Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Phantom of Crestwood ( 1932 )

Who Killed Jenny Wren? 

That is the question listeners were asked to solve as The Phantom of Crestwood unfolded over a series of NBC radio broadcasts across the nation, beginning in August 26, 1932. After the final cliffhanger episode aired, audiences were invited to submit a 500-word solution to the question. Over $6,000 in prizes were awarded to the authors with the best responses, with Miss Grace Morris Price of Pittsburgh winning the $1,500 grand prize for her witty answer. This was a unique audience participation event and it garnered loads of publicity for the upcoming feature film release of The Phantom of Crestwood in 1932, one of the first of the old-dark-house mysteries.

RKO Radio Pictures cast one of their most popular contract players, Ricardo Cortez, as the leading character, Gary Curtis, a former criminal who volunteers to don the deerskin hat and solve the murder of the young woman at a secluded cliff-side estate. 

The victim - golden-haired call-girl Jenny Wren ( Karen Morley ) - had invited four of her former paramours to Crestwood, a sprawling manor, to celebrate her retirement and blackmail a fortune out of each one of them. Her lovers were a group of rich lecherous old men, including three financiers ( H. B Warner, Gavin Gordon , Skeets Gallagher ) and a prominent politician ( Robert McWade ). 


Also invited to the jolly gathering were the unsuspecting wives of these playboys, Wren's younger sister Esther ( Anita Louise ), and Esther's baby-faced fiancee ( Matty Kemp ). Each one of these characters become a suspect in her murder. However, a sudden landslide traps them all into remaining at Crestwood for the night and before the day breaks two more guests are unexpectedly murdered!

"It will give me great pleasure to kill you...."

This brisk little thriller was directed by the same man who had penned its clever story plot for the radio series - J. Walter Ruben. It was only his fourth outing as a director; he had found greater success as a screenwriter typing the scripts to many standard studio productions of the late 1920s and early 1930s. 

The "old dark house" formula had been born less than a decade earlier and films such as The Cat and the Canary ( 1927 ), The Bat Whispers ( 1930 ), and The Old Dark House ( 1931 ), proved just how successful it could be. The formula peaked in the 1940s and later, during the 1960s, producer William Castle revived the genre and also brought back the gimmick-driven publicity stunts to boost theatre attendance. 

Had The Phantom of Crestwood been released a few years later, it may not have been able to pass the stringent requirements of the Hayes Production Code, which oversaw the moral rules of motion pictures. Even though the Hayes Code was in effect since 1930, many studios simply ignored it. The only elements of The Phantom of Crestwood that may have run the risk of being dismissed were the innuendos regarding the Jenny Wren's shady past and the leering looks she receives from a rather creepy old man, portrayed by Ivan F. Simpson. 


Rounding out the cast is a number of familiar character actors, a handful of aging silent stars, and actresses Aileen Pringle, Pauline Frederick, and Mary Duncan. 

The Phantom of Crestwood has a number of interesting elements that make it stand out from the crowd : cinematographer Henry Gerrard, who would film the first of several Hildegard Withers mysteries, The Penguin Pool Murder, later that same year, had utilized a fast-panning effect to demonstrate a flashback; and Graham McNamee, a popular sports radio announcer, gives the film a suitable introduction for those unfamiliar with the radio hype of the past few months.


Upon its release, The Phantom of Crestwood must have pleased its radio fans for it drew in a profitable $430,000 in film sales at the box office. As Film Daily noted "This is the first time in the history of show business that a direct, inter-laced tie-up of two leading media has been effected". On the heels of its success other rival studios quickly announced plans of their own radio-film tie-ins, but none of these came to fruition and the novel publicity ploy was quickly forgotten. Such a shame, for a good many films could have benefited from this technique. 

Thanks to the recent Warner Archives DVD release, The Phantom of Crestwood can be enjoyed anew and the studio has done a marvelous job restoring the picture. 

This post is our contribution to The Pre-Code Blogathon being held by Shadows and Satin and Pre-Code.com. Be sure to head on over to their sites to check out all the great posts on pre-code films! 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Hollywood Home Tour - Bette Davis

We're off on another Hollywood Home Tour! This time the Silver Scenes bus will be taking us past the former home of none other than Bette Davis. Here is Al to tell you all about what you are seeing out of your window : 

9918 Toluca Lake Avenue

"Welcome back to sunny LA! It sure is good to be back in California after our journey to New Hampshire. Since we saw Claude Rains home last, I thought you folks might want to take a peek at the charming cottage of his frequent co-star, Bette Davis. 

"Keep your eyes to the left side and you can see her house coming up now. I'll stop here so you can get a better look. 

"Bette lived in this bungalow only for a very short time; she moved in here in April 1932, renting the house from Charles Farrell, and then moved out in June of the same year. The Warner Brothers Studio, whom Bette had just signed a seven-year contract with in 1932, is just around the corner and so it was convenient for her to head to work. 

"During the early 1930s, Bette was trying to break into starring roles and fought for good parts. She made it into the limelight two years later when she landed the role of Mildred in Of Human Bondage. Bette was a single gal at the time and her mother Ruth and sister Bobbie tagged along with her wherever she moved.  

"The tudor was built in 1929 and boasts four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Don't let its cottage look fool you, the house is over 3,500 square feet and the backyard leads right into beautiful Toluca Lake. "

Up-to-Date Info : The house is practically unchanged today, with its clinging ivy still clinging. Click here to see a lovely image of a neighboring tudor whose yard also leads into the lake. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Luck of the Irish ( 1948 )

"You don't always wait for an invitation to follow the brave music of a distant drum"

It's not often when a man is clever enough and quick enough to capture a leprechaun. While travelling in Ireland, Steven Fitzgerald ( Tyrone Power ) does just that and then, having done so, lets the leprechaun free...without claiming his pot of gold! 

'Tis a rare man indeed who would do such a thing, and the leprechaun knows it. He feels a debt of gratitude to this American and, leaving the comfort of his homeland and his secluded waterfall, he follows him into the "cold, inhospitable city" of New York to serve him and to help him realize his heart's desire. 

"You are a proud, free man, and it is for that reason that I am proud to serve you"

Fitzgerald is a news reporter who believes in writing the truth to the public, but the lure of acquiring wealth by working for power-hungry publisher-turned-politician Augur ( Lee J. Cobb ) proves to be irresistible, even if it costs him his integrity as a free-thinking man. Egging him on in his decision to accept this position is Augur's daughter ( Jayne Meadows ), a woman who wants to be by Fitzgerald's side as he climbs the ladder of success, no matter what it takes. 


The Luck of the Irish is a dramatic fantasy filled with many whimsical moments. It does not have the sugary sweetness of a children's fable, making it all the more satisfying. Instead it has a lasting charm which makes it ideal for annual viewing on St. Patrick's Day, or any time of the year for that matter. 

The first half of the film parallels Michael Powell's I Know Where I'm Going ( 1945 ) in that we see a city dweller stranded in a small village, anxious to escape on the next boat available, and frustrated with the local people's slow and inefficient ways. It is not until the opportunity to escape becomes available that these characters begin to have doubts on whether they truly want to leave. In both films, it is the romance they find in these villages which make the characters wish to remain, not the lure of the tranquil community. 


In The Luck of the Irish, Fitzgerald meets and falls in love with Nora ( Anne Baxter ), a quiet innkeeper's daughter, and upon his return to New York he sees her once again, by chance, on a subway. He has a notion that the leprechaun may have had a hand in bringing her to New York but he struggles to relinquish his dream of wealth in place of returning to Ireland with Nora.  

"You brought Nora here, didn't you?" 
"No, you brought her yourself...in your mind, long ago."


Steven Fitzgerald is an ageless character - working men are forever torn between following the dreams of their heart or selling out their ideals ( and sometimes their morals ) to other men for the sake of financial stability. He is a cynical man and does not easily get himself beguiled into believing in leprechauns or other folklore but, in this situation, his belief becomes his blessing. 


The Luck of the Irish is not your traditional fairy-tale story and the irascible leprechaun with his proverbial pot of gold is not portrayed as a cultural image but instead becomes the incarnation of Fitzgerald's conscious and a vehicle of divine influence in changing his circumstances. The moral of film is summed up in its tagline "Choosing good is the real pot of gold". 

"I offered you gold. 'Tis not my fault that you prefer a pebble"

The Luck of the Irish premiered on September 14, 1948 and for its original showing featured a wee bit o' something green - all of the Ireland sequences were tinted the color of the Irish landscape itself. Indeed, the opening sequences of Ireland are so pleasant that it is a shame when, midway through the film, its focus shifts to New York City. 


A roster of 20th Century Fox's regular talents gathered together to make this a stand-out picture : director Henry Koster, who was an old hand at filming humorous dramas; Lyle Wheeler, Fox's resident art director extraordinaire; Philip Dunne, who hammered out on his magical typewriter this whale of a grand adaptation ( from the novel by Guy and Constance Jones ); and producer Fred Kohler, who had footed the bill for that other excellent romantic-fantasy The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, one year prior. The strains of traditional Irish and English melodies can be heard in the background thanks to the musical wizardry of Cyril Mockridge.


Cecil Kellaway steals the film with his performance of "Horace", the leprechaun turned manservant, and he nails the Irish accent and mannerisms of one of the little people. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal. James Todd also co-starred as Fitzgerald's wise-cracking pal Bill Clark, and J.M. Kerrigan and Phil Brown round out the stellar cast. 

Anne Baxter is particularly fetching and these years were certainly the peak of her career. The brightness of Tyrone Power's star had been waning a few years prior to The Luck of the Irish and he must have sensed that his days of being the studio's No. 1 glamour boy were nearly over, even though he was as handsome as ever. Jayne Meadows related a story about this in the special "Jayne Meadows Remembers" included on the DVD: 

"[ in-between takes during the banquet scene ] he said, 'You see that tall man over there, the one with the grey hair? He was a star once. A very big star. Sad...now he is an extra'. And I said 'Isn't it wonderful that he's still working' because, you know, the man looked like he needed something to hold him up. When I later found out that Ty started as an extra, I thought 'isn't it interesting that his first reaction was to the old man who was a star and is now an extra'. " 

Perhaps Tyrone Power felt that eventually this would be his fate as well.

This post is our contribution to The Luck of the Irish Blog o'thon, being hosted by yours truly. To check out all of the grand posts about Irish actors and films, click here

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Luck of the Irish Blog O'Thon!

'Tis a grand day indeed for with that blessed of all saints days approaching fast around the bend, we be pleased to be announcing that on this very day no less, the Luck of the Irish Blog O'Thon be taking place. St. Patrick himself would be proud to hear of our wee gathering celebrating the talented folk of Emerald Isle. To be sure, Hollywood would no' be the same without the likes of the Fords, Nolans, Sheridans, O'Briens, Cagneys and Sullivans. 

We be wanting to thank all the fine folk who submitted, or will be submitting, posts for this event. Each one o' them is to the likes of a shimmering coin in this motley pot o'gold. And a hearty thank you to all you little people and doodeens who will be reading them. 

As the posts come tricklin' in, their respective links will be changing the color of the rainbow until the final day when they shall all be wearing the green! If you be wanting to see the posts by date, just scroll a wee bit further down. 

Ay, enough of the babbling....let the fiddlers play and we'll dance a jig and get on with the ceilildh! 


THE POT O' GOLD POSTS : 


Their Blood Runs Green


Maureen O'Hara - Pure Golden

George Brent : A Nolan by Birth - Caftan Woman

Buster Keaton - Movie Movie Blog Blog

Maureen O'Sullivan - Girls do Film

James Cagney and Pat O'Brien - Old Hollywood Films

Dennis Morgan - Phyllis Loves Classic Movies


The Luck of the Irish 


Darby O'Gill and the Little People ( 1959 ) - Classic Film and TV Cafe

The Luck of the Irish ( 1948 ) - Silver Scenes

Finian's Rainbow ( 1969 ) - The Stars are Ageless


In the Days of Yor 


The Lion in Winter ( 1968 ) - In the Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood

Barry Lyndon ( 1975 ) - The Joy and Agony of Movies 


The Irish in America 


Paddy O'Day ( 1935 ) - Another Old Movie Blog 

The Irish in Us ( 1935 ) - Wolffian Classic Movies Digest

George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy ( 1942 ) - Once Upon a Screen



The Fighting Irish 


Juno and the Paycock aka The Shame of Mary Boyle ( 1929 ) Movie FanFare

Odd Man Out ( 1947 ) - Critica Retro

Angels With Dirty Faces ( 1938  ) - The Stop Button 

The Molly McGuires ( 1970 ) - Ramblings of a Cinephile

________________________________________________________


March 15th 


Paddy O'Day ( 1935 ) - Another Old Movie Blog 

Buster Keaton - Movie Movie Blog Blog

Maureen O'Sullivan - Girls do Film

George Brent : A Nolan by BirthCaftan Woman


March 16th 


Finian's Rainbow ( 1969 )The Stars are Ageless

The Luck of the Irish ( 1948 ) Silver Scenes 

George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy ( 1942 )Once Upon a Screen

The Irish in Us ( 1935 )Wolffian Classic Movies Digest

The Lion in Winter ( 1968 ) - In the Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood

Angels With Dirty Faces ( 1938  ) The Stop Button 



March 17th 


Maureen O'HaraPure Golden

Darby O'Gill and the Little People ( 1959 ) Classic Film and TV Cafe

Juno and the Paycock aka The Shame of Mary Boyle ( 1929 ) Movie FanFare

James Cagney and Pat O'BrienOld Hollywood Films

Barry Lyndon ( 1975 )The Joy and Agony of Movies 

The Molly McGuires ( 1970 ) Ramblings of a Cinephile

Odd Man Out ( 1947 )Critica Retro


Enjoy! 

HAPPY ST. PATRICK'S DAY! 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The Great Locomotive Chase ( 1956 )

Over at Wide Screen World, Rich is hosting the fantastic Cinemascope Blogathon along with Becky from ClassicBecky's Brain Food. It will be running between March 13-16th, so if you enjoy reading this post then head on over to their sites and check out all the wonderful articles about Cinemascope films. 

Cinemascope was the first widescreen filming process which through the use of a simple lens attached to a regular 35mm film camera was able to capture panoramic scenes not previously possible. The final result was an image that was two-and-a-half times as wide as it was high and resulted in an aspect ratio closely resembling that of human eyesight. The first film to utilize this sumptuous technique was The Robe in 1953. It was a grand and beautiful new way of seeing a film and, within a year, others were being shot using the widescreen lens and theatres across America were being converted to accommodate the new process with a wider, slightly curved projection screen. 

Of all the hundreds of wonderful Cinemascope films released between 1953 and 1967, we chose The Great Locomotive Chase for our post because of its great use of location settings which were really emphasized by the wide-camera lens and, of course, because it is a Disney film...only the second Disney production to use the new process. 


Fess Parker was making a hit with younger audiences in his role of Davy Crockett on television and in the live-action film Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier ( 1955 ), so Walt Disney decided to cast him as the lead in his latest project about the Andrews Raiders and their daring theft of the locomotive, The General, during the Civil War. 

James J. Andrews was a Union spy who, along with a regiment of volunteer soldiers, was ordered to penetrate the South. Pretending to be Kentucky civilians on their way to join the Confederate army, they were to board a train, abscond with it and, then, chugging along on the track northward, burn all the bridges behind them. It was an excellent plan and, had it succeeded, would have made fools of the Confederates and have thrown a major wrench in the war, for the South was receiving supplies from this one main railroad line. 


However, Andrews did not reckon with the dogged persistence of a young conductor, William A. Fuller ( portrayed by Jeffrey Hunter ), who certainly was not happy to find his train stolen from under his very nose! 

Buster Keaton had filmed a humorous version of this famous event in his 1926 silent classic The General, but Walt wanted this version to be more serious and to bring the history and adventure of the circumstances alive to his viewers. The production team accomplished this quite admirably and The Great Locomotive Chase brims with excitement, especially throughout the chase sequences. 


Selecting Cinemascope for this production was a wise choice because it allowed the camera to capture much more of the beautiful scenery of Northern Georgia during the autumn months, and the striking scenes of the vintage locomotives passing along the entire length of the picture. Oddly enough, the best background sceneries were not filmed at all, but were drawn by that talented matte artist Peter Ellenshaw. 


Walt Disney was busy with the construction of Disneyland during the making of The Great Locomotive Chase and so he did not have an opportunity to oversee the production as much as he hoped. However, he left the film in good hands under the capable eye of screenwriter Lawrence Edward Watkin. This would be his first, and only, outing as a producer. Watkin wrote the story for this film and went on to write the screenplays for several other great Disney productions including Darby O'Gill and the Little People ( 1959 ). 

Walt was a great train enthusiast and, for this film, he went to great lengths to obtain authentic railroad cars used during the Civil War. These were eventually acquired through the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum and the credits acknowledge their "generous cooperation". 


In addition to Fess Parker and Jeffrey Hunter, the cast includes Jeff York as a hot-headed Union soldier who is more trouble than help, John Lupton as William Pittenger, a level-headed schoolteacher and the narrator of the story, and a supporting cast which included Kenneth Tobey, Claude Jarman Jr, Slim Pickens, Harry Carey Jr, Eddie Firestone and a young uncredited Dick Sargeant. 

When The Great Locomotive Chase was released in theatres on June 20, 1956, critics praised it and audiences loved it. Because of its success,Walt Disney continued to procure stories of historical significance for use in his upcoming live-action films, and Fess Parker went on to star in other productions of a similar vein. 

To read more about the Cinemascope process, check out the Widescreen Museum's reproduction of a 1953 article which explains this simple technique: The Cinemascope Process.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Leonid Kinskey - The Mad Russian

Step aside Clark Gable....Leonid Kinskey has entered the room, and woe to any man who has to battle with him for center stage! This scene-stealer will win any match hands down. 

Kinskey did not have the gentlemanly charm of Cary Grant, or the rugged physique of Johnny Weissmuller, or even the crooning voice of Ol' Blue Eyes, but what he did have was confidence....heaps and bounds of the stuff. And with enough of that, and a good dose of vodka in your system, you can go anywhere. 

It doesn't matter that Kinskey didn't have good looks, he thought so and whether you did or not made no difference. In real life, he knew how to flatter like a Frenchman and how to cater to a woman's inner desire, so it comes as no surprise that Ladykiller Kinskey was married three times. Why, even when he was 80-years old he turned on that old-fashioned Russian charisma and fetched himself another mate. 

Kinskey was a native-born Russian, stemming from the great city of St. Petersburg. Unlike his acting comrades who portrayed characters of other nationalities as well as their own, Kinskey took pleasure in playing just pure Russians. Alright, a few French, German, and South American characters can be thrown in the mix, but primarily it was Boris, Ivan, Vladimir, Gregor, or Mischa that he was playing. And why not? He was proud of his heritage and enjoyed sharing the characteristics of his culture with the American public. Even the United States government relied on his thoroughly good Russian taste and, during WWII, chose him to select the Hollywood films to be shown in the USSR. 

For this post we want to select a few of our favorite characters that Kinskey often played and share them with you: 


The Gallant Gigolo

Kinskey loved to flash that enormous grin of his in roles where he had to woo the women. He rarely snagged the Betty Grables, Alice Fayes, or Sonja Henies onscreen but that never bothered him. Afterall, he was the fellow that was out looking for a good time...and for a rich woman who could afford to give him one. But in the end Kinskey's characters were just as happy to settle for the Charlotte Greenwood-types and make a day of it. Off-screen, he was more particular and remained true to his wives...taking them one at a time of course. His second wife loved him so much that she married him four times over. "It started in Mexico City", he explained, "and then over 20 years of our happy marriage we celebrated every five years by taking a new marriage license in a different country".


The Creative Genius :

Whenever Kinskey played a composer or an artist, he couldn't keep it straight, but loved to exaggerate the mannerisms one associates with the artistic set. Mussed up hair, flailing arms, temper tantrums, baggy pants, wrinkled tails....these were all the little cliches that Kinskey resorted to when creating the master effect. Cafe Metropole (1937 ), On Your Toes ( 1939 ), Broadway Limited ( 1940 ), and Presenting Lily Mars ( 1943 ) were just some of the films where he played an artist or composer. Too bad Leonid was never selected for the part of a magician, it would have suited him to perfection. 


The Professor :

When Kinskey wasn't chasing women or chasing the elusive creative thought, he was chasing down students as a college professor. In Ball of Fire ( 1941 ), Professor Quintana ( Kinskey ) was one of the ivory-tower profs who rescues the nightclub singer from the mob. He was Professor Vladimir Smitken in Cinderella Swings It ( 1943 ) and years later, after he retired from film, portrayed Professor Overbeck in the Batman television series ( 1966 ) and Professor Hammerschlag in My Favorite Martian


And of course...as Sascha! 

After seeing Rick fix a roulette game so that a young Hungarian couple could win enough money to pay for an exit visa, bartender Sascha kisses him and exclaims "Boss, you've done a beautiful thing!" Rick snarls back, "Go away, you crazy Russian".

During the making of Casablanca ( 1943 ), it was decided that Leon Mostovoy, the actor cast as the bartender at Rick's Cafe, needed to be replaced because he did not have that added touch of humor that the role required. The producers needed a man like Leonid Kinskey...and a man like Kinskey is what they got. Leonid just happened to be a drinking buddy of Humphrey Bogart and so he pulled him into the cast midway through production. Leonid Kinskey was great for the part of the "crazy Russian" and it remains his most famous role to this day. 

This post is our contribution to the Russia in Film Blogathon being held over at Movies Silently and sponsored by Flicker Alley. To read more about Russian actors and films, head on over to Movies Silently and check out all the posts! 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Felix Bressart - A True Comrade

Even though some viewers may not know his name, Felix Bressart is a face that many will recognize. His performances were unmistakably unique and each and every one of them was genuine, humorous and heartfelt. We feel a particular fondness for this beloved actor because he reminds us so much of our late grandfather, Mathias Metzinger, both in appearance and character. Both men led simple lives, just doing their jobs with a quiet diligence common of European workers, and all the while leaving a profound effect on those around them through their kindness and good deeds. 

One of Bressart's endearing qualities was that he often portrayed true down-to-earth friends, always there to give you a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on in your hour of need. A good comrade through and through. Mr. Kralik and Klara ( James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan ) certainly thought so, and they valued his friendship and his humble opinions very much in A Shop Around the Corner ( 1940 )....especially when it came to deciding whether a cigarette box should play "Ochi Tchornya" or not. 

In Blossoms in the Dust ( 1941 ), Dr. Bressler ( Bressart ) brought Edna's ( Greer Garson ) child into the world and when this little boy tragically died, his friendship was pivotal in giving Edna hope and helping her fulfill her purpose in life. Even Shirley Temple benefited from Bressart's sage advice, when, in Kathleen ( 1941 ), she needed a kindly paternal friend to pour out her troubles to. 


For his Hollywood productions, Bressart played a wide range of European characters including Russians,  Hungarians, and Germans; not surprisingly since he bore the classic profile of an Eastern European Jew with that prominent hook nose, those soulful eyes that saw much persecution, and the timid stance of one accustomed to submitting to authorities. Felix was in fact born in Eydtkuhnen, East Prussia ( what is now Chernyshevskoye, Russia ). As a young man he qualified as a medical practitioner but somewhere along the way, turned his attention to acting. His wiry frame and bespectacled appearance were not leading man attributes and, like Mary Wickes, remained a character portrayer all his life.


In Berlin, Felix studied acting and honed his skills in musicals and comedies in the theatres of Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna. By the early 1930s he was a respected film personality, having performed in popular films such as Die Drei von der Tankstelle ( 1930 ) and Die Privatsekretärin ( 1931 ). 

When the Nazis came to power Bressart and his wife Frieda found safety in neutral Switzerland and, later, in Paris. While in Europe, he befriended Joe Pasternak and Ernst Lubitsch who both offered him plentiful work upon his eventual arrival in Hollywood. One of his first parts in America was that of Buljanoff in Lubitsch's sparkling comedy Ninotchka ( 1939 ) where he played with his Landsmann and frequent co-star, Sig Ruman. 


Because Bressart was himself a refugee, fleeing from the Nazi regime, he often portrayed men aiding others in their flight to freedom. During wartime it was difficult to determine friend from foe; Bressart's kind face and transparent nature made his character's undeniably trustworthy. When Joan Crawford and Fred MacMurray were seeking an unknown contact in Salzburg in Above Suspicion ( 1943 ), it was Mr. Werner ( Bressart ) who passed on to them information needed to rescue a scientist from the hands of the Nazis. In The Seventh Cross ( 1944 ) Bressart was once again helping his fellow man as an undercover resistance fighter forging documents for a concentration camp escapee ( Spencer Tracy ). 


However, the tables were turned in Comrade X ( 1940 ) when Bressart portrayed a desperate father pleading to a reporter ( Clark Gable ) to take his daughter ( Hedy Lamarr ) out of Communist held Russia.

Felix had great depth in his acting ability and one can easily tell that his performances stemmed from personal experience. In his eyes and in the tone of his voice, he evoked pathos which made audiences sympathize with the plight of Europeans during the war. Even in comedies this naturalism came through. This was especially evident in one of Felix's greatest roles, in Ernst Lubitsch's To Be or Not to Be ( 1942 ), where he portrayed the hired Jewish actor Greenburg who yearns to perform his favorite role, that of Shylock from Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", before a full house. The zenith of his performance is his delivery of the "Hath not a Jew eyes?" monologue which becomes one of the most poignant moments in a film strewn with scenes of light-hearted zaniness. 


Bressart's characters were often the pillars of strength for others to lean on for support and like most of the meek men of the world, they were the ones who were willing to defy authority and stand up to protect those whom they love. Just like all the other Jews in Germany at the time, he displayed the fortitude and cheerful optimism they shared amidst their surrounding hardships.  

Bressart also exemplified the "everyman"....the common hardworking bread-winner. He was an old trusted servant in Escape ( 1940 ), a fellow lab worker in Edison, the Man ( 1940 ) and a poor music maestro in Three Smart Girls Grow Up ( 1939 ), Ziegfeld Girl ( 1941 ), Greenwich Village ( 1944 ), and Without Love ( 1945 ). He always came across as a happily married man and a proud papa-bear of a large family, blissfully content. 

It is amazing that Bressart's career in Hollywood lasted but a decade, for by the end of the 1940s he was in failing health and during the production of My Friend Irma ( 1949 ), Felix passed away at the age of 57 from leukemia. 

We never had the opportunity to capture our "opa" Matthias on videotape before he passed on, but when we watch Felix Bressart in any of his films it is like seeing our grandfather come to life again and for that alone we are grateful that Bressart chose acting as his profession and shared his talent with so many.

This is our contribution to the Russia in Film Blogathon being hosted by Fritzi over at Movies Silently. This превосходный event celebrates Russian films, Russian-born actors and films with Russian settings. So rush-on over there and check out all the wonderful posts!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Art of Keye Luke


Keye Luke, who is best known for his portrayal of Number One son Lee Chan in the 20th Century Fox Charlie Chan series, was one of the first Asian film stars to have a successful career in Hollywood, a career which lasted for over 50 years. Becoming an actor, however, was something Keye Luke had not intended on doing. His ambition in life was to pursue a career as an artist. This he accomplished with great success and even when he was busy with film work he always found time to practice his artistic ability. 

Luke was born in Canton, China ( now known as Guangzhou ) in 1904 while his parents were on vacation in the capital city. Luke's father operated an art store in Seattle, Washington and while at a young age Keye decided that becoming an artist was something he wanted to do. 

He attended the Chouinard Institute, studying under Richard Munsell and Carl Beetz, and while in his early twenties became a commercial artist, receiving a large commission from Graumann's Chinese Theatre. It was Keye Luke who painted the fairy tale gardens and the massive ceiling mural inside the legendary Hollywood theatre. 

Illustrations for the Franklin High School yearbook

Private commissions like this led to Luke building a name for himself doing press work for newspapers promoting current and upcoming film releases, one of which was RKO's King Kong. Luke drew many of the ape drawings that appeared in the newspaper ads for the film. 

In 1934, Luke received a call from a good friend working in the publicity department at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and before he knew what he was called for he was appearing in the Greta Garbo film The Painted Veil....not as an illustrator, but as an actor! Luke received positive reviews for his performance and this brief uncredited appearance led to a prominent role in Charlie Chan in Paris, released just a year later. 

One of the murals at Graumann's Chinese Theatre

Keye Luke was cast as Detective Chan's Number One Son "Lee" in this highly entertaining film. Luke brought his youthful American optimism to the role, making Lee an indispensable character in the series.  He got on admirably with Warner Oland, the actor who portrayed the honorable detective, and they teamed up for seven more Charlie Chan films within the next two years. 

Richard Munsell and Keye Luke

Luke was kept extremely busy at many of the studios appearing in just about any role that called for a Chinese man. In 1935 alone he appeared in nine different films. During the outbreak of war in the 1940s Luke was cast in not only Chinese roles, but that of Japanese as well. Some of these films included : The Good Earth, Mr. Moto's Gamble, Mr. and Mrs. North, Across the Pacific, and Lost City of the Jungle. He also co-starred as Kato in The Green Hornet serials of 1940. 

Sketches of Warner Oland and Mark Sandrich

During this time he continued to draw Hollywood caricatures for weekly newspapers and create artwork for books and private commissions. In 1938 he also had his own show and critics from the L.A Times raved that his artwork "formed a bridge between Asian and Western art"

Luke's style of art was very much influenced by ancient Asian art and philosophy as well as by the art of British painter Aubrey Beardsley. 

Illustrations for Blessed Mother Goose by Frank Scully

After the death of Warner Oland, Keye Luke was given a choice of continuing on with the Charlie Chan series as Lee or backing out. He had looked on Warner Oland as a father-figure and decided that no one could take his place. However, Luke did return to appear in two Charlie Chan films released in 1949. 

During the 1950s Keye Luke tried his hand at acting on Broadway and scored great success in Flower Drum Song. He also appeared in guest roles on television series such as The Ray Milland Show, My Little Margie and December Bride. 

Sheet music art for a 1923 song and Luke painting a swimsuit

Luke was quite a versatile talent and even his voice became as popular as his face : he was heard on many Hanna-Barbera productions of the 1960s and 1970s, one of which was The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan where he voiced Charlie Chan. At Disney World his voice was heard narrating the Wonders of China film.

Self-portraits from The Good Earth and Flower Drum Song

Another one of his more popular roles was that of Master Po in the 1972 Kung Fu television series starring David Carradine. Luke kept active with television guest appearances and movie parts up until his death in 1991. Just a year prior he was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a star he justly deserved. 

Today, his artwork is quite scarce with only a handful of the books that he illustrated appearing on online auctions. Hopefully, in the near future someone will compile a printed biography spotlighting Keye Luke's varied talents. 
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