Tuesday, February 24, 2015

TV/Movie Set : Herbie Rides Again ( 1974 ) - The Firehouse

Situated on a hilltop overlooking the city of San Francisco is the home of Mrs. Steinmetz. On the outside, it appears to be a vacant ramshackled tower, but on the inside it is a cozy home tastefully decorated and filled with happy memories.

Alonzo Hawk ( Keenan Wynn ) a ruthless real estate developer, wants to demolish this structure to plough the way for the foundation of his grandest building to date - Hawk Towers. He offers a generous buyout for Mrs. Steinmetz ( Helen Hayes ) but she will not sell her home to anyone, least of all to Hawk, who is simply intent on destroying it. Rallying around to support her is Nicole ( Stephanie Powers ) and Hawk's own nephew Willoughby ( Ken Barry ) but it is Herbie who saves the day when the firehouse becomes the target of Hawk's wrecking ball.

This is the plot to Herbie Rides Again, the 1974 Walt Disney sequel to its smash hit, The Love Bug. Unlike most sequels, the principal characters do not return in this film and so a new story had to be written around its one and only returning star - Herbie. Gordon Buford and Bill Walsh teamed up to weave this plot which made the Victorian firehouse the focal point of the film. 

It is in The Love Bug that we first see Engine House No. 3 as the garage where Herbie, the living Volkswagen, is kept and repaired on. Tennessee Steinmetz ( Buddy Hackett ) lives above this converted garage and, when he is not repairing on cars, he practices Buddhist spiritual enlightenment which contributed to his belief in the life of inanimate objects. 

Living with Tennessee is his friend Jim Douglas, a down-in-his-luck racer who later finds success on the track with the help of Herbie. To fulfill a long held dream of driving foreign race cars, Douglas eventually leaves San Francisco to tour Europe as a circuit racer. Tennessee journeyed off to Tibet to further his studies in Oriental philosophy but not before leaving his beloved Herbie and the engine house to his aunt, Mrs. Steinmetz. 

In its glory days during the late 1800s the firehouse was an operating branch of the San Francisco Fire Department. During the 1940s this Victorian painted lady was home to one of the city's finest firefighters - Captain Steinmetz. It was also at Engine House No. 3 that the Captain wed his beloved, Mrs. Steinmetz. 

We can assume that later, when the firehouse is about to become abandoned, Captain Steinmetz buys the engine house for nostalgia and it eventually passes into Tennessee's hands. 

The kitchen & dining room
The engine house is a lovely Victorian stick design and it was situated in a thriving community until Alonzo Hawk bulldozed the neighboring buildings. Living with Mrs. Steinmetz in the engine house is Nicole, her displaced neighbor, and a collection of other living objects that Herbie befriended over the years. These include an orchestrion and Old No. 22, a retired trolley car. 

The open foyer
Walt Disney's resident art director, John B. Mansbridge, was put in charge of redesigning the interior of the engine house that he had designed six years earlier for the making of The Love Bug. With the help of legendary art director Walter H. Tyler, he created a simple and cheerfully bright interior suitable to a fire chief's widow. 

Light wood paneling is abundant in Mrs. Steinmetz's abode and the floor is covered in old bricks. The stalls which most likely originally stored a chemical wagon, and later a fire engine, remain intact and act as a partition between the dining room and the living area.

Nicole resides with Mrs. Steinmetz at the firehouse but we are not shown her bedroom, however a brief glimpse of Mrs. Steinmetz's upstairs bedroom is seen when she is giving advice to Nicole on how to fetch a man. Note the brass firepole....it's a good thing Mrs. Steinmetz doesn't walk in her sleep! 

Handling the set decoration is Hal Gausman who also had a prolific 19-year career at the Walt Disney Studios. The set decor is very similar to the Biddles' stable interior in The Happiest Millionaire ( 1967 ) but, oddly enough, that wasn't one of Gausman's projects. 

In reality, Victorian interiors were generally very dark and depressing, but the art directors and set decorators of the Walt Disney films always took these painted ladies and gave them a bright colorful tone. A bold psychedelic poster in the kitchen and a few crocheted oven-mits are about the only elements in Engine House No. 3 that date the interior from being designed in the 1970s. 

The next time you take a gander at Herbie Rides Again, be sure to not overlook the timeless design of this converted firehouse and all the charming details that Hal Gausman included. It will almost make you want to restore a Number 3 engine house yourself! 

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Quiz

Weeeeeeee! Here is one classy lady with a terrified look on her face. We know that you know who this woman is, but what we want to know is the movie she is playing in. If you can guess that then hats off to you too!! 

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


OCGal is the winner! 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Desert Song ( 1953 )

"Over the ground there comes a sound; It is the drum, drum, drum of hoofbeats in the sand. Quiver with fear if you are near; it is the thunder of The Shadow and his band!"

The song of the Red Shadow and his band of Riffs echoes throughout the shifting sands of the desert bringing hope to the afflicted nomads who are under the tyrannic rule of the evil Sheik Youssef. Who is the turbaned hero who leads this motley band of men to fight injustice? It is none other than Paul Bonnard, by day a mild-mannered anthropologist, by night The Red Shadow, a gallant desert freedom fighter. Unbeknownst to General Birabeau of the Foreign Legion, this rebel he seeks to apprehend is, in fact, his very own son! Poor papa is in for a big surprise when he finds out Junior leads a double life!

The Desert Song, loosely based upon the real-life exploits of El Hadj Aleman, was originally an operetta written by Laurence Schwab, Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II. The story was first captured on celluloid in 1929 with John Boles portraying the dashing avenger and beautiful Carlotta King as Margot, the French girl he comes to love. Sigmund Romberg's lovely music was not neglected in this early musical, for it was the first all-talking, all-singing operetta to be brought to the screen and was a rousing success for Warner Brothers studios.

In 1946, the studio pulled out The Desert Song from their buried box of scripts, dusted it off and revamped it as a contemporary action film about Nazis in French Morocco. The charming Dennis Morgan crooned Romberg's tunes in his inimitable Irish way, while Irene Manning chirped along in merry operetta fashion. Bruce Cabot, Lynne Overman, Gene Lockhart and Jack La Rue rounded out the cast in this lavish Technicolor production. 

El Khobar aka The Red Shadow donning his Clark Kent disguise

Less than ten years later, a bright someone at the studio suggested that the old warhorse be brought out to race once again before being put out to graze in the pastures of past stories, and so The Desert Song was re-scripted and the Technicolor film cameras rolled once again as they embarked on this third adaptation with Gordon MacRae portraying our heroic Robin Hood of Morocco. 

As the old saying goes, the third time is the charmer....but not so in this case. While Gordon MacRae acts his part with plenty of gusto and romantic verve and Raymond Massey does a splendidly hammy impression of the dastardly Sheik Youseff, Kathryn Grayson's performance is utterly wooden and one has the impression that she had no desire to make the film. Ann Blyth was sorely needed for this part. Dick Wesson attempted some comic relief while Ray Collins, Frank De Cordova, and Allyn McLerie kept their faces and their lines straight. 

Margot is unimpressed with her lover

The musical numbers ( which include "One Alone" and "The Desert Song" ) are lovely and the spirit of adventure is present but the script ( by Roland Kibbee ) fails to inspire and the Technicolor is unusually dark for a Warner Brothers production, but perhaps this fault lies not in the original production but in the Warner Archive transfer to DVD. 

The film reaped only $2,000,000 at the box-office upon release and The Desert Song was never seen or heard again at Warner Brothers. In spite of its inconsistencies the film is an entertaining desert-adventure escapade to watch upon occasion but overall is just a mirage of what it could have been.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Announcing The Luck of the Irish Blog o'thon : March 15-17th!

UPDATE: To view a complete list of participants check out the official blogathon post here. 

Top o' the morning film fans! Silver Scenes is proud to present The Luck of the Irish Blog o'thon...a wee little event to celebrate the joy and talent that the Irish have brought to the silver screen for many many years. 

You need not be Irish to participate in this ceilidh because on holy St. Patrick's Day we all be wearing a touch o' the green.....

THE DETAILS:  We not be specific - you can write about almost anything so long as it has a bit o' Irish in it, was filmed prior to 1975, and features no blessed word spoken against the little people. Will you be wanting to write about an Irish-made production? That'll be grand! Will ye be caring to write about an Irish-born actor? We tip our hats to ye! 

Movies that take place in Ireland are surely welcome and you most certainly can write about an American actor with an Irish heritage. We not be turning down any post on Cagney himself. And do not be forgetting the talented Irish men and women who worked behind the magic movie screen as well. 

If ye need some inspiration to get your heart a beatin', here be some suggestions :

Films: The Quiet Man, Return to Glennascaul, Captain Boycott, The Informer, Darby O'Gill and the Little People, Parnell, The Molly McGuires, Finian's Rainbow, Little Nellie Kelly, The Girl with Green Eyes, Odd Man Out, The Plough and the Stars, The Shame of Mary Boyle, Top O' the Morning, Gentlemen Jim, I See a Dark Stranger, Irish and Proud of It, Guns in the Heather, Barry Lyndon, Young Cassidy, The Fighting Prince of Donegal, Going My Way, This Other Eden, Shake Hands with the Devil, The Long Gray Line, The Sporting Irish, Peg O' My Heart, The Hills of Ireland, Wings of the Morning, Man of Aran, Mother Machree, The Rose of Kildare, My Wild Irish Rose, Daughter of Rosie O'Grady, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Leave it to the Irish, Gateway, The Story of Seabiscuit, Sally and Saint Anne, The Fighting O'Flynn. 


Personalities: John Ford, George Murphy, James Cagney, Peter O'Toole, Richard Harris, Maureen O'Hara, John Ford, Barry Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby ( what the hey! ), Dennis Morgan, Stephen Boyd, Arthur Shields, Pat O'Brien, Richard Todd, George Brent, Owen Moore, Charles B. Fitzsimmons, Roy William Neill, James Kilgannon, Sara Allgood, Rex Ingram, Patrick Delany, Una O'Connor, David S. Hall, Brian Donlevy, Niall MacGinnis, Rod Taylor, Alan Young.


DATE: The Luck of the Irish Blog o'thon runs from March 15th through St. Paddy's Day itself. Ready to join in the jig? Just drop your name, blog site, and the topic you be wanting to write about in the comment box below. 

DEADLINE : Entries will be accepted up until midnight on the 17th of March. If you denno get your entry in by that time, you'll be hearing the wailin' o' the banshee at your backdoor wondering why ye had forgotten her! 

'Tis no good hosting a blogathon without a followin' of fans to participate in it, so we be asking kindly that you post these pretty little Irish banners on those pretty little blogs of your own...with a link back if ye may : 

Thankee for reading this announcement and we hope to see you at the ceilildh! 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Many Charms of Robert Coote

"You would come. I didn't want to show it to you, but, oh, no, no, you just had to see it!" 

Mr. Coombes, who uttered these words in the beloved 1947 classic The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, was just one of many characters portrayed by English actor Robert Coote. Like most character actors, Robert Coote's face is more familiar than his name and a quick search online would reveal that even that name is nearly forgotten. However, a forgotten name does not represent a forgettable player. 

Coote was born on February 4, 1909 in London and grew up in the atmosphere of the theatre with his mother being a dancer and his father, Bert Coote, a popular music hall comedian. The younger Coote loved the stage as a boy and at the age of 16 left school to join a touring repertory company where, in 1925, he made his stage debut as a manservant in The Private Secretary.

Coote dabbled in various productions throughout the 1920s and, in 1931, landed his first uncredited movie role in Sally in Our Alley as a waiter. After only a few small parts in other films, Coote portrayed a leading role as a flight lieutenant in Rangle River, a Zane Grey adventure flick. This part led to him landing the ducky role of Wavertree, a student who tries his darnest to get booted from Oxford, in A Yank at Oxford ( 1938 ), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's inaugural Anglo-American production. While Robert Taylor's character was garnering all the attention from the young ladies in the audience, Coote's character provided the comic relief in the story and kept things light and jolly. This was just one of Coote's many charms, he was such an amiable chap. 

In 1939 he was cast as Higgenbotham in Gunga Din with Cary Grant. He also played small parts in two nurse-themed pictures - Nurse Edith Cavell and Vigil in the Night

Coote could very well have had a steady career as a supporting player in British and Hollywood productions had it not been for the outbreak of World War II. Like most actors, he put his career on hold while he went off to serve his country. Oddly enough, he did not sign up with Britain's fighting legions but went on to join the Royal Canadian Air Force. Between 1940-1946, Coote served as a squadron leader taking time off to act only in the interest of the RCAF. He portrayed himself in the 1942 documentary Commandos Strike at Dawn and in 1943 helped organize a RCAF stageshow, Blackouts of 1943. He must have been a good squadron leader as well. 

After the war, one of the first roles Coote portrayed was that of an Air Force pilot in the Powell and Pressburger classic Stairway to Heaven. This was one of many films that he played in with his good friend Sir David Niven. They would also team up on television twenty years later for The Rogues ( 1964-1965 ), for which Coote was nominated for an Emmy Award. 

Another one of Coote's charms was his comradery and almost all of his career was spent portraying friends to the hero of the story. This was the case in A Yank at Oxford, Stairway to Heaven, The Prisoner of Zenda, and in The Three Musketeers, where he played one of the loyal sword-yielding comrades: Aramis. You could always find an ally in one of Coote's characters. 

The late 1940s were busy years for the Brit and he landed parts in nine different film productions, including The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Forever Amber, and The Red Danube. The roles given to Robert Coote while he worked at Twentieth Century Fox were similar to those handed to Richard Haydn. These usually required a good dose of English pomposity or a touch of eccentricity and, like Haydn, he milked the most he could from these parts.

During the 1950s, Coote got to work alongside one of MGM's most popular leading men - Stewart Granger - in the swashbucklers Scaramouche and The Prisoner of Zenda. He also appeared for the first time on Broadway in The Love of Four Colonels and Dear Charles, receiving rave reviews for both comedic performances. 

Another charming feature of Coote's character was his aristocratic bearing. Upbringing means a lot to the British gentry and Robert had the bearing of a thoroughly well-bred Englishman. You would never find him portraying a beggar or a lowly sort of character. 

In 1956 he played his most famous role on Broadway, that of Colonel Pickering in the Lerner and Lowe production of My Fair Lady starring his friend Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews. This character embodied all of the charms that Robert Coote had become known for - affability, comradery, and gentility. Coote joined the cast on the national tour and appeared in the 1976 revival as well, but - like Andrews - did not reprise his role for the 1965 film adaption. Not surprisingly, he was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance as the Colonel.

Coote also originated the part of King Pellinore in the musical Camelot, appearing in 874 performances on Broadway in 1960 before trying his hand at a regular television series - The Rogues. Coote had welcomed with open arms the new medium of television during the early 1950s and, beginning with the Robert Montgomery Presents show, became a frequent player on televised dramatic plays and series ( including The Whitehall Worrier ) up until his last performance as a regular on the 1981 television series Nero Wolfe

Robert Coote died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 73. He had never married and lived the life of an ocean-hopper, splitting his time between his residence in London and at the New York Athletic Club. Although most film fans would agree that if this post was devoid of photos they would not even know how Coote looked like...trust us, after viewing his performances his many charms will become quite obvious.