The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social: ROUGHLY SPEAKING (1945)

This post is part of The Classic Movie Ice Cream Social hosted by Fritzi of Movies Silently.  Be sure to check out the other entries here!

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Sometimes there is a part of me that yearns for a simpler time. I don’t want to go back to olden days completely, I’m much too big a fan of air-conditioning, vaccines, antibiotics, and Wifi to do that. But there is a part of me that wishes for a bit more of that sense of simple community life and family connectedness, the days when kids went out when the sun came up and came home when the fireflies came out, a time when you knew your neighbor and where your food came from, a time of soda jerks and ice cream parlors. So when the nostalgia hits me, I try to find a movie that can show me that simpler time which is why I ended up buying ROUGHLY SPEAKING from the Warner Archive.

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In the 1920s, Louise Randall (Rosalind Russell) learns that not only has her father died but that her family is also penniless. In an effort to help Louise attend college her mother sells her own jewelry to pay for the tuition. Louise throws herself into her work determined to “be on the inside looking out”, and soon excels in her secretarial courses. Her first temp job is at a shipyard where she wins over her misogynistic boss with her wit and skill. Soon after Louise and her friend, Alice move out to New Haven, Connecticut and rent a room in the same building as two Yale University students. These two young men are Rodney Crane (Donald Woods) and Jack Leslie and the four become quite important to each other. Jack and Alice soon fall in love and marry, and Rodney eventually proposes to Louise.
Louise agrees to marry Rodney but their wedding is anything but acceptable. At the ceremony, Louise refuses to wear white, will not take her husband’s name, and refuses to vow to obey. Problems arise after the wedding too as Louise wants to continue working while Rodney insists that she stay home. The “happy couple” move to New York City where Louise quickly gives birth to four children, Barbara, John, Rod, Jr. and Louise, Jr. World War II breaks out and Louise does her bit, complete with victory garden and selling war bonds. She also finds a large although somewhat run down house along the Hudson River and moves her growing family there.

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Life is happy despite the hard times but one day Louise Jr. falls ill. When the doctor leaves Louise must deal with the fact that every one of her children has been diagnosed with polio. Louise now throws herself into caring for her children, nursing each one back to health even Louise Jr. who is sickest and left slightly lame from her illness. Undaunted in the face of adversity, Louise keeps her spirits high even when Rodney comes home after being laid off. In fact, she simply goes out and gets a job herself in order to help support the family while her husband gets back on his feet. But Rodney doesn’t see things in such a sunny way and takes this as a slight and a lack of sympathy on his wife’s part. Eventually Rodney finds a new job and a much younger woman. He comes home one evening to tell Louise that he is leaving her and the children after ten years of marriage.

Based on the bestselling autobiography of Louise Randall Pierson, who also wrote the screenplay, ROUGHLY SPEAKING is a great offering from Michael Curtiz.  Made a time when morale was low, this film seems to speak to the spirit of the America that was and that could be again.  Showing the indomitable spirit of a woman raising her family in spite of the obstacles thrown in front of her was most likely meant to encourage the movie going public to believe in the possibility of “the good life” once again.

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Apparently, Bette Davis turned down the lead role and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that that was a good thing.  Now don’t get me wrong, I love Bette Davis.  But there is a quality to her that doesn’t quite fit with the picture of Louise Randall.  Bette Davis always has a classiness to her, a level of being slightly above, and while I don’t doubt that she can play down to earth women there is definitely something about her that makes me feel like it doesn’t quite ring true.  On the other hand, Rosalind Russell strikes me as the perfect actress for this role.  There is a realness and “ready for anything” quality that makes her infinitely watchable and believable as an ordinary wife and mother who made her life what she wanted it to be.  I love Rosalind Russell, she just seems willing to jump into anything be it comedy, drama, romance, action, you name it.  If Rosalind Russell is in a film chances are I’ll watch it and end up liking it, if only just for her.  Luckily, ROUGHLY SPEAKING boasts a great supporting cast and director as well as a terrific story.  It is a film that I just flat out enjoyed and had fun watching which is sometimes the best kind of film of all.

 

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The Great Villain Blogathon: THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932)

This post is part of The Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy, Karen of Shadows and Satin, and Ruth of Silver Screenings.  Be sure to check out the other entries here!

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Off the coast of South America a passenger yacht is passing a pleasant evening.  The captain is growing concerned in the navigation room as the channel lights, marking reefs and dangerous rocks, are not corresponding with the known charts.  He goes below to ask for permission to change course which is denied by the wealthy passengers.  The men, including hunter and author Bob Rainsford (Joel McCrea), want to make good time and reach their destinations as soon as possible.  This soon becomes impossible as the vessel runs aground on some rocks and all souls on board are lost.  All save one.

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Rainsford surfaces on an island, one that was thought to be uninhabited, and turning back sees the channel lights change position again.  It would appear that someone was intentionally sabotaging nearby ships.  Making his way inland, Rainsford comes across a large mansion which turns out to be the home of Russian Count Zaroff (Leslie Banks).  Zaroff is  sympathetic to Rainsford’s plight as it is apparently a common occurrence.  Currently there are four other shipwreck survivors staying with him, two sailors and a brother and sister.  Eve Trowbridge (Fay Wray) and her brother, and liquor enthusiast, Martin (Robert Armstrong) were rescued along with the two sailors but they haven’t seen their companions in several days.  The men disappeared after being invited to hunt with Count Zaroff, although their host assures them that they are simply busy hunting.

That evening the Count regales Rainsford with stories of his hunting prowess and growing boredom with the lack of challenging prey.  He gloats that he has solved this problem by finding something new to hunt.  He goes on to tell Rainsford that on this island he hunts, “the most dangerous game”.

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THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME is based on a short story by Richard Connell and is the only adaptation to use the original characters.  This is not to say that the film doesn’t make a few changes.  For one, the addition of Eve and her brother was a change made for the film. I read the short story when I was in high school and in the original story Rainsford travels with a friend to South America to hunt jaguars and falls overboard after hearing gunshots from the nearby island.  Swimming to the island he is made the guest of Count Zaroff and his mute servant Ivan.  These are the only three people on the island and it definitely adds to the feeling of isolation and desperation that Rainsford goes through as the story progresses.  I will say that the addition of the brother and sister, while it is useful as a plot device in helping Rainsford discover the truth of Zaroff’s dangerous new prey, for me took away from the overall sense of paranoia and doom that the original story had.  And Fay Wray is in full on damsel in distress mode which I will say made me think more than once that maybe, just maybe, Joel McCrea should leave her behind for you know…reasons.

But since this is a villain event let’s talk about Count Zaroff.  This was Leslie Banks’ first important film role and he does quite well with it.  Leslie Banks is notable for having received a facial injury during World War I.  The injury left scarring and paralysis on the left side of his face, a fact that he actually used to his advantage during his acting career.  When playing lighter and more romantic roles he would turn his right side toward the camera and when playing the villain he would turn the left.

The Count Zaroff of the film felt a bit different from the Count Zaroff of the story.  In the short story Zaroff comes across much more, oh what’s the word, insane.  I mean he is scary insane.  The sort of insane that believes itself sane.  The Count Zaroff in the film is nuts to be sure but he seems more interested in inflicting pain and fear than furthering his rhetoric.  There is also a whole storyline involving Eve and the ecstasy of “love” after the hunt, infer at will, which is not part of the original story.  This little wrinkle adds a more predictable layer to Zaroff, making him a bit more like your ordinary villain and less like an unpredictable madman.  For all the differences, Leslie Banks is quite good in this role.  He brings a fun and charisma to Zaroff during the early scenes that make him charming and intriguing, and a dangerous edge to later ones that add to his menace.

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THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME is a very short film, only sixty-three minutes, so the actual hunt only makes up about twenty minutes.  But even in that short time we get a sense of evil from Zaroff that begs the question, who is the most dangerous animal?

#BeyondtheCover Day 3 Recap

We have reached the final day of #BeyondtheCover blogathon and what a fabulous three days it has been! We have had an amazing amount of terrific entries from book bloggers, film bloggers, classic film bloggers, and booktubers alike!  If you had wanted to participate but didn’t get a chance to yet never fear!  We will be putting up a final recap tomorrow to capture any late coming entries!  Thank you so much to everyone who has taken part so far!

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Now let’s get to today’s fabulous entries!

Defiant Success: The Godfather

Now Voyaging: Mrs. Miniver

Christina Wehner: The Ox-Bow Incident

Cinema Cities: Double Indemnity

Cinematic Scribblings: The Remains of the Day

Back to Golden Days: Wuthering Heights

Moon in Gemini: When Worlds Collide

Reel Distracted: 5 Dolls for an August Moon

All the Shelves: Where the Wild Things Are

Emily Cait: The Shannara Chronicles

Classic Reel Girl: Alice Adams

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies: Above Suspicion

Cary Grant Won’t Eat You: Jamaica Inn

Mildred’s Fatburgers: Kitty Foyle

A Shroud of Thoughts: The Maltese Falcon

Century Film Project: Sherlock Holmes (1916)

Dell on Movies: Shiloh

An Ode to Dust: Breakfast At Tiffany’s

Winx & Ink: Sherlock Holmes (Granada series)

Movie Classics: The End of the Affair

Crimson Kimono: The Moon in the Gutter

LA Explorer: Sense & Sensibility

 

If you missed Day 1 or Day 2 be sure to check out the recaps!

#BeyondTheCover Blogathon: MRS. MINIVER (1942)

This post is part of the #BeyondTheCover Blogathon hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy and Me!  Be sure to check out all the fabulous entries here and here!

In a comfortable house in the British Isles lives Kay Miniver (Greer Garson), her husband Clem (Walter Pidgeon), and her three children Toby, Judy, and Vin (Richard Ney).  Kay and Clem are well off, Clem has a successful career as an architect, and are enjoying having a little extra money to splash out on some luxuries as well as being able to continue employing some in house staff.  Kay has just bought a new hat and Clem has purchased a new car.  It is the summer of 1939 and life is good.

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A few days later Vin arrives home from Oxford and the entire family turns out to meet him at the train.  Vin is a bit puffed up on account of his newly acquired college education and soon puts this new attitude to use by insulting the granddaughter, Carol (Teresa Wright), of local aristocrat Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty).  Despite this rocky start, Vin and Carol soon come to terms and fall in love.  They agree to keep in touch while Carol and her grandmother are away for the summer in Scotland.

Weeks pass and local gossip turns to Poland and the recent fall of that country to German hands.  On a quiet Sunday morning the village turns out for church and Vin is delighted to see Carol and her grandmother among the congregation, the pair having returned early from their travels.  The service begins but is quickly interrupted by the Vicar announcing that England has declared war on Germany.  Many of the older members of the congregation are visibly upset, even to tears, by this news as memories of another World War not long past are still present and troubling.

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Life changes now for the Miniver family and their town.  Vin goes into the service and joins the RAF, Clem does his part as a Local Defense Volunteer and is part of the Thames River Squad.  Even some members of the household staff join the military and the WAAF in order to “do their bit”. Vin begins his training at a base nearby and life continues on, changed but not deeply altered by the war.  Some weeks later the locals are listening to Lord Haw Haw on the radio and dismissing his dark predictions for England’s inevitable fall to Germany when word comes in that a German pilot has been downed nearby.  Clem and other members of the Thames River Squad are out searching for him but have not yet found him.

That evening Vin returns home for a dinner with the whole family, including Carol, and it ends up being a momentous occasion as he proposes to his love and she accepts.  Celebrations are cut short as Vin is recalled to his base for immediate deployment and Clem is called out to the river.  Clem and his fellow local boat owners are then informed that they are to take part in the evacuation of British soldiers from Dunkerque, France.  Five days later, Kay has no word from Vin or Clem and her only clues as to their locations come from the newspaper.  Taking a stroll in her garden she happens upon something strange…German boots.

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MRS. MINIVER is first and foremost a story of people.  Based on a book which was itself based on the column of the same name written by Jan Struther, the pen name of Joyce Anstruther, Mrs. Miniver first appeared in The Times in 1937.  She was created when Peter Fleming, brother of Ian, asked Jan Struther to write about “an ordinary sort of woman who leads an ordinary sort of life — rather like yourself”.  The pieces would appear every few weeks and became an instant hit.  Shortly after the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the columns were combined into a book which was published under the title “Mrs. Miniver” and quickly became a bestseller.  Mrs. Miniver, called Carol in the books, was a women who enjoyed her children, loved her husband, ran her household, and observed the changes in the world.  In short she was a reflection of the men and women who read about her, a window into their hearts as well as the happier times of their past before the war.  She also was a beacon, a guiding light, a comforting friend in the uncertain and turbulent times when the entire world was fighting each other too few years after the Great War.

Rather than a traditional novel, Mrs. Miniver the book is a collection of vignettes in the life of a British family.  This was undoubtedly an issue when constructing the screenplay for MRS. MINIVER.  While the columns themselves had no connections other than the Miniver family, the film needed to have a cohesive storyline. As a result much of what takes place in the film is not present in the book. And while the book of Mrs. Miniver was intended to at first entertain and later boost the morale of the British public, the film had a much larger and far reaching purpose in mind.

The film began pre-production in the fall of 1940, when the United States was still out of the war.  As time went on and the country moved closer and closer to war, certain scenes were altered and re-written to more accurately reflect the growing anti-Germany and pro-Britain attitude of the public.  The scenes involving the downed German flyer were changed several times becoming progressively harsher and more confrontational.  The film was finally released in 1942, just a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  President Roosevelt ordered it rushed to the theaters for propaganda purposes because at its core that was what MRS. MINIVER was intended to be.

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Director William Wyler was born in Germany and firmly believed that the United States should join the fight against Nazism.  He feared that the country’s isolationist attitude would be damaging and so endeavored to make a film showing the American public what their British counterparts were going through at that time.  His plans worked and the film did a great deal toward raising American sympathy toward Britain.  Winston Churchill once famously said that MRS. MINIVER, first the book and then the film, had done more for the war than “six divisions of war effort.”

The final speech by the vicar in MRS. MINIVER was printed in the magazines TIME and LOOK, as well as being broadcast on Voice of America and dropped as propaganda pamphlets all over Europe at the behest of President Roosevelt.  Called “The Wilcoxon Speech” in honor of the actor Henry Wilcoxon and his stirring delivery, this speech perhaps best exemplifies what made MRS. MINIVER the film and Mrs. Miniver the book such enduring stories and inspiring human tales.

“…The homes of many of us have been destroyed, and the lives of young and old have been taken. There’s scarcely a household that hasn’t been struck to the heart. And why? Surely you must have asked yourselves this question? Why in all conscience should these be the ones to suffer? Children, old people, a young girl at the height of her loveliness? Why these? Are these our soldiers? Are these our fighters? Why should they be sacrificed?

I shall tell you why. Because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is the war of the people, of all the people. And it must be fought not only on the battlefield but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home and in the heart of every man, woman and child who loves freedom. Well, we have buried our dead, but we shall not forget them. Instead they will inspire us with an unbreakable determination to free ourselves, and those who come after us, from the tyranny and terror that threaten to strike us down. This is the People’s War. It is our war. We are the fighters. Fight it then. Fight it with all that is in us. And may God defend the right.”

 

The “Dot” Blogathon: ROAD TO UTOPIA (1946)

This post is part of The “Dot” Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Font and Frock.  Be sure to check out the other posts here!

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One wintery evening, elderly married couple Sal (Dorothy Lamour) and Chester (Bob Hope) Hooten are spending a quiet night by the fire when they are interrupted by the arrival of an old friend.  Duke Johnson is a friend that the Hootens have not seen for years and they immediately being reminiscing about their time in the Klondike.

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At the turn of the century a man has been murdered by two thugs, McGurk (Nestor Pavia) and Sperry (Robert Barrat, yes I know!!) and his map to a gold mine has been stolen.  With his dying breath the man tells his daughter, Sal, that the mine is in Alaska and to seek out a man called Ace Larson.  Racing to the dock Sal manages to get the last boat to Alaska just ahead of Sperry and McGurk.  The two men spot Sal but can do nothing to stop her especially as there are police nearby.  In order to avoid suspicion the two men duck into a nearby theater where a vaudeville act is going on.

Duke and Chester are putting out all the stops in their performance and are currently working a “ghost scam” and encouraging the audience to gamble their money in an effort to double it.  As the police enter the theater, Sperry and McGurk rush onstage upsetting the set and revealing Duke and Chester for charlatans.  As the two thugs rush to avoid the police, Duke and Chester beat a hasty retreat.  The two begin to divide up the money and Chester says that he is tired of running from town to town.  Duke tries to convince him to come along to the Klondike to search for gold, but Chester isn’t having it.  At the dock the two part ways, and pick pockets, until Duke is onboard and Chester is waving on the dock.  At least he is until he sees Duke counting all his money onboard.  Chester runs onboard ready to throttle his partner and notices that the boat has departed so whether he likes it or not, Chester is on his way to the Klondike.

Sal arrives in Alaska and meets up with Ace Larson (Douglas Dumbrill).  Rather than going to the police, Larson assures her that he will take care of things.  He also gives her a job as an entertainer in his saloon.  Larson’s girlfriend, Kate (Hillary Brooke), is less than thrilled with this development but she cheers up considerably when Larson reveals his plan to steal Sal’s mine and keep it for the both of them.  Meanwhile, Duke and Chester have run out of money to pay their passage aboard ship so they are now being put to work as the cleaning staff.  While cleaning a cabin they come across the map to a gold mine.  They realize that the occupants of the cabin are the thugs who killed Sal’s father (which was in the paper) and that they are right behind them.  After a brief scuffle Duke and Chester emerge victorious.  They take the map and the beards of their foes and exit the boat.

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Now in Alaska, Duke and Chester argue about who should get to hold the map.  They finally decide that the best plan is to tear it in half and have each man keep his own piece.  Once that is settled they adopt a tough persona consistent with their beardy reputations and enter the nearby saloon.  The saloon just happens to be owned by one, Ace Larson and amidst free champagne and female companionship the two men are treated to the main act.  The curtain rises and who should emerge but Sal and that is where things get complicated.

First of, let me say that I love the Road series.  I would watch them all day, every day on repeat if I could.  Well, except for ROAD TO HONG KONG…we don’t mention that one.  I think the fact the Dorothy Lamour has only a cameo in it is one of the reasons that it doesn’t work for me as a Road movie because honestly, who else could keep up with Bob and Bing and still be beautiful, feminine, and sassy?  No one but our Dot, that’s who!  She is just as quick and funny as either of her male co-stars and manages to hang on for the ride gamely when the schemes get zany or the al-libs whizz by.

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ROAD TO UTOPIA is unique in that it is the only Road movie not to have a real place in the title and to not take place in a contemporary setting.  I love the Robert Benchley narration, the breaking of the fourth wall, the craziness, the fact that Robert Barrat is in it.  I also love the Alaskan setting.  Most of the Road movies seem to take place in decidedly warmer climates and I do love me some mountain adventures.  But there is also a slightly more adult feeling to this film.  Sal is not some shrinking violet, nor some wide eyed innocent, nor an elegant princess.  She is an average woman who takes control of her life and her situation and even sets a few plans of her own into motion.  I really enjoy the fact that Sal is a tough and smart woman who speaks her mind.  Also there are some jokes, especially at the end, regarding Sal and Chester’s marriage and offspring that are a bit sharper than the usual Road movie wackiness.  Of note, ROAD TO UTOPIA is also unique for being one of only two films in the series where Bob Hope ends up with Dorothy Lamour, with the second one involving hypnosis…so maybe that one doesn’t count.

I love Dorothy Lamour.  I love Bob Hope and Bing Crosby.  I love The Road movies and I loved having an excuse to watch ROAD TO UTOPIA.  If you are having a bad day do yourself a favor and get a mug of your favorite warm beverage, cuddle up on the couch, and pop this movie in.  You won’t regret it…tell them Sal sent you!

 

The O’Canada Blogathon: BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY (1919)

This post is part of the O’Canada Blogathon hosted by Kristina of Speakeasy and Ruth of Silver Screenings.  Be sure to check out the other entries here!

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In the far northwoods, in a small cabin there lived Dolores LeBeau (Nell Shipman) and her father (Roy Laidlaw).  They are quite happy there living the simple life, alongside the many and varied types of wildlife that Dolores has tamed and made friends of.  Into this idyllic life comes a naturalist, one Peter Burke (Wheeler Oakman, who is part author part government inspector.  He is traveling the woods looking for inspiration for his next book and soon becomes the houseguest of Dolores and her father.  During his time there he and Dolores fall in love and their days are spent blissfully together.

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After some time Burke decides to take his leave and continue on his journey toward Ottawa.  In order to make sure that her love will return to her, Dolores steals his manuscript out of his pack before he departs.  At that moment a dangerous criminal is making his way through the underbrush.  Rydal (Wellington Playter) is the master of a trading vessel wanted for murder and he is traveling with his accomplice (Charles B. Murphy).  While Rydal sits by the fire he is confronted by a Canadian Mountie who places him under arrest.  But as they are heading back to the post, Rydal’s accomplice ambushes them and kills the mountie.  The two head off with Rydal now dressed as a mountie.  They soon happen upon Dolores who is taking a bath in the nearby pool along with her friend bear.

Rydal is taken with the young beauty and decides that he wants to see more of her.  Much more.  So he pretends to be a wounded mountie and seeks shelter with Dolores and her father.  While Dolores is hesitant, her father welcomes the two men with open arms and they spend the night.  The next morning, emboldened by his dreams overnight, Rydal decides to make his move while her father is away gathering wood.  With his accomplice blocking the door, Rydal attacks Dolores and soon her screams bring her father rushing back.  In the ensuing struggle Rydal’s accomplice is killed by Dolores’ father and Rydal, playing the part of the mountie, arrests him declaring that he will take him back to the post for trial.  Meanwhile, Burke has realized that his manuscript has gone missing and is returning to Dolores’ home in order to retrieve it.  He arrives to find a dead man in the doorway and the house empty.  Following the path he sees Dolores, who watches in horror as Rydal throws her father over a cliff.  She dives in after him and Burke dives in after her.  The two of them pull Dolores’ father’s lifeless body from the water as Rydal makes his escape.

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One year later, Burke and Dolores are married and now living in an apartment in the city.  Burke is working on his writing and Dolores is pining for the fjords, or at least her little cabin in the woods with her animal friends.  A telegram arrives from the Department of the Interior telling Burke that arrangements have been made for them both to sail to Halifax on the Flying Moon, a trading vessel that will take them up towards Baffin Island and into the Arctic.  After several days onboard Dolores and Burke are curious as they have not yet seen their captain.  When they do see him, Dolores wishes that they hadn’t.  The captain is none other than Rydal and he has not forgotten Dolores or his designs on her.

With an estimated budget of $67,000 BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY became one of Canda’s first major motion pictures and it was the most successful silent Canadian film.  The film was directed by David Hartford and produced by Nell Shipman and her husband, Ernest Shipman.  Nell Shipman had created Shipman Curwood Producing Company in 1918 in order to make BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY, which would end up being the only film the company produced.  The screenplay was based on a story written by James Oliver Curwood entitled Wapi, The Walrus, and was adapted by Nell Shipman herself.  This adaptation caused some issues with Curwood, who took exception to the fact that Nell took facets of Wapi and molded them into the character of Dolores.  She created a heroine who took on men and won, saved her love, and generally kicked bottom.  Curwood was mad because this character was portrayed by a dog in his story.

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Well, sorry to Mr. Curwood but if BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY was about a dog then I don’t think I would have enjoyed it half so much.  In fact the main reason this film is so successful is Nell Shipman and her portrayal of Dolores.  The men try but they come up pretty one dimensional.  Burke is pretty vanilla as far as romantic heroes go and Rydal is a  slightly over the top melodramatic baddie.  But Dolores is fantastic!  Nell Shipman is lovely but not in a traditionally beautiful way and her body is real and natural.  She is a fit and athtletic woman and it shows.  She also loved nature and animals which is something that really comes through with her animal co-stars.  Nell Shipman does a fantastic job of bringing an empowered and intelligent heroine of her own making to life.

This is by no means a perfect film.  Along with the previously mentioned less than impressive male characters, there are also some instances of “brown-face” and some less than sensitive ethnic portrayals.  But Nell Shipman is fantastic and the Canadian wilderness is on grand display here making BACK TO GOD’S COUNTRY an example of early Canadian cinema well worth seeing.  So if you are intrigued here is the film, restored beautifully by Library and Archives Canada.  Of note there is no musical score accompanying this film but it is gorgeous version with lovely color tinting.

 

Classic Symbiotic Collaborations Blogathon: GLORIA SWANSON AND CECIL B DEMILLE

This post is part of the Classic Symbiotic Collaborations Blogathon hosted by CineMaven.  Be sure to check out the other posts here!

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“All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.”

For many people that line from SUNSET BLVD is the only indication they have that there was ever any relationship between Gloria Swanson and Cecil B. DeMille.  The truth however, goes back to the days of silent film when a young actress was trying to make her mark.

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In 1914, Gloria Swanson made her film debut as an extra in THE SONG OF SOUL.  According to Swanson herself, her initial ventures into silent cinema were just for fun but she soon found herself asked back for several more films for the Essanay company including Charlie Chaplin’s HIS NEW JOB.  In 1916 she moved to California to work with Bobby Vernon in Mack Sennett’s Keystone comedies.  Gloria Swanson longed to become a great dramatic actress but could only get work in comedy films.  All that would change in 1918 when she met director Cecil B DeMille.

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Cecil B. DeMille first began working in motion pictures in 1913 with the newly formed Lasky Feature Play Company.  His first film was THE SQUAW MAN and it was a huge hit, establishing the Lasky Company.  The first years were spent making films almost non-stop and the Lasky Company became Famous Players-Lasky.

“Miss Swanson, please.”
“This is Miss Swanson.”
“Good morning, Miss Swanson. I’m Oscar Goodstadt, the casting director at Famous Players-Lasky and I’m calling on behalf of Cecil B. De Mille. Mr. De Mille would like to see you at your earliest convenience. Could you come in at three today? Miss Swanson?”
“Oh! Yes. Yes, I can.”
Mr Goodstadt started to tell me how to get to the studio, but I said I knew where it was. Everybody knew where it was.It took up a whole block at Sunset and Vine. It was where Mary Pickford worked. And Douglas Fairbanks. And Almighty God himself, Cecil B. De Mille.

Swanson on Swanson (1980), p. 95

This is a quote from Gloria Swanson’s autobiography relating her first interaction with the director who would change the course of her career.  She goes on;

Any notion I may have had of style or elegance evaporated the moment I was ushered into Mr. De Mille’s paneled office. It was vast and somber, with tall stained-glass windows and deep polar-bear rugs. Light from the windows shone on ancient firearms and other weapons on the walls, and the elevated desk and chair resembled nothing so much as a throne. I felt like a peanut poised on teetering high heels.
When he stood up behind the desk, he seemed to tower. Not yet forty, he seemed ageless, magisterial. He wore his baldness like an expensive hat, as if it were out of the question for him to have hair like other men. A sprig of laurel maybe, but not ordinary hair. He was wearing gleaming boots and riding breeches that fit him like a glove. He came over and took my hand, led me to a large sofa and sat down beside me. and proceeded to look clear through me. He said that he had seen me in a little Sennett picture and had never forgotten me, and that at the moment he was preparing a picture in which he wanted to use me. He asked me what kind of contract I had at Triangle.
“I have no contract at all.”
“Well, then, who represents you?”
“No one.”
“You mean your parents handle your business affairs?”
“Oh, no, Mr. De Mille. I’m over eighteen. I’ll be nineteen the twenty-seventh of March.”
“Ah, Aries, of course,” he said and smiled.

Swanson on Swanson (1980), p. 95-96

This initial meeting was supposed to be the start of their partnership but legal issues intervened.  The Triangle Company, who Gloria was working for at the time, said that even though Ms. Swanson had no contract with the company she had accepted a raise which meant that she had a verbal contract with Triangle and therefore could not work with DeMille.  It would take another year before she would be able to do what she wanted.

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In 1919 Cecil B. DeMille began work on his third marriage film and he cast Gloria Swanson in the lead.  More roles followed including FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE, MALE AND FEMALE, THE AFFAIRS OF ANATOL, and WHY CHANGE YOUR WIFE? in which she posed with a real lion.  In the space of two years, her work with Cecil B DeMille had turned Gloria Swanson into a highly sought after romantic and dramatic leading lady.  She became the highest salaried actress in Hollywood making $250,000 a week in the mid 1920s.  Her time working with DeMille brought her to the attention of many other directors and film companies, and she soon was working with Sam Wood, Rudolph Valentino, Eric Von Stroheim, and even producing her own film.

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He called her “young fellow” because he thought her braver than any man he had known and she would always call him “Mr. DeMille”.  A few simple scenes in SUNSET BLVD and a few notable lines of dialogue to convey the emotion of a partnering and friendship that had lasted years.  Some people say that DeMille made Swanson into a star but I don’t think that it quite right.  I think that DeMille gave her the opportunity she needed to make the career for herself that she had always wanted.  In fact I would say that Gloria Swanson was always a star and Cecil B. DeMille was just the first person to realize it.


 

Here is a sample of Gloria Swanson talking about working with Cecil B. DeMille and his methods during filming.

 

The Backstage Blogathon: SHOW PEOPLE (1928)

This post is part of The Backstage Blogathon hosted by Fritzi of Movies Silently and Janet of Sister Celluloid.  Be sure to check out all the other posts here and here!

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Two new arrivals have come to Hollywood.  They are young Peggy Pepper (Marion Davies) and her father, Colonel Pepper (Dell Henderson), and they have come to make Peggy a star!  They make their way to the casting office in the hopes of landing a big role for Peggy thanks to, or perhaps in spite of, her acting abilities.  But things don’t go as well as they hoped and father and daughter are soon scraping by on soup and saltines in the movie lot cafeteria.  It is here that they meet Billy Boone (William Haines), a fairly successful comedic actor who works turning out slapstick flicks quickly and cheaply.

Billy is a bit brash and takes the southerners by surprise, but soon reveals himself to be a kind and helpful friend to have on the movie lot.  Peggy is initially standoffish but quickly warms up when Billy, who has taken a shine to the movie novice, promises to help her break into movies.  Peggy wants to be a great dramatic actress, so when she shows up the next morning she is ready to bring forth all the emotions needed.  Unfortunately, the only emotion Peggy needs is shock because Billy hasn’t told her that she will be making her big acting debut taking a deluge of seltzer water to the face.  At first, Peggy is horrified and refuses to go on.  But after taking some time to talk to Billy, and remembering that Gloria Swanson got her start in comedy, she decides to take it on the chin and dive into comedy.  Soon she and Billy are quite the successful comedy duo and romance is blooming offscreen as well.  But soon the big studios come sniffing around and they want Peggy…only Peggy.  Billy encourages her to take a chance on her career and follow her dream.  Somewhat reluctantly, Peggy takes her leave from comedy and heads off to the big leagues of drama.  Before too long Peggy has gained a giant ego, an insufferable attitude, and a new leading man.

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Marion Davies used her life as inspiration for SHOW PEOPLE.  In real like Marion Davies was a dramatic actress who longed to be in comedy.  In addition to her own life, Marion Davies also borrowed from the early career of Gloria Swanson and the book/play/film MERTON OF THE MOVIES.  Peggy is portrayed as somewhat of a simple country girl, a bit prissy, who dreams of making a big impact in the world of drama before being helped by a worldly comedic stunt actor a la Merton.  Peggy also starts off in the world of slapstick before moving on the period dramas with extravagant costumes and sets a la Gloria Swanson.  For her part, Marion Davies made SHOW PEOPLE in spite of the objections of William Randolph Hearst.  Hearst and Davies were in a long-term relationship during which Hearst used his considerable influence to control the direction of Davies’ career.  There are rumors that her frequent appearance in historical costume dramas came about because Hearst liked to see his lover in fancy ballgowns.  Whether or not this is true, Davies wanted to make comedy and specifically this comedy and she didn’t let anything stand in her way.  Hearst felt that slapstick was beneath her and would ruin her reputation but Davies went ahead anyway.  Of note, the seltzer water was supposed to be a pie in the original script but Hearst insisted on the change.

This is my first experience with Marion Davies and now I am eager to see more.  I am used to silent comedies being more physically based, but this is one of the most witty comedies that I have seen for a long time.  Davies makes some fantastic facial expressions that not only make you laugh just because they are funny, but also because there are subtle ribs at other stars of the silent eras.  If you are an avid silent film fan or historian of the silent era there are easter eggs galore for you to find.  But more than that, I was surprised to see what a fabulous actress Marion Davies is as a whole.  She not only is a skilled and witty comedienne, capable of physical comedy as well as verbal gags, but she is also able to convey emotions with an honesty and realism that was amazing to watch.  The fact that she stood up to the man she loved and did what she wanted to make her career what she desired it to be only makes her more fantastic.

William Haines was a big surprise to me.  I wasn’t sure what to think of him at first, as he started with his Sennet-esque impression.  He was funny to be sure but Marion was funnier, at least to me.  But when the quiet moments came, the loving moments between Billy and Peggy, the moments when real emotion was needed, William Haines truly shined.  Billy looks at Peggy with true adoration and genuine affection which William Haines does to perfection.  His over the top comedy and his brash attitude at the beginning melt away to reveal this kind and thoughtful man underneath.  It is because of his emotional honesty combined with Marion Davies’ that SHOW PEOPLE has impact where is does instead of being “just a comedy”.

SHOW PEOPLE is a great look at the Hollywood of the silent era.  Not only is the story a tribute to the history of the industry, but there are silent stars a-plenty to spot in this film.  Some of those making cameos are Douglas Fairbanks, William S. Hart, Charlie Chaplin, Marion Davies (no, that is not a typo), John Gilbert, Elinor Glyn, Louella Parsons, and Norma Talmadge.  And that isn’t even all of them!  If you know everything or nothing about the silent film industry you can enjoy SHOW PEOPLE.  And you never know, you might just learn something too.  I know I did!


 

Both Marion Davies and William Haines recently had episodes dedicated to them on the You Must Remember This podcast.  Marion’s episode is here and William’s is here.  Highly recommended listening to anyone who wants to know more about these talented performers.

The Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon: A NIGHT TO REMEMBER (1942)

This post is part of The Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon hosted by Cinema Dilettante and myself!  Be sure to scroll down and check out the other great entries!lygbpolaroid

What do you do when your husband only wants to write murder mysteries?  Well if you are Nancy Troy (Loretta Young), you rent a new apartment.  And so it is that Nancy and Jeff (Brian Aherne) arrive at their new home in the basement of an apartment building at 13 Gay Street in Greenwich Village.  Unfortunately, Nancy’s dreams of newly decorated homey bliss will have to wait because Eddie Turner, the building’s owner, informs them that the electricity has not yet been turned on and advises that they come back tomorrow.  Nancy is insistent that they move in that evening, despite the lack of lights and furniture, and she and Jeff are getting their bearings when Nancy spots an old friend.

Anne Carstairs (Jeff Donnell) is climbing the stairs but she is only too happy to stop and talk to Nancy.  Anne tells them that she married now and has an apartment on the second floor of the building, but she becomes unexplainably flustered when Nancy reveals that they have just taken the basement apartment.  Anne hurries off and once inside she, and several other tenants including Mr. Turner, ponder why the Troys would move into the building at all.  It seems that all the tenants share a similar dilemma which has caused them to take up residence.

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Later that evening Jeff and Nancy go to a local restaurant for dinner.  Nancy goes off to make a phone call and Jeff reacquaints himself with restaurant owner and apartment neighbor, Polly Franklin (Lee Patrick).  Polly also becomes flustered when she finds out that Jeff is now living in the basement apartment.  Meanwhile, Nancy overhears a very large man in the next booth making a phone call to someone demanding that they meet him at 13 Gay Street in the basement apartment.  Nancy returns to the table and relates her story to Jeff and Polly, who takes this as a cue to excuse herself.  Jeff decides to take matters into his own hands and confront the would be apartment thief, which results in him earning a punch on the nose.

Back in their apartment, Jeff and Nancy hear the sound of water running.  They soon find that the tub in their bathroom has recently been filled and drained of water.  Setting down the candle they have been using for light, the couple is shocked to find it moving on its own.  Upon closer examination it is found to in fact be a turtle.  Old Hickory is his name and he used to be the mascot of a certain speakeasy that used to be in residence in the basement of 13 Gay Street.  It is at this moment that the movers finally arrive with the couple’s furniture.  After several feats of strength and some male posturing, Nancy and Jeff tuck in for a comfortable night’s sleep in their own beds.  They are awakened by several police officers trooping in and out of their apartment.  The body of a man has been found in their back yard and it is someone that the Troys recognize.  It is the man from the restaurant!  Jeff soon decides that he going to solve the mystery of the murdered man and make into his next bestselling novel…much to Nancy’s dismay.

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A NIGHT TO REMEMBER, not to be confused with the film of the same name about the Titanic, is quite a fun and enjoyable screwball comedy.  I’ve read some reviews that have said that this film isn’t particularly funny or that the ending is lazy, but I have to disagree.  Too often I think when people think screwball comedy they think only of MY MAN GODFREY, BRINGING UP BABY, or THEODORA GOES WILD.  These are the pinnacle of the art form and while A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is not on the level of BRINGING UP BABY, it is still a very good screwball comedy/mystery in its own right.  The story and mystery are a bit different than the usual fare, with the film mixing comedy, suspense, mystery, and a bit of drama quite effectively.

I really enjoyed Brian Aherne in this.  His portrayal of Jeff Troy was a great combination of wit, charm, cool, and foolishness.  When he returns from the police station he is only concerned with being hungry, rather than being traumatized by a police interrogation.  At one point someone screams and when Nancy tells him to go and see what it was Jeff replies, “What do you mean?  I know what it was, someone screamed.”  And then there is the issue of the apartment door.  Aherne gives a non-traditional performance as the “hero”, being neither all knowing nor a bumbling idiot but a nice combination of the two.

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My usual thoughts regarding Loretta Young come from her roles in THE BISHOPS’S WIFE and HEROES FOR SALE.  I tend to think of her as virtuous but serious women.  But I am delighted to say that she is quite a good comedienne and A NIGHT TO REMEMBER gives her ample opportunity to show this.  She has moments of hand wringing and “Oh Jeff!”-ing of course, but there are far more moments of her keeping pace with her husband and throwing off several witty and sarcastic one liners.  She loves Jeff but remains wholly unimpressed when he tries too hard to play the hero detective.  She gets scared sometimes by the strange goings-on in her new home but never lets it get the best of her, often sticking by Jeff during his sketchier investigations.  Loretta Young looks lovely as always, but she shows a bright and witty side of her talents that I hope to see more examples of!

Is A NIGHT TO REMEMBER a great screwball comedy on par with the best of them?  No, but I do think that it comes close.  This screwball comedy mystery is a truly fun and funny movie, and one that I hope more people will take the time to see.  In a genre that can too easily fall into troupes and well-used gags, A NIGHT TO REMEMBER takes a unique and smart approach to adapting The Frightened Stiff by Kelley Roos.  If you want a film that has a little bit of everything, including Sidney Toler and a turtle, then A NIGHT TO REMEMBER is for you!  As a special birthday treat for Loretta Young, I will leave you with a chance to watch it for yourself.

 

The Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon!

The lovely Cinema Dilettante is hosting her very first blogathon and she has been so kind as to let me tag along for the fun!

The Loretta Young Birthday Blogathon started today and we are already having fun!  Be sure to follow this post or the one from Cinema Dilettante to keep up on all the great posts…mine will be coming soon.

Here is the roster of the posts from all the wonderful bloggers you can expect to see any time from January 3rd to January 6th.

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Roster

The Cinema Dilettante: Something Of Her Own

Now Voyaging: A Night To Remember

Movie Star Makeover: How To Conduct Oneself As A Lady, with our resident muse, Loretta Young

Finding Franchot: The Unguarded Hour

Carole & Co.: Taxi!

Laura’s Miscellaneous Musings: And Now Tomorrow

Love Letters To Old Hollywood: The Story Of Alexander Graham Bell

Defiant Success: The Bishop’s Wife

PortraitsByJenni: Rachel And The Stranger

Back To Golden Days: Private Number

Stardust: The Beauty of Loretta Young

CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch: The Stranger

Speakeasy Classic Movies & More: The Life Of Jimmy Dolan

Girls Do Film: Platinum Blonde

Crítica Retrô: The Films Of Loretta Young & Tyrone Power

Old Hollywood Films: The Farmer’s Daughter

Phyllis Loves Classic Movies: Come To The Stable


 

Congratulations to Kayla for a wonderful first blogathon!  Be sure to go and show her some appreciation!