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Monday, February 17, 2020

The Girl of the Golden West ( 1938 )

Ramerez ( Nelson Eddy ) is a carefree caballero with a tremendous sombrero on his head. Also on his head is the price of $5,000 in gold, for Ramerez is a great bandito. Along with his band of hard-riding hombres, he holds up stagecoaches and steals their passenger's gold. But he is a good man in spite of his thieving blood. Like a Robin Hood of the Wild West, Ramerez takes his portion of the gold that he steals and secretly gives it to Father Sienna to give to the poor Indians.

One day, en route to Monterey, this masked bandit holds up the stagecoach carrying Mary Robbins ( Jeannette MacDonald ) and, instantly smitten with the feisty lass, pursues her to Monterey to the governor's ball. There, incognito as Lieutenant Richard Johnson, he woos her beneath the Monterey pines with fancy words and sweet melodies. 

"I suspect you tell all your girls that their eyes are like two spoonfuls of blue Pacific." - Mary

Ramerez is playing the part of a gentleman and Mary is also playing a part. She is not the lace-and-satin lady he believes her to be, but the owner of a saloon - "The Poker". Mary is proud of her saloon and, being the only woman in the gold-mining town of Cloudee, she is beloved by all the men there, especially Sheriff Jack Rance ( Walter Pidgeon ) who intends to wed her.

When the sheriff gets wind that Ramerez is town, he sets up a trap to catch the bandit at "The Poker". This is when Mary realizes that her beloved lieutenant is none other than the infamous Ramerez and must decide whether her love for him is great enough to shield him from the law and the sheriff. 

The Girl of the Golden West was the fourth film to feature "America's Singing Sweethearts": Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald ( known as "MacEddy" to fans ). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer struck gold when they first teamed them up in the operetta Naughty Marietta in 1935. They were a dynamic duo whose on-screen personalities were a match made in heaven. They were often cast in operetta films with period settings and the Old California atmosphere of this picture suited them particularly well. 

Like many of their films, The Girl of the Golden West was based on an opera - Puccini's La Fanciulla del West which, in turn, was based on David Belasco's original play. Instead of featuring Puccini's music, MGM producers decided to hire Sigmund Romberg to write an entirely new score for the picture. Romberg had penned many popular operettas including The Student Prince, New Moon, and The Desert Song. Along with lyricist Gus Kahn, he wrote seven songs for this film: the robust "Soldiers of Fortune", the lovely ballads "Shadows on the Moon" and "The Wind in the Trees", the duets "Who Are We to Say?" and "Señorita", the grand "Mariachi" and Buddy Ebsen's solo "The West Ain't Wild Anymore". MacDonald also performs two classical pieces: "Ave Maria" and "Liebestraum". 

The Girl of the Golden West received mixed reviews at the time of its release but has since become a MacEddy classic. It is a charming mixture of romance and adventure with a touch of humor. What is especially appealing is the back history of Mary and Ramerez as children. Prior to becoming the great bandito, Ramerez was a little boy ( played by Bill Cody Jr. ) known affectionally as "Little Gringo" by his surrogate father, "The General" ( Noah Beery ). While riding with the General's gang, Little Gringo witnesses a group of settlers gathered around a campfire and hears a girl singing a song that he would never forget - "Shadows on the Moon". That girl is Mary. The long-lost love from his youth is found true operetta fashion. 
Jeanette MacDonald was such a spunky actress and her character Mary is a glove-fit for her. Mary has no qualms about living by herself in a cabin in the mountains, nor does she mind being the only gal in town...on the contrary, she basks in the attention she receives from "the boys"! If such a character was portrayed in a film today, she would probably be acted out in an overly masculine fashion, but MacDonald doesn't lose any of her womanly charms in her portrayal. 

Nelson Eddy, who was often referred to as a wooden actor, was quite lively in this production and it is easy to see why Mary falls for the handsome luuuu-tenant. Eddy makes a hero out of his bandit character, just like Errol Flynn did with Robin Hood. 

The Girl of the Golden West also boasts an impressive supporting cast. Walter Pidgeon is ideal as the gamblin' Sheriff Jack Rance. He is not a bad man in any sense, yet he becomes the villain when he threatens the happiness of the two lovebirds. Leo Carillo also stars as Mosquito, Ramerez's right-hand man. H.B. Warner is the kindly Father Sienna; Buddy Ebsen has a charming part as a blacksmith smitten with "Miss Mary" and some of the bar-room boys include Bob Murphy, Cliff Edwards, Billy Bevan, and Brandon Tynan. 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

From the Archives: The Sands of Iwo Jima ( 1949 )

John Agar and Adele Mara enjoy a posed smooch for the photographer for this publicity photo from the war drama The Sands of Iwo Jima ( 1949 ). The publicity department was trying to promote the romantic story angle of the film. Adele Mara, born Adelaida Delgado, was a popular pin-up gal of the 1940s and in this particular image she bears a striking resemblance to another bombshell of the era - Gloria Grahame. I wonder if Shirley Temple was jealous of her husband ( John Agar ) enjoying his "work" at the studio!

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, February 9, 2020

Der Klosterjäger ( 1953 ) aka The Monastery's Hunter

Haymo ( Erich Auer ) is the official "jäger" ( forest ranger ) for the monastery at Berchtesgaden. One day while patrolling the mountains he hears a cry for help. It is Gittli ( Marianne Koch ), a young woman who lost her footing on a dangerous cliffside while picking flowers. Haymo rescues her and falls in love with her at first sight. 

Gittli brings the flowers that she picked to the bailiff hoping to win his favor as she pleads on behalf of her brother Wolfrat ( Kurt Heintel ) for extra time in paying the rent that is due for their family's hut. During the 1600s ( the time of the story's setting ), provinces in Germany were owned by princes who required their tenants to pay them rent money for their farms. Gittli's brother is a desperate man. He not only has no money for the rent, but his daughter is also terribly ill. The local "bader" ( country doctor ) tells him that only the sweat of an ibex can cure his daughter. 

Hunting game of any kind is strictly verboten, but Wolfrat decides to risk being caught by the jäger Haymo in his attempt to shoot an ibex ( a large wild goat ) to save his daughter. However, he is spotted and, in fear, he stabs the jäger as he tries to escape. Poor Gittli then attempts to save the life of her beloved Haymo, while worrying that her brother will be caught for his crime. 
Der Klosterjäger was the third film adaptation of Ludwig Ganghofer's classic novel of the same name. It paired two actors who were extremely popular in the Heimatfilme genre - Erich Auer and Marianne Koch. They made a lovely couple onscreen. Auer was an Austrian actor who became a rather unlikely leading man in the 1950s, often playing in historical films. Marianne Koch had a long career both in Germany, Italy, and the United States and is best known to American audiences for playing Marisol in A Fistful of Dollars ( 1964 ). For many years she was a panelist on the German version of "What's My Line?" and later switched careers to become a doctor. 
Like most fairy tale romances, Der Klosterjäger has a predictable plot, yet this doesn't mean it fails to be entertaining. There is a mountaintop bear fight, plenty of drama, and the location filming in the Bavarian Alps is beautiful. The sets are also excellent, and the supporting cast is made up of many familiar German character actors including Willy Rösner, Karl Skraup, and Paul Hartmann. Also in the cast is Paul Richter who starred as Haymo in the 1935 film adaptation. 

Der Klosterjäger is still shown frequently on ZDF, a German television channel, as one of the "classics". It is not available on DVD in the United States but appears occasionally on Youtube. 

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Paris Underground ( 1945 )

During World War II, it was difficult enough trying to aid one British airman in escaping Germany under the watchful eyes of the Nazis, but one woman not only managed to sneak one airman out of the country but 150 soldiers! This woman was Etta Shiber, a Manhattan housewife who adopted Paris, France, as her new homeland. 

In the spring of 1940, she was fleeing from her apartment in Paris, along with her friend Kitty and her two French poodles, in order to escape the Nazi invasion. As they were traveling south, they stopped at an inn where the innkeeper informed them that he had rescued a British airman and was hiding him. Etta and her friend decided to smuggle him across the border to safety in the trunk of their car. And then they were brave enough to remain in France and contact the "Paris underground" to see if there were any other airmen needing passage back to Britain. 

Etta and Kitty were both captured by the Nazis in December 1940, just six months after she began this rescue operation. Etta was freed in the spring of 1942 when the United States did a prisoner swap and exchanged her for Johanna Hofmann, a German who was convicted of spying in the States. 

One year later she wrote a novel about her experiences smuggling soldiers and titled it "Paris Underground". This novel was turned into the film Paris Underground, released in Britain as Madame Pimpernel.
The film, produced by Constance Bennett, switches the main character to Kitty ( portrayed by Ms. Bennett ) and makes Etta, renamed Emmie, a secondary character. This part was given to Gracie Fields, the wonderful English actress/singer. Together, they make quite a good team. 

Paris Underground was tautly directed by Gregory Ratoff ( All About Eve ) and features all the elements one would want to see in a World War II espionage film: underground agents, quaint "Parisian" settings, secret passageways, diabolical Gestapo men, and plenty of action. The film focuses on two smuggling missions that the gals undertake and then hastily skims over several months until we find them captured and put into prison. They are supposedly released together and honored with medals for their heroism, but in reality, Etta did not know whether Kitty was alive, even at the time of writing her novel. 

Dame Gracie Fields, lovingly called "Our Gracie" by the Brits, had a long career in film, stage, radio, and television. Paris Underground was her last picture before she retired to the Isle of Capri where she operated a restaurant. The film does not showcase Gracie at her best ( comedy was her forte ) but she does a marvelous job with the does Constance Bennett as Kitty. Also in the cast is George Rigaud as Kitty's husband, and Kurt Kreuger as the Nazi captain. Character parts were given to Eily Malyon, Vladimir Sokoloff, Andrew McLaglen, and Leslie Vincent ( who memorably played Dr. Watson's "nephew" Nicholas Watson in Pursuit to Algiers ).