anxious to tune into this station, sit outside the walls of the abbey, with tape recorder in hand, ready to document these songs for posterity. 



Margaret Rutherford sums up the program and her personal feelings succinctly with the words, "Let those deny who will, I for one choose to believe in them".

This program perfectly suited the talents of Margaret Rutherford, not only because she had a flair for the dramatic, but because she, herself, was a believer in the spiritual and the occult. Indeed, she was the ideal host to the ghosts. 

The Stately Ghosts of England is available for viewing here

This post is our contribution to The Big Stars of the Small Screen blogathon, hosted by Aurora at How Sweet it Was! . Be sure to check out all the other great posts about film stars on television! 


Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Snoop Sisters ( 1974 ) TV Series

During the early to mid-1970s, mystery programs were all the rage on prime-time television, or at least hoped to be. Between 1970 and 1978, roughly fourteen primetime mystery shows were launched and eight promptly failed ( notably the excellent Ellery Queen ). 

Nevertheless, the mild hullabaloo during the decade and the success of the NBC Sunday Mystery Movie in 1971 ( which featured different mystery movies once a week ) prompted the studio to create another mystery rotation series, The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie. 

This series was launched in the autumn of 1971 and featured three new shows, Cool Million ( James Farentino ), Madigan ( Richard Widmark ) and Banacek. The only one of the series that managed to achieve even mild success was Banacek starring George Peppard as a suave Polish-American insurance claim bounty hunter. For the next season, three new shows were added in the "wheel" : Faraday and Company, Tenafly, and The Snoop Sisters featuring Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as sister sleuths. 

At the sprightly age of 72, Helen Hayes, the first lady of the American stage, was given her very own starring television series. Hayes was no stranger to the tiny tube however, from 1950 on she was a frequent guest star on theatrical shows such as Robert Montgomery Presents, Pulitzer Prize Playhouse, Omnibus, and Playhouse 90. In one television episode of the The Great Dow Hour of Mysteries she even played another mystery writer turned sleuth ( in Mary Rogers Rinehart's The Bat, 1960 ).


Teaming up with Helen Hayes was that other legend of the silver screen, Mildred Natwick, who had made some eighty film and television appearances, as well as numerous stage appearances. Natwick and Hayes had  previously played together in a 1971 TV movie entitled Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate and it is probably because of their great partnership in this film that producers Leonard Stern ( Get Smart ) and Tony Barrett ( Mod Squad ) saw the potential for a mystery series featuring the two indomitable ladies. Helen Hayes was also fresh off of her Oscar win for Airport and was justly rewarded this prime part. 

The pilot episode, A Female Instinct, aired on December 16, 1972 and introduced us to the basic premise of the series : Ernesta and Gwendolyn Snoop, two famous mystery writers, one a widow, the other a spinster, turn detective to hunt down the killer of a faded movie star. Aiding them in their investigation ( and keeping them out of trouble ) is Barney ( Art Carney ), their combination chauffeur and bodyguard, and their nephew, police lieutenant Ostrowski, played by Bert Convy. 

For an unknown reason, after this initial pilot episode, Lou Antonio replaced Art Carney as Barney. In between puzzling out the crimes they came across, they also worked on snatches of their mystery novel, with Ernesta often getting moments of creative inspiration directly at the crime scenes. 

Only four episodes were made but they were hailed by critics and fans alike as engrossing who-dunnits and the fact that it featured two mature film stars as authors/amateur detectives was years ahead of its time. Later, Angela Lansbury made this formula popular in her series Murder She Wrote. 

The Snoop Sisters boasted some great guest stars such as Paulette Goddard, Walter Pidgeon, Joan Blondell, Bill Dana, Alice Cooper, Jill Clayburgh, Bernie Casey, Kurt Kasznar, Victor Buono, Steve Allen, Roddy McDowall, George Maharis, Greg Morris, and Vincent Price ( in one of the best episodes of the series - Black Day for Bluebeard ). 

In spite of being nominated for three primetime Emmys ( Mildred Natwick won for Best Lead Actress in a Limited Series ), the show was cancelled before completing its first season. Its lackluster storylines were disappointing considering the talented script writers involved. Had the series been made by that dynamic duo Levison & Link, it would have certainly been a smashing sleuthing success and would have earned its place as one of the best mystery television programs of the 1970s.


Episodes


Corpse and Robbers ( Dec.19, 1973 )

Ernesta is surprised to get phone calls from an old friend, especially since he has been dead for many years. 

Fear is a Free Throw ( Jan.29, 1974 )

After a basketball player is poisoned by an antacid tablet given to him by Gwendolyn Snoop, she is accused of attempted murder. 

The Devil Made Me Do It ( March 5, 1974 )

During a murder investigation, the sisters uncover a satanist cult. 

Black Day for Bluebeard ( March 19, 1974 )

A washed-up horror movie icon is suspected of murdering his wealthy wife for the inheritance. 

This post is our contribution to the Big Stars of the Small Screen blogathon hosted by Aurora of How Sweet It Was. Be sure to check out all the other great writings on the major stars who found a home in the television set. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Miss Marple Mysteries with Margaret Rutherford

Miss Jane Marple, the wiry framed spinster from St. Mary Mead, whose hobbies include knitting and solving crimes, is one of Agatha Christie's most endearing creations. Quiet and sedate, she was the complete opposite of Hercule Poirot, Christie's very own Sherlock Holmes, but went on to become the star of the show in twelve novels and thirty-two short stories between 1926 and 1976. 

It's no wonder then that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer saw an ideal character to bring to the screen. In early 1960 the studio purchased the rights to most of the author's stories for the comely sum of three million dollars in the hopes of creating a television series around the lovable sleuth. When this idea fell through, they set their sights on securing 72-year-old Margaret Rutherford, one of Great Britain's most beloved character actresses to play the part in a film version of one of Miss Marple's most entertaining novels, "4:50 from Paddington". 

Agatha Christie had disapproved of this casting from the start. She had modeled Miss Marple after a favorite aunt and Margaret Rutherford bore no resemblance to her whatsoever. Rutherford did not wish to play the part either, saying "Murder, you see, is not the sort of thing I could get close to. I never found it amusing. I don't like anything that tends to lower or debase or degrade". It was not until director George Pollack sent her the script for Murder She Said, the first Miss Marple film planned, and convinced her that Miss Marple would be a helpful character, one who took a gamesman-like approach to crime solving. Rutherford was then gung-ho about the part and made Miss Marple completely her own. Her husband and closest companion, Stringer Davis, was pulled in for the ride as well in a part that was created especially for him at Rutherford's insistence. As the timid librarian Jim Stringer, he was the perfect partner for the indomitable Jane. 


Rutherford's Miss Marple was a completely transformed character from the St. Mary's Mead citizen that Christie had penned some thirty-five years back. In fact, she did not even live in St. Mary's Mead anymore, her cottage home now being situated in Milchester ( filmed in Denham ). Here the jaunty heroine lives in contented peace until a mystery falls at her feet and she takes on the task of solving the crime herself when the local police force doubt her theories. The local police force being Inspector Craddock ( admirably played by Australian actor Charles "Bud" Tingwell ) and his aide Sergeant Bacon. Craddock was another character written in especially for the film and he proved to be a capital foil in the crime-solving endeavors of Miss Marple. His attitude towards Miss Marple was much like a kindly nephew, loving and protective and yet at times quite aggravated over her interference in police matters and the dangers the old gal was putting herself into. 

The sprightly harpsichord strains of Ron Goodwin's Miss Marple theme quickly set the tempo and mood for the films that were to follow, all of them being light-hearted tea and crumpet mysteries. Just as one enjoys curling up with a good mystery before bedtime to carry one off to slumberland, so these films were a relaxing escape from the typical juvenile crime flicks, period dramas, and psychological capers of the times. And, as an added bonus, they gave us opportunity to nod our heads in blessed slumber during many a scene. 

Between 1961 and 1965, MGM made four Miss Marple films starring Margaret Rutherford. Each film in the series was directed by George Pollock and featured scripts written by David Pursall and Jack Seddon. Although none of them bore any resemblance to the books on which they were based, each of them had their redeeming charms and to this day all of the films have their loyal following of fans. 

Whatever Miss Christie intended her stories to be, is completely thrown out the window. Margaret Rutherford is the unreputable star of these films. Plump, energetic and commanding, Rutherford created a newly emancipated Miss Marple, a gal brimming with spunk. With jowls jiggling and her tongue jutted firmly in her cheek, Jane would swing her tweed cape about her, square her shoulders and be ready to face any danger that stood in the way of her amateur sleuthing. 


Murder She Said ( 1961 ) 


En route from Paddington station to her home in Milchester, Miss Marple witnesses a murder onboard a passing train. When the authorities investigate and find no clues, Miss Marple is determined to investigate herself. With the help of her good friend, Mr. Stringer, they track the body to the Ackenthorpe Estate. Here she goes undercover as a maid and in between the housework and the cooking, hunts for clues. The entire family comes for a visit and when the body turns up in the stable, each member, including Miss Marple herself, becomes a suspect....and one by one start being killed off themselves. 


Margaret Rutherford is splendid as the elderly amateur sleuth who is excited to put her knowledge of mystery stories to the test and try crime-detection on a personal level. She proves to be more perceptive than the police and more daring, often jeopardizing herself much to the chagrin of Inspector Craddock, who feels personally responsible for the dear gal's safety. 

Our cast of suspects is a colorful lot of crooked family members, each one of them waiting for the blustery old codger, Mr. Ackenthorpe ( played with splendid bark by James Robertson Justice ) to die so they can inherit his money, his land and his house. Muriel Pavlow, playing Ackenthorpe's daughter provides the romantic interest in the film with love blossoming between her and the American doctor ( Arthur Kennedy ) who's looking after the old man. Most engaging of all the characters however, is cheeky little Alexander ( Ronnie Raymond ), a playful dodger who tries to hide his mischeivous pranks with his overte gentlemanly manner. He and Miss Marple quickly become chums and he provides her with many an inside scoop in the whereabouts of the family skeletons. Thorley Walters, Ron Howard ( son of Leslie Howard ), Conrad Phillips, Gerald Cross and Joan Hickson round out the cast. Joan Hickson later picked up the Miss Marple mantle herself in a PBS series during the 1980s. 

Margaret Rutherford's immense appeal and the delightful mystery plot she was involved with in Murder She Said made the film an instant box office success and it was quickly followed by three more Miss Marple mysteries. Murder She Said was the only one of the three actually based on one of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple mysteries, "4:50 from Paddington" ( known as "What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw" in Great Britain ). A few major alternations from the 1957 novel resulted in a more cohesive and less complicated film. In the novel Miss Marple is a relatively minor character. In the film however, she takes on the activities of three of the characters from the novel : Mrs. McGillicuddy, who first witnesses the murder, Lucy Eyesbarrow, housekeeper at the Crackenthorpe estate, and herself. 



Murder at the Gallop ( 1963 ) 


George Pollock returned to take the helm in the second Miss Marple movie, Murder at the Gallop, this time taking place at a riding establishment, the Gallop Hotel, where members of the Enderby family are staying. Mr. Enderby, an elderly recluse, ( played by Finlay Currie )was frightened to death - by a cat - in circumstances that Miss Marple believes was deliberate murder. After Aunt Cora announces those same suspicions to the family members during the reading of the will and is quickly dispatched herself - with a hairpin, by george! - Miss Marple declares "murder most foul" and is off to capture the culprit herself. Once again Inspector Craddock's insistence against her meddling prove useless in stopping the indomitable dame from charging. 


Many of the elements used in Murder She Said are repeated for this second outing, notably the family inheritance plot line, the eccentric male lead ( this time played by the perpetually baffled-faced Robert Morley ), the surly stableman, and the multiple murders. Yes, when Miss Marple attempts to solve a case, murder is never a solitary occurrance. Even the finale of Miss Marple receiving a marriage proposal is repeated. 

Many of the Enderby family members are not as engaging as the Ackenthorpes however and this time around most of the entertaining scenes belong solely to Margaret Rutherford, which thankfully there are plenty of. Highlights include Miss Marple and Mr. Stringer collecting donations to help rehabilitate criminals and the duo performing the twist in preparation for the climatic ending.The extremely talented character actress, Flora Robson, has a wonderful part in Murder at the Gallop as the frightened companion to Aunt Cora and Robert Urquhart, Katya Douglas, and James Villiers complete the cast. 

Murder at the Gallop was based on the Poirot mystery "After the Funeral". The film had its premiere in a tent at a garden party in rural Cheshire during a fundraiser and once again received good critic reviews after its national premiere. One critic however did not find the film amusing... Agatha Christie called it "incredibly silly" and often argued with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer over the scripts and characterizations of her stories, but to no avail. The London Times agreed, "The whole thing is happily calculated to convince foreigners yet again that everything they have been told about the English is absolutely true and only a trifle understated."


Murder Ahoy ( 1964 ) 



The next Miss Marple film to be released, Murder Ahoy, was actually the final one in the series to be filmed, with Murder Most Foul being temporarily delayed in its release. 

This film has the distinction of being the only one of the four pictures based on an original script, and unfortunately, that was a mistake...the movie suffers badly with long stretches of sleep-inducing sequences. Ron Goodwin's jaunty Marple theme fails to revive one, even in the film's most exciting moments. 

One redeeming quality however, is the change of locale. Filmed at St. Mawes, on the Cornwall coast, Murder Ahoy gives one the impression of being on a seaside holiday. Miss Marple enjoys the respite herself, and decks herself in full-rigged naval dress, complete with brass buttons and tricorn hat. Quite fitting regalia indeed for a trustee of the H.M.S Battledore, a training ship used for rehabilitating juvenile delinquents. During the annual meeting of the trustees, Mr. Folly-Hardwicke snuffs himself out and drops dead before announcing a most dreadful finding - one of the instructors onboard the Battledore is an embezzler! 

Miss Marple brings out her trusty Slocum's Chemistry Set for Girls, discovers strychnine in the snuff, shanghai's her sweetheart Mr.Stringer, and then boldly sets out to board the Battledore and hoist the culprit on the highest yardarms. She makes an impressive splash and puts every member of the frigate properly ill at ease, before confronting the killer with crossed swords in a climatic finale. "It won't be as easy as you think" she burbles stoutly, "I was ladies' fencing champion in 1931". Whereupon she lunges to attack for a swashbuckling finish. 


The inimitable character actor Lionel Jeffries plays the eccentric lead, Captain Rhumstone, in this seafaring outing that also features William Mervyn, Francis Matthews, Joan Benham and Gerald Cross. 


Murder Most Foul ( 1965 ) 



In this final installment in the series our doughty heroine finds herself in the blazing spotlights of a stage; a stage where murder and mayhem are being played out. After the former actress, Mrs.McGinty, is found hanging in her house with roses and money strewn on the floor about her, a young man is promptly arrested as the leading suspect. Miss Marple, serving on the jury during the trial, believes him innocent and decides to prove just that. Clues lead her to the Cosgood Players, a mixed lot of theatrical characters, and to one player in particular, a scheming murderer who kills twice more before Miss Marple drops the final curtain on him. 

Ron Moody, best known for his portrayal of Fagin in Oliver!, plays the leading supporting character Clifford Cosgood, head of the Cosgood Players, and not unlike Fagin, he is a thoroughly shifty-eyed sort. The marvelous Megs Jenkins has an all too brief appearance as Mrs. Thomas, the dead actress' sister who has taken a bit of a fancy to the dear Mr. Stringer, and Andrew Cruickshank, Ralph Michael, James Bolam, and Annette Kerr complete our cast of suspects. 

Margaret Rutherford gets to recite a splendid piece, "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" during her audition to become one of the Cosgood Players. This was one of Rutherford's favorite pieces and at one time she had to be dissuaded from performing it at a women's prison. "It was a good, bloodcurdling bit, which I thought the poor women would enjoy as they must have been disillusioned by the men in their lives," she said. These are words that prove what a beloved, albeit dotty, character one of the most popular British actresses of all time had. 


Murder Most Foul picks up on the pace once again after Murder Ahoy dropped the slack, but alas....it was not enough to draw fans into the theatres in droves and the declining box-office reciepts were a sign that the Miss Marple series had reached their end. Such a shame too, for there were so many more good mysteries Margaret Rutherford's Miss Marple could have solved. 


This post was our contribution to Movie Silently's Sleuthathon : A Blogathon of Gumshoes. Be sure to check out all the other mysterious contributions and baffling blogs featuring your favorite detectives! 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Father Brown aka The Detective ( 1954 )

When Father Brown's beloved cross of St. Augustus is stolen en route to Rome, he is determined to capture the thief and restore not only the cross, but a lost soul as well. The daring thefts of Flambeau, a master of disguise, are known throughout all of England. Here is a lost sheep just waiting to be saved. But is it Flambeau's soul that Father Brown is truly seeking to save? Or is it the challenge of matching wits with the great thief that the pastor pursues instead? Has he committed the ultimate of the seven deadly sins and allowed pride in his own intellect to become his ruling passion? 

Alec Guinness' Father Brown is not a highly sophisticated crime-solver, but instead an elderly man who thrills at the occasional puzzle that comes his way. He has the appearance of a naive, bumbling man ( Chesterton described him "a face as round and dull as a Norfolk dumpling" ), and the observation of a Sherlock Holmes, but his greatest skill is his keen understanding of the human heart. 

When the twelve-centuries old cross of St. Augustus, belonging to his parish church, is stolen right from under his arms he feels personally responsible for bringing it back. He had had great success in bringing former criminals to justice, befriending them,and helping to convert them to honest livelihoods that he does not doubt his capabilities in capturing the great Flambeau as well. To aid him in his holy endeavor is the lovely widow Lady Warren ( Joan Greenwood ), a dear friend of the padre. Peter Finch, Sidney James, Bernard Lee and Cecil Parker round out a stellar cast. 

" The more you learn about other people, the more you learn about yourself. The more you learn about yourself, the more you learn about other people. "


Like all of his roles, Alec Guinness attacks the character of Father Ignatius Brown with a whole-hearted rigor....and yet, he doesn't quite manage to convince us of the devout spirituality of the character. Perhaps it is because Guinness was not of the faith himself when he made the film. Having grown up a strict Catholic, Guinness had an ingrown distaste for all things Catholic. One day, during location filming in France, a small boy ran up to Guinness ( who was in costume ) calling "Mon pere! Mon pere!". Since Guinness did not speak French he was unable to tell him he was not really a priest. The boy was so happy talking with him, just knowing he was a priest, that Guinness realized that a Church which could inspire such confidence in a child, making its priests, even when unknown, so easily approachable could not be all that bad. Soon after he was converted to Catholicism. 


Father Brown ( released as The Detective in the States ) was not the first film to feature C.K. Chesterton's famous sleuth. Father Brown, Detective ( 1934 ) took one of his best short stories "The Blue Cross" ( 1910 ) and reworked it into a fine film featuring Walter Connoly as Father Brown and Paul Lukas as Flambeau. Halliwell Hobbes, Una O'Connor and E.E Clive also starred in this Paramount film. 

The Detective followed suit and used "The Blue Cross" as the basis to its clever story line which leaves the audience in suspense guessing what the latest disguise of the great Flambeau would be. Georges Auric's inspiring score was well-suited to the picture and his particular musical motif for Father Brown is indeed charming. 

Although The Detective bogs down in certain spots, Robert Hamer's taut direction, the intriguing locales - most notably the Parisian catacombs - and the many endearing cat-and-mouse sequences redeem the film and till today it has remained a favorite among Father Brown aficionados. 

" For this my son was dead and has come to life again; was lost and is found. And they began to be merry. "

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Irish Nuggets


The Luck of the Irish ( 1948 ) 18k


During a visit to Ireland, an American reporter finds and catches a leprechaun who sticks with him and helps him decide whether to remain or  return to New York to marry his fiancee and achieve success in politics. Tyrone Power, Anne Baxter, Cecil Kellaway, Jayne Meadows. 20th Century Fox. Directed by Henry Koster. 

The Luck of the Irish never achieved classic cult status on St. Patrick's Day like The Quiet Man or Darby O'Gill and yet it should have for it's a delightful film. Cecil Kellaway, adorable in any role he plays, is especially suited to the leprechaun part. The DVD release includes two versions, one entirely in black and white, and another in the original release format of black and white and green tint. 'Tis a pot of gold for sure!

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Top O' The Morning ( 1949 ) 14k


A singing insurance investigator comes to Ireland to recover the stolen Blarney Stone and romance the local policeman's daughter. Bing Crosby, Barry Fitzgerald, Ann Blyth, Hume Crownyn. Paramount Pictures. Directed by David Miller. 

Alright, we cheated a bit with including this film among the nuggets for we haven't seen it yet. It just sounds like such a good film we would really doubt if it turns out to be a dud. With such a great cast, how can it fail to be anything but bragha.

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The Quiet Man ( 1952 ) 24k


A former boxer comes to Ireland to purchase his mother's cottage and make a new life for himself, but first he must square himself with his wife, who believes him to be a coward for not putting up a fight for her dowry. John Wayne, Maureen O'Hara, Barry Fitzgerald, Victor MacLaglen, Mildred Natwick. Republi Pictures. Directed by John Ford.

This is one of those beautiful films where everything falls into place perfectly...the cast, the script, the music, the cinematography the locations. It just couldn't be any better than it is. It ranks as one of John Ford's greatest films ( if not his best ) and certainly one of the finest pictures to ever come out of Republic Pictures. You'll be spouting Quiet Man-isms forever after viewing this film. "And who taught you to be playing patty fingers in the Holy water?"


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Darby O'Gill and the Little People ( 1958 ) 18k


Darby O'Gill, caretaker to Lord Fitzpatrick, is unhappy when he is replaced by a new lad, but gladly decides to matchmake him with his daughter so that he may remain at his cottage. Later he beguiles King O'Brian, the king of the leprechauns to help him save his daughter when the banshee comes knocking on their door. Albert Sharpe, Sean Connery, Janet Munro, Jimmy O'Dea. Walt Disney Productions. Directed by Robert Stevenson.

"Sparkling with Leprechauns and Laughter" is right! Darby is one of those films that has great replay value. You can watch it every St. Patrick's Day and never tire of it. King Brian finally met his match when it came to old Darby. A special shout-out to Peter Ellenshaw for his magnificent matte paintings in this film. They surely do transport us to the beautiful land of the leprechauns. 

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The Secret of Boyne Castle ( 1969 ) 14k


A young student and his friend help deliver a secret message to Boyne Castle to aid an American spy and help an Eastern European agent defect. Retitled "Guns in the Heather" for its feature film release. Kurt Russell,  Glenn Corbett, Alfred Burke, Patrick Dawson. Walt Disney Productions. Directed by Robert Butler. 

Most of the television movies made for Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color are tough to find on DVD, and bootleg versions that are available are often very blurry. Alas, that is the case with this film but from what we made out of the picture it sure was entertaining. The movie pairs Kurt Russell with a young Irish boy ( who, quite frankly, we thought was a villain ) and together they play like a Hardy Boys duo. Why Walt Disney never put Kurt Russell in a Hardy Boys series I certainly don't know, but at least this movie got all the great mysteries of one of them - a motorcycle chase, a secluded castle, a glider ride, and a really clever spy ( not like those bungling crooks Disney films always had in the 1990s ). 


Monday, March 10, 2014

Barry Fitzgerald - Frowning on Fame

While hunting down photographs of Barry Fitzgerald's home for the upcoming Hollywood Home Tour we stumbled upon this article from the New York Times, originally posted on January 14, 1945. It was so entertaining we couldn't help but share it. And it's so fitting for St. Patrick's Day too...which will be here before you can say Johnny O'Mara Fitzsimmons!
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Written by Fred Stanley 


In Hollywood these days everyone, it seems, is excited about Barry Fitzgerald - except Barry Fitzgerald. On the basis of his performance as the whimsical, petulant old parish priest in Paramount's ''Going My Way,'' the New York critics have just given him their award for the best film acting of the year.

Today Barry Fitzgerald is in greater demand by the studios than any character has ever been in the history of the film city. One conservative estimate, by people who figure such things out, has it that if the 56-year-old Irish actor accepted all of the parts that have been offered to him in the past four months he would be working in front of the cameras, night and day, for the next two years. Film producers calculate that Fitzgerald's name in the cast of one of their products now means increased returns at the box office. That fact explains an increase in his ''per picture'' pay to $75,000 more than three times his pre-''Going My Way'' rate.  

To all of which Barry Fitzgerald says: ''I am now just another Hollywood celebrity and that's downright boring.'' He doesn't understand why being a successful actor should mean that he can, per se, set the general public an example by smoking so and so's cigarettes or wearing this or that brand of underwear. 

Gone are the days, he will regretfully tell you, when he could walk down the street unrecognized and just watch people go by. Now the people watch Barry Fitzgerald go by. In Hollywood he is too easily recognized, pointed out, stared at and besieged by that curious American phenomenon, the autograph seeker. 



He finds it all rather bewildering. He resents the disruption of his previously inconspicuous private life. He can't even browse in Los Angeles book shops or join in a discussion with strangers at some out-of-the-way barroom or drug store without being tagged as Father Fitzgibbon. His old clothes and cloth cap, which once kept him inconspicuous, now make him a marked man. 

And along with fame have come obligations - obligations which are particularly distressing to Mr. Fitzgerald, who cheerfully admits to being a ''very lazy man.'' Fame has brought sacks full of fan mail to be answered. It has resulted in invitations to parties and social events - for he is now being recognized, even by some of the town's so-called ''greats.'' 

A bachelor, the actor lives in a seven-room rented house on a hillside street just a few blocks north of Hollywood Boulevard. As you approach his home of an evening you will probably hear the hesitant tones of a piano - the sound a young girl or boy would make drudging along after Paderewski. The address is right, so you ring the doorbell - with some misgivings. Immediately, the music stops and the door is opened by Barry Fitzgerald, who bids you a laconic, ''How do you do.'' And then adds, just as briefly, ''I was practicing.'' 

Mr. Fitzgerald didn't begin to take piano lessons until he was past 50. He still takes lessons twice a week, as he explains it, ''just for my own amusement.'' 

He is surprisingly casual and relaxed. He impresses one as an intensely modest man gifted with a curious, searching mind. There are numerous clues that he and his characterizations, as many interviewers have noted, are cut from the same cloth. His small, wiry body - he's 5 feet 3 - has the unmistakable set of a man good in close fighting. Beneath bristly brows, his eyes glint shrewdly. His chin juts forward aggressively. His voice fumbles drolly at the beginning of a sentence, then gets away with a rush, often changing key before he reaches the end of the sentence. 

He shares his home with Gus Tallon, an Iroquois Indian, who, besides fulfilling the usual duties of a stand-in - posing for the camera men while the set is being prepared and the lights and focus adjusted - acts as companion and general right-hand man. He also shares the task of preparing the morning breakfast - coffee, toast and eggs. Gus is the custodian of Mr. Fitzgerald's wardrobe - not much of a job, considering that the clothes closets hold only three suits, a sports coat or two, a few slacks and cloth caps galore. Mr. Fitzgerald will at once impress upon you that Gus is not an employee but a friend. 

Asked about his screen roles, he says that the part of Father Fitzgibbon has been the most satisfying and therefore the easiest. 

''No,'' he explains, ''it wasn't patterned after any particular priest I knew in Ireland. Call it a composite of several of my good friends of the cloth.'' 

He gets a good deal of amusement out of another misconception arising from his portrayal of Father Fitzgibbon. With a twinkle in his eye, he tells how on several occasions he has been recognized and stopped on the street by a son or daughter of the ''Ould Sod,'' who, after complimenting him on his performance in the role, adds: ''And, sure, no one but a good Catholic could have played a priest so well.'' 



It happens that Barry Fitzgerald is not a Catholic. His family were members of the Protestant faith and as a youth he attended a Protestant church in Dublin - and even sang in the choir.

Justifiably, he feels that these mistaken impressions are really tributes to his ability as an actor. Acting is one thing which he discusses without shyness or hesitation. In contemporary pictures, Mr. Fitzgerald feels, there is too much dialogue. The best acting, he says, is still pantomime - a look, a twist of the neck or the way a person walks can tell more than whole pages of dialogue. 

In ''Going My Way,'' for instance, the glance of disapproval he gave his curate, Bing Crosby, when he discovered Crosby wearing the sweater with ''St. Louis Browns'' spelled out on it, or his silent shame when he learns that the turkey he is feasting on his been stolen, tells more in less time than even the brightest dialogue could. 

Over at Paramount they tell you how he saved a scene in the forthcoming ''Two Years Before the Mast.'' Playing the ship's cook, Mr. Fitzgerald was called on to serve a plate of food to the bellicose captain and then answer him back in kind when the officer disapproved of the offering - using fitting sea language, of courses. The scene was taken several times but failed to justify Director John Farrow. Then, on the next ''take,'' Mr. Fitzgerald, instead of following the script, picked up the plate, sniffed significantly at the food, cast a comical pitying glance toward his irate skipper and shuffled out of the cabin - without saying a word.

That wasn't the way the scene had been written, but that's the way it will appear in the picture. In that one scene Mr. Fitzgerald indicated real understanding of the potentialities of motion pictures as a medium of art. With economy of motion and speech he revealed the underlying nuances of character. 

Mr. Fitzgerald has always been a comedian on the screen. And he runs true to form in envying the tragedian.



''I would rather be a villain on the screen and bop someone on the head occasionally than play the most noble of characters,'' he says. ''A villain doesn't have to be repressed - and audiences have a sneaking affection for him, especially if he is picturesque. And besides, it's easier to portray villainy.'' 


Barry Fitzgerald was born William Joseph Shields in Dublin on March 10, 1888. After finishing high school he entered a special school, where he was trained for a civil service post as bookkeeper with the Board of Trade. He explains that he became an actor because he is essentially a lazy person. His brother, Arthur Shields now also a film actor in Hollywood was formerly with the Abbey Theatre. Mr. Fitzgerald hung around the theatre because he was interested in the literary side of the Irish renaissance, and got to know some of the actors. He was urged to walk on, carry a spear, just for the fun of it. He did. And finally, because he didn't, as he says, have the energy to refuse, he graduated into bit parts. 

Uncertain whether his superiors in the Government service would approve of his stage activities, he had a talk with the man in charge of programs at the Abbey Theatre about assuming a stage name. That is how Barry Fitzgerald was born. 

His first speaking part came in the Abbey production of Richard Sheridan's ''The Critic.'' He had been assigned to a second sentry's role in that play. The first sentry said: ''all this shall to Lord Burley's ears.''

Fitzgerald was supposed to answer: ''It is meet that it should.'' 


He had rehearsed that line with more care than the entire production had received. he could literally give it in his sleep. Then came the big moment before the footlights. The first sentry spoke his line. A helpful pal, near Mr. Fitzgerald on the stage, whispered: '''Tis sheet it moud,'' and thus it was that the stunned Mr. Fitzgerald delivered the line. The audience roared with laughter and he was started on his career as a comedian. 

For seventeen years, until 1929, Barry Fitzgerald led a double life. From 9 to 5 he was a bookkeeper. At night he was a member of the Abbey Theatre. He learned his roles riding to and from work, at evening rehearsals or after bolting his lunch. In 1929, when he went to London to do Sean O'Casey's ''Silver Tassie,'' he left his post as a civil servant. 

His most famous role on the stage was as Captain Jack Boyle, the alcoholic, pompous braggart in O'Casey's ''Juno and the Paycock.'' It was one of the richest characterizations in the modern theatre. It was deep, with the stubbornness, the lawlessness, the moods and volatile beauty of the Irish heart. 


Another of his memorable roles was the rascally tippler, Fluther Good, in O'Casey's ''The Plough and the Stars.'' It was for this role that Director John Ford - now a commander in the United States Navy brought Mr. Fitzgerald to Hollywood in 1937, when he made a film of that play. From then on Barry Fitzgerald was busier than he had ever wanted to be. 

Fitzgerald is not the swimming-pool-in-the-back-yard type. He never goes to the lush Hollywood night clubs. His principal outdoor amusement, motorcycling, has been somewhat cramped by gasoline rationing. But he still rides his motor bike to and from the studio occasionally. 


Another of his outdoor pasttimes is golf, at which, he will candidly inform you, he is the worst player in the world. On good days he goes around the eighteen holes in 110 to 120. A few weeks ago he came in with a card of 104 and called in a number of his cronies to celebrate. Characteristically, none of the have names that a devoted movie-goer would recognize. 

Perhaps his most revealing hobby is cutting records of those radio advertising jingles which have made listening to the radio the dangerous business it is. He plays these home-made records over and over, chuckling with glee and the inanities of the music and rhymes. He is making a collection of such pieces to send to Ireland to be played on the phonograph in a certain pub so that some of his old pals may enjoy this new American art form. 

The two things he likes best about America, though, are our pie à la mode and the fact that the ''man in the street has the feeling that he's as good as the next one.'' And that's no idle compliment, for he has spent many a night and day wandering about the streets with a pipe in his mouth and his hands thrust deep in his pockets.
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