Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Andy Griffith Show ( 1960-1968 )

It's nearly time for Me-TV to unroll their summer line-up of classic television shows and to kick up the excitement for the event the Classic TV Blog Association is once again hosting the Summer of Me-TV Blogathon. Since summer is just around the bend we thought we'd celebrate that season of sunshine, moonshine and county fairs with a nostalgic look at The Andy Griffith Show and the town-folk of Mayberry. What other show captured the lazy carefree days of summer as well as The Andy Griffith Show?

The series revolved around small-town sheriff Andy Taylor, a widower, who divides his time between raising his young son Opie, and settling the problems that arise within Mayberry, a sleepy North Carolina town filled with colorful residents. Most of these problems are comedic escapades created by his hyperactive deputy Barney Fife. Andy and Opie live with Andy's Aunt Bee, who acts as a surrogate mother to the boys serving up portions of pork chops and homemade apple pie to lift their spirits when needed. 

The Andy Griffith Show was introduced as a spin-off from The Danny Thomas Show in 1960 and was such a hit with audiences that it lasted for eight seasons, always remaining on the top ten charts and winning six Emmy awards. 

Today, the show is considered to be one of the most beloved situation comedies in television history. Its down-home humor and endearing cast of characters draws the audience into each episode making us long to be fellow citizens of Mayberry. Majority of its viewers were weened upon the show and simply whistling the familiar theme-song conjures up fond memories of childhood. Even upon the series debut it had a nostalgic feel that hearkened viewers back to the easier, gentler times of the past. Griffith once said that although the series was set in the 1960s, they aimed to capture the feeling of small-town America in the 1930s. Capture it they did, for The Andy Griffith Show is 100% pure Americana bottled up on film. 

Sheldon Leonard, who helped create the series along with Danny Thomas and Andy Griffith, was the executive producer of the show for its entire 249 episode run. All of these episodes were filmed at the Desilu Studios with the exterior shots of Mayberry being filmed at a backlot in Culver City. Producer David O. Selznick owned this land at one time and Mayberry was in fact the streets of "Atlanta" that were built for Gone with the Wind ( 1939 ). The opening scenes of Andy and Opie walking to the fishing hole ( and all of the Myers Lake sequences ) were filmed at the beautiful wooded Franklin Canyon Park, north of Beverly Hills. 

Incidentally, the voice you hear on the opening credits announcing the show is Colin Male, a little-known actor who did occasional work as a voice-over artist. As for the music, "The Fishin' Hole" theme song was composed by Earle Hagen and Herbert Spencer, who also penned most of the music for the series, including "The Mayberry March" heard in the background in most episodes in different tempos and orchestrations.

Writer Aaron Ruben, who served as producer during the shows first five seasons, was also script consultant. He had a large hand in creating the overall feel of the series and keeping the episodes united throughout each season, for over the course of the series there were as many as thirty screenwriters. Some of the best episodes from the series were penned by Everett Greenbaum, a talented screenwriter who got his start writing episodes of Mister Peepers ( 1953 ) and The Real McCoys ( 1958 ). He also wrote the screenplay to that marvelous comedy Good Neighbor Sam ( 1964 ) starring Jack Lemmon.

Unlike some series at the time, The Andy Griffith Show never underwent drastic cast changes and even with the addition of new members to the series the show remained as fresh as its first season. When familiar characters left, new ones replaced them and these new faces were welcomed with open arms in Mayberry. The earlier episodes featured Ellie the druggist, portrayed by Father Knows Best regular Elinor Donahue; Nurse Peggy, a steady date for Andy; and Floyd the Barber. These characters were replaced by Gomer the mechanic, who made his debut in season three, and Helen Crump as Andy's new girlfriend. When Gomer left to join the Marines, he passed the monkey wrench to his cousin Goober, and later, when the show switched to color in 1966, Howard the clerk came to town and became a favorite visitor at the Taylor residence.

Sheriff Andy Taylor - Andy Griffith ( 1926 -2012 )

Andy Griffith graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in music which he used to teach music and drama to high-school students in Greensboro for several years. After his monologue "What it Was, Was Football" made it to the record charts in 1954, Griffith landed a role in an episode of The United States Steel Hour entitled "No Time for Sergeants", where he made a hit as country bumpkin Will Stockdale. This teleplay was expanded into a Broadway play for which Griffith was nominated for a Tony Award. A year after Griffith's film debut in A Face in the Crowd ( 1957 ), he reprised his role as Stockdale for the film version of No Time for Sergeants, which also featured Don Knotts. 

When the concept of The Andy Griffith Show was developed by Leonard, Thomas, and Griffith, it was decided that he should reprise this character once again, making him just a little more polished to suit his role as a father and sheriff. To gauge audience response to the new series before it was launched, the producers presented a pilot episode on The Danny Thomas Show ( Ep.20 S7 - Danny Meets Andy Griffith - Feb. 15, 1960 ) where Danny has an encounter with the town sheriff while travelling with his family. It was very well received with fans writing in to ask for more episodes featuring Andy. 

Throughout the first season of The Andy Griffith Show, Andy portrayed the sheriff in a delightful carefree manner with him and Barney being a team of simpletons, much like the relationship between the Skipper and Gilligan on Gilligans Island. Visitors to Mayberry would always be amazed at how Andy could handle difficulties in such an effective and yet simple country manner. Andy gradually abandoned the "rustic Taylor" and developed the character into a patient, thoughtful and more serious man after he realized that the episodes would be funnier if he would play the straight-man to Barney and the comical characters around him. As producer Aaron Ruben recalled "in the next season he changed, becoming this Lincolnesque character". Apt words to describe the new Andy Taylor, who was now not only sheriff in town but an arbitrator to all the domestic squabbles in Mayberry. Opie turned to his pa for guidance, Barney for the final word on how to handle prisoners, and Aunt Bee for advice on her romances. It is no wonder Andy had to escape to Myers Lake upon occasion to clear his head!

While The Andy Griffith Show was still in the top ten ratings, Griffith decided to nip it in the bud and leave the series, primarily to avoid being typecast as a southern sheriff and, in the 1970s, starred in several unsuccessful television series ( including The New Andy Griffith Show also penned by Greenbaum and Ruben ) before landing the plumb role of country lawyer Ben Matlock in Matlock ( 1986-1995 ). 

Mayberry Citizens

Deputy Barney Fife - Don Knotts ( 1924 - 2006 )

"You know Barn, you beat all!" Andy was certainly right. Barney had to be the most bumbling deputy to ever wear a badge. In spite of his inept handling of criminals, he was dedicated to his duties as a deputy keeping his lone bullet sparkling clean ("Barney has the prettiest bullet in town" Asa once claimed ), his shoes polished ( especially on the back side - "that's the last people remember of you" ), memorizing the sheriff's code book and practicing the art of self-defense, making his whole body a weapon. Barney fancied himself an expert on firearms, women, child-rearing, the paranormal, and any other topic in life. He also believed he had all the answers to life's little problems and was always ready, willing, and able to pry into other's affairs to give them a helping hand, even when his "help" isn't wanted. It's a testimony to Knotts comedic ability to create a character so blundering, egotistical, gossipy and boastful, and yet make him such a beloved character, not only to television fans but to the citizens of Mayberry itself. 

Don Knotts got his start in comedy-television in the mid-1950s appearing as a member of a trio with Louis Nye and Tom Poston on The Steve Allen Show. It was Knotts who proposed to Griffith, during the developmental stage of The Andy Griffith Show, that the show needed a deputy character and Barney Fife made his first appearance on the second episode, where he was introduced as Andy's cousin, remaining in a supporting-star role until the end of season five when Barney moved to Raleigh to become a private eye. Knotts went on to pursue a career in film, making several great comedies in the mid-1960s for Universal Pictures including The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, The Reluctant Astronaut, and The Shakiest Gun in the West. Occasionally Don Knotts returned to the Griffith set for guest appearances as Barney, notably in the final season ( Ep. 21 ), where he hosts a summit meeting for Russian diplomats. Knotts most recent film appearance was in Pleasantville, where he portrayed a mysterious television repairman. For his work on The Andy Griffith Show, Knotts' received five Emmy awards. 

Aunt Bee - Frances Bavier ( 1902-1989 )

Almost everyone can associate with having a beloved Aunt Bee in their family. In our household, Aunt Bee was the spitting image of our Oma, our grandmother. It is this recognition everyone has of familiar mother-members that makes her such a welcoming presence on the show. Frances Bavier began her acting career in the mid-1920s after graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She performed in many notable plays of the 1930s and 1940s ( "On Borrowed Time", "Point of No Return" ) in a variety of different roles. Once she began acting on television, however, she found herself typecast as frontier women, mothers and aunts ( she was Arden's mother on The Eve Arden Show ). 

Bavier made her first appearance with Andy Griffith in the Make Room for Daddy episode that launched the series, originally playing a character named Henrietta Perkins. Throughout The Andy Griffith Show's run, Bavier had a love-hate relationship with the character and many of the crew recall her being difficult to work with. She may have felt that her dramatic talents were being overlooked, even though in the later seasons the character of Aunt Bee was given more script-coverage. However, she was the only principal actor to remain with the series when it spun off as Mayberry R.F.D, so she must have enjoyed it to some extent.

Eventually she escaped from the bustle of Hollywood to seek a real Mayberry and moved to the small town of Siler City, North Carolina, where she received respite for a time, until fans sought her out even there. In her last days, she became a recluse, driving her favorite 1966 green Studebaker Daytona sedan to Byrd's grocery store and living with her fourteen cats. 

Opie Taylor - Ron Howard ( b. 1954 ) 

Opie's mother died when the boy was the "least little speck of a baby" and so he grew up under the care of Rose the housekeeper and, later, Aunt Bee. Opie idolized his pa and often visited the courthouse after school. Opie never doubted that his father was the best sheriff in America, but Andy sometimes misjudged Opie and the reasons behind some of his ( seemingly ) irresponsible acts, not realizing what a prize young'n he had raised. Ron Howard's father Rance was an actor and at the tender age of 3, little Ronnie made his first first film appearance ( The Journey ), later guest starring in television shows such as The Twilight Zone and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. While he was working on The Andy Griffith Show, Ron also appeared in films, notably The Music Man ( 1962 ) and The Courtship of Eddie's Father ( 1963 ). After the series ended, Howard didn't have to wait long before he landed another role in a regular series - The Happy Days ( 1974-84 ). Today, he is best known for his work behind the camera with A Beautiful Mind, The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons among his directorial credits. 

Thelma Lou and Helen Crump - Betty Lynn ( b. 1926 ) and Anita Corsaut ( 1933 -1995 ) 

Thelma Lou made her first appearance in season one of The Andy Griffith Show, appearing in Cyrano Andy. Later, with Helen's arrival, the two gals often double-dated with Andy and Barney and were the best of friends. Helen hailed from Kansas and arrived in Mayberry as Opie's new schoolteacher in the third season episode Andy Discovers America.  She is an independent self-reliant career woman who doesn't know a thing about cooking, but loves children and is always ready to lend a sympathetic ear to Andy's problems. Corsaut made numerous television appearances on television shows such as The Detective, Death Valley Days, and Bonanza before she landed the part of Helen. Corsaut continued to guest star in various television programs until she was later reunited with Andy Griffith on Matlock, appearing as Judge Justin for seven episodes. 

Betty Lynn was a popular actress at 20th Century Fox during the late 1940s, often in roles as teenage ingenues. She appeared in such classics as June Bride, Mother is a Freshman and Cheaper by the Dozen. In the early 1950s, she made the switch to television appearing as a regular on Ray Bolger's original series Where's Raymond? and doing the usual round of western guest appearances just like Corsaut before she got the part of Thelma Lou. Today, Thelma Lou makes monthly appearances at the Andy Griffith museum signing autographs for fans. 

The Townspeople - 

What made Mayberry such an idyllic town was its people. This broad range of southern folk included retirees, myriads of children, a handful of eligible bachelors and bachelorettes, some moonshiners, church ladies, eccentrics, bums, and a large number of hard-working average American citizens. Oddly enough, very few of your typical sitcom quad families ( father, mother, daughter, and son ) lived in Mayberry. Some of our favorite regulars include Gomer Pyle, who keeps busy as the mechanic at Wally's filling station when he isn't being sworn in by Barney as an assistant deputy; Floyd the Barber ( Howard McNear ) who is quite liberal with the witch-hazel and talcum powder, and Goober, Gomer's cousin. He does a mean imitation of Edward G. Robinson. 

Among the womenfolk there is Clara, Aunt Bee's gossiping friend who once walked crooked after spraining her back lifting the kitchen refrigerator; Ellie Walker ( Elinor Donahue ), the original lady druggist who sadly left Mayberry after only one season; Nurse Peggy ( Joanna Cook Moore ), a sweet-talkin' blonde who caught Andy's fancy until Helen arrived in town, and our favorite county nurse, the lovely Mary Simpson ( Julie Adams ) who was featured in only one episode. Then of course there were the Darlings, the singin'ist bunch of hillbillies you ever did see; little Leon ( Clint Howard ), offering peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches to every passerby he sees; Howard Sprague ( Jack Dodson )....good ol' Howie, he never could let go of his mother's apron-strings; Emmett Clark ( Paul Hartman ), the fix-it man, and Otis Campbell ( Hal Smith ), the town drunk, who was always sober enough to lock himself in jail for the night. 

"They're Goooood"

Since General Foods was the sponsor for The Andy Griffith Show throughout its run, the principal characters were often featured in the commercials for its products, such as Sanka coffee ( "The coffee for folks who love good coffee...outstandingly good coffee!" ), Post Toasties cereal, and Jello pudding ( "for that extra creamy taste" ). These sponsor spots were as amusing as the episodes themselves and when Andy Griffith concluded these promotional plugs with a hearty declaration of "Goooood!", it made you want to run to the corner drugstore and pick up a box of vanilla pudding. That's mighty potent endorsing, by golly. 

Spin-offs & Reunions

Gomer Pyle was such a popular character in the series that Sheldon Leonard and Aaron Ruben concluded that he deserved a spin-off series of his very own and, inspired by No Time for Sergeants, it was decided that his character would join the Marine Corps. Gomer Pyle USMC aired on September 25, 1964 and Sergeant Carter continued to yell at him for five seasons with the show becoming one of the top rated comedies of the era. Even though Gomer's character wasn't quite the same, the series often overlapped with Gomer visiting Mayberry and Andy, Aunt Bee and Opie visiting Gomer at the barracks. 

In the final season of The Andy Griffith Show, Ken Berry had a recurring role as farmer Sam Jones and he too, wound up with his own spin-off, this time as the new Mayberry sheriff. Frances Bavier joined the cast for Mayberry RFD too which lasted for three seasons, ending in 1971. 

Top 5 Favorite Episodes

Most Andy Griffith fans do not list favorite episodes, rather they pick favorite seasons since there were far too many excellent episodes to choose from. My favorite seasons are the first, third and fifth. However, if it came to doing desert-island picks these would be the episodes I could watch again and again : 

Alcohol and Old Lace ( Season 1, Episode 17 )

Opie comes home talking about a "flower making machine" owned by sisters Clarabelle and Jennifer Morrison, the spinsters who run the local flower shop. Andy and Barney do a little investigating - and discover the contraption is actually a still and the kindly sisters are in the moonshine business! 

In this episode Andy is in his old lovable bumpkin characterization with Barney playing the straight-man. It's a clever spin on Arsenic and Old Lace with two sweet little old ladies running a moonshine business unaware that it is illegal since they only sell "elixir" for special Mohammad's birthday and the Landing of Sir Walter Raleigh Day. 

The Bank Job ( Season 3, Episode 13 )

Barney becomes convinced the Mayberry bank is ripe for a robbery and tries to prove his point by staging a fake one. When he discovers a weak spot in the security system, he unknowingly relays this information to a couple of actual robbers.

Barney is all hyped up about the complete disregard Mayberry's business owners have for security precautions and, in his usual inimitable manner, tries to awaken everyone in town to this problem. However, most of the citizens saw Glenn Ford in G-Men, the latest film showing at the local theatre, and they think that Barney is just playing cops and robbers. This running gag, along with Knotts going in drag as a cleaning woman, makes this one of the funniest episodes of the third season. 

The Class Reunion ( Season 3, Episode 19  )

Andy and Barney reminisce about old flames and decide to throw a class reunion. When the big night finally comes, they both find they have a lot to learn about how much things have - and have not - changed. 

The Andy Griffith Show never preached to its viewers but each episode had a subtle moral in it. This one focuses on what people want in life. When Andy's high-school sweetheart returns to town for the class reunion sparks fly between them once again, until they realize that they have different perceptions on what they want in life and must part once again. 

Barney's First Car  ( Season 3, Episode 27 )

Barney learns that the car he's spent his life savings on is a lemon, and the little old lady he bought it from may have put one over on him. When Barney and Andy set out to return the car and arrest her, however, they find the hardest part may be just getting to her hideout.

This is undoubtedly one of the best Andy Griffith episodes created. Barney's expression is priceless when he, Thelma Lou, Aunt Bee, Opie, and Gomer hop into the newly purchased car for the first test run and Barney discovers he has been duped. When the car then breaks down on the road, even Aunt Bee and Opie have to help push it back to Mayberry. 

A Date for Gomer ( Season 4, Episode 9 ) 

Thelma Lou's bachelorette cousin is coming to Mayberry for the town dance and Barney decides to set her up with Gomer. On the big night, they all meet up at Thelma Lou's and everything seems to be going great, until Gomer suddenly disappears.

Gomer is just classic in this episode. He is a character all the way and in his efforts to make a good impression on his blind date goes out and spends over $10 buying a purple necktie ( with acorns on it ), yellow socks and brass-buckled shoes . Mary Grace Canfield, who portrayed cousin Mary Grace in the episode was often called upon to play homely roles such as these and it is a wonder that she didn't take all the ugly remarks personally. 

Runner-Up Favorites : The Pickle Story, The County Nurse, Man in a Hurry, Fun Girls, Haunted House, and Convicts-at-Large. 

Be sure to check out the other fantastic posts on your favorite television classics over at the Classic TV Blog Association . Also, don't miss out on Me-TV's Summer Schedule. Episode summaries used for this post were courtesy of the Paramount DVD set descriptions. As Andy would say, "Thank you for reading this post, I appreciate it and good night!"

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Third Man on the Mountain ( 1959 )

In the late 1950s, Walt Disney took a vacation to Zermatt, Switzerland and, upon his return home to the States, was inspired to produce a film that was as entertaining as the summer holiday he had taken. So, with his usual infallible skill in selecting personnel, Disney rounded up a crackerjack team of individuals to create an exciting adventure based upon the popular 1954 novel "Banner in the Sky" by James Ramsey Ullman. What resulted was Third Man on the Mountain, a film that captures all the majestic beauty of the Swiss Alps and the intrepid spirit of the mountaineers during the golden age of Alpining.

James MacArthur excels in the part of Rudi Matt, a young boy working as a dishwasher at an inn while yearning to become a mountain guide like his late father, who perished in a fall while attempting to climb the impregnable Citadel ( now known as the Matterhorn ). His mother and his uncle, still shaken from the death of his father, have forbidden him to do any climbing and attempt to quench his desire to conquer the mountain. But encouraging Rudi to pursue this dream are his friends Lizbeth ( Janet Munro ) and Teo ( Laurence Naismith ), the cook at the inn who helps him train for the climbs he attempts in secret. 

On one of his secret treks up the Alps, he discovers and saves the life of Captain Winter ( Michael Rennie ) an illustrious mountaineer who had fallen in a crevasse. Winter perceives the natural climbing ability of Rudi and invites him to become a bearer on his climb to examine a route to the pinnacle of the mountain. Rudi's foolhardy daring endangers the lives of the other climbers on this trip and it is then that Rudi learns what it means to be a true guide, just as his father was. These lessons serve him well when he is given a second chance and journeys once more with climbers Winter and Saxo ( Herbert Lom ) becoming the third man on the mountain. 

"It has the sort of high altitude thrills to send the viewer cowering deep in his seat and the sort of moving drama to put him on the edge of it". Variety magazine pegged the excitement of Third Man on the Mountain perfectly with their review of the film when it was released in theatres in November 1959. 

Most public schools had "Banner in the Sky" on the required reading list for its lessons of unselfishness, patience and perseverance....all lessons which Rudi had to learn himself. Screenwriter Eleanore Griffon kept all of these themes intact for the film and encompassed them in a thrilling adventure that entertains jung und alt alike. 

Third Man on the Mountain took three months to film with director Ken Annakin and the cast and crew doing extensive location shooting in the Zermatt area. MacArthur, Rennie, Lom and other cast members trained for several weeks with mountain guides to get the knack of climbing steep precipices. MacArthur recalled climbing up to 11,500 feet and, fortunately, the cast suffered no injuries. The only accident occurred when they returned to England to commence studio shots and MacArthur fell off an artificial rock.

While on location, actress Helen Hayes ( MacArthur's mother ) and Joyce, his girlfriend, visited the set and Annakin lured them into dressing up for guest appearances as mother/daughter tourists. Another bit of interesting trivia : Switzerland enraptured Walt Disney so much during the making of the film that it inspired him to add a new attraction to Disneyland - the Matterhorn. 

Third Man on the Mountain is filled with just the right mixture of drama, humor, and nail-biting tension. It captures the amazing hardiness and daring-do of the 19th century climbers who risked their lives to conquer mountains such as the Matterhorn using only their raw hands and strands of rope and the grandeur of the scenery transports the audience right to the Alpine mountains along with the climbers. These elements, along with a top-notch cast, combine to make it one of the best live-action films to ever come out of Walt Disney Studios, a film that yodel-want-to-see again and again! 

Friday, May 22, 2015

William Holden - Golden Boy

We got archaeological fever here at Silver Scenes! For our newest post series we will be digging up buried treasures from the tattered remains of movie magazines of yor and sharing these treasures with our readers. Movie magazines of the 1920s-1960s were filled with glamour photos and juicy tidbits on all of the major ( and minor ) screen stars of the day. In addition to film reviews and articles about the love lives of these public figures, the magazines also featured crossword puzzles, trivia games, gossip columns, and the ever-present mailbag.

Some of the articles we will be sharing will be in PDF format so you can save them for future reading or print them out to keep, while others we will put the scissors to and clip only portions that will pertain to a certain theme. If there are any film titles or stars that you would love to read articles on or see a picture-collage of, just let us know and we'll bring out our buried treasure map and start hunting them out for you! 

For starters, we unearthed these articles from a November 1939 issue of Modern Screen Magazine on William Holden's appearance in Golden Boy. Film fans today consider William Holden to be one of the great stars of the silver screen, but put yourself in the shoes of a theatre-goer in 1939. One of the most anticipated and hyped films of the year is Golden Boy, a story of a violinist turned boxer. Columbia Pictures passes over John Garfield in a glove-fit part to cast a newcomer, a fresh-looking lad with curly brown hair to star in their greatest film of 1939 - would this be a one-hit wonder for the actor or would he go on to greatness? Of course, we know the future... Golden Boy generated the birth of a star. Critics and audiences praised Holden's first appearance with Modern Screen Magazine's staff critic Lois Svensrud remarking : 
His acting has strength and sincerity, and the versatility shown in his characterization of the boy, who is torn between a love of music and the desire for fame and fortune, should mark Bill Holden as the "find" of the year.

The same issue also posted this quickie biography to highlight the new talent that was sure to become a star in the coming decade : 

Yesterday he was a college student, and today he is a star. To go back some, Bill was born in O'Fallen Ill., on April 17th, 1918 of non-professional parents. His family moved to California when Bill was a small child. Here the boy attended public and high schools with a dramatic career in view. Upon graduation from high school, Bill registered at the Pasadena Junior College where he studied dramatics and various other courses carrying off nearly all the honors in his class.   
While attending college, he became interested in the Pasadena Community Playhouse and appeared in several amateur plays. At school he received an assignment as the senior Curie in a play called "Manya". This production was quite successful and so three of the "Manya" playesr were asked to take screentests. Holden was one of the three.  About this time, Director Mamoulian was searching for the "Golden Boy" for his picture of the year and, while going through thousands of screen tests, came across Holden's. He immediately sent for him, gave him another test and the contract soon followed. Strangely enough, Bill knew of the year-long quest for the "Golden Boy" but, modest as he was, he felt he couldn't make the grade. 
Surprisingly, William can both play the violin and box — a hoped-for qualification for the "Golden Boy" role. He resides in California with his parents and two younger brothers. He is six feet tall, weighs one hundred and sixty-five pounds, and has brown hair and blue eyes. His favorite dish is anything his mother cooks, and his most prized possession is a clipping from a college paper with his picture and a little story about him as being in line for a great future as an athlete. Address him at Columbia Studios, Hollywood, Cal. 

Audiences too were in a whirl over Hollywood's new "Golden Boy", as this one fan proclaimed :
"When I walked out of the theatre after seeing "Golden Boy" my mind was in such a crazy whirl that I scarcely knew what was going on about me. The reason - William Holden. Without ever having appeared in films, this boy co-starred with screen-wise Barbara Stanwyck and such ace veterans as Adolph Menjou and Joseph Calleia and rendered one of the most brilliant performances I have ever seen. The talent scouts and directors who have been looking for new faces and new talent have really done themselves justice by giving the movie fans this natural, dynamic personality, Bill Holden. He's the 1939 Wonder Boy. With looks that would make any heart stand still and acting ability that holds you spellbound, Bill Holden has leapt to the top rung of the ladder of success. "

Movie Magazine Articles, our newest series, will feature articles like these reprinted for our reader's entertainment. Links to the original sources are available within the body of the text. In the future, simply search "Movie Magazine Articles" to find more posts in this series or click on the tag below. Enjoy! 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Nugget Reviews - 17

A Yank at Eton ( 1942 ) 14k

An American student is sent to live in England and tries to adjust to cricket, rugby, tight collars, and all things Eton. Mickey Rooney, Freddie Bartholomew, Ian Hunter, Edmund Gwenn. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. Directed by Norman Taurog.

A Yank at Oxford, MGM's first production filmed at Metro's newly built studio in Britain in 1938, was such a smash hit on both sides of the pond that Mayer decided to duplicate it with another one of the studio's biggest actors, Mickey Rooney, in the lead. This time, the cocky American is on his way to Eton, England's famed preparatory school for boys. Just like the original, the screenwriters managed to pen an entertaining story about the conflicting attitudes of Americans and Brits without showing favoritism to any one nationality. What ho!

Half-Angel ( 1951 ) 14k

A certain nurse is a demure woman by day with a hatred for a particular childhood friend. By night, she turns into a vixen with a yen for this same friend.  Loretta Young, Joseph Cotten, Cecil Kellaway, 20th Century Fox Pictures. Directed by Richard Sale. 

Loretta Young is delightful in this silly but highly entertaining comedy about a nurse with a bad case of sleepwalking. It seems her repressed love for a soon-to-be Congressman causes her to declare her love for him in her sleep, only she isn't really sleeping, it is just her second personality coming out at night. Young and Cotten are in top-form but the film should have been a bit longer than its 77-minute run time for its tacked-on ending came much too quickly and made the whole story seem very improbable ( which it is ).


The More the Merrier ( 1943 ) 18k

To help relieve the housing shortage in Washington D.C, a young woman rents her single apartment to an old bachelor who in turn sublets his half to a young bachelor with the intention of match-making the two chickadees. Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, Charles Coburn, Richard Gaines. Columbia Pictures. Directed by George Stevens. 

The More the Merrier is one of George Stevens' most famous comedies, and justly so, for it is a gem of a great film and you'll have a hard time containing your laughter during the first half-hour. After that, however, things start getting a little zany and the humor becomes less-visual and more verbal, which - in the opinion of this fan - isn't quite as entertaining as pie-in-the-face comedy. Jean Arthur gets top-billing, but it is jiggle-jowled Charles Coburn who steals all the scenes in his role of Mr. Dingle. Cary Grant came no where near imitating Coburn's natural comedic talent when he took on the role of the aged cupid in the 1966 remake, Walk Don't Run. 

Take Care of My Little Girl ( 1951 ) Elct.

A college freshman gets disillusioned with sorority life at her mother's Alma Mater. Jeanne Crain, Dale Robertson, Jeffrey Hunter, Jean Peters, Mitzi Gaynor, Betty Lynn. Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by Jean Negulesco.

Jeanne Crain made a slew of light-hearted dramas in the late 1940s and 1950s, none of which were above average in terms of production quality ( with the exception of A Letter to Three Wives ) but most of them serving above-average entertainment. This particular film failed to follow suit. The film features beautiful color photography, some handsome looking fellows, and a motley assortment of top-notch actors and character players, but the plot ( based on a book ) left more to be desired. The screenwriters - the Epstein brothers no less! - should have mimicked A Letter to Three Wives and tossed in a good dose of humor in between all the dramatics. Keep your eye out for a young Mitzi Gaynor as a brunette.

Romance of the Limberlost ( 1938 )  14k 

An innocent young girl who is living in bondage under her aunt in the swamplands, dreams of escaping to town and educating herself. Jean Parker, Eric Linden, Marjorie Main. Monogram Pictures. Directed by William Nigh.

Jean Parker was such a lovely actress and I really can't picture anyone else portraying an Anne Shirley part like this than her. "Laurie", the girl of the Limberlost, is your typical novel heroine, a sweet young thing who did no harm to anyone but finds her life full of oppression and people wanting to do her harm. Gene Stratton Porter penned the popular novel which this film was based on in 1905. Many of Porter's other books ( such as Laddie ) were turned into films by Monogram and other low-budget studios, but this one stands out for its innocence. If you are looking for a good story served up in old country fashion then look no farther than the Limberlost.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Alice Adams ( 1935 )

Margaret Perry is hosting The Great Katharine Hepburn Blogathon for the second year in a row and for our participation in the event we chose to write about one of Hepburn's greatest and most overlooked films - Alice Adams ( 1935 ). 

Katharine Hepburn had made a successful start of her Hollywood career in the early 1930s with a string of fine pictures including Morning Glory and Little Women. However, several misfires ( The Little Minister, Break of Hearts ) put her star-status in danger. RKO was eager to have her regain her popularity with the public and so, to accomplish this, Hepburn and producer Pandro S. Berman decided her next part should be the titular role in the film adaptation of Booth Tarkington's 1922 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, "Alice Adams". 

In his novel, Tarkington had penned a satiric and shrewd observation of the claustrophobia and class distinction prevalent in small town America shortly after World War I. Alice Adams is an optimistic wisp of a girl who strives to rise above her commonplace existence by putting on the airs of a socialite, hoping to be accepted by her upper-class peers. However, her pitiful attempts at climbing the social ladder only lead to her being sneered at and shunned by her classmates. 

Alice is a resourceful girl and, much like another literary character, Anne Shirley, she strives to create a realm of beauty in the most crude setting. At the beginning of the film we see Alice eagerly awaiting the night of the Palmer's ball, the most elite social dance of the year. With her two-year old dress and a corsage of wilted violets, Alice attends the dance with her brother as escort. While there, she puts on a brave face while being ignored by everyone at the party. Never was there a lovelier, more quietly desperate wallflower than Hepburn's Alice. 

Upon leaving the dance however, Alice meets her Prince Charming, the handsome and very wealthy Arthur Russell ( Fred MacMurray ). He quickly sees through Alice's facade and, unbeknownst to her, comes to love the sensitive girl hiding within. But Alice, in her eagerness to hide her social status, papers over their growing love with lies. Later, while her family is on the brink of disaster, Alice strives to keep Arthur's interest and keep up the illusion she fancies she created. 

Katharine Hepburn gave a marvelous performance of Alice, bringing out all the charm and pathos of the character. Like most people, Alice's personality changes when she in among people outside of her family and it is a testament to Hepburn's skill as an actress to portray two unique sides of one character. When Alice is with Russell she becomes overwrought, expressing her feelings through nervous chatter. At home, especially when she is alone with her father, she displays a beautiful soul and a heart filled with great compassion. 

"You know, the other day when you walked home with me, I got to wondering what I wanted you to think of me in case I should ever happen to see you again"

"And what did you decide?"

"I decided I should probably never dare to be just myself with you. Not if I cared to have you want to see my again. And yet here I am, just being myself after all".  

- Alice, to Arthur, not truly being "herself" at all

Fred MacMurray is wonderful as the amiable young Russell. Unlike Alice, he cares little about social status. His feelings for Alice are sincere but he worries over the rumors in town being spread about the integrity of Alice's father.

Fred Stone, a very popular musical theatre actor and circus performer, took on his first feature-length talking role as Alice's father, Virgil. He gives a very compassionate performance as an ill man badgered by his family.

Rounding out the fine cast is Ann Shoemaker as Alice's ambitious mother, Frank Albertson as brother Walter, Evelyn Venable as the stately Mildred, Hattie McDaniel as the impertinent maid-for-hire, and Charley Grapewin as Virgil's boss, Mr. Lynn. 

Alice Adams is also notable for being the first dramatic film directed by George Stevens. The work he did on this picture propelled him to new heights as a director. Hepburn initially wanted William Wyler to take the helm, but at the insistence of Pandro S. Berman, and on the basis of Steven's knowledge of the book, she was willing to give him a try. As filming progressed, she found Stevens to be "a really brilliant director" and he went on to direct her in two other pictures - Quality Street ( 1937 ) and Woman of the Year ( 1948 ).

Alice Adams is a lovely genteel film filled with a delicate blend of humorous and heart-wrenching scenes. Stevens, and the entire cast, managed to create a film with just the right mixture of highly amusing comedy and captivating social drama. Strains of a beautiful violin melody by Max Steiner underscore the emotional moments adding just the right amount of whimsical romance to the picture. 

Critics praised Alice Adams upon its initial release with the New York Times calling the film "an oddly exciting blend of tenderness, comedy, and realistic despair". Since the picture was released in the midst of the Depression, the ending of Alice Adams was changed from the original Tarkington novel, which was much more downbeat. The optimistic ending altered the tone of the whole film and it became a huge favorite with audiences and helped put Hepburn back on top at the box office. The film was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards and Katharine Hepburn received her second nomination for Best Actress for her heartfelt portrayal. Bette Davis, who won the Award for her role of Mildred in Of Human Bondage, often claimed that Hepburn was the one who deserved to win that year. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Do You Know What They Wanted?

Yes, they certainly knew what they wanted, and if you can't tell what they wanted from this picture then you'll just have to see They Knew What They Wanted ( 1940 ) to find out what they wanted, for we certainly don't know what they wanted. However, we would want whatever Carole Lombard and a 'stashed Charles Laughton had for lunch. Sure looks tasty!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Return to Glennascaul ( 1953 )

"You will come back!"

In Ireland in 1953, while on a financially-enforced recess from filming Othello, Orson Welles portrayed himself in a short, but effective, little ghost story entitled Return to Glennascaul. This two-reeler was inspired by the haunted land of Ireland itself, "haunted I say, because there is no land so overcrowded with the raw material of tall tales. That's what this is then, a tall tale". It was directed by Welles' long-time friend and collaborator Hilton Edwards, founder of the Gates Theatre in Dublin, where Welles began his acting career. 

The film begins with Orson driving along a secluded country road, a road lined with the bare trees of autumn. Rain is pouring down heavy and the night is pitch as black. In the distance up ahead he sees a man in a trench coat tinkering with the motor of his car. Welles pulls up and asks if he would like a ride. Once inside the car the stranger offers Orson a cigarette and Orson comments on how beautiful his cigarette case is. The stranger remarks, "Yes, isn't it a matter of fact I had quite a strange experience at that exact part of the road where you picked me up tonight". 

Since this is a short film, Welles doesn't linger on the man's narrative very long, instead interrupting him to tell us, the audience, the story as he heard it. It is Welles' narration throughout the film that makes this simple story so appealing because his off-handed way of telling it makes us feel as though we were the sole recipients of his tale at a casual dinner party. 

It seems this man was in the same situation as Welles - he was driving down that very same road one stormy night and saw two women standing beneath the signpost, a mother and her grown daughter. He asked if they would like a ride and they told him where they lived, it being a little ways further on, near Dublin. The man gladly took them there and they invited him inside for tea, to thank him for his trouble. The house was a large manor set back from the main road. In glass, above the entryway, were the words "Glennascaul". In Ireland, most houses are named and this one bore the name Glennascaul, meaning Glen of the Shadows. 

It was not until the stranger was seated and having tea with them that he realized how peculiar they were dressed, as though they were from a different era. The house also seemed old-fashioned, especially since the pair were using gas lamps to light the room. While having tea, the daughter took interest in his cigarette case which was an heirloom from his uncle, a world traveler. It was given to his uncle as a gift in 1895, from a young woman whom he had intended on marrying and it bore the inscription...

"Until the day break and the shadows flee away". 

The man enjoyed his visit but, realizing it was late, he bid them farewell and began to depart when the young woman called out to him, "You will come back!". And indeed he did. It is his return to Glennascaul which makes up the supernatural aspect of this film. 

Return to Glennascaul is your traditional old-fashioned ghost story visually told through George Fleishman's excellent cinematography and a surprisingly tight script, penned by Hilton Edwards. The short is merely 23-minutes in length. This was Edwards first attempt at writing and directing and it is quite obvious that Orson Welles gave him some technical support for it could easily be mistaken for being one of Welles' very own projects. Accentuating the ambiance is a simple but haunting theme performed on a harp. At choice moments, merely the plucking of a solitary string sends chills down one's back.

Very few Irish ghost stories have been put on film and even fewer with Irish cast members. Return to Glennascaul features Michael Lawrence in the leading role of George Merriman, the hitchhiker, with Shelah Richards and the lovely Helena Hughes in the part of the mother and daughter. Richards was at one time the reigning star at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and was also the aunt of the famous stage/film actress, Geraldine Fitzgerald. 

When Return to Glennascaul was released in theatres it was quite popular in Britain, as well as in the States, where it soon became known as Orson Welles' Ghost Story. It even went on to be nominated for Best Short Subject at the Academy Awards. 

Orson Welles' presence in this short classic lends it a special touch of humor which makes it all the more entertaining. Return to Glennascaul is one of our favorite ghost stories, especially enjoyable to watch on a cold cloudy day, and we hope that our readers will make it one of their favorites as well. 

Click here to watch Return to Glennascaul in its entirety on Youtube.

This post is our contribution to Shorts! A Tiny Blogathon hosted by Fritzi over at Movies Silently. Be sure to stop by her website to read all about your favorite shorts and discover new titles that you never saw before.