The Grapes of Wrath on TCM – Feb. 10th

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John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath is one of classic Hollywood’s most impressive and important films. Based on John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel, a morally emotional work filled with both rage and empathy; it won both the National Book Award and a Pulitzer. One year after the book’s publication came Ford’s masterpiece.

TCM is broadcasting the film on Friday (February 10th) at 8PM (Eastern).

Down below is an excerpt from my e-book, Lessons in the Dark, where you can read more about  The Grapes of Wrath classic films. Available at Amazon. Continue reading

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Let Us Live (1939) John Brahm

   let_us_live2.jpg   Let Us Live is based on a March 1936 Harper’s magazine article by Boston Globe crime reporter, Joseph F. Dinneen, called Murder in Massachusetts. Dinneen’s true story focuses on two taxi cab drivers identified by almost a dozen witnesses for killing a man during a Lynn, Massachusetts movie theater robbery. The real killers, arrested about three weeks later were small time Jewish hoods Abraham Faber and brothers Irving and Murton Millen. The real killers’ story is rather fascinating in itself. Abraham Faber seemed like an unlikely individual to become a hoodlum. Faber attended MIT, graduating with a degree in aeronautical engineering. The Millen brothers were thugs. Small time hoods who hauled illegal booze during the prohibition days. The threesome apparently knew each other from days gone by growing up in Roxbury, Mass. Unemployed during the Depression, Abraham Faber reconnected with his childhood friends and the trio began a small time crime spree. In January, 1934 they graduated to murder when they shot a man during the Paramount theater robbery in Lynn, Mass. One month later, they robbed the Needham Trust Co., killing two police officers and wounding a fire fighter in the process. About three weeks later in New York City two of the men were arrested and confessed to the crimes. The third man was arrested in Boston. The taxi cab drivers arrested for the first murder were released. The Farber-Millen gang were convicted and executed in June of 1935. Continue reading

My Darling Clementine (1946) John Ford

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In John Ford’s 1962 late career masterpiece, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” there’s a line quoted by the town’s newspaper editor, Maxwell Scott, “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” And that’s just what John Ford was best at, recording the west not as it was, but as more of a mystical fable of how we want the west to be best remembered. Ford and his screenwriters play loose with the facts, still it is one of the most visually stunning of westerns, a black and white canvas of the west as it never existed, but we all wish it had.

Earp’s career has been idolized, revised and sanitized many times over. He was only a lawman for about eight years, and in Tombstone, it was Wyatt’s brother Virgil who was the Marshal with Wyatt and Virgil his deputies.(1) Not to bore you dear reader with the facts, but neither Doc Holliday nor Pop Clanton died during the short thirty second battle. Wyatt actually met Doc Holliday in Dodge City back in 1876 five years before the O.K. Corral shootings.  When they left for Tombstone, John “Doc” Holliday followed. If you want a somewhat more realistic, though still not totally accurate, version of what happened back in 1881 at the O.K. Corral and its aftermath, check out John Sturges “Hour of the Gun.” Oh yeah, a couple of other things, when Wyatt visits the grave of the youngest Earp, James who was killed by the Clanton’s early in the film, his tombstone reads he died in 1882 instead of ’81 when the shootout occurred. And as for Clementine Carter, well she is a purely fictional character. Continue reading

Short Takes: Bogart, Bacall and Widmark Times Two

This week’s short takes are not a particularly great bunch. Like most bloggers I tend to write about the films I love, or at least like. I decided that’s not fair; makes every film that is considered “classic” sound great. They are not. This group is not necessarily horrible, except for one; another is mediocre and another is just decent. Now mediocrity can be enjoyable on some levels, recently I have been watching some low budget Boston Blackie films from Columbia Pictures which have been on TCM every weekend. They are light hearted, a bit corny, but enjoyable pieces of detective fluff. Blackie, as played by Chester Morris, is the only one with any brains, and in every film has to prove his innocence to the two dumb and dumber detectives who see him as a one man crime wave. You see, Blackie was a former jewel thief, now gone straight. At best, these films are fair, lightweight entertainment. Classic? Well, I guess it all goes down to your definition of classic, which by the way, has been discussed recently by some members of CMBA and there is a particularly good posting on the subject by Gilby of  Random Ramblings of a Broadway, Film and TV Fan.  Anyway below are this week’s short takes. classics or not. Continue reading

The Grapes of Wrath (1941) John Ford

For most of us today, the Great Depression of the 1930’s is something we may have read about in our history books. For anyone still alive during the depression experiencing it was something that would never be forgotten. If these depression era folks shared their memories and they lived in a big city like New York or Seattle, they may talk about Hooverville. There were many Hooverville’s in many cities across the country. If they lived in more rural areas like Oklahoma, they would talk to you about the dustbowl that ruined the farmland and the mortgage companies and banks that foreclosed on their land.

   John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath is arguably the most famous film about the depression, and was one of the first films selected to be in the National Film Registry. Based on John Steinbeck’s classic novel, the film follows the Joad family from the dustbowl of Oklahoma as they journey to what they hope is a better life in California. Few other films capture the gloom, the harshness, the misery of proud people remaining strong in the face of economic destruction like Ford’s masterpiece. William Wellman’s Wild Boys of the Road (1933) and King Vidor’s Our Daily Bread (1934) are strong competitors.    Continue reading

Daisy Kenyon (1947) Otto Preminger

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     After leaving MGM where she reigned as the biggest star on the lot Joan Crawford signed a contract with Warner Brothers and had series of hits that rank up there with her best from MGM, “Humoresque”, “Possessed” (1947), her Academy Award winning role in “Mildred Pierce.” While under contract to Warner’s she was loaned out to 20th Century Fox for “Daisy Kenyon”. Kenyon has been called a woman’s picture, a melodrama and a film noir. Though released on DVD by 20th Century Fox as part of its film noir series this is misleading. The movie, while it may contain some noirsh style lighting, that may have more to do with Ms. Crawford being too old for the part with the dark shadowy lighting used to cover up the effects of her fortyish age. Either way, Joan was still at the top and could command leading men of status like Dana Andrews and Henry Fonda to be her co-stars.  daisy-kenyon         

     Here Crawford was given two of the top male stars of the time to co-star with, Preminger favorite Dana Andrews who had appeared in at least five Preminger films and Henry Fonda. Billed third behind Andrews, which may be surprising to some, Fonda, just back from the Army was at the tail end of his studio contract and was ready to go out on his own. Andrews was a big star and on a roll during this period having just appeared in “Boomerang”, “The Best Years of Our Lives” and “A Walk in the Sun.” “Daisy Kenyon” is the story of a young commercial artist who is having an adulterous affair with big time lawyer Dan O’Mara (Andrews). O’Mara always got everything he wanted. He never lost a case; he had a family with two young daughters who love him and a beautiful mistress. Daisy wants to get married however, the smooth talking O’Mara strings her along never committing. Daisy meets psychologically disturbed war veteran Peter Lapham (Fonda). After a single date he professes his love for Daisy. When Daisy rejects his proposal, he just disappears. Later on, realizing Dan is not going to divorce his wife (Ruth Warwick) marries Peter though she still in love with Dan. O’Mara however, cannot get over Daisy and after losing a case for the first time, where he was defending a Japanese-American war veteran who came home to find his property taken away from him, he makes the decision to divorce his wife and come after the now married Daisy.

    Preminger who was at the height of his career in the 1940’s through the 1950’s does a nice job of keeping the suspense up on whom Daisy will decide on until the very end. From what I have read, Preminger did not think much of the final results of the film.

   daisy-kenyon-poster Of the three leading characters, Crawford’s Daisy is probably the least interesting though as usual, she plays a strong female character and her presence alone is powerful. Fonda’s character is a bit of an oddity, as is the pairing of Crawford and Fonda in general. There does not seem to be any chemistry between them making their scenes together disappointing. Dana Andrews gives a fine performance as Dan, going from a smart over confident self centered charmer to a man who suddenly realizes he is losing everything. You can see the confidence drain from Andrews face as his fortunes decline. A really nice performance, the most successful in the film though his character is not very likeable.

    There are also problems with the script. Dan’s relationship with his children seems like it needed to be explored more. Similar is the relationship between Daisy and her friend Martha (Mary Angelus) who always seems to be hanging around Daisy’s apartment making you wonder if there is more to their relationship than is being said. 

     Look for cameo appearances by John Garfield, writer Damon Runyon and newspapermen Leonard Lyons and Walter Winchell in the Stork Club scene. The film was written by David Hertz was based on a novel by Elizabeth Janeway. As an aside, Elizabeth Janeway was married to Elliot Janeway who was economic advisor to Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and later to Lyndon B. Johnson.