Saturday, December 31, 2016

We're No Angels (1955)

Whenever a movie star dies during their prime in a tragedy, they immediately become immortalized in our culture. Jean Harlow, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Carole Lombard - these amazing talents stopped sparkling on earth but continued to sparkle in the heavens, brighter than they were before.

There are also the stars that died not long after their prime had passed, not yet old enough to retire, but not so young that it sent the world into shock. Many of these are still well-loved, but without the intensity of those who's life was snatched away from them.

Humphrey Bogart died in 1957, less than a month after his 57th birthday, after a year long fight against esophageal cancer. He had been married to Lauren Bacall for just a little under 12 years and had two children with her: Steve age 8 and Leslie age 4½. He had two Oscar nominations - Casablanca (1945) and The Caine Mutiny (1955) - and one win - The African Queen (1951) - out of his 85 credit career. The 5'8" star weighed a shocking 80 pounds when he left this earth in his sleep on January 14th.

After Bogart's death, a strange phenomenon took place. On college campuses everywhere Bogart was considered the epitome of cool, with students showing up to showings of Casablanca wearing trench coats and snap-brim hats, dangling cigarettes from their mouths, and reciting the dialogue (War on the Silver Screen). His name even became a slang word in the 70s meaning "to steal, take an unfair share" (Slang and Sociability). And it wasn't just the male students that liked Bogart. The female population had their own reasons for liking him:
In 1964 Time sent a reporter to the Brattle, where the Bogart festival was now a hallowed tradition. A Blue Parrot room, named for Sydney Greenstret's cafe in Casablanca, had been set up in the theater. Nearby a jukebox kept playing 'As Time Goes By.' 'When Bogart lights a cigarette on the screen,' the article stated, 'girls respond with big, sexy sighs.' Asked about the object of their affection, a Radcliffe student lamented the Age of Analysis: 'Bogie is everything we wish Harvard men were,' she said. 'Bogie's direct and honest. He gets involved with his women but he doesn't go through an identity crisis every five minutes' (source).

Bogart's film career can be divided into two phases. From 1930 to 1934 he played supporting roles, usually gangsters. Then, in 1936, he got the film part he originated on Broadway, that of Duke Mantee in The Petrified Forest. The role was good and Bogart took advantage of it. However, it still seemed that his film career was over as he was still stuck in the gangster roll.

In 1941 he again played a gangster, but this time it was one with a heart. The film was High Sierra and it set Bogart on the path to super-stardom. The films that followed were hits that are still popular to this day: The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942), and To Have and Have Not (1944) - the first of four films with Lauren Bacall, whom he married in 1945.

In 1955, Bogart was near the end of his career, though he didn't know it at the time. He made three films that year, one of them being We're No Angels, an unlikely Christmas comedy (he would make only one more film the following year). We're No Angels, though set at Christmas, 1895, was released on July 7, 1955. Directed by Michael Curtiz, the film has a stellar cast including Bogart, Peter Ustinov, Aldo Ray, Leo G. Carroll, Joan Bennett, Basil Rathbone, and Gloria Talbott. It follows three escaped criminals from Devil's Island who stop at a small shop with intentions of swindling the family, only to help the proprietor with his financial problems instead as well as spend the holidays with him, his wife and daughter.

Joseph (Bogart), Albert (Ray), and Jules (Ustinov) have managed to escape from nearby Devil's Island and plan on stealing some money and clothes so they can board a ship in the harbor heading for Paris. They steal a letter addressed to a Felix Ducotel (Carroll) and deliver it hoping for compensation. The kind-hearted man thinks they are convict laborers and even though his store barely makes any money - everyone seems to buy on credit - he hires them to repair the roof. While on the roof, the three men eavesdrop and, aside from noticing what a handsome wife Ducotel has, find out that Ducotel's store is not doing well and that he is under pressure from his cousin, Andre Trochard (Rathbone), to either do better or lose his job. They also learn that Ducotel's daughter Isabelle is in love with cousin Andre's nephew, Paul (John Baer).

The letter the three escapees delivered turns out to be from cousin Andre, who is stuck on the ship in quarantine. He wants Ducotel to come get him and Paul out. When Isabelle reads the letter (it also says that Paul is to be married to someone else) she faints, leading to my favorite part of the movie:

While Ducotel is trying to get his cousin off the boat, Joseph, who is good with finances - or rather moving numbers around, decides to help out Ducotel for fun. He starts out by selling a brush set to a bald man (you can watch that scene here), a small sized coat to a fat man, and getting a female customer to pay part of her bill. Touched by their help, Mrs. Ducotel (Bennett) invites the men to spend Christmas with them. Joseph, Albert, and Jules get into the spirit: stealing a turkey, getting flowers from the governor's garden, preparing the Christmas Eve meal and decorating the house - even finding a tree.

After a lovely dinner, and a cash gift from Ducotel, the men begin to reconsider their plan of robbing and killing the family (despite their crimes, one never suspects the three to actually do any harm to the family - it is a comedy after all). Just as Joseph has finished telling the other two they will go through with their plan, cousin Andre and Paul show up. They wake up the family, take the best rooms, and are a general pain.

We came here to rob them and that's what we're gonna do - beat their heads in,
gouge their eyes out, slash their throats. Soon as we wash the dishes.

In the end, the three "angels" help Isabelle see that Paul is not right for her and get rid of Ducotel's problems - with the help of a certain pet named Adolfe. They then decide that maybe they shouldn't try to escape after all and head back to prison.

We're No Angels was based on French play La Cuisine des Anges by Albert Husson. It was departure for Bogart, as well as director Curtiz, both who were known for more hardened pictures. It was also their fourth and final collaboration together.

Bennett and Bogart playing chess on the set.

As well as having comedic lines on-screen, Bogart also had fun off-screen, pulling such pranks as putting raw liver in his co-stars shoes and fake poop in Curtiz's trailer. And while they may not have appreciated those pranks, the camaraderie they had is apparent in the film, making it a delightful film to watch and one of my favorite films of Bogart. It is a performance any Bogart fan will not want to miss (or the occasional non-Bogart fan).

Foreign posters

This post is part of The Humphrey Bogart 117th Birthday Blogathon hosted by Sleepwalking in Hollywood and Musings of a Classic Film Addict.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

ANNOUNCING "John Garfield: The Original Rebel" Blogathon

The first time I saw John Garfield on film I was completely blown away by his performance and became an instant fan. I had to learn more about this sullen and enigmatic man who never seemed to be on top.

Out of his 34 acting credits, Garfield is probably best known for his role in the Classic Film Noir The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946). He appeared in several other noir films, as well as some classic WWII films, like Destination Tokyo (1943) with Cary Grant. He was also in the Academy Award winning film Gentleman's Agreement (1947) which is currently on Netflix.

Since John Garfield's birthday is March 4th, I thought it would be the perfect time to host a Blogathon in his honor and see how many other Garfield fans are out there (or to introduce him to others). Here's how to join:

1. Choose a topic (film, life story, relationship with, favorite films, his work with the Hollywood Canteen, etc.) and let me know in the comments. Be sure to include the link to your blog. I will allow up to two posts on the same topic. You can find a list of his films here.

2. The event will run from the 3rd to the 5th. Publish your post before or on those days and leave the link to your post either here or on the post I set up once the Blogathon starts.

3. Choose a banner below and display it on your blog to help spread the word!

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies: Tribute post & John Garfield Imaginary Movie
The Flapper Dame: The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)
Caftan Woman: The Breaking Point (1950)
Finding Franchot: John Garfield and Franchot Tone's Group Theatre History
The Wonderful World of Cinema: Gentleman's Agreement (1947)
Back to Golden Days: John Garfield's involvement in the HUAC hearings and his subsequent blacklisting
Musings of a Classic Film Addict: Between Two Worlds (1944)
Realweegiemidget Reviews: He Ran All The Way (1952)
Silver Screenings: Destination Tokyo (1943)
Taking Up Room: Air Force (1943), Between Two Worlds (1944), & Pride of the Marines (1945)
Cary Grant Won't Eat You: Nobody Lives Forever (1946)
In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood: Dust Be My Destiny (1939)
Mike's Take On The Movies: He Ran All The Way (1952)
Old Hollywood Films: Humoresque (1946)
B Noir Detour: They Made Me a Criminal (1939)
Crimson Kimono: The Fallen Sparrow (1943) 

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Clock (1945)

"The Clock was unique."

These were Vincente Minnelli's words when he was interviewed some thirty years later by Richard Schickel (The Men Who Made the Movies) on the films he had made in his thirty-three year career. It was only his fourth film, following Cabin in the Sky (1943), I Dood It (1943), and the Christmastime favorite Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) where he met the "little girl with the big voice," Judy Garland.

Minnelli was finishing up Ziegfeld Follies (1946) when Judy asked him to take over a movie she was making that was in danger of being scrapped. The film was The Clock, starring Judy and Robert Walker. Based on an unpublished short story by Paul and Paulline Gallico, and scripted by Robert Nathan who wrote the novels The Bishop's Wife and Portrait of Jennie, the film started under the direction of Jack Conway and then Fred Zinnemann, before being replaced with Minnelli.

Minnelli had to make some key changes to make the story - of a young soldier on leave and a girl who keep bumping into each other, go out on a date, fall in love, and marry, all in two days - work. The most important thing he did was to make New York a character: "Everything I could remember about New York went into it." He also made some cast changes, with Ruth Brady taking over Audrey Totter's role as Alice's (Garland) roommate, and James Gleason replacing Hume Cronyn as the milkman (Gleason's real-life wife played his wife in the movie as well).
This love story is really about the urgent mood of a city in war-time, etched with the same extraordinary precision of detail. By turns exuberant and claustrophobic, his [Minnelli] milling panoramas aren't merely a picturesque frame for a simple love story. New York's indifferent hubbub shapes everything that happens to The Clock's anonymous working girl and average GI on leave: edging them closer together for a touch of human warmth, abruptly dividing them in the chaos of the subway at rush hour ("Directed By Vincente Minnelli" by Stephen Harvey).

The film begins with the camera singling out a soldier from a crowded Pennsylvania Station. Then it picks out a young woman, following her until she runs into the soldier, who accidently trips her causing her heel to break.

Shoe appreciation alert.

They end up spending the day together - riding an open-air bus, going to the zoo, and touring the Metropolitan Museum. After they part, Joe (Walker) realizes he wants to see Alice again so he chases her bus and asks her to meet him that evening.
To convey the heroine's shy, contemplative quality, much of the time he [Minnelli] built her characterization on her hesitant gestures and the innate tenderness of those expressive eyes ("Directed By Vincente Minnelli" by Stephen Harvey).
Check out Judy's cute hat!

Back at her apartment, Alice's roommate discourages her from keeping her date, saying it's just another soldier's pick-up, but Alice goes anyway. They have dinner and then go walking in the park, where they have their first kiss.

Then, realizing they missed the last bus back into town, they catch a ride with a friendly milkman Al Henry (Gleason) on his milk truck. They stop at small diner where a drunk (Keenan Wynn) punches Al, leaving him unable to finish delivering the milk. Joe and Alice step in and finish for him, ending at the milkman's house where his wife makes them breakfast. Mrs. Henry sees that the young couple are in love and tells them they should get married, since she has been so happy married to Al.

Alice in Joe head to the subway to start wedding plans and get separated. Realizing they don't even know each others last names, they frantically search for each other, finally thinking to go to the spot where they met for their first date - the clock at the Astor Hotel. They head to city hall to get married where this humorous incident occurs:

They then find out just how difficult it is to get married quickly - blood tests, the marriage license with the standard waiting period - not to mention everything is in different buildings in different parts of town. When they do finally get married, it is in an office that is being cleaned and with the vacuum lady standing in as a witness. Afterwards the newly-weds go to a diner where Alice breaks down over their unromantic wedding. They head to a nearby church, where a couple has just been married, and whisper their wedding vows, again to one another in the light of the candles.

The following morning, a glowing bride fixes a simple breakfast for her husband and takes him to the station, where he heads out to rejoin his outfit to finish the war before he can come back to his little wife.

♥ ♥ ♥

I have to say a word on George Folstey's cinematography. Folsey had just photographed Garland exquisitely in the Technicolor musical Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and was asked to do same in black and white. I have to admit it was difficult to not take a million screenshot's of Judy's beautifully lit face.


This film, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and A Child Is Waiting (1963) are Judy Garland's only non-singing movies.

When Alice meets Joe for their first date, they meet under the Beaux Arts clock in the lobby of the Astor Hotel in Times Square. This then-famous hotel was built in 1904, and demolished in 1967 to make way for the One Astor Plaza office tower.

The lady at the luncheonette counter is Moyna MacGill, Angela Lansbury's mother.

Minnelli and Judy, who had started dating during the filming of Meet Me in St. Louis, had actually been separated, with Judy resuming her relationship with Joseph Mankiewicz. However, during the filming of The Clock they got back together, marrying on June 15th, less than a month after the picture was released.

This post is part of The Vincente Minnelli Blogathon hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood. Please be sure to read all of the other posts celebrating this great director!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cinema Wedding Gowns: Man-Proof (1938)

Have I got a doozy of a wedding gown for you!!!

At first glance, this Dolly Tree design worn by Rosalind Russell in Man-Proof (1938), appears to be a typical 1930s satin wedding dress. The silhouette is long and slim and the veil is cathedral length. Then we get this view:

Then it zooms in even closer!

I really have no words to describe this veil, except that it looks like something Disney's Maleficent would wear should she ever marry. Even the fabric is odd, all shimmery like an oil spill.


This is actually one case where the bridesmaids, one of them being Myrna Loy, really do look better than the bride. However, maybe Roz has the right idea - wear something so strange that it ensures everyone's eyes are on you, no matter how pretty the bridesmaids.

This movie didn't have the most original plot-line, but the costumes and sets were well worth the watch.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Houdini (1953)

Harry Houdini has long been someone who has captured the imagination of the ordinary man. Performing daring acts unlike anyone else in history, his life is a natural for stories and films. I first learned about Houdini from my great-uncle. It was a fascinating tale and I have never forgotten it.

Houdini (1953) was the first of many films made about this singular figure. It was also the first film that paired real-life couple Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh together. Starting with young Houdini's early days as a wild man in a carnival, it tells the story of how he met his wife Bess, his growing career, the problems that his acts brought to their marriage, and up to his dramatic final act.

Houdini: It'll be the most dangerous thing I've ever done.

Bess: And the most dangerous!
Houdini: Bess, people aren't going to stand in line and watch me pull rabbits out of a hat.

Bess: Why? Why must every act you do be flirting with death?
Houdini: Because it's the only act that'll hold an audience spellbound. People fall asleep at the opera, but they stay wide awake at the bullfights because there's one man defying death down in that arena. You take this out of my act and I'm nothing!

Bess: You keep it in and we're both nothing!


  • Three years before this film was made, 20th-Century Fox was negotiating with Houdini's family to make a picture called "The Life of Houdini" and starring Burt Lancaster in the title role.

  • A talented amateur magician, Tony Curtis performed most of his own tricks in this film.

  • The movie contains several factual errors, the most telling of which is the dramatization of Harry Houdini's death. In the film he almost drowns in the torture tank trick and dies on the stage in the arms of his wife. In real life he was punched in the stomach by a college student who had heard that Houdini could withstand any blow without harm. This did, indeed, rupture his appendix. He later collapsed on stage, was taken to the hospital and died there.

  • Although Houdini didn't die onstage at a Halloween performance, as this film would have you believe, he did, indeed, die on Halloween, 1926, several weeks after his last stage performance. To this day, in Houdini's memory, October 31st is celebrated as International Magic Day.

This post is part of the Grand Finale of the At the Circus Blogathon hosted by Critica Retro and Serendipitous Anachronisms. Be sure to read all of the other amazing "acts," including the Grand Finale!!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Rio Grande (1950)

Before you start reading, press play (Ugh. I had the wrong song). Also, know that I hummed
the music probably the entire time I was writing this post.

Rio Grande (1950), if I'm pressed to choose, is my favorite John Wayne film. And if you know me you know I LOVE John Wayne. Therefore, when I learned of The John Wayne Blogathon my friend Hamlette was hosting, I decided it was time I gave this beloved film a full post.

This film was included in my 5 Movies on an Island list. Here are the reasons I gave in that post:
  • It has a fantastic cast: Maureen O'Hara, Victor McLaglen, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., and a host of other familiar "Ford" faces.
  • It has a great soundtrack (yes, we have the cd): the soft, heart-stirring instrumentals, the beautiful theme of "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen" running throughout, and the melodious harmony of the Sons of the Pioneers.
  • It has some of the best on-screen chemistry in the entire history of film: John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara... need I say more? The Duke really knew how to kiss a woman so that she'd never forget it and if you all alone on that island, well... you need something to never forget either.
  • Lastly, everything else! The directing by John Ford, the majestic vista's, the action, suspense, romance... how could it NOT be on my list??
So now that I have given you the reasons I love the film, I will tell you more about the film itself.


Rio Grande (1950) was made for one reason: so that John Ford could make The Quiet Man (1952). That's right, it was part of a deal - "you make this movie and we'll let you make that movie." And am I ever thankful that this deal was made!

For a long time, John Ford had wanted to make a movie in Ireland called The Quiet Man with John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara in the lead roles. Republic Pictures, who had promised Ford complete artistic freedom of any films he made under their banner, did not think the film would have enough box-office appeal (boy, were they ever wrong!) and told Ford that he could make the film only if he made an inexpensive Western first, using the same stars to be used in The Quiet Man. The story chosen was James Warner Bellah's "Mission with No Record." It was to be a conclusion of the Cavalry Trilogy (Fort Apache, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon - both based on stories by Bellah). Filming began on June 15, 1950 on location in Moab, Utah.

The film tells the story of Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke (Wayne) who is stationed on the Rio Grande to keep the Apaches. His son Jeff (Claude Jarman Jr.), whom he hasn't seen for fifteen years, shows up one day as a new recruit, who failed at West Point. He is followed soon by his mother, Yorke's estranged wife Kathleen (O'Hara) - Yorke burned down her family's ancestral home under orders when their son was only a baby, cementing the growing rift between them. Rounding out the cast is John Ford's stock company: Victor MacLaglen as Quincannon (a name used in other Ford films), Chill Wills as Dr. Wilkins, Ben Johnson as Trooper Tyree, Harry Carey Jr. as Trooper Daniel "Sandy" Boone (that name sounds kind of familiar!), and the Sons of the Pioneers as the Regimental Singers. Wayne's son Patrick also has a very small part in the picture, as he and Wayne's other children often did.

This film is different from the two previous cavalry pictures as instead of negotiating with the Indians and arguing with those above him, Yorke is simply trying to keep the peace. However, in classic John Ford style, there is a rousing fight between the soldiers and the Apaches after the Apaches attack the wagon train bringing the women and children to Fort Bliss and making off with the children, keeping them in an old church.

This was the first film that put Wayne and O'Hara together and the screen crackles with chemistry. You really do believe that they are an estranged couple who haven't seen one another for fifteen years but who still love each other deeply. They were an ideal match, both strong and independent yet complementing each other perfectly, O'Hara with her feistiness and Wayne with his quiet, commanding presence. They were believable because they respected one another and treated each other as equals. It was to be a trademark in all of their films together, cementing them as one of the greatest on-screen couples in the history of film.

Just watch the contemplative expressions of Wayne and O'Hara as they listen to "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen." You can instantly see that the song is significant to both of them, especially in the way Kathleen leans towards her husband and then moves away when he notices and in the way Kirby gazes at his wife at the end of the song.

You can sense the sexual tension even in this still image.
The O'Hara - Wayne combination was a sensation because she was the macho woman and he was the macho man.
~ Charles Fitzsimons (O'Hara's brother)
She was his (Ford's) idea of a beautiful Irish woman with spirit. Maureen was the sort of woman he would have invented.
~ Mary Loos

The other relationship in the film is between father and son. Jeff wants the father he never knew to be proud of him and Yorke, who is already proud of him, wants to make sure that he doesn't get hurt. And even though Jarman doesn't look at all like he could be the son of Wayne and O'Hara, both he and Wayne give touching performances, culminating in Yorke telling Kathleen, "Our boy did well" as he lies on a stretcher after having been shot with an Apache arrow.

The film ends with the rousing song Dixie, with Wayne smiling and O'Hara twirling her parasol, showing that all is forgiven and there are happier times ahead.

This film is a like a love letter. It is tender, poignant, stirring, and full of passion. And even though it was only made as part of a deal, it was still crafted with love and care. I could have written on and on about this film: interesting facts about the making of it and the experiences of the other actors, but love is the essence of the film, and that is the feeling I wanted to leave you with.

Saw Rio Grande. It's great. After seeing the tripe that is turned out today, it's a delightful pleasure to see a show made by the Old Master himself.
~ Telegram from Frank Capra

This has always been my favorite song and scene ~ "My Gal is Purple"

John Ford: Hollywood's Old Master. Ronald L. Davis. Volume 10 in The Oklahoma Western Biographies. University of Oklahoma Press,1995.
Print the Legend: The Life and Times of John Ford. Scott Eyman. Simon & Schuster, 1999.
This post is part of The John Wayne Blogathon hosted by Hamlette's Soliloquy and The Midnite Drive-In. Be sure to read all of the other posts and enter the giveaway!