HOLLYWOOD ADVENTURES IN THE BOOK TRADE: An Opinion on the printed word

Sometimes you just want to sit down with a good book. Not an electronic book.  Yes, they  are  wonderfully convenient. But a book is something that you hold up.  When I am lucky enough to travel to places like Los Angeles, I  find myself in  Larry Edmunds bookshop on Hollywood Blvd.    I am sure many readers of this blog have been there before and have their own memories.

The first time we went was a  total accident. I had  looked up the address, thinking it was  far away from our hotel, when i found myself staring at a display of Halloween Horror books in a large window.  Stills laid  out with  biographies, large format books on genre history and actors.   I said that I should  probably go into this place, when I stepped back to find the store name. The large sign said Larry Edmunds  and I said, “Well,  that was quick.”  The same  sudden discovery happened to us when looking for Amobea Records and Kat Von  D’s High Voltage tattoo shop.   What does all this have to do with Lana Turner and  the picture of her book?  It was on a visit when I saw the hard cover book jacket on the shelf, thumbed through it and decided  that Miss Turner had long been an interest of mine.  I also called out at the cash register a few other titles off the  top of my head and they magically appeared in front of me, spirited into location by the very helpful staff.  We were also standing in a group of people that nodded their heads when I called out a title; one of whom was a fellow in  full  red serge suit with Elvis hair style and sideburns in over eighty degree heat.

Books on screen history, actors and  genre are nothing new.  The  resurgence of  hard covers  from vintage printing with bright book jackets has a special allure.  I would love  to find a  first or vintage edition of biographies such as Errol Flynn’s MY WICKED WICKED WAYS.   It is also debatable if  Mary Astor’s infamous THE PURPLE DIARIES actually existed or is merely the stuff of bedroom legend.  Pat O’Brien’s hardcover bio  THE WIND AT MY BACK is available for purchase on line as a  vintage book.

Books such as the original stories of  films also abound if you look.  I was given  a copy of  Guy Fowler’s novel  THE  DAWN PATROL that contained stills from the Richard Barthelmess  version,  produced eight years before Errol Flynn took flight.  I also came upon a novelization of  THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN by Michael  Egermont.

 

 

When you get these vintage books, they may be a  bit  bashed up or have dangerously  small print: you are in for an adventure.  Silly to say, but sometimes the odor of the old paper in a book can be a bit like exploring an ancient ruin.  I  suggest that you feel closer to the source of the Hollywood myth.  The  fountainhead,  if you will, of what many of us  enjoy about Hollywood and its myths are the  stories.  You might get sanitized versions of people’s lives and places; however, that offers a bigger picture of a person or place by seeking various editions of a  biography.   These  materials were monitored by the studios at the time, so one gets different  interpretations and sometimes omissions in the text.

Let’s not  forget the  vintage books in the world of  new  editions, startling new  evidence of events in  Hollywood.   It’s  great fun to prowl the shelves and  suddenly find something.  I  haven’t even mentioned vintage  fan magazines and  film scripts, either.  Read on  if you get a chance.

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THE GREEN EYED BLONDE (1957)

The grind house / exploitation film sub genre known as  the biker film or teenage juvenile delinquent picture are fondly looked at today through a different lens.   What seems to be cheap, simple and  visceral entertainment capitalizing  on trends or headlines has become a retro art form; often vaulting these films to cult status today.  The function was to launch  directors, actors , writers and crew to make  quick money.  The delinquent was often a male with great hair, leading man looks and clothes who rebelled against his school, family,  friends and  authority figures. There was a trial by vehicle to gain  the love of a local girl.  The other side of this was the female prison pictures.  THE GREEN EYED BLONDE  (1957)is one such example.

 

Warner Brothers produced this picture in its customary gritty house style .   The  film was directed by Bernard Girard, who went on to a massive career as a  writer and  director of segments of Playhouse 90,  Alfred Hitchcock television series  and many  others.  The  writing was credited to Sally Stubblefield –  blacklisted writer Dalton Trumbo.  This picture marks the on camera debut of Susan Oliver: the green eyed blonde.

The story is set in a women’s reform school  for wayward girls and unwed mothers  near Los Angeles.  Betsy Abel (Linda Plowman) has had a two month  old baby and refuses to reveal the father and is  being admitted to the school.   Betsy hates her mother and has no problem expressing it openly much, to the shock of all concerned. The strict Mrs. Nichols (Jean Inness) tries to reason with everyone, without success.   Betsy is taken into the school for an undetermined length of time to be befriended eventually  by her roommates Trixie  Budlong (Tommie Moore), Joyce  (Carla Merey), Ousie (Beverly Long), and of course Phyllis ‘Greeneyes’ (Susan Oliver).  Phyllis is about to be released in two months but cannot wait as  she arranges a meeting down by the fence with her recovering addict boyfriend . The two meet away from prying eyes to smooch though the  wire fence, and profess their love for each other.

 Betsy’s mother and her boyfriend come to the school and threaten to  put the baby up for adoption unless Betsy reveals who the father is.   One of the  girls in the reform school, Cuckoo (Norma Jean Neilson) steals the baby from the back seat of their car and hides it in the dormitory.

The girls work together to take care of the child by stealing milk, making diapers, and playing with the child while it sleeps in a box in the side room. Things are going well till the baby is discovered when  a new worker at the school, Margaret Wilson (Sally Brophy),  hears crying. The  film  becomes a race against discovery of the child by others and a surprise resolution to the identity of the father.

 

Susan Oliver does well in the role of Phyllis, even if she is not onscreen as much as  others.  Oliver slinks about, being sensual, yet at the same time being a little  girl who packs away her favorite stuffed animal when leaving.   The  sensuality of  Oliver is shown best in her moments with her boy friend at the fence.

The two literally make love to the wire fence in their desperation to be together.   Oliver is  blessed with  “hooded bedroom eyes” that show  quite  well in black and white and later  when their blueness is  revealed  in color  productions.   This picture  was  clearly meant to be her launch as she is featured on the poster and the  title.

Susan Oliver had a varied career. She is mostly known today for being Vina,  the Earth girl enslaved by the Talosian people of Talos IV, who crash lands and was not “put together right after the crash as they had no guide” in Star Trek’s  original pilot film  THE  CAGE. The pilot film was later re edited into the two part episode THE MENAGERIE.  Oliver also  turned to directing and was  an accomplished aircraft pilot. She was the fourth female pilot to cross the Atlantic solo in a  single engine plane.  She also had a commercial pilot’s license, and was contracted by Lear Jets to see if she would  be interested in setting record times  for them.    Oliver  raced  aircraft, and was co pilot in  a Piper Commanche in the 2760-mile transcontinental race known as  the ‘Powder Puff Derby. ” It resulted in her being named  ‘Pilot of the Year’ in 1970.

 

THE GREEN EYED BLONDE (1957) has strong performances by black male and female actors.  Tommie  Moore, as Trixie Budlong, lights up the screen with her smile and energy.  Moore gives a heartfelt performance as she is reunited with her Father, played by Roy Glenn.  Glen would go on to play (among  other roles) Sidney Poitier’s  father in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967) .

Juanita Moore takes a bow in an uncredited role as Miss Randall.  Moore later plays Anne Johnson opposite Lana Turner in the  1959 version of IMITATION OF LIFE.

THE GREEN EYED BLONDE (1957) moves well, considering it uses a  small amount of  sets and exteriors.  The story is a Dalton Trumbo one with hard hitting dialogue, risky for the time moments, such as same sex implications in scenes with the girls.   It has a double edged ending with moments of strong emotions for all the actors.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TILL THE END OF TIME (1946)

The after war picture most remember (with good reason), is, of course: THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946).   R.K.O studios TILL THE  END OF TIME (1946) was released two months previous to MGM’S picture, both oddly enough in Mexico with the  USA premiere not happening till 1947.

TILL THE END OF TIME (1946)  was directed by Canadian born (Grand Forks British Columbia) Edward Dmytrk from a novel, They Dream of Home,  by  Niven Busch with screenplay by Allen Rivken.     This picture tells the story of three servicemen, all marines: Cliff Harper  (Guy Madison), William Tabeshaw (Robert Mitchum)  and  Perry Kincheloe (Bill Williams), adjusting to civilian life.  Kincheloe is a former boxer who has lost both legs and is living with his mother; shades of Homer Parrish  from the bigger  budgeted THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1947).   Tabeshaw is a rough and tumble, cynical cowboy who wants to get into the ranching business, yet some how keeps getting distracted.  Cliff Harper is literally the All American boy who plays football and lives with his parents.

These three people connect with others as their lives grow, the most prominent being Pat Ruscomb (Dorothy Maguire)  and Helen Ingersoll  (Jean Porter).  Maguire plays Pat Ruscomb, a widow who is looking for something in life and  finds it in the chance meeting with Cliff Harper.   There is a potential liaison when Cliff drops the all American smile and ends up back at her place after they both agree on the dance floor  to a quick exit.    Cliff can’t go through with things when he sees a picture of her  deceased husband as there would be “too many in the room.”

 

The opposite end of the spectrum is Helen Ingersoll, the next door  neighbor teenager who desperately wants to appear grown up.  She admits she  has ‘lots of ideas’ when asked  by Cliff about her crushes.   Her current  steady boyfriend Tommy (Johnny Sands) is of her own age. She refers to him as being ‘such a child’ when he shows up shirtless for a beach date.  Helen is double dating,  going skating with  Cliff and  another military buddy Pinky (Loren Tindall) and his girl.   Interesting ice skating sequence follows with some strong skating by Jean Porter and Dorothy Maguire.  Porter looks on camera like she did her own skating while Maguire is mostly in long shot suggesting a  double was  used.  Later both Cliff and Pat comfort a fellow soldier who has the ‘shakes’ at the snack bar and is afraid to go home to his family.   Pat shows a tenderness by revealing her life  to the soldier and what she did to confront problems.

 

Tableshaw  returns to the  the  city, broken after having discovered Las Vegas and the  fun one can have there. Having lost all his service pay (his ranch down payment) he asks  Cliff  for  a twenty buck loan so he can start again. He plans to float around from town to town without a care in the world.    He arrives  just in time to help Kincheloe who has lost all desire to wear his artificial legs – after all, what good is a  “fighter without legs?”

 

 

How these  people resolve their lives is what fills  in the film.   Maguire  steals the picture with her broodingly sad then tough as nails widow Pat Ruscomb.  She  moves through scenes with a vulnerability that grows harder as the picture progresses, much the same as Sylvia Hunter in A SUMMER PLACE (1954).   She does her level best with the  weak link in the cast which is Guy Madison as Cliff  Fletcher.

Guy Madison was either playing on his looks to carry him or given some poor  direction.  The picture could have been considered his  big break to establish him in the eyes of the public as a star for  R.K.O.  His  dialogue delivery appears stilted and unconvincing when he changes from all smiles to tough guy.   To be fair, perhaps it was his experience level at the time he did this as his lack of dancing skill is shown in an energetic  sequence  with Jean Porter. Porter literally is the dance as Madison’s  body position looks basically locked in a pattern while she  burns it up around him.

Robert Mitchum was  still in his ‘soldier period,’  just on the cusp of stardom as he would move into film noir roles  playing Phillip Marlowe or variations of in OUT OF THE PAST (1947),  CROSSFIRE (1947) and what I think is  one of his most overlooked roles: that of  Frank Jessup in malevolent ANGEL FACE (1952).

 

Bill Williams  does his best with limited screen time as the boxer Kitcheloe.  Willams offers strong moments with his mother, played  by Selene Royle  in their home.  Both  are overjoyed  when her son decides to begin his life again with his artificial legs.

Underlying themes of not letting people grow up surface in Cliff ‘s parents, played  by  Ruth Nelson and Tom Tully.   They both sneak into his room at night  in a misguided show of love as his mother tucks his leg back under the covers. They creep out smiling and happy he is back with them, not understanding he is no longer  a child.  Fletcher is frustrated at their reaction to him and kicks out the foot again from the covers while sobbing himself to sleep.

TILL THE END OF TIME (1946) addresses the aspect of racism in the military, rarely shown in We fought the  good fight” movies.   In a sequence with Fletcher, Kicheloe and Tableshaw playing pinball in a bar: they gesture to a black soldier who is there to continue the game. They address him with the universal greeting of   ‘buddy’ to which he smiles and continues  the game.   They are  approached by a group of men who invite them to  join their Veterans Organization.  When  questioned  about it further by  Tableshaw they are told that memberships is restricted as  ”No Catholics, Jews or Negroes” are allowed.   This remark is overheard by the black solder  whom they let play their pinball game.  The look on his face is complete destruction as his eyes slowly grow moist as the camera lingers on him  and follows as he shuffles out of shot.   Tableshaw does not take  kindly to that remark and  in fact spits in the face of the  person who said it, causing a fight.  Director Edward Dmtryk was unafraid to show prejudice  and was  later  black listed as one of the “Hollywood Ten” who refused to testify  during the infamous McCarthy era.

TILL THE END OF TIME (1946) suffers from pacing at times and the  mentioned weak casting of  Guy Madison.  It shows different aspects of post war america, some not so pretty moments of  frustration and intolerance.   See if  you can catch a glimpse of  Ellen Corby, who went on to become famous  as  Grandma Walton on the  THE WALTONS TV series.  Blake Edwards, who later produced  THE PINK PANTHER and many others  has  an uncredited  role as Hal.    TILL THE END OF TIME (1946) is a worthy look at  a different side of post war America though the Hollywood lens.

 

VACATION FROM MARRIAGE (1945)

The scope of large events such as war can be hard for people to grasp. History is usually  written by the victors.  Hence,  VACATION FROM MARRIAGE (1945),  in the  USA (A. K. A.  PERFECT STRANGERS) presents the watcher with a low key, intimate view of ordinary people who undergo a personal  cataclysm.    The picture was directed and  produced  by  Alexander Korda, using  Metro’s  U.K. production facilities. This in and of itself gives the film a different look; best characterised as a portrait of a married couple that you look at  with some indifference, till you notice  a humanity and  vulnerability.

The script was  penned by  Clemence Dane, who won an Academy award for  the original screen play from his story,  with help from Anthony Pelissier.   Mr Pelissier was an actor in the thirties with perhaps his best writing credit  being  THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER (1949).

VACATION FROM MARRIAGE (1945) tells the story of  a ordinary,  drab couple named Robert and Cathy Wilson, who  join the military in England. Robert joins the Royal Navy and Cathy is called up by the Wrens.  The picture follows their exploits to the  end when they both decide that  they no longer want to be married.    This plot may seem similar to many romantic war time pictures, however, the sheer subtlety of the story, the  brilliant acting, and, in  the best cases,  non-acting, make film this a  treat.

Robert Wilson is played by Robert Donat, who had  great success in the title role of  GOODBYE MISTER CHIPS (1939) and the  classic THE 39 STEPS (1935).  Mr. Donat perfects the regimented  English man building on his  role as ‘Chips.’  Wilson has  the same breakfast each day, checks the barometer by tapping it,  and receives his  umbrella from Cathy on the same arm.   Donat  is a combination of  Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing, both ‘masters of props;’ creating little bits of business for their role that is not in the script.  This creative process takes disciplined  indulgence by a  director to allow it  to happen and be seen in the final print.  Although usually a hallmark of theater actors,  a few film actors of the time had the ability to do small things that we remember,  such as the James Cagney walk and shoulder shrugs.  Humphrey Bogart’s hand placement held like a ‘rat’ in front of himself as Duke Mantee in THE PETRIFIED  FOREST  (1936). Modern examples would be  Warren Beatty repeatedly  flipping a single wooden match in his mouth as he is baited by Faye Dunaway  in BONNY AND CLYDE (1967).    

Actors prosper in a role when they are given something to play against.   Strong acting is the battle of  give and take in a scene or  a moment. Often, it is body position, movement and  “acting still,” which is hard to do.  This gives the other actor the moment that can be crucial to a  story. Spencer Tracy spent a  key  scene with his  head  down, saying dialogue with Ernest Borgnine standing almost over him in  BAD  DAY AT BLACK ROCK (1955) and  takes the scene in a  subtle way.

 

Cathy Wilson is played by Deborah Kerr in her M.G.M debut. Cathy caters  to Robert by not wearing lipstick or makeup.

She  even remarks  to a  new female friend in her barracks,Dizzy Clayton (Glynis Johns) that she won’t  smoke because Robert doesn’t like it.  Robert and Cathy are trapped in their own routines with his being the office and hers being their apartment.  They suffer  disappointment when an expected  bonus of having Robert’s service salary possibly being topped  up by the accounting firm he works at; only to find he is several months short of the cut off.   The managing director states, “A rule is a rule.”

Cathy and Robert grow in different directions as  they meet other people.  They both find  lonely people in their own way such as  Robert meeting Elena (Ann Todd),  a  widowed nurse with whom he learns to dance with .

Cathy meets and  goes out socially with  a man called Richard (Roland Culver). Richard is an engineer who draws and sketches, has anecdotes and  take her  on picnics, knowing she is married.

The military service  changes them as  Robert goes  from being a sea sick newbie who can’t eat to a Petty Officer.  Cathy dances, wears  lipstick , changes her  hair style and  smokes.  She also goes on dangerous messenger duty in a  small powerboat under  fire to deliver a  military order when radios  fail.

The two get a  ten day pass to meet  for the first time in several months.    Life can change you and it does not have to be a war.

VACATION FROM MARRIAGE (1945) features effective battle scenes especially at night and aboard  ship.  One gets to see  the details of life aboard such as  hammocks above the  mess table.

The uniforms  worn are  correct  down to the decorations,  and cap and uniform patterns for both men and women.  Women wear pants in this film along with  a tunic and cap to sail.  You get a warmth from the people in the picture as  they joke  and interact with personality that could be caricatures meant to boost morale.

 

VACATION FROM MARRIAGE (1945) is effective as  you watch the subtle change of Cathy and Robert, and those around them.  Humphrey Bogart as  Rick Blaine in CASABLANCA (1942)  once  said

I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that. Now, now… . 

The troubles of  two little people  are wonderfully handled  in this picture  with tour de force acting bringing a  world of  one couple to  life and change.

 

 

FOXY BROWN (1974)

Classic film is not confined to black and white pictures of the ” Golden Age.” Many were  glorious imitations of what has been done before,  and that is comforting. You will find occasional seismic changes such as the Production Code altering the precode  era to the advent of post war film noir.  What became known as  Blaxplotation film gave way  in the upheaval of  the early seventies with a push from people who are not represented even today  fairly and justly in film.  The very best of these, if not without controversy,  was FOXY BROWN (1974),  along with BLACK CAESAR (1973). They kicked the doors in.

Hey man ..give me five…. don’t give me the jive because FOXY BROWN is alive? Yes.. dust off  those white bell bottoms with the tight waist, toss on a patterned shirt and some jewelry that will tip the average persons head over onto their chest and get ready because Jack Hill’s 1974 urban violent Blaxplotation hit film is on blu-ray.  Oh yes, and did I mention it’s set to a cool funky soundtrack by Willie Hutch well before the style was readily available?

FOXY BROWN ( 1974), along with SHAFT (1971), and COFFEY (1973) were three essential pillars of what was known as Blaxplotation film.  While not exactly a politically correct term, Blaxplotation supposedly was coined by Mario Van Peebles for a series of pictures that allowed Black actors and actresses to do the same thing that white actors at the time were doing in films such as DIRTY HARRY (1971),  MAGNUM FORCE (1973) ,  MACON COUNTY LINE (1974) , and the Charlie Bronson DEATHWISH series.   These pictures were targeted for the urban marginalized markets in inner cities who could identify with the people, settings, and situations.  I would suggest that the genesis goes farther back to Russ Meyer’s female empowerment film with guns and fast cars; that masterpiece of cool, FASTER PUSSYCAT KILL KILL (1965).   Director Jack Hill has the formula going here: the car chase, the drug lords, and the kidnapping and abuse of the lead character. It is how FOXY BROWN does it that is different and stylish.

This film starts with a street hustler named Link Brown, (Antonio Vargas), cringing in a bar full of police officers. He’s trying to wait out a bunch of thugs who want to beat him for holding out on a loan from losses incurred from street gambling schemes. In desperation, he calls his tough sister Foxy (Pam Greer,) to bail him out yet again. Foxy runs some of the thugs into the river in her car. Afterwards, Link pleads to her that he’ll live the straight life if he can hide out at her pad for a while. Foxy reluctantly agrees.

Later, Foxy goes to visit her boyfriend Dalton Ford  (Terry Carter) in hospital , an undercover officer who has been investigating the same crime-ring that Link owed money to. The hoodlums thought they’d killed him, but he really ended up in hospital for plastic surgery to give him a new and safe identity. Emerging as handsome Michael Anderson, he and Foxy hope to start life anew. On the streets, they encounter a black gang who beat and run drug pushers out of town. Foxy introduces Michael to the freeloading Link, and Link acts suspicious. Link leaves Michael and Foxy to themselves, but later looks at some newspaper cuttings and adds two and two together. There is an enormous debt to pay … and this kind of information could clear that debt. No sooner does Foxy think her life will be smooth, than Michael crashes through her door, breathing his last and shot to death. With some detective work, the grieving and raging Foxy soon tracks Link down at his girlfriend’s, and as they snort coke she storms in on them. Livid with anger, Foxy won’t kill her own brother, but she does force the identity of Michael’s killers out of him, then forces him to leave the city. And so Foxy is out for vengeance, and she does it well.  It seems this way with most action stars pushed to limits.

The  evil, sadistic villains in this case,  who run the dug empire, are in the persons of Steve Elias (Peter Brown), and Katherine Wall (Kathyrn Loder);  who looks a little like Carolyn Jones.  Interesting relationship between these two. They feign physical contact,going through the motions only to find that their real love is drugs and the power that they bring.  Like most villains, they have a cast of repulsive henchman at their disposal for the dirty work.

Vengeance gets derailed with a series of incidences, such as a graphic kidnap and assault scene at a farm by some good old country boys who keep Foxy happy by shooting her up with drugs.  Exacting her pound of flesh in a flaming escape,  to being piloted in a plane to a meeting by a young Sid Haig, leading to a firefight and  a special personal delivery to the drug lord’s girlfriend Katherine Wall.

FOXY BROWN blu- ray is a feast for the eyes in all its seventies glory. Every fold, every color, every pattern is shown is bright and crisp.  The interiors are well done with the  bric a brac and odd colors.  The night exteriors are well shown, as black levels contrast nicely with the colors.  The exterior scenes have a slight haze in them, particularly the country scenes, perhaps having to do with the heat of the day or the smog situation at that time.

Soundtrack wonderfully different for the time of funky guitars with wah wah pedals going and in car chases mixed in. What makes it different is that these films set the pattern for what was heard in TV series of the seventies such as THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and CHARLIE’S ANGELS. The second track mixed in is commentary from director Jack Hill telling us his thoughts on the film.  You will be singing the title song FOXY BROWN along with the end credits.

FOXY BROWN blu-ray comes with a good selection of extras for an enhanced experience.  Director Hill related how he had wanted FOXY BROWN to be a sequel to COFFY (1973)  which also starred Pam Grier. Asher thought he had created a franchise character for a series, but the studio said no. Asher also mentions  he was not in favor of the ripoff of the James Bond style of titles for FOXY BROWN that open the picture. A 25 minute look at Blaxplotation cinema is included,  called BACK TO BLACK THE BRILLIANCE OF BLAXSPLOITATON.  A 19 minute interview with stunt man Bob Minor called  NOT A MINOR INFLUENCE, explaining how the film launched his Hollywood career.     Theatrical trailers  for  FOXY BROWN,  COFFEY, THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, THE BIG BIRD CAGE, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS and SORCERESS plus a slightly longer  black and white promo  for Jack Hill/Sid Haig film PIT STOP.  Quality varies in these selection due to print preservation but still adds to the experience.

 

The controversy was  that FOXY BROWN (1974) perpetuated the stereotypes of Black culture having to do with drugs and violence.  This was long before  BLACK PANTHER (2018) was on the screen.  Women’s groups found resorting to violence overshadowed that Pam Grier’s  character was strong willed and was doing necessary work.  Much like today, FOXY BROWN (1974) objectifies women, particularly  Black women. It is not a reach to say, skin color aside, that without FOXY BROWN (1974) you would not have strong female roles  such as Ripley in ALIEN,   Sarah Conner in THE TERMINATOR plus the work of  the late John Singleton and  current  film makers  like Jordan Peele. There is  much work to be done in the on screen portrayal of people other than white and  male.

FOXY BROWN  (1974 is a good high octane,  fun, visceral, story with an undercurrent of “Power to the people.” It is a slice out of time with its colors, music, slang and seventies production values that set a pattern easily seen today with only the music  style changing.  FOXY BROWN  really is as her brother says,  “That’s my sister..she’s a whole lotta woman.”

 

 

 

 

OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1946)

The story OF HUMAN BONDAGE has become like A STAR IS BORN, that is, being filmed many times with different effects on the audience and box office.  Studios loved to put actors into roles that are ‘star making,’ hoping the magic will occur again.  Such  would be the case with Paul Henreid and Eleanor Parker in the Edmund Goulding version of the  Somerset Maugham  story.    Directors, particularly in theater, believe that some roles are “bulletproof.”  Actors simply have to make their entrance, say their lines and not hit the furniture and all will be good.  This is not the case here.

Edmund Goulding tested Eleanor Parker twice for the role of Mildred in the picture and  was convinced she could handle it. Parker was known for ‘sweet roles’. The studio wanted to launch another star the same way this 1934 version did  for Bette Davis. However,  watching the picture one wonders what  Goulding saw in Parker and how much pressure he felt from the  studio to cast her.     She  doesn’t get much help from her  on screen partner,Paul Henreid, who does his level best with wordy dialogue and an over the top limp.  Parker  gets  saddled with a Ingrid Bergman look, complete with exaggerated  eyebrows.  One of the  few times that Hollywood overdid trying to make someone look dowdy or  trashy.

 

The story  of  one sided  passion by a medical student who has a limp  is a story we know.  It was previously made in 1934 with Bette Davis, teaming up with Leslie Howard and  again in  1964 with Kim Novak and Laurence Harvey.  Bondage takes on a different meaning in today’s world; however, power, control, jealousy, self-abasement—these are characteristics of the love that Maugham identifies as bondage. The kind of love based on these qualities produces pain, shrinking of one’s heart, a lack of freedom and happiness.   The love becomes a curse for one, while the other is  content to sit. This desire to have  fun and to simply dance is difficult for Paul Henreid’s Phillip Carey, so Mildred  flirts with close friend Harry Griffiths, played  by Patric Knowles.

These bits of dialogue, looks, and  hand holding in secret give Parker some of her best moments of the picture as she plays off of Griffiths very  well  and  Goulding photographs them in closeup effectively.  Where the character of Mildred loses her effectiveness is when Parker begins  yelling and other histrionics.  The result is for my ears  what came to sound later like a ‘Eliza Doolittle’ accent in all its  cliche beauty, much the same as  the dreaded ‘Lucky Charms’ Irish accent.

 

Eleanor Parker apparently worked hard on the accent,  learning from English actress Doris Lloyd, who had  a small role as  a land lady in the picture.  Lloyd had a  huge career in film and other work, so she did the thing that  most good actors do:  support your fellow actors by helping them. An accent, in this case.  Interesting to note that Lloyd was born in Liverpool and the accent that Parker gives is  pretty much cockney minus the  rhythm and the little rhymes.  It is said that Parker learned the accent so well the English in the cast thought she was one of them.  I find that optimistic, designed to give her confidence and good press.

Paul Henreid  has his accent explained as having an Austrian mother. He does his best with wordy dialogue, especially in the beginning of the picture  with Alexis  Smith (Norah Nesbitt) in her too brief  screen time.

Henreid matches the wardrobe he is given, that is, a stiff performance that is almost mechanical  in body language, except for his  face. It light ups when he is happy and he purses his eyebrows when not.  Where you really see it is in the scenes between Carey and Athelny (Edmund Gwenn).

Athelny is everything that Carey is not:  happy, has a loving family and a marriageable  daughter  Sally  (Janis Page) that he fondly reminds  everyone.  The two meet in a hospital and  strike up a  friendship in a delightfully light  fast moment which changes  the tone of the picture.   The mood  drops when Mildred  enters the film,  if intentional, it is  quite effective.  One can really seen the chops of the acting between Edmund Gwenn and Eleanor Parker.

Gwenn is fluid in his movement, speech and mannerisms with the words just flowing musically from his mouth even in the tense moments. Gwenn does a wonderful drop in volume when in a  tender moment between father and  his daughter Sally, who finally tells him that she is in love with Carey. Gwenn simply asks her in the most sincere three words in the film,’Tell your Father,” which comforts her.  The  slightly tipsy Harry Griffiths’ (Patric Knowles) moment is on the  rooming house stairs when he looks Carey in the eye and tells him that he will not do anything to hurt  him and Mildred. He, of course,  doesn’t follow through, as Mildred  wants  a bit of fun.

Writer Catherine Turney, who gave us the wordy screenplay, is  said to have been a champion for larger women’s  roles  in pictures. She did previous  work for  Barbara Stanwyck,  Anne Sheridan, Ida Lupino, Bette Davis  and others.  She also did uncredited  writing work on MILDRED PIERCE (1946), that was nominated for an Academy Award.  Parker’s  first entrance  as the Tea Room waitress and all her  moments  like that seem filled with gyrations, and the voice of an actor  trying too hard.  Parker has a final scene  edited  out of the picture as it was deemed  too bleak for audiences at the time.

OF HUMAN BONDAGE (1946) suffers from poor casting and sluggish direction of actors in spite of the production values of sets and camera work. This version of the story is not  shown much as  apparently  the  film was completed in 1944  and shelved for two years as the result of a disastrous opening.   With the exception of the supporting people like Edmund Gwenn, Janis Page  and  the always wonderful  Una O Conner (Check the brilliant, subtle look out she gives Mildred when giving her a package) the picture is still worth a look to see actors  trying hard to work without much support.

 

 

A WICKED WOMAN (1934)

Studios would launch an actor, attempting to build them up in the public’s eye.  It was this type of gamble or put an established  star in a role against type.   MGM tried  with Mady Christians in A WICKED WOMAN (1934), proclaiming her as a “brilliant new star:” only to find it didn’t work.  The picture lost money.  Of course, losing money doesn’t speak to whether a film is poor or the actors aren’t up to snuff.   In fact, A  WICKED WOMAN (1934) is a hard look at  a woman in an abusive relationship and what she does to change.

The picture opens in total dark squalor as a pregnant Naomi Trice (Mady Christians) and  her husband Ed Thrice (Paul Harvey) are trying to make the best of things.  Their children are in rags in one corner of the home and Ed is  fed up with the situation.   Ed stumbles in, demanding all the money they have saved and that their oldest child go with him.  What follows is somewhat brutal for the time, as there is a scuffle, and a lot of shoving that results in  Naomi pulling a pistol.  She pleads with him at the door the  not to come closer and not take the boy while a  thunderstorm rages outside.   Naomi pulls the trigger,  killing her husband in full view of her oldest boy.

 

The  scene changes to daylight where  Naomi has given birth to her child, only to be questioned as to the whereabouts of her husband who has vanished.   Montage of Naomi working hard in machine shops as the years go by, to creating clothes.  The children have grown and we see Rosanne (Marilyn Harris)  playing with a doll  she has ‘found.’  Naomi, in a  fit of self righteousness, burns the doll in front of her daughter in a  stove. Rosanne is  crying due to the cruelty of the act. It will mold her as she grows up.

 

Rosanne (played by Jean Parker) becomes the rebellious child when she grows up. Naomi is now a successful dress designer with her own shop;  yet she cannot escape her past.   Charles Bickford comes calling as Naylor, who wants to court and marry Naomi .   She is more concerned about Naylor destroying the discipline of her home.   A WICKED WOMAN (1934) then follows the path of the redemption of Naomi and family.

The courtroom drama is  different in that  Naomi gives an impassioned speech that she was coming back to pay for her crimes.  To let her pay for her husband’s death but to keep her children away as they must not know her past.

Director Charles Brabin keeps the action moving quite fast considering the  scope of  events in this, what could be termed, ‘B’ picture.  The  thunderstorm effects  are  quite striking and the opening  in the depths of poverty are  well handled even if slightly exaggerated in scope.

A WICKED WOMAN (1934)  features some  male and female actors learning their craft as  the B picture was a training ground.   A young Robert Taylor as  Bill Renton: a romantic Lothario role that would serve him well in such pictures as  JOHNNY EAGER  (1941).

Jean Parker, in the  role of the grown Rosanne, would have a long career in film and television.  Sterling Holloway takes a bow as  young Peter  who woos  Yancy (Betty Furness) to a dance.

 

Charles Lane  appears  as defense Attorney Beardsley toward the film’s  end.  Lane  would have a massive career  in film and television, mostly known as Homer Bedlow on Petticoat Junction and The Beverly Hillbillies  television shows.

Marilyn Harris, who is best known for her role of ‘Little Maria’ or the  ‘Daisy that wouldn’t float’ in James Whale’s  FRANKENSTEIN (1931), is the  younger Rosanne.   Harris would have a short career up to the  forties, mostly in uncredited ‘girl’ roles in spite of a demanding stage mother. Harris was told to keep her weight down by her mother so she was literally starved.  She gleefully accepted hard boiled eggs as  payment for doing what would be  legendary work in FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

A WICKED  WOMAN(1934)  did not result in Mady Christians becoming a star. In fact, she returned to Germany in 1948 where she had previously worked in film since  1917.  Christians  was blacklisted during the McCarthy period.

A WICKED WOMAN (1934) is a solid picture that packs a lot of events into its seventy two minutes.  The  action rolled  pretty  fast as  per pre-code times, and that makes  for   good  viewing.  The picture  is a non varnished look at what a woman has to do when pushed to extremes.  It’s also a chance to see some good people learning their craft.