Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Wowee! Look at this monkey gal! She really knows how to bend. If you saw her move, you wouldn't easily forget her....but perhaps you did forget which film she appeared in. It's time to put your thinking cap on and try to remember which movie this screenshot is taken from. And just why is she looking at a Variety newspaper?

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

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Turn the Key Softly ( 1953 )

"London, the biggest city in the world... and it's all yours"

Three women are being released from Holloway Prison on the same morning. They come from vastly different backgrounds and each has plans for what they want to do on their first day of freedom, but they have all agreed to meet for dinner that evening. This simple story, told with warmth and empathy, follows the lives of these women during the span of that one day and the touching and tragic events that take place before and after this dinner.

Turn the Key Softly, based on the novel by John Burphy, is an underrated British gem set within post-war 1950s London, a London that is no more. It plays out like a film noir with small but key scenes slowly unfolding events that all lead up to the nail-biting finale. Director Jack Lee, being the master that he is, manages to put so much character into these scenes, filling each with details that make it enjoyable to watch multiple times over. Five minutes after the credits roll, we understand the nature of each of these three inmates and are curious to see how they will fare once they step foot in the great city of London again. All wish to make a change, to live a better life on the right side of the law, but will they be pressured to slip back to their old ways?
First, there is Stella, portrayed by a young Joan Collins. She's a West-End girl, "a tart with a heart" who has a weakness for the good things in life...like dangling earrings and fishnet gloves. She has an honest bus driver waiting to marry her. Then there is Monica ( Yvonne Mitchell ), an elegant beauty, quite sophisticated, who clearly doesn't belong behind bars. She loved unwisely and took the wrap for her criminal boyfriend. Lastly, there is Mrs. Quilliam ( Kathleen Harrison ), a soft-spoken old-timer who was jugged for 15 counts of petty theft. She lost her daughter's affection but has the love of her beloved Johnny to keep her going.

"I wish you had a nice young man waiting for you" - Mrs. Quilliam
"I don't know any nice young men" - Monica
Jack Lee directed this opening sequence in such a way that the audience sympathizes immediately with the old lady and Monica, who have become a pair, and are merely amused by Stella, who it seems obvious will be visiting prison shortly again. Within hours each of them is tempted to criminal behavior, and it is then revealed that these first impressions may have been off the mark. The film is an excellent character study of humans and the desires that lead them to crime. None of these gals are intent on doing wrong, rather they seem to merely attract misfortune. 

Turn the Key Softly is beautifully photographed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth ( Scott of the Antarctic, 2001: A Space Odyssey ). He often utilizes close-ups to convey the thoughts and emotions of the characters when dialogue is not spoken. The editing, by Lito Carruthers, is also taut. Within its 80-minute runtime, no scene is wasted. The finale on the top of the building at night is especially well filmed and edited. It is during the finale that the meaning behind the title "Turn the Key Softly" is also revealed. 
"For a whole year, day and night, all I could think of was warmth, food, and love"

While all of the production values were excellent, what makes Turn the Key Softly truly stand out is the cast. Yvonne Mitchell, a popular British stage and screen actress, is perfect as Monica. This woman was capable of speaking volumes in stillness, utilizing her eyes alone. Four years later she would be cast in a role completely the opposite of Monica, that of the frumpy housewife Amy in The Woman in a Dressing Gown, for which she won the Best Actress award at the Berlin International Film Festival. 

Joan Collins was only twenty years old at the time and was showing signs of the saucy siren she was to become. Her West End accent was over the top but she did a capable job portraying an easy gal who wants a little more in life than she knows she deserves. 

Kathleen Harrison was a legendary character actress having a career dating back to 1915. She was best known for playing Alice Thursday in the 1966 television series Mrs. Thursday and for playing Mother in the Huggett film series of the 1940s, but she made appearances in countless comedies and dramas as well. Mrs. Quilliam is one of her best roles. She is a gentle old gal and, in spite of her criminal record, is someone you would want to befriend....as Monica did. 

The handsome Terence Morgan plays David, the dishonest lover. Morgan was very much like Richard Greene and could play villains as well as heroes with equal skill. Also in the cast is Geoffrey Keen as a generous employer, Thora Hird as a landlady, Russell Waters as a respectable drunk, and Glyn Houston as Bob the bus driver. 
The city of London itself is a starring attraction, too. The location filming offers a snapshot in time of places such as Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, the West End, the London Underground, and Shepard's Bush, one of the city's suburbs. London was rebuilding itself after the beating it got during the war and it was growing larger every year. In Turn the Key Softly the city is encased in fog, but it was looking grand nonetheless. 

This post is our contribution to the 5th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon being hosted by Terence over at A Shroud of Thoughts. Be sure to head on over to the master page to read more reviews of famous and obscure British films of the 20th century. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Now and Forever ( 1956 )

"You can't separate us! We love each other!"

Lonely upper-class English schoolgirl Janette Grant ( Janette Scott ) falls in love with handsome Mike Pritchard ( Vernon Gray ), a poor mechanic from the local village. Janette's mother believes the courtship to be unsuitable and puts a stop to it by threatening to send her daughter to Canada. "Canada??!" the poor girl declares. And so, the two young lovers decide to defy their parents and attempt to elope to Scotland. 

Playwright R.F Delderfield clearly took inspiration from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" when he wrote "The Orchard Walls", the play which Now and Forever was based on. In place of the feuding families he focused the conflict on social class differences and an unfeeling mother ( excellently played by Pamela Brown ). It's an engaging story and you cannot help being sympathetic to the youngsters in their plight, especially that of poor Janette. 

Janette's parents were divorced when she was younger and so she lives at home with her mother, who coldly informs her one day that her father passed away in Ireland. This news, coupled with a lack of friends and her impending separation from Mike, leads her to attempt suicide by jumping from the bell tower at her school. Mike and Janette were willing to wait until they were older to marry but the threat of being separated now forces them to consider eloping as their only alternative. 
Michael Pertwee helped to write the screenplay which, although engaging, is rather incredulous at moments. Back in 1950s England, gossip yielded a powerful hand, especially in small villages, but would two eloping teenagers warrant front page news across England? By the end of the film, it seems as though the entire country's police force and its citizens have the dragnet set for their entrapment. 

Director Michael Zampi, who was best known for making comedies ( Too Many Crooks, Tonight's the Night, Laughter in Paradise ) shows that he was equally adept at handling drama. The Technicolor filming of Now and Forever is beautiful, as are the lovely scenes of the English countryside as Janette and Mike go scouring about in his hand-built roadster. The cast is top-notch, too. Janette Scott, a popular British child actress, was given the chance to display how well she could handle a more mature role and show her audience how much she was growing up. Vernon Gray, who resembles a young Tyrone Power, makes an admirable lover. Kay Walsh is also featured as Miss Muir, the headmistress at Janette's school. This role could have been expanded on because Kay's talent is wasted otherwise. Jack Warner plays Mike's father, and then there are small parts going to a number of great character actors such as Ronald Squire, Guy Middleton, Bryan Forbes, and Hattie Jacques. 

Now and Forever was clearly aimed towards a teenage audience with its heroes being two young defiant lovers. They set off on a romantic escapade to Scotland to elope and live happily ever after with only true love and nary a coin in their pockets to support them, but will a marriage such as theirs last? There is a disturbing air hovering over Janette's affection for Mike. It is as though the loss of her father made her realize that she had no one in the world to love and there was no one left in the world to love her. Miss Muir didn't have the courage to give her the maternal love she needed and after she meets Mike she pours all of the love that she stored up onto him. But this makes her seem possessive and all the more pitiable. Mike loves her but how much of that love was corrupted by fear after her suicide attempt? Even marriage would not clear the doubts and insecurities Janette has. 

So, while the film is thoroughly entertaining, its ending seems to leave the audience suspended. The title reads Now and Forever but perhaps Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? would have been more appropriate. 

Now and Forever is currently available on DVD from Network Distributing.

This post is our contribution to the 5th Annual Rule, Britannia Film Blogathon being hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts. Ready to read some more Brit film reviews? Then simply click here for a fine selection of posts. 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Promoting Poppins : The Merchandise of Mary Poppins

The Walt Disney Company today are pros when it comes to knowing how to promote their latest films but, back in the day, they had the marketing game pretty well in hand, too. 

In 1964, without the aid of the internet or a bombardment of television commercials, they promoted Mary Poppins to countries all over the world. And once the film became the success that it was ( critical acclaim, $31 million in box office receipts, 13 Academy Award nominations ) companies clamored to Disney to obtain permission to place Poppins on their products

Judging from the number of different products that were released over the next 10 years, Disney was pretty liberal in granting this permission. Below we have assembled a little gallery of some of the most popular Mary Poppins products of the 1960s and 1970s for you to peruse. If we are missing any, let us know and we will add it to the gallery. 


Coloring Books & Other Activity Books

This Whitman coloring book features some really spot-on illustrations of Julie Andrews and the Poppins children. 

Since Mary Poppins always had a bit of magic up her sleeves ( or hiding in her carpet-bag ), this set features a bit of magic, too....magic wipe-off crayons. 

Another magical book.....paintless and dot-to-dot coloring. What could be easier? Just brush the paper with water and watch the pictures appear, pictures as lovely as Bert could draw himself.

A Golden Funtime Coloring Book. Not sure what the "cut out" means. Tear sheets?

Most coloring book covers liked to feature Mary Poppins in her customary flying pose, complete with umbrella open. 

On this cover, she sports some fancy yellow boots and is flying over a freeway. If Mary Poppins supports Shell Oil then that is the gas to use! 

Story Books & Comic Books

A beautiful cover from Gold Key comics emphasizing how Poppins is "supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" ( you won't see this word typed twice in one post! )

A Golden Look-inside Book. Five little books hidden inside this one. If they all feature interior art as cute as this cover, I'm buying it. 

This is an interesting Spanish language storybook. Note how much Mary Poppins looks like a female bullfighter here. 

The classic Little Golden Book cover, probably one of the best-selling Mary Poppins pieces of merchandise. 
And look how cute the drawings are inside! 

A Golden Press souvenir book featuring photographs and behind-the-scenes stories about the making of the film.


Colorforms were cut pieces of vinyl that stuck "like magic" to the background cling surface. In this case, that surface image is Mary Poppins in her undergarments. 

The original Colorforms box art. Mary Poppins hair color is more of a reddish tint and her clothing is of a solid color. 

Paper Dolls

Paper dolls with no scissors needed, just a bit of punching will get them right out of their pockets. 

This set, from Whitman, gave you plastic stands to display them on. 

A Golden Funtime book offered a whole bunch of activities in one: 4 paper dolls, story to read, pictures to color, and a carousel to build. 

Good looking doll clothing, too. 

Record Albums & 45s

The 33rpm and its reissue with the cassette tape of the read-along storybook featuring the same cover artwork. 

Another "story and songs" book, this time with Marni Nixon doing the voice of Mary Poppins and Richard M. Sherman reading, too. Richard is one half of the Sherman Brothers, the songwriting duo who composed the music to Mary Poppins

A cover variation of the same record. 
Disneyland Records was a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company so not only did they collect from other companies' merchandise but they marketed their own, too!

This 45 record featured "One Man Band" as a bonus song, which was the tune that Bert sang in the opening of the film ( to the melody of "Chim-Chim-Cheree" )

A blurry image of one of the original album covers. 

This was the most famous release and it is quite common to see it at rummage sales and second-hand stores. The sheet music featured the same painted artwork.

And, of course, there were covers released.....the big band maestro Lawrence Welk was one of the first to release a Poppins album. 

Then Duke Ellington toyed with the music.....

....and even Ray Walston "spoke" the lines in rhythm. 

This British release featured a rather dark looking design on its cover. 

Whereas the illustrator who painted the cover to this later ( 1968-1975 ) release decided to redesign Mary Poppins and the children altogether. They look like Edith Nesbit characters here. 

This cute cover was from another British release. Note the Indian and the gent with the top hat. 

This is the funniest looking cover from the New York Theatre Orchestra LP release. Mary Poppins looks like a dressed mannequin here ( a male one at that! ).

Another unusual cover, this one clearly inspired by the art of Peter Maxx. Mary Poppins looks "high" in this drawing, and not because she is flying in the air!

A British release album, featuring the Mike Sammes Singers. This fine group ( sort of the British version of the Ray Conniff Singers ) often did Disney cover albums to coincide with the release of their new films.

And speaking of Ray Conniff.....this chorus would never pass up a chance to do those great Poppins tunes. 

Sticker Books

A lovely cover to a sticker fun book, featuring some smug looking horses. 

Another sticker book, this one from a later release. 


Advertisments were a bit more difficult to find. Hefty featured some great artwork of Mary Poppins toting her carpetbag ( not garbage bags? ) in the air. 

And Kraft Chocolates offered a fantastic prize for this giveaway advertisement: a carpetbag filled with $10,000 in cash! I wonder who the lucky winner of that contest was. 

Dolls and Dollcraft

McCall's issued a stuffed doll sewing pattern and then followed it up with some more patterns featuring costume variations. These patterns can be found on Etsy. 

A series of dolls released by E.I. Horsman as early as 1963. Tonner released a series of dolls more recently that feature a stunning array of wardrobe changes. 


This lunchbox from Aladdin came in two options, tin or vinyl. 


And who can forget puzzles! This is a simple frame-tray puzzle from Whitman....

...and then there is this unusual block puzzle with picture scenes. 

I would have liked to own this one....Bert conducting the animal choir.

And lastly, a Jaymar interlocking Mary Poppins Picture Puzzle featuring the final scene in the movie, Let's Go Fly a Kite. 
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