Saturday, November 28, 2015

Announcing the Oscars Snubs Blogathon!

We all love the Oscars but, admit it, most of the time we drop our jaws in aghast when we hear the winners of the Oscar awards announced. Well, Quiggy, over at The Midnite Drive-In came up with the fabulous idea of hosting a blogathon to give us film fans the chance to celebrate the people and films that didn't win but whom we felt deserved the award and yours truly, Diana and Constance, are proud to be co-hosting this event!

Re-posted from The Midnite Drive-In

Announcing The Oscars Snubs Blogathon!  (Feb 26-28, 2016)

It happens every year.  Until recently 5 nominees vied for such varied categories as Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director, among others.  We as fans are not part of the process of choosing, and sometimes we think our choice was better.  This is a chance to make your case heard.

Think Double Indemnity should have beaten out Going My Way for Best Picture in 1944?  Was Rex Harrison really the Best Actor of the bunch in 1964, or were either Richard Burton or Peter O'Toole more deserving?  And, really, seriously?  Was Marisa Tomei really the Best Supporting Actress of 1992?

The rules are simple here.  You can pick any category.  You can pick any year.  The only stipulation is the picture (or person) must have been one of the other nominees in that category for that year, but didn't win.  Otherwise I'd be getting some quack choices like "Plan 9 from Outer Space should have won Best Picture of 1959..."

Let's not fight over topics!

I'd like to have variety so only one person can do a specific movie or an actor in a movie, but I will stretch a point.  If someone wants to pick, say, The Hustler as Best Picture of 1961, someone else could still pick Paul Newman as Best Actor in The Hustler, and make an entirely different case.

Let's have some fun with it.  The blogathon will be scheduled to go live on Oscar weekend 2016.  (Feb. 26-28)  You can pick any of those three days.  Post your choice in the comments below and let's get the ball rolling!  Then grab one of the banners below to post to your blog.




Note: This blogathon and the hosting blogs are in no way affiliated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The Oscars is a registered trademark of the Academy Awards.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Allyn Joslyn - Pompous but Adorable

If you are not an unabashed Allyn Joslyn fan then the first thing you will be thinking as you look to the right at this profile would be "Oh yes, that guy. He always plays unscrupulous fellows or pompous bores." And d'you know what? It's true, he often if you like you can stop reading here. But, mark my words, there will come a time when you will be watching a movie with Allyn Joslyn in it and you'll find yourself saying "I like this guy! ( bore or not )". And then you'll wish you read on....

There's something about Joslyn's style that makes him likable in spite of the crummy characters he often played during the fifteen years he spent working at 20th Century Fox. His characters were never outright villains, they were just disreputable people not even worthy of being hissed at - unscrupulous journalists, cowards, grinning two-timers, and ( he may not have played this part but he could have ) men that would welsh on a bet. 

Allyn Joslyn was born in Milford, Pennsylvania on July 21, 1901. Directly out of high school he embarked on a career in acting and was kept busy throughout the 1920s playing on Broadway at theatres such as the Morosco, Apollo, and Garrick. It was his performance as Robert Law in "Boy Meets Girl" ( which also featured another famous character actor, Jerome Cowan ) that led him to Hollywood where he got his first film role as a brash reporter in 1937's They Won't Forget starring Claude Rains. It was an unsavory role for ones debut but Joslyn did not care. He would take on many more roles like this in his future. That's what I like about Joslyn. He'd tackle anything and don't think he didn't. Remember the character Chic Clark in My Sister Eileen ( 1943 )? He was the reporter that made unwelcome advances towards Eileen. That was Joslyn's role, by gum. Striped suits and spats fitted him so well. 

He played another reporter in the film noir classic I Wake Up Screaming ( 1941 ) and who can forget Don Ameche's obnoxious cousin Albert in the Ernst Lubitsch comedy Heaven Can Wait? What a snob! 

Joslyn could play lily-livered characters with such excellence that he made them appealing, so it's no wonder that when he played good-hearted men he was twice as lovable. In Immortal Sergeant, he was Cassidy, one of the five soldiers stranded in the North African desert during WWII. Here he portrayed a very Robert Coote-ish English soldier character. The men were lost and had to endure hunger and thirst but who was the only soldier who didn't complain? Cassidy. He even had a broken leg to put up with. When Cottrel ( played by Morton Lowry ) suggested that they leave the body of their sergeant behind without a decent Christian burial, Cassidy gave him a good piece of his mind. 

Another beloved role - Mortimor Brewster. Yes, you read that right. He starred as Mortimor in the original stage production of "Arsenic and Old Lace" at the Fulton Theatre on Broadway which played for an impressive 1444 performances. He managed to squeeze in 3-4 films a year while "Arsenic" was in production too. Jean Adair, Josephine Hull and John Alexander would go on to reprise their roles in Hollywood while Boris Karloff and Allyn Joslyn were surprisingly left out. 

In 1943 he received star-billing in Dangerous Blondes, a light-hearted romp where he and Evelyn Keyes portrayed a husband and wife detective duo attempting to solve the murder of a fashion photographer. This film never earned itself a sequel, but for his next film Joslyn once again got a prominent part - Strange Confession ( 1944 ). This was a more serious WW2 role compared to the stuffy comic Nazi he played in The Wife Takes a Flyer several years earlier. 

In the comedy Junior Miss ( 1948 ) Joslyn played a loving father who had to endure the hijinks of his two teenage daughters. Joslyn was a family man in real life, too ( with one daughter, rather than two ) so this character probably came easy to him. In fact, he was one of the few Hollywood actors who married once and for keeps. 

During the late 1940s and early 1950s he had a number of roles in popular films such as Harriet Craig, The Jazz Singer, If You Knew Susie, and Island in the Sky where he played J.H Handy, one of the crew members of the Douglas C-47 that makes a forced landing in the uncharted wildlands of Labrador. 

Any part that came Joslyn's way he grabbed and because of that he had steady work and his mustached face could be seen in dramas, musicals, westerns and comedies. A particularly good part was that of Clem Otis in Moonrise ( 1948 ) the kind and philosophical sheriff who's on the trail of Danny ( Dane Clark ) a man who is haunted by his father's criminal past. 

Joslyn once again donned the striped suit in Titanic ( 1953 ) returning to the slimy depths to play the ultimate of degradable characters - Earl Meeker, the man who dressed himself as a woman in order to sneak onto a lifeboat. You gotta love this guy. Even Clifton Webb is giving him a shameful glance and Webb was no saint himself in this film. 

When television became a staple in American's homes Joslyn switched to the new medium and was seen in numerous anthology "theater" productions as well as sitcoms. He had a recurring role as George Howall in The Eve Arden Show ( 1957 ) and later a starring role in his own series McKeever and the Colonel ( 1963 ) which lasted only one season.

After a brief part in The Addams Family ( 1966 ) as truant officer Sam Hilliard, Joslyn decided to call it quits and retired, returning to films once last time as a sheriff in The Brothers O'Toole ( 1973 ).                                                                                                  
This post is our contribution the fabulous What a Character! blogathon celebrating all the actors who faces we know but not their names. Be sure to head on over to Once Upon a Screen, Paula's Cinema Club or Outspoken and Freckled to check out the complete line-up of posts. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Films of Powell and Pressburger

The films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger have developed a cult following in recent decades due to the increased exposure of their work through revival showings and the Criterion DVD and Blu-ray releases. Powell and Pressburger societies,fan clubs, tribute blogs and other websites devoted to their films are now in abundance. 

What makes the Powell and Pressburger films so endearing? Their unique style for one thing. Just as a Hitchcock film is instantly recognizable, so are Powell and Pressburger's movies in spite of the completely different subject matters they tackled. They created mesmerizing films that were different than any being made by their contemporaries; different in subject matter, set design, cinematography, and dialogue. Color was their forte and they were pioneers in the use of the new medium. Some of these productions ( Black Narcissus, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp ) still rank among the most beautiful ever filmed. Each was of superior quality and well ahead of its time. Together this team utilized cinema to its maximum potential and elevated the art to new standards.  


Michael Powell was working as director on the WWI drama The Spy in Black ( 1939 ) for British film magnate Alexander Korda when he met with screenwriter Emeric Pressburger, a Jewish immigrant from Hungary, who was asked to do some rewrites for the film. There was an instant kinship and they were once again working hand in hand for Contraband and The 49th Parallel, two anti-Nazi propaganda thrillers released through Korda. The pair adopted a joint writer-director-producer credit for their next production One of Our Aircraft is Missing before they broke from the reigns of studio production companies and incorporated their own company under the banner of The Archers, utilizing an archery target as their logo. 

"He knows what I am going to say even before I say it - maybe even before I have thought it - and that is very rare. You are lucky if you meet someone like that once in your life." - Pressburger on Powell

The team would collaborate on 13 films before the disbandment of The Archers in 1957, but the string of work made back to back between 1943 and 1950 ( notably I Know Where I'm Going, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death, The Red Shoes ) remain their greatest contributions to world cinema.

While Pressburger is generally credited for writing the screenplays and Powell for directing, they often stepped into each other's realms and contributed ideas for the betterment of each film in its whole. Pressburger produced the pictures and also enjoyed being closely involved in the final edit, especially in the way music was being used since he was a musician himself. 


"...Every single foot in our films is our own responsibility and nobody else's. We refuse to be guided or coerced by any influence but our own judgement," Pressburger wrote in a letter to Deborah Kerr explaining why she should join them for The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. 

In the era of the studio systems, creative freedom was something all directors longed for and this was a driving force in their decision to create their own production company. With full control of their output they were free to imagine and develop stories that gave their audiences food for thought in an entertaining and aesthetically unique manner. 

A simple but strong message was the cornerstone of each film, although many had numerous subtexts woven into its script. The Powell and Pressburger films were never about artificial characters, instead each film focused on the common laborer and touched on issues that the audience would relate to - love, friendship, ambition, hatred, war, death. 

"No artist believes in escapism. And we secretly believe that no audience does. We have proved, at any rate, that they will pay to see the truth, for other reasons than her nakedness." - Emeric Pressburger

Their films were always out of step with mainstream British cinema...much to their credit. If they had a message that they desired to tell, they went ahead and wrote a film to tell it, regardless of how it would be accepted by the public. When The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp was released at the height of World War II, it was heavily attacked by critics and audiences for its sympathetic portrayal of a German soldier. Powell and Pressburger most likely foresaw that this would happen when they were developing their script but went ahead with the film anyway - they had the creative freedom to do so and a message to convey: the English were not at war with Germans merely in flesh, but in attitudes and ideals. Today, when we look back on other World War II films of the era we see patriotic flagwavers, films dealing with the folk on the homefront, and escapist musicals and comedies, but The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp stands out for its forthright message that this was a different war England was fighting and a different enemy, though it was still Germany. 
Often the messages they desired to tell were not as clear-cut as those that appeared in Colonel Blimp. In A Canterbury Tale ( 1944 ), a young woman and two soldiers journey to Canterbury for various reasons but are side-tracked by an incident in a small village involving a vandal. This inconsequential incident gives Powell and Pressburger an excuse to tarry around Britain's countryside and explore the values for which they believe the war was being fought. The soldiers held that their furlough was wasted hunting down a silly "glue man", but, instead, they come to realize that they had taken a personal journey further then any had anticipated and, upon eventually reaching Canterbury, find their desires fulfilled. 

The exact opposite of this premise was explored in I Know Where I'm Going! ( 1945 ), one of The Archers few black and white productions ( color film was in short supply in wartime Britain ). In this film we see a young ambitious woman determined to take a boat to the isle of Kiloran to wed her rich fiancee who awaits her, in spite of the fierce wind that is barraging the coast. She is a woman set on a path and determined to have her way, but Fate intervenes in the personage of a handsome lieutenant who sweeps her off her feet. Ambition has no power whatsoever over Love. 

As an author weaves his own viewpoints and personal passions into each book he writes, Powell shared his very soul with his audience through his directing. Powell had a deep love for film-making and desired to hold an unspoken communication with his audience. In Powell's own words : "I've had this said to me - 'There's things going on in your films, particularly in this sequence, which I didn't understand but it fascinated me' and I didn't say anything - what it is, is the direct contact with the audience with the director." 

Like many auteur directors, he had his favorite actors which he employed in numerous films, these included Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Roger Livesay, Finlay Currie, David Farrar, and Eric Portman. Powell had his particular favorites among the actresses too. Deborah Kerr, whom he was having an affair with during the mid-1940s, starred in two films for The Archers and was Powell's original choice for the role of Joan in I Know Where I'm Going ( 1945 ). Kathleen Byron and Pamela Brown were also special favorites ( and women whom Powell also had affairs with ). 

Many of their contemporary critics, even modern-day viewers, have questioned their taste and the motivations behind some their films, but what was running through Powell and Pressburger's minds when they made these films is inconsequential. They are cinematic works of art. A painting need not have a story or a moral behind it to remain beautiful. The Archer films would be captivating if they had no plot at all and were simply a tableau of imagery. You could spend a year picking out favorite scenes from the Powell and Pressburger films because there are just that many to choose from. Even when viewed out of context from the original film they are dramatic gems of visual splendor.
Most of this splendor can be accredited to one member of The Archers in particular - Jack Cardiff, the brilliant cinematographer on the majority of the Powell and Pressburger films. He used color and shadow not only for mere beauty's sake but to represent emotion and drive the story forward. Black Narcissus features some of his most stunning work. Witness this particular scene of Sister Ruth at her prayers. If Cardiff had used different lighting to create this scene he could have made her a devote woman but instead she appears to be wickedness in disguise, a nun with sinister intentions with her bold red lipstick and the light of the sunset upon her.

In one particular scene in A Canterbury Tale, Peter Gibbs remarks to Mr. Colpeper that "I'll believe that when I see a halo around my head" at which point shafts of sunlight beam through the window casting a glow around Gibb's head. A halo indeed. It was subtle techniques like this that Cardiff employed that raised the standard of The Archers' films. 

Michael Powell claimed in his autobiography "I had made the British film industry after my own image, and I gloried in it" a humorous - and quite egotistical - comment on the effect the team had upon British cinema. In spite of our praise of their films, we wouldn't be counted among the blind admirers of any work turned out by The Archers. A few of their films are suitable for mere tasting only and we would not be revisiting them for several years. Nevertheless, numerous filmmakers have been influenced by their works and have in turn passed on what they learned from these films unto their own. Directors David Lean, Carol Reed, Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola all claim that they were influenced by the films of Powell and Pressburger. 


Contraband ( 1940 )

A Danish sea captain and a girl in wartime London expose a gang of spies. A delightful light thriller that moves along at a brisk pace. Conrad Veidt, Valerie Hobson, Esmond Knight. 

The 49th Parallel ( 1941 )

Five survivors from a destroyed U-Boat that made its way into Canadian waters, journey through the country in an attempt to cross the 49th parallel into the United States. En route, they encounter people who demonstrate their love for freedom. This is a stirring drama written to entice Americans to enter the war to help fight the Nazis. Ralph Vaughan Williams' score is a highlight.  Eric Portman, Anton Walbrook, Laurence Olivier, Niall MacGinnis, Raymond Massey. 

One of Our Aircraft is Missing ( 1942 )

After a bomber is crashed in a raid, members of the Danish resistance bring aid to its crew. This picture has its charm but is shot in more documentary-style realism and is languidly paced. Godfrey Teale, Eric Portman, Hugh Williams, Bernard Miles. 

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp ( 1943 )

A colonel looks back on his life in the army, the woman that eluded him, and the friendship he forged with a German. What he comes to realize is his military tactics are outdated in the new warfront. The Lawrence of Arabia for Powell and Pressburger - an epic film spanning three decades of a man's life...and a highly entertaining life it is. Roger Livesay, Deborah Kerr, Anton Walbrook, Ursula Jeans. 

A Canterbury Tale ( 1944 )

Two soldiers and a young woman journey to Canterbury unmasking a batty magistrate en route. A gentle lyrical film that is gloriously original and unclassifiable. Old England never looked as rosy as it does here. Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, John Sweet, Dennis Price, Edmond Knight.

I Know Where I'm Going! ( 1945 )

A woman is determined to marry her rich fiance but finds herself falling in love with a naval officer when she is delayed by foul weather for three days.  A delightful movie which captures in spirit a slice of the Hebrides which so many of us long to visit. Even today there are IKWIG tours to the locations used in this film. Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesay, Pamela Brown, Finlay Currie.

A Matter of Life and Death ( 1946 )

Set during WWII, a British pilot miraculously survives a crash due to an error in heaven. A messenger is sent to fetch him 24 hours later, but in the interval he falls in love with a young woman and decides to plea for his life before the heavenly court. This fantasy film remains one of the team's most popular works. David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesay, Marius Goring, Raymond Massey. 

Black Narcissus ( 1947 )

A group of Anglo-Catholic nuns inhabit a remote Himalayan palace as their convent and find the culture and climate of the region stir tumultuous emotions within themselves. A striking drama and one of cinema's most beautiful films. Jack Cardiff carried away the Best Cinematography Academy Award for his brilliant Technicolor work. Deborah Kerr, Flora Robson, David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Sabu. 
The Red Shoes ( 1948 )

A young ballet student rises to become a star but must then decide between her career or her lover. A splendid production giving viewers a glimpse at life behind the curtain at a ballet. Nominated for five Academy Awards. Moira Shearer, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring, Robert Helpmann.

The Small Back Room  ( 1949 )

A lame scientist takes to drinking to drown his frustration of his handicap. He gets a chance to redeem himself to his long-suffering girlfriend and prove his heroism when he risks his life to disarm an unexploded German bomb. One of Powell and Pressburger's most underrated gems and one of the few suspense thrillers they made. David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Jack Hawkins, Leslie Banks. 
The Elusive Pimpernel ( 1950 )

A remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel which fails to entertain in spite of its great cast and almost gaudy Technicolor. David Niven, Margaret Leighton, Cyril Cusack, Jack Hawkins.

Gone to Earth ( 1950 )

Set during the 1890s, a wild Shropshire gypsy girl is desired by the local squire. Powell and Pressburger' seemed to be striving to recapture the splendor of their films of the 1940s, but it comes off as rather humorous instead. It features some beautiful location scenery of England however. Jennifer Jones, David Farrar, Cyril Cusack
Tales of Hoffman ( 1951 )

The poet Hoffman, in three adventures, is fated to enter a series of doomed love affairs with supernatural overtones. This overwhelming mixture of opera and ballet and fantastic art direction was pegged by critic Gavin Muir when he claimed "[its] the most spectacular failure yet acheived by P&P, who seem increasingly to dissipate their gifts in a welter of aimless ingenuity". Robert Rounesville, Robert Helpmann, Moira Shearer, Pamela Brown.

Oh, Rosalinda!! ( 1955 )

In post-war Vienna, a playboy performs a practical joke on an officer ( and their wives ) from each of the four ruling powers. An attempt to modernize "Die Fledermaus", which unfortunately falls flat. Anton Walbrook, Michael Redgrave, Mel Ferrer, Dennis Price, Anthony Quayle.
The Battle of the River Plate ( 1956 )

A semi-documentary account of the German pocket battleship Graf Spee which was trapped in Montevideo Harbour in 1939. A stellar cast cannot make this film rise above being just a routine battle epic. John Gregson, Anthony Quayle, Peter Finch, Bernard Lee. 

Ill Met By Moonlight ( 1957 )

A group of British officers land on the island of Crete to capture a Nazi commander. The last film released under The Archers banner, it bore very few marks of being a Powell and Pressburger production but was very popular at the box-office upon its release. Dirk Bogarde, Marius Goring, David Oxley, Cyril Cusack 
The Boy Who Turned Yellow ( 1972 )

A boy dreams that he and all the passengers on a subway turn yellow. Powell and Pressburger's last film together. This one is a bizarre one-hour children's story made for the Children's Film Foundation. Patrick Gowers, David Vorhaus. 

This post is our contribution to the Criterion Blogathon being hosted by Criterion BluesSpeakeasy and Silver Screenings. To view the impressive line-up of film articles visit any one of these blogs for a complete list. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Robinson Crusoe on Mars ( 1964 )

A lone astronaut pitted against all the odds beyond this earth. 

In the not too distant future, a two-manned spacecraft, the Mars Gravity Probe 1, nearly avoids a collision with an asteroid on its route to the red planet. The ship cannot hold altitude after altering its trajectory so the crew eject from the vessel, making a crash landing on Mars. 

Only Commander Kit Draper ( Paul Mantee ) and the ship's monkey Mona survive. His commanding officer Colonel McReady ( Adam West ) is killed in the collision. Draper leaves the wreckage behind and, with Mona in tow, proceeds to find shelter on Mars. He assesses his situation, takes stock of his supplies and begins to determine his needs. He finds the atmosphere thin and breathable for only short periods of time and so maintaining a continuous air supply becomes Draper's first priority. Later, he discovers sources of food and water. When alien spaceships come to Mars to recapture an escaped slave ( Victor Lundin ), Draper is relieved to find another person to converse with and helps the slave "Friday" hide from their watchful eye until they depart. 

Robinson Crusoe on Mars is unlike other science-fiction films of the era. While most pictures that were set in outer space pitted a crew of astronauts against a creature or creatures unknown, Robinson Crusoe on Mars focused on one man all alone in unfamiliar territory and his struggle to conquer loneliness, a beast more fearsome than any two-headed martian. 

Kit Draper strikes us as a modern intelligent human, not giving in to panic and capable of managing in extreme situations. He is a well-trained astronaut. Draper underwent months of vigorous pre-flight training and simulations of what he would encounter on Mars. He is prepared for any and all circumstances...or so he believes. What he is not prepared for is the chasm of loneliness he would feel in his new surroundings. He is grateful for the companionship of his monkey but longs for human conversation. Robinson Crusoe on Mars depicts interaction between people as a vital element to human survival, as necessary to man as oxygen or water and it is this facet of the film that makes it more realistic than other sci-fi films of the 1950s. 

Paul Mantee considered Draper a difficult character to portray since he had no one to interact with, but he handled the part beautifully. Unlike many films that portray solitary characters, Robinson Crusoe on Mars avoided giving audiences a mental voice-over from the main protagonist and instead we discover Draper's thoughts only through his discussions with Mona and his "diary", his recordings of his actions onto video and audio tape.

Victor Lundin had parts in television westerns and other series ( primarily portraying Native Americans ) before he was given his first starring feature film role as the intergalactic mining slave, Friday. Adam West had very little screen time and what little dialogue he had was uttered in his usual stilted manner but he more than made up for that by his surreal materialization in one truly spine-tingling hallucination sequence. Mona the monkey was portrayed by a talented newcomer named Barney who had to humble himself and endure wearing not only the miniature space-suit costume for the part but a fur-covered diaper as an undergarment.

The premise of Daniel Defoe's beloved 1719 novel "Robinson Crusoe" was transported into the space age by screenwriter Ib Melchoir who set out to create a realistic portrayal of an astronaut's experience on an unexplored planet. A heady task considering it would be five more years before mankind would even set foot on the moon. 

He retained all of the key elements of Defoe's novel - Crusoe's determination to survive, his methods of survival, and his struggle with loneliness - replacing only the cannibals with alien slavers to make the story more plausible. Ironically, it is Melchoir's faithfulness to the book that bogs down the final chapter of the film. Draper's solitary experience of survival and his encounter with the aliens would have made a fascinating picture in itself. The Egyptian-like slave sequence was unnecessary and tiresome.

Like the novel, Robinson Crusoe on Mars retains a strong religious subtext running through the film. At just the right moments Draper's life is spared by the hand of God. Heat, shelter, food, companionship, all become available to him in his hour of need. While Draper may be all alone in the new world, he knows he always has God looking after him, giving him hope.

Crusoe's director, Byron Haskin, had a career stretching back as far as the silent era when he worked as a cinematographer to D.W. Griffith. During the 1930s and 40s, he headed up the visual effects department at Warner Brothers, working on such classics as The Sea Hawk, High Sierra and Dive BomberHaskin had directed some iconic sci-fi films and television series ( War of the Worlds, Conquest of Space and several episodes of The Outer Limits ) before taking the helm of Crusoe. 

His experience in visual effects is demonstrated in the marvelous long shots where we witness Draper exploring one vast territory of desolate landscape after another with only Albert Whitlock's matte paintings being utilized to create the backdrops of space. This skyline looks majestic and peaceful compared to the steaming hot surface of Mars or its cool polar icecaps. Location footage was shot in Death Valley where the clear skies were used as a natural "blue screen" and enabled the matte paintings to be implemented. 

Some of the other special effects in the film seem primitive and will look dated to modern viewers but Robinson Crusoe on Mars stands out for these dynamic visualizations of Mars. An entire harsh ecosystem is conveyed through its simple sets. Over fifty years later, it is impressive to see how accurately Mars was depicted in 1964. Wouldn't it be ironic if astronauts of the future land on Mars only to find the same landscape depicted in this film? 

This post is our contribution to the Criterion Blogathon being hosted by Criterion Blues, Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. To view the impressive line-up of film articles visit any one of these blogs for a complete list. 

Saturday, November 14, 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 us, after viewing his performances his many charms will become quite obvious. 

This post is our contribution to our favorite What a Character! Blogathon being hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club. Head on over to any of these sites to check out the roster of writers covering their favorite character actors. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Grace Kelly in "To Catch a Thief" ( 1955 )

Alfred Hitchcock had just wrapped production on Rear Window when he plunged into his next film To Catch a Thief. This picture would unite Cary Grant, whom he coaxed away from retirement, and his favorite leading lady, Grace Kelly. Hitchcock had purchased the rights to David Dodge's Cannes caper in 1950 for the meager sum of $15,000 but it was not developed into a script until after he met John Michael Hayes ( Rear Window ), a screenwriter who had a great wit. Hitchcock wanted To Catch a Thief to have a comedic flair that was lighter than pastry.

The film begins with a series of daring night jewel thefts throughout the Riviera. John Robie "The Cat" has struck once again - or so the police are led to believe. The real John Robie, once a famous jewel thief, is blissfully enjoying his retirement at his cliff-side villa outside Monaco. He does not like this new cat burglar imitating his signature style nor having the police breath down his neck with their air of suspicion. And so he sets out to capture this "cat" himself, and what better way then to set a thief to catch a thief. 

With the aid of a Lloyds of London insurance broker ( John Williams ), Robie obtains a list of the most valuable pieces of jewelry insured in Monaco and the names of the fashionable tourists who own the baubles. First name on the list - Jessie and Francine Stevens ( Jessie Royce Landis, Grace Kelly ) a mother and daughter who have nearly $280,000 in jewels insured with the company. 

Robie finagles his way into meeting the American duo through a clever ploy of dropping a 10,000 franc piece down the bodice of a woman's dress while they are all gathered at the roulette table - the "whirling pickpocket" as Mrs. Stevens calls it. This gets her to laughing and leads him to introduce himself as Mr. Burns, a lumber tycoon from Oregon. 

The first time we see "Francie" she is perceived as being a jewel herself, sparkling but cold as a diamond. She and her mother stemmed from the backwoods until oil was discovered on their land; extensive travelling polished her country manners and accent. After years spent away in finishing schools, she has the stance and demeanor of a young princess. Her mother is quite captivated by Mr. Burns charms ( "If I were Francie's age, you'd sound too good to be true!" she declares ) while Francie seems disinterested. She's young, beautiful, and wealthy so she has been chased quite a bit by fortune hunters and is wary of handsome men. Perhaps Robie is too good to be true. 

"I'm sorry I ever sent her to that finishing school, I think they finished her there."

Edith Head designed all of the costumes seen in To Catch a Thief and they rank as some of her finest creations. Alfred Hitchcock had a hand in this design process too and the clothing that Francie wears throughout the film reflect on her different moods. In this scene her gorgeous white and icy blue layered chiffon gown make her regal and quite unattainable. 

Later, when John Robie escorts her to her hotel room, she spontaneously kisses him - and then gently shuts the door in his face. This kiss proved that she was neither as innocent or as frigid as she appeared, merely bored. Francie literally lets her hair down the next day. She appears dressed in sunny yellow and is eager to spend the day with Mr. Robie. After a swim in the rich blue Mediterranean and some verbal sparring with him and a young French woman, she invites Robie on a very informal outing, a picnic, en route to the villa that Mr. Burns is supposedly going to look at to purchase ( "I may even retire here" he says ). It's not a European champagne and cheese affair, but a classic American picnic of fried chicken complete with cold beer. 

It is during their drive from the villa that we see a different side of Francie emerge. Parts of her down-home heritage peep through showing she was not "finished" completely as her mother believed. 

"We're just common people with a bank account" - Francie Stevens

She's a gal with spunk and quite a large dose of womanly wiles, in spite of her demure pink and white summer dress. Francie has her suspicions about Mr. Burns and quickly becomes the hunter. She is eager to pin her "cat" into a corner to see him confess his real identify, that of being John Robie. She excitedly declares how she played Sherlock Holmes to discover all the clues that led to this conclusion. The scenes leading up to this moment are some of the best in the film featuring an exciting and humorous car chase, breathtaking Moyen Corniche location scenery, and extremely witty dialogue filled with double-entendres ( including the famous quote "a leg or a breast?", referring to the chicken, of course ).

Hitchcock loved the duel meaning the title suggested and it is after this scene that we see it come into play, the audience is eager to see Francie catch her thief - John Robie - regardless of whether Robie discovers the real culprit behind the jewel thefts or not. After she falls in love with him- as we, the audience, knew would eventually happen, she aids him in setting a trap for the burglar, leading to the climax at the costume ball, where Francie once again sports a head-turning gown, this time completely decked in gold.  

To Catch a Thief marked the third film that Kelly had made with Alfred Hitchcock and it is undoubtedly her best performance for the master of suspense. Like Lisa Fremont of Rear Window, Kelly portrays Francie Stevens as an extremely elegant young woman with a hint of mischief in her eyes. She isn't a china doll meant for display purposes only. She wants to love and serve a man and be a part of his life, even if it means endangering her own to prove this to him. 

The world premiere of To Catch a Thief took place in Los Angeles on August 3rd, 1955. It was a critical and commercial success upon its release and boosted Cary Grant's career, which eventually led him to postpone his retirement till over a decade later. To Catch a Thief is notable for leading up to the events of Grace Kelly's wedding. During the filming of the car sequence Grace Kelly had gazed out at the coastal countryside and spied a walled-in garden below. "Whose garden is that?" she asked screenwriter John Michael Hayes. He replied, "Prince Grimaldi's". Kelly had desired to tour the garden with her then-boyfriend costume designer Oleg Cassini but between her shooting schedule and the Prince's commitments was unable to arrange a visit. It was not until May 1955, when Grace Kelly returned to Monaco for the Cannes Film Festival showing of The Country Girl, that she was invited to the palace for a photo session and a tour of the garden. This meeting eventually led to the Prince visiting with Kelly's family in Philadelphia for three days and a marriage proposal. On April 18, 1956, Grace Kelly and Prince Ranier were wed and she became Princess Grace of Monaco. 

On a sadder note, the winding road where John Robie and Francie Stevens park for their picnic lunch was the site where Princess Grace had her fatal car crash on September 13, 1982. She suffered a stroke behind the wheel and passed away a day later, at the age of 52, from a brain hemorrhage sustained from the accident. 

This post is our contribution to The Wonderful Grace Kelly Blogathon being hosted by The Wonderful World of Cinema. Click on the links to read more posts on Grace Kelly's career and her films!