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 morning....it 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 talent....so 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!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Greatest Show on Earth ( 1952 )

For Cecil B. DeMille there was no such thing as a regular feature film...it 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 only....to 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!

MASTER LIST OF IMAGINARY FILM CREATORS



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. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Tomb Raider: The Treasure of the Snake King

Riding high from her fame as the fiery Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind and as Myra in 1940's romantic tearjerker Waterloo Bridge, English rose Vivien Leigh enthralled audiences in the role of fearless siren Lara Croft in Tomb Raider: The Treasure of the Snake King

Released by 20th Century Fox in November 1942, screenwriter Philip Dunne crafted an exciting adventure story that inspired Toby Gard to create Tomb Raider, which has since become the world's best-selling video game franchise.

In the beginning of the film, a noted archaeologist is being pursued by thugs in a small waterfront outpost in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. He runs into a general store/post office and hastily puts a 4" terra cotta figurine into a cardboard box and addresses the box to his friend and colleague, English archaeologist and aristocrat Lady Lara Croft ( Leigh ). Shortly after he hands the parcel to the clerk and runs out of the general store, the thugs chase him into a dark alley whereupon he is beaten up and thrown into the sea.

After the credits have appeared on screen, Lady Croft is seen riding bareback on her fair steed over the rolling hills of her family's sprawling estate. At unexpected moments, a shooting target pops up from around tree limbs and in odd corners that allow Lara to whip out her trusty pistols and take aim. While Lady Croft is a proper young lady indeed, she knows a thing or two about the fine art of marksmanship and her daily practice sessions have trained her to become an expert shot.

When her practice has ended, her butler hands her a parcel and recognizing the importance of the artifact inside of it, she contacts her historian friend Dr. Henry Carlton ( Ian Hunter ) and requests his help. The pair discuss the possible origin of the intricately designed figurine and conclude that it is an ornament that may provide a link to the legendary lost Mayan empire of the Snake kingdom, who not only possessed a magnificent treasure of gold and jewels, but the power to control time as well, by means of a "golden cobra" statue.

Henry and Lara take a transatlantic plane trip and meet danger when both of the pilots parachute out of the plane, leaving Henry and Lara to save the plane themselves from imminent disaster. Once they make it safely to Mexico, they hire Enrique Lopez ( Cesar Romero ) and his companion Jose ( J. Edward Bromberg ) to act as their guides into the remote jungle. 

Lara is visited by an attractive fortune teller named Carlita ( Maria Montez ) who seems to know a lot about the desires of the human heart, including Lara's determination to solve the mystery of her mother's disappearance. Carlita shows Lara another terra cotta figurine but, moments after Carlita leaves Lara's hotel room, she is attacked and Lara comes to her rescue. She fights the thugs and learns from one of them that they were sent by their "King" to stop Lara and Henry's jungle expedition.

As the team begins their journey in the deep jungle, David McMasters, a young explorer ( Richard Greene ) begs to join them in hopes that the discovery will provide him with a healthy paycheck to send his lady love Eloise ( Nan Grey ) back to England. 

They encounter monkeys, spiders, leopards, snakes, sickness, hidden passions and danger. Several members of their team run away, Henry nearly dies from a poisonous snake bite, and a fire almost consumes their entire camp! It becomes apparent that someone is going to great lengths to bring their expedition to an end. Eloise turns up unexpectedly and David, in a drunken fit, tells Eloise he is madly in love with Lara, which causes both women to get into a "cat fight", in which Lara wins.

The team finds a moss covered temple and the entrance to a dark tomb filled with gold, jade, and emeralds. A beautifully crafted frieze in the tomb provides definite evidence to the existence of the Snake kingdom, which was later taken over by the Mayan warriors. Lara solves a puzzle hidden in the frieze that says she must use a jade-encrusted mask as a guide to locate the underwater tomb which houses the glimmering golden cobra statue. 

Lara and the team face numerous obstacles in their quest to reach the golden cobra, including several lethal traps and a near cave-in! Lara hopes that the golden statue will allow her to go back in time just enough so that she can "see" what happened to her mother before she disappeared when Lara was a child. This natural desire does not come to pass, for it is when Henry takes hold of the ruby-eyed cobra, that his true nature comes to light. He is, in fact, the evil "King" behind the attacks and sabotage that have plagued the expedition from the start. He wants to possess the cobra's power to control time, so that he could go back in time and be like one of the kings when the Snakes were in power. This surprise turn of events shocks Lara and the others, but Lara knows she must stop Henry and his henchmen ( who are disguised as native guides ) at all costs. 

The overwhelming power of the golden cobra engulfs Henry and the earth beneath his feet gives way sucking him and his henchmen into a time warp never to be seen by modern man again. The intense eruption causes the submerged tomb to quake violently. Lara and David are badly hurt, but they and Eloise just manage to escape the underwater tomb before it collapses beneath the sea.

We learn that Henry's plan was to use Lara's superior knowledge of ancient history to help him find the location of the tomb of the golden cobra for his own wicked ambitions. He sabotaged the expedition merely to make the team believe that an outside force was against their mission, and not him. 

As the film concludes, Lara lets David take full credit for finding the artifacts the team found in the temple and they agree to give them to the museum in Merida with Enrique as the museum's new curator. David and Eloise make plans to return to England and Enrique and Carlita have formed a romantic attachment during the expedition. 

Vivien Leigh gave a wonderful performance of Lara Croft. She is smart, sassy, and courageous ( like Scarlett O'Hara ), but a bit of a tomboy. Richard Greene's David is brave and handsome and eager for adventure. Since the film appealed mostly to teenage boys and girls, Greene proved to be a role model for the boys in the audience while teenage girls found themselves swooning over this attractive Englishman. Considering the film's marquee names, Cesar Romero steals the show as Enrique with his trademark smile and carefree bravado. Ole!

Tomb Raider: The Treasure of the Snake King could have benefitted from better set design, instead settling for old stock footage and mediocre jungle sets created on the studio lot. It received moderate reviews from credits when it was released in theaters. The film was not a commercial success, but it allowed director Norman Foster ( who went on to make Journey into Fear and Rachel and the Stranger ), screenwriter Philip Dunne, and its cast to dabble in a project that was a bit ahead of its time. 

The character of Lara Croft and her incredible escapades would not gain popularity until young game designer Gard and his talented team debuted their highly-anticipated video game in 1996. New games were developed annually until 1999 along with several reincarnations with the release of Rise of the Tomb Raider in 2015. American actress Angelina Jolie brought Lara Croft to the screen in two thrilling films, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider ( 2001 ) and Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life ( 2003 ), which featured location scenes shot in exotic foreign countries and the usage of modern computer special effects. 

Lara Croft remains a much-loved heroine in the gaming world and her next motion picture appearance is slated for March 2018 with actress Alicia Vikander in the coveted role of the one of the world's most talented and gutsy archaeologists, Lady Lara Croft. A role originally introduced by the lovely Vivien Leigh almost 75 years ago...

This fictional review is my ( Diana ) contribution to The Great Imaginary Film Blogathon, being hosted by yours truly, Silver Scenes. To read more articles about "imaginary" films, be sure to check out the Master List here! 

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Lost Hildegarde Withers Mysteries

Hildegarde Withers, a schoolmarm who enjoys cracking murder cases, was the creation of Stuart Palmer who penned sixteen novels featuring the wise-cracking old broad. She was enormously popular with mystery readers throughout the 1930s, and with film-goers from her very first appearance in The Penguin Pool Murder ( 1932 ) which starred Edna May Oliver as Withers. 
Oliver was the perfect embodiment of the snoopy schoolteacher with her horse-like face and her no-nonsense attitude. She sauntered around dangerous territories with her Queen Mary attire and her silver-handled umbrella poking her nose where it didn't belong and treating all suspects like they were naughty schoolchildren. With the aide of crusty know-it-all inspector Oscar Piper ( James Gleason ) she would try to sniff the criminal out before they snuffed her out. Gleason and Oliver's barbed repartee didn't fool audiences, who immediately recognized what a great crime-solving team they made. 

Louise Fazenda with Edna May Oliver
RKO featured the duo in two more mysteries - Murder on the Blackboard ( 1934 ) and Murder on a Honeymoon ( 1935 ) before Edna May Oliver decided to quit the series and move onto other roles. This was a sore disappointment for Withers fans but, since Gleason was game for continuing on, RKO decided to recast the part with Louise Fazenda. 

Fazenda had a long career in Hollywood dating back to 1913, and she was particularly adept at character parts. While she lacked Edna May Oliver's comical facial features, she did a grand job of stepping into Oliver's very large shoes and making the part of Miss Withers completely her own. Fazenda even brought out Miss Withers' more romantic nature, and a good dose of sugar was often mixed into her many tart remarks to Oscar Piper. 

The first Hildegarde Withers mystery to feature Louise Fazenda was the most entertaining of the entire series - Murder Abroad, released in 1938. This sprightly whodunnit takes place aboard a steamer bound for London. We all know schoolteachers love to travel, but Miss Withers has not had good luck with vacations. On her last trip, she found herself enmeshed in the investigation of a dead man on a small plane. In this outing, a young woman ( Dorothy Lovett ) goes missing. She is either in hiding or has fallen over the ship's rails. While the passengers begin a search for her onboard, body after body begins appearing. The young woman's beau ( Kent Taylor ) is particularly worried, as is Miss Withers who is determined to put a stop to this killer who threatens her holiday abroad! With so few clues to work with, she comes to depending on the testimony of a particularly mischievous silver Persian cat to aide in the investigation. Murder Abroad was based upon Palmer's "Puzzle of the Silver Persian". Also in the cast were Leon Errol as an amusing Brit who has the sweets for Miss Withers, and debonair Tom Conway. 
Next came Scene One, Murder ( 1940 ), an entertaining backstage Hollywood mystery that featured a number of great cameos from some of RKO's biggest stars. Once again, Withers was hoping for a grand European vacation after a particularly distressing school year, but Hitler has other plans. The invasion of Poland puts an end to her tour and so she books a ticket to Hollywood, trading the Louvre and the Vatican for the Brown Derby and La Brea tar pits. She has only been in Los Angeles three days when she is offered a job at Mammoth Studios as a technical advisor to a film version of the Lizzie Borden story. The job is perfect, for no one knows murder like Miss Withers. But on her first day at the studio, the screenwriter in the next office dies of an apparent broken neck, and Miss Withers soon discovers that a killer as vicious as Lizzie Borden herself is loose on the backlot! 

Withers' Hollywood debut is a bust!
Scene One, Murder features a number of great character actors such as Charlie Ruggles as Mammoth's key director ( and our number one suspect ), Clarence Muse as the security guard, and Miles Mander as the aggravated screenwriter who gets tied up. Allan Jones and Sally Eilers also star as the requisite lovebirds. Most entertaining of all is George O'Brien's cameo. From the moment Miss Withers booked her Hollywood vacation she was hoping to catch a glimpse of "Gorgeous George", her idol of the silver screen, and she - literally! - catches him in her lap at the commissary....much to the chagrin of Inspector Piper. 

Despite steady box-office returns for these final entries in the Withers-Piper series, RKO wrapped up the films, focusing more attention on film noirs and westerns throughout the 1940s. It was not until 1957 that Hildegarde Withers returned to the screen for one final appearance, this time with Agnes Moorehead taking on the part. Moorehead was ideally cast. She had made a television pilot in 1955 for a proposed sitcom based on the Palmer novels, but the series was never picked up*. 

This feature film - Crossing Death - changed the character slightly, and added some new touches while retaining the spunk of the originals. The setting has been updated to the 1950s, and Miss Withers is no longer a city schoolteacher but teaches in a rural school outside of New York City. One wintry night, while driving to Miss Withers' country house for dinner, her good friend Inspector Piper ( Paul Kelly ) witnesses a roadster slam into a tree at a crossroad. The car is empty, its driver thrown a half block back. He is stone dead but his cigarette is still burning, and he has a noose tied tight around his neck. Can dead men drive? Oscar and Hildegarde certainly don't think so, and together they assemble clues that lead them to a barn theatre and its company of seven actors ( among them Hugh Marlowe, Barry Sullivan, Herbert Marshall, Elsa Lanchester and Martha Hyer ). 

Wither or not you are a mystery fan, you will find each of these three films immensely entertaining and perfect for a Friday night viewing. Unfortunately, none of these titles have received an official DVD release yet and finding a copy of them may prove to be the most difficult mystery of all!

* This TV pilot was actually made, but is now considered lost. 

This post is Connie's entry in The Great Imaginary Film Blogathon being hosted by yours truly, Silver Scenes. This event features reviews of "imaginary" films....in other words, what you just read was a fictional review ( accept for the * note ). We hope you enjoyed it! To read more reviews of imaginary films, simply click on this link. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Happy Harmonies 1936 Cartoon - To Spring

If you ever wondered where the splendid colors of Spring come from after a black-and-white Winter, wonder no more.... Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's 1936 Happy Harmonies cartoon To Spring demonstrates the entire process in full detail. For those who took the time to research the science behind the Winter-to-Spring season change, then it is no secret at all that gnomes control the varying pastel tints that are apparent in the flowers, trees, and fields in April and May.
These little elves work furiously to pump vibrant colors through the veins under the earth into the roots of the trees and flowers, struggling to get the colors of Spring above ground and on schedule every year. Old Man Winter sometimes has other notions about their schedule, and before he is ousted out of the country he usually attempts to blow some cold air onto the budding flowers, but the gnomes always prevail in the end.

"It's time for Spring.....It's time for Spring, I say!"

This nine-minute classic from the "Harman-Ising" duo of Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising brilliantly captures the excitement of the season change in that customary bouncing fashion of 1930s cartoons. It was the 24th of 38 cartoons that the team worked on together, and one of their best. The animation is marvelous, and beautiful color tones literally burst into view thanks to the Technicolor process it was filmed with. To Spring also marked the directorial debut of William Hanna, who later started his own studio with Joseph Barbara ( Hanna-Barbara...just in case you missed the connection ).
Many of the animation techniques seen in the segment featuring the gnomes hammering away with their pick axes hint at the style that would be seen in the "Heigh-Ho" sequence of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which was released by Walt Disney just a year later. To Spring also has many clever character touches, such as the black-bearded little gnome scrambling to put his pants on so he can help pump the colors and finally giving up at the end, instead tripping along with one pant leg up and one down. If you listen carefully, you'll hear the voice of Mel Blanc as one of the gnomes. 

This cartoon was one of my favorites when I first saw it several years ago on a DVD collection of public domain cartoons, and after numerous viewings I have still not tired of it. Ultimately, whether a cartoon wins animation awards, or receives plaudits for its creative techniques does not matter. It is the lasting entertainment value of a cartoon that makes it a true winner. 

Ready to watch To Spring? Simply click here

To read more articles about cartoons check out the One of My All-Time Favorite Cartoons Blogathon being hosted by MovieMovieBlogBlog

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Secret Garden ( 1949 )

"Aye, I know wha' tis said. He locked the gate and buried the key, and nary's been in there since."

A secret garden. Locked up for years. Now overgrowing with weeds and bramble for want of anyone to tend to it. When the young orphan Mary Lennox first discovers this enchanted place at the estate of her uncle, she views the garden as an amusing diversion from her loneliness and boredom, but she soon finds that the key that unlocked its door may hold the answer to unlocking the buried secret in her uncle's past. 

The Secret Garden was based upon a 1910 novel by the beloved children's book author Frances Hodgson Burnett. To this day it remains her most popular book, along with "Little Lord Fauntleroy" and "The Little Princess", all of which were adapted to film numerous times over the years. The enduring popularity of these stories can be attributed to Burnett's flair for writing about story elements that children find appealing such as mysterious passageways, orphans from exotic lands, strange characters, locked doors, and hidden gardens. Her stories also consistently featured children as the heroes.

Mary Lennox ( portrayed by Margaret O'Brien ) is a strange heroine, however, for a book or a film. She is bratty and spoiled having been accustomed to servants waiting on her hand and foot in India. After her parents die from cholera, she is shipped off to England to reside in an oppressive mansion with her uncle, Lord Archibald Craven ( Herbert Marshall ), a bitter brooding man. Each night Mary hears a screaming voice echoing through the myriad hallways. The servants attempt to quench her curiosity, explaining it simply as "the wind howling from the moors", but Mary finds that they are coming from the bedchamber of a small boy, Colin Craven ( Dean Stockwell ), her uncle's son. From constant coddling, he has become an invalid and, believing that he will grow into a hunchback one day, finds living futile. Mary finds her match in Colin because he, too, is spoiled and prone to screaming temper tantrums. It is only after Mary befriends Dickon, a neighbor boy, and discovers the secret garden, that she learns to find contentment in the simple pleasures of life. 
The Secret Garden is a Clarence Brown production and his visual style is evident throughout the film, but most of the credit for the quality of the film should be given to director Fred Wilcox who established a wonderful moody atmosphere through great use of light and shadow. As an added touch, a Technicolor sequence was utilized to give that extra emotional punch, while the beautiful Cedric Gibbons sets bring the story to life in a fashion that even location filming could not have equaled. 

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer excelled at adapting novels to lush film productions and, like most of their output in the late 1940s, The Secret Garden featured some of the best talent to be found in Hollywood, both in front and behind the camera. Those tried-and-true child actors, Dean Stockwell and Margaret O'Brien, were excellent in their roles, as was newcomer Brian Roper in the part of Dickon ( interestingly, he was 20 years old at the time ). 
The adult roles are so well cast that one tends to forget that they are mostly caricatures: Dame Gladys Cooper as the stern housekeeper; Elsa Lanchester as the irrepressibly happy maid; dour Reginald Owen as the old nosy gardener. Even the small cameo performances sparkle with Metro's character talents: Billy Bevan as an overheated British soldier in India; Dennis Hoey as Marshall's stern valet; Aubrey Mather and George Zucco as young Stockwell's doctors; and Norma Varden as his wise nurse.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Hollywood Home Tour - Norma Talmadge

"Everybody pile into the bus now! If we take any more lunch breaks like we have, we will still be on this bus in twenty years time. Once again, we'll be taking a slight detour to see an exceptionally beautiful home....the estate of that star of the silent era, Norma Talmadge. Fasten your seat belts and off we go!

649 West Adams Boulevard, Los Angeles
"On your right you will see the beautiful Spanish stucco St. Vincent de Paul church built in 1925. Just a few steps away is Norma's charming Tudor-style mansion, which is probably one of the most famous movie star homes in Los Angeles, not because Norma lived there, but because it passed hands between so many silent film stars of the 1920s. Originally it was built by Randolph Huntington Miner, a developer, and his wife, socialite Julita Miner, in 1904. Sumner Hunt was the architect who designed it. They lived here for about fifteen years and then sold it to that seductive vamp Theda Bara. Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle bought it in 1921 but moved on after that scandal with the young starlet left his career in ruins. He sold the house to director Raoul Walsh and his wife, Miriam Cooper. Alla Nazimova also resided here for a spell."

"How long did Norma Talmadge live here then?"

"Not long at all. One whole winter season to be precise. Miss Talmadge and her husband, producer Joseph M. Schenck, purchased this house in October 1924 and were gone by February 1925. They went on to own many estates, but this one has long been associated with the Schenk's because it was featured on the front of a postcard bearing their name and was the first home they owned. 

"Inside is as beautiful as the exterior. There is a well-stocked library with a reading alcove which Norma enjoyed, and a drawing room featuring heavy beamed ceilings, ruby red velvet furniture and an antique writing desk where Norma would stack her piles of fan mail to respond to. The dining room features carved teak-wood furniture imported from China with embroidered curtains and bronze ornaments from the Orient as well. There is also a sun parlor among its fifteen rooms." 

Up-to-Date Note: To see the Talmadge estate today ( now called the Randolph Huntington Miner house ), simply click here for a street-view. It is still looking great!
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