Monday, August 28, 2017

Five Came Back by Mark Harris

Five Came Back
A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War
by Mark Harris
Penguin Press
511 pages
February 2014

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

World War II was over and director John Huston was heading home. The army had one more assignment for him before he repatriated to good old Hollywood. They needed him to make a documentary about shell shocked servicemen being treated at a psychiatric ward. With soldiers coming back home and some dealing with serious mental trauma, the army was anxious to show employers across the nation that these men were treatable and would make fine employees. Propaganda films during the war became “a matter of strategic necessity” and this didn’t change when things were winding down. Huston was excited to show a reality of war that had been swept under the rug. The army’s vision of The Returning Psychoneurotic because Huston’s vision of Let There Be Light. Huston spent three months filming psychologists working with patients at Mason General Hospital. He had unfettered access and countless hours of precious footage. Once it was filmed, edited and in the can, a premiere at MoMA in New York City was arranged. At first the army approved the final result. But then they urgently tried to supress it. First they said they didn’t have music copyright permission for public screenings. Then they said the releases the soldiers signed were not legally binding. Even though Huston ended the film on an uplifting note, the army wasn’t ready for the public to see what Huston wanted them to see. Let There Be Light was supressed for 35 years. Huston fought for decades to have it released and finally got his wish when Vice President Walter Mondale gave his approval in 1980.

“The men were seeking adventure, but more than that, they were reaching for relevance in a world that had become rougher and more frightening than anything their studio bosses would allow them to depict on film.” – Mark Harris

The story of Huston’s Let There Be Light is one of many stories contained in Mark Harris’ book Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War. Before the United States was involved in the war, there was an understanding that the film industry would be a crucial ally in building pro-War sentiment with the general public. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, five Hollywood directors enlisted and lent their talents as filmmakers to capture scenes of the war for the folks back home. These included John Ford, William Wyler, John Huston, Frank Capra and George Stevens. Harris follows their stories from just before the war, through to their assignments on the battle field and their eventual return to Hollywood. Told in chronological order the narrative intertwines their stories to tell the bigger story of WWII.

Anyone with an interest in 1940s film will be fascinated by how the war influenced pictures including feature films but also documentaries and shorts. Many films are discussed at length and what’s particularly fascinating is how the director’s involvement in the war affected their films. Did you know Frank Capra wanted to make Arsenic and Old Lace so his family could have some income while he was away? Or that Harold Russell was first part of William Wyler’s Diary of a Sergeant before he was added to The Best Year’s of Our Lives? Or that George Stevens witnessed the horrors of the concentration camps and after that couldn’t bring himself to make comedies in Hollywood?

“As long as they lived, the war lived in them.” – Mark Harris

William Wyler (left)
George Stevens (center)
John Ford (left)

John Huston (second from left), Frank Capra (right)

Films discussed at length include Meet John Doe (1941), Mrs. Miniver (1942), The More the Merrier (1943), They Were Expendable (1945), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) and more. Then there are the documentaries that brought home the story of the war. These included Capra’s Why We Fight series and The Negro Soldier, Huston’s The Battle of San Pietro and The Report from the Aleutians, Ford’s The Battle of Midway, Stevens' Nazi Concentration Camps and Wyler’s The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress and others.

Mark Harris’ book is a result of five years of archival research and it shows. It’s incredibly detailed and while it’s not overly long it does take quite a bit of time to read. Mostly because of it’s structure and how much information is packed in its pages. I’m fascinated by this era so it was essential that I read Five Came Back. The book inspired a Netflix mini-series which I’m keen to watch. It does help to have seen some of the films and documentaries mentioned in the book. Many of the docs are available on YouTube including Huston’s Let There Be Light which I highly recommend you see and have included below.

Five Came Back is a fascinating book about Hollywood directors contributing to the war effort during WWII and how their experiences affected them.

This is my fourth review for my Summer Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Where the Boys Are (1960)

Where the Boys Are (1960) poster

In the late 1950s, the young adult rite of passage known as "spring break" was blossoming. Legions of college students would make the trek to warmer climes. Spending Easter week in the sunshine and sand broke up the monotony of collegiate life. It wasn't until author and English professor Glendon Swarthout wrote a novel called Where the Boys Are that spring break became the phenomenon it's known as today.

It all started when Swarthout overheard some of his English honor students discussing an upcoming trip from Michigan State University to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Intrigued by their enthusiasm, Swarthout asked them questions about their trip. They invited him to join and see for himself and he did. Swarthout observed the goings on of his students and others on Spring Break and his observations proved to be the inspiration for his next novel. In a 1985 interview with Larry King, Swarthout said:
 "as the week progressed that this would make a fine novel, a very funny novel, and yet, I thought at the same time make a kind of ... write a kind of profile of that particular generation. Their aspirations, their hopes, their fears and so and that’s what I tried to do."

The title was inspired by a 1959 Time magazine article. In the piece a young coed was asked why she traveled to Fort Lauderdale in the Spring and she replied "that’s where the boys are." The novel was published in 1960 and became a bestseller. MGM purchased the rights and quickly turned around a low-budget movie. Little did anyone know how one movie would make a huge impact on youth culture.

Dolores Hart, Connie Francis, Yvette Mimieux and Paula Prentiss in Where the Boys Are (1960)
Dolores Hart, Connie Francis, Yvette Mimieux and Paula Prentiss in Where the Boys Are (1960)

Producer Joe Pasternak, who was not new to movies that appealed to teens and young adults, gathered a bevvy of newcomers and contract players to make up of the cast of the film. Henry Levin directed the film and he would go on to work on two of my favorite 1960s sex comedies If a Man Answers (1962) and Come Fly With Me (1963).

Where the Boys Are (1960) stars Dolores Hart as Merritt Andrews. She attends Michigan State University with her good friends Tuggle (Paula Prentiss), Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) and Angie (Connie Francis). Sick of the cold weather and the uptight faculty who don't appreciate the hormonal struggle of their students, the foursome head south to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in search of fun in the sun and boys. On the way there they pick up TV Thompson (Jim Hutton), a quirky college student hitchhiking his way to Florida. At over 6 feet tall he's quickly paired up with the 5'10 beauty Tuggle. When they arrive in Florida there are more boys to meet. Melanie becomes the victim of two douchebag college students, Dill (John Brennan) and Franklin (Rory Harrity). While outspoken about sex, Merritt proceeds cautiously when she meets rich Massachusetts boy Ryder (George Hamilton). Angie seems to have the worst luck with the boys and only manages to partially capture the attention of the legally blind bass player Basil (Frank Gorshin). Also in the film is Barbara Nichols as the sexpot underwater performer Lola Fandango who temporarily threatens to break up TV and Tuggle.

Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Paula Prentiss and Jim Hutton in Where the Boys Are (1960)
Dolores Hart, George Hamilton, Paula Prentiss and Jim Hutton in Where the Boys Are (1960)

Actress Dolores Hart was on loan from another studio but all the rest were newcomers that were either recently signed or about to be signed as MGM contract players. Newcomers included George Hamilton and Yvette Mimieux, both of whom who had only made a few films previously and would later star in Light in the Piazza (1962) together. Where the Boys Are was the first film for both Paula Prentiss and Connie Francis. Prentiss was signed on to MGM when she was booked for the film. Because of their chemistry and the fact that they were both tall, Prentiss and Jim Hutton were paired in a total of four movies. Where the Boys Are (1960) was followed by The Honeymoon Machine (1961), Bachelor in Paradise (1961), The Horizontal Lieutenant (1962). In fact the chemistry of all of the players made them prime for other movies including Follow the Boys (1963) and Looking for Love (1964).

With a budget of $1.4 million, grossed triple that at the box office when it was released December 28, 1960. Where the Boys Are was an enormous hit. For publicity, MGM sent the cast on a 6 week tour all around the United States doing TV, radio and newspaper interviews wherever they could. A separate Fort Lauderdale premiere occurred on February 21, 1961. The effect on Fort Lauderdale was substantial. Already bracing for the impact of the spring break migration, they were completely unprepared when the 20,000 students increased to 50,000 after the movie was released and would keep growing in subsequent years. In an interview with Broward Palm Beach New Times, Connie Francis said, “it wasn’t even a movie, it was a national phenomenon. They didn’t know whether to kill me or give me the key to the city.” Where the Boys Are would popularize spring break and would also inspire subsequent beach movies that became such a part of 1960s youth culture.

The film captures the longing for sexual freedom and independence. It's at times humorous and dark. Audiences see the ridiculousness of spring break but also its dangers. I love that this film isn't just some silly comedy. It has a lot of heart and both teaches and entertains. Swarthout's book was a lot more scandalous and the movie version, adapted to the screen by George Wells, was toned down quite a bit. I like to believe that it still captures what Swarthout intended: a study of youth culture. I've always loved this movie but when I did some research on it and watched it again after not having seen it in a while, I have a new found appreciation. It doesn't hurt that Where the Boys Are has a fantastic cast, clothing to die for and a set that I just want to live in. The only thing I don't care for is the title song sung by Connie Francis which she revealed she didn't care for either at the start but it eventually brought her a lot of success.

The good folks at the Warner Archive Collection released Where the Boys Are (1960) on Blu-Ray recently and even though I already had a DVD-R copy I wanted to check out the new restoration. It looks beautiful! The Blu-Ray has closed captions (I'm always grateful for these), a featurette about the Fort Lauderdale premiere and a 7 minute documentary featuring interviews with Paula Prentiss and Connie Francis. I'm not big on commentary but I enjoyed listening to Paula Prentiss' commentary on the Blu-Ray. Highly recommended.

Where the Boys Are (1960) is available from the Warner Archive Collection. You can buy the Blu-Ray or the DVD-R from the WB Shop.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to the Warner Archive for sending me a blu-ray copy of Where the Boys Are (1960) for review!

Glendon Swarthout official site
Michigan State University
Where the Boys (and Girls) Were!: The Fun and Sun History of Fort Lauderdale by Dan Santoro
Connie Francis interview

Monday, August 21, 2017

Classic Film Bookshelf Tour

I don't know about you but I love browsing other people's book collections. If you're the same way then I have a treat for you. I filmed a long and super in-depth tour of my classic film bookshelves. I showcase each of my classic film books with a brief description of each. These include biographies, memoirs, fiction, genre books, coffee table books, and more. If you need some reading recommendations, make sure you watch my video!

You can find the full list of my book reviews on my Book Review page or clicking on the book review tag below.

In the upcoming months I plan to add some more video content to my YouTube channel so please make sure to subscribe! If you have any suggestions about videos you'd like to see (maybe a classic film DVD/Blu-Ray collection tour?) leave it in the comment section below.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Summer Reading Challenge - Second Round-Up

My favorite place to read is on my front porch. What's yours?

This summer has flown by. Was someone leaning on the fast forward button or something?

To all the summer reading participants, how is your reading going? I'm just over the halfway point and really hoping I can finish by the end of the month. ::fingers crossed:: Congrats to speed readers Andy and Vanessa who have already finished their challenges! And thank you to all the participants. I'm having a blast reading your reviews. Keep up the good work.

Below are the newest reviews since my last round-up. Enjoy!

Andy of Journeys in Darkness and Light
Asheville Movies Volume 1: The Silent Era by Frank Thompson
Design for Dying by Renee Patrick   
Noir City Annual 2015 edited by Eddie Muller

Daffny of A Vintage Nerd
Uncommon Knowledge by Judy Lewis

Emily on Instagram
Mary Astor's Purple Diary by Edward Sorel
Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin by David Kaufman

Jay of Thirty Hertz Rumble
Universal Horrors: The Studio's Classic Films 1931-1946 by Tom Weaver, Michael Brunas and John Brunas

Jessica of Comet Over Hollywood
My Way of Life by Joan Crawford

Le of Crítica Retrô
Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock by Bill Krohn

Molly of Dreaming in the Balcony
The Amateur Cracksman by E. W. Hornung
Ava Gardner: A Life in Movies by Kendra Bean and Anthony Uzarowski
Gentleman: The William Powell Story by Charles Francisco

Nicole of an Ode to Dust
James Cagney: The Authorized Biography by Doug Warren with James Cagney

Raquel of Out of the Past
Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood by Kirk and Anne Douglas
The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic by Richard Sandomir

Rich of Wide Screen World
Groucho: The Life and Times of Julius Henry Marx by Stefan Kanfer
Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz by Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert

A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes: My Story by Annette Funicello
Split Image: The Life of Anthony Perkins by Charles Winecoff 

Make 'Em Laugh: Short-term Memories of Long-term Friends by Debbie Reynolds
You Must Remember This: Life and Style in Hollywood's Golden Age by Robert J. Wagner and Scott Eyman

Adrian: Silver Screen to Custom Label by Christian Esquevin

Friday, August 11, 2017

Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood

Kirk and Anne
Letters of Love, Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood
by Kirk and Anne Douglas with Marcia Newberger
foreword by Michael Douglas
TCM and Running Press
May 2017
 Hardcover ISBN: 9780762462179240 pages

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

In March when I visited Boston University's Gotlieb Center, they had on display a 2008 letter from Kirk Douglas to his son Michael Douglas. It included a funny hand drawn portrait in profile of Kirk and his trademark cleft chin. I thought to myself, wouldn't it be nice to read some more letters written by Hollywood movie stars? Fast forward a month later when I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival. Lo and behold in my goodie bag was a copy of TCM and Running Press' new book Kirk and Anne: Letters of Love Laughter, and a Lifetime in Hollywood. What an unexpected treat! Kirk Douglas is one of my very favorite actors and this was a wonderful opportunity to read some of his letters and to learn about his 60+ year marriage to his wife Anne Buydens Douglas.

“Each of them brings out the very best in the other.” – Michael Douglas 

Kirk Douglas met Anne Buydens in Paris 1953. They fell in love and married in Las Vegas the following year. It sounds like the makings of a whirlwind romance but it was anything but that. Anne heard that Kirk Douglas needed a translator while he was in Europe. She met with him and turned down the job. This drove Kirk a little batty. The divorced Kirk had a busy dating life and was serious with actress Pier Angeli when he met Anne. Although he was immediately smitten with Anne and she with him, he made it clear early on that he planned on marrying Pier. Oh how different dating was back then! Anne couldn’t stand being the other woman and she broke up with Kirk which drove him right into her arms. They soon married and are still married today more than 60 years later.
The book is written from both Kirk and Anne’s perspectives. Readers learn the story of young Issur Danielovitch, a young Jewish man growing up in abject poverty in Amsterdam, NY. He grew up with a doting mother, 6 sisters, a disinterested father and a passion for acting. Then there’s the story of Hannelore Marx born and raised in Germany. During WWII she fled the Nazis and reemerged as Anne Buydens. Kirk Douglas became a world-famous actor and Anne became a movie industry executive helping Hollywood actors with translation and organizing the Cannes Film Festivals. We learn about their family lives, careers, how they met and the journey they had with all it’s ups and downs including Anne’s breast cancer, Kirk’s stroke, manager Sam Norton’s extortion of their finances and the death of their son Eric.

Anne and Kirk Douglas, February 1957. Photo source: Richard C. Miller

“If we live to be a hundred, there will still be so many unsaid things. As I write, I realize that I have been the happiest in my life with you.” – Kirk Douglas in a letter to his wife Anne 

Within the pages of this book are countless letters between Kirk and Anne. They are sickeningly romantic and will make you doubt how much you really love your significant other. Kirk and Anne have a special relationship that can be described using the contemporary phrase “relationship goals.” Also included are letters from famous friends. We learn about their Hollywood lifestyle and their friendships with Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Todd, Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh Merle Oberon, Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck, William Haines, and many more. Kirk Douglas was a goodwill ambassador for the government. Kirk and Anne developed a social circle of political heavyweights included presidents like JFK, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Anne is an a-plus socialite and in many cases their friends were more dazzled by her than her movie star husband.

“I’ve outlived many of the friends I work with and I miss them.” – Kirk Douglas 

I loved learning about Kirk and Anne Douglas’ charitable efforts. First there is the Anne Douglas Center, a rehab for homeless women. Then there is the Anne and Kirk Douglas Playground Award. Los Angeles schools have benefited from this program. The Motion Picture and Television Fund’s Country Home has an Alzheimer’s unit and their MPTF Home has a Kirk Douglas Care Pavillion thanks to the Douglas’ donations. There is even a Kirk Douglas scholarship at his alma mater St. Lawrence University.

For those of you who are particularly interested in Kirk Douglas' film career, myself included, there is plenty of behind-the-scenes information about the making of Lust for Life (1956), The Indian Fighter (1955), Paths of Glory (1957), Spartacus (1960), Seven Days in May (1964) (JFK encourage him to make the movie!), and more. Neither Kirk nor Anne are afraid to gossip so there is quite a bit of dish about their movie star friends and colleagues.

Kirk and Anne is a beautiful book filled with heartwarming letters and fascinating stories. It's a unique insight into the marriage and lifestyle of a Hollywood couple. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and now want to dive into more books about Kirk Douglas; he’s written several. I encourage you to pick up this book. It’s a quick read and will be a nice addition to your home library.

This is my third book review for my Summer Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

36 Hours (1965)

 36 Hours (1965)

Prisoners of war are interrogated and tortured for their secrets. But what happens when they're tricked out of them?

Directed and adapted for the screen by George Seaton, 36 Hours (1965) is a fascinating WWII film about a major in the US Navy whose drugged and captured by the Germans. When he comes to he's made to believe that it's 6 years later and the war is over opening up the opportunity for the Germans to learn crucial information about the imminent invasion of Normandy, also known as D-Day.

James Garner stars as Major Jefferson Pike. The US Navy has sent him to Lisbon, Portugal on an intelligence mission. However before he's able to execute his assignment, a German spy slips something into his coffee which knocks him out and he's taken prisoner. While he's unconscious a team of Nazis work to execute an elaborate plan that's been months in the making. Led by psychiatrist Major Walter Gerber (Rod Taylor), the team has studied Pike for months. Their plan is to make him think it's 1950 and he's recovering in an American Navy hospital. He's recruited fellow Germans who speak impeccable English to play Americans. Also part of his team is Anna Hedler (Eva Marie Saint), a concentration camp victim who spoke good English, was a trained nurse and saw this as an opportunity out of her situation. Anna plays his wife and nurse and Gerber plays a sympathetic American major and psychiatrist. A team of doctors perform plastic surgery on Pike to make him look like he's aged by 6 years. Gerber gets word from his higher ups that he only has 36 hours to finish his project and get important battle details out of Pike. His superior Otto Schack (Werner Peters) is visiting and anxious to interrogate the prisoner all the while doubting Gerber's plan. Will Pike figure out what's going on before he reveals too much?

Rod Taylor, James Garner and Eva Marie Saint in 36 Hours (1965)
Rod Taylor, James Garner and Eva Marie Saint in 36 Hours (1965)

36 Hours is based on an original story by writers Luis Vance and Carl K. Hittleman. However, Roald Dahl, popular writer and WWII veteran, had written a story in 1944 called Beware of the Dog that was very similar to Vance and Hittleman's story. Dahl's wife actress Patricia Neal was considering the part of Anna and noticed the similarities. In order to avoid a lawsuit, MGM bought the rights to Dahl's story and he received credit. Roald Dahl's biographer Jeremy Treglown confirms that Dahl was paid $30k for the film rights to Beware of the Dog. Most sources say the movie was adapted from Dahl's story but his is quite different. The two stories share in common the concept of tricking someone into think they are in a different place and time. I couldn't find any corroboration to this information other than IMDb. If you see any information please let me know because it makes for a very interesting back story!

James Garner's company Cherokee Productions co-produced 36 Hours along with William Perlberg and George Seaton. It was filmed on location in Yosemite National Park which was meant to represent the German countryside where Pike was isolated. I was delighted to see real footage of Lisbon, Portugal in the early 1960s. My father was from Portugal and I spent quite a bit of time visiting family there. At the time of filming my dad would have already been living in the US but it was still so fun to see my dad's country on film.

36 Hours is a taut war drama that kept me enthralled. I enjoyed the performances by the three leads James Garner, Eva Marie Saint and Rod Taylor. Saint's Anna is a very dark character. She's become numb because of her experiences in a concentration camp and is purely in survival mode. Saint is roughed up a bit in the movie and the plot line about her not being able to cry felt a bit over done. However I think her character was very interesting and it was great to see Saint in a role like this. Taylor's performance as Gerber was nuanced and brilliant. His character is probably the most complex of the bunch. Garner is great as Pike but I don't feel like the role was all that challenging for him. Pike is kind of a one-note character and he's confused when he comes to but I didn't quite believe it when he starts to realize what's going on. Garner is one of my favorite actors so it was still great to see him in this. And I also admire the fact that he was heavily involved behind the scenes too. I really enjoyed John Banner's performance as the Ernst. He plays an important character in the final part of the film. Describing his story line would be a major spoiler because he helps the plot come to its final conclusion.

I thoroughly enjoyed 36 Hours. I loved it's unusual story line and seeing a different take on WWII. The ending is predictable because it's based on real events but it's still so much fun to watch. Hat tip to writer Andy Ross who convinced me that I had to watch this one. You can check out his article on the movie here.

36 Hours (1965) is available on DVD-MOD and Blu-Ray from the Warner Archive Collection. It's also streaming on Warner Archive Instant. I watched the Blu-Ray version and highly recommend it.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a Blu-Ray copy of 36 Hours to review!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

On the Making of Out of the Past (1947)

Today marks the 100th anniversary of Robert Mitchum's birth. Mitchum and his classic film noir Out of the Past (1947) have been such a part of my classic film journey. It seems fitting that for my blog's 10th anniversary and Mitchum's 100th that I dedicate today's post to this movie.

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer on the set of Out of the Past (1947)
Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer on the set of Out of the Past (1947)

Out of the Past (1947) was based on the 1946 novel Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes, a pen name for author Daniel Mainwaring. The film rights were up for auction before the novel was even published. RKO's William Dozier beat out Warner Bros. with the winning bid. Although the book was released as Build My Gallows High, that title wasn't quite right for the movie. A Gallup poll conducted by RKO confirmed that such a morbid title would scare off potential viewers. The name change to Out of the Past happened after filming was wrapped up.

RKO brought Mainwaring on board to work on the screenplay. He took a crack at it but it proved to be too complicated a story and the flashback structure just wasn't working. Various sources say that author James M. Cain (Postman Always Rings Twice) also attempted to write the screenplay by making numerous changes to Mainwaring's story and characters. Director Jacques Tourneur read both screenplays and requested his own changes. A third writer, Frank Fenton, solidified the structure and added some colorful dialogue. Although multiple screenwriters worked on the adaptation, only Mainwaring (as Geoffrey Homes) received credit. In the end Tourneur still thought the final product was confusing but went ahead with the production anyways.

Originally Edward Dmytryk was announced as director but a scheduling conflict with the filming of So Well Remembered (1947) caused him to drop out. Jacques Tourneur recently had some success at RKO making pictures with Val Lewton and came on board as director bringing cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca with him. They had previously collaborated on the RKO film Cat People (1942).

Jacques Tourneur and Nicholas Musuraca meeting with Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum. Out of the Past (1947)
Jacques Tourneur and Nicholas Musuraca meeting with Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum. Out of the Past (1947)

Mainwaring first envisioned Humphrey Bogart for the part of Jeff Bailey. He even went so far as to meet with Bogart and present him with the script. Bogart might have been interested but his studio Warner Bros. wouldn't loan him out with RKO. Was Warner Bros. bitter because they lost the auction? Perhaps. However, the story from Warner Bros. was that Bogart was far too busy with other projects and they couldn't possibly loan him out. Other actors were considered including Dick Powell, Pat O'Brien and John Garfield. RKO finally settled on Robert Mitchum, their contract up-and-comer who could work on the cheap. Mitchum had potential as a leading man; he just needed a opportunity to show his worth. The role of Jeff Bailey matched Mitchum's personality. It was a natural fit.

RKO built a cast of relative newcomers to round out of the film. These included Kirk Douglas, Jane Greer, Virginia Huston, Rhonda Fleming, and Paul Valentine. Former child actor Dickie Moore, who'd recently recovered from a crippling virus that put his acting career on hold, was signed on for the part of the deaf-mute "kid". He spent four weeks learning sign language for the part. Mitchum was paid around $10k for over 10 weeks of work in comparison to Kirk Douglas who was on loan from Paramount and received $25k for a much smaller role. Jane Greer, who was Howard Hughes' discovery, was just 22 when she landed the femme fatale role of Kathie. It was a great part for her and boosted her confidence in her acting abilities.

The crew set out to Bridgeport, California, a small town in the Sierra Mountains to scout out locations and start filming. Out of the Past was shot in Bridgeport, Upper Twin Lake, Lake Tahoe and even San Francisco. (Check out Laura's awesome post about the different Bridgeport locations featured in Out of the Past.)

A week later Mitchum flew out to Bridgeport in what turned out to be one of the most dramatic entrances and proves sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. Mitchum biographer Lee Server recounts that RKO's Warren Duff and Robert Mitchum took a four-seater plane out to Bridgeport. As they landed, the wheels hit the runway but plane wouldn't slow down because the brakes had failed. The pilot tried with all his might to stop the plane. Server says "the aircraft smashed through a fence, hopped a ditch, and knocked over an outhouse before it came to a complete stop." Mitchum and Duff were knocked unconscious but no one was seriously injured. Who else can say they arrived for a film shoot by way of a crash landing?

Once settled, the cast and crew would film in Bridgeport for three weeks. There wasn't much to do in town. During their free time, they'd hang out at a local tavern. According to Server, "RKO sent up a projector and some spare prints, so in the evening people would gather around and watch Tom Conway as The Falcon..." RKO's publicist arranged for Mitchum to be involved in a publicity stunt. Mitchum, who was part Native American, was initiated into the Shoshone Indian tribe complete with headdress and photo op. When he wasn't at the beck and call of RKO, he'd write poetry and share it some of his fellow cast members including Dickie Moore. Newcomer Virginia Huston developed a massive crush on Mitchum and I can't say I blame her.

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer - Out of the Past (1947)
Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer - Out of the Past (1947)

After the location shooting wrapped up, the whole unit traveled back to Los Angeles to film the remaining scenes at the RKO lot. That's when the rest of the cast including Jane Greer and Kirk Douglas, started working. Mitchum and Jane Greer got a long really well on set and soon became fast friends. Their friendship would last for decades. According to a few sources, Mitchum and Kirk Douglas got along fine but there was a professional rivalry between the two. They both played to the camera in an effort to steal a scene or two. This rivalry would continue for years but on a low-key basis with both figures being dismissive of the other. But it's not like Mitchum would admit to this. In an interview with Jerry Roberts, Mitchum was asked about tensions on set and his response was, "Hell no. We had just seen him in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and were all delighted that he was in the picture." Director Tourneur and Mitchum were a match made in heaven. Tourneur found in Mitchum what he was looking for: an actor who was charismatic yet reserved and whose good looks and personality would bring a dreamy sensuality to Jeff Bailey.

Kirk Douglas and Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past (1947)

Production wrapped up in January of 1947 but Out of the Past wasn't released until November of that year. In the midst of filming, RKO had hired Dore Shary as head of production. He dismissed basically every project RKO was working on before he was hired and Out of the Past suffered as a result. The film was released with little to no publicity. It made a modest profit for the studio but it wasn't considered the great classic it is today. In fact, it wasn't until decades later when Film Noir was defined and studied as a genre that Out of the Past was truly appreciated.

Out of the Past has had various home video releases over the years. It's currently available in a stunning blu-ray edition available from the Warner Archive Collection.

Baby I Don't Care: Robert Mitchum by Lee Server
Robert Mitchum In His Own Words edited by Jerry Roberts
TCMDB Article Laura of Laura's Miscellaneous Musings

Thursday, August 3, 2017

The Beloved Brat (1938)

The Beloved Brat (1938) could just be a story of a spoiled brat who learns the error of her ways and transforms into a well-behaved child. This Warner Bros. film is much more than that. In its mere 62 minutes of screen time it packs a wallop with two big takeaways: 1) there are big consequences to suffer when you neglect your child and 2) you should find it in your heart to be inclusive of others.

The Beloved Brat is based on an original story by Jean Negulesco, who was on loan to Warner Bros. as a writer in 1938 and soon transitioned into a career as a director. Directed by Arthur Lubin, the film stars Bonita Granville as Roberta Morgan, the only child of a wealthy couple. She's been primarily raised by the household servants and her governess because her mother Mrs. Morgan (Natalie Moorhead) and her father Mr. Morgan (Donald Crisp) are far too busy with their careers and travels to pay much attention to their daughter. This results in Roberta acting out. A lot. The more Roberta feels stifled, the more she acts out and the more they try to repress her. It's a vicious cycle. The one person who seems to be emotionally invested in her is her father's secretary Williams (Donald Briggs). He's also the only person to remember her on her birthday which turns ends with a sad little party only attended by the servants and with cake she doesn't even get to eat.

Bonita Granville & Donald Crisp in The Beloved Brat (1938)
Bonita Granville and Donald Crisp in The Beloved Brat (1938)

 When Roberta discovers a young boy playing her front lawn she befriends him. Pinkie (Matthew Stymie Beard) and his sister Arabella (Meredith White) include her in their adventures. It turns out Roberta could care less about the fact that they're black. (Side note: Leo Gorcey has a small role as a bully in one of their scenes.) When Roberta brings Pinkie home to have dinner, Roberta's story takes a turn for the worse. Jenkins (Emmet Vogan), the butler, unceremoniously throws Pinkie out of the house and  locks Roberta in her room. She fakes a house fire in order to run away but this starts a series of events which lands her in a reform school for girls run by Helen Cosgrove (Dolores Costello) and Miss Brewster (Lucille Gleason). Roberta is in a completely new and foreign environment and the schoolgirls take a disliking to her almost immediately. With the help of Cosgrove and the indirect help of her friend Williams, Roberta blossoms into a well-behaved young woman. And now it's time for her parents to learn their lesson.

Bonita Granville in The Beloved Brat (1938)
Roberta (Bonita Granville) smashing plates as her fellow school girls look on.The Beloved Brat (1938)

The Beloved Brat is a film ahead of its time. In an era when racial mixing was looked down upon, the underlying message of inclusiveness in the film is quite bold. I let out a yelp and began to cry when I saw that Roberta finally got the birthday party she deserved, one filled with friends, including Pinkie and Meredith, and lots of cake. And in a time when it was the norm that children should be seen and not heard, Roberta boldly makes herself known. I wonder how audiences in 1938 reacted to this film. Were they receptive to the film's messages or did they just dismiss it as another poor rich girl story?

Bonita Granville is one of my favorite actresses but not all of her characters are likable. She made a career out of playing spoiled brats. Don't tell me you watched Now, Voyager (1942) and didn't feel the urge to smack her across the face. Granville's Roberta is lovable though. You know she's acting out because of her awful parents. I felt an emotional tie to her character and cheered her on and even wanted to see her throw a tantrum or two.

Granville made a minor splash in Hollywood playing a brat in These Three (1936). A few months after The Beloved Brat, Granville would start in the first of the four Nancy Drew movies, Nancy Drew Detective (1938). I have watched all four Nancy Drew films countless times and they're still some of my favorite movies from that era. I love that Granville graduates from brat, to misunderstood brat and then to headstrong independent girl in just a couple of years. But her bratty roles would still be synonymous with her name.

The Beloved Brat (1938) aired recently on TCM but it's not available on DVD. I hope the Warner Archive Collection will release it sometime in the future. It's worth seeing especially if you love films from this era and if you have a soft spot for Bonita Granville like I do.

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