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.

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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.

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.