Spending Time With Turner Classic Movies: A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS (1964)

Hard to believe that there are only eight days until Christmas.  This year has been much more hectic than last year, when I was able to watch several Christmas themed movies by this point, what with the holiday hosting/planning, gift buying and wrapping, Santa picture taking, decorating, etc.  That being said, I still am intending on watching at least a few more Christmas movies if I can manage it.  But here at last is my first Christmas film of the season and it really struck me.

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Daniel Grudge (Sterling Hayden) is spending his Christmas Eve as he always does, alone and in the dark.  He is interrupted by the arrival of his nephew, Fred (Ben Gazzara), who is angry at his uncle for stopping an international exchange of professors from the United States and Poland.  Grudge tells Fred to stop being such a bleeding-heart and begins to extoll the virtues of isolation and neutrality.  Grudge not only wants to stay out of all conflicts and keep on his own “side of the fence”, but he also wants to build up armor, defenses, and bombs in order to make sure that the rest of the world knows that the United States can not only destroy them but they can do it faster and better than anyone else.  Fred is horrified at this speech and calls Grudge on what he believes is the true reason for his uncle’s bitterness.  It was on this very night in 1944 that Grudge’s son Marley was killed in action overseas.

Grudge freely admits that he is still angry over the loss of his son and wonders why Fred would still want to be involved with other people and other countries after seeing what that involvement got Marley.  Fred just shakes his head and takes his leave.  With his nephew gone, Grudge begins to see flashes of his dead son and hear music playing in his long empty room.  When he opens the door to investigate, he finds himself on the deck of a transport ship.  A soldier approaches him and introduces himself as The Ghost of Christmas Past (Steve Lawrence).  The vessel is a World War I troopship returning with the bodies of the many dead, not all from the United States but all sons of mothers and fathers.  The Ghost of Christmas Past will share with Grudge the need for international powers to “keep talking” because “when the talking stops the fighting starts”.  Grudge remains unconvinced until the Ghost of Christmas Past takes him back to the day where he visited a makeshift hospital in Japan, after the bomb fell.

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Moving on, Grudge is confronted by The Ghost of Christmas Present (Pat Hingle) and a table covered in food.  The Ghost beckons him over and offers him some of the bounty, before flicking a switch and illuminating a barbed wire fence nearby.  On the other side of the fence are numerous “displaced people”, each homeless and hungry, huddling together for warmth.  Grudge is sickened by this and demands to know how the Ghost can eat with all these hungry people nearby.  In response the Ghost asks Grudge how HE can eat, as there are always hungry and homeless people in the world needing help even if you can’t see them.  He begins to give Grudge statistics and numbers of just how many people in the world are homeless, sick, and needy.  Before too long, Grudge can take no more and rushes away.

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He comes into a ruined town square, surrounded by rubble and destruction.  It is here that he finds the Ghost of Christmas Future.  The Ghost tells Grudge that he is in his own hometown at some date in the future.  Some time before nations stopped talking to each other and others began dropping out of the United Nations.  Before too long information became clouded and suspicions rose, leading to the dropping of several nuclear bombs.  What remains now are the few members of humanity who survived.  While Grudge and the Ghost watch these people gather into the center of the rubble and celebrate the entrance of their leader, the Imperial Me (Peter Sellers).  These people value selfishness and isolation, and the Imperial Me has come forth to declare war on the other surviving members of humanity “over yonder and across the river” who want to band together against their common problems.  Grudge is already highly disturbed by what he sees until a man comes forward he recognizes.  This is Grudge’s butler Charles (Percy Rodrigues) and he has decided to speak to try and convince the mob to have dignity, decency, and respect once again.

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A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS was written by Rod Serling at a time when the world seemed to be at its worst.  The threat of nuclear destruction felt ever present and the recent assassination of President John F. Kennedy hung over the nation.  Shot at the Michael Myerberg Studios in New York City, A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS was to air as part of a series supporting the United Nations.  Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, this special aired on December 28, 1964 and not again for forty-eight years when TCM showed it in 2012.

Many people have said that while A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS is a must-see film, it is too much a product of its time and must be viewed in that historical context.  I could not disagree more.  A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS is just as important and relevant to the state of the world today as it was in 1964.  We still live in an age where nuclear war is a real and terrible possibility.  We still live in a world where we are confronted by the senseless deaths of sons and daughters in fights that we don’t always agree with.  We still live in a world where people want to close out those who don’t match up with their own sensibilities.  Especially in light of recent events in Syria, in Paris, in California, in the race for the Presidential Nomination, this television special from 1964 is not only important but it is needed.  Watching it in 2015 I could not help but feel that these important issues being raised in 1964 were still in dire need of being talked about.

A CAROL FOR ANOTHER CHRISTMAS should be a part of everyone’s holiday viewing no matter where you live, no matter what part of the world you are in, no matter what religion you practice.  While it is based on A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, it is not just a Christmas story…it is a call for peace and goodwill for all men.  We still live in a world where we need to encourage ourselves, our neighbors, and our leaders to “keep talking”.  I am so grateful that TCM pulled this film from obscurity an brought it back into the public eye.  But since there are many people in the world who do not get TCM and because there is no DVD copy available, though I sincerely hope that someone will put one out soon (hint hint TCM), here is a copy that I found on YouTube.  Please take some time out this holiday and watch it.  I think that you will find it just as startling and relevant as I did.

Spending Time With Turner Classic Movies: THE WIND (1928)

THE WIND is one of those films that I am always meaning to watch but somehow never do.  I see previews for it or spot an upcoming showing on TCM and make a mental note to watch it…and then I don’t.  So when The Essentials was showing THE WIND earlier this month I made sure to DVR it and then WATCH it!

Spoiler Warning!  This will be an overview of the film and while the ending will NOT be revealed some major plot points will be.  If you don’t want to know stop reading and go watch THE WIND, then come back and read!

A young woman, recently impoverished, makes her way by train west from Virginia to meet her cousin.  The young woman, named Letty (Lillian Gish), is traveling to live in Sweet Water with her cousin Beverly (Edward Earle).  While onboard the train she meets a charming cattle rancher called Wirt Roddy (Montagu Love) who tells her tales of women being driven mad by the constant and wild winds in the area.  Letty pretends to be unfazed by Roddy’s strange way of flirting but the battering gusts and clouds of dust just outside her window make it difficult to completely ignore his words.  Once the train arrives in Sweet Water, Letty is met by two men claiming to have been sent my Beverly to retrieve her.  The younger man is named Lige Hightower (Lars Hanson) while the older is called Sourdough (William Orlamond), and they are Beverly’s nearest neighbors living about fifteen miles outside of Sweet Water.  Put off by the less than refined manners of these two men, Letty turns back to Roddy who assures her that he will return soon to check in on her.

As the trio sets out the two men fight like schoolboys over who will sit next to the pretty newcomer.  Letty, as a Southern belle, is less than enthused by this and she is becoming more and more disturbed by the wind.  Lars assures her that this wind is nothing compared to a “norther” which can tear men apart and send wild horses into a frenzy.  Not surprisingly, this does not help Letty’s nerves and neither does the appearance of Sweet Water Ranch.  Her cousin Beverly is thrilled to see her and welcome her into the little shack he calls home.  His wife Cora (Dorothy Cumming) on the other hand is less than pleased, especially when she notices the particular shine Beverly takes to the pretty young thing.  Cora spends her days caring for the children and doing much of the work around the ranch as Beverly is not in the best of health.  During dinner the men continue to fawn over Letty, much to Cora’s dismay, and Letty continues to be unnerved by the wind.

Frontier life is nothing like Letty has ever experienced before and she is not well prepared for it. She tries her hand at ironing for the family and develops her first set of blisters.  Cora is not sympathetic as she is too busy gutting a cow in the living room.  Cora can hardly contain her hurt and anger as she watches her own children and husband flock to Letty with open arms, while ignoring or rejecting her altogether.  Some time later the town holds a dance and while Cora is busy caring for the entire town’s children, Letty is having a grand time as the belle of the ball.  She slips away from Lige and Sourdough, who are continuing their adolescent pursuit of her, when she spots a familiar face.  Roddy has returned as promised and he sweeps Letty onto the dance floor.

Lige and Sourdough meanwhile, have found Cora and have each declared to her their intentions to ask Letty to marry them.  Unsurprisingly Cora is all for this plan.  Roddy is wooing Letty, declaring that he came back just for her, when the warning comes that a tornado has been spotted.  Roddy and Letty take shelter below with Cora, the children, and other members of the town, while Lige and Sourdough stay above to brace the doors and windows.  Pressed together, Roddy tells Letty that she must come away with him because he loves her.  Letty hesitates and Roddy advises her to think it over as he will be in town until the next day.  At this point the threat of the tornado has passed and the party continues on.  Roddy takes his leave, and this is the moment that Sourdough and Lige decide to pop the question to Letty.  Unfortunately for them both, Letty cannot believe that they are serious and just laughs at them.  Besides, Letty has the love of a cultured man like Roddy so why would she ever marry a rough person like Lige or Sourdough?  When she shares the joke with Cora, she learns that Cora doesn’t see it as funny.  She warns Letty that she had better decide which man she will marry because she is no longer welcome at Sweet Water.  She knows that something is going on between Letty and Beverly, and she will not let her destroy their family.  Beverly overhears this and tries to come to his cousin’s defense but is brought down by a racking cough.  Cora rushes to her husband’s side and as the two embrace, Letty decides that she must fend for herself.  She tells Cora not to worry, she knows where she can go.

Unfortunately, Roddy is not quite the stand up guy she thought he was.  Turns out he actually has a wife so he won’t be marrying Letty any time soon, but if she would like to become is mistress…  Letty leaves in disgust and is now forced to tell Cora that her plans have fallen through,  Cora stops short of just leaving Letty in town but does tell her that since she has two men who want to marry her, she had better pick one and quick as she will not be spending one more night at Sweet Water Ranch.

Letty and Lige are quickly married and return to his bachelor home, which he happens to share with Sourdough.  The place is quite a mess and the wind blows great piles of dust into the home.  Lige tries to make Letty feel welcome by offering her a cup of coffee, which she secretively disposes of in the wash basin, and the two share some awkward conversation and even more awkward first kisses as man and wife.  Lige leaves to give Letty some privacy and as soon as she is alone, Letty’s demeanor crumbles and her nerves leave her.  The wind is driving her up the wall and she is terrified at the prospect of a wedding night with a man she doesn’t love.  Lige is pacing in the next room, unsure of how to react to his new wife’s strange and distant behavior.  He finally can take no more and returns to Letty, this time trying more forcefully to stir the desires of his new wife.  This pushes Letty too far and she tells Lige that while she didn’t want to at first, she now hates him.  Lige realizes that Letty did not marry him to be his wife, to work with him, live with him, and love him, but that she married him simply because she had no where else to go.  Lige promises Letty that he will never touch her again and as soon as he has enough money saved he will send her away from the wind, the ranch, and from him.

Lige and Letty live their lives in quiet separation.  Lige has changed and his formerly boyish advances are replaced by a quiet and stoic man, who cares for Letty as well as any husband ever could while never attempting to make any advances on her.  Faced with this new treatment from Lige, Letty begins to soften in her earlier aloofness and starts to see Lige with in a new light.  Having been scorned by Roddy, she is touched by a man who treats her with honesty and respect, and one who honors his word.

Speaking of Roddy…  One day while Letty waits for Lige to return from one of his mustang round ups, the other men come to the home.  They have found an injured man and while Letty is at first fearful that it is Lige who has been hurt, her fear turns to horror when she discovers that it is in fact, Roddy who will now be staying with her and Lige while he recovers.  Roddy spends his recovery time begging Letty to come back to Virginia with him, once again playing on her fears of the wind.  During one such session, Lige returns just as Roddy appears to be making a move on Letty.  Letty is so relieved that she runs to her husband and throws her arms around him.  Lige is surprised by this affection but does not return it.  He tells Roddy that all the men are gathering to take part in a mustang roundup and that includes formerly injured ones.  Roddy heads out as does Lige, but Letty stops him and begs him not to go.  Lige tells her he has to, as this is the only way he can get enough money to send Letty away.  Then, perhaps emboldened by her display earlier, he takes his chance and kisses her as he has not done since that fateful night.  This time Letty does not push him away and as Lige rides off into the wind Letty runs out onto the porch yelling him name, but he does not hear her.

Letty returns to the house where she is tormented by thoughts of Roddy, Lige, and the wind.  The entire house begins to shake and her terror grows.  Little does she know that Roddy has turned back and is heading right for her with plans of his own.

When you mention THE WIND most people will have some thoughts about the ending.  Now, I am not going to get into the discussion about whether or not the frequently related story that there was an original “sad” ending is true or not.  If you want to read some of the different arguments and theories regarding this view I will include some links below, just in case you want to learn more.  What I would like to talk about is whether or not the ending to THE WIND could still be considered a positive and almost feminist one.

Without revealing the major plot points of the ending, I would say that the ending as it stands now not only makes sense in terms of the story that has been created up to that point, but it also is an ending that is quite powerful for the character of Letty.  Up until the end Letty has mostly been driven by her circumstances.  She has come to Sweet Water because she has no money, she  leaves the ranch and her cousin because Cora wants her out, she marries Lige because she has no where else to go, she becomes involved with Roddy because he is offering to save her from the frontier life.  She constantly fears being left alone with the wind and the dust.  But at the very end she begins to do things not because she is afraid or has no choice, but because she wants to.  She takes matters into her own hands at last and finally conquers her fear of the world around her.  For his part Lige does a remarkable thing and simply accepts Letty’s actions and thoughts without questioning them or her.  He never accuses her, or disbelieves her, never treats her like a child who doesn’t know her own mind.  He accepts her as a woman and an adult who has done what she did for the right reasons.  In this way, I think that this ending can be looked on as a very powerful one for Letty.  Maybe there is a predisposition to discount the ending of THE WIND as too Hollywood or happy to be worthwhile, but I would tend to disagree.  If the ending is true to the story being told and the characters created then it is just as valid an ending as an artistically virtuous one.

This is my first time seeing Lillian Gish and I was, forgive the pun, blown away.  The things that she could do with just her eyes are remarkable.  She can subtly shift her expressions in ways that portray about twenty-five different emotions in the span of two minutes.  In her hands Letty becomes a spoiled southern belle, an anxious young woman trying to adjust to a harder life, a woman frightened and alone in the world, and a new wife married to a man she neither knows nor loves in such a way as to allow the audience to feel everything she feels and sympathize with her.  She also does all this in just the first thirty minutes of the movie.  Needless to say I will be on the lookout for more Lillian Gish.

Her co-star Lars Hanson also deserves a mention because without his portrayal of Lige, THE WIND would not have the emotional impact that it does.  In order for Letty’s emotional distress and eventual decisions to have any meaning there has to be a reason or an anchor for us to root for her to survive.  Lige starts the film as a goofy and big-hearted country boy but after being rejected by Letty, the woman he had hoped would love him and stand by him in the rough landscape as a wife, he transforms into a quiet and stoic man.  We never feel like Lige stops caring for Letty but rather he respects her enough to stay away from her, something he believes she wants, and work to get her away from Sweet Water and back to where she feels she belongs. He never treats her unkindly and we get to see Lige for the man he truly is, just as Letty does.

The other supporting characters are also well done, with special credit due to Beverly and Cora.  Beverly could have easily been a throw away character, almost a plot device, but in his few short scenes we see a man who is weaker than he wants to be in every way.  Cora could have become a one-dimensional shrewish wife but Dorothy Cummings shows Cora as a woman who has had to become harder and stronger than she wanted to be simply in response to her situation.  We get the sense that at one point she was like Letty, young and delicate, but her marriage to a man of weak constitution (in every sense of the word) has changed her and turned her into the “man of the house”.  When Letty threatens that by stealing the affection of her husband and children, can any of us really blame her for wanting to remove that threat?


If you would like to read more about THE WIND you can find a great write-up here.  If you would like to read about some different theories regarding the “sad” ending you can read them here and here.

Spending Time With Turner Classic Movies: DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1920)

The story of DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is not a new one to movie-goers.  Among classic film fans there are at least four different versions to choose from.  Frederic March is notable for his pre-code take on the tale while Spencer Tracy starred with a young Ingrid Bergman in the post-code one.  In 1920 two silent versions of the film were made but this version, starring John Barrymore in the role that would push him over into star status, is thought to be the superior of the two.

Dr. Henry Jekyll (John Barrymore) is a young and successful London physician.  He spends most of his time treating the poor of London in his free clinic, while the rest of his day is spent in his laboratory experimenting much to the chagrin of his more conservative friend, Dr. Lanyon (Charles Lane).  He is also a bit of a goody-two shoes, at least according to some of the older physicians.  The lead tempter is Sir George Carew (Brandon Hurst), who also happens to be the father of Jekyll’s sweetheart, Millicent (Martha Mansfield).  One evening over dinner, Sir George expresses his dismay over Jekyll’s purity.  “No man can be so good!” he proclaims but his cronies and Dr. Lanyon assure him that with Jekyll what you see is what you get.

Jekyll enters the dinner at this point, after taking a moment to tenderly greet Millicent, and is met with derision from Sir George.  “You are so good and perfect but aren’t you neglecting your other needs?” he asks.  Jekyll is shocked at this speech and what it implies but like a bachelor party gone wrong the men drag Jekyll off to a dance hall to help him “experience” the parts of life they believe he is missing.  Once there the men are treated to the sight of exotic Italian dancer, Gina (Nita Naldi).  Sir George invites Gina over to their little group for some “quality time” with Jekyll who is initially drawn to Gina but remembers himself just in time.

Some days later Jekyll is still conflicted over the events of the dinner party and wonders aloud to Dr. Lanyon if it wouldn’t be possible for science to devise a way to separate the baser instincts of men from their more noble souls, thus leaving their immortal souls untouched while allowing temptation to have its way with their desires.  Dr. Lanyon is, of course, horrified at this notion and advises Jekyll to forget the idea ever occurred to him.  But of course Jekyll can’t and it isn’t long before he has come up with a potion that will do exactly what he desired.  Jekyll takes the potion one night and is immediately transformed into Mr. Hyde, a man with no soul and unbridled desire.  At this early stage however, Jekyll still has enough control over Mr. Hyde to immediately return to his laboratory and take the serum that will return him to his normal state.  He then tells his servant that his friend, Mr. Hyde will be coming to visit and is to be allowed free reign over the house and laboratory.

Mr. Hyde needs a lair and soon rents a room in the seedier part of London.  Once this base is established he makes a beeline to the dance hall and Gina.  He claims her as his own and takes her back to his room.  After using and abusing her for a time, Mr. Hyde throws her out having taken from her all that he desired, including a ring that holds a dose of poison.  Gina is shattered by her relationship with Hyde and returns to the darkness a much different woman.  Jekyll meanwhile has since become engaged to Millicent but has begun to realize that his darker side is growing more and more powerful.  He is afraid that Millicent may be exposed to his depravity and realizes that he has begun to lose his control over Mr. Hyde.  How long will it be before Dr. Jekyll is powerless to stop Mr. Hyde from committing a terrible crime?

Shown on TCM Silent Sundays as part of their celebration of the macabre, I can definitely say that this film creeped me out at moments.  Several shots of Mr. Hyde leering at the camera as he  moves closer and closer definitely gave me the heebie-jeebies.  There is one moment that I highly recommend that you do not watch with the lights off.  Dr. Jekyll sleeps fitfully as Mr. Hyde in the form of a giant spider climbs onto the bed and disappears inside him.  Super creepy.  The score also gave the film some terrific tension and unease, with the musical accompaniment sometimes discordant and sometimes abruptly stopping and starting again.

John Barrymore really goes to town here.  While I would say that some of the other characters are rather one-dimensional, Sir George is a bit too lecherous and Dr. Lanyon a bit too proper for example, Barrymore goes to town and I think the characters are better for it.  Some have called his performance “broad” and I would agree that there are some really big bite marks in the scenery, I would also argue that this is what makes the whole film work.  DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE is a story of the two extremes of man.  Hyde is the manifestation of pure temptation without any restraint, evil without any soul.  As such, Jekyll must be the model of restraint and control, purity on the edge of piety.  In other words, this is not a story for subtleties.  Yes there are a few laugh worth moments of over the top reactions, the first time he drinks the potion for example, but these just serve to make the movie more fun.  And for all his over the top behavior, Barrymore also has moments of true restraint and remarkable nuance.  In one scene he is transformed back into Jekyll and Barrymore does a wonderful job of portraying relief at being back to normal followed by horror as he remembers what his counterpart has done.  It is also worth noting that the initial transformation of Jekyll into Hyde was done with no makeup or effects.  That was all Barrymore contorting his face and affecting his posture.  If that isn’t impressive then I don’t know what is.

There are many Jekyll and Hyde tales available to the classic film fan but I would say that this one should be on the list of “Must See”.  At a time when so many films are reliant on makeup and special effects to convey characters and plot, it is truly enjoyable to see what happens when a film relies on actor’s skill and story instead.


If you would like an in-depth look at this film, here is another review from Movies Silently.

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: THE SET-UP (1949)

Some time ago I asked for suggestions of films I should watch and post about here.  Among the suggestions was a movie called THE SET-UP starring Robert Ryan, which was recommended to me by Karen of Shadows and Satin.  Well thanks to the Summer Under the Stars my DVR has been working overtime and I am now finally getting a chance to watch some of the films I recorded in the previous months in an effort to make more space!  Which leads me to this post as I finally watched THE SET-UP.

Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan) is an aging boxer.  At the age of thirty-five he is considered ancient by his sport’s standards.  He is also not a very successful boxer, usually being the one down on the mat rather than standing up and basking in the cheers of the crowd.  Thanks to his reputation pretty much everyone has counted Stoker out.  The older boxers have a fondness for him but for the most part Stoker is a joke to everyone else.  Among those who have little respect for Stoker are his manager Tiny (George Tobias) and his trainer Red (Percy Helton).  So it should come as very little surprise to anyone that Tiny and Red have very little compunction about taking bribes.  They are doing just that on the night of Stoker’s fight against a new boxer.  Apparently the new kid is the personal fighter of  one Little Boy, a gambler with big dreams for his new champion and even bigger threats to back them up.  Little Boy’s man offers Tiny money in exchange for Stoker to take a dive in the second round.  Tiny and Red agree but don’t tell Stoker, figuring he is bound to get beaten anyway, and pocket the money for themselves.

In the hotel across the street from the boxing arena, Stoker and his wife Julie (Audrey Totter) are arguing.  Stoker wants Julie to come and see him fight just like she always has.  But Julie, after dutifully supporting her husband all these years, is tired of watching the man she loves be beaten to a pulp night after night.  She is tired of hearing that he is just “one punch away from the top”.  She tells Stoker that she has a headache and will not be going to the fight.  She begs him to retire from the ring, fearing that the fights will one day kill him.  Stoker is hurt but leaves any way, telling Julie “when you’re a fighter, you fight”.

Backstage at the arena Stoker is surrounded by fighters old and new.  The older fighters chat easily while they prepare, while the new guys are more energetic.  One young kid prepares for his very first fight with a few trips to the bathroom before heading out.  Some fighters win and others lose.  Stoker watches them all, pensive and disturbed by Julie’s words.  He believes that he can beat his opponent, that he can come out on top this time, but he feels Julie’s sadness and concern.  It all becomes too possible when the door to the backroom bursts open and one of Stoker’s buddies, a washed up fighter named Gunboat Johnson, is rushed in in bad shape from a severe pummeling.

Stoker prepares for his fight and looks out the window to the hotel across the street.  Julie begins to head out and at the last minute takes the ticket her husband left her.  Stoker sees the light go out and happily believes his wife is coming to see him fight.  Julie makes her way to the arena but as she enters the door she hears the familiar sounds of the crowd reacting to a man being beaten to within an inch of his life.  She turns and hurries away into the night.  Stoker heads to the ring full of confidence, unaware of what awaits him.  Tiny and Red advise him to hold back and keep away from his opponent but Stoker insists that he is going to beat the newcomer.  Tiny and Red share a look and a smirk as they send Stoker off to meet his fate.

This is one of the first movies to utilize the concept of taking place in real-time.  The film lasts little more than seventy-two minutes and packs quite a bit of action into that short amount of time.  The various clocks shown during the film not only give a sense of the passage of time but they also give a feeling of doom as the countdown closes in on an unsuspecting Stoker.  It is a very similar experience to that of watching HIGH NOON, as the audience knows what is coming for the main character and we can see time slipping away as he tries to prepare.

Watching THE SET-UP I noticed how much of the action and drama actually takes place in the facial expressions, reactions, and unheard thoughts of the characters.  The noises and conversations of the other people often seem to be just so much noise as we try to watch the faces of Stoker, Julie, Tiny, and Red.  Robert Ryan is just fantastic at this, often saying so much with just one look.  He is definitely an actor that I am growing in appreciation of.  He brings a quietness and a stillness to his role, one that gives the viewer the feeling of a man who has been beaten down and made fun of for so long that he has almost started to believe it.  Almost.

THE SET-UP also gives a look at the corruption of the boxing world without being too heavy handed.  Instead of holding Stoker up on the moral high-ground and having Tiny get what should be coming to him, director Robert Wise simply shows the corruption as part of the environment that everyone acknowledges and accepts.  THE SET-UP is a fast, tense, and brutal film about a man surrounded by darkness with no way out except to fight.

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: TROUBLE FOR TWO (1936)

There are certain movies that I want to see simply based on the synopsis, and then there are certain movies that I want to see simply based on who is starring in them.  TROUBLE FOR TWO was a film I wanted to see for both reasons.  Rosalind Russell and Robert Montgomery tangling with a suicide club?  How could I say no?

Prince Florizel (Robert Montgomery) of Carovia is bored and unhappy.  He is entertaining himself by having a traveling circus teach him to balance on stilts, but his spirits cannot be raised.  He is set to be married to Princess Brenda of Irania, a woman he hasn’t seen since childhood.  Florizel’s father, the King of Carovia, decides that his son needs a holiday in London in order to clear his head before the wedding.  Florizel goes off under the assumed name of Mr. Theopholus Godall, along with his faithful right hand man Colonel “Gerry” Geraldine (Frank Morgan).

The boat voyage to England starts off quite normally and Florizel is bored again in no time.  But then, several days into the journey, Florizel meets an enchanting and mysterious young woman named Miss Vandeleur (Rosalind Russell).  Miss Vandeleur asks Florizel to hide some papers for her which he agrees to do.  Later Florizel seeks Miss Vandeleur out in her cabin where they are confronted by a shady individual who is searching for the very papers Florizel is hiding.  The would be robber leaves empty handed and Gerry is feeling a little less enthused about Florizel’s vacation from home.  Florizel for his part is having a great time and welcomes the change of pace.

Once the boat docks Florizel goes in search of his new crush but finds that the cabin Miss Vandeleur was occupying were listed as empty on the ship’s log.  What’s more, the papers he was guarding for her were simply blank pieces of paper.  Florizel resigns himself to never knowing the truth about the mysterious woman from the boat.  He and Gerry go off to eat dinner at a local tavern.  While they are enjoying their meal a young man enters with a tray of cream puffs, yes cream puffs.  He offers up his tray of sweets to the tavern as he has no more need of such earthly delights as has decided to end his own life.  Florizel and Gerry are quite shocked, as you might imagine, and invite the young man to eat with them.  While they eat the cream puffs the young man, whose name is Cecil Barnley, relates his story of a misspent youth.  Rather than cause his family more shame by continuing on living, Cecil has resolved to end his life by joining a suicide club and thereby sparing his family’s honor.  The suicide club works in a unique way allowing the members to die but not by their own hand, rather at the hand of another.  Florizel, much to Gerry’s shock, then proposes joining Cecil and becoming a member of the suicide club himself.  Cecil is delighted to have fellow members with him and escorts Florizel and Gerry to the club’s meeting place so they might speak with the club president.  As they leave Gerry demands to know just what Florizel is thinking.  The young prince wants to save Cecil and believes that if he joins the suicide club with him, he might be able to talk him out of going through with it.  Neither Gerry nor Florizel notice Miss Vandeleur eavesdropping in a booth nearby, and neither notice when she follows their carriage to the suicide club.

Once at the club Florizel and Gerry talk to the President of the club (Reginald Owen).  They are allowed to become members, after paying a hefty admission fee and explaining their reasons for wanting to die.  The men begin to mingle with the other club members when the door opens and Miss Vandeleur enters.  Florizel tries to make his way over to speak with her but the President calls the meeting to order.  The members assemble around a table and draw cards from the deck.  Cecil draws the Ace of Spades, which signifies that he will be the victim, while Miss Vandeleur draws the Ace of Clubs, which signifies she will be the executioner.  These two then leave the room to receive their instructions from the club President while the other members return to their homes.  Florizel remains behind, hoping to run into Miss Vandeleur before she leaves but he is stymied once again.  He is not overly concerned however, as he still believes that the suicide club is a big joke.  The joke seems to be on him the next morning when the paper runs the story of Cecil’s death.

Gerry wants to go home but Florizel is determined to find Miss Vandeleur again.  And so it is that the next night the two men return to the suicide club.  Once again the members assemble and draw cards.  Once again Miss Vandaleur draws the card of the executioner, but this time her victim will be…Florizel.  Gerry is horrified as his young master and the woman who might as well be a black widow, are lead off by the club President.  The two are escorted to a waiting carriage and head off to a secluded spot.  Specifically they go off to the zoo, even more specifically they go off to the lion cages.  Florizel attempts to talk to Miss Vandeleur but she isn’t very forthcoming.  Finally he gives up, just as they reach the lions.  Miss Vandeleur then turns to him and begins to unlock the cage door.

I really enjoyed this film, it was such a pleasant surprise.  Robert Montgomery and Rosalind Russell have such great chemistry together, they make what could have been a pretty bland B-picture come alive with a terrific energy.  I love Robert Montgomery, I would like to throw out an appeal for someone to write a biography about him, and he has such a twinkle in his eye during this film.  His prince never comes off as spoiled or petulant, rather as a lovable rascal who you would really love to get to know.  And you can never go wrong with Frank Morgan, who is terrific as the put upon friend/servant to Robert Montgomery.  Also, this happens:

Rosalind Russell makes any film she is in exponentially better just by being there.  She also has this really excellent quality about her that translates into her characters.  Her women always seem to be up for anything, able to handle just as much as the men, and have fun at the same time.  She and Robert Montgomery pair up so well because they are both irrepressible and irreverent.  Their relationship and chemistry is what takes this film from being blah to being really fun and enjoyable.  I will say that Robert Montgomery is not a terribly impressive swordsman, Errol Flynn he is not, and there are a few clunky moments that made me chuckle at their awkwardness.  But all in all this was a really fun film and a very nice way to spend an afternoon.

Spending Time With Turner Classic Movies: THE CRASH (1932)

This summer has been so chocked full of things to do that I have been remiss about posting about some of the films that I have seen.  I did manage to watch three films from my list (Ten Films for 2015) including MILDRED PIERCE and YANKEE DOODLE DANDY, but I haven’t been able to sit down and blog the way I would like to.  So allow me to remedy that by talking about THE CRASH from 1932, a recommendation from Kristina of Speakeasy.

In the later part of the 1920s, Linda Gault (Ruth Chatterton) uses her feminine charms to help get stock tips for her financier husband, Geoffrey (George Brent).  She carries on affairs with various men of power in the banking world and returns home with insider trading information.  Linda has decided to end her affair with one such banker, John Fair, seeming to grow tired of being used and abused in this way.  However Geoffrey has other plans and begs Linda to charm John once more at a party, hoping for more information about the state of the stock market.  Linda is hurt, feeling betrayed by Geoffrey’s cavalier use of her assets and his lack of concern for her.  Perhaps it is because of this that she is unable to fool John Fair into believing that she is still in love with him.  John refuses to part with any insider secrets but when Geoffrey asks Linda what she has learned she tells him a small lie that will destroy everything.

The market crashes soon after, causing Geoffrey and Linda to loose everything.  Linda has feared this event, having spent her childhood in deep poverty.  Not wishing to live in a manner other than that to which she has become accustomed, Linda convinces Geoffrey to allow her to go to Bermuda with a letter of credit.  She promises to return once Geoffrey regains his former wealth and glory.  This begins to take much longer than either of them expected and Linda becomes bored.  Never one to sit around at home, Linda soon meets Ronnie Sanderson (Paul Cavanagh) an honest-to-God Australian sheep rancher.

Linda and Ronnie begin spending a lot of time together and Ronnie falls in love with Linda.  He often asks her to come away with him but she refuses believing that Australia will be “boring”.  But that all changes when she finds out that Geoffrey has lost everything and her maid has stolen her pearl necklace.  Soon Linda must return to New York and to Geoffrey to not only get her necklace back, but to get a divorce as well.

This was an interesting little film for sure.  Being a pre-code it packs quite a bit into a very short run time and the story definitely moves.  Not too much time is spent building up character background but there is still a good sense of Ruth and Geoffrey’s relationship.  George Brent is quite good as the husband who clearly loves his wife but has no idea how to get the large amounts of money needed to keep her happy, aside from using her to get insider information.  He doesn’t want Ruth to leave him to go to Bermuda, fearing what will become of him once she is gone and not around to help him.  He loves her deeply, and surprisingly even though he has pushed Linda to have affairs in the past he never suspects her of having an affair on her own.

Ruth Chatterton is an interesting combination of fierceness and defeat.  She loves Geoffrey but is tired of using herself to get information.  She feels cheap and worthless being the mistress of so many men with nothing but encouragement from her husband.  The sense I got from her portrayal was that she is so hurt and saddened by Geoffrey’s continued encouragement of her affairs that she decides to lie simply to hurt him and perhaps dissuade him from future encouragement.  She lives her life after that moment in guilt, anger, and fear believing that since she was able to escape poverty once before by using her wiles that she must do so once again to regain what she has lost.

All in all this was an interesting an unique look at the effects of affairs and financial ruin on a marriage.  Thanks to Kristina for the suggestion!

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: THE TUNNEL (1935)

Lots of things happening around the blog lately.  As I posted previously I am taking part in the Classic Film History Blogathon with not one but TWO entries, as well as the upcoming Beach Party Blogathon.  AND lest we forget I am also taking part in the Summer 2015 Classic Film Reading Challenge…which means that very soon there will be BOOK REVIEWS!  I am still trying to find time to watch other films for the blog, and clear off my DVR in the process, which leads me to THE TUNNEL…

A group of millionaires gathers to take in an evening of music at some unspecified date in the future (there is an illusion to a past event being in the 1940s so it is safe to assume that we are at least in the 1950s) somewhere in England.  They are introduced to brilliant engineer Richard McAllen (Richard Dix) who has come up with a crazy idea.  Having already built “The Channel Tunnel”, McAllen now wants to build a tunnel underneath the ocean to connect America and England.  While he pitches his idea, McAllen’s wife Ruth (Madge Evans) and his best friend Freddie Robbins (Leslie Banks) wait anxiously outside.  Though initially skeptical the millionaires, lead by arms dealer Grellier, finally agree to back the Tunnel Project.

Years pass and the tunnel construction moves head, now improved by the newly invented radium drill.  McAllen is a celebrity but is constantly pulled away from spending any time with Ruth and their growing son Geoffrey.  In fact he cannot even attend Geoffrey’s birthday because he is summoned to New York to take part in a publicity promotion lead by Varlia Lloyd (Helen Vinson), daughter of one of the Tunnel Project backers.  Varlia has been in love with McAllen for years and the photos of the two together plant doubts into Ruth’s mind.  Feeling increasingly isolated and distant from her husband, Ruth decides to join the Tunnel Project as a nurse without letting McAllen know.  While working there she becomes affected by the mysterious tunnel gases and begins to go blind.  Not wanting to be pitied and tired of playing second fiddle to the Tunnel Project, Ruth takes Geoffrey and leaves her husband with no explanation.  Heartbroken at this turn of events, McAllen throws himself into his work and even begins to alienate Robbins.

Still more years pass and the project begins to take its toll both in funds and in lives.  The leaders of America and Great Britain (Walter Huston and George Arliss respectively) continue to promote the project and the peace that they hope it will bring.  McAllen is now just a shell of the man he used to be, Robbins is losing his patience, and Ruth lives in the countryside with Geoffrey who is now trying to get a job in the tunnel alongside his father.   The project is nearing completion when disaster strikes.  While digging the men hit an underground flow of fire and lava, causing the deaths of hundreds.  When the smoke clears and the situation is assessed, it is discovered that they are digging straight towards an underwater volcano.

This film was based on the 1913 novel Der Tunnel by Bernhard Kellermann, which sold 100,000 copies in its first six months of publication and became one of the most successful books from the first half of the twentieth century.  The book had been filmed several times, the first being in 1915 as a silent film directed by William Wauer.  The other three versions were all filmed at roughly the same time (from 1933-1935) in German (Der Tunnel), French (Le Tunnel), and English (The Tunnel).  This was not uncommon as at the time the studios didn’t have the technology to dub dialogue for different languages and so just filmed a movie multiple times in multiple languages.  The films would utilize the same sets and locations but different actors and directors.

THE TUNNEL is what I would call a curio.  It is not a fabulous film but it is certainly an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, especially if you like British melodrama (which I do).  The fact that it is set in the future makes it interesting as the sets and props are unique interpretations of what the movie makers felt the future would be like.  It is a combination of 1930s fashion and design mixed with imagined futuristic technology, transport, and architecture.  Combine that with the engaging dynamic of Richard Dix and Leslie Banks, and this is a film that is at least deserving of a look.

Spending Time With Turner Classic Movies: THE HITCH-HIKER (1953)

When was the last time you invited death into your car?  This was the question posed to movie-goers by Ida Lupino’s THE HITCH-HIKER, a film noir that is tense, action packed, and unnerving…and one that is more than likely to make you second guess letting anyone into your car.

Citizens beware, a madman is on the loose.  His victims include a couple of newlyweds and a hapless salesman.  Police release the photo of their suspect, ex-convict Emmett Myers (William Talman), but he has already moved on from Central California to Mexico.  It is here that he flags down two men on their way to Baja for a fishing vacation.  Draughtsmen Gilbert Bowen (Frank Lovejoy) and garage owner Roy Collins (Edmond O’Brien) are in for a rude awakening as their helpless hitch-hiker quickly pulls a gun and takes the two hostage.  Myers orders the man to pull of the road where he takes charge of their guns and ammunition and informs them as to his true identity.  Myers then asks when the two men are expected back from their trip and Roy assures him that they are not going to be missed anytime soon, which is of course a lie.

Later at a roadside gas station Roy converses with the owners in Spanish which sends Myers, who does not speak Spanish, into a paranoid snit.  He flashes his gun to warn the two men to keep quiet about what is happening.  Myers then takes a look at the road map and decides that he will catch the ferry at Santa Rosalita which is about 500 miles away.  Forcing the two men to drive him, Myers takes great delight in abusing them mentally and physically.  At one point he forces Gil to shoot a can out of Roy’s hand with a rifle.  He also berates them for being “soft” and tells them tales of his physical toughness.  He also warns them to not try to escape as one of his eyes does not close so they would never know if he was really sleeping or not.  Listening to the radio as they drive the men soon hear a report about Roy and Gil’s disappearance causing Myers to realize that they lied to him about when they were expected back.  Now even more paranoid, Myers becomes extremely agitated when the car horn becomes stuck and forces the men to pull the car over.  Demanding the men fix the horn, Myers becomes even more panicked when a man with a burro comes down the road.  Luckily the man passes them by and the horn is fixed.  Back in the car the radio has stopped working and Myers, convinced the men have sabotaged it, hits Roy over the head with his gun.  Gil convinces him that the mountains are interfering with reception and Myers calms down.

Despite Myers’ best efforts the group has attracted attention, namely of the gas station owner of the last stop they visited.  The owner goes to the police with his suspicions and soon his information is being sent to an American agent who has come to Mexico to work with the police in this disappearance.  The American agent and the Mexican police commissioner agree that the most likely destination is Santa Rosalita and focus their efforts in that direction.  Back on the road Myers is getting even more paranoid and demands that Roy drives faster.  Roy protests but gives in when Myers waves his gun around again.  It doesn’t take long before a tire blows out and Roy barely controls the car over to the side of the road.  Both Roy and Gil are working on a frayed nerve and Roy in particular is starting to lose his cool.  Myers is also coming unglued and this frustration and upset is evident as the men exit the car to fix the tire.  Myers keeps his gun trained on them and when a car begins to pull over to help, he leaps into the backseat and warns  Roy and Gil to say nothing unless they want to die and get the good Samaritans killed too.  Roy and Gil say nothing to the young couple who stops to help and they soon leave but not before becoming suspicious of the strange and silent Americans by the roadside.

Let’s talk about Ida Lupino for a moment here.  While mostly known for being a fine actress, recognized for roles in films like THEY RIDE BY NIGHT, THE MAN I LOVE, DESPERATION, and LADIES IN RETIREMENT, Ida Lupino also had quite a career as a director.  Directing a few major motion pictures and many television episodes, Ida Lupino was the first female director to direct a film noir.  How did this happen, how did Ida Lupino get her start in directing?  In the mid 1940s while on suspension for turning down a role she began to become interested in directing.  But it wasn’t until 1949 that she finally got her chance to put these skills to use but it wasn’t through the best of circumstances.  While making NOT WANTED the director, Elmer Clifton, suffered a heart attack and was unable to complete the filming.  Ida Lupino, who had co-written and was co-producing the film, stepped in and the rest is history.

Does the fact that THE HITCH-HIKER was directed by a woman make a difference?  Maybe, but not in the way that you might think.  THE HITCH-HIKER is a very different noir starting with the setting.  While most noirs take place in dark alleys and rain-soaked roadways, this film takes place in a car riding along a deserted highway in the desert.  This is not to say that there is a lack of atmosphere or tension, in fact there is atmosphere to spare.  The isolation of the desert, the empty highway, the oppressive heat and desolation, the fact that the very environment is trying to kill you, all add up to seventy-one minutes that never let up.  Ida Lupino takes a different spin on the noir though.  Instead of focusing on the “big picture” of it all, instead she examines the more intimate relationships and interactions between the three men in the car.  More to the point she focuses on the effects of the interactions, the effects that Myers’ up bringing had on his psyche, the effects of Myer’s torture on Roy and Gil, the effects of being trapped for days in a car with a psychopath.

THE HITCH-HIKER is not rife with subplots and secondary characters.  In fact the only times that a subplot is brought up it is simply to help move the primary story line along.  Secondary characters come and go so quickly you might be tempted to consider them a walk on role.  But because of this lack of extra padding the film feels lean, sparse, and to the point.  It seems that Ida Lupino had a good story, one based on the real life killing spree of Billy Cook in the 1950s in California and one that she co-wrote with Robert L Joseph and her husband Collier Young, and she let the story speak for itself.  While many other noirs would most likely have played up the police search, the ensuing manhunt, and the search for the missing men, Ida Lupino takes things down to a much more intimate and personal feel which makes the stakes feel even higher and more urgent. The fact that Roy and Gil are so completely ordinary and un-remarkable makes the premise even scarier. These men are not heroes in hiding, not detectives, not even reformed tough guys. These men are just two friends trying to have a fishing trip. They have wives and kids and jobs, and they could be anyone of us.


If you want to hear more about Ida Lupino and her career in acting and filmmaking check out that fabulous podcast from You Must Remember This.  Also, the fabulous Girls Do Film has an equally fabulous post about THE HITCH-HIKER which you should definitely go read!

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955)

A few weeks ago I celebrated my return to blogging with a giveaway.  I asked people to enter by leaving me a comment with a suggestion of a movie that I should watch and blog about.  I had several great suggestions, all of which I plan on watching at some point in the future, and the winner of the giveaway was Kristina of Speakeasy!  Her suggestion was a movie starring Doris Day and James Cagney and it was one that I had never heard of before, a movie called LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME.

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME is a biopic about Ruth Etting (Doris Day) and Martin Snyder (James Cagney) aka Marty the Gimp, a Chicago gangster who helped start her career.  Marty meets Ruth at a taxi club in Chicago in the 1920s.  Although he is there to shake down the owner, Marty is distracted when a fight breaks out on the dance floor.  Ruth has kicked yet another customer in the shins for getting fresh and her boss has had enough.  Marty sees Ruth get fired and follows her into the back dressing room.  Ruth initially resists Marty’s offers for help, suspecting he only intends to use her and discard her, but she finally agrees to take his card.  Marty uses his nightclub connections to get Ruth a job in the chorus at a fancy club and it is here that she meets handsome pianist Johnny Alderman (Cameron Mitchell).

Ruth soon tires of just being part of the chorus and sets her sights on her true ambition, to be a singer.  Marty in the meantime is now ready to claim his reward for helping Ruth and tells her she is going to Miami with him.  Ruth refuses to be his mistress however, and Marty relents even offering to get her singing lessons with Johnny.  Ruth turns out to have natural talent and Marty gets her a gig headlining at the club.  Johnny warns Ruth that Marty’s intentions are not honorable and that she should make her own way, without the gangster’s help.  Ruth maintains that she knows what Marty is expecting but that she needs his connections, besides what is the harm in just playing along?

Ruth’s career begins to take off, her debut as headliner at the club a great success, and Marty begins to fall in love with her.  One night after a show Ruth introduces Marty to Bernard V Loomis, an agent from New York.  Loomis says that he has lined up auditions for Ruth but Marty jealously dismisses him.  Marty tells Ruth he has bigger plans for her and soon sets her up with her very own radio show with Johnny as conductor.  Ruth’s popularity grows and soon Marty has set her up with that Ziegfeld Follies.  Johnny has fallen in love with Ruth by this time and pleads with her again to leave Martin and let Loomis represent her, but she still refuses.  Johnny tells Marty that he won’t accompany Ruth the New York and the two men argue about the woman they both love.

In New York Ruth is fitting in well with the follies but Marty isn’t so happy.  New York folks don’t hold him in the same regard as the ones in Chicago and Marty is chaffing at the perceived slights and insults.  He continues to act as Ruth’s manager while Loomis keeps a low profile to avoid damaging Ruth’s chances and angering Marty.  During Ruth’s big night Marty tries to reign in his jealousy but when he is prevented from visiting her backstage between acts, Marty flies into a rage and becomes violent.  He attacks and beats a stagehand before he is forcibly removed while a shaken Ruth goes back on stage.  Back in their hotel Marty is making phone calls to Chicago when Ruth returns.  He tells her that she is no longer going to be part of the show in New York and that he is breaking her contract.  Ruth refuses and angrily tells Marty that she hates the way he is acting and that his actions are ruining everything.  Marty in turn reproaches Ruth for not standing beside him when he has done so much to help her.  Ruth tearfully says that there is no way to pay Marty back for what he has done but Marty begs to disagree and forcibly kisses her.  Soon after Ruth agrees to marry Marty, even though she does not love him, out of a sense of obligation and leaves the production in New York.  Marty takes Ruth all over the country and her career continues to grow and thrive under his direction.  Ruth is miserably unhappy and takes up drinking.  One night Marty comes into her dressing room at a club with big news…he has gotten Ruth a part in a major Hollywood motion picture!  Ruth is less than enthused, much to Marty’s frustration and irritation, but she perks up considerably when a phone call comes in from none other than Johnny Alderman.

When I first saw Kristina’s suggestion I was intrigued, as well as a little unsure of what to expect.  I knew Doris Day, in fact I had many fond memories of watching PILLOW TALK and LOVER, COME BACK with my sister during our slumber parties.  I knew James Cagney too and somehow the mash-up of WHITE HEAT and PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISIES wasn’t something I could get my head around.

The real Ruth Etting and Marty Snyder

From dorisday.net

Ruth Etting had over sixty hit recordings and working in stage, screen, and radio.  She grew up wanting to be an artist, sketching and drawing wherever she was able, before attending art school in Chicago when she was sixteen.  While attending classes Ruth got a job at the Marigold Gardens nightclub and it was there that the showbiz bug bit.  Ruth had sung in school and in the church choir, but had never taken formal vocal lessons.  She styled her singing after Marion Harris but varied her tempos and phrases in order to make it uniquely her own.  Her big break came one night when the featured soloist, who happened to be male, became ill and dropped out.  Ruth quickly changed costumes, scanned the music, and lowered her register (something that added to her singing appeal) and the rest is history.  She did marry Martin Snyder in 1922, at the age of 25, and stayed married to him until 1937.  There was another man named Alderman but his first name was Harry and he was married when he and Ruth started seeing each other.  Ruth and Alderman married in 1938 and moved to a farm in Colorado Springs where they lived mostly out of the public eye for the rest of their lives.  Of course with any film based on the life of a real person, LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME takes some liberties with historical fact.  For example, Ruth never worked as a taxi club dancer this was simply done to highlight the song “Ten Cents a Dance”.  But historical accuracy is not what makes this movie so good.  It comes from the fact that Ava Gardener said no.

There was some discussion of Jane Powell taking the lead role, but the studios could not see her in the role of a nightclub singer.  Ava Gardener was a front-runner for the part but she turned it down because she didn’t want to have her singing dubbed again as it was in SHOWBOAT, as did George Cukor when he was offered the chance to direct though his reason was not wanting to direct a film with gangsters.  According to Robert Osborne on TCM, the story goes that when the film came out both Gardener and Cukor went to see it.  Exiting the theater Gardener said, “George, we made a mistake.”  Cukor responded, “No we didn’t because if we had said yes it would not have been THAT good.”

James Cagney is the one who suggested Doris Day for the role of Ruth Etting after the two had worked together on WEST POINT STORY.  Doris Day was unsure about playing Ruth Etting because she was concerned about portraying a woman who was basically a gold-digger or a kept woman.  This role would force her to portray Ruth’s struggle from seedy nightclubs to the New York spotlight complete with skimpy costumes, drinking, swearing, and other lewd behavior.  Director Joe Pasternak told her that she would bring a sense of dignity to a part that would offset the otherwise vulgar behavior of Ruth Etting.  I think that this is true because the usual Doris Day “how dare you” indignity comes out in scenes but not like when Rock Hudson slings her over his shoulder in PILLOW TALK.  There it is used for comic effect but in this film it gives Ruth a sense of moral fiber and changes her reasons for doing what she does from just trying to get ahead to world-weary knowledge.  By that I mean that through Doris Day’s portrayal we see Ruth as a woman who is using Marty and manipulating him not because she is a floozy looking for a meal ticket, but because she is a woman who has seen what is needed to get ahead in show business and is trying to avoid paying that price.  She doesn’t want to sleep with Marty so she plays along just enough to keep him happy but without compromising her morals.  In that light we can start to sympathize with Ruth, especially after Marty attacks her.  After that moment she is defeated and deflated, becoming more like an abused spouse than a scheming gold-digger.  The scene where Marty attacks Ruth actually went much further than what ended up in the final cut of the film.  In a scene that was mostly removed by the censors, Doris Day recalled: “[Co-star James Cagney] attacks me savagely; and the way Cagney played it, believe me, it was savage. He slammed me against the wall, ripped off my dress, my beads flying, and after a tempestuous struggle, in which I tried to fight him off with every realistic ounce of strength I had, he threw me on the bed and raped me. It was a scene that took a lot out of me, but it was one of the most fully realized physical scenes I have ever played…It wasn’t until I saw the movie in its release that I became aware that most of the scene had been cut.”  I was surprised at how frankly this film dealt with issues like sex, abuse, and even rape.  It seemed a much more modern film than 1955, and it is even more surprising that the censors let so much through.  Or maybe it is simply to the credit of the writing (Oscar winning writing from Daniel Fuchs), directing, and the superb acting of James Cagney (who received an Oscar nomination for his role) and Doris Day that the message and true intentions behind Marty and Ruth’s relationship comes through in spite of the Hayes Office.

Doris Day is an actress that mostly is remembered for happier roles.  Her films with Rock Hudson, PLEASE DON’T EAT THE DAISIES, and YOUNG AT HEART are far more familiar roles but beneath this happy, comic actress was a truly great talent for the dramatic.  This is a much darker movie than Doris Day usually made but it is an example of what a truly talented and engaging actress she was.  In her hands Ruth Etting becomes a woman who is trapped, first by her circumstances and then by a jealous and possessive man, but who struggles to preserve her dignity while having the strength to pursue her dreams.  Joe Pasternak was right when he told Doris Day that she would bring dignity to the role.  She brings not only that but also her immense talent to a role that really should have garnered her an Oscar nomination, if not the award.


Thanks to Kristina at Speakeasy for the suggestion!  If you have a film that you think I should see let me know in the comments below!

Spending Time with Turner Classic Movies: THE CITADEL (1938)

Have you ever had a movie just suck you in?  You sit down, not intending on watching a movie, and all of a sudden two hours have gone by and you are left wondering what happened.  That happened to me yesterday, while TCM was airing a Robert Donat birthday tribute and I sat down to take a short break after lunch.  I watched the end of KNIGHT WITHOUT ARMOUR (a fantastic movie by the way) and fully intended to get up and do something else when THE CITADEL came on.

Andrew Mason (Robert Donat) is a Scottish born idealistic new physician, who has recently come to work in a Welsh mining town as apprentice to a Dr. Page.  Life is not wholly pleasant for Andrew as the town is sorely lacking in updated medical supplies, rife with superstitious townsfolk, and Dr. Page’s wife is a pain.  She forces Andrew to work for almost no money and gives him a tiny room to live in.  The townsfolk are initially standoffish of the new doctor but once Andrew saves an apparently still-born baby, they warm to him and make him into a hero, much to Mrs. Page’s dismay.  It is around this time that Andrew makes friends with Denny (Ralph Richardson), a fellow doctor who likes his drink a little too much, and meets the local school teacher Christine Barlow (Rosalind Russell).  Denny is attracted to Christine but is too shy to approach her romantically.

Andrew soon hears about a nearby town in need of a new doctor and he eagerly applies for the post.  The committee is willing to hire him but they are only offering the position to married men.  Andrew quickly says that he is engaged to be married, once he gets a position of course, and the committee offer him the job.  Andrew accepts and then goes to find Christine.  He tells her about his problem and how he needs to find a wife.  Christine tells him to go and tell the committee that there are no problems with his application and the two are soon married.  Both soon realize that they are in love and being their life together.  In their new home Andrew begins making waves by not being anything like the old town doctor, namely by not giving the patients what they want without a medical reason.  He also realizes that many of the miners are affected by a mysterious lung ailment.  He begins to do research, helped by Christine, and soon comes to the realization that the miners are contracting tuberculosis due to the dust in the mines.  He sets about writing a paper to submit to medical journals and is soon attracting the attention of fellow physicians for his forward thinking and advances.

But the townspeople are becoming suspicious of Andrew for just those reasons and they soon take action.  One morning, Christine comes rushing into Andrew’s office to tell him that all their work has been destroyed by a mob who rushed into their home.  Angered and hurt, Andrew resigns his position and takes Christine to London.  There Andrew sets up a practice and hopes to soon be caring for more appreciative clientele.  Unfortunately this is not to be and Andrew is soon left selling his own possessions in order to make ends meet, and piercing the ears of less than fashionable women.  One day Andrew and Christine go out to lunch at a local Italian restaurant, run by Mrs. Orlando and her daughter Anna.  Mrs. Orlando treats the couple kindly, having been their only friend during their time in London, and Anna shows them her new dance steps.  Lunch is scarcely begun though when Andrew is summoned to a local department store where a young woman appears to be having a seizure.  Andrew clears the room and helps the woman onto the couch.  When she starts screaming and crying again, Andrew slaps her as he has realized that she is simply putting on an act and not having a seizure at all.

The young woman’s name is Toppy Leroy (Penelope Dudley Ward), one of the richest women in London, and she asks Andrew to see her home where she offers him a drink to celebrate.  Andrew declines and heads for the elevator where he runs into Dr. Lawford (Rex Harrison), an old medical school friend.  Lawford invites Andrew to come and see some patients with him at a fashionable nursing home.  Andrew agrees and is soon caught up in the world of high-end private practice.  His days are full of golf outings and consultations which require no great medical effort on his part. Christine is suspicious about the sudden influx of cash for little work, but Andrew dismisses her worries.  In fact, Andrew has become more and more distant lately and has even begun having an affair with Toppy.  Christine is worried about Andrew and so, when he asks where she would like to go to lunch one day, takes him back to Mrs. Orlando’s kitchen.  On their way there the couple runs into Denny and the three go to lunch, where they find Mrs. Orlando but no Anna.  She tells them that Anna is sick with a lung disease but Andrew barely acknowledges this.

Denny begins to tell Andrew his new plans for an affordable care clinic for the people in the small villages and asks Andrew to come and work with him.  Andrew turns him down and asks Denny where he will get his money from, especially if he will care for people for free.  Denny is disenchanted by the changes he sees in Andrew, and though he has managed to stay sober for some time, goes out drinking.  He returns later that day, thoroughly soused, and tells Andrew exactly what he thinks of him before turning and hurrying out into the street.  Christine looks out the window in their apartment and sees an automobile accident occur.  Horrified she realizes that it is Denny who has been struck and Andrew runs to the scene.

This movie was nominated for four Academy awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director.  Once again, King Vidor takes a story of ordinary people and makes it into something extraordinary.  I literally could not turn this movie off and had to sit there and watch it all the way through.  The story is so well done, so absorbing, but also so real and affecting.  The story of a medical man struggling to keep his ideals and scientific curiosity in a field where money and social-climbing are becoming more the norm definitely hit home for me, a former nurse.

Rosalind Russell is wonderful in this film, quite different from we are used to seeing her.  So often in her roles, Rosalind Russell is just a little edgier, tougher, louder, brasher, and more energetic than other leading ladies.  But this film really gives her a chance to be a more reserved and gentle character, to portray a woman who loves her husband deeply and quietly and much more realistically than is usually shown.  But the one who really steals this movie is Robert Donat.

I have loved Robert Donat since I first saw him in THE 39 STEPS.  There was a special quality about him that was so different from most other leading men, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was.  But I think after watching THE CITADEL I might have a better idea.  I think it is because he is kind.  There is an element of kindness and humbleness to him that comes through in so many of his performances, and it does again here.  Andrew is a kind man, who even when he becomes angry and speaks forcefully will still remember to say “Thank you for letting me speak” and “Good day”.  He is idealistic without being naive, his excitement and desire to help and heal people coming through without seeming to be contrived.  And that is what makes his fall into the superficial world of fashionable private practice all the more devastating.  To see a man who had such ideals fall so far away from that which he once held dear, shows so clearly how badly his trust and his heart must have been betrayed by the actions of the fearful townspeople.  As I said before, there is a kindness to Robert Donat and a humbleness that makes him so watchable and so wonderful.  He is an actor that suffered greatly from anxiety and shyness, perhaps so much so that it ended his career and possibly his life far too soon.  This film is a true testament to the great talent of an actor who deserves to be known not only for his career but his spirit and soul, because when Robert Donat acts that is what he gives each and every time.


If you want to learn more about Robert Donat, Meredith over at Vitaphone Dreamer has written a fantastic profile of him!  Also, there is an entire site devoted to Robert Donat so definitely go and check it out.