Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

It's time to ring in the new year - and time to party!....just like this couple is doing. Those great pink balloons would make a festive midnight "ball drop" at your own party. Just it's too bad people don't dress up in tuxedoes anymore when they do a night on the town. 

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

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Trapp Family ( 1956 ) - The Original Sound of Music

Every Christmas season for the past ten years, ABC has been airing The Sound of Music ( 1965 ) which has sparked a new holiday-viewing tradition for many. Well, nine years before Julie Andrews portrayed the real-life nun-turned-governess Maria von Trapp in the famous musical, Ruth Leuwerik took on this role in Die Trapp-Familie aka The Trapp Family ( 1956 ). 

Anyone who has not seen this German classic would be surprised at just how similar it is to the 1965 Robert Wise remake... and how quickly the story chugs along without the musical interludes. Yes, the original The Sound of Music was not a musical! There are, of course, a few numbers that the children perform for their audiences ( and one lovely piece that Ruth Leuwerik sings to the children ), but instead, the film focuses more on Maria befriending the Trapp household and how they made their start in America as a family. 

Die Trapp-Familie begins in Salzburg in the early 1930s. Maria, a happy energetic novice who teaches children at a convent, learns from her superior that she will be sent to the home of Captain von Trapp ( Hans Holt ) to tutor his seven children. The task is not an easy one for the children have driven away 26 governesses within the past four years, but Maria quickly gains their admiration and their love. She also wins the affection of their father, and within a short period they wed. As the children's governess, Maria had taught the children to laugh and play - and to sing - which is something they had not done with the disciplinarian naval captain. 
When the local priest, Dr. Wasner ( Josef Meinrad ) hears the children singing together, he helps to train them so that they may perform for charity benefits. It is during one of these benefits that a talent scout for an American song agency notices them and offers the family a contract to perform in the States. This proves to be a fortunate invitation because Captain von Trapp had lost much of his wealth during the Depression and the Nazis emergence made Maria and the Captain realize it was time to leave Austria which was becoming a totalitarian regime. However, their arrival in the States isn't all roses and fanfare, especially when the talent scout informs them that their act is no longer wanted and they find themselves Trapp-ed at Ellis Island! 

Die Trapp Familie is a beautiful film with a lot of heart. It bears many similarities to The Sound of Music, from the lovely cinematography down to the almost identical costume designs, and it differs only in its emphasis on certain aspects of the von Trapps' life. For example, the drama of the rise of the Nazi power and how this influenced the Captain to flee Austria is very much downplayed. Also, the children are not as predominately featured and are younger than they were cast in The Sound of Music. 
What I enjoyed most about the original film is its realistic portrayal of the von Trapps coming to America. In typical Hollywood fashion, The Sound of Music closes sensationally with Christopher Plummer, Julie Andrews, and the children climbing the Alps into Switzerland carrying all of their belongings on their backs. In Die Trapp Familie we see them at the overcrowded immigration gateway of Ellis Island huddled together with other immigrants awaiting entrance into the States. When they are told that it would be weeks before they are permitted to work, Maria cries, blaming herself for bringing the family into this situation. Somehow this seems much more credible! 

The film also boasts an impressive cast comprised of some of Germany's most famous stars. Ruth Leuwerik, who is often cited as the First Lady of German Cinema, is an enchanting Maria von Trapp. She deftly portrays Maria in all her stages of growth: as a youthful zealous nun, to a clever governess, to a protective mother of seven. Hans Holt is a much more appealing Captain von Trapp than Christopher Plummer, while the children are excellently cast, too. 
Upon its release, Die Trapp Familie was such a box-office sensation in Europe that a sequel - Die Trapp-Familie in Amerika - shortly followed which depicted the family's continuing adventures in Vermont. Unfortunately, the US release of The Trapp Family in 1956 did not fare well. It was not until The Sound of Music hit theaters in 1965 that audiences fell in love with the story of the von Trapps, undoubtedly due to the appeal of the beautiful Rodgers & Hammerstein melodies. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Connie Gilchrist - A Hard-Working Woman

Some character actors have such larger-than-life personalities that they literally seem to step out of the screen and walk among you. To me, Connie Gilchrist has always been that type of an actress. She is instantly recognizable and, even for the briefest uncredited appearance, she would give it her all....never making herself conspicuous, however. The mark of a truly great character actor is their ability to blend unobtrusively into the story.

Connie Gilchrist's specialty was portraying strong working-class women, often domestics with a New York or Irish accent. Gilchrist's thick Brooklyn accent was not a part of her act but her birthright. Rose Constance Gilchrist was born on February 2, 1901, in Brooklyn, New York. Her mother, Martha Daniels, was a stage actress and so Connie decided to follow in her footsteps, making her stage debut at the age of 16 in London. She toured with a repertory company throughout France and then appeared in various US stage companies before she made her Broadway debut in 1935. It was in 1940 that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios offered her a ten-year contract and she then found constant work playing in such classics as A Woman's Face ( 1941 ), Johnny Eager ( 1941 ), Tortilla Flat ( 1942 ), Presenting Lily Mars ( 1943 ),  The Thin Man Goes Home ( 1945 ) and The Hucksters ( 1947 ). 

If that classic jig "The Irish Washerwoman" was based on a true-life woman, Gilchrist would have played her. You could also easily picture her walking the streets of Dublin peddling cockles and mussels. She had a loud voice and a big personality to match. Onscreen, Gilchrist was often seen with her shirtsleeves rolled up washing dishes or scrubbing a floor. She portrayed domestics in such films as The Valley of Decision ( 1945 ), Good News ( 1947 ), Big City ( 1948 ), and Luxury Liner ( 1948 ). 
No matter how tough the work she never despaired over it....neither was she ever ashamed of her position. Gilchrist always portrayed honest women who kept their heads held high. If she happened to be poor and had to scrub floors for a living, then she would set to the task with two strong hands and not complain - nor would she put up with hearing complaints from anyone else! Her motto could be: you simply do your best in life and never waste time wishing circumstances were different. 
Her characters were always level-headed and resourceful, very often spunky. She liked playing women who were troopers. When Sister Mary ( Claudette Colbert ) begins to lose hope in proving the innocence of Valerie Carnes ( Ann Blyth ) in Thunder on the Hill ( 1951 ), it is Sister Josephine ( Gilchrist ), one of the nuns who toils in the convent kitchen, who renews Sister Mary's faith. 

Gilchrist's characters made themselves at home wherever they happened to be. If she played a maid then the household that hired her would soon find that they gained a new member of the family. In Junior Miss ( 1945 ), she was memorable as Hilda, the apartment maid who helped to raise Harry Grave's two rambunctious daughters. Gilchrist had a special knack with children ( in real-life she had a daughter who became an actress, too ) and in many ways she was like Louise Beavers, playing huggable "mammies" who knew how to give a youngster a good scolding when needed. 
Sometimes Gilchrist made a departure from her usual characters and would portray slovenly women who enjoyed sticking their nose in a bottle of whiskey. In these situations, she had no shame in donning fuzzy slippers, a threadbare night robe, and messing up her hair to make herself look like a sleazy landlord or housewife. 

Gilchrist made occasional appearances in westerns, playing Hominy in the James Stewart classic The Far Country ( 1954 ), and later, on television, in The Adventures of Jim Bowie ( 1957 ) and The Restless Gun ( 1958 ), but her Brooklyn accent made her unsuitable for too many western roles, even though she had the face of a tough western woman. Instead, she enjoyed a recurring role in The Adventures of Long John Silver ( 1956 ) as Purity Pinker, a tavern owner who is intent on wedding Captain Long John. 
She returned to films in the late 1950s playing in Auntie Mame ( as Mame's maid Norah Muldoon ) and Some Came Running and, in the 1960s, interspersed constant television work ( Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Our Man Higgins, The Twilight Zone ) with film appearances in Walt Disney comedies ( The Misadventures of Merlin Jones, The Monkey's Uncle ). Gilchrist retired from acting in 1969 and settled down in New Mexico where she passed away at the age of 84 on March 3, 1985. 

Today, Connie Gilchrist is best remembered for portraying Linda Darnell's wise-cracking mother in A Letter to Three Wives ( 1949 ), a role that captured just about all the qualities that I love best in Gilchrist: her tough-talking mannerisms, her down-to-earth practicality, her maternal care, and her positive outlook. She was a tough but lovable broad. 

This post is our contribution to the What a Character! Blogathon being hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Paula's Cinema Club, and Outspoken and Freckled. Be sure to check out the main roster of posts because there are a lot of great profiles on some fabulous character actors of the 1930s-1970s! 

Friday, December 15, 2017

Henry Stephenson - A Lovable Old Gent

Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula's Cinema Club have once again teamed up to host the fabulous What a Character! Blogathon giving us film fans a chance to gush about those unsung heroes of the silver screen - character actors. What would classics such as Gone with the Wind be without the likes of Thomas Mitchell or Hattie McDaniel? What would It's a Wonderful Life be like without character actors Beulah Bondi, Henry Travers, Lionel Barrymore, or Samuel S. Hinds? It is the character actors who give a film that extra special touch, and recognizing these same actors appearing in similar parts in various films gives the audience a feeling of familiarity, making them all seem like dear old friends. 

Henry Stephenson is an especially lovable character actor. This kindly gentleman graced the stages of London and New York and the silver screen for nearly thirty years, often portraying genial men of distinction. His presence lent a touch of class to every film he appeared in. He played opposite Errol Flynn in five films at Warner Brothers, and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and 20th Century Fox studios kept Stephenson especially busy in historic period productions throughout the 1930s and 1940s. 

Henry Stephenson Garroway was born on April 16, 1871, in Granada ( British West Indies ) and was educated in England, where he also played rugby... but not professionally like that other famous British character actor C. Aubrey Smith. He made his Broadway debut around the turn of the century in "A Message from Mars" and, with the advent of motion pictures, Stephenson ventured into the new medium in 1917. Unfortunately, like many character actors, he did not make a name for himself until he settled into supporting roles, both on stage and in film. 

At MGM and RKO, Stephenson found his niche portraying both imposing and benevolent gentlemen in such classics as Red-Headed Woman ( 1932 ), A Bill of Divorcement ( 1932 ), Cynara ( 1932 ), What Every Woman Knows ( 1934 ), The Night is Young ( 1935 ) and Mutiny on the Bounty ( 1936 ). One of his most well-remembered films during this period was the classic Little Women ( 1933 ) starring Katharine Hepburn. Stephenson portrayed dear old Mr. Laurence, the March girls' neighbor, who although having a face that "may frighten some people, his eyes are kind and I like him!". C. Aubrey Smith would later portray Mr. Laurence in the 1949 MGM remake. 

In 1935, Stephenson appeared opposite Errol Flynn as Lord Willoughby in the classic swashbuckler Captain Blood. He would also perform with Flynn in The Charge of the Light Brigade ( 1936 ), The Prince and the Pauper ( 1937 ), and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex ( 1939 ) portraying either lords or dukes. Stephenson simply had that regal bearing that befitted one born of royal blood. He was a count in Conquest ( 1937 ), Marie Antionette ( 1938 ), and Suez ( 1938 ), and in the Deanna Durbin vehicle Spring Parade ( 1940 ) he was promoted to an emperor, none other than Emperor Franz Joseph. 

Stephenson and Katharine Hepburn in Little Women ( 1933 ) 
But it was tender-hearted paternal roles that suited Henry Stephenson best. In the 20th Century Fox musical Down Argentine Way, Stephenson played Don Diego Quintana, a proud Argentinian who learned to quench the fire of an old family rivalry to see his son ( Don Ameche ) happily wed. Although he often portrayed wealthy and illustrious gentlemen, his characters were rarely arrogant, and never ever villainous. Quite the contrary. It was Sir Ronald Ramsgate ( Stephenson ) who enlisted the aid of the great Sherlock Holmes to protect the crown jewels in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes ( 1939 ), and it was Mr. Brownlow who helps rescue little Oliver from the clutches of Fagin in Oliver Twist ( 1948 ). 

When World War II broke out in 1939, Stephenson found himself cast as military men in a number of morale-boosting films. Once again, he played men who had to carry responsibility and make judicial decisions that would impact a great many lives. He was General Cathaway in the romantic This Above All ( 1942 ), Colonel Blimpton in the B-film mystery Halfway to Shanghai ( 1942 ), and General Hetherton in The Hour Before the Dawn ( 1944 ). Stephenson was also memorable as General Fitzgerald in the enchanting Enchantment ( 1948 ) where he portrayed the sympathetic father who adopts the young orphan Lark ( Gigi Perreau ) to raise as his own. 

Stephenson with Dolores Costello, Freddie Bartholomew, and Una O'Connor in Little Lord Fauntleroy ( 1936 ) 
Stephenson's last film was made just a year later in Challenge to Lassie, the final installment of the popular Lassie film series. He would make a handful of television appearances before retiring. Stephenson passed away at the age of 85 in 1956. He was survived by his daughter and his wife of many years, Ann Shoemaker, who was herself an excellent character actress ( Alice Adams, Stella Dallas, My Favorite Wife ). 

Thursday, December 14, 2017

TCM Big Screen Classics 2018

TCM and Fanthom have teamed up for another year-long celebration of classic film with their Big Screen Classics which will be screened in theaters across the nation. This year, they have a few particularly juicy titles mixed in with some questionable "classics" in their line-up of films : 

January: The Treasure of Sierra Madre ( 1948 ) Jan. 14, 16
February: The Philadelphia Story ( 1940 ) Feb. 18, 21
March: Vertigo ( 1958 ) Mar. 18, 21
April: Grease ( 1978 ) Apr. 8, 11
May: Sunset Boulevard ( 1950 ) May 13, 16
June: The Producers ( 1967 ) June 3, 6
July: Big ( 1988 ) July 15, 18
August: The Big Lebowski ( 1998 ) Aug. 5, 8
August: South Pacific ( 1958 ) Aug. 26, 29
September: Rebel Without a Cause ( 1955 ) Sep. 23, 26
October: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ( 1939 ) Oct. 14, 17
November: Die Hard ( 1988 ) Nov. 11, 14
December: White Christmas ( 1954 ) Dec. 9, 12

For more information, check out Fanthom's website:  TCM Big Screen Classics - Fanthom Events. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Nugget Reviews - 24

Alas, there be no golden nuggets among this batch of films, but some of these movies are mighty entertaining nonetheless. 

Can't Help Singing ( 1944 )  14k 

A senator's daughter joins a wagon train en route to California in the hopes of meeting up with the lieutenant she wants to marry. On the way, she falls in love with a card shark. Deanna Durbin, Robert Paige, Akim Tamiroff, Leonid Kinskey, Ray Collins, David Bruce. Universal Pictures. Directed by Frank Ryan.

After making thirteen black-and-white films, the powers-that-be at Universal Studios decided to showcase their number one box-office attraction, Winnipeg's Sweetheart, in her first Technicolor production Can't Help Singing. The film was a great success combining light-hearted comedy and romance with beautiful western locales and some lovely tunes by Jerome Kern ( which were nominated for two Oscars ). A slew of wonderful character actors also appear, including Akim Tamiroff and Leonid Kinskey, who do a great bit of schtick involving Durbin's trunk. 


How to Frame a Figg ( 1971 ) 14k

A city accountant gets framed by crooked politicians in a $50,000 swindle and must use the new accounting computer, L.E.O, to help him prove his innocence. Don Knotts, Frank Welker, Joe Flynn, Edward Andrews, Elaine Joyce. Universal Pictures. Directed by Alan Rafkin.

Don Knotts is fun to watch in every movie he made. How to Frame a Figg isn't as memorable as The Ghost and Mr. Chicken or The Reluctant Astronaut but it has its moments...many of them highly amusing. This was the last of a series of comedies that Knotts made for Universal Pictures. Later, he would team up with Tim Conway in such Disney classics as The Apple Dumpling Gang and Hot Lead, Cold Feet. Incidentally, while Frank Welker was great as Hollis' friend Prentiss, Tim Conway would have been an even better addition to the film. 


The Man from the Alamo ( 1953 ) 14k.

John Stroud is branded a coward when he leaves the scene of the Alamo to check on his and the other soldiers' families back at their ranches in Ox Bow, but he later gets a chance to prove his courage when he protects a wagon train being attacked by a gang of outlaws. Glenn Ford, Julie Adams, Chill Wills, Victor Jory, Hugh O'Brien. Universal Pictures. Directed by Budd Boetticher. 

Throughout the 1950s, Budd Boetticher directed a number of low-budget westerns starring Randolph Scott. The Man from the Alamo could have easily been a Scott western, but instead, it stars the delightful Glenn Ford as the downcast soldier Stroud who is branded a coward. Julie Adams, one of the busiest Western stars of the era, didn't get much of a romantic part in this movie but adds a feminine touch to a very masculine film. Little Marc Cavell is also adorable as Stroud's only friend, Carlos. Overall, it's an entertaining but not very memorable western. 


The Unholy Intruders aka Hinter Klostermauern ( 1952 ) 14k.

A middle-aged man returns home from the war and, unable to find lodging for his girlfriend and child, he moves them into an abandoned convent. When the nuns return to occupy it again, he refuses to leave and his presence proves to be a thorn to the nuns. Olga Tschechowa, Philip Dorn, Katharina Mayberg, Dorothea Wieck. Delta-Venus. Directed by Harald Reinl.

Thomas and Kathrin are two protagonists that you instantly want to hate, and it is very difficult for a film to hold the attention of its audience with the presence of anti-heroes. Yet, as Thomas ( Philip Dorn ) is just about to go from bad to worse, he has a change of heart and his redemption becomes the drawing feature of the film. Olga Tschechowa, that legend of the silent era, plays the prioress in this movie with such conviction. At one time Olga was accused of being a Russian agent in Nazi Germany. She obviously knows how to play many parts well! 


Anne of Windy Poplars ( 1940 ) 14k

Anne Shirley takes up her first position as vice-principal in the town of Windy Poplars but finds she must first win over hostile faculty and feuding citizens before she receives a welcome. Anne Shirley, James Ellison, Slim Summerville, Henry Travers, Louise Campbell. RKO Pictures. Directed by Jack Hively. 

Six years passed before RKO decided to film a sequel to Anne of Green Gables ( 1934 ) which was based on L.M. Montgomery's book series of the same name. Anne Shirley, who portrayed Anne Shirley in the original film, returns to her namesake role, this time playing an older and more mature schoolteacher. The film trots along at a gentle pace and, while it isn't anything special, there are a number of good scenes, especially those involving character actors Slim Summerville and Henry Travers. Poor Anne sure has to put up with a lot of curmudgeons in Windy Poplars, but with her gentle ways she naturally wins them over by the end of the film....and gains a daughter too. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

From the Archives : Pillow Talk ( 1959 )

Doris Day offers Tony Randall some candy during a break in between filming scenes from Pillow Talk ( 1959 ) in this "candid" publicity photo. This was the first of three films Day and Randall would make together.

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:

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Olivia Hussey in Japan

In 1968, the adorable English-Argentinian born actress Olivia Hussey was chosen from among 500 actresses to play Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet after Zeffirelli had spotted her in a theater production of "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" two years earlier. This role launched her into instant international stardom but, unfortunately, it also triggered a bad case of agoraphobia which took her several years to recover from. 

Instead of taking medication for this condition, she treated herself with meditation. What not too many people know is that Hussey always had an appreciation for the Orient; their way of life, their music, and especially their practice of meditation. 

In 1978, Olivia Hussey traveled to Japan for a promotional tour/pleasure trip. Hussey was quite a sensation in the land of the midnight sun, and in many ways, her delicate facial features resembled those of one born Eurasian. While she was there she filmed a promotional spot for a cosmetics commercial. Hussey speaks a few words in Japanese and then addresses the audience in a slow and respectable tone of English. 

Shortly after this trip, Olivia Hussey married one of Japan's most famous singing stars, Akira Fuse ( her first husband was Dean Paul Martin ). Fuse traveled quite a bit doing concerts and, while they never performed together, Hussey did make a tea commercial with him in the mid-1980s. 

Hussey and Fuse bore a son, Maximilian, and then divorced in 1989. Whether she resided in Japan while they were married is uncertain, but judging from the commercial she seemed to be right at home there. 
This entry is a part of our latest series entitled "Did You Know?".....sometimes we just feel like sharing interesting fragments of television and movie history and now we have a place to do just that. If you have a hot tip that you would like us to share on Silver Scenes, drop us a line!