Showing posts with label Darryl Hickman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Darryl Hickman. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Assignment in Brittany (1943)

Jean-Pierre Aumont and Susan Peters in Assignment in Brittany (1943)

After completing a dangerous mission in North Africa, Captain Pierre Metard (Jean-Pierre Aumont) is sent back to France for a new assignment. And this one is a doozy. Pierre happens to bear a striking resemblance to one Bertrand Corlay, a French Nazi collaborator who was injured and imprisoned by the British. Pierre receives a makeover to look exactly like Bertrand, complete with a fake birthmark on his back. His goal is to uncover the secret German submarine port before the Germans attack the French/British forces guarding the shore. When Pierre goes to Bertrand's home and assumes his identity he fools everyone except Bertrand's mother Mme. Corlay (Margaret Wycherly). She's on to him but allows him to proceed with his mission. Pierre meets with Bertrand's fiancee Anne Pinot (Susan Peters) a deeply religious woman who was never in love with Bertrand but was still upset to find out he had a mistress. And that woman is Elise (Signe Hasso), a woman of questionable morals and a participant in Bertrand's political exploits. Pierre falls in love with Anne and she returns the sentiment when Pierre saves her from an attack. In order for Pierre to infiltrate the underground Nazi network in this region of France and to keep up appearances to fool everyone into thinking he's Bertrand, he must go through an elaborate series of performances and escapes. Will Pierre as Bertrand be able to save the French forces from the Nazis before it's too late? What will happen when Anne finds out who Pierre truly is?

Assignment in Brittany (1943) was directed by Jack Conway for MGM. The story is based on the novel Cross Channel by Helen MacInness, serialized in The Saturday Evening Post in 1942. MGM snapped up the rights fairly quick and the film was shot later that year. MacInness' story was adapted to screen by film writing team Anthony Veiller, William H. Wright and Howard Emmett Rogers.

The story requires a leap of faith for plausibility. Pierre fooling everyone because he looks like Bertrand seems very unlikely and if you don't suspend your disbelief you might scoff at the idea like Wycherly's character does. However, the viewer never sees the real Bertrand so as far as we know they could be identical twins!

Like many other WWII films, Assignment in Brittany is a tale of wartime resistance and espionage with a tender love story at its center. It marked the American film debut of French actor Jean-Pierre Aumont (simply billed as Pierre Aumont) and Swedish actress Signe Hasso. Aumont is charming as the conniving yet soft-hearted Pierre. The plot was not a stretch from Aumont's own military experience. According to a TCM article by Frank Miller, "Aumont had served heroically in North Africa during the war and received the Legion of Honor and the Croix de Guerre. Even in Hollywood, he supported the war effort, appearing at special screenings of Assignment in Brittany, to help raise funds for the Resistance. "

If you know me, you'll know that I've been excited for Assignment in Brittany for two reasons: Susan Peters and Darryl Hickman. Studying Peters' life and filmography has always been a pet project of mine and I was thrilled to see her in another starring role. The character of Anne Pinot fit Peters like a glove. The reserved Anne who comes out of her shell to fall in love with Pierre and help with the resistance just suited Peters sensibilities as a person. Anne plays off the polar opposite character of Signe Hasso's Elise in a Madonna/Whore dynamic. Elise is the femme fatale who breaks men's hearts, including that of Richard Whorf's character Jean, and whose Nazi activities threaten to bring harm to the community. Anne on the other hand has a sense of purity and nobility helps saves Pierre and France, for the time being.

Darryl Hickman in Assignment in Brittany (1943)
Darryl Hickman in Assignment in Brittany (1943)

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Darryl Hickman at the TCM Classic Film Festival and I asked him about this film. Hickman plays Etienne, a child who serves as a political messenger for his restaurateur uncle played by William Edmunds.

Spoiler alert: Hickman plays the hero of the film! At first he betrays Pierre but only to keep a secret that is vital information later on. It's a delightful role and I absolutely adored the scene between Aumont, Peters and Hickman toward the end of the film. Hickman is a highly underrated actor. He's always delivered wonderful performances as a child, teen and adult. Seek out his work (and his book about acting!). You won't be disappointed.

I'd also be remiss not ti point out child actress Juanita Quigley who has a terrific part as Jeannine, a young girl who fights back against the Nazis and makes a big sacrifice in the name of freedom. I found out recently that Quigley, who was very private in her final years, lived three towns away from me up until her death in 2017.

Jean-Pierre Aumont, Susan Peters and Darryl Hickman in Assignment in Brittany (1943)

Assignment in Brittany (1943) is a WWII curio that hasn't been available on home video until now. It pairs nicely with another WWII film starring Susan Peters, also featuring a young Darryl Hickman, Song of Russia (1944). Both of these are available from the Warner Archive Collection and for that I'm truly grateful.

Assignment in Brittany (1943) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection. When you use my buy link you help support this site. Thanks!

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me a copy of Assignment in Brittany (1943) on DVD for review!

Monday, October 9, 2017

Alias Nick Beal (1949)

Alias Nick Beal (1949) poster

It's a story as old as time. A mortal sells his soul to the devil for what he really wants only to suffer the consequences later. Bargaining with evil always comes at a cost.

"I'd give my soul to nail him." - Joseph Foster

Joseph Foster (Thomas Mitchell) is a good man by all accounts. He's devoted to his wife Martha (Geraldine Wall). He runs an athletic club for wayward boys with his good friend Reverend Thomas Garfield (George Macready) and takes on a particular tough case with Larry Price (Darryl Hickman). As district attorney, he seeks to put a criminal in jail but just needs the proof.  And this is when his troubles begins. When he proclaims he would sell his soul for evidence needed in the case, a mysterious figure by the name of Nick Beal (Ray Milland) shows up. He's a strange man. He appears and disappears seemingly out of the blue. He's conjures up the much needed evidence and helps Foster run for governor. Then things start to spiral out of control. Foster develops a wandering eye when Beal hires prostitute Donna Allen (Audrey Totter) to play the role of dutiful campaign secretary and temptation to Foster. Then people start to question how Foster was able to get that evidence that had once been destroyed. Foster can't seem to shake the shadowy figure who haunts him day by day. Who exactly is Nick Beal and what does he want from Foster? Can Foster save his marriage, his career, his life?

Directed by John Farrow, Alias Nick Beal (1949) is a terrific Film Noir with a fantastic cast, captivating story, ominous music, beautiful and eerie cinematography. It's everything a film noir should be: dark, brooding and captivating. Based on an original story by Mindret Lord and adapted for the screen by Jonathan Latimer, Alias Nick Beal is a modern story in the tradition of Goethe's Faust. It's a morality tale with a clear warning against "trading principles for personal glory."

Audrey Totter and Ray Milland in Alias Nick Beal
Audrey Totter and Ray Milland in Alias Nick Beal

If you came to Alias Nick Beal for Ray Milland, you won't be disappointed. A few years after his Academy Award winning performance in The Lost Weekend, Milland wanted to strengthen his acting muscles with different types of characters. Nick Beal presented him with a chance to play a villain, a captivating one at that. Audrey Totter has a fantastic role as Donna who transforms from a lowlife to a career woman. She's a complex character who begins to doubt her newfound role. Totter is always amazing to watch on screen and I love her in this sort of two-part role. One of my favorite actors of all time Darryl Hickman has small but memorable role as a tough kid from the streets who becomes the recipient of Foster's benevolence. Cast members looked back on this film kindly. John Farrow and Audrey Totter both proclaimed it as one of their best films. Farrow could be tough on actors but he seemed to get on swimmingly with Milland.

Watching Alias Nick Beal, I couldn't help but feel like it came from a parallel universe. Another old Hollywood where many movies like this existed and this one just happened to sneak through to the other side. Perhaps it's the fact that this film is so highly sought-after and hard to get that makes it that way. This movie aired recently on TCM as part of their Summer Under the Stars tribute to Ray Milland. It was the first time they had ever screened the moment making it one not to miss. This film, along with many others, are part of the Paramount library owned and tightly controlled by MCA. If you find yourself with an opportunity to watch Alias Nick Beal, do so. Who knows when you'll get another chance.

Update: According to this article in The Hollywood Reporter, the last film Hugh Hefner screened at the Playboy Mansion, nine days before he passed away, was Alias Nick Beal. Did he tape it off of TCM?!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Unconscious Actor by Darryl Hickman

The Unconscious Actor: Out of Control, In Full Command
The Art of Performance in Acting and in Life
by Darryl Hickman
312 pages
April 2007
Small Mountain Press
Hardcover ISBN: 9780977680924

Amazon - Barnes and Noble - Powells

At the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to actor Darryl Hickman on the red carpet. You can watch our discussion on my red carpet YouTube video. I asked Hickman about any interesting memories he had from being a child actor. He told me I should read his book. And so I did.

But let's be clear, this book is not Darryl Hickman’s memoir. First and foremost, and as the title and subtitle strongly conveys, Hickman’s book is a guide on becoming an “unconscious actor”. That is to say, how to tap into that reserve of instinct and emotion that will allow you to become an effective performer. How do you do this? By being simultaneously out of control and in full command. Those might sound like contradictory terms but with well plotted out instructions, explanations and insights Hickman makes the connection between the two clear.

“Acting in its purest form is an urge from deep in the human psyche to celebrate our aliveness, to act our dreams and fantasies in a public display of our most private selves.” – Darryl Hickman

Hickman tapped into the concept of unconscious acting as a child actor. The decision to pursue the craft came from Hickman’s mother who had aspirations of stardom but was too shy to pursue them. As Hickman reflects in the book, “my career would be her career; it was as simple as that.” At the tender age of 3, Hickman didn’t know what he was doing. Any parts he played he did unconsciously and not with the control that comes from methodical training. This made him an effective and sought after child star. Bing Crosby gave Hickman’s career a boost while they were making the film The Star Maker. Crosby guided the young boy, encouraged him and set him up with an agent. Soon after, Hickman became a regular at MGM thanks to a long-term contract.


He worked with top directors such as Ford, McLeod, Ratoff, C. Brown, Thorpe, Minnelli and Cukor as well as experienced actors and actresses too.  The child actor learned by working with them and listening to their guidance and advice. Hickman details the strengths and differences between each of the major directors and shares some background of working on films such as The Grapes of Wrath, Men of Boys Town, Keeper of the Flame, Song of Russia and others. Several of his most well-known films, including Leave Her to Heaven, are left out.

“Acting is reacting.” – Spencer Tracy

What drew directors to Hickman was his unconscious acting. He wasn’t trying to prove something or to be something. He was just a normal kid. This would prove vital in the second phase of his acting career. Hickman was out of work for several reasons: he was an awkward teen, briefly flirted with the idea of being a Passionist monk and was drafted into the army. Unsure if would ever be a Hollywood actor again, to his surprise he was offered a part in Tea and Sympathy.  Robert Anderson, the playwright, wanted Hickman in the role because he was the only actor “who didn’t look or act like an actor.” Unconscious acting was on Hickman’s side again.

Influenced by these early years but also by studying the masters Stanislavsky and Strasberg, the Method and reading extensively from many sources, Hickman developed his own methodology. He put it into practice first when he had the opportunity to be a substitute teacher in an acting class. From there he developed the ideas and practices that are clearly outlined in this book. It’s the heart of the text and Hickman’s passion for teaching acting shines.

By reading The Unconscious Actor, budding performers will learn Hickman’s 7 Principles of Acting and will be offered plenty of examples of how to be out of control yet in full command. Hickman’s book is a valuable resource and I would be doing him a disservice by giving away too much of the methodology in this review. Instead I thought I’d share a handful of my favorite quotes and reflections from Darryl Hickman:

“Go with the flow always. Don’t push the river.” 
“In any field, it’s the relaxed interviewee who gets the job.” 
“Visual information trumps the dialogue every time.” 
“A cast of professional actors is, from star to bit player, a true democracy, each individual equal to his or her fellow players, interdependent, open-hearted, a member of a team.” 
“Too much conscious mind mucks up the artist’s natural creativity.”
“Intellect and intuition must accommodate each others differing functions, embracing a partnership in which they work together as a creative team.”
“Dramatic art is about nervous, frightened, anxious, on-edge people. Good characters are forever in trouble.” 
– Darryl Hickman

Darryl Hickman told me to read his book and so I did. I was looking for some of those childhood stories but instead read a magnificent guide to unlocking creativity and imagination. Hickman's writing is superb and I could tell this book was written by a well-read and wise man. Even though I don’t have any aspirations to become an actress, if I ever change my mind I’ll have Hickman's guidance to kickstart my career.

Note that “The Unconscious Actor” and “ Out of Control, In Full Command” are trademark terms by Darryl Hickman.

This is my sixth and final review for the 2016 Summer Reading Classic Film Book Challenge.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Red Carpet Interviews at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

Raquel Stecher at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival red carpet
On the red carpet at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

Chalk it up to being a newbie but I'm still on cloud nine after my first red carpet interviews. It was a nerve-wracking yet thrilling experience. I studied all the TCM Classic Film Festival guests for weeks beforehand, came up with a lengthy list of questions and a default question for everyone. I had a great camera thanks to my husband who bought me one for my birthday. On the big day, I locked myself up for 5 hours to prepare. I packed up all my equipment, crossed my fingers and headed out.

I got to see all the stars but was only able to interview a handful. Karma was on my side that day because my top interview picks: Darryl Hickman, Gina Lollobrigida and Lillian Michelson all stopped by. And while I would loved to have interviewed Norman Lloyd, my brief interaction with him on the red carpet is a memory I'll never forget.

Out of the Past at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival red carpet

The experience was even more wonderful than what I could capture on camera. This was my first time not only conducting red carpet interviews but also with filming and editing. The result is amateur at best but I'm still really proud of my work. It's always been a dream of mine to do this and I'm so glad I finally got up the courage to do so. Thanks to Turner Classic Movies for giving me this incredible opportunity. I still pinch myself everyday.

Red carpet interviews with...
Turner executives Coleman Breland and Jennifer Dorian
Actor Darryl Hickman 
Film Critic Leonard Maltin
Film researcher Lillian Michelson (includes also director Daniel Raim and producer Jennifer Raim)
Film Critic Sr. Rose Pacatte
Actor Chris Lemmon (son of Jack Lemmon)
Actress Gina Lollobrigida

Darryl Hickman at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Red Carpet
Darryl Hickman
Norman Lloyd at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Red Carpet
Norman Lloyd

Dennis Barry and Anna Karina at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Red Carpet
A glimpse of Dennis Barry & Anna Karina

Lillian Michelson at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Red Carpet
Lillian Michelson

Gina Lollobrigida and Kate Flannery

Chris Lemmon and Gina Lollobrigida at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Red Carpet
Chris Lemmon and Gina Lollobrigida

Gina Lollobrigida and Raquel Stecher at the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival Red Carpet
In action on the red carpet

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

My Top Picks for the 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

It’s that time of year again when classic film fans from all over the world flock to Hollywood to enjoy a weekend packed with once-in-a-lifetime experiences. The TCM Classic Film Festival is something I look forward to all year round. When you go to this festival you feel like you’re part of something important. You develop a deeper and richer connection with the past while being part of history in the making.

This will be my fourth time attending the festival and I’ll be covering it once again as a member of the media. I’m very grateful to TCM for the opportunity to once again be a part of the fantastic team of individuals who painstakingly and lovingly capture and share each of every moment of the festival. It is truly an honor.

Now that the full festival schedule is posted I can share my top picks with you (fun fact: I was the first to tweet about it). It was much easier in 2015 to put together a schedule. This year there were some major conflicts and some difficult decisions had to be made.

Here are my selections. I’ve included a bonus video of me discussing my top five picks.


TCM Press Conference – I’ll be live tweeting and providing full coverage on this press conference which will include Ben Mankiewicz, Charles Tabesh, Genevieve McGillicuddy and Jennifer Dorian. Sadly no Robert Osborne this year. He was the highlight of the first two press conferences I attended.
(2014 Press Conference with Robert Osborne)


Red Carpet for All the President’s Men (1976) Opening Night Gala – I was a spectator for last year’s Red Carpet and had a blast. I hope this year I can do more extensive coverage. Stay tuned!
(2015 Red Carpet at the TCM Classic Film Festival)

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) or Los Tallos Amargos (1956) – It’s a toss up between these two. Katharine Houghton will be at the Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner screening and it would be great to hear her discuss the film. But it’s hard to turn down watching an obscure Argentine film noir!


Francis Ford Coppola Imprint Ceremony – If I get in this will be my fourth hand and footprint ceremony. These are so much fun and you feel like you are part of history in the making.
(Jerry Lewis Imprint Ceremony and Christopher Plummer Imprint Ceremony)

From Headlines to Ticket Lines: Journalism on the Big Screen – I’m from the Boston area so a chance to see Ben Bradlee Jr. and Spotlight (2015) screenwriter Josh Singer discuss journalism on film along with James Vanderbilt of Truth (2015) and journalist Mary Mapes is too good to pass up.

Mark Vieira signing Into The Dark: The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950 – One of the perks of TCMFF is the exclusive book signings. This one is at the top of my list to attend.
(My review of Mark Vieira's Cecil B. DeMille book)

Tea and Sympathy (1956)Darryl Hickman has been on my wishlist for TCMFF special guests for a long time. He’s been at the festival before but not one I’ve attended. I can’t pass down the opportunity to see him in person when he presents his film Tea and Sympathy.

Two Pre-Codes – I’m glad I’ll be able to fit in two films from my favorite decade the 1930s. Pleasure Cruise (1933) and 6 Hours to Live (1932) are showing back to back and they are short enough that I can fit both screenings in before the major event of the evening.

The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – This might be the most sought after film screening of the festival because living legend Angela Lansbury will be there. I can’t pass up an opportunity to see her and watch this fantastic mind-bending film on the TCL Chinese Theater’s gigantic screen. I'll have a lot of competition though.

90th Anniversary of Vitaphone – Ron Hutchinson, founder of the Vitaphone Project, will be hosting this presentation of the history of Vitaphone complete with Vitaphone shorts. My favorite short of all time The Beau Brummels (1928) with Shaw and Lee will be screened and I’m beside myself with joy.

An Afternoon with Carl Reiner/Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid (1982) – This four part extravaganza is hard to pass up. Not only do you get to see this film at the TCL Chinese Theater there will also be a Carl Reiner tribute video, a conversation with the man himself and a book signing immediately afterwards.

Harold and Lillian : A Hollywood Love Story (2015) – This is my number one pick for the festival. I can’t believe my hero Lillian Michelson will be there along with director Daniel Raim. I had to give up seeing Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell with Gina Lollobrigida to watch this but it’ll be worth it.

(My review of the Harold and Lillian Michaelson documentary)

The Endless Summer (1966) – If you know me you know that I love documentaries and The Endless Summer is one of the most influential documentaries in film history. It’s a stunning color film narrated and directed by Bruce Brown, who will be in attendance, and follows two surfers as they travel the globe searching the best waves. I can’t wait to see the gorgeous colors of this film on the big screen.

Band of Outsiders (1964) – I dare anyone to stop me from seeing Anna Karina in person. This French New Wave icon will be touring to support the new restoration of this Jean-Luc Godard classic. It’ll be my first time seeing this film and wow what an experience it will be.

(Anna Karina comes to LA and New York City)


The Art of the Film Score – I’ll miss the morning screenings but hope to catch this at Club TCM.

A Conversation with Gina Lollobrigida - I’m not kidding when I say Gina Lollobrigida is my favorite Italian. Conflicts will take me away from special screenings of Buona Sera Mrs. Campbell and Trapeze but that’s okay because I’m perfectly happy to sit and listen to Lollobrigida talk for a straight hour. This will be glorious!

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966) – I love madcap comedies and this one looks like a lot of fun. Eva Marie Saint will be on hand to present and maybe Carl Reiner, Walter Mirisch and/or Norman Jewison will surprise us with an appearance?

Network (1976) – Unless a TBD calls my name, I’ll be staying around the Egyptian to catch this contemporary classic. I saw Network for the first time last year and loved it.

Closing Night Party at Club TCM – This party is always bittersweet and usually I have to leave early. But this time I hope to stay longer for one last hurrah with my friends.

What are your top TCM Classic Film Festival picks?

Popular Posts

 Twitter   Instagram   Facebook