Last Summer (1969) Frank Perry

Last Summer LC2

As an adolescent, acceptance into your peer group is always an undeniable desire, rejection from the group scars you for life. Few films broach this topic as compelling and intelligently as “Last Summer.”  Based on a novel by Evan Hunter (The Blackboard Jungle), “Last Summer” is the story of three middle class teenagers who spend a summer on Fire Island with their parents, though the parents are never seen. Sandy (Barbara Hershey), a beautiful dark longhaired girl is highly intelligent and while she expresses a sexual confidence her actual experience is limited. The two boys, Peter (Richard Thomas) and Dan (Bruce Davison) are sexually less sure of themselves; they talk a lot about getting laid, would Sandy be willing, when should they make a move.

The three form close-knit circles of friendship. When they first meet, Sandy is on the beach nursing a wounded seagull. They remove a hook and the three nurse and rehabilitate the injured bird back to health. They spend the summer swimming, drinking beer on the beach, smoke pot and bonding. The threesome go on a date to the movies on the mainland where the boys work up the nerve to feel up Sandy, sharing a breast each. The look on Sandy’s face tells you she’s excited. Outside the theater she tells the boys how sexy they made her feel. They run into some local punks and are chased, barely escaping their reach by catching the ferry back to the island.Last Summer -poster

Into their tight circle comes Rhoda (Catherine Burns), a short plump lonely girl who practically forces her way into their company. She really does not fit in but they let her hang out with them, mostly because they take spiteful pleasure in taunting and mocking her. One afternoon, the boys discover Sandy has killed the seagull after the wild bird bit her. Admonishing her for lying, Peter begins to spend time with Rhoda teaching her how to swim.

Sandy instigates a decision to push the reluctant and inexperienced Rhoda to go on a computer matched date that Sandy initiated as a kick to “trick the computer” with a shy Puerto Rican man named Anibal (Ernesto Gonzalez). At a bar, after a night of drinking and dancing, they run into the same bullies who they escaped from a few nights earlier at the movies. They run off again abandoning the inebriated Anibal who is beaten up by the three punks. Rhoda, the only one reluctant to leave the scene, is dragged away by the others. Later she berates Peter for his behavior which only makes him run take with Sandy and Dan.

On a hot summer’s day, the three go into the woods to cool off from the burning sun, Rhoda tags along. Annoyed that she followed, Sandy removes the top of her bikini swimsuit and badgers Rhoda to do the same. Disgusted by Sandy’s unashamed behavior Rhoda attempts to leave however, Sandy pushes the boys to stop her. Sandy’s desire to destroy Rhoda results in a brutal scene that will bind the three forever.Last SUmmer - Still

     Sandy, Dan and Peter, lack a moral compass. Everything they do is just for kicks, not seeing any problem; heck all they were doing was having a few laughs. They didn’t mean for the Puerto Rican guy to get beat up; the whole date thing was just an attempt by Sandy to screw up the computer-dating model. This callous treatment is seen throughout the film, Rhoda, is similarly treated, like the wounded seagull, at first she is somewhat accepted into the group and then disregarded always at the mercy of the callous indifference of Sandy.

The four leads are all portrayed so well that it is challenging to select a standout though, Catherine Burns as Rhoda, has a touching monologue sadly describing the circumstances of her mother’s death that is extremely moving. Burns received an Academy Award nomination for her role. Richard Thomas was still a few years away from his career making role of John-Boy in “The Waltons”, and fans who associate Thomas only with that role may be a bit shocked seeing him here as one of the two callous immature teen boys. Of the two, Thomas’ Peter at times shows a sensitivity the others lack, yet his strong bond with Sandy and Dan draws him to side with them in the film’s final heinous conclusion. Bruce Davison adds a strong and convincing dimension as the cocky, sex minded Dan. The two boys are well matched and come across as realistic buddies. One of the film’s strongest features is the authenticity of the way the characters talk, like real teenagers. Barbara Hershey was the best known of the four actors, having already starred in the TV series “The Monroes” a few years earlier. As Sandy, she uses her beauty and brains to sexually tease the horny boys as well as manipulate them. A combination of heartless cruelty and teenage seduction, she’s a dangerous adolescent mix, at one point killing the rescued seagull, then turning the boys against Rhoda.

There are few adults in their lives with who they can connect. When we do see an adult it turns out to Sandy’s mothers’ boyfriend who she confesses, as a “major truth” to the boys, attempted to molest her. The boys talk about uncaring parents who are too busy with their own lives to have much concern for their kids.

Last Summer-LC “Last Summer” was directed and  written by the husband and wife team of Frank and Eleanor Perry. Eleanor adapted the screenplay from  Evan Hunter’s novel. During the 1960’s the Perry’s worked on the fringes of Hollywood, other films included “David and Lisa”, “Ladybug, Ladybug”, “Trilogy”, “The Swimmer” and Diary of a Mad Housewife.”  Overall, their career together, they separated in 1970, was an interesting mix of flawed successes and misfires.  “Last Summer” fits right in as a flawed (technically, I noticed some mismatching shots in some scenes) though engrossing lifelike middle class story about the growing pains of adolescence.

A recurring theme in the Perry’s work is the battle between the sensitive individual dealing the more callous tougher personalities met in life.  Here it is Rhoda versus Sandy. In “Diary of a Mad Housewife”, you have Carrie Snodgrass’ meek wife finding her independence faced against an obnoxious husband and a sexiest callous lover.

Add “Last Summer” to the list of films unavailable for DVD. The film was released on VHS video many years ago (Key Video), however it has since remained an elusive work to the home video market, as has “Dairy of a Mad Housewife”, another that has only seen a VHS release. I found a used VHS tape some years ago at a video store  specializing in used videos. The film was released with an R rating though it was originally given an X until scenes from the explicit ending were toned down. Be careful if you find the film on TV. Apparently, there are some PG versions floating around that will ruin the premise.  Overall, “Last Summer” is an effective though disturbing look at youth with too many empty summer hours to fill with experimentation, sexual awakening, the desire to fit in, and the cruelty of just growing up. Then again, isn’t that what adolescence is all about.

Cause for Alarm (1951) Tay Garnett


You know you are really having a bad day when your invalid husband announces to you he just mailed a letter to the D.A. implicating you and his best friend in a plot to kill him. In “Cause for Alarm,” a 1951 low budget suburban noir, George Jones (Barry Sullivan) is confined to his bed  and his mind is deteriorating as well. A weak heart and paranoia make for a lethal combination as George convinces himself that his loving wife Ellen (Loretta Young), who has been taking care of him and his best friend, and physician, are out to kill him by slowly poisoning him.

cause_for_alarm_000004    In flashback we find out Ellen was first dating Lt. Ranney Grahame (Bruce Cowling), a young doctor and best friend to George. Grahame’s busy days left little time for romance and soon Ellen began dating George, falling in love and getting married. Now a few years later, George is confined to his bed with Ellen taking care of him and Grahame his physician.

With his condition deteriorating,  George comes to believe his wife and best friend are having an affair. George, who the good doctor recommends should see a psychologist, instead makes plans to retaliate by writing and secretly mailing an incriminating letter to the District Attorney outlining a supposed plot to murder him. After the letter is mailed, which Ellen herself unknowingly gave to the mailman, he tells her all about his plan. Confronting her, George ever more paranoid, now sets a plan in motion to kill Ellen except, well, poor George got himself so worked up that before he could pull the trigger on Ellen, he has a massive heart attack and drops dead with the pistol still clutched in his hands.cause_for_alarm_000006

Ellen is obviously relieved though not for long when she realizes the letter her husband mailed will incriminate her as his murderer. From what George told her just before he died, everything he put in the letter could be misinterpreted to prove there was a plot to kill him.  Attempts to get the letter back from the Post Office, the D.A. are in vain. With each passing moment, Ellen is becoming a bigger and bigger web of nerves, on the verge of a breakdown, all while her husband’s dead body remains upstairs in the bedroom. When George’s Aunt comes to visit and wants to see George, you fear the poor woman is going to go totally berserk. Later, Ranney shows up to check on George, and Ellen tells him what happened. He calmly goes upstairs, finds his friend’s body, and methodically begins to “clean up” the scene, rearranging the body, pulling the shades down. Surprisingly he shows no sign of distress over his friend’s recent demise.

cause_for_alarm_000011   A twist of an ending, which I will not give away, seems to clear Ellen. I say seems to  because while the assumption is Ellen is an innocent victim here, she and Ranney act more as if they are in a conspiracy to cover up a crime. It does leave a bit of doubt as to what really went on. Was George right about the love affair, or was he “rude and selfish” since he was a child, as his Aunt Clara mumbles during her visit. Ellen seems more concerned with clearing her name than her husband’s death. Of course, he did try to frame her for his approaching death. It is all kind of Hitchcockian, though without the irony, or a scent of black humor that Sir Alfred would have introduced.  cause_for_alarm_000020

Loretta Young manages to pull off a performance that miraculously comes close to the edge of “way too much” but somehow she holds it all in check with a great breakdown scene at the end. Despite a frazzled state for most of the film, she is certainly beautiful to look at and the film really belongs to her. This film came toward the end of a long movie career, and she was only a couple of years away from the beginning of a new start on TV with “The Loretta Young Show”, an anthology series where she started each show in an exquisite evening gown and was introduced as Miss Loretta Young. It was all very formal. Additionally, she starred in many of the episodes.  Another highlight of the film is Margalo Gillmore who gives a testy performance as Aunt Clara, hitting all the right and annoying buttons.  Also adding to the suspense is Andre Previn’s score and Tay Garnett’s direction. Garnett is no stranger to noirish style films though here he take the atmosphere out of the city and into suburbia. The film was produced by Young’s husband Tom Lewis, who also co-wrote the script along with Mel Dinelli. The film was amazingly shot in 14 days!

The Clay Pigeon (1949) Richard Fleischer


    “The Clay Pigeon” is one of earliest in a series of bare boned budgeted film noirs director Richard Fleischer made in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s.  Not as sharp as his best, “The Narrow Margin”, hampered by a lackluster leading man, the film still packs an interesting, if somewhat hard to believe story. However, with B-noir, stories are not always what is best. It is more about style and atmosphere and “The Clay Pigeon” has both. One of the unintentional highlights, as it is with Fleischer’s other noir works from this period, is the documentary view of 1950’s Los Angeles that has been captured on film.

    Jim Fletcher wakes up in a naval hospital with a case of amnesia to find himself accused of treason and responsible for the death of his best buddy in a Japanese POW camp. Soon to be put on trail Fletcher escapes from the hospital in order to try and clear himself. He is aided, at first reluctantly by Martha (Barbara Hale), the wife of the buddy whose death he is being held responsible for. Together they head for Los Angeles where another former POW, Ted Hines (Richard Quine) believes Fletcher is innocent and is willing to help him out. Along the way they are almost killed when the driver of another car forcibly pushes Fletcher’s car off the road. Once in L.A. it seems everywhere Fletcher and Martha go someone is trying to kill them. Whoever it is, knows just about every move they make. The situation becomes even more unsettling when Fletcher recognizes his former POW tormentor on the streets of L.A.’s Chinatown. It all comes to a climatic ending in a train compartment. These scenes are sharply edited, with each cut quicker and shorter than the one before as a swelling of tension explodes within the final moments as the police arrive in the nick of time.

429190.1010.A    The screenplay is by Carl Foreman who also wrote such works as “Champion”, “High Noon”, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, and “The Men” among many others. Filmed with enthusiasm, the film keeps you interested despite at times a hard to believe script and a leading man who is blander than vanilla ice cream There are some nicely done hallucinatory flashback scenes where we see Fletcher tortured while a POW.  Barbara Hale who many will remember as Della Street, Perry Mason’s ever-vigilant girl Friday, portrays the female lead Martha. Hale and Bill Williams were husband and wife in real life at this time and would eventually give birth to “The Greatest American Hero”, aka William Katt (there is a strong family resemblance between father and son). Hale actually made quite a few films, mostly low-budget affairs, including a few westerns with husband Bill. Williams who is probably best remember for his early TV series, “The Adventures if Kit Carson.” Richard Quine would become better known as a director in the 1950’s and beyond making his own contribution to film noir a few years later with “Pushover.” In addition, contributing some nice performances are Richard Loo who is downright scary as the sadistic former Japanese POW guard and Mary Marco is affecting as a Chinese woman who conceals Fletcher from his pursuers. Look for a young Martha Hyer in a small role as a receptionist.

    In the 1960’s and after Fleischer’s work would become filled with bloated and overblown productions (Dr. Doolittle, Fantastic Voyage, The Jazz Singer) or worst yet just plain dull (The Don is Dead). On rare occasions his talent still shown through in films like “10 Rillington Place” and “The Boston Strangler” smaller works, both based on true stories, as was his 1959 film “Compulsion.” These were all “A” pictures but small, closer in scale to his classic B-noirs. Overall, “The Clay Pigeon” is an efficient, nicelt paced and satisfying little film, essential viewing for any fan of film noir.

Larry Gelbart

Larry Gelbart

    I love intelligent funny writing of which Larry Gelbart was a master, one of the most versatile and gifted comedy writers to grace the film, theater and TV world. Gelbart was one of the Comedic Knights of the Writers Table for the classic “Your Show of Shows” along with its follow-up “Caesar’s Hour”, which included Neil Simon, Danny Simon, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen and Mel Tolkin.  Neil Simon would later on recreate the insanity of this era in his play “Laughter on the 23rd Floor.”

   Knights The early 1970’s was a creative time for television comedy, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “All in the Family” and “M*A*S*H” brought a new level of sophistication and controversy into our homes. Topics once considered verboten for family viewing were now not only out in the open but also were done with stylish and clever wit.          

    Gelbart began as a teenager writing for Danny Thomas’ radio show. From there he went on to write for Bob Hope, Jack Parr, Red Buttons and others. However for Gelbart, this was only the beginning. Ahead, were films, Broadway, more TV and a memoir. 

  200px-Forum_poster  On Broadway, he co-wrote “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” which was directed by the legendary George Abbott with words and music by Stephen Sondheim and starred Zero Mostel, Jack Gilford and John Carradine. Songs included “Comedy Tonight” and “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid.” The musical went on to win six Tony Awards including Best Musical and Best Book. In 1966, it was turned into a film with Mostel and Gilford recreating their stage roles. Phil Silvers, who turned down a role in the play joined the cast along with Buster Keaton. The film was directed by Richard Lester. Gelbart’s other theater works include “Sly Fox”, based on Ben Jonson’s “Volpone”, “Mastergate”, a political satire and “City of Angels” a musical comedy with music by Cy Coleman.   M%2AA%2AS%2AH_TV_title_screen 

    Gelbart came back to television in the early1970’s as developer and creator of the TV version of Robert Altman’s anti-war film “MASH” that itself was based on a book by Richard Hooker. The show featured Alan Alda as “Hawkeye” Pierce. Co-stars included Mike Farrell, Wayne Rogers, MacLean Stevenson, Loretta Swit, and Harry Morgan. M*A*S*H was about the wartime adventures of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit. Though the story took place during the Korean conflict in the 1950’s the film resonated with modern day audiences as it made subtle references to the then current Vietnam War. In a New York Times interview Gelbart described “M*A*S*H” as “Marx Brothers superimposed on ‘All’s Quiet on the Western Front.’  Co-producer Gene Reynolds said “Larry not only had the wit and the jokes, he had a point of view. He not only had a ribald spirit,  he had the sensibility to the premise – the wastefulness of war.”  The show ran for 11 years.

Coa_playbill    Other TV work included less successful series like the “M*A*S*H” sequel “After MASH” and “United States.” He also wrote films for HBO like “Barbarian’s at the Gate” in 1993 about the takeover of the R.J. Nabisco Corporation, based on a bestselling book. There was also “Weapons of Mass Destruction” and “Starring PanchoVilla as Himself.”

In film, Gelbart wrote or co-wrote such scripts as “The Wrong Box” (1966), “Oh God” directed by long time buddy Carl Reiner, “Movie, Movie” with George C. Scott who also starred in Gelbart’s play “SlyFox.” (1978), “Blame it on Rio” with Michael Caine and a young Demi Moore and “Tootsie” (1982). He was Oscar nominated for both “Oh God” and “Tootsie.”

    In 1997, Gelbart published his memoirs called “Laughing Matters.” Larry Gelbart died on Saturday September 11th. He was 81 years old.


Sources: New York Times, LA Times, WiKipedia, IMDB

No Questions Asked (1951) Harold F. Kress a

No Questions posterage

“No Questions Asked” opened in the late summer of 1951 to mostly seen it all before reviews. The film stars Barry Sullivan, as Steve Kiever, an insurance company lawyer who finds that working for a corporation can be a slow path on the road to success. His beautiful girlfriend Ellen (Arlene Dahl), has expensive taste is just returning from a trip.  Steve is ready to put a ring on her finger and settle down to a blissful married life. Only problem is he does not have any money.

After being turned down for an increase, Steve learns from his boss that the company is willing to make any kind of a deal to get some recently stolen furs back with no questions asked (this would be cheaper than paying out on the policy). As a man who is motivated to climb the corporate ladder, Steve comes up with a plan and starts to make connections within the underworld, arranging a deal. The insurance company will pay ten thousand dollars for the return of the stolen furs with no question asked. For Steve, the company will give him a two thousand five hundred dollar bonus for arranging the exchange. With the bonus from the company, Steve buys a ring and goes over to Ellen’s apartment ready to pop the big question, only she’s gone. Packed up her bags, got married to a man she met on her trip and went off to Europe.

Steve continues to broker deals between the mob and the insurance company for other stolen property. He is oblivious as to who is doing the actual robberies; he does not want to know. All he does is make the connections. In the process making himself a fistful of dollars, enough to open up his own law office and move into a swanky penthouse apartment with a new girl, Joan (Jean Hagen) a former co-worker at the insurance company who has had a crush on him.cuvvb1txm59tt1mv

For a while, life is good for Steve, though the police are monitoring him. While he is not doing anything illegal, crime statistics have gone up because the underworld now realizes they can steal goods, call on Steve who will negotiate a financially satisfying deal for them to return the stolen items, no questions asked. They no longer have to worry about fencing stolen property. It all goes down smoothly until Ellen and her husband return from overseas. The ending turns out to be pretty standard stuff, the double crossers get their due, Steve manages to survive and find true love with Joan, all with a production code approving crime does not pay finale.

Barry Sullivan is stoic as Steve, and for some reason reminded me of David Janssen. He is good though somewhat uninspired in the role.  Arlene Dahl as Ellen, the double crossing first love who aspires to a rich life style is down right dull, managing to look good but that is about all. Part of this is due to a script that really does not bring out the danger of her character. The acting highlights, as they are, belong to Jean Hagen who gives a good performance as the caring former co-worker, Joan who has waited a long time for Steve to finally, realize she was the one.

The script, written by Sidney Sheldon, who also wrote quite a few screenplays before becoming a best selling author. Harold F. Kress, best known as a film editor of such films as “East Side, West Side”, “How the West Was Won, The Teahouse of the August Moon, “The Poseidon Adventure” and “The Towering Inferno” among many others, directed the film.

The film does have some nice noirish qualities, with some sleazy like locations and dimly lit streets, though this NYC is definitely located on an MGM back lot.  “No Questions Asked” gets a recommendation to watch, though the question remains open if you would want to revisit.

Being Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel

Dawson K

    Hal Ashby fought the Hollywood system and throughout the 1970’s he won. At the top of his career with films like “The Last Detail”, “Harold and Maude”, “Bound for Glory”, “Shampoo”, “Coming Home” and the decade ending “Being There.” Ashby was one the most prolific and best directors of the ‘70’s then came the 1980’s and a downward spiral that lasted until his death in December 1988.  What happened? Well, on the surface, Ashby, Hollywood’s hippie director, known to smoke a lot of weed and use cocaine on occasion could easily be classified as another drug burn out. Most people seem to think that is what happened and the studios pretty much encouraged that line of thinking. After reading Nick Dawson’s recent biography “Hal Ashby: Life of a Hollywood Rebel”, you come away with the conclusion that yeah, Ashby used drugs but he was not a cocaine addicted druggie and drugs never got in the way of his work.  He was a consummate professional who lived, breathed, and died for his films. More so than his five ex-wives, and one child who he never could bring himself to know, Hal Ashby’s films were his family. 

 175957.1010.A   Ashby’s early life was marked by the suicide of his father, which he could never confront and would haunt him for the rest of his life. He would become the father that was not there and he buried himself in his work. Dawson details his years of apprenticeship as an assistant film editor working which such greats as William Wyler and George Stevens both who he came to admire and wanted to emulate. His big break came when he began working with Norman Jewison who became his mentor and good friend. It was Jewison who gave Hal his first break as a director with “The Landlord”, a film that would give him his film identify, as a purveyor of protagonists who were outsiders. It was 1970 and it was his decade. The cult classic “Harold and Maude” followed and then came “The Last Detail” with Jack Nicholson and more uses of the “F” word than anyone had heard before on screen. Ironically, of all the films he made in the 1970’s, his biggest hit, “Shampoo” was the one film of the decade that did not reflect his personality. It was the first time Ashby felt like a hired gun. The film was the brainchild of Warren Beatty and screenwriter/director Robert Towne, two strong personalities who would force their way into getting the film made with their vision. They were the big Hollywood guns and had the power. For Ashby, it was an artistic set back; still he had plenty of glory ahead with his next few films.panel-6

     Ashby did not trust the moneymen, the suits but for the next few years, he would work well with the ones he met like Jerome Hellman who produced “Coming Home.”  After making the film version of “Being There” in 1979, this would all change. Ashby’s work in the 1980’s took a spiraling fall downward, a combination of bad decisions and bad bosses.  Films like “Lookin’ to Get Out”, which he did as a favor to Jon Voight  and “Second-Hand Hearts” were plagued by  bad scripts and Ashby’s relenting drive to continuously edit and re-editing the films trying to find a way to make it work. Overrun budgets, unfriendly executives, bad mouthing, and multiple projects put into turnaround all contributed to his decline.  Ashby found himself with less and less control. The suits were running the insane asylum. With the “The Slugger’s Wife” one of Neil Simon’s worst scripts producer Ray Stark enforced Simon’s contract that his script could not be changed, unless Simon rewrote which he continuously did during the production. Ashby, who liked to have his actors improvise, found this stifling, unfortunately, he had no recourse; after all, this was Neil Simon. It seemed like an unlikely, pairing Ashby and Broadway Neil Simon, and best said this is one film to avoid.  His films were book ended by Bridges, Beau and Jeff.  Beau starred in his first directorial effort and brother Jeff worked on his last feature “8 Million Ways to Die.”

    To the end of his life, Hal Ashby reciprocated what Norman Jewison did for him by becoming a mentor to young new talent, and lived a life where his films were everything. To the very end, his philosophy was “never sell out.”

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936) Stephen Roberts


  “The Ex-Mrs. Bradford” falls into a small, exclusive and unofficial sub-genre called comedy-mystery films. The RKO production is clearly a carbon copy of the much more popular and superior Thin Man series.  It is a small group of films, though generally entertaining even if most are not outright classics. The idea behind these films is to have a lot of snappy banter between the husband and wife and a murder or two for them to solve, nothing gory or to intricate to get in the way of the overall lightness of the affair.    

    Along with the five Nick and Nora films, there is the FAST series, “Fast and Furious”, “Fast Company” and “Fast and Loose.” Surprisingly, the husband and wife detective team in this series was never played twice by the same pair of actors. We also have “Mr. and Mrs. North” with Gracie Allen, “A Night to Remember” with Brian Adhere and Loretta Young and more recently, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton in his 1994 homage to Hammett’s sleuths, in “Manhattan Murder Mystery.”

Ex Mrs Bradford-VHS1   Of course, if the movies do it, you can bet television would reproduce it. Shows like “Hart to Hart” and small screen versions of “Mr. and Mrs. North” and “Nick and Nora” would follow. By the way, there is a great article over at C.K. Dexter Haven’s Hollywood Dreamland that goes into more detail on this topic and is certainly worth checking out. Also, check out CK’s own review of “The Ex-Mrs. Bradford.”

   Along with Mr. Powell as Dr. Lawrence Bradford, we have here the ever-charming Jean Arthur as Paula, the ex -Mrs. Bradford of the title. The script is by Anthony Veiller based on a story by James Edward Grant and directed by Stephen Roberts. Roberts career goes back to the silent days. His works include “The Story of Temple Drake” and “Star of Midnight”, another reworking of “The Thin Man” only here the couple are boyfriend and girlfriend though not surprisingly, it also stars William Powell, along with Ginger Rogers (Powell seemed to have a lock on this kind of role). “The Ex-Mrs. Bradford” was Roberts final film; he died only months later after its release.

    Dr. Bradford is involved in a case of two jockeys who are mysteriously murdered. With the help of his eccentric somewhat ditzy mystery writer ex-wife Paula, the couple goes about solving the crimes though the good doctor becomes a prime suspect himself before unraveling the case and clearing his good name. It is all very light and entertaining though the level of wit is nowhere near the Thin Man films. Some of the comedy is telegraphed so far in advance that you get the message before it is delivered; still Powell and Arthur are a treat to watch, though Ms. Arthur comes across as too smart an actress to be convincing as featherbrained Paula. Watching her in this film, I started thinking how interesting it would be to see how she would have faired if she played Nora Charles in “The Thin Man.” 

     Powell is an old hand at this kind of story, having played Nick Charles for the second time, in “After the Thin Man” that same year for Paramount. A few years earlier, he was Philo Vance in a series of detective movies including “The Canary Murder Case” which coincidently had a young Jean Arthur as a showgirl. Nineteen Thirty Six was actually a big year for Powell. Along with the second Thin Man film, he also co-starred in two classic screwball comedies “My Man Godfrey” with Carole Lombard, “Libeled Lady” with Jean Harlow and Myrna Loy. Additionally, he appeared in “The Great Ziegfeld.” Jean Arthur made a big splash that same year in Capra’s “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”

    The film also co-stars Grant Mitchell, James Gleason and Robert Armstrong who most will recognize as Carl Denham from the original 1933 version of “King Kong.”  While “The Ex-Mrs. Bradford” is entertaining, ultimately it is disappointing with a flat script, old jokes, a flimsy mystery and a sense that you have seen it all before and better done.     

    “The Ex-Mrs. Bradford” was released on VHS years some ago as part of the RKO Collection, however with no DVD release; it is now among the missing.

Too Many Husbands (1940) Wesley Ruggles


“She’s been a good little wife.”

“….yes, to the both of us”

Jean Arthur’s talents shine in this light, witty, sophisticated comedy.  In “Too Many Husbands” Jean has, well too many husbands, one too many to be exact. Husband number one, Bill Cardew (Fred MacMurray), is presumed lost at sea. His widow, Vicky (Jean Arthur) marries Bill’s publishing partner, Henry Lowndes (Melvyn Douglas). At the one-year anniversary of Bill’s disappearance, Henry is having Bill’s office cleaned out and his name removed off the firm’s door. Meanwhile, Vicky’s father who is at home answers a phone call, on the other end of the line is Bill announcing that he is alive! Sound familiar? Well, yes since the premise is similar to the Cary Grant, Irene Dunne film, “My Favorite Wife” which was released in May of 1940 two months after “Too Many Husbands” hit the screen. Only in the Garson Kanin directed movie Cary Grant ends up married with two wives.   Too mnay husbands

The grand reunion is needless to say a confusing one especially for our heroine who soon realizes she loves both men. She in fact loves them so much she cannot make up her mind who she wants to stay married too. Both men compete to win Vicky’ heart hoping that she will dump the other, however, it turns out Vicky is enjoying the attention she is receiving and cannot, or will not, make a decision. The two husbands start to rekindle their friendship and conclude they are being played for saps. They decide to teach Vicky a lesson by disappearing. Unfortunately, she calls the police who uncover that our heroine is a bigamist. The case is brought before the court where the presiding, judge rules who Vicky is officially married to. However, it does not end there since the loser refuses to give up his pursuit of his “wife.” Vicky and the two men pretty much ignore the court’s decision and as the films ends, she and her two “husbands” are dancing the night away as a threesome.

Too Many Husbands poster    “Too Many Husbands” is a fun film with three wonderful and charming performances, directed with a light touch by Wesley Ruggles. Jean Arthur, and a witty script, though are the real reasons to watch this film. She is enchanting and simply seems to be having a good time in the role. Melvyn Douglas provides a stylish touch having already whet his feet with sophisticated comedy having just come from filming Lubitsch’s “Ninoctchka.”  Fred MacMurray is the less sophisticated of the two playing Jack Lemmon to Douglas’s Walter Matthau. MacMurray was fortunate enough to have worked with both Arthur and Carole Lombard. The film opened in March 1940 at Radio City Music Hall and surprisingly, at least to me, did not do well at the box office. The script, written by Claude Binyon, was based on a play called “Home and Beauty”, by W. Somerset Maugham. There are also entertaining performances by Henry Davenport as Vicky’s father, Melville Cooper and in small role as a police officer is Edgar Buchanan.

“Too Many Husbands” is a somewhat more suggestive film than “My Favorite Wife” especially the ending where it seems  Vicky will be continuing to have a relationship with both men. There is also an underlying hint of gay references in the dialogue, when the two husbands are forced to share a bedroom. It is surprising how much the filmmakers were able to slip passed the censors. One wonders if they were too busy paying attention to the bigamy plot letting these other subtle insinuations get by?Jean Arthure photo

As previously mentioned, only a couple of months later the better-known “My Favorite Wife” was released. In another touch of irony, both films were remade years later, “Too Many Husbands” was turned into a musical in 1955 called “Three for the Show” with Betty Grable and Jack Lemmon and “My Favorite Wife” in 1963 as “Move Over, Darling.” This last film has a long history of it own, which is well know. Originally, it was to be a vehicle for Marilyn Monroe co-starring Dean Martin called “Something’s Got to Give.”  Monroe was difficult during the shoot and was fired by 20th Century Fox who then signed Lee Remick as her replacement. Dino walked off the film saying, no offence to Remick but he signed to star with Monroe. Fox rehired Monroe but unfortunately her problems ran deep and was soon found dead of an overdose. Production was shut down and the film was never completed. The story was resurrected a couple years later with Doris Day, James Garner and Polly Bergen, and now called “Move Over, Darling.”

“Too Many Husbands” is a pleasant diversion not reaching the level of screwball greats, still it has aged well with Ms. Arthur’s character looking more modern and certainly more liberated than most female characters of the day. The film has recently been released on DVD as part of the “Icons of Screwball Comedy Volume 1.”