The Captive City (1952) Robert Wise

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    The Kefauver Senate Committee on Organized Crime revealed to many Americans, via televised hearings, just how infiltrated organized crime was in their communities. While the hearings are noted for investigating and identifying many top Mafia bosses of the day, connecting mob operations from New York to Chicago to Miami, it also focused on how small town America, seemingly unaffected by big city crime was really not. Kefauver however was accused by political enemies, of caring more about being in the limelight and making a name for himself than anything else. Whatever the political motivation, the hearings for many Americans was the first time they became aware of organized crime and how even if you lived in small town America you were affected. Hollywood, always on the look out for a new angle began cashing in. The 1950’s were filled with films about The Organization. Early fifties film like “The Enforcer”, “711 Ocean Drive”, and “The Racket” focused on the rise on a national crime syndicate infiltrating local governments and setting up legal enterprises to hide their illegal activities.

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    Robert Wise’s 1952 documentary style film “The Captive City”,  filmed on location, captures a gritty realism with a relative cast of unknowns lending a strong notion of reality. The use of a new wide-angle lens called the Hoge used by cinematographer Lee Garmes for the first time created some stunning depth of focus shots used effectively in the beginning of the film by Wise. Ralph Hoge, the inventor, was a key grip on Orson Welles classic, “Citizen Kane” and an assistant to Wise on this film. Of course, Wise himself worked with Welles as a film editor on “Kane.”

    Inspired by the true life story of Time magazine crime reporter Alvin Josephy Jr. and based on his own short story, the film, told in flashback, tells the story of Jim Austin (John Forsythe) who along with a former war time buddy run the Kennington Times, a small town newspaper in an outwardly clean typical American community. Life changes when Clyde Nelson a local private investigator handling a simple divorce case comes across a big time gambling operation that connects the mob, to the local police and politicians. He informs Austin who finds his claims exaggerated until Nelson is soon killed in what is supposedly a hit and run accident. This convinces Austin there was truth in what the now dead investigator said.

    As Austin investigates, he finds himself and his wife being harassed and warned not to get involved, to leave it alone. His newspaper is threatened with loss of ads causing a riff between Austin and his partner.  Gathering more and more evidence, he remains powerless to do anything with it, since the town’s leaders are controlled by the crime syndicate. When Austin reads about a Senate Crime investigating committee currently at the State Capitol he and his wife jump into their car and head off the City Capitol followed by two thugs out to kill them before they arrive.

    The films ending is unusual in that no one is brought to justice and the outcome of Austin’s testimony to the Senate committee is not known though you are left with the impression justice is being served. The movie going public is directly warned on the evils of gambling when Senator Estes Kefauver himself, directly addresses the audience on the evils of gambling and the syndicate.

  The Captive CitybA  The cast is headed by a young, relatively unknown John Forsythe as Jim Austin with Joan Camden as his wife Marge. Ray Teal play the Chief and a very young Martin Milner is a boy photographer who is beaten up when he takes some photos he should not have taken.  The screenplay was written by Alvin Josephy Jr.,  Director Robert Wise, whose career has sometimes been slammed due some of his later over blown work in “epic” messes like “The Hindenberg”, “Audrey Rose”, and “Star” has only in recent years been reevaluated and recognized for the amazing career he has had.  A versatile director who has created  some fine films in a variety of genres like “Blood on the Moon”, “Born to Kill”, “The Set Up”, “Somebody Up There Likes Me”, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “The Haunting.” and “The Body Snatcher.”  Wise, as many know, learned his trade working with two of the greats, Orson Welles and Val Lewton. Wise may not have been an auteur but he was a great craftsman with a strong sense of subject matter and style distinguishing him from the standard studio director.  

    “The Captive City” is a decent little “B” film with shades of noir, adequate performances, that along with Wise’s editing, showing signs of what he learned from his mentors, will keep you interested for its one and a half hour running time.  The ending with Estes Kefauver is naive, hackneyed and dated from today’s perspective falling flat but up until that point, this minor work is worth a ride.

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Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) Frank Capra

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    Frank Capra takes on the big city slickers vs. the small town yokels in this depression era comedy led by Gary Cooper as Longfellow Deeds and the always amazing Jean Arthur as Louise “Babe” Bennett. Capra was awarded his second Oscar for directing this 1936 classic. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Cooper) Best Screenplay (Robert Riskin in his fifth collaboration with Capra) and Best Recording.  The story originally appeared in serial form in the Saturday Evening Post, written by Clarence Budington Kelland.

    Longfellow Deeds, greeting card poet and tuba player eccentric has a nice peaceful life in the small New England town of Mandrake Falls, Vermont. Life is turned upside down when his late uncle, multi-millionaire Martin Semple leaves him an inheritance of twenty million dollars. Seduced by the estates attorney, John Cedar (Douglass Dumbriller) who plucks Longfellow out of his safety net of a little town and into the big bad city of New York.

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    Cedar, of the law firm, Cedar, Cedar, Cedar and Budington is a scheming rodent of a lawyer who will eventually attempt to get Deed’s to turn over to him power of attorney in order to hide his financial thievery. By the way, note the in-joke with the use of the last name of Budginton in the law firm name, which is the same as the middle name of the author of the original story. Cedar hires former newspaperman Cornelius Cobb (Lionel Stander) to keep other reporters away from Deeds; however, a foxy Louise “Babe” Bennett (Jean Arthur) outwits Cobb when she poses as a destitute woman named Mary Dawson, who has been pounding the concrete sidewalks everyday in vain, searching for a job. She gains Longfellow’s confidence who get “a fools notion about saving a lady in distress”, and begins writing a series of newspaper articles exploiting his eccentric behavior (feeding donuts to horses), anointing him with the name of “Cinderella Man.”

     Deeds finds himself exploited and the laughing stock of the big city, all due to the constant barrage of newspaper articles by Ms. Bennett. Unexpectedly, Mary/Babe begins to fall in love with our innocent hero and comes to regret her writing the uncaring exploitive articles. Deeds, fed up with the treatment and ridicule he has received and is ready to head back to Mandrake Falls when an evicted farmer breaks into his mansion, verbally attacking him for being insensitive cold hearted, spending thousands on parties when everyday people all over are starving. Instead of feeding doughnuts to horses, how about giving those doughnuts to needy hungry people. The man suddenly pulls out a gun threatening to shoot Deeds. Fortunately, the farmer comes to his senses, realizing what he is about to do, he breaks down, dropping the gun as Deeds, who never wanted the fortune, finally realizes here is a way to give his money away and do good in the process. He will give thousands of homeless farmer’s farmland to work, and if they work the land for three years, it will be theirs to keep.

    After Cedar becomes aware of Deeds plan, and realizes he will lose control of millions of dollars, he attempts to have Deeds declared mentally unbalanced in court, by manipulating the only other living relative of the millionaire uncle to take the money away from Deeds before he gives it away to poor people. At the same time Deeds finds out the truth about Mary/Babe and that the fantasy girl he fell in love with has betrayed him.

deeds     Deed is put on trial and the predator lawyers attack with a vengeance, to the extent of bringing into court two eccentric old ladies from Deeds hometown to corroborate his peculiar behavior even back in Mandrake Falls. Deeds meanwhile, has sunk into a deep depression losing all hope in mankind, even refusing an attorney to defend him. The strong court case against Deeds begins to fall apart when the farmers and Babe, who declares her love for him in open court, all begin to come to his defense and he himself begins to realize there are good honest decent people in the world.

     I have always had ambivalent feelings about Frank Capra’s work, however I found “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town” to be one of Capra’s great films, with his classic theme about the common man, overcoming greedy parasites and underhandedness, in this case, from lawyers and newspapers. The film still rings true today and I can imagine it must have had an especially good reception with the depression era population of the 1930’s getting to see a regular guy stand up and win against rich corrupt forces. Capra’s film is just one of many films during the depression to condemn the big city, filled with greedy manipulators and parasites (Vidor’s “Our Daily Bread” is another) vs. the small town filled with friendly genteel folks, “democratic” as an old man in Mandrake Falls states early in the film.    

    Capra’s women, “Babe”, in “Mr. Deeds” and Ann Mitchell (Barbara Stanwyck in the more serious social drama, “Meet John Doe”), are small town girls who come to, and were “corrupted” by the big bad city. Both “Babe” and Ann were newspaper reporters, a cynic’s occupation in many of Capra’s films.  There was also Clark Gable’s fast talking disparager who had little use for facts in “It Happened One Night” and Robert Williams Stew Smith in “Platinum Blonde”, who foolishly marries the rich Jean Harlow while his real love co-reporter (Loretta Young) looks on. Interestingly enough, the phrase “Cinderella Man” is used in both “Platinum Blonde” and in “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town.”  

    The screenplay was written by Robert Riskin, one of five films he worked on with Capra. Others include “Broadway Bill”, “Lady for a Day”, “You Can’t it With You”, “Meet John Doe”,  “American Madness”, and the Academy Award winning “It Happened One Night.”  Capra and Riskin’s relationship was convoluted, a love-hate collaboration developed after many years of Capra taking credit for Riskin’s work on many of their films. Capra in his autobiography downplayed Riskin’s contributions to some of their greatest films, this long after Riskin’s death. Looking to preserve his reputation, Capra put forth his one man, one film theory claiming that many of his screenwriters, Riskin included, did their best work only with him.capra-riskin

    Legend has it that Riskin once handed Capra a blank sheet of paper and told him to go ahead and “put the famous Capra touch on that.”  In the final years of Riskin’s life, wheelchair bound due to a stroke, he remained loyal to Capra, despite Capra never coming visit him. He admonished fellow screenwriter Jo Swerling when he once commented to Riskin that it was not right Capra never came to visit him, insisting that Capra was his best friend. If so, Capra did not have any reservations about down grading Riskins contributions to their classic works. Fay Wray, Riskin’s wife for the last thirteen years of his life, said while many of Riskin’s friends came to visit him in those final days, Capra was not among them. An uncharitable turn by a man who cherished his reputation as a filmmaker whose films carried the wholesome message on the basic goodness human nature.    

   Who can play the wholesome ordinary man better than Cary Cooper? No one that I can think of and as for Jean Arthur, I can never say enough nice things about this naturalistic comedic actress who Capra would use again two more times. The film opened to good reviews, upon its initial release at the Radio City Music Hall in New York. Grahame Greene, then a critic for The Spectator  called it Capra’s best film. Along with the previously mentioned Oscars, “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”,  also won The New York Film Critics award as the best film of the year.  

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    The film was “remade” in 2002 with Adam Sandler in the role of Longfellow Deeds. Sandler’s Deeds runs a pizza shop in Mandrake Falls, which means not even the writers of the remake  believed Sandler could write greeting card level poetry. Of course, the inheritance is upped from twenty million to billionaire status and the humor level has been brought down to Sandler’s sub-basement floor level. Other than a lack of wit, charm, intelligence and a heart, there is really nothing wrong with the remake. Why do they bother? Oh yeah, Greed, money, and manipulation by those big city parasites.

Hard to Handle (1933) Mervyn LeRoy

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The dance marathon became a phenomenon beginning in the 1920’s. Unlike flag pole sitting, another craze of those times, dance marathons had many participants who at first danced for just the pleasure of the wild heady experience, but later on as we entered the 1930’s and the depression, danced out of necessity for much needed money. The winner would get $1,000. Even if you did not win, you were fed, and had a place to keep warm. With the Great Depression going at full speed, there were many people in desperate need looking for any way possible to make a few dollars. The contests were long grueling endurance affairs going on for weeks, even months at a time before there was only one couple left standing and declared the winner.

lfRules were different depending on who held the contest. Some allowed 15-minute breaks on the hour allowing time for a bathroom pit stop, sleep and change of clothes. Horace McCoy’s 1930’s novel, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?  gives a notable account of what these contests entailed. While the contestants were hard pressed folks out of work and luck, the promoters did create jobs for many other people like nurses, doctors, janitors, announcers, and others involved in putting on the event.  McCoy’s novel, not surprisingly, was ignored by the public when first published in the middle of the depression; however, it was eventually made into a magnificent movie in 1969, directed by Sydney Pollack and starring Jane Fonda, Susannah York, Michael Sarrazin and Gig Young.

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Over thirty years earlier, Mervyn LeRoy directed the 1933 film, Hard to Handle, a James Cagney vehicle, which starts on a somewhat serious tone during the opening dance marathon, providing a realistic harsh look at what these lengthy contests involved, and reminding me much of the Pollack classic. However, soon after, the film moves into a different direction more toward a lighthearted energetic comedy. It could have just as easily turned into a con game/gangster drama from the early tone of the film.

Cagney is Lefty Merrill, who along with his shady partner are running a dance marathon, which, “surprisingly” is won by Lefty’s girlfriend, Ruth Waters (Mary Brian). The opening scenes, reminiscent of Pollack’s excellent downbeat 1969 film, finds Allan Jenkins, in the Gig Young role, as the marathon’s emcee, rousing the audience to cheer on the final two surviving couples who are barely able to stand, (the second couple’s male dancer is a young Sterling Holloway).  Watching this scene with the audience’s bloodthirsty cheers edging the couples onward, reminds me of the vulture culture, that today’s TV audience has for shows like Survivor and other reality type shows. The similarities between this film and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? quickly end with the marathon scenes conclusion. Horses goes on to be a bleak dark vision of the depression times and its toll on a group of people, while Hard to Handle veers off in the direction of a fast moving light comedy.lf

The second dancing couple soon falls by the wayside, and Ruth and her partner are declared the winners. What should be a happy moment for Ruth, her clinging mother, Lil (Ruth Donnelly) and for Lefty turns into a nightmare when Lefty’s partner runs off with all the proceeds from the contest, leaving Lefty to face an angry crowd who believe they have been swindled. Lil is more outraged at Lefty for the loss of the money than Ruth is, but Lefty has more immediate problems, like quickly getting away from the massive angry crowd.

Lefty soon falls on hard times financially when he finds Ruth, now a model, on the cover of Vogue, and finds her dating a successful fashion photographer. He begs to stay with Ruth and her mother just until he can get back on his feet. Lefty, ever the ingenious publicist gets a new idea when he spots Ruth struggling to rub facial cream on her face one day, and comes up with the absurd notion that women can lose calories this way, and promotes the facial cream as a diet treatment! The idea is “unbelievably” successful, and so lucrative that even money conscience Mamma Lil decides Lefty is marital worthy material again for her daughter Ruth.

197388_1020_ALefty financially successful again, next promotes a fund raising campaign for a small college where he successfully raises one million dollars and gains the attention of young student Marlene Reeves (Claire Dodd), who has eyes for him. Marlene’s father hires Lefty to promote a real estate deal in Florida, Grapefruit Acres.  Lefty wants to marry Ruth but she is still resistant, saying she will marry him only after he comes back from his big deal in Florida. While in Florida, Lefty is surprised to find Marlene there who makes it plain that she is very interested in Lefty, who defensively, declares his love for Ruth. Ruth and Lil decide to fly down to the sunshine state to surprise Lefty, and are surprised themselves when they find him and Marlene having breakfast together in their pajamas. Lefty claims that nothing happened, though that is hard to believe, since he is in her hotel room in his PJ’s. The Waters women fly quickly back to New York with Lefty chasing after them trying to explain. Soon after, Lefty is arrested for false advertising related to the Grapefruit Acres project. While in jail, he meets his thieving dance marathon partner who happens to tells him he lost weight over the past few days just eating nothing but grapefruit. Lefty’s new idea, The 18 day Grapefruit Diet, which becomes the nation’s latest fad.   A success again, and in Mama Lil’s favor again, Lefty finally, with some trickery, gets Ruth to say yes and marry him.

Hard to Handle is certainly entertaining enough with the usually fine performance by Mr. Cagney, and a especially entertaining performance by Ruth Donnelly who plays the  money hungry Mama Lil, despite in real life being only three years older than Jimmy and ten years older the Mary Brian. Her character has plenty of sharp funny lines, delivered with fine timing, constantly referring to her daughter and herself as “we” when marrying and not marrying Cagney’s Lefty Merrill. Anyone marrying Ruth was definitely getting two for the price of one.  While Mary Brian is competent, I would have liked to have seen Joan Blondell in the role of Ruth. She and Donnelly would have been two quick pistols together and the charisma between Cagney and Blondell is always electric. The picture moves at lightening speed, thanks to Cagney’s exceptional flair for rapid speech, which gives no one any time to pause.

The film unfortunately has never been released in the home video format and remains a hard film to see, undeservedly so. Hopefully, Warner Brothers will see fit to release this film in the near future. Hard to Handle was originally brought to my attention by Judy of Movie Classics’s who has written her own great review some time back, and as a Cagney admirer, is certainly worth reading to get her perspective on this film and other classics.

Our Daily Bread (1934) King Vidor

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   To say “Our Daily Bread” is an uneven flawed work is not giving the film its due. At this point in his career Vidor was an innovative forward thinking filmmaker willing to stretch himself and the medium. If he did not succeed one hundred percent here, and he did not, at least he attempted to extend the art of film as a tool of importance.  “Our Daily Bread is extension of   King Vidor’s masterful classic silent film “The Crowd.” The same lead characters, John and Mary Sims, who came to realize they were just faces in an endless whirlpool of humanity destined to live lives as anonymous nonentities return. It is now the depression years and Tom has lost his everyman job. The couple are about to be dispossessed from their apartment for lack of rent money. With no job opportunities on the horizon Mary’s Uncle offers the couple a farm that he no longer wants and  the government is about to foreclose.  Though John is a city boy with no farming experience, they accept the uncle’s offer and move out of the concrete jungle to the country.   

    John does not lack ambition, he sets out to work on the farm but it is not easy, especially since he lacks the skills and knowledge needed. While working the land one day, a truck traveling along the road just outside the farm breaks down. It belongs to an immigrant family of Swede’s headed by Chris (John Qualen). As John helps him repair the truck, he learns that Chris and his family have no home but he has plenty of farming experience. John gets an idea. There’s plenty of room on the farm, why not offer Chris and his family a place to stay on the farm in exchange for helping him work the land. Chris accepts. John decides that if one man can help what can ten men do. He soon takes in other out of work homeless families each man with a different set of skills to contribute. They create a commune where food, money and land are shared by all.

 Our Daily Bread-poster   John is voted in to be the boss and he hires a burly quiet secretive man named Louie, who unknown to anyone at the time is on the run from the law, as his strong arm. When one of the testier members of the group tries to push a smaller man off some of the land, Louie intercedes. When foreclosure threatens the commune, Louie shows what he’s made of, saving the day when he turns himself into the law, making sure the commune gets the reward money to help make payments on mounting bills. The commune’s next challenge is Mother Nature in the form of a drought that threatens the corn crops. In the face of this new disaster, John’s enthusiasm and leadership abilities fail him. He has also become distracted by the arrival of Sally (Barbara Pepper), a peroxide blonde floozy who Mary invited to stay though she refuses to do much work, spending most of her day listening to jazz and, it is implied, fooling around with John. He and the low budget Harlow actually run off together however, John, realizing this is a mistake, returns dumping the third rate bimbo. Inspired by Mary, John arouses the cooperative to discover a way to fight the drought and bring back the dying crops.

     The ending is one of the most vividly exciting scenes in the film as we watch the farmers digging a two-mile long irrigation ditch from the river to the farm in time to save the crop. Variety called the ending “a glorification of human will power driving man beyond ordinary feats of endurance.” As a “sequel” to one of Vidor’s master works, “Our Daily Bread” is an uneven mix of brilliance and corn bread, good old American know how and socialism mixed and stirred.

Our Daily Bread 2-BB     Tom Keene is an actor of modest talent; his bouts of enthusiasm and despair range from unconvincing to embarrassing. Best known for low budget westerns, Keene, unfortunately followed in the path of James Murray, who played John in “The Crowd”, and was a hard act to follow; Vidor apparently offered the role to James Murray however, by this time Murray was alcoholic and broke. He refused the role viewing it as a sympathetic handout by Vidor. Murray would soon drown after falling into the Hudson River. The medical examiner would never conclude on the cause of death whether it was an accident, suicide or murder. Karen Morley faired better in her role as Mary. Morley is probably best remembered for her role as “Poppy” the sexy negligee wearing gun moll in Howard Hawks “Scarface.”  Then there is the role of Sally, the floozy, who seems to have wondered in from another movie. Saying her character is unsuitable to the mood of the film is being kind. Vidor, in the Charles Higham/Joel Greenberg interview book, The Celluloid Muse admits, “There just wasn’t the audience for too much down to earth stuff – we brought in the extraneous character of the blonde floozy.”   He admits it was purely for box office and the Jean Harlow/Mae West platinum blonde look that was then in vogue. Set aside these negative features the film remains a powerful look at the great depression and men finding alternative lifestyles to survive a beaten down economy and the sometimes over powering forces of nature.

 Our daily bread -digging   Vidor discovered the story when he read a magazine article in Reader’s Digest on co-operative living. He viewed this as a vehicle for his two protagonists from “The Crowd”, who realizing they were just nobodies in a sea of nobodies opted out for the open vastness of life on a farm.  He presented the idea to Irving Thalberg who refused to finance it, as did other major studios. Vidor decided to make the film himself, but it was not until Charles Chaplin pledged support, and a guarantee of a release via United Artists, did Vidor managed to get the money he needed from the banks. Vidor is credited with the story, while the scenario is credited to Elizabeth Hill (Mrs. King Vidor) and the dialogue to Joseph L. Mankiewicz.        

    When the film opened, it received rave reviews from some critics like The New York Times who called it “a brilliant declaration of faith in the importance of the cinema as a social instrument.” However, there were the Hearst newspapers that labeled the film “pinko” Communist propaganda and cited as proof when the film was given an award at the Moscow Lenin Film Festival. Critics seemed to be drawing a line in the political sand. Was “Our Daily Bread” a look at American ingenuity; how folks rolled up their sleeves working together during hard times to survive, or was it socialist propaganda about people, working together without thought of personal profit, stifling American individuality and the dream of personal success? The films political message is as mixed as the rest of the film, for example, the commune seems similar to communal living seen in Russian movies of the period, yet unlike those films, the individual’s needs are respected and attended to. Vidor was not a political animal, subsequently, the mixed political message. Later in life, Vidor was known to be politically conservative. If anyone in the cast, had a left wing political bent it was Karen Morley, who was blacklisted during the McCarthy witch-hunts after refusing to answer questions before the HUAC. Morley was active in liberal politics in the San Francisco area and later on ran unsuccessfully for Lt. Governor of New York State as a candidate for the American Labor Party.

What we are left with is an essential film of the great depression years, with an inconsistent message along with some tolerable acting and a visually stunning and brilliant ending. 

Sources: Senses of Cinema – Dan Callahan

              We’re in the Money – Andrew Bergman

For the Love of Miss Crabtree

June Marloew Miss Crabtree0000458288-31916L    For many young boys and girls their first innocent crush is on a  school teacher.  I was  no different except my crush was on the Hal Roach Studio celluloid princess, Miss Crabtree.   Miss Crabtree was actually actress June Marlowe, a former model whose acting career began in silent films. In 1925, she appeared opposite Rin Tin Tin in two films, “Below the Line” and “Clash of the Wolves.” That same year she had a role in the film version of Willa Cathers novel, “The Lost Lady”,  and in 1926 June had the role of Trusia opposite John Barrymore in “Don Juan.”  Other silent films followed but with the advent of sound, June’s career changed course.

June was one of  the WAMPAS Baby Stars  of 1925. This was an award given to starlets who showed promise. In other years, winners  included Clara Bow, Loretta Young, Joan Crawford and Ginger Rogers.

In 1930, June appeared as herself in the Charley Chase comedy “Fast Work”, her first sound film and her first for the Hal Roach studios. That same year, she would be reunited with her canine co-star Rin Tin Tin in “The Lone Defender.”

crabog-dorothy    The year 1930 would continue to be a busy year for June as she appeared for the first time in what would turn out to be her most memorable role, that of the sweet, attractive, heart throbbing Miss Crabtree. “Teacher’s Pet” was her first Our Gang film.  June, a brunette, wore a wig in her role as Miss Crabtree which the filmmakers felt complemented Jackie Cooper’s golden locks. In all, she made six Our Gang comedies,  some of the best in the series.  They included, “School’s Out” and “Love Business”, both with Jackie Cooper who she became friends with on and off the screen. As you watch their scenes together you can feel a real connection going on between them.  Jackie left the Our Gang series around this time however, June made three more films as the charming  Miss Crabtree, “Little Daddy”, “Shiver My Timbers” and “Readin’ and Writin.”   During this period, June also had a small part in Laurel and Hardy’s first feature, “Pardon Us.”

One of my favorite Miss Crabtree scenes is in “School’s Out” when she attempts to give the kids a history lesson and their responses all, unknownly, come from a joke book.  She asked Farina, “What was Abraham Lincoln Gettyburg Address” and he relies knowingly, “Sixteen forty four South Main Street.”   Frustated, she asked Jackie, “Who was the Hunchback of Nortre Dame?” and Jackie responds “Lon Chaney.”  With each question came another wrong answer and we see her facial expression go from surprise to shock to frustation and finally she is  livid.  It’s a beautifully done scene and funny.

Marlowe’s career abruptly ended in 1932 when she married and retired from the movies. Little did she realize at the time the role of Miss Crabtree was her seminal role and would fuel the dreams of many prepubescent boys for multiple generations to come.

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June on the cover of Moving Picture Stories Magazine…….talented….beautiful…..

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…..and athletic too!

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Charade (1963) Stanley Donen

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“Charade” is a light Hitchcockian thriller with two of the most charming stars to ever grace the screen. A lively screenplay, a catchy title song that you cannot get out of your head and a superb cast of supporting actors, most of who would soon go on to become stars in the late 1960’s and beyond.  Directed with a light touch by Stanley Donen, best known for his wonderful musicals with Gene Kelly (Singin’ in the Rain, On the Town and It’s Always Fair Weather) and without Gene Kelly (Funny Girl, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Pajama Game) glides elegantly and smoothly into the world of The Master of Suspense. Donen actually complained about the comparison to Hitch, claiming that Sir Alfred did not have a monopoly on this kind of film. While he is right about that, there no denying the similarities. First, you have the main character Reggie (Hepburn) being accused of something, she knows nothing about (the whereabouts of stolen money). Then we have a script filled with dark humor, another Hitchcock trademark and finally Miss Hepburn’s co-star, Cary Grant, a Hitchcock alumnus with an outstanding record.

    Audrey Hepburn is Reggie Lampert, a UN Interpreter, whose husband is murdered and tossed off a moving train right at the start of the movie. His only possession is a small travel bag that the police will return to her. Just prior to learning of  her husband’s death, whom she was planning to divorce, she meets the charming Peter Joshua (Cary Grant) at a ski resort. They are attracted to each other. At the funeral palor where her husband’s body is on view, an assortment of odd strangers appear, each one substantiating personally that he is dead; one even sticks the deceased with a pin to ensure he is really dead. 

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Soon after, Reggie is requested to come to the U.S. Embassy where she meets Hamilton Bartholomew (Walter Matthau), a CIA agent who informs her that her husband was involved in a robbery during World War II, stealing two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, belonging to the government. Hamilton shows Reggie a photo of three men who were in the Army with her husband and were part of the gang that pilfered the dough. Reggie recognizes the men; they are the same three strangers who came to her husband’s funeral. Bartholomew wants the government money back though Reggie insists she does not have it nor know where it is.  Peter Joshua reappears willing to help Reggie anyway he can to find the money, which he eventually admits he wants for himself. He also informs her that his name is really Alexander Dyle. Soon bodies are dropping like the proverbial fly. Reggie and Peter/Dyle fall in love as they continue to search for the missing money. I won’t reveal the ending but suffice it to say most of the characters are not who they say they are, maybe.

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   The film is filled with twist and turns, and plenty of sophisticated and sometimes ghoulish humor, courtesy of screenwriter Peter Stone. Grant is in familiar territory having covered this type of film with Sir Alfred many times before (North by Northwest, Rebecca, and Notorious). He is charming as ever, even if he is looking a touch older. Grant was concerned about the romantic angle of the script due to the age difference between Hepburn and himself. He requested changes in the script, specifically that they make Hepburn’s character the aggressor in their relationship. Hepburn always seemed to be involved with older men in many of her films (Cooper, Bogart, and Astaire) and it always looked a bit uncomfortable except with Grant who is able to carry it off unlike the others. Despite their age difference, Grant and Hepburn have a magical chemistry working between them. They are perfectly matched. Hepburn is beautiful and sophisticatedly sexy as one could be. There are no two actors today who glow with  the appeal, the sophistication, the style these two stars radiate. They had faces then and charisma. 

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The film’s list of supporting actors is nearly a who’s who of future celluloid stars. Walter Matthau, who already had a long career in supporting roles would soon break out, win an Academy Award for his role as Whiplash Willie in Billy Wilder’s “The Fortune Cookie” and become the oddest of leading man. Here he is perfect as the underhanded “CIA Agent.”  Like Matthau, James Coburn had been slowly building a resume of wonderful character parts, one of which is in this film, and he would soon reach stardom with the “Our Man Flint” films. The great George Kennedy would soon become best known for his role as “Dragline” in the classic “Cool Hand Luke.”   The cast also includes the wonderful character actor Ned Glass best known for his role as Sgt Pendleton in “The Phil Silvers Show” (aka Sgt. Bilko). Finally and certainly not least is Henry Mancini’s wonderful score and title song, which is eerily played throughout the film and an integral part of the film’s success.

    “Charade” was Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas attraction in December of 1963 opening to mixed reviews though the public came in droves. In 2002, Jonathan Demme, made a valiant attempt to remake this light classic called, “The Truth About Charlie.” Unfortunately, Mark Wahlberg is a long distance away from Cary Grant and though the beautiful Thaddie Newton comes somewhat closer to capturing the elf like sophistication of Hepburn, the film remains okay to watch but it is “Charade” you will come back to watch again and again. 

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You may notice on IMDB, they say the screenplay is based on a story (The Unsuspecting Wife) credited to Peter Stone and Marc Behm. If you check out the photo of the paperback above it states, “A novel by Peter Stone.”  On the inside of the book, it reads that it is dedicated to suspense writer Marc Behm. So what goes on here? Stone is a playwright and a screenwriter and he is not known to have ever written a novel. The “novel” is a novelization of the screenplay and “The Unsuspecting Wife” was a short story by Stone that originally appeared in Redbook magazine. The most likely scenario of the credit to Behm is he wrote the novelization based on Stone’s screenplay thus, the dedication to give Behm credit.

Stranger on the Third Floor (1940) Boris Ingster

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“Stranger on the Third Floor” was a minor B film that probably came and went with little if any attention being paid by critics and the general film audience. Fans of Peter Lorre may have been lured to the film by one of his rare non Mr. Moto starring roles only to probably be disappointed when they discovered he was only on camera for maybe no more than five or six minutes, though he plays the “stranger” mentioned in the title. The critics did not help. Bosley Crowthers of The New York Times welcomed the opportunity for first time director Boris Ingster, but called the film confusing and pretentious. He further stated, “it looks as though his inspiration has been derived from a couple of heavy French and Russian films, a radio drama or two and an underdone Welsh rarebit, all taken in quick succession.” Of course, this is the same critic who twenty-seven years later would denigrate “Bonnie and Clyde” and eventually lose his job with the paper over it.

Strangeronthe    John McGuire, a little known actor whose career goes back to 1932, plays the true lead, Mike Ward, a newspaper reporter whose big break arrives when he is an eyewitness to a murder of a man whose throat was slashed. Ward testifies at the trial of the accused, a nervous Joe Briggs (Elisha Cook Jr.), and because of Ward’s testimony, Briggs is sentenced to die in the electric chair, though he continues to proclaim his innocents.

After the trial, Ward begins to have some doubts about what he saw. He is haunted by thoughts that he may have accused an innocent man, who may be wrongly executed.    Mike’s uncertainty increases when he spots a creepy looking stranger lurking around his apartment building. Mike gives chase to the man, but he disappears into the night. There is a surrealistic dream sequence in which Mike is arrested for the murder of his neighbor, a man he previously had an augment with and wished dead. Soon after, his next-door neighbor is really found dead with his throat slashed… exactly like the first murder. The police begin to suspect Mike may be the killer since he witnessed both murders. No one other than Mike seems to have seen the stranger with the bulging eyes, and a scarf, that Mike is now insisting is the killer. With Mike under suspicion, it is left up to his fiancée Jane (Margaret Tallichet) to hunt down the mysterious stranger and clear Mike.

The film runs a fast 64 minutes and is always mentioned as one of the earliest examples, if not the first, of what became known as film noir. The cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca certainly has many of the elements of noir, the dark shadows, expressionist lighting, voice over, innocent man accused of a crime he did not commit and the off-kilter camera angles. Musuraca would go on to photograph such noir style films as “Cat People”, “Curse of the Cat People”, “The Seventh Victim”, “Out of the Past” and “Blood on the Moon.”

Peter Lorre’s “starring” role was a result of his owing RKO a couple days of work that remained on his contract. He, as usual, is extremely effective as the creepy bulging eyed stranger badly in need of some dental work. Lorre is also oddly sympathetic in the role, a trait similar to his character in Fritz Lang’s classic German expressionistic film “M.” Despite his limited screen time, he is the acting highlight in the film along with a young Elisha Cook Jr. who plays Joe Briggs, the wrongly accused taxi driver. The following year of course, Cook and Lorre would appear in another film together, the classic “The Maltese Falcon”, a film that is considered noirs first big hit. Lorre and Cook along with cinematographer Musuraca would become mainstays in the world of film noir.

stranger1    The two leads, John McGuire and Margaret Tallichet are barely adequate and it is unmistakably evident why they did not advance up to “A” production films. Tallichet’s career was short-lived making only two more films after “Stranger” then retiring to raise a family.

In between the highlights, though there is some creaky material. Besides the previously mentioned mediocre acting of the two leads, the judge at the trial seems to be in another world during the proceedings only to “wake up” when he is actually asked a question. Additionally, the ending regresses back to the typical Hollywood happy conclusion. The dark dangerous streets disappear into the bright sunlight.

The script was co-written by Frank Partos and Nathanael West, author of “The Day of the Locust.” Director Boris Ingster, who would only direct two more films would go on to write and or produce a number of TV shows including “The Man from UNCLE.”

Overall, “Stranger on the Third Floor” is a prime example how filmmakers working with minimal production values, produced a work, that has no artistic ambition, no self consciousness, no gloss yet rises to a higher level of creativity than over produced highly ambitious “A” productions that ring no more true despite the millions of dollars spent.