HOMECOMING (1948)

Firstly let me say i have weakness for these so called  ‘Women’s pictures’ which became a genre in of their own.  I  was skeptical of HOMECOMING (1948) since it was a later career Clark Gable picture and I read in some biographies of how he disliked  the material he received.   In this instance both Clark and Lana  received a gem.

HOMECOMING (1948) was   Directed by Mervyn Leroy from the same studio that gave us the quintessential Hollywood  coming home war picture of the  forties: MGM’s  THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946).    Hollywood had a market now for this style of picture with real drama occurring during the demobilization of all countries.  MGM had capitalized on the war story of  Girl/boy find each other and part because of shipping out as shown by the roles  of Van Johnson  as  the “fresh faced” soldier to the female cast next to him  to the brilliant  Judy Garland/ Robert Walker  picture  THE CLOCK (1945).  What makes all those films and indeed what makes any picture of that scope work for me is the  story and the ensemble that executes it.

 

HOMECOMING (1948)  was one of the  first roles Clark Gable was assigned to  after the death of Carole Lombard in plane crash in 1942.  The  first  being ADVENTURE (1945) which  was touted in the poster  that  GABLE IS BACK AND GARSON’S  GOT HIM’ followed by THE HUCKSTERS which was  another “soldier home in transition’ film  this time  with Deborah Kerr.  The main difference from all of these previous pictures being not quite successful or fulfilling for some is that HOMECOMING (1946)  is not an action picture but one of the heart.    I suggest  its  cerebral picture much like  the thinking in spite of the action, seaU storms and battles that goes on in  Gable/Crawford picture  STRANGE CARGO (1940).  Gable also gets to star against the underrated  Lana Turner who worked together  in HONKY TONK (1941) with whom he had better  on screen chemistry.

The story is quite simply American Surgeon Ulysses Johnson (Clark Gable) is coming home from the War.  As his ship nears the port of New York City the story unfolds in flashback.   Ulysses is  successful with huge house and wife Penny played Anne  Baxter.  They are childless because Ulysses never thought it was necessary or cared.  He is a ruthlessly efficient  surgeon who inspite good intentions reneges on promise to help  college  chum and  fellow  medical person Dr. Robert Sunday (John Hodiak) with  files he wanted  a consult on.   Sunday visits the  Johnson’s residence on the eve of Ulysses  leaving  for the  War only to find his work has not been done.   An argument ensues between the  two old friends  with Sunday accusing Ulysses of not caring for anything  in fact  going to war because its the  ‘place to be”.   Penny walks in ending to confrontation.

Penny and Ulysses promise not change because of the War as he goes off to do basic training. He gets assigned Nurse Lt. Jane “Snapshot” McCall (Lana Turner) and their adventure begins  through Europe. The two grow close as  want to happen in War yet they maintain their dignity. McCall has a  Son who’s Father was killed in China years before. Ulysses writes Penny each night professing his love for his family and telling her of  the hard nosed  nurse. McCall even  give  Johnson the  nickname of  “Uless” in fun. Of course the inevitable happens and sparks  fly but for all the right reasons  and with  dignity.

The picture  features a lightly naughty but fun bath sequence in which McCall asks Ulysses and  Lt. Col. Avery Silver  (Ray Collins) to have a bath with  her at  near by Roman ruin.  Avery begs off  and both Ulysses and  McCall go it alone with some amusing results.

 

 

McCall gets reassigned as  per  regulations.  They finally kiss in the doorway of Ulysses’s  tent with Turner  walking into the background in a  brilliant shot very reminiscent  of GONE WITH THE  WIND (1939).

 

Johnson gets leave in Paris where he meets McCall again by chance who has  yet to be reassigned.   The two head off in the Battle of the Bulge where they work together again. They grow  close but he  ‘belongs to someone else’ and their affection is unspoken till one night as  they are surrounded  at Bastogne when they both sadly reveal their feeling. The affection come out with words and gestures and almost a poignant admittance  to their Love masterfully handled  by both Gable, Turner and the choice of shots with lighting.

The story shifts to Penny Johnson and her  growing belief that she has lost her husband to ‘Snap Shot’ which she confides to Dr Sunday who is a family friend.  She  even tries to guess which one is  ‘Snap Shot’ from a picture of  the  unit Ulysses  send home

The story changes and people change. How can one  not be changed  by the experience of war of  operating sixteen hours  a day, watching people die including  personal friends like  Monk  (Cameron Mitchell)who delivered the Johnson’s laundry now   Sgt. Monkevickz who asked Johnson to look at him before he left for the  War. Canada makes  it into the film when Monk (Cameron Mitchell) say he is going off to fight in the Canadian army because they are fighting now much to the belittling of  his choice by Ulysses Johnson.

Lana Turner is wonderfully sensitive  as  the  not so glamorous Nurse Lt. Jane “Snapshot” McCall.  It is never explained  why her character is called  Snap Shot by all in the  film perhaps it is  her  cool efficiency which her character  shows in operating room situations. Turner does  well in military clothes as she  did before in the  KEEP YOUR POWDER DRY (1945) in which she was a motor pool mechanic complete with grease.  This offers Turner an chance to do what she did  for  years like no other  and that was  shed small tears very slowly without moving a facial muscle.

 

The  cast  is rounded out  by wonderful rock solid John Hodiak as  Dr Robert Sunday who like his name suggests is  the  pious center of the picture. Hodiak does  well in his moments with Gable as  the  two spar in great give and take  session.  Hodiak also offers the  shoulder  confessor to cry on for Penny Johnson who was played by his real life  wife Anne Baxter.    John Hodiak when onto an all to brief career in film which is a shame  due  to his  dark intense looks and  well modulated  tones could have been so much more.  Hodiak passed away tragically  at  age forty one of a fatal heart attack.

 

Anne Baxter looks  very inch the role of the wife.  Baxter variations of this role of  the unsure  glamour girl  like she  did in this picture  and  in  CIMMARRON (1960) as  Dixie Lee.  She wears the clothes well and does  the mannerisms well yet  leaves one with tone of  unsure about her life which is exactly what  the  roles  requires.   Her tone is light in speech which changes with one  crucial sentence when talking later  in the film to Ulysses.  Baxter is the  faithful wife that Hollywood  and Louis B. Mayer wanted  in HOMECOMING (1960)

Life had taken its tole on Gable which is only evident in a sequence in which the lines on his  face are evident during a  flashback moment of both him  and  Penny meeting for the first time.

HOMECOMING (1960)  is limited in action sequences  in spite of the  War going on plus there is some judicious editing of history. One cannot help but think that when one sees Ulysses Johnson wistfully or  tenderly   thinking on screen silently it is not Clark Gable dreaming of Carole Lombard and their  years. Life and  Art all in one. The picture  offers a  good  cast  with Gable, Turner, Hodiak and Baxter shining right along side  THE BEST YEARS OF  OUR LIVES (1946)

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CASH ON DEMAND (1961)

Watching film which is supposed to be a ‘World wide ‘  art form one can become centralized on the Hollywood model.     The  British have always done a  strong job with the  spy thriller as long as the maintain their essential “British flavor”. There is a tone in their Television series  from  the sixties I.T.V series THE  AVENGERS  to the films  like the classic  Hitchcock Directed THE 39 STEPS (1935).  CASH ON DEMAND (1961) is perhaps not  in the same  cinematic league as those yet is is a refreshing excursion into the heist film.

CASH ON DEMAND was produced by HAMMER FILMS and distributed  by COLUMBIA PICTURES in  1961  which was the same year as the initial James Bond offering DR. NO.  HAMMER FILMS was getting notice for their remakes of Horror films and sequels that splashed color,  gore and  sexuality on the screen.   The studio also did  a series of pictures  dubbed  ‘Physiological thrillers”  by the names of  CRESCENDO (1970) , TASTE OF FEAR (1961) plus others. These  starred as would most of the early Hammer productions the same  troupe of actors usually with a choice newcomer or  big name sprinkled in sometimes  an  American for marketing purposes.  Black and  white films are always  a favorite with me and  CASH ON DEMAND does not disappoint in that department.

Plot wise we have a story about the  perfect crime of a theft of 97,000  pounds sterling from the a  city bank  in a  small town during a snow storm.   The star of the picture is  Peter Cushing who plays Bank Manager  Harry Fordyce who is menaced by Andre Morell and Col. Gore Hepburn.    Hepburn  masquerades as a bank insurance  person come to test the alarm system.

The initial glimpse of Peter Cushing as  Fordyce brings that  stylised ‘British flavour’ forward as he  brushes off the banks outside sign when comes into work.   He is ruthlessly efficient and cold towards his staff as he asks one of the women to remove her Christmas cards from her desk as they are  not  ‘Dignified.”   He dresses  proper in conservative style with  limited  body movements and speaks in clipped tones.   This a man  who is in total control of his world which is the bank, knows  his  job and  his and other peoples place in the  scheme of things.

This is contrasted by the  younger employees of the bank which sit on desks when Fordyce is not in.  The  men try to date the women and  flirt shamelessly foreshadowing the  young peoples  new  ideas  of the  sixties  England that  were trying to replace the old ways  in  ‘Swinging London”

 

 

The world of the Bank is turned upside down when Hepburn reveals his true intentions plus he has  kidnapped Fordyce’s  wife and  daughter who will be  killed  if they do not succeed.  Fordyce must keep this  secret from his staff as he  goes about the alarm check  and other duties.    Morell and Cushing do some excellent  verbal sparing through out all the while  with  Morell’s  character holding the  ace of having control of Fordyce’s family.  The staff  that Fordyce rules  with managerial coldness learn of the plot.   Fordyce begs them to do nothing because of his wife and child however  the wheels have been set in motion. The  terrified bank manager must endure  a police  visit Detective Bill Mason (Kevin Stoney).

Tension abounds  with little bits of  business between the actors which Cushing was  famous for developing himself. Little quirks of character like the lighting of  cigarette or pipe and drawing on it in a special way.   The placement of  desk items in easy reach for a moment.  One also takes  tea  differently if on is a manager at a  bank then the usual person. The  pivotal physical turns  when he spins to face a adversary are all different each time these are all hallmarks of actor building character  which is  to often not seen or a lost skill.

 

CASH ON DEMAND (1961)  features taunt writing by David Chantler and  Lewis Griefer keeping  the  dialogue down to size and short direct  scenes.  Director Quentin Lawrence who actually performed  the same function on the original television adaption of this story  called THE GOLD INSIDE’ for program called THEATER 70 keeps the action rolling and  the  setups  to a minimum. Action is in shot  inside the Bank plus  outside on the street in the snow all in glorious properly photographed with shadows black and white.

CASH ON DEMAND (1961)  runs  sixty six minutes in original  form  pumped up to eight nine minute late on.  It seems like a hard picture to find on networks  yet it is  well worth solid film making on  budget with good  characters  and  a story.

 

 

 

 

 

EMERGENCY CALL (1933)

Love to drift back into pre code dramas of all types from the “Dangerous Horrors” of  THE MASK OF  FU MANCHU (1933)  to the  Warren William  pictures so this  trip into the hospital world of  EMERGENCY CALL(1933) was looked forward to. Lets step into the waiting area, grab a  hard wooden bench for  seat and enjoy.

The aspect that these films bring is that they are so delightfully subversive in the medical world following  in the  “white shoes”  of  MEN  IN WHITE (1934) with young Clark Gable to Barbara Stanwyck’s bow   in  NIGHT NURSE (1931).   These picture became a genre unto themselves as  the  DR KILDAIRE  and  DOCTOR GILLESPIE series   later  BEN CASEY plus many others.  EMERGENCY CALL (1933)  Directed by  Edward L. Cahn for  RKO studios combines  the world of romance with  crime.   I suggest that the romantic elements were to keep the women interested while the  Crime  was for the males interested  in the  two fisted  action.

Bill Boyd plays  the  role of Dr. Joe Bradley who is  about to marry into the family of the man who runs the hospital.  Bradley wants to prove  himself  yet  is rather  naive sort of fellow  even forgetting his kit on his  first  emergency call with Steve (William Gargan) . Bradley  even goes the wrong way in the building when he arrives  as he learns from Steve  in a  rather cruel by today’s standards way  that all patients at this time’ are at the  top of the stairs and weight  three hundred  pounds”.

Gargan in the  role of  Steve is good counterpoint in the action between Bill Boyd’s style as he wisecracks his way by being street wise and familiar with  the  other  lowly medical people.   The thirties   featured  snappy  dialogue between men and woman and this is not exception at Steve  set up a  romance between himself and Mabel (Wynne Gibson).    There is  fun words  exchanged when  Steve calls Mabel by the name of  Wiennie which  she dislikes and  asked the  matron not to call  her that.   The matron dresses  down  Steve who should be spending more time on his work and less with the  flirting.  Good  moment   when Steve  says ‘hey  I only want to marry the  girl”. The matron  turns to leave and you can see  a  funny smile on her face.

These light moments work well as the  story turns up the crime elements as  the hospital becomes a haven for  “ambulance chasers” and ” insurance scammers” run by the underworld in the person of (Not  FANTASY ISLAND.)  Mr Rourke (Edwin Maxwell).   The racketeers  set up accidents with there own people by tossing themselves in front  of  vehicles to collect  damages. One  such person  Sammie (George E  Stone) is recognized by  Steve  as  he is being brought in and  is   harassed by him resulting in Sammie  leaving the hospital much to the surprise of the head  administrator  who fires Steve and Mabel on the spot.    They are both  reinstated and which   when the romance between Steve and Mabel blossoms into being asked and  accepting of  a date.

Good moments in the  style of thirties romance however the  story takes  a dark turn with scandals  and cover up at the highest level of the hospital.   Punch ups, murder and  death for an unexpected  reason blend into the moralistic  ending

Bill Boyd who is actually billed ahead of all the cast had a  huge  career before this picture which was made just before his career took off ina  role he would be identified with that being the  two fisted  pure  action hero  HOPALONG CASSIDY in 1935.  Boyd would go onto play “Cassidy” in sixty six  films and short lived  Television series  Boyd does  well in the role playing it low key and  righteously naive later in the action sequences his  fists  fly against the  villains.   Elevators go up  as  the  fights  get  multi leveled even rescuing his buddy Steve who is  knifed  from behind.

 

 

Wynne Gibson  had  the  blonde precode  look about her  very similar to Miriam Hopkins  in face structure  and  body type who had many famous roles in pre code times  such as (With  William Gargan)  THE STORY OF TEMPLE DRAKE (1933)  and DR. JEKYLL AND  MR. HYDE  (1931) with Fredric March.   Wynne plays the comedy well in EMERGENCY CALL (1933)  plus shift well as the  story changes to dark overtones and tragedy.   The character of  Mabel makes a interesting  if not self  righteous  journey at the end of the  film but that  was the  style for the time. It is nice touch that the name  “Wiennie” which she does want to be called in the  film is  similar to her real first name.

Disturbing  moment in this  film occur  when Steve continually calls Mabel ‘My little  Wiennie” on the  date culminating  him  him  holding here close and slapping her three times  saying the name making Mabel cry.  Steve then says  ‘Now that”s  settled’ and the date continues without incident.  This  was  not  as  bad as  the moment  with Joan Blondell  in SMARTY(1934) which is  filled  with references of  women loving to be  hit by men even the  point of ‘Liking it”.  Two sided comment of the state of  relationships  and the way Hollywood saw the institution of marriage which had to be upheld at all times  yet allow  for  violence in the name of preservation.

 

The  rest of the cast rounds  out  well from the contract player  at RKO  with  villians being tough a large physically and meek when they have to be.  Paul Fix  who had large  and distinguished career in  Westerns, Crime  pictures  and  later  even as  “Dr. Piper” who was the precursor  to “Dr.McCoy” in the second original Television pilot of STAR TREK  has a brief role as Dr. Mason.

EMERGENCY CALL (1933)  paces  well into it   running time  sixty  five  minutes. It  features  early screenplay credit  for Joseph L. Mankiewicz who went on to do a  few other  good things in Hollywood.   For some  reason it is hard to  find picture which  can happen as  well all know yet it  gives  one a chance to see  Bill Boyd before he became William Boyd and began riding horse on those  dusty trails.

 

 

THREE GODFATHERS (1936)

I don’t mention Westerns very much since honestly I don’t see many with exception of  STAGECOACH (1939), THE SEARCHERS (1956),  THE WILD BUNCH (1969), both versions of  CIMARRON (1931) plus (1960)  and the Clint Eastwood Modern classic THE UNFORGIVEN (1992) plus a host of others. I do watch more than I think they just don’t appear make me  want to explore it as much  I do as much other styles. This middle  remake  the THREE GODFATHERS (1936)  struck a chord with me begging me to mention it.

This THREE GODFATHERS  (1936) edition Directed by Richard Boleslawski is the  remake of the John Ford 1916 version of course to be later tailored for  John Wayne in Technicolor in 1948.  The Western genre is one of the  few that works effectively in  black and white or color.  The non color adds to claustrophobic style allowing one to better concentrate on the actors.   An intimacy with the film and the audience with an example of John Wayne’s bravo first Hero shot with his gun upraised and saddle by his  side  in STAGE COACH (1939).

This is a film hero larger than life and get ready for a story.   Technicolor added the vistas and natural beauty which also let well to the telling of the stories against a broader canvas.

The picture’s story does’t really change  as one find Three bank robbers finding a wagon containing a dying woman with a child with whom them pledge to take care.    Leaving out the biblical parallels of three men, wise to the ways of the world,  wandering in the desert with a  child you get a story of perseverance and  self persecution.

Lewis Stone who would go on to be  known as Judge Hardy from the ANDY HARDY series gets a turn as a grizzled gun fighter James Underwood who is  worn by age and memory.    No matter how you try to disguise Stone’s voice those tones come through particularly when the “Shakespeare” sequence. Stone  has long and varied career with many styles of  roles yet this picture shows him a sad person filled  with life to the point of being like Roy Batty in the rain on the rooftop from  BLADERUNNER (1982) remarking that it is ‘Time to die”.

Walter  Brennan gets what proves to be his life long role he would do variations of as  the not so intelligent  yet sincere   Sam Bartow.   Underwood and Bartow have an strange  affinity for each other as they hint at the past.   Bartow  hints  that Underwood was to tell him about a packet of letters he has been carrying a round only to see them burned.  The both act as confessors for each  in the desert as the  journey continues.  The two also act a  buffer between the  baby and the tough, black clad leader Bob Sangster played by Chester Morris. Barstow and  Underwood take a more active role in the care of the child giving it their ration of water and limited food which Sangster will have nothing to do with.

Chester Morris was one of those that I and  a few others refer to as  being from the “Lyle Talbot  School of Acting’.   Lyle had the good looks, the voice, a variety of roles yet for  reasons unknown was never thought of as a “Star”. They would have streaks of success as Morris had with “BOSTON BLACKIE” series of films and radio adaptations.  Morris would get to play against the likes of Jean Harlow in RED HEADED WOMAN and Wallace Beery in THE BIG HOUSE in the  thirties.  Morris later drifted into smaller roles obscurity of B films and television .   Bob Sangster is  hard and nails bank robber who is first against taking the child.    He lets  Underwood know he should  get rid of the books he salvaged from the wagon.   He is also more action oriented then the other two as it is Sangster  that  find the horses gone and does his level best to find them.

One harrowing moment features  Chester Morris as  Sangster abandoning the child several times only to turn back as the child is crying and discharge his gun.  The camera lingers on  the desperate, dirty, Sangster and when the child falls silent you thinks the worst.  The picture then cuts back to a calm baby and a dead rattlesnake beside him. Sangster sling the child up and  continues  into the desert.

THREE GODFATHERS  (1936) makes good use of the scenery as the  desert looks dark and  foreboding at night and a bright, scotched hell kitchen in the daylight.  Sound is a strong suit as there is often an absence of it with exception of dialogue and slight music particularly in on moment featuring a single gun shot. The  vast empty dusty world  figures strongly as one morning Sam Barstow strides through the sand to his destiny.

Western Religion fills the screen on more that one occasion in subtle and  not so subtle ways which fit what the  studio being MGM has to do for the story to get passed the censors and the Catholic Legion of Decency.  Today one  may scoff at the control these groups had yet in the  thirties in  Hollywood a studio could not afford  to have a picture destroyed at the box office.  Real power was within these groups to forbid people to not see a picture which they often obeyed.

THE GODFATHERS (1936)  features Mojave Desert locations which must have been novel for the actors  and difficult for the crew. One can imagine Klieg lights,  makeup running, in the  desert plus the assorted wild life without today’s  facilities.  The picture also features a look the three aspects of ‘family” from the  action male or father played by Chester Morris to the dutiful son by Walter Brennan and the the nurturing mother by  Lewis Stone. The family is set up to fail because it is not traditional and all order must be restored through a return to a proper  family by  the  “Grace of  God” Still it is an interesting  “buddy’ film to see.

 

GOLDIE GETS ALONG (1933)

This little  film was a programmer like so many of the  sixty minute pictures made  yet if  you watch many of them you can  find moments of fun.   GOLDIE GETS ALONG (1933) stands out for the curious fact that its stars the one and only Lili Damita or  as  we  mostly know here  as  Mrs  Errol Flynn.    There are moments  of  genuine film making  supplied by Director Malcolm St Clair and a solid supporting cast.

The  story is one that had been done before in different variations of the  the young girl usually in a  strict family or small town who wants to go to the big city of  Hollywood. There is usually an act of  defiance by the  young  girl wanting the dream like staying out late or  forsaking duties. In this  film  Goldie stays out late to the  wrath of her family when after  a fight she finds out her mother  was a  ‘common” woman.  That is   last  straw and  Goldie leaves for Hollywood leaving her  boyfriend Bill Tobin very ably played  by Charles Morton.        Tobin  shows  Goldie a house that he  has bought where they can live and of course have  kids.  Goldie insists  that she  go to Hollywood with him even  more because  Tobin has a  college buddy who is  a big Director there.  He refuses  even forbids Goldie from going which of course results in the opposite happening.

The  difference  now is  that Goldie has  no money so she basically hitch rides her was to various adventures  even enters beauty contests along the route  each  giving a  cash prize or a  trip to Hollywood.

Goldie delivers  some  sassy dialogue to Sam Muldoon (Sam hardy)  who promises her the moon and beyond to   “go places with him’ Goldie  steals  the  car again only to find it is actually the  mayors  car.   The   two end  up in a  small town  jail escorted  by policeman Motorcycle Office Cassidy (Nat Pendlton).   Great  dialogue between Goldie  and  Cassidy later when  she asked   Do you really think I  could steal a car”  and he replies  I think you could steal a locomotive.”   Lots  of  nefarious goings on in beauty contests  as  Goldie is pursued  by Bill Tobin to bring her back make up the rest of  the film.

So why is  GOLDIE  GET ALONG  ( 1933)  so interesting?  One aspect is  the performance of Lili Damita as Goldie which is  spot on i f not  cliche not cliche now due to her  accent.  Damita has a  devastatingly bright  happy smile with wonderful  dark eyes which  play to the camera  quite well   almost  reminiscent of Jean Harlow. Her  accent  apparently is  what  doomed her career  as it  became  a novelty in early sound days  in Hollywood along with another female  Fifi de Orsay . The similarity   between  Damita and De Orsay was that Damita’s  accent was  real not a studio manufacture although De Orsey’s Parisian ancestry was a  creation.   De Orsey was  born Marie-Rose Angelina Yvonne Lussier  in Montreal Quebec Canada  who went onto a long career while  Damita became more  known for who she was married to then what she did.

GOLDIE GETS ALONG (1933) features some  fun if not  routine situations for the time. Good cast which makes some vicious comment on the morals  of Hollywood  and  how a wholesome person should not go there.

It features people some of which had longer careers  such as  Nat Pendelton who went onto play muscle bound types  with hearts of gold or  gangsters.

 

Charles Morton who I always thought looked like a  “Ralph Bellamy” type had a career  cut short by sound which amazes me  as he  delivered  dialogue well .   Lili Damita was not  given a  far shake as  so many did and  became  a mother  to Sean Flynn who would disappear in Cambodia during the war.

Lili Damita is  the star of this one  even for a moment or  at least sixty plus minutes which  would  not be much like that again.  See  her smile  and those  eyes if you can

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PRINT THE LEGEND.

We often romanticize the past, unconsciously editing out the unsavory parts of a certain time or event.  One wonders about the scandals of Mary Astor said to be documented in THE PURPLE DIARIES in which names are named. Odd since Mary denied she kept a written record of her exploits.

I speak mainly of biographies and auto biographies. Is this really what happened or is it what the studio put out? Tell-all biographies can be quite dull as what you had in mind was not really what happened.  For example, I have read a few books on Jean Harlow, a personal favorite.  I was able to latch onto a copy of David Stenn’s book BOMBSHELL plus DEADLY ILLUSIONS:  JEAN HARLOW AND THE MURDER OF PAUL BERN. I also purchased a copy of Mark Vieras and Darrel Rooney’s large work HARLOW IN HOLLYWOOD, THE BOMBSHELL IN THE GLAMOUR CAPITAL 1928-1937.

 

 

 

Each had the points regarding Jean’s life, her family. Where they differed was her death and especially Paul Bern’s demise which I will not reveal as it would spoil it for those who want to check that out.  Which of these was actual fact and which was rumor or controlled story from a studio?  It is possible as records could have been lost or destroyed, principal people in events pass away, or memories change so you end up printing the Legend. It is nevertheless still fascinating to get different takes on someone or an era especially when the author draws their own conclusions which you don’t have to agree with.

 

The book on one of my other favorites, Loretta Young, is HOLLYWOOD MADONNA by Bernard F. Dick. I was reviewing the reviews, finding some saying things were glossed over. The book did not tell of her life, more it was regarding the plots of her films. While this is not a review article, I found it interesting that people would know that it was a gloss over as they must be privy to another source.  If the reader is archivists or attached directly to the person then that is different making the conclusion a valid one.

I suggest that film writing today has three categories depending on your taste for material as opposed to the “ghost written” Star columns in Fan magazines of yesteryear. No doubt ‘ghost writing’ goes on today.  I speak of the bio or book that arrives shortly after a person’s death or significant event. This would be usually tossed together from stories from other sources, or snippets of third hand interviews or quotes all with pictures you have seen before.

The second style is the academic approach more for learning that what some people would read to enjoy.

The third style if that which is written by a relative, spouse, former employee or companion, which can cross into sensationalizing a subject or a person. I have found with those you often get not so much regarding the film life as you get the person as they are seen through another perspective.  A good example of this is if you connect Errol Flynn’s MY WICKED, WICKED WAYS with almost any of the other books on him usually written by people he was with with the exception of the volume dealing with Flynn being a Nazi spy in World War Two, you can get an interesting feel for the one and only Errol Flynn.

 

The last style of writing I have found in film books is a cross between the academic and conversational style – yielding every single thing you could possibly want to know. This type of book has a long life as you can use it as reference or crowd your brain with facts you won’t use.  A wonderful example of this is BORIS KARLOFF:  MORE THAN A MONSTER, by Steven Jacobs, which tells you absolutely everything you would want to know about Boris Karloff’s life, journeys, loves, and mistakes.

The most readable bios that I have found are John Strangeland’s bio on Warren William and Mathew Kennedy’s book on Joan Blondell.

Topping the list for rather volumes are Alan K.  Rode’s extensively researched wonderfully written MICHAEL CURTIZ: A LIFE IN FILM.    Well worth the time like the best books it places Curtiz in historical perspective with lots of side stories about film making at that time.

A recent style that has emerged is the Historical fiction book featuring real locales, people with a story built around them.    Such examples of these are the novels of Martin Turnbull set in Hollywood following various characters.

 

There was also William J Mann’s large historical murder mystery part theorizing TINSELTOWN which makes for interesting whodunit.  There is always room for romance against the backdrop of glamour as one can find in A TOUCH OF STARDUST.

The single volume which I have yet to find a better one is THE GENIUS OF THE SYSTEM, HOLLYWOOD FILM-MAKING IN THE STUDIO ERA by Thomas Schatz.  The style is full of facts, stories and side bits in a single book covering the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Film writing has changed as no doubt documents are discovered such as diaries or new papers found in an attic. One of my favorites is when one discovers long lost film in some field or trunk that gets restored which is a huge thing to see.  I also secretly wish we had the equivalent of the movie magazines of yesteryear such as MODERN SCREEN, PHOTOPLAY, PICTURE PLAY.   It all starts with the word.

“WOMEN AND MEN OF SIN’

A while ago I came across  yet another biography of Humphrey Bogart titled TOUGH WITHOUT A GUN: THE LIFE AND THE EXTRAORDINARY AFTER LIFE OF HUMPHREY BOGART by Stefan Kanfer. It is a slim volume by Bogart biography standards clocking in at a mere 320 pages compared with others on the same subject.

I had read Ann Sperber and Eric Lax’s much large  book (720 pages) titled BOGART a few years ago and thought that I had found out a good deal of Mr. Bogart’s life yet for some reason I wanted another take.  The author advanced the idea that there are no tough guys in today’s cinema which got me thinking that he is correct to a point that the ‘Tough guy’ role has become the ‘Action hero”

Who do today’s studios have that could portray a world weary, cynical tough guy cut from the same cloth as we see in Classic Hollywood?   I tend to agree with what Mr. Kanfer says that there are nothing but “Boy men” personified by the likes Toby Maguire, James Franco, Leonardo DiCaprio, Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, with the rare exceptions of Tommy lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Johnny Depp,  Russell Crowe, Benicio Del Toro and Sean Penn. Josh Harnett, and did a good turn in the opening of SIN CITY (2005) reminiscent of Dana Andrews (A slight facial resemblance) in WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS (1950)

 

 

The Classic ‘Tough guy’ is often the Detective  who has  the qualities of a cynical acid tongue looking through the world through the bottom of a bottle and too many cigarettes. Today we give the villain the power to have ruthless odd behavior while the pursuing Law are often painted as being an ‘Every man’ reacting as the audience. Great example of this is NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) with Javiar Bardem tearing up the screen as the bad guy against Josh Brolin.  You always remember the bad guy or girl in films as Leading men are acted upon.

 

 

Women of the  thirties and  forties were different  yet some could do “gritty” (non prostitution) roles like Aline McMahon and  Ann Dvorak in HEAT LIGHTNING (1934) or Anne Sheridan in NORA PRENTISS (1947).

 

 

These and others would give rise to the  Femme  Fatale of the coming, not  named postwar original Film Noir cycle. It would also spawn the chance of female writers and  Editors  who has always been in Hollywood  as shown in the work of Ida Lupino  in front and behind the camera.

You try not to say that they “Don’t write them like they did” anymore but it is true.  The stories should not be the same as Hollywood has changed alone with  the world has from the war years of the Forties and the Cold war/atomic fear of the fifties.  Now  we have  ‘instant gratification”  plus the  very real fear of populism in Government and  fear mongering of any group deemed  different without the cost of accountability.

The actors from Classic Hollywood often came by way of the theater not as the reverse today. I still believe the theater trained actor has tremendous technique with am ability depending on the group to create roles with accents done properly. It is deadly important to show ‘truth’ in the walk and speech pattern of a role yet that seems to escape many actors of today.

Humphrey Bogart as Duke Mantee in THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936)  is a strong example. The role of Duke Mantee originated in the theater with Bogart developing that facial snarl, the shuffle walk and rat like hand movements.  Mantee had a face like a clenched fist ready to spring out at you or anyone in his way.

These men  and  women all came from a world of War and the fear of the Depression. Many emerged from poor upbringing marred by alcohol, mental illness or just plain dirt poor living in some shack. It is a different time now with different stories to tell for a different market. The “tough guy’ and tough Girl” has become the action hero of today populating such CGI films as the FAST AND FURIOUS series, The X MEN, IRON MAN, GI JOE films. The resourceful woman is more at home in the Horror Genre with countless examples of being the ‘Final Girl’ in many a  franchise old and  new.

Actors can also pick projects shifting from genre to genre giving stronger career latitude.  This versatility for actors as well as Directors, Writers and  others can be  two edged in that  it give employ ability yet not giving the  public  identification.    Tom Cruise is not  Clark Gable  yet certain segment goes to see a Tom Cruise film because of him.    This   segues into Director Paul Schrader’s controversial article  on the audience.

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(Excerpts from Indie wire article)

“There are people who talk about the American cinema of the ‘70s as some halcyon period,” Schrader said (via Deadline). “It was to a degree but not because there were any more talented filmmakers. There’s probably, in fact, more talented filmmakers today than there was in the ‘70s. What there was in the ‘70s was better audiences.”

“When people take movies seriously it’s very easy to make a serious movie,” he continued. “When they don’t take it seriously, it’s very, very hard. We now have audiences that don’t take movies seriously so it’s hard to make a serious movie for them. It’s not that us filmmakers are letting you down, it’s you audiences are letting us down.”

The “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” writer went to summarize his point by saying, “If audiences are receptive to a quality movie, believe me they will get it. We’re all just waiting to make it. At that time, that period about ten, twelve years, every single week there was some kind of film coming out addressing a social issue in a fictional form.”

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I believe it is not  “slag’ of younger people in the audience but a general “call to arms’ for an audience  to care making the  studios produce better material.   One  does not have to have  the  “Cineaste” knowledge or study frame by frame  as anyone can acwuire knowledge but few can point to what is interesting.   The movie going public has changed with many new platforms for presentation and delivery available.  That means more people also more chance of a failure through ‘word of mouth” advertising and the many people and sites including myself that write  film criticism and opinion.   Difference can be good for a  tough story :I still enjoy the rumpled hat and body in the rain leaning against a wall in an ally. They always wore  wool even in the rain or the desert heat. Bogart was  even tough as a cartoon without a gun.

 

Actor Lou Telligan  who was an actor/sculptor in early Hollywood  and  had the walk of a  “panther” once  said  to  John Carradine when they were both younger: “I love my Men of Sin”. Many tend to agree then: now include the  women.