Category: CLASSIC FILM TALK


 

Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep

by Michael Schulman (Author)

 

Print Length: 304 pages

Publisher: Harper Collins (April 26 2016)

 

“Her again “is exactly what I have said when watching the Academy Awards and Meryl Streep is nominated.  Michael Schulman crafts a fast paced look at Meryl Streep –from her childhood to the role that launched her in KRAMER VS KRAMER (1979).

What I found the most entertaining were the people that Streep came in contact with; particularly from her days in theatre.  John Lithgow, Dustin Hoffman (she auditioned for a play he was directing), Al Pacino, and Sigourney Weaver from her Yale acting days.  Schulman weaves a real world of personalities filled with little bits of up and down, with backstage stories to round things out. Streep reads a great deal of books on various subjects, and memorizes whole Shakespearian plays.

Meryl Streep moved in the world with fairy tale quality based on her looks and her ability to present character on stage and later in film.  The story seems to have that Hollywood quality to it. For example, Meryl could arrive an hour late for an important Broadway audition and get the role instantly. Schulman is a Meryl Streep booster and fan which is evident in the tone and depth of the story.

The best parts delved into Steep’s  relationship with unconventional actor John Cazale, who many will know played the machine  gun carrying fellow trying to get the  sex change operation financed by Al Pacino’s character in DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975).   Those moments become an unconventional love story as the quirky looking Cazale (who apparently did everything at his own pace no matter what) and the blonde, Nordic looking blue eyed, high cheek boned Streep.  The book follows Cazale’s cancer diagnoses and Streep spending months nursing him till he passed away.   Al Pacino said years later as reported by the author that, “No matter what she wins… This will always be his memory of her and how she stood up for John.”

The book ends with a detailed narrative the making of KRAMER VS KRAMER (1979) and a look at the talent of Dustin Hoffman – whom were learn has a very abrasive style of directing and set manner – he locks   horns with Meryl Streep, who plays the wife in the landmark tale of a divorce and child custody battle. This picture is a child of the late eighties with the rise of feminism, with which Meryl seems to have taken on in her life.

It may not be a complete look into the life of Meryl Streep but it doesn’t claim to be as its subtitle of “Becoming Meryl Streep,” suggests.  Still an entertaining look at what some thing is one of greatest female actors of this generation and how she became the Meryl Streep we see on the screen.

 

 

 

 

YOUNG ORSON

The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane

By Patrick McGilligan

832 pages with two 16 page photo inserts

Publisher: Harper Collins

This was my second excursion into the world of Orson Welles and was by far the most comprehensive to date.  My previous experience was with Simon Callow’s first volume THE ROAD TO XANADU, a few years back; I found its tone tedious.

Do not let the size of this tome put you off:  author Patrick McGilligan takes you on a wonderfully detailed trip into Welles’ life.  One gets to follow the lives of Welles’ would- be parents before they meet. The social fabric of the time, the early industrialization of America, the schools, all add up to nostalgic sections of Welles’ parents and their lives in Kenosha Falls.

Interesting accounts of young Orson in school as he tries to and succeeds in avoiding physical education and athletics with guile unbecoming a twelve year old.  One gets to see the opportunities as they come into his life such as the Mercury Theatre and early Shakespeare productions that Welles often played in as a lead, knowing the roles almost by heart from an early age.  His love of magic and magicians became a lifelong obsession.

Patrick Gilligan gets us close to Welles’ friends, such as actor Norman Lloyd, Joseph Cotton, and John Houseman, who was instrumental in Orson’s theatre and radio work, culminating in the famous or infamous THE WAR OF THE WORLDS broadcast of 1938.

The reader gets to be a fly on the wall in meetings as the genesis of CITIZEN KANE takes place with co- writer Herman Mankieweiz and Orson, plus others as they give birth in various script versions often fueled by excess and madness of creativity.

One also learns of the other side of genius, as Orson was called at a young age.  The divorce, the estranged children, the money fights, the creative fights, the battles with studios, later years of neglect and perhaps the truth of what Rosebud really meant in the film.   The barriers of belligerence Orson set up in later years to protect himself from people that hid a lonely man who wondered, “People would hire me to talk about film but no one will let me make one.”

YOUNG ORSON: The Years of Luck and Genius on the Path to Citizen Kane is an excellent addition to any film lover’s or biography reader’s bookshelf as it draws from previous and new sources.  It is a glimpse of a Renaissance man at work and at play – warts and all.

 

 

I recently facinated viewed gruff speaking Aldo Ray in  pseudo noir picture NIGHTFALL (1957) Directed by Jacques Tourneur . The way this fellow moved with economy of motion, stood tall, and what was so important in pictures of that day is that he wore his clothes well. Ray never actually played football but he was a Navy frogman during World War two seeing action at Okinawa.  He went along to an audition with his brother Guido for a 1951 football film  SATURDAYS HERO.  Turned out that Director  David Miller was more interested in  him than his brother because of his raspy voice.  Ray got the role of a cynical college football player opposite  John Derek and Donna Reed in the Columbia Pictures production plus a exclusive contract inspite of having no acting experience. He was to appear in several films under his birth name of  Aldo DaRe.

 

 

Aldo Ray’s career was launched as he was cast in 1952 opposite Judy holiday in the George Cukor  film THE MARRYING KIND and PAT AND MIKE  with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn.  His thick neck and large frame aided his a tough, sexy roles for that time became his trademark.  Cukor once told him that he moved like a ‘football player’ and suggested  that he take ballet lessons.  He was nominated for a “Best Newcomer” award for the Golden Globe awards  that year along with Robert Wagner only to lose out to someone called Richard Burton.  Ray  made a picture with Rita Hayworth called MISS SADIE THOMPSON in 1953.  Columbia pictures boss Harry Cohen wanted Ray in the role of  Private Robert Prewitt in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY(1953) but Director Fred Zinnemann insisted on Montgomery Clift.

In 1955, Ray featured in starring roles in BATTLE CRY, THREE STRIPES IN A  SUN,  MEN IN WAR and one of his best-loved films, WE’RE NO ANGELS (1955), in which he starred with Humphrey Bogart Peter Ustinov, Basil Rathbone and Joan Bennett.  He tried his hand or rather voice as a radio personality on the hit music station WNDR New York.

 

 

In personal life Aldo Ray settled in Crockett California after military discharge  with his wife Shirley Green where he was elected as  Town Constable.They had one child, a daughter named Claire The marriage ended in divorce in 1953 as  did  second union to actress Jeff Donnell which also ended in divorce in 1956

By the dawn of the 1960s, Aldo was most often typecast as the tough guy, capitalizing on his husky good looks and gravelly voice. Another iconic role came Ray’s way as he played SGT. Muldoon along side John Wayne in THE GREEN BERETS.(1968) plus appearance in various televsion shows  such as BONANZA.  He married Johanna Bennet, who continues to work today under the name Johanna  Ray, as a respected Casting Director. They were divorced in 1967.   Aldo grew tired of the ‘macho redneck’ roles plus the quality of the stories in 60’s yet he still worked in some less then notable films as character  attitudes  changed.

In the  1980s as Ray was diagnosed with throat cancer and would take any job including non sexual roles in porngraphic films to pay for his costly health insurance. His SCREEN ACTOR GUILD card was revoked when it was found out he was working on non union productions. However ex wife Johanna Ray, a longtime collaborator with David Lynch, cast her son Eric with Aldo in Lynch’s 1990 TWIN PEEKS television series, as well as the movie FIREWALK WITH ME  released in 1992.  Ray also appeared in  1991  horror picture SHOCK’EM DEAD with Tracie Lords and Troy Donohue.

Aldo Ray retured to Crockett California with his mother, family and friends where he passed away in 1991.

THE HUMAN COMEDY

 

Summers are wonderful times to enjoy pictures – some of which I enjoyed during the TCM SUMMER OF DARKNESS festival on Film Noir.  The rain felt warm, the dark was comforting, and dialogue was so sharp you could shave with it. There is morning even in a noir picture -however desolate.

I recently took a spin through the Michael Curtiz 1958 directed picture THE PROUD REBEL with Alan Ladd and Olivia de Havilland, who were ably supported by Dean Jagger, Cecil Kellaway, Henry Hull and a young Harry Dean Stanton among others.  I missed seeing it at the 2015 TCM festival. If you wait, the film you want to see will come around to the network. It has been called an unremarkable film, also “Saturday afternoon light fare,” which really doesn’t bother me. The formula driven story of a former Confederate soldier (Alan Ladd), who is searching for a doctor to cure his son David (David Ladd), who in the course of this meets a woman farmer Linnett Moore (de Havilland). She takes them in as a result of brushes with the law and aggressive neighbors.  What struck me after the end credits had rolled by was the simplicity of the story.  The warm feeling that it evoked came through its use of that tried and true ‘boy and his dog’ motif.

One does not need gritty drama, creatures rising from the dead, or gangsters shooting it out for a roll of money to enjoy classic film. A steady diet of the same style is like eating the same meal every day, and can leave you desensitized; inattentive to nuances of your favorite style of picture as it all blends into one.  Variety is a brilliant way to appreciate what you enjoy even more.

I am not employed by TCM so I get  nothing in boosting their network.  TCM On air host Robert Osbourne articulated some reasons why people watch classic film at a press conference I attended that never occurred to me. Amazingly these experiences were  part of me which I did not take into account. It was mentioned that the TCM network could be classed as a caregiver of sorts. Countless letters are received saying that the network gets people through periods of personal loneliness, periods of unemployment, loss of a loved one, or any number of life transitions.I for one have gone through a medical convalescence a few years ago of six weeks. I would watch one film, sometimes two, beginning very early in the morning as it was my habit to get up at that time. It was pretty cool to be able to catchup on many of the pictures I had stored on PVR. My medical troubles were short as l was fortunate to heal quickly. It is insular of me to not think of this for a person with a long term predicament.

Robert Osbourne spoke to this when he said that with our current world situation, why would people not want to see something uplifting?  The network has a tremendous loyal following that is like a family that no other network can boast. You don’t see conventions, festivals or cruises for other networks.  Some would say that networks such as this are selling your past back to you which is fine since that was what the studio system did. Movies eased people though the Depression, wars, societial transitions with larger then life faces. Momentary escape from what was going on was pretty good for a dime.

 

 

Today  some people want realism or the opposite through effects.  There will always be two ‘ camps’ for this debate which is quite alright.  A strong example of new film making with an interesting, if not violant theme is the current  MAD MAX… FURY ROAD which should still be in theatres. It would be tough to  tell this story without the mayhem that goes with it  yet is  handled very well in terms of “implied” action.  One does not need to see the the carnage to know that it is there.

 

Movies have always been a product of their time as audience change. Sometimes  ‘simple’ is good.

 

 

Digital power has brought motion pictures to a new audience.  The discs (or the next format) gives us all an opportunity to hold motion picture history.  The recent TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL in Los Angeles may have looked at first glance like it was going backward from that. THE RETURN OF THE DREAM MACHINE, HAND CRANKED FILMS  FROM 1902-1913., brought history home.

 

 

This event was hosted by Randy HaberKamp, Managing Director of Preservation and Foundation Programs for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Beautiful prints of a hand color tinted version of A TRIP TO THE MOON (1909) by George Melies, Thomas Edison’s THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1903), and D.W. Griffith early short film, THOSE AWFUL HATS (1909) from Biograph studios were just three of the eight gems that played.   The difference is that these prints were projected through a genuine 1909 hand cranked Model 6 Cameragraph Motion Picture machine operated by Joe Rinaudo and Gary Gibson. Pre-show music was played by Galen Wilkes on a 1908 Edison Phonograph featuring cylinders of popular music that one would have heard then. There was live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla on keyboard during the showings and between features. Each of these people were dressed in period costume that their occupations wore. The concession made to modern times is that the pre-show music was amplified by a microphone. Slides such as, “No spitting in aisles,” and “Ladies, remove your hats,” punctuated the experience between reel changes.

 

The prints were hand cranked, much the same as the cameras were during the filming of scenes in early motion pictures. The smallest deviation of speed by the projectionist could change to look of a film and subsequent audience feeling. These showings would take place in small towns and cities, sometimes outdoors in the evening, weather permitting, or in halls.  The wonder of the images, which seem very tame to today’s people, of trains going by, people dancing, and the first hand drawn animation such as the work of 1911  N.Y Herald cartoonist brought to life in his ‘ moving comics’ left the audiences awestruck.

 

This was the beginning of narrative film as the new medium of motion pictures was being developed.  Hollywood was in its infancy as the real power rested back east in New York were the money was and creator Thomas Edison. Ironically, the money has always been back East, even in the Golden Years of Hollywood.  Producers found the California climate, the lushness of the orange and walnut groves, the wide open unspoiled spaces, conducive to film making.  Lighting techniques were not fully developed so even when studios were built in California they had open glass roofs and windows to allow natural light in or they shot outside. What a perfect climate to do this in with year round sun. Hence, the studio migration.

This presentation was something you could only see at a festival or revival of this nature so we were lucky to take advantage of the opportunity. To actually see these pictures in the mode they were originally presented was a treat. One could say it’s similar to the resurgence of vinyl records now as music lovers re-discover or find their roots. There is a level of purity as well as one can respect how far the medium of film has come and wonder where it can go. It is a shame that basically less than ten percent of all the silent film produced by early Hollywood has survived. Great features by many names both big and small are lost though neglect as film was simply tossed away or by numerous fires due to volatile nitrate stock.  I also find even today with history that people simply do not realize what they have sitting in front of them and basically let the ravages of time take its course due to lack of funding. Will future people look at the pictures and technical prowess today with the same nostalgia?  The rest they say is history. One hopes that this history itself is still around for all to see.

 

 

 

 

 

Film festival attending can be a mixture of working the crowd, finding what you want to see, and having to make decisions when items are crossed booked.  There are no bad decisions if you attend an event such is what is happening with us at the 2015 TURNER CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL in Hollywood. Hence, I would like to pass on some bits and pieces of what is happening.

I was fortunate to get into the 10 p.m. screening of the Mike Curtiz directed 1940 picture THE SEA HAWK. Why is that worth mentioning? Because it was on the big screen; a 35 mm print complete with reel changes.   Organizers have respect for film of this nature and for me it was cool to see the curtains of today’s larger screens close to the smaller aspect ratio of the 1940s.  This was not a print that was blown up to fill the huge surface but the wonderfully non- claustrophobic look at what the film makers intended.  The image was clear with some obvious time worn troubles that affect us all. The sound on the print was crisp with Korngold’s magnificent score coming through.  Dialogue could be understood without the pops and crackles that show up.

This screening of THE SEA HAWK featured a talk by Errol Flynn’s daughter Rory Flynn, who imparted some insights into her late father, such as “You see the swashbuckling hero, I see my father.” She also took the opportunity to introduce her son Sean Flynn with a good deal of Mother’s pride.

It was pointed out that the print was listed in the program as running time of two hours and seven minutes, yet actually the running time was be one hour forty nine minutes.  Now for some people that is an abomination, some don’t care, and I admit I was slightly irked as I had thoughts of those ‘Real Art’ reissues of Universal Studios Horror pictures.  Real Art cut the films often to sixty to sixty five minutes to get them on television. THE SEA HAWK print was cut to fit onto a 1947 double bill format along with THE SEA WOLF (1941) with Edward G. Robinson as the ship’s tyrannical captain.  The scenes with actor Donald Crisp as the Queen’s advisor, Sir John Burleson, also were victim of editorial decisions.

The audience applauded when Flynn’s and Korngold’s name appeared on the screen. Clapping exploded when Flynn makes his entrance on the deck of his ship about ten minutes in. I found it particularly interesting that there was clapping for Una O’ Conner, who made a career of playing hand maidens, ladies in waiting, and other character types.  Her Irish accent and facial expressions have been in countless pictures so it was good to see the grand person of theatre get noticed.

The SEA HAWK rollicked, swords clashed, ships fired cannons, the evil Spanish were somewhat vanquished, urbane dialogue was exchanged and unrequited love was returned all in glorious black and white.

It has been a while since I had watched the picture of the style which made the experience full of enjoyment.   The current PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN franchise is the closest audiences have today to this style while it has its merits. It is effects dependent, which is what much of today’s audiences want.   Not a bad time on the old high seas.

WARREN WILLIAM WHO?

One of the pleasures I get from writing about Hollywood as it was it is finding out more about some of the actors that don’t get mentioned yet give some startling performances. Warren William, most likely the personification of cad, scoundrel, swindler and non-repentant womanizer in Pre-code cinema, falls into that category. William was billed – even by his home studio of WARNER BROTHERS – as Williams because it was considered easier to remember; was often compared to John Barrymore in profile and diction. He steadfastly refused to change his name, and this was the hallmark of a man who was true to his ideas, even when they contributed to his downfall and subsequent obscurity in film history.

Warren William was born Warren William Krech in Aitkin, Minnesota to well to do German parents. He became interested in things as diverse as mechanics, nautical engineering, and the sea, which became a lifelong passion and source of relaxation. There was pressure to go into journalism from his family, however, he showed promise enough to pass an audition at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in 1915.  Next was a lucrative Broadway career as a leading man.William, or Warren Krech as he was known, spent time in the Army during WWI as a soldier and trainer. He never saw combat, but was transferred to embarkation bases in the UK and got to France just before the armistice was signed.  He described seeing the effects of war in the shape of the wounded, the scarred, and the shell shocked.

William was an inveterate inventor of gadgets. A mobile kitchen/dinner facility, for example, long before trailers were invented. He bought an old truck chassis, and proceeded to build a long table and kitchen facilities on the chassis base so he could drive to any part of his vast ranch to serve a meal to hungry guests.  William also built a telephone that would drop on a pole with a system of counter weights to the height of a vehicle entering his estate so the occupant could contact him for admittance. The gate would open by remote control power switch. While these and many other inventions seem quaint today, these were fabricated in the late thirties when much of technology was not available to people.  It was the Depression, and people had concerns like work and feeding families on their minds. William was an intelligent man with impeccable manners and taste in dress from his privileged upbringing and opportunities yet he maintained a humanity and a warmth for all people.  These factors were welcomed by Hollywood, as it was looking for actors with stage experience was the sound era dawned.

Warren William went to work for Warner Brothers studio in earnest in 1931  after  a ‘false start’ in 1922 in which he appeared in a movie serial PLUNDER with the ‘serial queen’ at that time Pearl White, and a small role in THE TOWN THAT FORGOT GOD.  The studio didn’t know what roles to use Warren William for as he dropped the name Krech by then so he returned briefly to Broadway.Warner Brothers then found out that they had a virtual goldmine when they cast William in what would become classics of Pre-code Hollywood.  Amongst these first defining roles was ‘EXPENSIVE WOMEN (1931), UNDER EIGHTEEN (1931), which concerns a wealthy Broadway producer who (Williams) tries to take advantage of a poor young seamstress who needs money to help her sister divorce her worthless husband.  The picture also contains the very suggestive line by William to Marian Marsh, “Why don’t you take your clothes off and stay a while?”  Heady stuff for 1931 audiences.

This was followed by BEAUTY AND THE BOSS and the role of the corrupt, unscrupulous lawyer Vincent Day that launched him in THE MOUTHPIECE.

Vincent Day (Warren William) is a prosecutor who is on the fast track to success. When a man he zealously prosecuted all the way to the electric chair is found innocent, he becomes distressed and quits his job. At the suggestion of a friendly bartender, he decides to switch teams and become a defense attorney specializing in the representation of gangsters and other unsavory people. He will use any tactic to get his clients acquitted, up to and including drinking a slow-acting poison from a bottle of evidence to prove that the substance isn’t lethal. The jury acquits the man not knowing that immediately after, Day rushes into a Mob doctor’s office for a pre-arranged stomach pump. I will not reveal the end of the picture as you should view it yourself as it is fun to do and to get full impact.

I recently finished reading practically the only book bio on the actor titled, WARREN WILLIAM, THE MAGNIFICENT SCOUNDREL OF PRE-CODE HOLLYWOOD by John Stangeland.  I had known about Warren William before and actively sought to views his films when they became available. I even asked for the book at Larry Edmunds Bookshop in Hollywood when I was there only to find that it had been sold out – it’s good to know there are people interested in this man.   Stangeland writes with an easy flowing style on the subject that brings what facts there are together in a fascinating, sad testimony of a forgotten actor.

 

I disagreed with Strangeland when he said that there are”…no defining roles that the public can identify with in Warren William’s career,” which contributed to his obscurity today.THE MOUTH PIECE more that fulfilled the defining role criteria as it shows the actor as his deadly, conniving, near-evil character with the perfect diction and profile of a patrician senator. The picture also shows the depth of acting as Vincent Day realizes the terrible pain he has caused with his powers of persuasion and the rule of Law that he so eloquently argues to the jury.   The depth and the twist in a person’s soul that can change someone when one of the pillars of a life, in this case the belief in the legal system, are shattered, leaving one without direction are well shown.  The loss of faith and descent into become perhaps something worse then the people that were defended by the system that was once held high is there for everyone to see.  If you have to pick one defining role for people to experience Warren William then I say it is this picture by far.

William did go onto to do roles of this type with variations in what are now acknowledged as Pre code classics like EMPLOYEES ENTRANCE (1932), in which his character who runs a department store will do anything to drive to success including bedding the staff, one of whom was played by Loretta Young. THREE ON A MATCH (1932), with Humphrey Bogart and Ann Dvorak graphically showed for then the ravages of drug addiction and the party life upon a family.  THE MATCH KING (1932), in which Warren William’s character rules the business world to heights of being able to loan money to bankrupt countries on an empire built on selling matches. The story was based on true life Swedish entrepreneur and swindler Ivar Kreugar who controlled two thirds of worldwide match production between two World Wars. He is said to have been involved in Ponzi schemes long before people like Bernie Madoff, etc. were born. Kreugar committed suicide in Paris in 1932.  SKYSCRAPER SOULS (1932) depicts the life of people of the Seacoast National Bank Building – Warren’s character David Dwight womanizes and swindles his way to control.

THE MIND READER (1932) with Warren as Chandra the Magnificent who tells fortunes and uses other schemes to make money.Warren William went on to do many pictures including the first films as Perry Mason, and The Lone Wolf series as expert thief in ARSENE LUPIN RETURNS (1938). William was cast as Julius Caesar to Claudette Colbert’s CLEOPATRA in 1934; directed with great flourish, budget and costumes or lack of depending on how you look at it, by Cecil B.  De Mille.

This was an actor with good looks, brilliant diction, commanding stage manner, an impeccable dress so strong that he supplied his own suits, ties and shoes. He had an inquiring mind that invented things like a portable trailer dressing room before they were invented so he could get an extra one hour sleep, be driven to the studio by a driver while he prepared himself in the trailer for his day’s shooting while on the way. William would deliver himself onto the set, no matter where it was, ready for work.  Why is this person forgotten by a good number of people in Hollywood? Even in his home town of Aitkin, Minnesota – a stop-over to Judy Garland on her way to her home town.

I believe that Warren William was a victim of studio neglect and the star system. He was accused in various sources of not advocating for himself for better roles, money, and scripts as some of the others such as James Cagney, Bette Davis, Paul Muni, and Joan Crawford did. William did not seem to take an interest in his career and this seemed to vex his wife.  He would spend little time with the Hollywood parties, preferring the company of his ranch and his work shop where he could build things. Joan Blondell said that, “Warren William was old before he really was old.”  This attitude could have come from his privileged up-bringing while he did work and was charitable to friends, causes, animals, etc. he didn’t have that drive within himself that a fear of poverty can bring. The studios knew they could shuffle him from starring roles to supporting roles, sometimes with great success as in LADY FOR A DAY, without having him complain. He was paid very well and was comfortable enough to indulge his sailing and inventing during the Depression. I had no idea that he had a bit role as a medical doctor on the moors in the 1941 Universal classic THE WOLF MAN with Lon Chaney, Jr. and Claude Rains.

 

I don’t entirely agree that he didn’t advocate for himself, as he did demand that his contract be renegotiated after Warner Brothers took him out of the running for the role of Peter Blood in CAPTAIN BLOOD. They broke Warren as it was a chance to combine his love of the sea and play something different for the public in an historical context. Warner Brothers instead went with an unknown actor called Errol Flynn and, as they say, the rest is history.Warren William was also one of the original 14 actors that became involved in the formation of what became the Screen Actors Guild so he was keenly aware of the rights of the performer.

Today Warren William is not known to many which is a shame. His huge film, radio and stage performances have disappeared as he is lumped in with the likes of Lyle Talbot and others who had the looks but were missing something that would make them a star. Warren was also thought to have played too many roles subservient to women in pictures which made him not respected in the audience’s eyes.  Pre-code Hollywood films have not been available for years and many still are not. They were not part of the original packages sold to television stations when the studios discovered the great use for their back archives. Pre-code films of that time are available now more as a curiosities in box sets. Many have been lost due to neglect and simple destruction by studios who were afraid of controversy as in the case of Joan Blondell’s CONVENTION CITY (1933). Warren’s fate of not being better known today is more akin to Mary Pickford who simply controlled all her films when she retired refusing to have them played in revival houses, released to television or now even put to BluRay. This practice is a double edged sword: while you have control of your material, you have an entire generation of the public that have never seen your work.  Pickford should be as known worldwide as Charlie Chaplin.

Warren William passed away in 1948 from many health problems as studios would not take a chance on him for fear of his not being able to complete the project.  Bone cancer from his work with the pesticide DDT in his gardens, sawdust and other farm chemicals not known to be harmful from his work shop claimed him with his wife at his bedside.  The scene is his last picture THE PRIVATE AFFAIRS OF BELLE AMI (1947) sums up his career ending as he puts on a wry smile while looking at a raconteur character that he played so well years before and backs away into the background fog.  Find him if you can

 

IN WAYNE’S WAY

It is not often I post about war pictures as Classic Film, so I thought I would put my boots in on the Otto Preminger directed picture IN HARM’S WAY (1965) with John Wayne and a host of others.

Wayne crossed many genres, yet he will be forever remembered as the gun totin,’ fist swingin,’ righteous cowboy. He can be accused of playing himself in his films – not a bad thing as audiences loved him in those roles. This makes his work in the role of Admiral Rockwell Torrie all the more interesting.

IN HARM’S WAY puts Wayne squarely where he has been before, fighting in the Pacific as he had done in FLYING TIGERS (1942) , THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945), OPERATION PACIFIC (1951), THE FIGHTING SEEBEES (1944), SANDS OF IWO JIMA (1949), and BACK TO BATAAN (1945). Familiar territory for him yes, but the material is seldom told with such a gritty edge then in this picture, thanks mainly to producer/director Otto Preminger. The picture features an effective use of black and white photography in the age of exploding colors. Color television was out, but a lot of us still had black and white images of combat footage from the Vietnam War that had been broadcast into homes on a daily basis.

Stanley Kubrick’s black and white nuclear insanity picture DR STRANGE LOVE or HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB was produced in 1964. The world was just a few years away from the Cuban Missile crisis. There was also the 1962 Steve McQueen anti-war film, THE WAR LOVER, which featured black and white photography and an edgy screenplay by Howard Koch.

IN HARM’S WAY was not about that time, of course, yet it did has the sense of a ‘grown up’ war film in spite of the fabricated story. Grown up in the characters we see; some of these people have a dark side to them. The picture does teach what I would call ‘the sadness of war.’ The death of people in non- battle sequences is particularly jarring, showing how it is sometimes harder for us to justify the death of one then the death of many.

IN HARM’S WAY deals with the event of Pearl harbour and the battles of Guadalcanal. The location names are changed; not the most important lapse in the picture as it is a story about the people. It could be said it becomes a soap opera as it shows scenes of clubs and domestic life as relationships are formed. Today these moments are used to create sympathy for the characters as they will end up being killed later on. One difference is that IN HARM’S WAY does not feature the ‘training camp’ or ‘refit’ sections in which we are introduced to people in the film. You get right to the ‘boots on the ground’ feel of real Navy people and actual situations. The picture was shot aboard battleships, with real sailors doing what they do such as sounding general quarters with a bugle through an intercom.

Wayne was without some of his standard crew of film people such as Ward Bond and stunt man Yakima Canutt. The film features some tasty performances by people such as Franchot Tone as a commander resigned to his fate.

Tone was a handsome, golden voiced fellow who was once the husband of Joan Crawford. He was theatre trained and made a career of playing rich men, royals, inventors, spies, and society people
opposite the likes of Cary Grant, Jean Harlow, Clark Gable, and Loretta Young. He is brilliant in his scenes as the Admiral who will get blamed for the “Pearl Harbour Disaster’ as it happened on his watch. Tone confidently strides through the opening attack, bullets flying, bombs exploding in his Navy white dress uniform, grim faced to his briefing on the situation.

Tom Tryon as Lieutenant Junior Grade, William McConnel and his wife Bev played by surprisingly vulnerable Paula Prentiss, whom we meet at a large party on the eve of the attack are also standouts. Tryon gives McConnel a resolute approach to duty as his character moves to having full command of a destroyer thrust upon him in the heat of battle. The men grow to love his character as is shown in a wonderful scene at a dock with his men after an ordeal lead by film personality Slim Pickens.

Paula Prentiss’s best moment is when John Wayne’s Rockwell Torry comes to tell her that her husband is reported missing in action. She is an aircraft observer required to report all flight activity from her check point on the radio. She bravely continues to do despite the tears: only to falter at the last moment and require help.

Kirk Douglas as maverick Commander Paul Eddington is continually given chances by Rockwell Torrey, whom he calls The ‘Rock of Ages.’ He runs a gambit of character texturing from cynical officer to drunk to widower to assaulter of women. When he learns the girl he assaulted is a suicide victim, Eddington leads an unauthorised low level solo recon flight mission that uncovers the massing of enemy battleships in which he meets his end. In an interesting turn from the Hollywood cliché when asked whether Eddington should get the medal of honour for his bravery, Rockwell Torrey, his trusted friend who knew that he assaulted the Nurse responds, “No recommendation,” thus abruptly ending the scene.

Look especially to the chemistry between John Wayne and Patricia Neal as Nurse Lieutenant Maggie Hayes whom he meets while convalescing.

 

Brandon De wild (who is blessed with the most irritating voice for in film – he played the youngster who yells ‘SHANE’ in the film of the same name) plays the grown up estranged son Jeremiah to John Wayne’s character. When we first see them onscreen, it was a moment that mirrored Wayne’s real life relationship with his own son as he confronts the fact that his boy has been raised by his mother whom he has no part of in watching growing up. He didn’t even know he was in the Navy.

Burgess Meredith gets a turn as a Hollywood screen writer working in Operations who is forced into combat role. In a touching moment he admits to being scared and would rather,” be behind a type writer making this whole thing up than living it.”

Patrick O’ Neal as the smarmy Commander Neal Owynn was more interested in keeping the war clean and on the level for the public gets his comeuppance in a washroom.

Wayne is not the action hero as he was in so many of his films here but rather a father figure of sorts, letting the action unfold around him. Confidences abound as Wayne shares scenes with Henry Fonda and others. He gives a subtle performance, especially in moments when he lowers his voice and when he receives casualty reports involving his son. This was also the film that Wayne was doing when he was diagnosed with lung cancer and began his real life battle. It shows in his physicality mostly his face and his movements. There are many such performances in this picture that I am going to leave out for the viewer to discover which deserves repeated viewings of all 165 minutes.

IN HARM’S WAY (1965) was ignored by most credits and awards, this does not necessarily mean it was a bad film. It has a jarring style of black and white photography along with abrupt scene endings as simple as fade to blacks followed by fade up to new scenes, different than the color washed, zoom in world of 60s cinema. It is filled with vulnerable characters in a world about to turn upside down. I also found the closing credits in the use of images that bring us to speed culminating in the mushroom cloud.

IN HARM’S WAY, similar to the fate that happened to another John Wayne film the Western ‘ THE BIG TRAIL’ (1930) director by Raoul Walsh. This picture was produced in black and white using some silent footage as sound was still in its infancy. Much of the silent footage was re-shot or dubbed later similar to IN HARM’S WAY having a throwback look to it as it was done in the 60s. THE BIG TRAIL featured several small performances that added texture to the story plus it was produced in wide screen format for select theatres. It is an early John Wayne Western that is often over shadowed by the worthwhile STAGE COACH (1939). Now it is getting a new look.

Here is hoping IN HARM’S WAYS get to be seen by more people with the same treatment.

STARDUST RETURNS

Our intermission at STARDUST AND SHADOWS is over. Our Dreams were getting redone both literally and figuratively .  Going to to still maintain what we have been doing but  some added  items such as  opinion pieces on Jean Harlow who I think was stronger as  mature talent at the end of her all to brief life.  We will look at Warren William the Cad of  the  Pre codes and  a whole lot more to come.  We are back , we are retooled.  Time to ignite the fire and the love we all have for this style of film making.  Meanwhile  check out and join our  facebook home to stay in touch with  items that don’t make it onto the site.

 

STARDUST AND SHADOWS

A CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD BLOG

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END CREDITS

These are some final thoughts from 2014  TCM CLASSIC FILM FESTIVAL that we were very lucky to have attended with media credentials.

 

TCM festival goers stay for the end credits of a film. TCM audiences will often applaud the star of the film name on screen and their first appearance in the story; especially if it is an iconic shot such as John Wayne’s entrance in STAGECOACH.

It may seem silly to some that people would flock to this place to view older films that many had seen before. Time and time again I heard then phases, “You really love film,”‘ and, “You are seeing these pictures as they are meant to be seen.” This rings true, along with the fact that you are near the source of these pictures. The studios (or what is left of them) are a bus ride or cab ride away. Not many of the eateries and party places of that time are open but some are with history just oozing at the doors.

People consistently mentioned the quality of prints as part of their enjoyment. Many were newly struck prints and/or restorations especially for this festival. Pictures suffer from time, nitrate and water damage, and sound fluctuations. That was to a minimum and often these “film blemishes” add to the charm. One film with the original aspect ratio made sitting closer to the screen a-not-so-eyeball-crushing experience. One fellow we chatted to in line mentioned to a TCM staff person about a print of a film he had seen earlier only to find it was in fact a 35mm print at its best.

We missed a few things due to crowds which happen or the inevitable cross programming that happens. So many hours in the day and so many venues make it common.  I mentioned before about missing HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY screening that featured Maureen O Hara. The venues were large enough and the staff was brilliant in handling yet sometimes that is not enough especially with the throngs on Hollywood Boulevard.  JERRY LEWIS being immortalized in concrete with the other stars was especially interesting when you get issued photos showing Quentin Tarrantino was the MC.

 

 

 

 

 

You always got some sort of surprise attending a screening such as almost most running over Juilette Lewis who was coming into the Roosevelt Hotel as we were leaving. Sitting in a screening of THE GREAT GATSBY with Alan Ladd, standing up and realizing that behind you was Robert Osbourne and David Ladd as you start to say how there was miscasting in the picture.

The last film we saw and it was rather fitting was Orson Welles’ odd masterpiece THE LADY FROM SHANGHAI with the blonde, short haired Rita Hayworth. The other choice was Hitchcock’s silent picture THE LODGER with live musical accompaniment. No bad decisions as Welles won out simply because we were already at the venue. It was a wonderful experience seeing this quirky work for the first time on large screen. It was ably introduced by Film Noir expert Eddie Mueller who defied us to follow the plot in the original cut which ran 155 minutes cut down by the studio to the present 98 minutes. It was noir, and it was irritatingly evil like wearing a shirt soaked in perspiration suddenly getting a cooling breeze.

It was brought out in the introduction that TCM are now officially, “guardians of the American film legacy.” I can see this as TCM does increase the awareness of this style of film making by its programming and events. The awareness is something that is important especially in the next generation –   many even in the opening media press conference. Seek these pictures out, seek the books out, and seek the history out as I continue to find out about the Canadian legacy.

We were one of the first ones out of the screening of LADY FROM SHANGHAI. Going through the doors we were all greeted by a friendly gauntlet of TCM yellow shirted venue staff cheering and high fiving us as we left.  Walking to hotel I had the Bob Hope song “Thanks for the Memories” playing in my head.