The 2017 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: My Top Five Picks for Elizabeth Taylor’s Tribute

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Good morning, everyone! Today is a bittersweet day, as it’s the final day of my favorite time of the year on Turner Classic Movies, Summer Under the Stars. If you’re not familiar with how this special programming works or didn’t get the chance to check out my recommendations for Rod Taylor’s day, every year Summer Under the Stars honors a different classic film star during each day in August by showing a twenty-four hour marathon of his or her films. Despite not seeing as many of the films as I would like, I couldn’t be more excited to finish the month of great tributes to great actors with a salute to perhaps one of the greatest actresses of them all, Elizabeth Taylor. I’d like to thank Kristen of Journeys in Classic Film from the bottom of my heart once again for making the 2017 Summer Under the Stars Blogathon one to remember, and I definitely can’t wait to participate again next year with even more recommendations!

5. National Velvet (1944) on TCM at 6am EST

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Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney in a scene from National Velvet (1944).

I’m no stranger to making top five lists; in fact, if you’ve been following me for some time you’ve likely found that they’re commonplace around here. Even though I found that narrowing down five great performances given by Elizabeth Taylor was among the most difficult of all of the lists that I’ve ever compiled, it was a no brainer for me to include her breakout picture, National Velvet (1944). Based on the bestselling novel by Enid Bagnold, Velvet Brown (Taylor) becomes the owner of an unruly horse that she calls “The Pie”. Velvet sees a great deal of potential in him as a racehorse, however, and with the help of former jockey Mi Taylor (Mickey Rooney) and with the support of her family, she trains The Pie to compete in England’s Grand National race. First turned down by MGM for appearing “too boyish” for the leading role (likely the only time she was ever told such a thing in her life), 12 year-old Elizabeth trained relentlessly for three months and ate steak every day in order to become the type of lady that the script required and prove the studio wrong about how right she was for the part. For her efforts alone, she ended up earning the role. While normally I don’t care for athletics or films about them, it’s nearly impossible to deny that the acting abilities and striking beauty that Elizabeth Taylor posessed for her age makes this movie a standout that’s head and shoulders above other films of its kind. If you find yourself awake this early in the morning and want to catch a delightful film starring Elizabeth at her most adorable, I highly recommend seeing National Velvet (1944) while her marathon gets off to the races!

4. The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) on TCM at 2pm EST

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Elizabeth Taylor in a scene from The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954).

I couldn’t be more excited that Turner Classic Movies is airing this captivating romantic drama during its salute to Elizabeth Taylor. Told in flashback by the leading man himself, The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) is about Charles Wills (Van Johnson), a lieutenant during World War II but a level-headed aspiring author at heart who meets Helen Ellswirth (Elizabeth Taylor) on the day that the war ends on the European front. Helen is a vivacious and carefree woman who comes from a family that’s used to being wealthy, and despite their opposing backgrounds, the two wed. But will Charles and Helen find a way to make their marriage work when unemployment, a daughter, Helen’s extravagant lifestyle, and other suitors come into the mix? This film, which is loosely based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s short story “Babylon Revisted” published in 1931, was originally meant for Cary Grant with Shirley Temple in the role of his daughter, but I couldn’t imagine a better film being made with anyone other than this exceptional cast that also includes Walter Pidgeon, Donna Reed, Eva Gabor, and Roger Moore in his first American film. It’s a beautiful and realistic picture overall that I don’t think was given a fair break after its release. Due to an error with the roman numeral copyright notice number, the film’s copyright began in 1944 rather than its actual release date in 1954, and due to MGM believing that The Last Time I Saw Paris (1954) had another ten years under copyright, it was never renewed and fell into the public domain in 1972. Normally the film becoming available to everyone would be a good thing, but because there are an astronomical number of copies in circulation, it’s nearly impossible to find the movie in a good quality. For these reasons and more, I recommend that you watch it now more than ever, as Turner Classic Movies does not show this marvelous film often and I highly doubt that you can find a better quality version of it anywhere else.

3. Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait (1975) on TCM at 4:45am EST

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Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Giant (1956).

I always adore it when TCM shows a documentary during Summer Under the Stars. There’s no better way to give insight and shed light onto the on and offscreen life of the actor or actress that the channel is saluting, and more often than not the documentary being shown is a rare and engrossing one that won’t be found anywhere else. Such is the case with Elizabeth Taylor: An Intimate Portrait (1975), an hour-long tribute to one of the most preeminent and talented actresses of all time. So much has been said and written about Elizabeth Taylor that it’s sometimes difficult to discern the truth from the legend, but luckily this film is made up of interviews with the people who knew her best, including but not limited to the narrarator of the documentary and four-time costar of Elizabeth’s, Peter Lawford, close friend and Giant (1956) costar Rock Hudson, and in a very special and rare interview, Elizabeth’s own mother Sara Taylor. The special allows the audience to develop a deeper understanding of both Elizabeth’s life as well as her films, as context from nearly every aspect of her life is prominently displayed and discussed. Of course it’s a real treat to hear Sara Taylor talk about her perception of Elizabeth and her opinion of how she’s been shown to the public, but the conversation that surprisingly captivated me the most was with Richard Brooks, her director on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958). During filming, Elizabeth’s third husband, producer Mike Todd, was killed in a plane crash that left her devastated and unsure if she would ever find love or ever make another film again. Not much information had been given about her emotions and actions in the days following his passing, but Brooks gives a fascinating firsthand account of that and how she courageously completed the picture despite her hardships. All in all, if you’re an fan of Elizabeth and have the opportunity to check out this documentary out, I couldn’t advise a better way to conclude Summer Under the Stars.

2. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) on TCM at 10pm EST

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Elizabeth Taylor in a publicity photo for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958).

In my humble opinion, if you haven’t seen Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), you simply haven’t seen an Elizabeth Taylor movie. Taylor turns a fantastic play by Tennessee Williams into a classic film as she takes on the role of Maggie “The Cat” Pollitt, the neglected wife of Brick Pollitt (Paul Newman), a Southern ex-football hero who injured his leg jumping hurdles at his old high school in a drunken attempt to relive his glory days. Brick has taken to the bottle ever since the suicide of his confidant and fellow football player, Skipper, and has not only forsaken his wife but also his family, including his wealthy father Big Daddy (Burl Ives) who is dying of cancer. With the exception of his own wife Big Momma (Judith Anderson), most of the mogul’s family is more concerned with what will become of his fortune after he passes on, especially Brick’s brother Goober (Jack Carson), his shrill wife (Madeleine Sherwood), and their army of bratty children. As I mentioned before, Elizabeth Taylor was going through a substantial amount of heartache during the production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), with costar Paul Newman saying of her preserverance, “She was extraordinary. Her determination was stunning.”; Elizabeth later returned the sentiment: “Paul Newman is one of the sweetest men I know. He was so unbelievably supportive with his kind words and just being there for me. He helped me through an enormously difficult time in my life, and I will always be grateful.” To me, the sheer fact that Elizabeth was able to complete the film at all is a testament to her resilience, but even more praiseworthy is the brilliant performance that she gave in spite of her personal struggles. This might be saying a lot, but Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) has always been near the top of my list of what are objectively the greatest films of all time, right behind Gone With the Wind (1939). Its inegnious dialogue and superior cinematography lend to this honor the most in my eyes, but there’s no denying that this film would be a fraction of what it is today without the efforts of Elizabeth Taylor.

1. BUtterfield 8 (1960) on TCM at 8pm EST

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Elizabeth Taylor shown with her Best Actress Oscar for BUtterfield 8 (1960) at the 33rd Annual Academy Awards in 1961.

Virtually all of the films on this list have received critical acclaim over the years, with my number one pick being no exception, but I must admit that I’ve put BUtterfield 8 (1960) at the top mostly because it’s my personal favorite picture starring the iconic actress that we’re celebrating today. The film is about Gloria Wandrous (Elizabeth Taylor), a model who has a reuputation in New York City when it comes to the opposite sex. She leans on Steve Carpenter for support (played by Eddie Fisher, Elizabeth’s husband at the time), who is a composer and her close friend, while setting her sights on Weston Liggett (Laurence Harvey), a married man who has time and money to burn as he’s married to an heiress (Dina Merrill) and has been given a job with a title and no actual work involved. After a series of complications and misunderstandings, Gloria and Weston begin a torrid love affair, but will Gloria’s desire to become a respectable woman complicate their relationship even further? Will Weston be able to see her as anything other than what others see? Elizabeth Taylor had intended for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958) to be her final screen appearance, as she wanted to retire and begin a peaceful life with husband Mike Todd. Todd made a verbal agreement about this with MGM, but after his death, the studio forced Taylor to make this film and fulfill the terms of her studio contract for the meager sum of $125,000 (for comparison, Taylor’s next film, Cleopatra (1963), led to her becoming the first actor to ever earn $1 million for a single picture). Elizabeth hated the film as a result, and to make matters even worse, while filming she survived a near-fatal bout of pneumonia that required a tracheotomy, and was even pronounced dead for a brief time during the ordeal. The star ended up winning her first and only Academy Award for Best Actress for BUtterfield 8 (1960), which she considered merely a sympathy Oscar given to her because of her recent health problems. I respectfully disagree with her assumption and I couldn’t commend her performance more. Elizabeth is absolutely dynamite in BUtterfield 8 (1960), and if you’re looking for a primetime walk on the wild side and an engaging two hours with Elizabeth Taylor today, this is the film for you.

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The 2017 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon: My Top Five Picks For Rod Taylor’s Tribute

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I’m so happy to be blogging once again for you all, and I couldn’t have found a better time to get back into the swing of things than during my favorite time of the year on my favorite channel: Turner Classic Movies’ Summer Under the Stars! For those of you who are unfamiliar with Turner Classic Movies, every year Summer Under the Stars honors a different classic film star during each day in August by showing a twenty-four hour marathon of their films. I have to admit that I was a bit disappointed this year as my online film class as well as my trip to Virginia last week got in the way of my enjoyment of TCM’s thoughtful programming. In fact, it took quite a lot of deliberation when it came to choosing which stars I would write about this year for Kristen of Journeys In Classic Film’s always incredible Summer Under the Stars Blogathon (as I wrote not one but three articles for the blogathon last year), but finally I decided to downsize a bit due to time constraints and write about two of my favorite Taylors: the always powerful yet underrated performer Rod Taylor, and one of the most glamorous screen presences of all time, the larger than life Elizabeth Taylor. I’d like to thank Kristen first and foremost for always making this blogathon among my favorite ever to write for, and without further ado, keep reading for my top five recommended films that TCM will be showing today in honor of Rod Taylor and make sure to come back on August 31st to read about my top five picks for Elizabeth Taylor!

5. The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) on 10am EST

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Rod Taylor and Doris Day in a publicity still for The Glass Bottom Boat (1966).

I’ll admit that this is one of the films on my list that I still haven’t seen, but am truly excited to catch today during what promises to be an enthralling marathon honoring Rod Taylor. Our star of the day plays Bruce Templeton, the head of an aerospace research laboratory who mistakenly believes that Jennifer Nelson (Doris Day), his employee whose affection he is trying to win, is a Russian spy. It’s the second of two films that Taylor made with Day, which I was slightly stunned to find out considering the fact that she was eight years his senior, which of course wouldn’t be uncommon today but certainly would’ve been at the time. Besides that, the two made their names in entirely different genres, and I would normally assume that Doris wouldn’t be up for the adventure that always filled Rod Taylor’s pictures from start to finish, just as Rod wouldn’t be up for the romance or comedy that was often the focus of Doris Day’s movies. But they seem to make it work in The Glass Bottom Boat (1966), which expertly combines adventure, romance, comedy, espionage, aeronautics, and mermaids of all things in a concoction that could only be helmed by Frank Tashlin, an animator turned director who often produced pictures with plots so wild that they could only be found in cartoons. So many formidable personalities and subjects are on full display in The Glass Bottom Boat (1966) that I’m really wondering how it will all fit within its two-hour running time, but if you’re tuning in early to the salute to Rod Taylor like I am, I’m sure we’ll find out together!

4. Sunday in New York (1963) on TCM at 6pm EST

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Rod Taylor and Jane Fonda on the set of Sunday in New York (1963).

Here we have Rod Taylor shining in yet another romantic comedy, this one about Adam Tyler (Cliff Robertson), a womanizing airline pilot, and his sister Eileen (Jane Fonda) who visits him over the weekend in hopes that he will lift her spirits after breaking up with her boyfriend Russ Wilson (Robert Culp). Eileen admits to her brother that she’s tired of being a twenty-two year old virgin, a fact that was the leading cause of her relationship troubles with Russ, and that she’s been thinking about having a premarital fling with a stranger while she’s in New York. The idea causes Adam to develop a holier-than-thou attitude and tell his sister that he never has sex and that she shouldn’t either if she wants to keep her self respect, which is of course a lie as he often finds himself in bed with the opposite sex and is currently trying to pursue his occasional girlfriend Mona (Jo Morrow). Even despite the fib, Eileen decides to go ahead with her plan anyway and finds a worthy match in dashing music critic Mike Mitchell (Rod Taylor), but will her plans to seduce him over the weekend be interrupted when her boyfriend shows up with an engagement ring? This film is truly a product of its time, made during the sexual revolution of the sixties when more and more young men and women began to have sex before marriage. The plot likely wouldn’t be as much of a scandalous debate now as it was back then, but Sunday in New York (1963) is still a highly entertaining and witty picture adapted from an even more successful Broadway production. Jane Fonda and Cliff Robertson are always a delight to watch onscreen and are even better paired together in this film as brother and sister, but of course Rod Taylor steals every scene that he’s in with his sense of humor and dashing good looks. Definitely catch this evening flick if you can, as Rod is certainly not to be missed in it!

3. The Time Machine (1960) on TCM at 12pm EST

Out of all of the interesting looking films being shown today, The Time Machine (1960) is without a doubt the one that I’m the most excited to see that I still haven’t had the pleasure of seeing yet. It’s the film that truly made Rod Taylor a star, and is based on the renowned science fiction novel by H.G. Wells. In it, Taylor plays Wells himself, a scientist and inventor who builds — you guessed it — a time machine, and uses it to find out  if the people of the distant future go on to build the Utopian society that Wells has always dreamed of. Instead he finds two races of people: an understated and mild-mannered one living above the Earth’s surface, and a dangerous and cannibalistic society dwelling below. His time machine is stolen by the latter race, and Wells has to risk being captured and eaten in order to travel back to his own time. The Time Machine (1960) has a timeless and eclectic cast built around star Rod Taylor, including Sebastian Cabot, who would go on to be best known as the voice of Bagheera in The Jungle Book (1969), Alan Young of Mr. Ed (1961-1966) fame, and of course Taylor’s leading lady and one of my personal favorite actresses from the sixties, Yvette Mimieux. Mimieux was only seventeen years old when filming began and actually broke the law in order to work on a full shooting schedule, but she improved her acting so much over the course of production that her earlier scenes were reshot later on. Rod Taylor himself wanted Shirley Eaton, who would go on to star in Goldfinger (1964), for Yvette’s part, but I personally can’t wait to see what happens when the two of them struggle to go back to Wells’ own time.

2. The Birds (1963) on TCM at 8pm EST

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A bloodstained Suzanne Pleshette and Rod Taylor taking a break on the set of The Birds (1963).

I would be remiss if I didn’t include one of the most iconic films of all time on my list. Normally I wouldn’t place such a no-brainer at as high of a spot as number two, but if for some certifiable reason you still haven’t seen The Birds (1963), this is my way of stressing that you need to remedy that. In this picture directed by the Master of Suspense himself, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is an heiress with an untamed past who is making an attempt to settle down and become an asset to her community, though she still isn’t too high and mighty to play practical jokes and heads to her local pet shop to purchase a foul-mouthed Myna bird for her conservative aunt. It’s there that she meets Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), a prosecuting attorney who’s searching for lovebirds as a gift to his sister, hasn’t forgotten some of Melanie’s past trangsressions, and believes that she should be in jail for some of the tricks that she’s pulled. For some strange reason Melanie finds him so intriguing that she buys lovebirds for Mitch herself and drives two hours to the quaint coastal town of Bodega Bay. Just as Melanie and Mitch begin to see past their prejudices for each other and fall in love, Bodega Bay proves that it isn’t so quaint after all as all flocks and varieties of birds begin to wreak havoc on the townspeople. I often find that it’s the classics that are overlooked, and for me The Birds (1963) is no exception. Many Hitchcock fans gravitate towards his other pictures like Vertigo (1958) and Psycho (1960), leaving this one in the dust and writing off the special effects as shoddy B-picture material. I respectfully disagree, feeling that Hitchcock artfully and skillfully used a combination of screen-projected animated birds (with the help of Disney Imagineer Ub Iwerks), stuffed birds, and of course real birds to achieve an effect that was truly frightening at the time of its release. I believe that The Birds (1963) has earned its spot among the pantheon of horror greats, and while Rod Taylor doesn’t exactly steal the show (that feat is easily accomplished by newcomer Tippi Hedren as Melanie and the birds, of course), he still delivers a strong performance that helps stabilize the picture despite its chaos. I mean really, if the town that I lived in was being ravaged by feathery fiends, I’d want to leap into Rod Taylor’s arms for comfort too.

1. 36 Hours (1964) on TCM at 6am EST

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James Garner and Rod Taylor in a scene from 36 Hours (1964).

I know, I know. Far too often my number one recommended film for Summer Under the Stars is being shown at a ridiculous time of the day or night, but what baffles me is why Turner Classic Movies would show such an underrated suspense like 36 Hours (1964) so early in their lineup of Rod Taylor’s films. Granted, this isn’t exactly a Rod Taylor vehicle, but Taylor still doesn’t disappoint and commands the screen as Nazi Major Walter Gerber, a man who devises an elaborate plot to kidnap high-ranking American offical Jefferson Pike (James Garner), transform his surroundings into an American Army Hospital, and convince him that he’s an amnesiac and that World War II is over so he’ll reveal the details of the upcoming invasion of Normandy. What really makes this film special is that every single character has their own clear set of motivations that drive their actions and make them seem almost justified. While I mentioned last month that Hitler’s Madman (1943) depicted Nazis in one of the most unflattering ways that I had ever seen, 36 Hours (1964) turns the tables a bit and makes Major Gerber a sympathetic individual, obviously wrong for following a despicable ideology but still a man at heart who deserves commendation for developing a nonviolent way of extracting information from the enemy. Eva Marie Saint also deserves credit for portraying a surprisingly tenderhearted character who seems stoic on the surface. Saint plays Anna Hedler, Jeff Pike’s fake nurse at the fake Army Hospital; she attempts to lead Pike astray and extract the necessary information out of him as well by leading him to believe that the two are engaged, but later we find out that Anna is actually a concentration camp survivor who is willing to do anything she can from being sent back. All in all, I must admit that I’m biased because Rod Taylor, James Garner, and Eva Marie Saint are three of my all-time favorite actors all starring in the same picture, but believe me when I say that the picture itself is more than worth rising early this morning to see.

The Third Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon: John Barrymore in Svengali (1931)

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Hello once again, classic film fans! I know it’s been a long time since I’ve written a post for you all; as you might recall, I mentioned that I wouldn’t be available to blog much until August 7th as I was enrolled in the TCM Presents The Master of Suspense: 50 Years of Hitchcock online course. It was an uphill battle completing everything and devoting my time and effort to the class as well as my other commitments, and I have to admit that it took me a little bit longer to get back into the full swing of things because I flew to Virginia on August 9th, spending some time there and driving back to my home state, which took until the 11th. On the plus side I managed to incorporate some Old Hollywood adventures into the trip, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to announce that I had the pleasure of visiting Smithfield, North Carolina, the city that houses the Ava Gardner Museum as well as her final resting place! For the few weeks before my trip I immersed myself in Ava history by watching her films and reading her autobiography, and I can’t wait until I take the time to write up a blog post or two and share my adventures with you all! Until then, I couldn’t be happier to present my entry for the Third Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon, hosted as always by the wonderful Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, and I’d like to start off by thanking her for bringing back such an awesome blogathon idea. I hope this year is as successful as ever, and I can’t wait to participate again next year!

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Theatrical poster for Svengali (1931).

When I found out that this blogathon concept would be brought back again for the third year in a row, I knew that I simply couldn’t resist joining, and while I’ll admit that I didn’t have a particular film in mind to write about, I knew exactly which Barrymore I would be saluting: the marvelous, ever-so-talented grandfather of Drew Barrymore, Mr. John Barrymore himself. John has always been my favorite Barrymore and I’m fairly certain that he always will be; ever since I saw his stellar performance in Twentieth Century (1934) I was entranced by him, so much so that I wrote this little post on my Tumblr after discovering his films that to this day never fails to make me laugh. So as you can imagine, it was more of a question of which film of John Barrymore’s I would be writing about rather than which member of his illustrious family I would be writing about. After a little bit of research into the films of his that I had not yet seen, I found that Svengali (1931) fit the bill nicely with a compelling plot and some intriguing background information that I feel fortunate to share with you all. The film was based on the iconic novel Trilby (1894) by George du Maurier, who was actually the grandfather of another famous writer involved in classic films, Daphne du Maurier. Daphne went on to become a dame and penned countless stories that were eventually adapted into films made during the golden age of Hollywood like The Birds, Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek, and My Cousin Rachel. But first there was Trilby, which was a resounding success and inspired everything from Trilby hats, the city of Trilby in Florida, countless stage and film adaptations (including one made for television in 1983 starring Peter O’Toole and Jodi Foster), and an even more iconic novel written by Gaston Leroux called The Phantom of the Opera in 1910.

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Marian Marsh, Bramwell Fletcher, and John Barrymore in a scene from Svengali (1931).

The 1931 adaptation in particular puts the focus on Maestro Svengali (John Barrymore), a pianist and singing teacher who, along with his assistant Gecko (Luis Alberni), struggles to make ends meet by giving lessons in Paris. From the start Svengali uses devious measures in order to get his next meal and to pay the rent, including stealing money from his acquaintances and seducing his female students by using his hypnotic powers, only to discard them when they are no longer of monetary value to him. His whole life changes, however, when he meets the youthful but tone-deaf model Trilby O’Farrell (Marian Marsh). He instantly becomes infatuated with her, while she in turn falls in love with Billee (Bramwell Fletcher), a painter who lives nearby with some of Svengali’s friends. Trilby and Billee are smitten with each other and all goes well for the lovers until he finds out that she has been modeling nude for other male painters for money. An argument ensues, which leads Trilby right into Svengali’s arms, and he convinces her to pretend to take her own life so that their painter friends will forget about her, which will lead her into marrying him. With the help of his commanding hypnosis she does as he asks, and her feigned suicide works like a charm on Billee and the rest of Svengali’s cronies. Slowly but surely Tribly falls deeper and deeper under Svengali’s spell, the two wed, and Svengali transforms Trilby into a singing sensation under the name La Svengali across all of Europe by using his supernatural powers. In fact, we learn that Trilby cannot perform without his assistance as conductor, and that the use of Svengali’s abilities for every single one of her performances is taking quite the toll on his health. Five years after Trilby supposedly killed herself by drowning in the Seine, we see her and Svengali as wealthy and revered performers, and once again Billee enters the picture. Of course he instantly recognizes his lost love, uncovers Svengali’s evil plot, and vows to undo his scorcery, but will he succeed? Will the maestro or his protégée succumb to the black magic that controls each of their lives?

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John Barrymore in a publicity still taken in 1931 (L), compared to a publicity still of John Barrymore in full makeup for Svengali (1931) the same year (R).

Svengali (1931) was made at a high point during the lives and careers of both of its stars. At only 17 years old, Trilby O’Farrell was Marian Marsh’s first starring role, and despite her young age it would go on to become the part that gave her the most acclaim as well as the part that audiences would associate with the actress until her death in 2006. John Barrymore was 49 while filming Svengali (1931), and happily married for the third time to former costar Dolores Costello, which according to Marian Marsh (who was affectionately called “Maid Marian” by Barrymore) led to him not drinking at all on or offscreen, a rare feat for the actor who was usually closely linked with his alcoholism. Barrymore received high praise for his portrayal of the title character in the picture, with critic Martin Dickstein of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle writing that Barrymore “registers a personal triumph in the role” while also calling his performance “Brilliant… one of the best of his movie career”. Barrymore did not receive an Academy Award nomination for Svengali (1931) or any other film for that matter, but the film itself was nominated for two Oscars, one for Best Art Direction by Anton Grot and another for Best Cinematography by Barney McGill. In 2003, the character of Svengali was nominated for a spot on the American Film Institute’s list of the Top 100 Heroes and Villains list of the last hundred years. In my opinion Barrymore’s characterization was spot on, right down to the white contacts that he wore during the scenes in which Svengali hypnotizes Trilby. The contacts are actually considered to be the first ever worn onscreen, but despite John Barrymore complaining that they were clumsy and uncomfortable for him to wear, I feel just as he did that they also improved his performance. In fact, my only complaint is the painfully slow delivery of his lines. If he spoke at a normal pace, the running time of Svengali (1931) could have easily been cut in half. Marian Marsh was absolutely stunning to look at too, and I found myself unable to take my eyes off of her or her strikingly modern blonde locks during most of the film’s duration. It’s easy to say that the enjoyable parts of this film carry it from start to finish, and I would wholeheartedly recommend Svengali (1931) to any fan of horror or troubled relationships between a maestro and protégée like the one displayed in Phantom of the Opera, and especially to any fan of John Barrymore.

John Garfield: The Original Rebel Blogathon — My Analysis of Between Two Worlds (1944)

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Hello, everyone! I know I’ve been a bit busy these last few months, but I’m trying my best to squeeze in a few blogathon entries and perhaps a new series that I have in the works that my readers are sure to enjoy before I host my next blogathon (you can vote for what my blogathon will be about here). Today I’ll be beloved actor John Garfield on the day after what would have been his 104th birthday, and I’d like to start things off by thanking Phyllis of Phyllis Loves Classic Movies for the opportunity to write about such an underrated actor and film. So without further ado I’d like to wish Mr. Garfield a very happy belated birthday, and on with the post!

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Theatrical poster for Between Two Worlds (1944).

In this film, we meet a diverse group of people hoping to board an ocean liner for America at the height of World War Two. All seems to be well until an Austrian pianist and French Resistance veteran named Henry Bergner (Paul Henried) is denied passage for himself and his wife due to lack of an exit permit. Leaving the premises in despair, the audience soon sees his equally distraught wife Ann (Eleanor Parker) searching for Henry in the street amongst the chaos and uproar of a German air raid. She witnesses one of the many falling bombs destroy a car full of passengers on their way to the docks, and hurries home to find Henry attempting suicide by subjecting himself to gas exposure. Rather than putting forth much effort to save him, she intends to join him in death, and soon the two find themselves onboard the ship on which they were denied entry at the film’s beginning. Ann and Henry soon realize that they are dead and find themselves happy to spend an eternity together, especially after Henry finds that he can once again play piano after what was undoubtedly post-traumatic stress disorder caused his hands to shake uncontrollably. Ann also recognizes some of the other passengers on the ship as the very same people who were killed in the air raid, while Henry sees some of the people who were with him in the ship’s office when he was not allowed onboard. Eventually the audience meets all of the ship’s commuters, including cynical drinker and newspaper man Thomas Prior (played by our birthday boy John Garfield) and his girlfriend Maxine Russell (Faye Emerson), the rich and powerful Mr. Lingley (George Coulouris), the steward of the ship Scrubby (played by the always incredible character actor Edmund Gwenn), shy priest Reverend William Duke (Dennis King), sailor Pete Musick (George Tobias), wealthy yet mismatched couple Genevieve and Benjamin Cliveden-Banks (Isobel Elsom and Gilbert Emery), and a sweet elderly woman named Mrs. Midget (Sara Allgood).

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George Colouris, John Garfield, Faye Emerson, and Edmund Gwenn in Between Two Worlds (1944).

With the exception of Henry, Ann, and Scrubby, no one onboard knows that they are dead, and one by one we get a glimpse into each person’s lives, motivations, and desires. We find out that Mr. Lingley used his power in order to get Thomas Prior fired for writing unsavory articles about him, and while Thomas is drinking and blowing off steam about it, we also learn that his girlfriend Maxine doesn’t want to be with him anymore and begins to cozy up to Mr. Lingley due to his wealth and position. Meanwhile, Henry and Ann meet Pete Musick, and are about to tell him that he is deceased when Scrubby intercedes, telling the couple that the passengers need to find out in their own time and way. Everyone convenes at dinner, and the discussion of new beginnings upsets Ann so much that she flees the room in tears. Both friends and enemies are made onboard the ship, and eventually our star of the day’s character Thomas Prior is the fourth to find out that everyone is dead after overhearing Henry and Ann discussing it, though it seems that he was already beginning to form the suspicion of it himself. Already dumped at this point by his girlfriend Maxine for Mr. Lingley, Thomas decides to get his revenge by setting up a magic show which ultimately informs the rest of the travelers that they are lifeless as well, ending it in a “spectacular” finale in which Tomas shoots Mr. Lingley in the chest and doesn’t harm him at all. Soon the cat is out of the bag, and Scrubby informs everyone on the ship that they will be judged by the Examiner (Sydney Greenstreet) and sent ashore to their respective afterlifes according to his ruling. Will the commuters’ pleas or good behavior save their souls? Who will be sent to heaven, and who will be sent to hell?

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John Garfield and Paul Henried playing chess on the set of Between Two Worlds (1944).

The first thing I noticed about the film was its exceptional score, likely because I learned prior to watching that it was the favorite composition of famed film composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who also composed the scores for such classics as Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Constant Nymph (1943). I also caught onto many of the film’s references to another classic Warner Bros. film made two years prior to this one, Casablanca (1942), which also starred the man who is arguably the main actor in this film, Paul Henried. His character Henry Bergner (sounds like Bergman, doesn’t it?) is a Resistance fighter for the French, and discusses the discussion of exit visas for himself and his wife. Both pictures also starred Sydney Greenstreet, who portrays the Examiner in this film. All in all, I found nearly every performance to be excellent, and this film reminded me how much I adored John Garfield’s speaking voice. In 1944 his star power was a force to be reckoned with, but despite that, I do believe giving him top billing in this film was slightly misleading. Paul Henried and Eleanor Parker’s characters are definitely given the most screen time and attention of the cast, especially towards the beginning of the film, and Garfield’s character tends to come in like a dark horse throughout the middle and end of the picture, gluing together subplots and adding some realism when necessary.

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John Garfield in a promotional photo for Between Two Worlds (1944).

I appreciated his performance even more when I learned that Between Two Worlds (1944) appears to be the last film that John Garfield completed prior to the death of his daughter Katherine Hannah Garfield on March 18, 1945 at only six years old from a sudden allergic reaction, and the fact makes it even more chilling that this film dealt so much with death and the afterlife. Usually I dislike films with too many characters and different storylines moving forward at once, and if we’re being honest this film isn’t much of an exception. Nevertheless, I can’t say that the film as a whole is subpar, as I found it to be more of a mixed bag than I anticipated. On one hand, I really applaud Warner Bros. for gathering so many underappreciated supporting actors into one movie, especially the always too overlooked Henried, Parker, and Gwenn. Yet on the other, I think if the screenwriter of Between Two Worlds (1944) decided to nix some of the minor characters and put more focus on the plots of Henry, Ann, and Thomas, we would have seen a much better and more coherent film as a result. Still, despite my own personal misgivings, I would definitely still recommend it to anyone looking for a fantasy-based picture to watch for John Garfield’s birthday.

Five Top Five of December — Humphrey Bogart

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Here I am with another installment of my Five Top Five series for December! Today I’ll be ranking the best films of rugged tough guy Humphrey Bogart as my contribution to my first ever blogathon, the Humphrey Bogart Blogathon! You can find the blogathon’s announcement here, and you can find the rest of the entries here! Without further ado, on with the post!

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5. In A Lonely Place (1950)

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Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame in a scene from In A Lonely Place (1950).

First up we have one of the two films that I saw for the first time at last year’s Humphrey Bogart Film Festival and thoroughly enjoyed. In this vastly underrated noir, screenwriter Dixon Steele (Humphrey Bogart), who is known for his drunkenness and belligerence, is given the arduous task of adapting the latest bestseller to the screen. Unwilling to read the book himself, he takes home a lovely hat check girl and fan of the novel named Mildred Atkinson (Martha Stewart) to summarize it for him in his home. When the girl is found murdered that very same night Steele becomes the police’s prime suspect, and when he is unable to cough up an alibi his alluring neighbor Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame) interferes in his defense. Dixon and Laurel become unlikely friends and eventually unlikely lovers, but will their love be enough when he becomes violent and doubts of his innocence creep into her mind? Bogart plays against type as a completely unlikable character in a Hollywood film about Hollywood, which was the fourth film produced by Bogart’s own production company, Santana Productions. With stellar writing, acting on the parts of Bogie and Gloria Grahame, and directing on the part of Nicholas Ray (husband of our leading lady at the time and the man who would go on to helm Rebel Without A Cause (1955)), In A Lonely Place (1950) deserves an immense amount of credit and should go down in history as one of the more sublime and dark noirs of the genre.

4. The Maltese Falcon (1941)

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Bogie shows off the titular artifact in a publicity still for The Maltese Falcon (1941).

I know what you’re thinking; this film is far too much of a classic to be ranked so low on my list, but I must admit that this film took a few watches to fully understand the plot and arc of the story. Once I did understand, I developed an appreciation for it, but not quite as strong as my appreciation was and is for many of Bogart’s less convoluted pictures. This iconic movie is all about Sam Spade (Bogart), a private eye and half of Spade and Archer, a detective agency with his partner Miles (Jerome Cowan). One not so ordinary afternoon, a captivating brunette who goes by Miss Wonderly (Mary Astor) enters Spade’s office and begs for his help in finding her missing sister by sending one of the detectives to track the man who she’s supposedly in love with. Archer takes the case, trailing the man supposedly named Floyd Thursby, and winds up getting murdered in the process. With hardly any leads and nothing turning out like it seems on the surface, Sam Spade entangles himself in a web of crime and deceit, all revolving around a priceless artifact: The Maltese Falcon. Bogart puts his incredible “tough guy with a heart of gold” persona on full display in this film, and even though Spade makes some antihero-like decisions throughout its entirety, you know that he will swallow his pride and do the right thing in the end. This trope that resides in many of Humphrey Bogart’s roles is what really attracts my attention to his films, and this one is no exception. If you have a desire to check out some iconic noirs and see the likes of Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet, and many more talented character actors in their best roles, check out this film immediately.

3. The Caine Mutiny (1954)

Next we have my favorite of the films that I saw for the first time at the Humphrey Bogart Film Festival. Here we find newcomer Robert Francis in the lead as Ensign Willie Keith, a recent graduate who reports to the USS Caine, a beaten up minesweeper called “the rust bucket” by its untidy and unorganized crew. The commander, Lieutenant De Vriess (Tom Tully), is liked by everyone on the crew except for Keith, who believes that those on the ship could use some good discipline. Soon De Vriess is relieved by Phillip Francis Queeg (Humphrey Bogart), a far more uptight yet bizarre captain, who makes mistake after mistake and covers each one up to the best of his ability. Keith and two of his good friends onboard the ship, Lieutenants Steve Maryk and Tom Keefer (Van Johnson and Fred MacMurray), begin to doubt their captain’s sanity, and when Queeg makes a decision that Keith believes would put the Caine‘s entire crew in jeopardy, he takes it upon himself to call for a mutiny and relieve Queeg of his position as captain. Every single performance in this ensemble cast is noteworthy, but Humphrey Bogart truly outdoes himself in his role as the possibly demented captain of the Caine. The scene in which Queeg crumbles on the witness stand in an attempt to defend himself against the crew’s mutiny is especially awe-inspiring, and quite possibly the best acting of his career. If you want to see a superb war epic and acting at its finest, go see this rare color film of Humphrey Bogart’s on his birthday.

2. Dark Passage (1947)

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Bogie and Bacall share an embrace on the set of Dark Passage (1947).

Here we have another of Bogart’s dramas that doesn’t receive nearly enough acclaim. In it he plays the role of Vincent Parry, a convict on death row at San Quentin for the murder of his wife who makes a break for it at the start of the film. He doesn’t get very far at first, but luckily painter Irene Jansen (Lauren Bacall) comes to his rescue and smuggles him in her car to her home in San Francisco. There she explains that she felt sorry for Parry and had sat in for every day of his trial, comparing it to the trial and execution of her own father who she believed was innocent in the murder of her stepmother. Parry hides out in Jansen’s apartment and the two are instantly attracted to each other, but destiny comes banging on the door in the form of Madge Rapf (Agnes Moorehead), a shrill and vindictive woman who is an imposing friend of Irene’s and who testified against Vincent at the murder trial out of jealousy. Will Madge and fate interfere and throw Vincent back behind bars, or will he find a better life and escape the electric chair? I find this to be a thrilling masterpiece and the best of the four Bogie and Bacall films. The directing and cinematography Delmer Daves and Sidney Hickox are revolutionary as the entire first half of the film is ingeniously shot from the main character’s perspective. This trick gives us a glimpse into Parry’s life that no other method would, and gives us a gratuitous amount of shots of Lauren Bacall, which I could never complain about either. I would strongly recommend this film to any Bogie and Bacall fan.

1. Dead Reckoning (1947)

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Lizabeth Scott and Humphrey Bogart break for tea on the set of Dead Reckoning (1947).

My top pick is likely among my list of the most underrated films of all time. In the film Bogie plays Rip Murdock, an ex-paratrooper who tells most of his story in flashback. He and his best friend and fellow paratrooper Johnny Drake (William Prince) are taken by private plane to Washington, D. C. and surprised with the fact that Drake is to be presented with the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery and good deeds in battle. Before he is to receive it, however, Drake leaves town without a word. Determined to find out what happened and what caused his best friend’s disappearance, Murdock heads to his hometown. While there Rip digs a little deeper, and finds out that what was originally a disappearance has turned into a murder, and that Johnny was possibly involved in a murder of his own before he joined the army. To complicate matters even further, Rip finds the love of Johnny’s life, intriguing lounge singer Coral Chandler (Lizabeth Scott), and begins to fall in love with her himself. The exceptional writing by Oliver Garrett and Steve Fisher (based on a story by Gerald Addams and Sidney Biddell) is what truly makes this picture special. Almost every line is quotable in its own right, and while some of the acting may seem cliche or forced (on all counts with the exception of Bogie’s performance), you know that the dialogue spoken in the film is poetic and genuine. With beautiful and mysterious lines like “Go ahead, put Christmas in your eyes and keep your voice low. Tell me about paradise and all the things I’m missing. I haven’t had a good laugh since before Johnny was murdered.”, this film is chock full of romance and intrigue, and I classify it as a must see.

Five Top Five of December — Dorothy Lamour

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Hey, lovely readers! It’s finally nearing the end of the year, and I’m starting off the holiday season with the first installment of my Five Top Five series for December! I must admit I enjoy writing these, and they’re an especially good respite in between blogathons, so I’m happy to announce that the series will continue for as long as my typing hands can hold out! Today I’ll be talking about Dorothy Lamour’s stunning career in films on what would have been her 102nd birthday. While I usually write exclusively about a star’s best roles, I think this list would be better if I focused this time on her best films, as she nearly always played second banana to the likes of Crosby, Hope, and many other leading men. So without further ado, on with the post!

5. Johnny Apollo (1940)

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Dorothy Lamour and Tyrone Power in a publicity photo for Johnny Apollo (1940).

While I’m sure that I caught at least one of the great Road movies in my youth, Johnny Apollo (1940) is the first Dorothy Lamour film that I distinctly remember watching, and if you’re a regular reader of my blog, I’m sure you know the reason: it also stars none other than my all-time favorite actor, Tyrone Power. Power is really the star of the story as Robert Cain Jr., son of wealthy Wall Street broker Robert Cain Sr. (Edward Arnold), who at the start of the film gets arrested for embezzlement. The man gets a hefty sentence of thirty years per charge despite everyone (even the judge) believing that he doesn’t deserve it, while notorious gangster Mickey Dwyer (Lloyd Nolan) gets a measly five years the very same day, as it was the maximum sentence for his current crime. Robert Jr. is distant towards his father at first but soon has the desire to set him free, so he tracks down the attorney of Mickey Dwyer, Emmett T. Brennan (Charley Grapewin), who bent the law in Dwyer’s favor to already get him released from prison on parole. In an effort to get the same treatment for his father, Robert Jr. changes his name to Johnny Apollo and gets himself caught up in Dwyer’s life, becoming his partner in crime and winning over the affections of his girlfriend, Lucky DuBarry, played by our star of the day Dorothy Lamour. Despite the forced chemistry between Lucky and Johnny towards the beginning and no real explanation for her to be with Mickey in the first place, I thought this was a fine film, and Dorothy’s array of songs held my attention throughout the duller parts, especially the endearing “Dancing for Nickels and Dimes”, for which she’s dressed in rags and wearing her best smile. I would definitely recommend this picture if you’re into gangster films and want to catch Dorothy in one of her lesser-known roles.

4. My Favorite Brunette (1947)

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Frequent costars Dorothy and Bob Hope getting close on the set of My Favorite Brunette (1947).

I could never leave off this marvelous spy comedy that paired frequent costars Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in a film that wasn’t part of the Road pictures. The film’s events are told in flashback by Bob Hope’s character, who is on death row at San Quentin awaiting his execution, and Dorothy portrays Baroness Maria Montay who appears to be in the middle of a great conspiracy as she attempts to find her uncle (or husband?) who has gone missing. She pleads for help from the man whom she thinks is private detective Sam McCloud (the real Sam is played in a great cameo by Alan Ladd), but she’s really getting help from baby photographer Ronnie Jackson (Hope), who has set up shop across the hall from McCloud and is looking after his office while he’s away on a case. However, Jackson has always aspired to become a detective himself and sees this mistake as his golden opportunity to step into the detective’s shoes. Soon he gets caught up in a convoluted web of deception and intrigue, and like any amateur detective (especailly one played by Bob Hope in a heavily typecast buffoon role), he has no idea what he’s doing and the enemy ends up leading him exactly where they want him to go, including straight into a frame-up for murder. I adore this lighthearted comedy, and there are many humorous references and ingenious cameos throughout. Of course Lamour and Hope couldn’t do a film without Bing Crosby, and I was so delighted to see him at the very end of the picture. Bob Hope wanted him to appear in the film so badly that he paid Crosby $5,000 out of his own pocket to do so, and Crosby proceeded to donate the money to charity. If you haven’t seen this public domain classic and are a fan of the famous Road trio, you certainly should!

3. Road to Singapore (1940)

Finally I include the first of the seven Road films with Dorothy, Bing, and Bob. In this particular gem, Crosby and Hope play Josh and Ace, two playboys with a love of the sea. Josh comes from an illustrious family who used ships to create their enormous wealth, and his father (Charles Coburn) wants him to pick up where he leaves off. Everything’s been planned out for him, including his home, career, and even his fiancé, but Josh wants no part of it. All he cares about is being on the ocean and exploring the world with his best friend Ace, who’s in a jam himself when the family of his previous fling insists that he marries her. Rather than face their problems head on, the two flee onboard a ship to the South Sea Islands, ending up in (where else?) Singapore. At first things seem to be going well for the two of them as they find a comfortable home and get by for weeks without employment. However, when they run out of food and their home becomes a mess, they find that they need the help of Mira (Dorothy Lamour), a local dancer who is attempting to flee an abusive relationship. Mira is more than happy to tag along and help Josh and Ace survive, but troubles begin when they reach the end of their financial rope, when three becomes a crowded love triangle, and when Mira’s former beau Caesar (Anthony Quinn) goes on the hunt for her. This is a comedy for the ages, and almost a perfect one as far as classics go. As I watched it I prayed that some of its delightful gags would be repeated in the other films, and luckily many of them were. It has been and will always be one of my favorites, and the only downsides that come to mind are that this film doesn’t include nearly as many fourth wall breaks that make the rest of the series so funny, and I always found it sad that Bob never got the girl. Despite these drawbacks, I strongly recommend watching every film in this series if you like adventure, laughs, and these three.

2. Road to Morocco (1942)

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Dorothy and Bob looking glamorous in a scene from Road to Morocco (1942).

The second and final Road film to appear on my list is actually the third, Road to Morocco (1942). Originally there weren’t supposed to be three Road pictures, there wasn’t even supposed to be one, but this trifecta of comedy was such a smash that it had to be continued, especially in this film that was the first especially written for the series. In it our heroes are in the roles of Jeff Peters (Bing Crosby) and Orville “Turkey” Jackson (Bob Hope), two friends stranded on a raft in the Mediterranean who eventually end up in Morocco. Once again the two find themselves struggling to get by, starving after spending weeks adrift as castaways. Jeff takes matters into his own hands, selling Turkey as a slave to a stranger to pay for their meal and planning to find and rescue him later on. Little does he know that Turkey needs no rescuing, however, as he has been sold to the alluring Princess Shalmar (Dorothy Lamour) as her soon-to-be husband. Jealous of his friend’s new position, Jeff attempts to woo the princess himself, singing to her and quickly getting her to fall for him. It is soon revealed, however, that a soothsayer has told her that her first husband will die a horrible death within a week, and she plans to go through with her marriage to Turkey so she can get rid of him and presumably marry her true love, Mullay Kasim (once again played by Anthony Quinn, making him the only other regular actor to appear in the Road films). But can Turkey be saved? Is Kasim her true love after all? So far this is undoubtedly my favorite film of the series, as it has the most memorable songs and seamlessly blends both the older bits of the previous two films and the newer and funnier fourth wall breaks throughout. The ending also makes this film stand head and shoulders above the rest, and I couldn’t recommend a better picture among the seven. If you watch only one Road film in your life, make sure this is it.

1. The Hurricane (1937)

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Dorothy and Jon Hall in The Hurricane (1937).

I admire Dorothy Lamour for so much of her work, and I wanted to make certain that my number one choice wasn’t a Road film, as I believe I have talked about her role in the series enough. Luckily I admire one of her more dramatic parts more than enough to give it the top spot. In this film Dorothy plays native Polynesian girl Marama, who marries fellow islander Terangi (Jon Hall), the best sailor on the island of Manukura, and quite possibly the world. As quickly as they wed, however, Terangi has to leave as first mate on a voyage to Tahiti. In a lovable chain of events Terangi tries to smuggle his new bride onboard in a potato sack, but the captain quickly threatens to demote him if Marama doesn’t swim back to the shore. Wanting the best for her husband she agrees, patiently waiting for him back on land, but unfortunately fate has other plans. Meanwhile in Tahiti, a wealthy bully picks a fight with Terangi in a pub, leading the young sailor to fight back and knock the man out. He gets a six month jail sentence, which almost everyone involved says is extreme, but Terangi, not knowing much about first world law practices, attempts to escape from jail every chance that he gets, adding more and more time onto his sentence and eventually increasing it to sixteen years. Finally after eight years Terangi escapes for good, taking a canoe and rowing nearly four hundred miles back home to Manukura, where his wife and daughter have been waiting patiently for his return. But will it be happily ever after, or will those who want to keep Terangi confined have their last laugh? If we’re being honest, leading man Jon Hall really carries the picture, withstanding real flogging, practically real hurricanes, and even changing his name to highlight the fact that he was the nephew of the author of the original novel for his role, but Dorothy Lamour’s performance certainly doesn’t go unnoticed. She expresses a wide variety of very real emotion, from adorable newlywed to despondent mother and wife. In all honesty, I always felt sorry that Dorothy has been remembered only for the roles in which she dons her trademark sarong, but if all of those pictures are half as good as this one, it makes me wish that she appeared in it more often.

Five Top Five of November — Gene Tierney

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Hello, everyone! I’m back with another installment of my ‘Five Top Five’ series, this time honoring the alluring Gene Tierney on her 96th birthday! Here I’ll be listing my top five films of hers, describing the plots, and discussing why I enjoy the films. As I mentioned in my first post in the series honoring Vivien Leigh, be sure to let me know if you enjoy these and I’ll be sure to continue the series with another Five Top Five of December!

5. Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

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Gene and Dana Andrews, together for a second time in Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950).

This was the first film that I ever reviewed on my blog (you can check out the full review here), and because of that it holds a special place in my heart. Tierney portrays Morgan Taylor, ex-wife of Ken Paine and also unknowingly his decoy in an illegal dice game. It doesn’t take long for her to take a liking to leading man Mark Dixon, a violent but effective detective who has already been warned by his superior that his bad cop attitude will get him in trouble, but still allows his boss’ premonition to come true when he accidentally murders a suspect who he is attempting to question. Fearing for his integrity and career Dixon attempts to cover up the killing, but the plot thickens when he learns that his main squeeze Morgan’s father is to be charged with the crime. Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) is a gripping noir that walks the tightrope of right and wrong and reunites Gene Tierney with her director and leading man from Laura (1944), Otto Preminger and Dana Andrews, respectively. If you enjoy that classic at all, I would definitely recommend its equally intriguing, grittier counterpart, and the only reason why it’s so low on my list is because Gene is hardly anywhere to be found in the film.

4. The Razor’s Edge (1946)

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Gene and Tyrone Power in a publicity still for The Razor’s Edge (1946).

If you know me well enough, you should know that I couldn’t possibly make a list of great Gene Tierney films without including one of the three that she starred in with my favorite actor, Tyrone Power. In this melodrama our birthday girl stars as socialite Isabel Bradley, fiancée of Larry Darrell. Larry isn’t as impressed with the glamour of the upper class as she is, which leads him onto a spiritual ten-year journey to find himself, losing Isabel in the process. When he returns, however, Isabel seems to be still in love with her former flame and wants to be with him despite already being married to a common friend of theirs. To make matters worse, she becomes intensely jealousand spiteful when Larry begins to fall in love with Sophie, another friend in their circle who fell on hard times after he left town. I truly admire Gene’s performance in this film, and she displays her stunning range as she reveals the darker side of Isabel’s personality. It’s no wonder that author of the original novel W. Somerset Maugham placed her at the top of his list of actresses for the role. If you enjoy pictures that include stellar acting performances and a flair for the dramatic, definitely include this film in your Gene Tierney marathon today.

3. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

In this turn-of-the-century romance directed by Joseph L Mankewicz, Gene plays Lucy Muir, a widow desperately looking for a seaside home to rent so she can ditch her late husband’s rude family members. She quickly sets her sights on a picturesque manor and pays no attention to her real estate agent’s warnings that the home is haunted, even after finding out the truth for herself. Slowly but surely Lucy befriends the residing ghost, cantankerous sea captain Daniel Gregg, and the two develop an extraordinary romance as she attempts to assist him in writing his autobiography. Of course the book is considered a masterpiece and is picked up by a world-famous publisher, but along with the notoriety it also brings a suitor, a married children’s author by the name of Miles Fairley. The love that Lucy and the captain share is challenged when Miles enters the picture, and it makes both parties question their relationship and even themselves. I was a fan of this movie ever since I read the plot, and once I actually watched the film I certainly wasn’t disappointed. I doubt that there are many romantic films out there more unique than this one, and I would strongly recommend giving it a try if you enjoy well-written sentimental pictures with a twist like I do. If you do decide to catch this tearjerker, stay on the lookout for an appearance from a young Natalie Wood, who portrays Lucy’s daughter!

2. Leave Her to Heaven (1945)

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Gene in her most devilish scene in Leave Her to Heaven (1945).

Gene Tierney recieved her first and only Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Ellen Berent Harland in this film, yet another villainous socialite who just like in The Razor’s Edge (1946) becomes obsessively attached to the man she loves. Unlike her role of Isabel Bradley, however, it is more apparent that Ellen is mentally disturbed and willing to go to greater and more sinister lengths to achieve her goals. The object of Ellen’s obsession is novelist Richard Harland, played by Cornel Wilde, who coincidentally looks similar to Ellen’s deceased father and the previous victim of her preoccupation. To make matters worse her former fiancé Russell Quinton and her sister Ruth get involved in the mix and are eventually caught in the crossfire of the film’s strange femme fatale. What stood out to me the most in this film is the striking use of color created by Natalie Kalmus, art direction by Maurice Lansford and Lyle Wheeler, and most of all cinematography, helmed by Leon Shamroy of Planet of the Apes (1968) and Cleopatra (1963) fame. The visuals alone make this film worth watching, but those combined with the compelling story and characters are what make this film a classic among fans of film noir, and it’s one of the only color films to recieve such acclaim in the genre. Add it to your list of Tierney films to watch, and you won’t regret it.

1. Laura (1944)

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Gene looking radiant in a publicity still for Laura (1944).

Could I have really put any other Gene Tierney film at the top spot? Laura (1944) is the pinnacle of film noir, and quite possibly of filmmaking in general, and in it our birthday girl portrays the title character Laura Hunt, a (can you guess?) socialite who is found murdered at the beginning of the film. The first half is shown in flashback as her dearest friend Waldo Lydecker, played by Clifton Webb, reveals the story of her life to detective Mark MacPherson, in what I consider to be among Dana Andrews’ finest performances. As Mark learns more and more about the homicide victim in an attempt to solve her murder, he begins to imagine himself with her and finds her to be unlike any “broad” that he has ever known. Tensions rise when Laura’s fiancé Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) catches wind of this, and suspense builds into a thrilling conclusion of who exactly killed Laura Hunt. Despite the film’s raving success, Gene never gave herself much credit for it: “I never felt my own performance was much more than adequate. I am pleased that audiences still identify me with Laura, as opposed to not being identified at all. Their tributes, I believe, are for the character — the dreamlike Laura— rather than any gifts I brought to the role. I do not mean to sound modest. I doubt that any of us connected with the movie thought it had a chance of becoming a kind of mystery classic, or enduring beyond its generation. If it worked, it was because the ingredients turned out to be right.” And right they certainly were, especially on the part of the film’s score, composed by David Raksin, which is revered even today, and even Vincent Price believed Laura (1944) to be his finest film. Needless to say, if you’re reading this and haven’t seen this masterpiece, you absolutely must.

Five Top Five of November — Vivien Leigh

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Hey, classic film fans! I know it’s been quite a while since I have updated this blog, but I was unexpectedly ill. I know I was unable to do a couple of the blogathons that I signed up for, but I have one of them mostly completed and I’m back and announcing some original content for this month: my Five Top Five series! On five various classic film stars’ birthdays throughout November, I’ll be ranking my top five favorite films of theirs and offering my recommendations. I’m obviously starting today with the incomporable Vivien Leigh! I sincerely hope you all enjoy my lists, and if they’re well-recieved I may even make a Five Top Five for December!

5. That Hamilton Woman (1941)

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Birthday girl Vivien Leigh looking lovelier than ever in That Hamilton Woman (1941).

This was birthday girl Vivien’s third and final collaboration with her offscreen love Laurence Olivier, and quite easily the best of the three. Vivien portrays Lady Emma Hamilton, mistress to Lord Horatio Nelson, and ironically this was the only film that Leigh and Olivier made while they were actually married. The film has everything from romance to action, and loads of drama. While it truly is a masterpiece as far as art direction and cinematography go, it fails to capture the attention of the audience during its entire two-hour running time. The film can hardly be blamed, though, considering the fact that it takes place during the span of twenty-five years, and it was directed by Alexander Korda, who often sacrificed excitement in his films for the sake of asthetic. All in all, I would say that if you’re a diehard fan of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier and don’t mind some dull moments, I would strongly recommend giving this historical melodrama a go today!

4. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

I’m going to begin this one with an unpopular opinion: When it comes to Vivien’s most famous roles, A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) has always ranked pretty low in my mind. Truthfully I would probably have placed it last on my list were it not for the fact that it’s truly a mesmerizing film with superb acting from everyone involved. Even in my youth I held a distaste for Marlon Brando’s role of Stanley Kowalski and Vivien’s infamous portrayal of Blance DuBois. Both seemed to be unlikable characters to me, but as time went on I learned more about the actors personal lives, and how separate they were from the fictitious characters that the two of them played onscreen. In fact, I would cite this film as one of the few that really served as hurdles for me in learning that just because a character in a film is unlikable, it does not make the film poor as a whole. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen this picture since I came to that realization, but I would strongly recommend it to anyone who is even remotely a fan of Vivien’s and wants to see her acting prowess in all its glory.

3. The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961)

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Vivien and Warren Beatty make a steamy pair in The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961).

Among Leigh’s final films we find another one of her gems in this Tennessee Williams adaptation. She plays the aging actress Mrs. Karen Stone, who accompanies her husband on a trip to Rome only for him to pass away during the flight. Karen ends up making the best of it once she sets her eyes on the youthful Italian Paolo di Leo in what was Warren Beatty’s first starring role. Despite the fact that Leigh has the lead, it’s difficult not to want to pay more attention to her character’s captivating lover, and it’s no wonder because Beatty beat out dozens of other actors for the part. This film has ranked among my favorites since I first watched it years ago, and I still believe that it truly shows how wrong some of the studios were in their reluctance to cast aging actresses. It’s even quite depressing to see her taking on such a brilliant and challenging part while knowing that she only starred in one more film after the completion of this one, but it’s a must for any fan of Vivien’s who wishes to scratch beneath the surface of some of her more glamorous parts.

2. Gone with the Wind (1939)

I know what you’re thinking. This is a perfect movie if there ever was one, and I quite agree, but there is one more film of Vivien’s that I find to be perfect as well that holds just a bit larger of a place in my heart. Still, I intend to give credit where credit is due, and Gone with the Wind (1939) is a masterpiece. Vivien is superb in her breakout role (one that she beat out hundreds of other legendary actresses for), and it makes me both sorry and glad that she took the part of the notorious Scarlett O’Hara because she was rejected for the role of Cathy in Laurence Olivier’s Wuthering Heights (1939). Her acting in this and many other of her great works show that she would have excelled in both parts, but the world certainly will never forget her Oscar-winning performance. Of course the supporting cast is incomporable as well, and the film won eight Academy Awards in all. No birthday marathon or salute to Vivien Leigh would be complete without this four-hour epic that truly defines what it means to be a classic.

1. Waterloo Bridge (1940)

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Vivien and Robert Taylor melting everyone’s hearts in Waterloo Bridge (1940).

Here’s a classic that I find is hardly talked about nowadays. In Vivien’s first film after making Gone with the Wind (1939), she portrays demure ballet dancer Myra Lester, who in an almost two-hour flashback gets swept up into a whirlwind romance with a British officer during World War I. A miscommunication leads the blissful couple into dark and dangerous territory, however, when Myra is led to believe that her fiancé is dead. It appears considering the release date that this was supposed to be an early source of comparison for World War II, and the absolute beauty of the story, screenplay, and cinematography makes it a tough act to follow. I think it’s a real shame that this film is among Leigh’s lesser known ones, and she pairs with Robert Taylor so perfectly that it makes me wish that the two of them had been onscreen lovers more often. It does take a couple of watches for the audience to really build connections and emotions for the characters, but I would absolutely recommend this flawless picture to any fan of romantic dramas and our birthday girl, as it is certainly among my favorites of all time.

Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon: My Analysis of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)

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I would like to begin by thanking the two gracious hosts of this wonderful blogathon, Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis of Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate the birthday of such an iconic actress, and it’s easy to see that both of you worked very hard to make this possible! I’m incredibly honored to participate in this blogathon, I wish Olivia an incredibly happy hundredth birthday, and without further ado, on with the post!

After the resounding success of Gone With the Wind, our birthday girl Olivia de Havilland had hoped that Warner Brothers head Jack Warner would recognize her star potential and offer her more prominent and challenging roles. However, realizing that he could have a diva in the making he decided to try putting her in her place and giving her the thankless role of Penelope Gray, Queen Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, presenting her with a measly third billing below the title and the names of stars Bette Davis and Errol Flynn. Despite the fact that Olivia was hardly present during the entirety of the film, it allowed her to be paired with some of her most frequent costars and collaborators. It marked her sixth of nine films with love interest Errol Flynn, her second of four films with Bette Davis, and her eighth of eleven films with director Michael Curtiz.

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Theatrical poster for The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). Notice de Havilland’s paltry billing below the title.

Interestingly, the artists involved with the film faced off almost as much as the characters did. This was Flynn’s sixth collaboration with Curtiz, and it appeared that his dislike for the director grew more intense with each passing film that they made together. To make matters worse, Bette Davis had initially campaigned for Laurence Olivier to be cast opposite her, and felt that Flynn was unfit to speak the blank verse of period pieces like The Private Lives. Her distaste for him climaxed when they were rehearsing a scene in which Elizabeth slaps Essex hard across the face, and Davis decided to slap him for real. Errol took the blow but vowed to retaliate if Bette chose to slap him again once the cameras started rolling. Luckily the take that was used in the film was an artificial slap, but it wasn’t until decades later that her opinion changed of his performance. While watching the film with costar Olivia, she exclaimed, “I was wrong, wrong, wrong. Flynn was brilliant!”. Just like Errol Flynn, it took decades for Bette Davis to change her opinion of Olivia de Havilland as well. Olivia had been a fan of Bette’s long before she first starred with her in It’s Love I’m After, but she was later quoted saying, “We had to make three pictures together for her to warm up to me.” while Bette replied, “I was probably jealous of you, you were so damn good looking.”. The two remained close friends until Davis’ death in 1981.

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Our birthday girl Olivia de Havilland looking as lovely and regal as ever as Lady Penelope Gray in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).

The first thing that I noticed as I watched the film was how astoundingly beautiful both the cinematography and Technicolor were. The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex truly looks like a storybook in every sense of the word from the ornate costumes designed by Orry-Kelly to the obviously artifical foliage seen in the sets. De Havilland looks more like a Disney princess than a lady-in-waiting, while Davis looks surprisingly accurate as Queen Elizabeth II, and it is said that Davis herself took drastic steps to make the look possible, including shaving her eyebrows and two inches off of her hairline in order to achieve the illusion of baldness underneath her lavish wigs. She later mentioned that her eyebrows never grew back correctly, and that she had to use an eyebrow pencil to fill them in afterwards.

The story itself, based on the 1930 play Elizabeth the Queen by Maxwell Anderson, was obviously a poor depiction of Elizabeth’s reign. In fact, Flynn’s character was a cousin to Queen Elizabeth in reality, and many other aspects of the film appear to be fabricated. The film is entertaining in parts nonetheless, yet incredibly frustrating as both of the main characters are intensely opinionated and fight like cats and dogs the entire time, which leads to their relationship’s ultimate demise. Both Flynn and Davis seemed to portray themselves in the picture, which unfortunately only added to its inaccuracies. The only actor in the film who gave a truly unique performance was Olivia de Havilland, portraying a madly jealous and infatuated Penelope Gray who had the audacity to butt heads with and sabotage her queen at every turn.

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Frequent costars Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).

Despite how obviously immature her character seemed to be in her love for Essex, I still rooted for de Havilland to end up with Flynn in the end (but don’t we all?). I found myself on the edge of my seat waiting for her character to appear only to be let down as I sat through what seemed to be an hour and forty minutes of the Bette Davis show. Still, there were a couple of other supporting performances worthy of a mention, like Vincent Price and Nanette Fabray, both of whom I was delighted to see in practically cameo appearances. All in all, the film is a magnificent spectacle visually with a borderline fictional story that somehow managed to keep my attention, but if you’re looking to watch an Olivia de Havilland film on her hundredth birthday, I would recommend that you look elsewhere as she is practically nowhere to be seen.