Saturday, February 29, 2020

From the Archives: The Fabulous World of Jules Verne ( 1958 )

Czech filmmaker Karl Zeman combined an inventive mix of animation, puppets, and live action to create "The Fabulous World of Jules Verne" released in 1958. In this original still photo, we see the underwater submarine of Captain Nemo exploring the ocean floor. 

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 : http://stores.ebay.com/Silverbanks-Pictures

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Journey to the Center of the Earth ( 1959 )

Back in 1864, Jules Verne penned "Journey to the Centre of the Earth", a novel about a group of intrepid individuals who undertake a subterranean journey to discover the very center of our Earth. Why would anyone want to take such a journey? As one of the explorers in this expedition explains, "Why does man freeze to death to try and reach the North Pole? Why does man drive himself to suffer the steam and heat to discover the Amazon? Why does he stagger his mind with the math of the sky? Once a question arises in the human brain the answer must be found, whether it takes a hundred years or a thousand years." 

It is the spirit of adventure that is celebrated in the act of exploring the unknown, and the ultimate aim of all Science is to penetrate this unknown. Scientists spent years exploring the many features of the earth's surface but who has penetrated its depths? Arne Saknussemm has! Or so this movie claims. The 16th-century Icelandic alchemist was ridiculed for his preposterous attempt to reach the Earth's core, but 350 years later, Professor Oliver Lindenbrook ( James Mason ) stumbles upon evidence that proves he did just that, and ventures forth to go there himself. 

By the time he leaves, the party has grown to five members: Alec ( Pat Boone ), a student of his at the University of Edinburgh; Carla ( Arlene Dahl ), the widow of a fellow explorer; a burly Icelander named Hans ( Peter Ronson ) and his pet duck Gertrude ( excellently played by herself ). Spending a year beneath the surface, they encounter a cavern of luminescent crystals, large deposits of salt, an ocean, the lost city of Atlantis, and even another explorer...bent on making sure his own name goes down in history as the first man to reach the center of the Earth!
Journey to the Center of the Earth was released in 1959 by 20th Century Fox and was the first film adaptation of Verne's popular novel. Producer Charles Brackett called the original story "a delightful book, written for young people. We simply couldn't have any solemnity about it. I wanted very much to do it at this time. I'm tired of all these films based on thoughts at the back of sick minds......Our picture describes action and events, with not the slightest shadow of Freud. The serious thing about Jules Verne is that all he does is tell a story in exciting episodes, but his stories have always pushed man a little closer towards the unknown. What we've tried to do is retell his story in the best way of all - in the Verne vernacular."
Indeed, the film captures all of the excitement of the original novel without getting bogged down with Verne's scientific details. Walter Reisch ( Gaslight, Niagara ), who had written a number of science fiction stories, was called in to adapt the novel into a script. He cleverly added story elements that made it more palatable for filmgoers, including adding an extra member of the expedition - Carla Thompson. This provided an opportunity for a touch of romance between her and Professor Lindenbrook. Arlene Dahl was excellent in this part. She made Carla an independent-thinker, strong-willed and capable and yet retained her feminine charms. Carla took on the mother-role of the group providing moral support and cooking skills and enjoyed letting the men provide for her and the rest of the group's practical needs.

The comradery between all of the members of the expedition - and the actors who portrayed these characters - is what makes Journey to the Center of the Earth particularly enjoyable to watch. They strike out on an adventure into unknown territory and, like true Victorian explorers, are heedless to the dangers that lie ahead. In jolly spirits, they take all they encounter in stride, carefully making detailed observations for those who may follow in their path, never doubting that they will return to the surface of the Earth to show others the way.

Reisch also added some introductory material to his adaptation and set the events in Edinburgh, Scotland. Here, we witness Professor Lindenbrook in his native habitat, teaching geology at the University of Edinburgh. The events leading up to the journey unfold when his prize pupil Alec, gifts him with an unusual volcanic rock, a lump of lava that contains a hastily scrawled message from long-lost explorer Arne Saknussem. The intrepid professor endeavors to set off at once to follow in Arne's footsteps, but soon discovers that his secret discovery is not so very secret. Two men are already on his trail and set to foil him, one of them being the villainous Count Saknussem ( Thayer David ), a burly descendant of Arne. 

James Mason was tailor-fit for the part of the professor and gives a rousing performance. Surprisingly, Mason was not the first choice for the part. Clifton Webb was originally cast but, having recently undergone surgery, had to withdraw from the production just before shooting began because the physicality of the role would have been detrimental to his health. 
Pat Boone was obviously cast to make the film appealing to younger audiences. He does an excellent job as well, singing only two songs throughout the film ( he had more musical numbers but they were later cut ). Diane Baker was added as his love-interest, the lovely Jenny Linden. The poor girl patiently waited two years to see her sweetheart re-emerge from the depths of the earth. Also in the cast is Alan Napier, Ivan Triesault, and Edith Evanson. 

Journey to the Center of the Earth did extremely well at the box-office, raking in nearly $10,000,000 ( it had a $3.4 million budget ). It had incredible fantasy elements and showed its audience that a whale of a good time could be had beneath the Earth's crust. The Lindenbrook expedition encountered everything from man-eating lizards and giant mushrooms to the lost city of Atlantis, all without the benefit of CGI. 
The film was nominated for these special effects as well as for its art direction. The talented Lyle Wheeler was responsible for these sets, which were highly imaginative and colorful. Wheeler captured the atmosphere of old Edinburgh in the opening scenes, created the beautiful interior sets of Lindenbrook's house ( including an impressive library ), and served up a veritable smorgasbord of fanciful sets for the center-of-the-Earth sequences, including a beautiful cavern of fluorescent rocks. 

Walt Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea ( 1954 ) was one of the first color film adaptations of a Jules Verne novel and its success created a whole new genre of Victorian adventure films. Like Leagues, Journey to the Center of the Earth not only boasted beautiful sets but a striking color palette that set the tone for all other films in its genre, including The Time Machine ( 1960 ), The Lost World ( 1960 ), Mysterious Island ( 1961 ), and First Men in the Moon ( 1964 ). 
It also had an impressive score by Bernard Herrmann. The opening theme heralds the approaching adventure to be enjoyed and the rest of the score captured all the beauty, thrills, and wonderment to be found in the caverns of the deep.

Sixty years after its release, Journey to the Center of the Earth remains one of the best adventure films ever made because at the core of the film is rock-solid entertainment, pure movie magic that ignites your imagination and inspires you to set off on your own adventure. And that is the stamp of excellence for any adventure flick. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

"'Round and 'round it goes, where it lands, nobody knows..." The roulette table is spinning and some people seem to be winning. You can win, too, if you are able to guess which movie this screenshot was taken from. Leave your guess in the comment box below and see if Lady Luck is on your side. 

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

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 again...in 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 : http://stores.ebay.com/Silverbanks-Pictures

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 role....as 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 ).