Monday, August 31, 2015

Nugget Reviews - 19


If You Knew Susie ( 1948 ) 14k


A show business family retires from the stage in the hopes of opening a restaurant in a small village in New England but find themselves snubbed by the locales for their lack of an illustrious forefather. When they find that a letter from George Washington expressing his debt to their ancestor, the town accepts them - and the billions of dollars that the US government supposedly owes them! Eddie Cantor, Joan Davis, Allyn Joslyn, Bobby Driscoll. RKO Pictures. Directed by Gordon Douglas.

Eddie Cantor rolls his eyes and friskily skips about in this delightful outing with comedienne Joan Davis, riddled with some fine one-liners and plenty of vaudevillian humor. They were such a great team in Show Business it's no wonder they were reunited for another picture. Keep your eyes out for Bobby Driscoll and Margaret Kerry ( as their children ). These two talented youngsters later worked together in Walt Disney's Peter Pan with Driscoll voicing and modelling for Peter and Margaret modelling for Tinkerbell. 
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Artists and Models ( 1955 ) Elct. 


An artist and his roommate try to break into the booming comic book industry after meeting a famous comic illustrator and her creation - "Bat Lady".  Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, Dorothy Malone, Shirley MacLaine. Paramount Pictures. Directed by Frank Tashlin. 

The Martin and Lewis films rarely featured memorable plots ( or the scripts to enhance them ) but this one seemed particularly lacking in direction...at least for the first hour. Its splendid Technicolor, the peek into the comic industry of the 1950s, and Dino's songs redeem it somewhat, but on the whole it is an embarrassing entry in the comedic duos string of films with about twenty minutes of plot stretched to two hours. Kathleen Freeman, who had small parts in twelve different Jerry Lewis movies, plays a sour landlady. 
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Stowaway ( 1936 ) 14k


When invading armies attack a Chinese village, the young ward of a missionary family gets sent to Shanghai to safety. En route she meets an American playboy who takes to her fondly and becomes a stowaway on his ship. Shirley Temple, Robert Young, Alice Faye, Eugene Palette, Helen Westley. 20th Century Fox. Directed by William A. Seiter. 

Stowaway is not considered one of Shirley's most famous films, but - when compared to her classics Heidi and The Little Princess - I find it much more entertaining, especially since it is set in an exotic location - the Orient. Only the ending of the picture disappoints. Shirley Temple plays her usual oochie-coochie self in this Asian outing, save for a few Chinese proverbs tossed into her repertoire, while Alice Faye is lovely as ever, singing a great song - "Goodnight, Sweetheart". Robert Young was such a clean-cut young man during the 1930s, it is very difficult to believe him to be a wild playboy - especially since his parts with Shirley are so wonderful - however, Young did have problems with alcohol later in life, so perhaps he did enjoy an extra slug or two in his youth. 


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Father Goose ( 1964 ) 18k


An alcoholic island hopper gets blackmailed into accepting a job as a Navy coast watcher. He then - unwillingly - rescues a diplomat's daughter and the seven schoolgirls she is escorting. In spite of their hatred for each other, they try to work together until a rescue plane could come to their aid. Cary Grant, Leslie Caron, Trevor Howard. Universal Pictures. Directed by Ralph Nelson.

Cary Grant takes his ten fine toes and wiggles them in the sand with ease for his role of the boozy beach bum, Walter. Years later, Grant claimed that this part was the most natural for him to play. Cary Grant wanted Audrey Hepburn to play the part of the French diplomat's daughter but she was already committed to My Fair Lady, which ironically, Cary Grant had turned down the lead in ( Henry Higgins ) in favor of this role. Leslie Caron did a great job on her own. Beautiful location filming and a highly entertaining script make this an all-around winning comedy. 

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On an Island with You ( 1948 )  14k 


A Hollywood star finds herself kidnapped by a navy officer and taken to a secluded island for the sole purpose of having one dance. Of course, she falls in love with him after that dance. Who can resist Peter Lawford in dress uniform? Esther Williams, Peter Lawford, Ricardo Montalban, Jimmy Durante, Cyd Charisse. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. Directed by Richard Thorpe.

After watching an Esther Williams film one can't help but have a lingering smile on the heart, it must be all that Technicolor, water, sand and rumba music. This outing to the "islands" ( filmed at Cypress Gardens, Florida ), has some particularly good hip-swinging music and a great overall look but lacks an engaging script. Even with all the right elements and a great cast, if it ain't got that zing, it ain't got that zing! It's a good Saturday night picture nevertheless. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The London Connection ( 1979 )

Before there was Agent Cody Banks there was Luther Starling. Nearly thirty years prior to when the whiz kid spy hit the big screen Disney released The London Connection, the first adventure to feature Agent Starling. He wasn't your average juvenile spy either - he was a handsome college-aged man with several government missions under his belt. Whenever the CIA had a particularly delicate - and difficult - task that needed to be done they called on Luther. 

After completing a dangerous mission to retrieve top-secret documents, Luther tells his superiors that he is off on a six-week holiday in Europe. His first stop is London, England to visit his pal Roger, but before he can even leave Heathrow Airport he finds himself caught in a web of espionage too tempting to resist. Dragging his friend Roger along for the ride, Luther sets out to capture the head of "Omega", a spy ring that has kidnapped a professor for his scientific formula. The British Secret Service keep a watchful eye on Luther and Roger's movements as they attempt to rescue the professor. 

The London Connection, was released as a feature film a part of a double bill with The Aristocats on December 29, 1979. Later, it was aired on television on Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color as The Omega Connection. The film was an exciting blend of action, comedy and espionage, introducing all the best elements of the James Bond series to children. 



A peppy score by John Cameron accompanied our heroes as they traveled throughout London in various modes of transportation, including a Morgan three-wheeler, air balloon, speed boat, and motorcycle. 

Uncle Sam keeps Luther well-equipped with loads of clever gadgets disguised as everyday toiletries, such as a razor dart gun, wire shooting belt, shaving cream motorized grappling hook, and a hairbrush telescope. "Q" could take a tip or two from Luther's outfitters. 


The London Connection was filmed, appropriately, in London, showing audiences views of downtown London, the new Scotland Yard, and Heathrow-Airport. Binfield Manor in Berkshire stood in as Omega's headquarters where, like SPECTRE, the members of this nefarious organization plotted their crimes. The manor house appeared in numerous television films of the 1970s and 1980s, including Murder is Easy ( 1981 ). 


Jeffrey Byron is excellent as Luther, as is Larry Cedar as his trusty friend Roger, bringing just the right amount of youthful zest to the parts. Also cast is a slew of recognizable British faces including Nigel Davenport as Omega's ringleader; David Kossoff as Professor Buchinski; Roy Kinnear and Frank Windsor as two bumbling British agents; and Mona Washbourne as Roger's absent-minded Aunt Lydia. 



The London Connection has an amusing script and is enjoyable fare for young and old alike. Its colorful, fun, and the pace never slackens. The characters are so appealing that one would hope there was a sequel. Indeed, the screenwriters hinted that a sequel may well have been planned for Luther to continue his espionage adventures in France. Whatever did become of The Paris Connection?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Moments of Intuition from Seven Actresses

For our Movie Magazine Article Collection we read a lot of articles and then select only the best to reprint. Some articles are routine while others stand out because they relate an incident about a star that over the years has become forgotten. Does anyone remember the famous ( at the time ) story behind Prince Rainier's "arranged" marriage with Grace Kelly? Or the tale about Fred Astaire's hairpiece? Little incidents, but wildly entertaining to us film buffs. 

This is one of those uber-interesting articles and it appeared in the February 1957 issue of Motion Picture magazine, generously given to us by Jacqueline Lynch, the fabulous blogger behind Another Old Movie Blog. Seven famous actresses will relate to you moments of intuition that happened in their lives. We will be posting this article in chunks, with stories from two actresses in each post, so be sure to check back in the near future for more great stories. Enjoy! 

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Shirley MacLaine 

Last February, my doctor told me I would have a baby in September. About four days after I learned I was pregnant, the studio called and said I'd have to be at work that night. 

I was supposed to be at Paramount at 6pm. That meant I'd have to leave Malibu at about 5pm. Much of the drive to the studio is along the heavily trafficked Pacific Coast Highway, only a few feet from the ocean. 

When it was time for me to leave, I went to the car, drove it out of the garage and was just about to start when the thought suddenly nagged me that I had forgotten something. I left the car and went back into the apartment and just stood in the front room trying to remember what it was. My mind was a blank. After a minute, I gave up, got into the car and started the drive down the highway. 

I had gone about 15 miles when the traffic piled up ahead and everybody stopped. The driver behind me got out of his car and walked up around a slight curve in the road. When he came back his eyes had a strange light in them. I asked if there had been an accident. He said, "There's more than that. That cliff up ahead just slid down on top of the highway. One minute earlier, lady, and we'd have been under a rock landslide."

Janet Leigh

It happened to me when I was 17. Mom and Dad were managing a ski lodge in Sun Valley. The snow on the hills was perfect that year and the lodge was packed with people. I wanted nothing more in the world than to be an expert on skis. I didn't miss a day. Each morning, before the other guests arose, I'd go down to the lounge, which was really a big, cozy living room, check my skiing equipment and then leave for my favorite slope. But there was one last thing I had to do before I left each morning: I had to put the family picture album away in a table drawer. 

You see, Mom loved to show pictures of me, from the time I was a baby, to the guests. When she wasn't around, she'd leave the album with the magazines on the big wooden table so guests would see it. 

Well, each morning, just before I went out the door, I'd put the album back in the drawer. I didn't think the pictures would be as interesting to our vacationing guests as Mom did. 

On this particular morning, I came down, checked my equipment and was about to put the album away when something held me back. For no reason I could imagine, I left it on display. Then I went skiing. 

When I returned, the album was gone. I looked in the drawer. It wasn't there. Then Mom came in, all smiles. There was a woman with her and she was holding the album. 


The woman said that if I didn't mind she was going to "steal" my latest photograph and send it to MGM. 

She said her name was Norma Shearer. 

Ten days later, I received a wire from the talent department of MGM. A screen test would be made as soon as I could get to Hollywood. It was my intuition that kept me from hiding the album, but it was Mom's that put it out there in the first place. 

Thanks, Mom. 

If you liked this post, then click here to read more stories from our Movie Magazine Articles series! 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Hayley Mills - Disney Legend

If there was any one person that embodied the qualities we associate with a Walt Disney film ( humorous, colorful, cheerful ), it’s Hayley Mills….this gal is a sheer delight to watch! And judging from box-office sales she was not only Disney’s living screen representative but his greatest asset as well. 

Hayley Mills captured audiences the world over from her very first film appearance at the age of 13 in Tiger Bay ( 1959 ) and over fifty years later she’s still gaining new followers with every screening of her films. She’s just simply irresistible. 

Hayley Catherine Rose Vivien Mills was born on April 18th, 1946 in London, England, her father being Sir John Mills, the celebrated stage and screen actor, and her mother Mary Hayley Bell, a playwright/novelist. Talent obviously was hereditary in the Mills family, for her older sister Juliet Mills, also became a well-known actress. A younger brother, Jonathan, was born shortly after too.

The children often spent time with their parents on tour, on the film sets, and at parties and because of this, were very intelligent and outgoing. 


During a cocktail party in 1958 at the Mills household, director J. Lee Thompson noticed the precocious young Hayley and suggested to her father that she audition for the role of Gillie in his upcoming thriller, Tiger Bay. The role was originally intended for a young boy but sporting a cropped top and a muddy pair of jeans, Hayley made do and played it as a “tomboy” to perfection. She was critically lauded for her part as the frightened little witness to a port-town murder and received a Silver Bear Award ( for special performance ) at the Berlin Film Festival.

Lillian Disney was among the admirers of this fresh new face and thought she’d be an ideal choice for the title role in Pollyanna. She suggested this to her husband, Walt Disney; he agreed, Hayley agreed, the Mills agreed, a five year contract was signed and presto! a star was born. Indeed, and what would Pollyanna ( 1960 ) had become if not for Hayley! With those big bright blue eyes and that enchanting grin, she became Pollyanna. Or rather…she simply played herself and Miss Goody Two-shoes forever became associated with Hayley. 


After the enormous success of Pollyanna, Walt Disney had his team of writers quickly develop another script for their star, and a popular German story by children’s author Erich Kastner called “Das Doppelte Lottchen” was rewritten as The Parent Trap. This tale of twin sisters who scheme to reunite their divorced parents was a perfect choice too…it gave Hayley the opportunity to play not one but two roles, and double Hayley, double the FUN ( and double the profits! ). To this day, The Parent Trap is Hayley Mill’s most recognized work on film. It’s no surprise either, it is such a wonderful and sweet movie. 

The film’s popularity established her as America’s favorite child actress ( in spite of being English and quite ladylike ) and throughout the early 60s Hayley’s face could be seen on posters, paperdoll books, magazine covers, record albums, and paperbacks. She had a pleasant singing voice too, and not only sang in most of her films but cut a few singles as well. 

             

During the next several years Hayley went on to make four more pictures for Walt Disney Studios : the adventurous In Search of the Castaways ( 1962 ) with Maurice Chevalier and Michael Anderson Jr. ; the lovely Summer Magic ( 1963 ) with Dorothy McGuire and Burl Ives; The Moonspinners ( 1964 ), filmed with the scenic backdrop of Greece’s Cretan coast; and That Darn Cat ( 1965 ) with Dean Jones and Dorothy Provine. 


Her contract with Disney was not exclusive though and this permitted her to make many films for other studios as well. In 1963 she starred in the Rank production of Whistle Down the Wind, a story about a group of children in Lancashire who shelter a criminal believing him to be Jesus Christ. It was based on the novel of the same name, written by her mother. 

             

She displayed her underrated dramatic talent as a malevolent child of secrets in Universals’ screen adaptation of Enid Bagnold’s mesmerizing play The Chalk Garden ( 1964 ) co-starring her father John Mills and the beautiful Deborah Kerr. Hayley bit into her role as Laurel and delivered an in-depth performance where the sinister and vulnerable sides of her character are shown with great skill and emotion. 


Around this time she also starred in The Truth About Spring, once again cast opposite her father. James MacArthur, David Tomlinson, and Lionel Jeffries also starred in this light-hearted seafaring adventure, but even with such a grand cast it lacked that magical Disney touch ( which it sorely needed ). 

In 1965, Hayley’s contract with Walt Disney studios expired and the first role she took on as an “independent” was the heartwarming The Trouble with Angels, directed by Ida Lupino. Hayley was superb in this film and sadly, this was the last of her more wholesome adolescent roles.

She shocked her fans by appearing nude in the British drama/comedy The Family Way and even though she continued to make films frequently up until 1972, her popularity declined dramatically. Times were changing, public tastes were changing, and good roles were hard to come by. 

During the making of The Family Way, Hayley had a well-publicized affair with its director Roy Boulting ( 33 years her senior ). They lived together for several years before marrying in 1971, having a son Crispian in 1973, and then divorcing shortly after. 

In 1981 she starred in the miniseries The Flame Trees of Thicka about a young girl’s view on life on a British plantation in Africa. Of course, Hayley played the mother here…not the young girl. Yes, and her fans were old enough to be mothers themselves ( gasp! ). And with their children now watching The Parent Trap what better than to have sequels made... Not one, not two, but three were released by the Disney Channel. Hayley revived her role as Sharon McKendrick and now played a mother to her very own set of twins. 


During the 1990s Hayley Mills did many other Disney television movies and was quite popular on the series Good Morning, Miss Bliss and it’s spin-off Saved by the Bell. Today she still keeps herself busy with film and television work and makes appearances at numerous events. 

Hayley Mills is the pink of perfection. As children, we all grew up watching her and most of us { girls } grew to emulate her too. Her characters were always capable, cunning and cute and Hayley never had a shortage of that good ol' American spunk. Although I focused on her Disney films in this post, she made many a fine performance throughout her career. Hayley well deserves the title "Legend", not only for her work with the Disney Studios but because she is a legend. She is a true Pollyanna and her films bring a lot of joy into our lives. The words she once spoke about Walt Disney apply most certainly to herself as well... 

" You always come out of his movies feeling happier than when you went in and feeling better about humanity and the human condition " 

Friday, August 14, 2015

PT 109 ( 1963 )

"Nauro Island...Commander...native knows posit...he can pilot... 11 alive-need small boat... Kennedy".

So reads the carving on the coconut that sat upon President John F. Kennedy's desk for over twenty years. It's a coconut with a past and the film PT 109 tells the story of this coconut or rather, the story of the hard-shelled naval lieutenant that eventually became president of the United States. The two go hand in hand.

When Kennedy was but 26 years old he was made skipper of a Navy patrol boat ( PT boat ) stationed off of the Solomon islands during WW2. One night while on patrol, a Japanese destroyer bore down upon the vessel and rammed it, cutting it in two. Most of the men survived and managed to swim to a nearby island unoccupied by Japanese. For the next five days, Kennedy and his men tried to flag down passing American ships to no avail. It was not until several natives in a canoe landed on the island that Kennedy managed to get a message out. Having no paper, he carved his words on a coconut and told them "Rendova, Rendova" ( a nearby base ). The next day an Allied coastwatcher- Lt. Evans, received the coconut and instructed the natives to have Kennedy come back with them. After reaching Evans post, Kennedy returned with the two PT boats sent out to pick up his crew on the island. 

Kennedy didn't have an ideal group of men to be marooned with. While his fellow officers kept their cool, his crew were a lackluster bunch of fellows. At least, that's how they were portrayed in the film which was based upon the novel "PT 109: John F. Kennedy in WWII" written by Robert J. Donovan. JFK's father, Joseph Kennedy Sr. was one of the founding fathers of RKO studios and he used his influence in Hollywood to have Donovan's novel turned into a motion picture. 


Cliff Robertson was John F. Kennedy's personal choice of actor to portray him and he did a great job, especially considering that he was nearly twenty years older than Kennedy was at the time the events happened. Jacqueline Kennedy preferred Warren Beatty to play her husband. Other actors considered for the role were Ed "Kookie" Byrnes, Peter Fonda, and Jeffrey Hunter. Another choice was Peter Brown, who would have been stellar in the role.

Supporting Cliff Robertson was Ty Hardin (as Ensign Leonard J. Thom ) and Robert Culp ( as "Barney" Ross ) with James Gregory and Grant Williams portraying officers on the naval island base. The enlisted men included actors Robert Blake, Norman Fell, Biff Elliott and Errol John. 

          

In addition to having the choice of lead actor, President Kennedy set down two requirements prior to filming : he wanted the picture to be historically accurate and he wanted the profits from the movie to be donated to the PT 109 survivors.

PT 109 was released on June 19, 1963, just five months prior to Kennedy's assassination, and grossed 5.5 million worldwide. It was a far cry from a flop, but the studio had much greater hopes for the picture and its returns were disappointing. While PT 109 has a few exciting sequences, the story drags in places and its run-time of 140 minutes makes it too long for one sitting. Kennedy himself thought the film a "good product" but had a difficult time sitting through it all...especially with his bad back. At one time he could endure six days stranded on an island but knew that modern audiences liked their action fast, and remarked "It's just a question of whether there is too much of it".

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game


"Pop..pop...pop...pop!!" This old jalopy is sputtering down a wooded lane while a spiffy Rolls tags behind. If you've seen the movie this screenshot is from you would remember this scene. If you haven't seen the movie....oh dear, its a tough shot!

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

GAME OVER. 

The Tactful Typist correctly guessed this screenshot as being from the 1942 comedy A Yank at Eton. Mickey Rooney and his classmates had just hopped aboard a japoly ( getting a friendly push from another car ) to race back to Eton to get even with a young lad who needed a come-uppance. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

TV/Movie Set - The Glass Bottom Boat ( 1966 )

Spy fever was in full heat in the mid-1960s, what with the success of James Bond in the theatres and television shows such as Mission Impossible and The Man from UNCLE. It's no wonder then that even Doris Day was thrust into a spy adventure. In 1966 Universal Pictures cast her and Rod Taylor in a film that took a comedic take on spies in America - The Glass Bottom Boat. Why the screenwriters chose that title is beyond us, for the film has nothing to do with the boat! 

Everett Freeman ( George Washington Slept Here, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty ) penned a wild, but amusing, script surrounding a single woman who is mistaken as a spy when she cryptically dials home to "Vladimir" her dog. Complications ensue when she is given a job as assistant to the handsome boss ( Rod Taylor ) of Spaceways Lab and finds the plans to their top-secret space "GIZMO" in her possession. 

The Glass Bottom Boat featured some marvelous sets designed by art directors Edward C. Carfagno and George W. Davis. Davis had a grand career as an art director lastly nearly thirty years, primarily at MGM and 20th Century Fox studios. We cover some of his work in a little more depth in our set design post on The Courtship of Eddie's Father ( 1963 ), which was one of his projects. 

Rod Taylor's character has the coolest house in the film and we really should be featuring that set with its completely automatic kitchen and vacuum-sucking electronic cleaner ( that resembles an ant-eater ). But it was Doris Day's house that caught our attention the most and so this is the spotlight set of the month. 


The exterior of the house gives the impression that the interior is a spacious ranch, but it is actually quite small ( "cozy" in real estate terms ) and may have only two bedrooms at the most. The garage takes up most of the exterior design. Beautiful landscaping surrounds the property which is perched atop a hill in a typical 1960s squashed suburb.

The front entrance 

Every afternoon Jennifer ( Day ) dials home to Vladimir - her pet pooch - to give the dog some exercise. The ringing of the phone drives him crazy and he runs around the house giving himself a good workout. In this screenshot we can see Jennifer's living room, which is open to the kitchen on the left side and features a large sliding room door on the right. The ceiling is vaulted too. 

The Living Room

Just off the living room is a quaint little corner that has been set up as a radio communications center. Here Jennifer chats with her pop who runs a glass bottom boat touring company in Catalina. Today, this would be the household computer station. 


Carfagno had a long career at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer specializing in period sets working on such prestigious films as Quo Vadis, Julius Caesar and Ben-Hur. He also created a number of great sets for light-hearted pictures like Good News, On an Island with You, and A Ticklish Affair.

The radio center. 

In the later seasons of The Doris Day Show ( when Doris' character suddenly became single ) her apartment was decorated in a style very similar to this house. Perry Ferguson II and James Hassinger ( set decorator ) were the talents behind that show's sets while in this film all these little dining room decors antique rockers were picked out by set decorators Henry Grace and Hugh Hunt. 



Since this was 1966, Jennifer had to have green walls in her bedroom. This shade of green is actually quite nice, especially since it is offset by the white wood paneling and doorways. Also note that the bedroom is carpeted while the living room has beautiful hardwood flooring. 


Unfortunately we don't get a good look at the kitchen from whence comes all those famous banana cream pies. Just to the right of Dom DeLuise is the dining room which for some reason has a table that seats four and a counter with bar-stools.


Spy spoofs never were our favorite genre but this one is entertaining and for our readers who have not seen it, it is worth checking out...for its set design alone! 

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