The Franchot Tone Blogathon: Phantom Lady (1944)

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Hi, everyone! I’m so happy to be back with what will likely be my last post for the month. Today I’ll be celebrating one of the most underrated actors in classic film, Franchot Tone! As always, I’d like to start off by thanking the gracious host of this blogathon, Finding Franchot, for dedicating an entire blog to celebrating such an iconic person and giving us all something really great to write about. I wish your first blogathon all the success possible, and I hope that it could become an annual one in the future! Without further ado, on with the post!

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An original theatrical poster for Phantom Lady (1944).

The first half or so of Phantom Lady (1944) follows engineer Scott Henderson (Alan Curtis), who prior to the events of the film had an argument with his wife Marcella when she turned down the opportunity to go to the theater with him. Despondent that his marriage isn’t working out, he heads to the nearest bar, where he befriends a mysterious woman wearing a daring black hat. The two decide to go to the theater instead, where they have a fun time despite getting stared at by the skirt-chasing drummer of the show’s band (played by the iconic supporting noir actor Elisha Cook, Jr.), and despite the star of the show Estela Monteiro (Aurora Miranda, whom I found out was the sister of Carmen Miranda) becoming infuriated with the woman for wearing the same hat as she was. Scott and the nameless woman part ways, and upon reentering his home, he discovers that his wife Marcella has been strangled to death by one of her husband’s neckties and suddenly he’s being questioned by a mob of detectives. Though it’s obvious that he is innocent of the murder from the start, he is unable to cough up an alibi that suits the police. The next day is spent with Inspector Burgess (Thomas Gomez) as the two of them attempt to retrace his steps from the night before. The bartender, the taxi driver who took Scott and the phantom lady to the theater, and Estela Monteiro all claim to have seen Scott, but not the woman that he was with, while Scott himself can hardly remember what she looked like. Due to circumstantial evidence, a judge and jury rule Scott guilty of Marcella’s murder and sentence him to death row.

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Director Robert Siodmak, Ella Raines, and Franchot Tone on the set of Phantom Lady (1944).

Scott’s faithful and lovestruck secretary of fifteen years Carol (Ella Raines) remains by his side throughout the trial, and when he informs her that he has only eighteen days left before he is executed, Carol begins to conduct an investigation of her own. She starts by essentially stalking the bartender, occupying the same booth at the bar night after night for weeks before one day attempting to follow him home. It appears that she has terrified him to the point of attempted murder, as we see him almost push her onto the tracks of the train that they are both waiting for, yet his plan is foiled by the appearance of another passenger. Finally he confronts Carol as she continues to follow him, questioning her motives and attempting to get physically violent with her before strangers interfere and restrain the man. Terrified once again, he runs out into the street and is run over. After the bartender’s death Carol finally gets some help with her investigation in the form of Inspector Burgess, who originally conducted the investigation against Scott, but now Burgess too feels that he is innocent. Carol and the inspector move onto the next witness, the drummer at the show named Cliff, who they plan to get talking by having Carol disguise herself as a trashy dame named Jeannie hoping to earn his affection. The plan works, and after a few drinks and some incredibly impressive drumming that’s said to have been dubbed in by Buddy Rich, one of the most famous jazz drummers of all time, Cliff reveals that he was paid $500 to say that he had never seen the lady that Scott was with that night. Soon afterwards the rest of Carol’s plan is foiled when Cliff finds a police file on him in “Jeannie’s” purse that was undoubtedly supplied by Inspector Burgess, and Carol flees Cliff’s apartment.

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Ella Raines and Franchot Tone in a publicity still for Phantom Lady (1944).

After she leaves, the real murderer is revealed. We find out that Scott’s best friend Jack Marlow (Franchot Tone) was the one who really killed Marcella with Scott’s necktie, and due to Cliff’s loose lips about being paid off Jack strangles him in the same fashion. Soon Jack himself joins Carol and the inspector’s investigation in order to derail it and kill everyone who can help clear Scott’s name, but will the truth be revealed in the end? The most interesting part about this plot is that Jack is revealed to be the true killer about halfway into the film, unlike most mysteries and noirs that save that juicy tidbit for the end. The choice that Phantom Lady (1944) made added some much needed suspense to the film, and every time you see Carol or the inspector on the right track or Jack closing in on them, you really feel like you’re at the edge of your seat and the question is no longer who the killer is, but when the protagonists will find out who the killer is, and if they can before it’s too late. Unfortunately what the plot has in originality and structure, it lacks in just about everything else.

The entire movie supports itself on the search for the phantom lady that Scott was with the night of the murder, but there are two main issues with that pursuit of an alibi:

  1. The first witness questioned the morning after the murder, the bartender, claims that he saw only Scott just after 8pm, after the murder had already taken place. Therefore Carol and the inspector should not have been searching for the lady who Scott spent time with during and after his visit to the bar, but trying to find out where Scott was during the murder so they could form a substantial alibi.
  2. Even if Scott was supposedly with the woman at the bar or the theater during the murder, the fact that the bartender, the taxi driver, the drummer, and the star of the show all saw Scott (which they claimed that they did) should have been more than enough of an alibi for him, and whether they saw who he was with or not should have been irrelevant.
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Franchot Tone and Ella Raines appearing in the most suspenseful scene of Phantom Lady (1944).

Still somehow the entire film was built up around finding this woman, and there lies my biggest problem with it. I must admit that I’m not always thinking while watching films and most plot twists really do end up shocking me, but the fact that I figured all of this out before the film even finished should be a testament to how obvious these mistakes were. Desite the obvious plotholes I really did enjoy Phantom Lady (1944) as a whole, though, and was really impressed with the amount of suspense as well as the performances given. Alan Curtis wasn’t top billed for his portrayal of Scott Henderson, but he really held his own as the main character in the forty-five minute timespan until Franchot Tone first appears onscreen. The fact that anyone can receive top billing when their character doesn’t enter for the majority of the film is baffling to me, but I have to admit that I adored Franchot Tone playing a psychotic villain.  It was very much against type for the charismatic romantic idol of the 1930s, and it made me wish that he had done more challenging roles like this one. Before watching this film I had already seen Ella Raines in the B-movie The Second Face (1950), and after seeing her in such a memorable performance for such an inconsequential picture I was even more excited to see her in this film. She didn’t disappoint, and the beauty and brains that she brought to the role proved to be essential to this movie as a whole. All in all I believe that this film can be easily enjoyed if the audience doesn’t care whether the plot makes sense or not, but if it did, it would probably receive a perfect score from me that I just can’t give otherwise.

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.

The Alfred Hitchcock Blogathon 2016: My Analysis of Marnie (1964)

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I would like to begin by thanking the host of this wonderful blogathon, Eva of Classics and Craziness, for arranging such an interesting tribute for the birthday of such an iconic director.  It’s easy to see that you worked very hard to make this possible, and I’m incredibly honored to participate. So, without further ado, I wish Hitch a very happy 117th birthday wherever he may be, and on with the post!

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Tippi Hedren post-transformation in Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964).

The film begins on an enthusiastically high note as infuriated businessman Sidney Strut, played by the usually lovable Martin Gabel, raves to two detectives about the burglary that has just taken place in his establishment, and he is certain that his raven-haired former employee named Marion Holland is the culprit. Meanwhile, the camera also follows a strange woman whom we soon find out is the thief in question, but not only is the name Marion Holland one of her many aliases, she is also a chameleon who presently becomes the Hitchcock blonde that we all know and love. Soon we are taken into the life of the habitual thief Marnie, who works for businesses under false pretenses, robs them blind, and uses the money to aid her invalid mother.

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Tippi Hedren looking lovelier than ever, seen here with Alfred Hitchcock promoting Marnie (1964).

The complex and challenging title role of Marnie became a difficult one for Hitchock and the studio to cast. It started off as a no-brainer, as the famed director had planned to give the role to just as famed actress-turned-princess Grace Kelly. However, the subjects of Monaco did not want to see Her Highness portraying a compulsive thief, making love to Sean Connery rather than their prince, and spending her time in Hollywood when her duty was to her country. Thus, Kelly had to turn down the role, and soon it became one of the most coveted parts in Hollywood at the time. Famous names like Eva Marie Saint, Lee Remick, Susan Hampshire, Claire Griswold, and Vera Miles all threw their hats in the ring but soon lost out once Hitch offered the role to newcomer Tippi Hedren, who was filming The Birds (1963) at the time, as he was quite impressed (though some, including Hedren herself, would say obsessed) with her performance in the film. As many fans of both Hitchock and Hedren know, this was the second and final film that the two made together due to the alleged emotional and sexual abuse that the director inflicted upon her during the filming of both pictures. After the filming of Marnie (1964) ended, he famously held Hedren to her seven-year contract to him, refused all offers that came her way, and essentially ended her career in pictures.

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Hitch himself, seen here with Diane Baker and Sean Connery, directing Tippi Hedren in Marnie (1964).

Once the lead actress was cast, there were still many bumps in the road before the cameras began rolling. Hitchcock had first began the creation of the script in 1961 with Joseph Stefano, screenwriter of the pièce de résistance of Hitchcock’s works, Psycho (1960). He wrote extensive notes but was shelved along with the rest of the film’s progress once Grace Kelly turned down the title role. Again the famed director picked up the original novel during the filming of The Birds (1963), and gave screenwriter Evan Hunter the job of working on Marnie (1964). Despite their past collaborations, Hunter and Hitch bumped heads over the novel’s rape scene, and Hunter begged the director to cut it out. Instead he decided to cut Hunter out, and replaced him with Jay Presson Allen, the third and final screenwriter who worked on the film. She later told her predecessor Hunter, “You just got bothered by the scene that was his reason for making the movie. You just wrote your ticket back to New York.” Once the final draft was finished and the picture was ready to be shot, one last hindrance occurred when three days prior to the first day of filming, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and filming was postponed due to the nation’s mourning.

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Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery in a promotional still for Marnie (1964).

Eventually Marnie (1964) was filmed, however, and thus completed what many consider to be the last great picture of Alfred Hitchcock. The first time that I watched it I was completely in awe of Hedren and Connery, and despite the fact that Grace Kelly is my favorite actress of all time, I think she would not have done this particular film justice. Tippi has a rebellious and wild aura about her, and despite her beautiful and irreproachable exterior, it’s easy to believe that she could be inherently bad. Connery’s character Mark Rutledge, on the other hand, is far more difficult to place on a scale of good and evil. Yes, he commits dastardly deeds, invades Marnie’s privacy and disregards her consent on multiple occasions, but many audience members (with screenwriter Allen herself among them) believe that he redeems himself by the film’s end, always had Marnie’s best interests at heart, and forced her to face her past as well as her fears.

In retrospect, I find that the film is flawed in many regards and many of Hedren’s actions seemed needlessly exaggerated and forced, but outside of that I truly believe Marnie (1964) is a vastly underrated classic that deals with vices as well as facing one’s own fears. It dealt with many tender subjects for a film of its time and deserves to be applauded based on that fact alone. As problematic as it may be to film buffs due to the offscreen relationship of Alfred Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren and also due to the startling and delicate topics within the film like rape, prostitution, and psychological abuse, this film earns its place among Hitchcock’s many triumphs, and to silence the picture’s negativity and controversy would be like denying that those events that occurred inside and outside of the movie ever existed.

Gene Tierney’s 95 Birthday Blogathon: My Analysis of Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

NOTE: This post was actually posted on my Tumblr on November 19, 2015. I am just putting the post here for reference!

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I would like to begin by once again thanking Simoa for hosting this wonderful blogathon and paying homage to such an incredible and kind actress as Gene Tierney. It was an honor to participate in such a wonderful project, and I wish it all the success possible. I’ll be putting the entirety of my analysis under a cut, because this will be fairly long. With all of that being said, I wish the lovely Gene Tierney a very happy birthday wherever she might be, and on with the post!image

I’ll start by saying that this film has so many elements of the typical noir that it almost feels like Ben Hect spun a wheel in order to find some of the elements of this story. The cynical detective who roughs up bad guys, but secretly has a heart of gold? Check. The dame who is somehow mixed up in all of the trouble and puts the detective in jeopardy? Check. The shady villain that somehow knows all of the answers despite the fact that his goons are as dumb as rocks? Check. The moral ambiguity of our antihero and many of the other characters is the bow that wraps up this archetypal noir. Despite all of this, I still feel like the film did not sacrifice any originality, and while it does fit into the genre of noir, I still found the screenplay to be incredibly exciting and was on the edge of my seat during the film’s entirety.

The making of Where the Sidewalk Ends was a Laura reunion of sorts, with Otto Preminger once again taking the helm as director (and this time producer as well), bringing along his very talented director of photography, Joseph LaShelle. It also features in the leading roles both of Laura’s stars, birthday girl Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, in their fifth and final film together. However, the two most notable outsiders to this reuniting shaped the film as well. First we have screenwriter Ben Hect, who was the best of the best by most classic film standards, and by this time already had numerous classics like Queen Christina,Twentieth Century, Wuthering Heights, and His Girl Friday under his belt.

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Left: Marilyn Monroe, circa. 1952; Right: Gene Tierney, Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Also thrown in the mix was costume designer Oleg Cassini, husband of our leading lady. This was his sixth collaboration with his wife, and essentially the last that occurred before their on again and off again marriage collapsed for good. His costumes for Gene in the film are as exquisite as casual wear can be to say the least, seeing as that is exactly what she wears for most of the film. The most notable garment was shown in the beginning of the film, however. A sultry red evening gown shared the same scene in which Oleg himself made a cameo, and it was difficult to focus on one of the other. Gene was offered a chance to keep the gown, but turned it down because the dress was so tight she could barely walk in it. Years later, the dress would be purchased at Cassini’s boutique by none other than Marilyn Monroe, who wore it often in 1952, including to receive her Henrietta Award for Best Young Box Office Personality. The dress was also voted ”the most risque design of the year” by a fashion magazine.

As far as the acting performances in this film go, I’ll first point out that I was thrilled to see Karl Malden in the opening credits, but seeing his small role in the film made me long for his more moving characters in films like On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire. Even still, Malden is one of my favorite supporting actors to date, but most of the cast members in this particular film weren’t very memorable. I’ll name the one exception. When I first saw Dana Andrews onscreen in Laura, I suspected that his stellar performance was just a fluke, and that the rest of his acting would be supbar. Where the Sidewalk Endsmade me throw that idea out of the window, and his incredible acting ability is what carries this entire film in my opinion. His portrayal of Detective Mark Dixon reminded me most of Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, as both Dixon and Sam Spade are hard-boiled detectives who are self serving during their respective film’s entirety, only to make the good and honest choice in the end.

Unfortunately I found our beautiful Gene’s performance to be forgettable in comparison to the mystique and dangerous Laura Hunt, but her presence onscreen always brightens my day no matter what film she’s in, so I had no real complaints. The two stars’ onscreen chemistry is undeniable and practically on fire, and I will never wonder again why the two made five films together. I’m starting to believe that the two could do just about anything onscreen for two hours and I’d still want them to wind up together in the end. All in all, the sheer talent involved in the making of this film is enough to capture anyone’s attention, and the fast-paced plot, superb screenwriting, and well and Andrew’s acting make Where the Sidewalk Endsa film to remember. I will agree with most critics when I say that it stands in the dark and gritty shadow of Laura’s more sophisticated noir, but that same realistic shadow is what noir is all about.