Saturday, December 31, 2016

Let's Ring in the New Year!

Happy New Year to all of our readers! 

It's time to ring in 2017! A brand spanking new year of exploring obscure classic films, delving into Hollywood's past, and discovering the wonders of British entertainment as well. Are you ready for 2017? We certainly are!

Here's a toast to you, our faithful audience, wishing you the merriest and most blessed new year! 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Note to Debbie

Debbie, I miss your wonderful smile already. In your youth, your exuberance and your energetic spunk were marvelous to watch. Later, as you grew older and matured, you blossomed into a beautiful young woman. Your tender rendition of "Tammy" will last for ages. I loved your pizzazz in Singin' in the Rain ( 1952 ) and your winsome country ways in The Mating Game ( 1959 ). MGM would not have been the same without you. 

You were even more beautiful in the 1960s. You were the ideal woman of the West in How the West Was Won ( 1962 ), one of your best films; and you personified Molly Brown herself in The Unsinkable Mollie Brown ( 1965 )....your favorite film. I loved when you let your hair down in The Catered Affair ( 1956 ) - a great performance - and The Pleasure of His Company ( 1961 ) should have kept that style. You were wildly funny in Goodbye, Charlie ( 1964 ) and How Sweet it is ( 1968 ) and you even convinced me that you were a woman of habit in The Singing Nun ( 1966 ). 

I look forward to exploring all of the films you made that I have not yet seen, but right now I just miss you. At least, you are happily reunited with your daughter and your old friends. Try not to argue too much with Eddie.....

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Christmas Carols of Alfred Burt

During the Christmas season we are often bombarded with Christmas tunes on the radio and television and they become so familiar to us that we overlook the story behind these songs. One such story is the tale of Alfred Burt, a young man who wrote and then sent out carols, in place of a Christmas card, to his friends and families. This tradition began with his father, Reverend Bates Gilbert Burt, who wrote both the music and lyrics to Christmas carols that he would send out to friends and parishioners throughout the 1920s and 1930s.

Alfred Burt helped set his father's lyrics to music during the WWII years and, after his discharge from the Army Air Force, he toured America, along with his wife, working as a trumpeter with an orchestra and writing many of the band's arrangements as well. In 1946, he surprised his father by presenting him with his very own Christmas carol. When Al's father suffered a fatal heart attack in 1948, Al and his wife decided to carry on Reverend Burt's Christmas carol tradition. 

Originally their list of Christmas carol recipients amounted 50, but after touring with the Alvino Rey Orchestra, they met so many new people that it quickly grew to 450 cards to mail out! 

In the early 1950s, Alvino Rey's orchestra kept them in the San Fernando Valley, and so they decided to settle there. Al became active in all phases of the Hollywood musical scene. In 1952, during a rehearsal with the Blue Reys ( Alvino Rey's singing group ), Al asked if they could sing his latest carol "Come, Dear Children" just so that he could check the harmonies on it.....but they liked the song so much they pleaded with him to use it during their annual King Family Christmas party performance. It was a great hit and in the coming year Al spent many hours working with Rey and the King singers for a television show they were putting together. He took a break from this work to set up the Horace Heidt orchestra for a road tour but, upon his return, he looked tired and worn. His wife insisted he see a doctor and his diagnosis hit them like a wave - Al had lung cancer with less than a year to live. 

The Burts were crushed with this news. They had a young daughter, and Al had not yet accomplished his dream of writing a musical, but since his fate was inevitable, he wanted each remaining day to be filled with happiness and humor. A friend of theirs, upon hearing the news, alerted James Conkling, president of Columbia Records, to record Al's carols as a final gift. Al was thrilled with the news, and managed to attend the recording which featured a volunteer chorus of some of Hollywood's finest singers. 

Alfred Burt wrote his final carol - "The Star Carol" - just a day before he passed the age of 33. His wife and daughter sent out this Christmas carol, his most beautiful, in Christmas 1954, including a note telling of the end of the Burt carol tradition. 

In the years following the release of "The Christmas Mood", Columbia's first release of Burt's carols, his music was recorded by so many popular singers of the time, including Bing Crosby, the Fred Waring Orchestra, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Anita Bryant, and Andy Williams. 

Today, Burt's songs have joined the ranks of being traditional Christmas carols, sung in many people's homes and performed around the world during the holiday season. Little did Al realize that the Christmas carols that he wrote just for friends would become so popular and become a part of so many people's lives.

Below we have a selection of Youtube videos featuring some of our favorite Burt carols. Enjoy.....and Merry Christmas! 

All on a Christmas Morning ( 1946 ) - This was one of the very first carols that Alfred Burt helped to write along with his father, Reverend Burt. This version is performed by the Dick Major Singers, which today is a little remembered singing group.

Sleep Baby Mine ( 1949 ) - This is a lullaby inspired by the birth of the Burt's daughter, Diane. It features lyrics written by Wihla Huston, who wrote most of the lyrics to Burt's carols.

Some Children See Him ( 1951 ) - Andy Williams performs the tender "Some Children See Him", which is probably Burt's most recognized work. Only Andy could sing it with such passion!

O Hearken Ye ( 1953 ) - Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians performed many of Burt's carols in the 1960s. This one is much more upbeat than Burt's usual carols.

The Star Carol ( 1954 ) - This was the last carol that Alfred Burt composed before he died, and it is certainly his most beautiful. The Lennon Sisters performed it many times on television and in live performances. This particular clip is from the 1966 Christmas special of The Lawrence Welk Show.

To read more about Alfred Burt, his music, and his daughter's work in continuing his legacy, check out this link. 

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Lately, we've been posting some screenshots that have been truly impossible to guess, but since this is the season to be generous, today we have posted a Not-So-Impossibly difficult screenshot! This one features a lovely winter landscape, and two backs of heads that look very familiar....don't you think? Be the first to guess the movie this shot is from, and you'll win a prize for Christmas! 

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!


Congratulations to Vienna who correctly answered The Farmer's Daughter ( 1947 ). Those familiar looking backsides belong to Ethel Barrymore and Charles Bickford and those two figures running are none other than Joseph Cotten and Loretta Young. Katie Holstrom ( Young ) believes that running keeps her in shape for skating, while skating keeps her in shape for running. Only a Swede would be brave enough to go jogging in the snow!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Thurston Hall - The Great Senator

You've seen him before...that imposing stature, that jovial smile, his booming voice, and those eyes, those eyes that bulge at just the right moments. Thurston Hall is his name and governors, senators, businessmen, and doting fathers are his game. His name is often confused with Thurston Howell III ( Jim Backus ) of Gilligan's Island fame, and although the series' creator Sherwood Schwartz never directly admitted that his multi-millionaire character was based on Hall, he certainly could have been!

Thurston made nearly 270 films in his career which spanned between 1915-1958. Westerns, dramas, musicals, comedies, adventure films....he did them all. If any film featured a blustery authoritarian you could be sure that it was Thurston Hall playing the part. 

This 6' tall Bostonian toured New England with a theatrical troupe in his youth, later forming his own theater company and traveling throughout Australia and South Africa. He was kept busy throughout the early 1900s and 1920s juggling both stage performances with numerous silent film appearances. However, his rich baritone voice could not be heard in silent films and so audiences did not embrace him as the leading man he could have been. It was not until he was nearing the age of 50 that he found his niche as a character actor appearing in films for just about every studio in Hollywood. 

Thurston was a delightful character, and it did not matter whether he played unscrupulous men, or pompous just couldn't help but like him. A prime example of a typical Thurston Hall role was Mr. Bruce Pierce, publisher of the sensational Pierce paperbacks in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty ( 1947 ). Walter Mitty ( Danny Kaye ) would continually come up with excellent suggestions for company, all of which Mr. Pierce would later boast were his own brilliant ideas. Ten years earlier, he had portrayed a similar role as Irene Dunne's flustered New York publisher Arthur Stevenson in Theodora Goes Wild ( 1936 ). 
In Fast Company ( 1938 ) he was crooked District Attorney MacMillen, a man always ready to swoop down on the Sloanes...especially when he felt them breathing down his neck. In almost every film, Thurston had a fat cigar hanging from his lips, and he would often puff on it nervously when his character's underhanded political dealings were about to be exposed. It was these political roles that Thurston excelled at in particular. His face, his manners, and that voice of his were the ideal image of an American politician....particularly a congressmen or senator. The Great Gildersleeve ( 1942 ), Sherlock Holmes in Washington ( 1943 ), The Farmer's Daughter ( 1947 ), Welcome Stranger ( 1947 ), and Up in Central Park ( 1948 ) were just a few of the films where he played men of political prominence.

Remember that wealthy socialite Mr. Bel-Goodie in You Can't Cheat an Honest Man ( 1938 )? That was Thurston, too. When he wasn't portraying crooked financiers or politicians he played wealthy upper-crust men of society. In First Love ( 1939 ) Deanna Durbin made sure to tickle the snooty gent the right way because she was smitten with his son ( Robert Stack ). 
Thurston also played military men with ease, often portraying colonels or captains of the Army and Navy ( as in Going Places and Brewsters Millions ). When he wasn't donning a uniform you could find Thurston with a cowboy hat atop his head. Jasper Jim Bandy ( Swing the Western Way ), Big Jim Hanlon ( Rim of the Canyon ), Horatio Huntington ( Belle of Ole Mexico ), Big Jim Lassiter ( Whirlwind ), and Mr. Gaytes ( Texas Carnival ), were some of the larger than life Texan characters that Thurston tackled in the 1940s and 1950s. 

When Thurston Hall's film career came to a close in the mid-1950s, he focused his attention on television, appearing in episodes of The Abbott and Costello Show and My Little Margie as well as being a regular in The Adventures of Hiram Holliday and Topper. Incidentally, his role of the blustery boss Mr. Schuyler in Topper is what he is most remembered for. 

In Hollywood today there aren't many character actors who are known for playing one particular kind of role. Even if these actors still existed, we doubt that anyone could personify a politician as well as Thurston Hall. We like to call him "The Great Senator". After all, who could claim they were a senator so many times in their career? 

Paula's Cinema Club, Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled are hosting the 5th annual What a Character! Blogathon and this year there are some really juicy posts about obscure character actors, so be sure to check out the other entries here

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The River ( 1951 )

Jean Renoir is often revered for directing two brilliant cinematographic films of the 1930s - La Grande Illusion ( 1937 ) and The Rules of the Game ( 1939 ) - both considered by critics to be among the greatest films ever made, but Renoir also voyaged into the realm of Technicolor in the early 1950s and produced what could be considered one of the most vibrant color films ever made - The River ( 1951 ). 
This film won the International prize at the Venice Film Festival when it was first released, but it has since fallen into obscurity, especially among Hollywood film fans. It may be because Renoir chose to use amateur actors for the leads, and while they handle their parts adequately, many feel that their performances kept this film from becoming the classic it could have been. Perhaps.....

Personally, I feel their naturalness adds to the charm of the picture, which often takes on the tone of a documentary. The River is one woman's reminiscences about her childhood in India and the growing pains she encountered as a girl; that woman being Rumer Godden. She wasn't a glamorous girl, and felt awkward at times...hence, the actress chosen to portray her ( Bengal native Patricia Walters ) was not glamorous and often awkward herself. 

The other main characters in her story are her childhood friends, Melanie ( Radha ), a half-British/half-Indian girl, and Valerie ( Adrienne Corri ), a flighty beauty who isn't sure where her emotions stem from. Their peaceful childhood together growing up among the banks of the Bengal river are disrupted when a soldier, Captain John ( Thomas Breen ) comes for a prolonged visit with their neighbor. The captain is a handsome youth with flaming red hair, and the three girls quickly become smitten with him. Little do they realize that their romantic fantasies aren't shared by him. Captain John lost a leg in the war, and he has come to India primarily to escape the pity he feared he would receive back home. He also hopes to find inner peace and an acceptance for his condition, but leaves finding neither.

All of the characters in The River are truly misfits. Melanie doesn't know whether her viewpoints about life and marriage are more Eastern or Western; Valerie is beautiful but immature; Harriet ( the main character ) is wise but homely in appearance; Harriet's father has only one eye; and Captain John is the most lamentable of them all for he feels that his missing leg makes him less whole than others. 
The River is a gentle and thoughtful film and it meanders along at a refreshingly slow pace while it explores these themes of love and hatred, acceptance of our situation, as well as life and death. Renoir makes his audience feel as though they were taking a slow boat journey down the river with plenty of time to stop and observe the locals in their daily activities and meditate on the constancy of the circle of life. If you have the time, it is well worth taking this journey. 

Seen The River already? Then check out Alexander Sesonske's splendid essay on the film over at Critieron's website. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

From the Archives : Octopussy ( 1983 )

"It's all in the wrist." 

Bond proves that Kamal Khan's luck with dice is more than mere wrist action in the action packed James Bond classic Octopussy. 

From the Archives is our latest series of posts where we share photos from the Silverbanks Pictures collection. Some of these may have been sold in the past, and others may still be available for purchase at our eBay store :

Friday, December 2, 2016

Agnes Moorehead - Truly One of the Best

Agnes Moorehead has long been one of the most beloved supporting actresses of the golden era, and so, to pay tribute to this wonderful talent, In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting The Agnes Moorehead Blogathon running from December 4-6th. 

Agnes was truly one of the best. She was a marvelous actress who covered every field of entertainment from performing in over one hundred films, doing dozens of radio programs, taking on numerous television work and acting in theater, to touring as a public speaker. Versatility and professionalism were Ms. Moorehead's greatest assets. She could take on any role and give audiences the very best she had to give in every performance. 

Agnes was born in Clinton, Massachusetts in 1900. Her father was a Presbyterian minister and her mother a former mezzo soprano. Agnes began performing at a young age when her parents encouraged her to recite and sing in public. She also had a vivid imagination and loved to create characters to fit every mood. If she didn't feel like being Agnes one day, she would pretend she was somebody else. Throughout her life, Agnes never considered herself to be pretty, feeling especially awkward in her youth. "As a little girl I was the long gangly type, almost as tall as I am now ( 5'6" ), it was sad and pathetic." But she loved to perform, and decided at a young age that this was what she wanted to do with her life. 

Before stepping into the limelight, Agnes decided to educate herself, for as she explained once, "I believe the more you know about what goes on around you, the more prepared you would be for any parts that might come along." She taught English at schools in Muskingum, Ohio ( her family's hometown and the area she was raised as a girl ), and in Wisconsin, before attaining a Master's Degree in Public Speaking and English, earning a doctorate in literature, and graduating with honors from the Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1929.

She had hoped to venture into Broadway but significant parts were scarce and, rather than starve as she had sometimes done, she sought work as a library assistant, waitress, and teacher before she discovered that she could earn a steady income through radio.

"Radio was a wonderful boon to an actor, " she said. "You could use your imagination and your voice to create all sorts of characterizations."

Ms. Moorehead had a particularly distinctive voice that evoked much emotion and depth. It was through her radio work that she met Orson Welles, a young actor who was also an innovative director. Welles featured Agnes in "War of the Worlds" a news report style science-fiction broadcast that scared the wits out of the nation.

Welles admired Agnes' professionalism and ability to adapt to any role, and so he invited her to join his theatrical group, the Mercury Theater players. RKO film studios had their eye on Orson Welles and, in 1940, invited him out to Hollywood.....with him came Agnes and another talented Mercury player, Joseph Cotten. The three of them would all have parts in Welles' first film Citizen Kane ( 1941 ). Agnes' introductory role as Kane's poverty-stricken mother was small but memorable, and essential to establishing the millionaire's dying yearn to return to his childhood. 

Her next role was Fanny Amberson, the emotional aunt in Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons ( 1942 ). This part earned her the first of five Oscar nominations she would receive in her lifetime. 

Accolades do not build up wealth in the bank, however, and the fear of experiencing poverty like she suffered during the 1920s made her return to radio work. Agnes would make her most famous radio performance in Sorry, Wrong Number, one of the numerous episodes she did for the Suspense mystery program. Agnes portrayed the selfish bed-ridden woman who overhears a phone conversation of a killer plotting to murder a woman....not knowing that she herself was the intended victim! 

Whatever role she took on, Agnes made it her own, adding presige to even the most minor of parts. She had small roles in Government Girl ( 1943 ), Jane Eyre ( 1943 ), Dragon Seed ( 1944 ), Since You Went Away ( 1944 ), and The Seventh Cross ( 1944 ), but much to her disappointment, she was seldom offered sympathetic parts...until Mrs. Parkington ( 1944 ). In this film adaptation of Louis Bromfield's best-selling novel, Agnes portrayed the world-wise Baroness Aspasia Conti, a dear friend to both Major Parkington and his wife ( portrayed by Walter Pidgeon and Greer Garson ). This role earned her her second Oscar nomination and, more importantly, opened up the window to a more diverse range of parts.

Throughout the 1940s, Agnes was kept busy in family dramas ( Our Vines Have Tender Grapes ), musicals ( Summer Holiday ), comedies ( Her Highness and the Bellboy ), and even film noirs such as Dark Passage ( 1948 ), where she was given the opportunity to play "the other woman" in Humphrey Bogart's life. 

Ms. Moorehead's glowing success ( she was earning $6000 a week and was now a sought-after supporting actress ), had its price on her personal life. Her husband of twenty-two years, Jack Lee, filed for divorce in 1952 claiming that Agnes "berated him because of his dress, speech, posture, and manner of eating", and often complained of his "snoring".

Agnes continued to keep busy throughout the 1950s, not only in film and radio but in theater as well, notably touring with Charles Boyer and Charles Laughton. Still, there was nothing she valued more than her privacy from the prying eyes of columnists, and she often retreated to the 320-acre "gentleman's farm" in Cambridge, Ohio, that had been homesteaded by her great-grandparents. Agnes loved to cook all of her meals from produce fresh from the earth. She also adored animals, particularly pigs, deer, and her beloved dogs. 

In 1953, Agnes remarried, this time to actor Robert Gist. Despite sharing a professional bond, Agnes' high moral standards and religious devotion put a strain on their marriage and within five years their union ended. During this time, Agnes adopted her foster son, Sean, who also had a mop of red hair. 

That royal demeanor often seen on screen was merely Agnes' true character shining through. Off-screen, she was known as "The Lavender Lady" because she was always seen wearing lavender, a lighter shade of the royal purple. Agnes also threw soirees fit for royalty. Her annual Christmas party, held at her Mediterranean style mansion Villa Agnese in Hollywood, was an event covered by newspapers on both coasts.

The 1950s were high times for Agnes and she appeared in some of her most colorful roles during this decade. In Magnificent Obsession is played Nancy Ashford, a noble nurse. This was also one of the few Technicolor films that showed audiences her flaming red hair.  She portrayed queens in both The Swan ( 1956 ), and The Story of Mankind ( 1957 ), and Hunlan, a Mongolian woman in The Conqueror ( 1956 ), a part that later in her life she would seriously regret taking.  In The Bat ( 1959 ), Mrs. Moorehead portrayed Mrs. Van Gorder, a mystery writer who finds a killer known as The Bat lurking around the country manor she rented for the summer. The presence of Agnes, and that other remarkable talent Vincent Price ( her male counterpart ), lent this budget thriller a touch a class, and their interaction on screen is wonderful to watch. 

Agnes was excellent as Mother Prescott in the western epic How the West Was Won ( 1962 ) and as the spectacularly trashy Velma Cruther, but focused primarily on acting in comedies and light-hearted fare in the early 1960s ( Pollyanna, Bachelor in Paradise, Who's Minding the Store? ), before signing on to play Endora the Witch in the long-running television series Bewitched. This is probably her most recognized role, and yet she did not want to be associated for this part alone. She found work in television to be tedious, but nevertheless, she enjoyed the series and was proud of its wholesome tone. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, Agnes shared her knowledge of acting, and especially public speaking, with budding actors who sought her out as a mentor. She educated them in Shakespeare, technique, and movement, and tried to steer them away from the sordidness that was becoming prevalent in modern entertainment. During this time, Agnes was diagnosed with cancer. Like Dick Powell, Susan Hayward, and John Wayne, she had contracted the disease during location filming for The Conqueror in St. George, Utah...not far from the nuclear test area in Yucca Flat, Nevada. 
Moorehead spent as much time as she could back at her Cambridge farm before the effects of cancer set in and she was hospitalized. In her last days, only her good friend Debbie Reynolds, whom she had met during the making of How the West Was Won, was by her side. Agnes and Debbie were over thirty years apart in age, but sisters in heart. "Debbie has an incredible sense of humor," Agnes once said, "and it's a good thing she had. You know, it's really the only thing that keeps us actors going. If an actor either loses his sense of humor - or just doesn't have one to start with - he can eat himself up inside. Both Debbie and I manage to see the funny side of things - and so survive." 

Agnes' son Sean had walked out on Agnes years before, and during Agnes' illness was rumored to have been living with Paulette Goddard in Switzerland. She passed away on April 30th, 1974. In her final will she left most of her estate, including both of her Ohio homes, to Muskingum College and Bob Jones University. She was buried in her family plot in Dayton, Ohio. 

Want more on Moorehead? Check out her cousin's blog "Just Call Me Aggie" for some great ancestral insights and behind-the-scenes stories, and "My Travels with Agnes Moorehead - The Lavender Lady" by Quint Benedetti. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Iron Maiden ( 1962 )

Meet The Iron Maiden....vital statistics 28ft - 8ft - 12ft, weight 16 tons....and he loved every inch of her! 

This clever tag line from the poster of The Iron Maiden perfectly captures the true passions of British men. They love cheeky humor and a shapely bird, but when it comes to a finely crafted machinery, women will always take a back seat. In this case, the machinery referred to is a 1914 iron engine, lovingly known by its owner Jack Hopkins ( Michael Craig ) as "The Iron Maiden". 

Hopkins is a passenger airplane designer whose most recent design, a futuristic supersonic airliner, has caught the attention of two rival airline firms. Hopkins has no interest in striking a deal with either firm, because his primary passion is his beloved steam engine, The Iron Maiden. In just a few days the Annual Steam Rally will be taking place, and Hopkins wants to get his engine cleaned and ready for the long journey to Woburn Abbey.

Paul Fisher ( Alan Hale Jr. ), the American owner of TransGlobal Airlines, is especially keen on purchasing the plane but first wants to meet its designer, for he always makes a deal based on the man behind it, not the product itself. 

Unfortunately, upon his arrival in England with his wife and daughter, his first encounter with Mr. Fisher turns out to be a literal smash, when Hopkins crashes his Iron Maiden into Mr. Fisher's new Cadillac. Mr. Fisher is adamant in his dislike for Hopkins, until he steps behind the Iron Maiden himself and helps her win the annual race. 

The Iron Maiden is a genteel British comedy along the lines of Genevieve ( 1953 ) and The Titfield Thunderbolt ( 1953 ), all of them showcasing some great machines and their passionate owners. Unlike these films, The Iron Maiden fails to rally up the audience to root for its main character. This is largely due to miscasting ( where is John Gregson when he is needed? ) and a poor script. The character of Hopkins is thoroughly dogged about letting nothing and no one stop him from winning the traction engine race, to the point where we are anxious to see him fail. 

All British comedies from this era are great fun to watch, so even these down points don't dampen the entertainment very much, especially since there are some great location shots of England's countryside, the Henley regatta.....and, of course, traction engines. Network's DVD release of The Iron Maiden is beautifully transferred and in vibrant color, and it is always great to see Alan Hale Jr., who was making one of his few film appearances of the 1960s. Also in the cast are Noel Purcell, Ann Helm, Jeff Donnell, Cecil Parker, Roland Culver, and Joan Sims. 

Check out the Bedford Steam Engine Preservation Society's website which features photos from the 2011 show with a rally theme saluting the film "The Iron Maiden".

Monday, November 28, 2016

George O'Brien - A Heroic Man

"Gorgeous George" and "The Torso" were just a few of the many nicknames of hunky actor George O'Brien throughout the 1920s and 1930s. And very fitting titles these were. Not only was George a charismatic actor, but he boasted one of the finest physiques in Hollywood. Clothing looked unnatural on him since his muscles always seemed like they were about to bust his shirts apart. Here was a truly rugged man. O'Brien's leading ladies never feared danger when he was by their side. 

George had all the attributes of a natural born cowboy. Hence, saddles and spurs suited him well. Between 1929-1940, O'Brien starred in over 35 westerns, most of them for RKO studios. This association with westerns began as far back as 1922, when he first came to Hollywood from San Francisco. His father was Frisco's chief of police. George not only inherited his father's physical prowess, but strove to emulate his values in being honorable and serving others. In high school, he played football, baseball, track and field, and swimming, and when World War I broke out, he joined the Navy, serving first on a submarine chaser and then as a stretcher bearer where he earned five decorations for bravery under fire. 
George also learned how to box in the Navy. In fact, he was so good in the ring that he won the light-heavyweight Pacific fleet boxing title. When he returned to college, he found visits to the RKO studios more absorbing then his studies and decided to enter pictures. Stunt work in westerns led to a few supporting roles in silents, which caught the eye of John Ford who was looking for a leading man to play in his western epic The Iron Horse. O'Brien was ideal. This part not only earned plaudits for O'Brien and a ten-year RKO contract, but John Ford became a life-long friend. 

Noah's Ark 
Several silent films followed, including Fig Leaves and Three Bad Men, both of which starred O'Brien's sweetheart Olive Borden. And then, in 1927, he starred in F. W. Murnau's silent film classic Sunrise : A Song of Two Humans ( 1927 ). His performance of "The Man" who gets lured away from his wife and child by a city woman, is still O'Brien's most recognized work, and a fan favorite. Janet Gaynor may have been the film's Academy Award nominee, but it was George who gave the standout performance as the sensitive husband. He personally loved the part and was proud of his work in Sunrise. In 1979, at the end of a screening of Sunrise in New York City, he received a standing ovation for his performance and was moved to tears. 

George found westerns the most exciting films to work on, and since he loved to ride ( and audiences loved to see him sport a cowboy hat ) he was frequently cast in the genre. O'Brien quickly became a favorite B-western star for RKO appearing in such films as Lone Star Ranger, Riders of the Purple Sage, The Golden West, Frontier Marshal, and The Renegade Ranger ( 1938 ) which co-starred Tim Holt, who would become his successor as RKO's top western star. 

George's films tended to follow a formula, usually beginning with his character having a chance encounter with the leading lady who would express her dislike for such a rogue as he ( much like the Errol Flynn films of the late 1930s ). Then they would find themselves in danger and his winning smile would make her realize how she misjudged him; finally ending with them being involved in a dangerous situation and him demonstrating his fisticuffs technique on the villains in order to save them both. 

O'Brien as a miner in Hard Rock Harrigan ( 1935 )
George always liked to flash a grin in the face of danger. He usually found every situation amusing...never worrying about the outcome. Take, for example, Windjammer ( 1937 ). In this film O'Brien has the simple task of delivering a subpoena to a commodore aboard his yacht. In doing so, he finds himself on the vessel bound for Hawaii, working in the galley as a cook. He never grumbles about the task, but thoroughly enjoys it. Later, when gunrunners kidnap them, they are taken to China, and then the Commodore and his daughter find George to be a kindly ally, relying upon him to take them out of danger. 

Expecting this formula is what makes his films so entertaining, and since most of them were merely 60 minutes long, they were fast fun packed with plenty of action. 

Two happy Irishmen : O'Brien and Tracy
In 1933, George married Marguerite Churchill ( The Big Trail ) whom he met when making Riders of the Purple Sage that same year. They had three children, Brian, who died in infancy; Darcy, who became a popular true-crime novelist; and Orin O'Brien, who is considered to be one of the foremost double bassists in the history of the New York Philharmonic orchestra. 

Their marriage was a happy one....until World War II, when George re-joined the Navy and served in the Pacific for the length of the war. Like many veterans, he came back a changed man, and Marguerite filed for divorce shortly thereafter. George never re-married but stayed on friendly terms with Marguerite. 
George continued to appear in westerns upon his return to Hollywood, notably John Ford's Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, but roles were few for an aging cowboy, and so George went back into active service, not only to help America settle the mess taking place in Korea, but in Vietnam as well. George was a highly decorated naval officer and was recommended for the rank of admiral four times. 

When his term of service had ended, he retired to a ranch in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, living the life of a true American cowboy up until his death in 1985 at the age of 86. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Miracle on 34th Street ( 1955 )

My sister and I were planning on watching the perennial television airing of Miracle on 34th Street this morning but a quick look at the TV guide revealed to us that the film is no longer being aired on Thanksgiving looks like it hasn't been for over a decade ( I knew it was a while since we've seen the movie, but not that long! ). 

Anyway, since we are cheapskates and did not want to pay the meager $2.99 to rent the film on Youtube we started hunting for another version available for free. There were two television adaptations to choose from: a 1955 20th Century Fox Hour telecast, and one from 1978 featuring Sebastian Cabot, David Hartmann, Jane Alexander, Jim Backus, Tom Bosley, and Roddy MacDowall. Both have excellent casts, but before you scroll down the page to see the 1955 cast, just think about which actors you would place in the roles made so famous by Edmund Gwenn, John Payne, Maureen O'Hara, and Natalie Wood......then you'll know what a spot-on cast this one features! 
Did you cast MacDonald Carey in John Payne's place? That is sheer genius. Teresa Wright takes on Mrs. Walker, the doubting mother role, and 1950s child star Sandy Descher plays little Susan. Now the part of Santa Claus would have been really tough to cast in 1955, but the producers of this show decided to use Thomas Mitchell, and he does a really good job...even though his eyebrows make Santa look a bit scary at times. 

So how does this version stack up against the original? Well, you can't top a 20th Century Fox classic. Since Miracle on 34th Street had to be fit within a one hour time-slot, much of the heart of the original film was removed for the sake of condensing the story, which is a shame. Kris Kringle seems rather irate at times, probably because he is upset with how big businesses were commercializing Christmas but, since we aren't actually shown this, we are left just to assume that Kringle has an aggravation streak in him. 
MacDonald Carey and Teresa Wright are wonderful, but Sandy Descher lacked the charm of Natalie Wood. Our Oma ( "grandmother" in German ) considered Natalie Wood a plain-looking girl and always wondered why she became a star. Well, compared to many other child actors, Natalie had heaps of that explains that. Sandy just didn't have that spark needed for this role. 

Also cast in the movie is Hans Conreid as Shellhammer ( Mrs. Walker's co-worker at Macy's ), Ray Collins as the judge, John Abbott as Dr. Sawyer, Whit Bissell, and Maudie Prickett. 

In 1959 another one-hour television adaptation of Miracle on 34th Street was made, this time with Ed Wynn, Peter Lind Hayes, Mary Healy, and Orson Bean. That casting seems rather odd. The program was thought to have been lost for many years, since it was recorded on kinescope and aired live on television, but it was recently discovered among a lot of kinescopes donated by NBC to the Library of Congress, and in 2005 was screened at the LOC with Susan Gordon ( My Three Sons ), who portrayed Susan Walker in the production, in attendance. 

Ready to check out the 1955 version yourself? Simply click here to view the movie on Youtube.  

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers! 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Ouch! This fellow just hit his head - HONK! - against the steering wheel. Doesn't he look familiar? You know this chap and you probably know the movie this scene is from. If you do, then let others know that you know and then we'll let you know if you won a prize. 

Don't know what this game is all about? Then check out the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game ( and the prize ) here!


Congratulations to Laura B for correctly identifying this scene from Double Trouble ( 1967 ) starring Elvis Presley. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Greatest Show on Earth ( 1952 )

For Cecil B. DeMille there was no such thing as a regular feature always had to be a spectacle

Circus films were a dime a dozen in the 1930s, but none of them really captured that thrill of seeing a circus in person. A circus was meant to be a spectacle, and the circus itself had to take the center ring in a film; it couldn't be relegated to merely a background setting. 

Cecil B. DeMille knew all this, and he also knew that if he wanted to see a honest-to-goodness tribute to the American circus he would have to make the film himself. 

As early as 1949, DeMille started the wheels of production spinning. He spent over a year touring with Ringling Barnum and Bailey Circus, photographing the best acts in the business and discovering ways to transport that thrill of a real circus onto the big screen. What resulted was indeed The Greatest Show on Earth, a spectacle beyond all spectacles. This film really packs a punch and captures everything audiences love about the circus - daring acts on the flying trapeze, elephants on parade, glittering costumes, the smoky atmosphere within the tent, the heroic natures of the stars of the rings, even the drama of the circus people themselves. 
This drama centers around Brad Braden ( Charlton Heston ), manager of the Ringling Brothers circus. He has just engaged The Great Sebastian ( Cornel Wilde ), a popular trapeze artist, to ensure a full profitable season, even though it means moving his girlfriend Holly ( Betty Hutton ), another trapeze artist, from her hard-won center ring. Sebastian and Holly begin a playful, but dangerous, one-upmanship duel in the ring until the inevitable accident stops the show. 

James Stewart also has a big part as a former doctor now in hiding from the police for a mercy killing several years back. To keep his identity a secret he never removes his makeup as Buttons the Clown. It is not until Brad's life is endangered in a massive train wreck that Buttons must reveal his true profession. 
Gloria Grahame, Lyle Bettger, Dorothy Lamour, and Henry Wilcoxon make up the rest of the cast, in addition to 85 acts from the Ringling Brothers circus including aerialist Antionette Concello, midget Cucciola, and veteran clowns Emmett Kelly and Lou Jacobs. All of the scenes within the tent were filmed at Ringling Brothers' winter home in Sarasota, or live during one of their performances. Obviously, the circus pros had no issues doing the stunts, but what was most impressive was how well Cornel Wilde ( who had a fear of heights ) and Betty Hutton performed on the trapeze. It took them months to learn their technique and it clearly showed. Had their Hollywood careers fizzled, they could have easily joined up with a circus. 

When The Greatest Show on Earth premiered its box-office receipts were higher than even The Great Sebastian could soar, with kids of all ages packing the theatres in droves. It's no wonder, too.....Cecil B. DeMille paralleled the real Ringling Brothers circus and gave audiences one great moment after another to behold in this star-studded spectacle. 

Fredric Frank and Barre Lyndon penned a cotton-candy script with a straightforward plot line because, after all, who comes to a circus to be engrossed in deep drama? We want to have fun, ooh and aah at some thrilling acts, and see plenty of spangles and sawdust. 

So next time you're itching to go to the circus, get yourself some popcorn, and sit back and enjoy The Greatest Show on Earth. 

This post is our entry in the "At the Circus Blogathon" being hosted by Critica Retro and Serendiptious Anachronisms. Be sure to head on over to their blogs to read more reviews about circus films!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

John Huston's Moby Dick ( 1956 )

"At sea one day you'll smell land where there'll be no land, and on that day Ahab will go to his grave, but he'll rise again within the hour. He will rise and beckon. Then all - all save one - shall follow. "

Ishmael ( Richard Basehart ), a young sailor, hears these prophetic words from a stranger named Elijah only moments before boarding the Pequod, a whaling vessel sailing out of New Bedford. Once onboard, he discovers that the pilot of the vessel, Captain Ahab ( Gregory Peck ) has set out to sea obsessed with one purpose kill the great white whale that took his leg. 
Herman Melville's 1851 novel "Moby Dick" is a massive thesis of good and evil, man's struggle against the malevolent forces of nature told from the perspective of a seaman. 

"Translating a work of this scope into a screenplay was a staggering proposition. Looking back now, I wonder if it is possible to do justice to Moby Dick on film," pondered director John Huston in his autobiography "An Open Book". 

But if ever there was a man who tried to capture on film the essence of this wicked beast it was Huston, who had first read the book when he was sixteen. He plunged into the depths of Melville's writing to seek out the very heart and soul of Moby Dick. Once found, he pierced its core and cut away at its blubber till Moby Dick was exposed raw. This he then brought to the screen. 

"To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee. Ye damned whale!"
With the aide of a stellar cast, and an imaginative screenwriter ( Ray Bradbury ), John Huston meticulously crafted a stirring film that he had hoped would inspire audiences to revisit Melville's novel. No detail was neglected, even a monochromatic overlay on the Technicolor was used to help evoke the quality of 19th century folk paintings. 

It was Bradbury who chartered the direct course of narration for Moby Dick, retaining the essential Melville dialogue as well as the transcendental subtext of the novel while condensing the colossus piece into a two-hour film. By suggesting much, and explaining little, Bradbury gave Huston's Moby Dick a power which no other film adaptation made prior to or since has been able to match. 

At the time of its initial release, however, critics harpooned the film, not only for its "strange, subdued color scheme" ( a typically narrow-minded Bosley Crowther remark ), but for the casting of Gregory Peck whom some considered too shallow for the role. 

Huston initially saw his father, Walter Huston, as the perfect Captain Ahab, but after Walter died in 1950, John was forced to seek another actor who, potentially, had the wrath of Ahab within him. He found Gregory Peck, and he was always proud of that choice, believing Peck conveyed the exact quality he wanted for the seaman. "Here was a man who shook his fist at God," is how Huston described Ahab.

Peck's performance does indeed demonstrate immense power. Ahab is clearly a man bottling up his frustration in not besting the albino porpoise. He's a man struggling with his sanity and trying to hold the reign on his vengeance. Gregory Peck deftly avoiding turning Ahab into a cliche of the mentally unstable sea captain, as Trevor Howard did with Captain Bligh in Mutiny on the Bounty ( 1962 ). Although Peck's Ahab is mad, it is a madness that is dangerously contagious.

"It is an evil voyage, I tell thee. If Ahab has his way, neither thee nor me, nor any member of this ship's company will ever see home again."

The other cast members of Moby Dick serve only as jib sails, helping to push the film towards its climax. These include Leo Genn as first mate Starbuck, a God-fearing Quaker who tries to convince Ahab to abandon his quest for selfish avengement; Harry Andrews as second mate Stubb; Friedrich von Ledebur, as the tattooed islander Queequeg; and Richard Basehart as Ishmael, the narrator. Orson Welles also has a brief appearance as a preacher who gives the sermon to the crew before their departure. Alas, this scene lingered on too long and should have been edited from the final cut for it for it deadened the film's pace. 
Moby Dick keeps a steady slow beat throughout its first hour until it heeds the coxswain's call to quicken pace and then races towards an exciting climax, where audiences witness the fulfillment of Elijah's prophecy and glimpse the power of the great white whale that Ahab talked so much about. 

Years before CGI would take the place of imaginative filming - and since whales were known for being notoriously difficult to work with - John Huston opted to use rubber models for most of the scenes involving Moby Dick. This alternative method was damned realistic, and the resulting finale, coupled with Philip Sainton's magnificent score, leaves a lasting impression on the viewer.

Friday, November 11, 2016

The Great Imaginary Film Blogathon Has Arrived!

Step into our tent and gaze into the crystal ball.....what you see before you will be the past that has never been. Fantastic film plots gathered from imagineers across America will magically take form in the eyes of your mind as you read their reviews of amazing movies that were never made. 

Welcome to the Great Imaginary Film Blogathon! 

Diana and I ( Connie ) are pleased to once again host this far-fetched event, giving bloggers a chance to play producer and concoct films that they wished had been made ( but never were )....and then review them. 

Everyone has exited a movie theatre thinking of all the changes they would have made to the film they just saw, or read a book and imagined the ideal movie adaptation of the story. Well, if you put your thoughts about that ideal film down on paper you'd have a Great Imaginary Film article. That's what this event is all about!

During the course of the next few days bloggers will be sharing with you, dear readers, their favorite films that have long existed only in their own imaginations. Be prepared for anything. Wallace Beery starring in A Streetcar Named Desire? It could happen here. Joan Crawford playing herself in Mommie Dearest? Ghastly to think of, but nothing is impossible. Freddie Bartholomew in the original 1938 version of Harry Potter? It's been conceived before!
If you just stumbled upon this blogathon today and thought of a jim-dandy movie idea you'd like to share with others, then have no fear, we'll be accepting submissions at anytime...down to the last stroke of midnight on November 13th ( Oh heck, we'll even accept entries after that date! )
Ready to read reviews about some imaginary films? Then look no further than below, where we have prepared a master list of participating blogs. 

Unfortunately, we don't have Professor Marvel's skill of telepathy, so if you represent one of these blogs and have your post ready for sharing, you'll have to drop your link in the comment box or send us an email so we could update the master list.  Enjoy!


Edna May Oliver starred in three Withers mysteries during the 1930s, but did you know that Louise Fazenda and Agnes Moorehead also played the famous detective?

In this clever film noir from Quiggy, Robert Mitchum plays a private detective who must head to a circus to solve the murder of a bearded lady. 

Hamlette fantasizes the ideal cast of The Lord of the Rings, had it been made into an epic film in the 1960s. 

We all know that Shirley Temple was up for the part of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, but Movies Meet their Match tells us that she actually did star in the 1941 version!

Dan Day tells us all about this exciting imaginary Universal horror classic starring Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi.

Downton Abbey would have been an ideal 1940s film, and Old Hollywood Films' brilliant casting makes you wish it had been made. 

What if Agatha Christie's classic thriller had been made in 1956? Little Bits of Classics tells us how this film would have turned out. 

Michael Powell's Peeping Tom shocked audiences when it was first released, but that didn't stop Edward D. Wood from creating a sequel! 

Can you imagine that before Tomb Raider became such a popular franchise it was a 20th Century Fox adventure film starring the beautiful Vivien Leigh? We can!

Film noirs are making a comeback, and Robert Downey Jr.'s latest film may just snatch the Best Picture Oscar for 2017. 

Phyllis gives us an inside look at Elia Kazan's Conspiracy Theory, the original film, released fifty years before the popular Mel Gibson version. 

L.M Montgomery's classic novel "The Blue Castle" is about to be a 2016 film release, and it features Tom Hiddleston and Robert DeNiro!

A Person in the Dark 
The Lady Eve's Reel Life
In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood

Want to read some more imaginary film reviews? Check out the original Great Imaginary Film Blogathon entries.