Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ Dr. Kildare Movie Collection

The good folks at the Warner Archive Collection have released a stupendous 9-film, 5-Disc Collection of all of the Dr. Kildare films starring Lew Ayres as Kildare and Lionel Barrymore as Dr. Gillespie.  I was knew very little of the Dr. Kildare films so listening to George, Matt and D.W. talk about it on the Warner Archive podcast, watching the films and doing a bit of research online was a very satisfying way to approach this unfamiliar territory.

The films in the Dr. Kildare Movie Collection include:

Young Dr. Kildare (1938)
Calling Dr. Kildare (1939)
The Secret of Dr. Kildare (1939)
Dr. Kildare's Strange Case (1940)
Dr. Kildare Goes Home (1940)
Dr. Kildare's Crisis (1940)
The People vs. Dr. Kildare (1941)
Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day (1941)
Dr. Kildare's Victory (1942)
Bonus: unaired MGM-TV pilot for Dr. Kildare from 1960 with Lew Ayres

Lew Ayres stars as the young Dr. James Kildare. He's just finished medical school and is on the brink of a fantastic career as a doctor. He's the son of a small town practitioner, Dr. Stephen Kildare (Samuel S. Hinds) whose footsteps he should have followed but instead chose to become an intern at the fictional Blair General Hospital in New York City. He shows promise as a diagnostician and the ornery but visionary Dr. Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore) takes Kildare under his wing. While Kildare only makes a measly $20 a month at his new job, he has access to a top facility, a big medical library, labs and a wide of variety of patients and cases. Dr. Kildare is rebellious and ambitious but at the same time has a generous and kind heart. He truly believes in helping people get better. His rebelliousness gives him an edge but at heart he's the same sweet wholesome doctor his father is. A common thread throughout the entire series finds Kildare breaking hospital rules and regulations in order save his patients.

It's almost unfair to call these the Dr. Kildare movies because what makes these films so special is the cast of unique characters that make up the world of Blair General Hospital and Kildare's hometown.

Samuel S. Hinds as Dr. Stephen Kildare and Emma Dunn as Mrs. Martha Kildare

At home there is Dr. Stephen Kildare (Samuel S. Hinds), Dr. James Kildare's father and the patriarch of the Kildare household. He's very proud of his son even if he is a bit disappointed that he didn't join him in his home practice. Dr. Stephen Kildare is a sweet and patient old man who is well-respected as the community's doctor but isn't as brilliant as his prodigal son.

Mrs. Martha Kildare (Emma Dunn) is the wise mother and matriarch. Nothing gets past her and she's always around to give good advice to her son. Her husband might be oblivious at times but she never is. Most mother characters in these types of serials are often homebodies whose worlds don't extend much past the household and who can be a little flighty and easily confused. Mrs. Kildare is not that type of character. She's as smart as she is charming and easily became my favorite character of the series.

At Blair General Hospital there is Dr. Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore), a crusty old man with a bad temper and gruff personality. However, he has a big heart and is passionate about what he does. Each film features a tender scene in which Dr. Gillespie gives some health and life advice to patient. Dr. Gillespie is so well-respected at Blair General Hospital that his influence gets Dr. Kildare out of hot water on more than one occasion and his stool pigeons are always on the look out for juicy gossip and insider information to bring back to him. While the focus of the series is on Dr. Kildare, Barrymore's portrayal of Dr. Gillespie steals the spotlight. His character is always on the verge of death because of a melanoma on his left hand and elbow. Perhaps this was a convenient plot point in case wheelchair bound Barrymore could no longer continue the series. But Barrymore's Dr. Gillespie continues on through the whole series and beyond (more on that later).

Other characters at Blair General Hospital include:

Laraine Day (left) as Mary Lamont and Alma Kruger (right) as Molly Byrd

Nurse Mary Lamont (Laraine Day) - She's the nurse assigned by Dr. Gillespie to spy on Dr. Kildare in Calling Dr. Kildare (1939). Kildare and Lamont fall in love and become engaged. The climax of their relationship can be seen in Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day. Throughout the series, Kildare grows to rely on her talents as a nurse and as a confidant and trustworthy supporter.

Nurse Molly Byrd (Alma Kruger) - Byrd is the tough no-nonsense head nurse that keeps Blair General Hospital and all of its orderlies, nurses and doctors in check. She's the only person who can put Dr. Gillespie in his place. Byrd and Gillespie are a couple without the romance and rely on each other in matters both personal and professional.

From left to right: Conover (George Reed), Dr. Gillespie (Lionel Barrymore),
Nurse Parker (Nell Craig) and Dr. Carew (Walter Kingsford)

Dr. Walter Carew (Walter Kingsford) - Dr. Carew runs Blair General Hospital and is the enforcer of its rules and regulations. He often butts heads with Dr. Kildare, who doesn't care for hospital rules, and on a couple occasions even fires or suspends him. Carew greatly admires and respects Gillespie. His character's main purposes to contrast with Kildare's.

Conover  (George Reed) - Conover is Dr. Gillespie's personal orderly and his right-hand man. He loves gambling, maybe a little too much. Conover often has to trick Gillespie for the doctor's own good.

Nurse Parker (Nell Craig) - This bug-eyed nurse lives in constant fear of Dr. Gillespie who loves to bark orders at her and confuse her from time to time. She's the polar opposite of Molly Byrd.

A scene from Dr. Kildare's Wedding Day (1941) includes Sally, Mike Ryan, Maisie, Vernon Briggs,
Conover plus other minor characters.

Wayman (Nat Pendleton) - Paramedic who assists Dr. Kildare on emergency cases. When Dr. Kildare takes the rap for Wayman's neglect of a particular patient, Wayman feels he owes a lot to Kildare. When Wayman isn't flirting with Sally, he's often found helping Dr. Kildare out of a jam. He's in the first 6 films then mysteriously disappears only to return in the three Dr. Gillespie films that followed.

Sally, the telephone Operator (Marie Blake) - Sally is the wise-cracking dame who fields hospital calls (mostly complaints or propositions) as well as the amorous attentions of Wayman and orderlies. She and Dr. Gillespie have the funniest lines of dialogue in the series.

Mike Ryan (Frank Orth) - Mike Ryan is the Irish bartender at the convivial Sullivan's Hospital Cafe who strikes a friendship with fellow Irishman Dr. Kildare. Ryan eventually takes over the cafe and rebrands it with his own name. He loves to flirt with Mrs. Martha Kildare and is always trying to get the interns and orderlies to eat his special Irish grub.

Nurse Maisie (Gladys Blake) - Nurse Maisie is Sally's back-up and manages the hospital intercom. She's Sally's rival for the orderlies' attention and is a big flirt.

Vernon Briggs (Red Skelton) - Skelton provides comic relief in two of the series most dramatic films. He's the orderly who thinks he's a wise guy but is always getting fooled. I wish they had introduced Skelton earlier and kept him longer in the series. Every scene he's in is a delight to watch.

Notable guest appearances include Tom Conway, Bonita Granville, Nils Asther, Robert Young, Lana Turner and Gene Lockhart.

The Dr. Kildare movies were always meant to be a series. At the end of the first film, Lionel Barrymore and Lew Ayres come out and announce that there will be many films to come. The Dr. Kildare series ended in 1942. Lew Ayres was a conscientious objector to WWII and because of public outcry did not appear in films during the war. The series was popular enough that they continued on without Ayres and what followed was three Dr. Gillespie films:  Calling Dr. Gillespie (1942), Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant (1942) and Dr. Gillespie's Criminal Case (1943). The second film introduced Van Johnson as Gillespie's new assistant. I really think that Warner Archive should have either included those three movies in this set or at least followed up quickly with a single Dr. Gillespie set. One of those films includes Susan Peters, one of my favorite actresses.

The Dr. Kildare movies are a delight to watch and Lew Ayres and Lionel Barrymore are a dynamic duo. There are some outdated notions about medicine and treatment including a controversial approach to epilepsy and insulin shock therapy. However, the theme of the entire series focuses on preventative care and mind-over-body which still applies today. The overall gist I got was that medical science has advanced in leaps and bounds but there are still improvements waiting on the horizon.

This series isn't perfect though. I don't want to spoil things for you but one of the later films in the series is a shocking let-down. Also, I found the Dr. Kildare character difficult to connect to. He comes from a privileged situation. If anything goes wrong during his internship at Blair General Hospital, he has a cozy position at his father's home practice waiting for him as a fall back plan. This allows Dr. Kildare to take some risks. Not all of us have this convenience. I think his character would have been much more interesting if he had everything to lose.

I thoroughly enjoyed these films and would watch them again. In addition to the 9 Dr. Kildare films and their trailers, there is also a 26 minute unaired 1960 MGM-TV pilot for a Dr. Kildare show starring Lew Ayres. It features a very young Robert Redford which is probably the main draw for contemporary viewers. Lew Ayres portrayal of an older Dr. Kildare is charming. He's kind of half Kildare, half Gillespie. This pilot is bittersweet to watch. Lew Ayres was all set to play Dr. Kildare but made it clear that he wouldn't continue if the network was going to show cigarette ads during the commercial breaks. This unfortunately was a deal breaker and Ayres was dropped. The series was re-fashioned with Richard Chamberlain as Dr. Kildare. While I couldn't connect with Dr. Kildare as a character, I find Lew Ayres as an actor and as a man endlessly fascinating! The recently published biography Lew Ayres: Hollywood's Conscientious Objector is now at the top of my wish list.

The Dr. Kildare Movie Collection is available in a 5-Disc DVD-MOD set from Warner Archive. You can also purchase it at the TCM Shop.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received the Dr. Kildare Movie Collection from Warner Archive to review.

Friday, February 14, 2014

TCM Film Festival 2014 Announcements So Far

The 2014 TCM Classic Film Festival is fast approaching which means TCM has been releasing a lot of very exciting news about the different appearances, special events and screenings that will take place during the festival. This year's theme is Family in the Movies: The Ties that Bind and yesterday TCM announced several new guest appearances. I have compiled a list together of everything they've announced so far. If I missed anything, let me know.

2014 TCM Classic Film Festival April 10-13

Opening Night Gala - World Premiere Restoration of Oklahoma! (1955) with guest appearance by Shirley Jones
Vanity Fair Opening Night After-Party

Film Screenings

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) – World Premiere Restoration
City Lights (1931) – with Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra performing a new original score
Double Indemnity (1944) – 70th Anniversary and World Premiere Restoration
Godzilla: The Japanese Original (1954) – World Premiere Restoration
Gone with the Wind (1939)  – Recent Restoration
A Hard Day’s Night (1964) – World Premiere Restoration
Mary Poppins (1964) – 50th Anniversary Presentation with a Special Presentation (maybe at El Capitan theatre? Not confirmed)

The Lodger (1927) – with Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra performing a new original score
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) – World Premiere Restoration
Stormy Weather (1943) – World Premiere Restoration
Touch of Evil (1958)  – World Premiere Restoration
Why Worry? (1923) – with Carl Davis conducting live World Premiere Performance of new original score
The Wizard of Oz (1939) – Special Presentation in IMAX 3D

Special Guest Appearances

Actor Jerry Lewis (Special Tribute)
Hand/Footprint Ceremony in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (AKA TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX)
The Nutty Professor (1963) – On-Stage interview with Illeana Douglas Q andA with audience

Composer & Producer Quincy Jones (Special Tribute)
The Pawnbroker (1964) – 50th Anniversary Screening

Actor Richard Dreyfuss (Special Tribute)
The Goodbye Girl (1977)
Mr. Holland’s Opus (1995)

Actress Maureen O’Hara
How Green Was My Valley (1941) – World Premiere Restoration

Actor Mel Brooks
Blazing Saddles (1974)

Actress Margaret O’Brien
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)

Actress Shirley Jones
Oklahoma! (1955) (see above for more details)

Actress Kim Novak
Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

Actor Ryan O’Neal
Paper Moon (1973)

Director William Friedkin
Sorcerer (1977) – U.S. Premiere Restoration

Documentarian Albert Maysles
Grey Gardens (1975)

Filmmaker Ira Wohl
Best Boy (1979)

Film Editor Thelma Schoonmaker
Club TCM Interview

Which special event or screening are you most excited about? I'm really excited about seeing Margaret O'Brien, Shirley Jones, Maureen O'Hara and Kim Novak. Also, Grey Gardens (1975) has been on my to-be-watched list for such a long time and it would be quite special to see it on the big screen with the director in attendance. Of the single screenings, I'm excited about the Harold Lloyd film Why Worry? (1923) with live music and a new original score by Carl Davis. Plus The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) is on my 10 Classics for 2014 list so to see a screening of the restoration would be an amazing way to watch this film for the first time! I'm not a big fan of IMAX or 3D but George Feltenstein of Warner Archive highly recommends the IMAX 3D presentation of The Wizard of Oz (1939) and said it was very well done.

TCM will be releasing the full schedule of appearances in screenings in the next coming weeks so stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956)

It’s no secret that I’m completely enamored with mid-20th Century Las Vegas. If I could take a time travel vacation, one of my top choices would be a late 1950s or early 1960s Las Vegas. So it was inevitable that I watch Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956) so I could swoon over all the glitz and glamour of a Las Vegas that no longer exists and to be entertained as well.

I won a copy of this movie in a Warner Archive Kumbuya giveaway. Shout out to the lovely Aurora of Once Upon a Screen... who runs the Kumbuya platform for Warner Archive and does a splendid job at that. I do encourage you to sign up and become a part of that community.

Meet Me in Las Vegas was an MGM production directed by Roy Rowland and stars Cyd Charisse as Maria Covier. Maria is a ballerina who’s preparing for her Las Vegas debut. She’s all business. When she’s not rehearsing, she’s resting and when she’s not resting, she’s rehearsing. Her life revolves around her various dancing gigs and the only people who inhabit her world, other than her fellow dancers, are her assistant Sari (Lili Darvas) and her manager Pierre (Paul Henreid). Maria’s world is small and she likes to keep it that way.

Las Vegas doesn’t agree with Maria. She’s annoyed by the noisy casino and the slot machine in the bedroom of her hotel suite. On the flip side, no one loves Las Vegas more than rancher Chuck Rodwell (Dan Dailey). Chuck is known for his bad luck but that doesn't stop him from gambling away his hard-earned profits. He has so much fun at the casinos, gambling, flirting, drinking and signing, he's still hopeful that his bad luck streak will end and he comes back for more. His luck is about to change when he meets Maria. All he needs to do is hold her hand and he’ll win at any game: roulette, black jack, you name it he’ll win it. At first Maria is not amused by Chuck who urgently seeks her out as his good luck charm, but they start to warm up to each other. Maria finds that she’s missed out on a lot of fun and is making up for lost time with Chuck. The two start to fall in love. Will their lucky streak last forever?

This film has plenty glamorous shots of 1950s Las Vegas just waiting to be devoured. Any nostalgic Las Vegas enthusiast will love all the glorious shots of the different casinos, the marquees, the city streets, rows and rows of slot machines, the gambling tables, the pools and the lounges. During the movie, viewers take a short trip to Chuck’s ranch just outside of Las Vegas where we meet his feisty mom Miss Hattie played Agnes Moorehead, a familiar face for fans of the classic TV show Bewitched. And you’ll find plenty more familiar faces in this movie. There are cameo roles performed by Frank Sinatra, Peter Lorre and several others (I won't spoil them all for you because part of the fun is being surprised by a recognizable star). Cyd Charisse's real life husband Tony Martin has a small part as a secret admirer. Fans of West Side Story will recognize George Chakiris who plays a newlywed spending his honeymoon in Las Vegas with his new bride (Betty Lynn). Jim Backus, of Gilligan's Island fame, plays the casino manager who has his hands full with the opinionated Maria. Sammy Davis Jr.’s voice (not body) makes an appearance in a dance number. And there are plenty of dance numbers that showcase Cyd Charisse’s terrific skill as a dancer and her long toned legs. There are musical performances by Lena Horne, Dan Dailey and many more.

I had a lot of fun watching this movie. Meet Me Las Vegas is a feast for the eyes and entertaining to boot. Even though the plot line isn’t all that realistic (if it were many of us would be looking for a lucky hand to hold so we can gamble our way into becoming millionaires) it’s still a lot of fun.

Spoiler Alert! For those of you who have written off the 1950s as a backwards time, check out this film. Classic film fans often find ourselves frustrated by this all too common ending: a successful woman gives up her career to be with the man she loves. Female (1933) anyone? I found it very refreshing that the couple in this story avoids this ending by coming to a compromise. They decide that each of them will work 6 months out of the year, with the other person by their side for support. That way Chuck can continue to be a rancher and Maria can continue to travel as a ballerina but they can still be together. It’s important to note that the screenwriter Isobel Lennart was a career woman herself which I’m sure had something to do with the ending of this film. End Spoiler Alert.

Meet Me In Las Vegas from Warner Bros.

Meet Me In Las Vegas (1956)  is available from the Warner Archive as a DVD-MOD which includes a trailer and two deleted musical numbers: It's Fun to Be in Love and Lena Horne's You Got Looks.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956) as part of a Warner Archive Kumbuya giveaway.


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