Showing posts with label RKO. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RKO. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Professional Sweetheart (1933)

"I want to sin and suffer. But right now I only suffer." - Glory

Miss Glory Eden (Ginger Rogers), aka The Purity Girl, is a radio sensation. Ipswich (Gregory Ratoff), the owner of the Ippsie Wippsie Wash Cloth Company, which runs their own sponsored radio station, is desperate to lock down Glory with a brand new contract. But Glory has other ideas. As the baby-voiced model of purity and innocence, the management team tightly controls her public image. Herbert (Franklin Pangborn) is in charge of Glory's wardrobe and diet and Ipswich's cohorts including his right-hand men Speed (Frank McHugh) and Winston (Frank Darien) do his bidding to protect their collective property. Glory is jealous of her maid Vera (Theresa Harris) who has a boyfriend and goes out dancing at night clubs in Harlem. Glory wants to live life on her terms! Complicating matters is Ipswich's rival the Kelsey Dish Rag Co. who wants to steal Glory away from them and sends agent O'Connor (Allen Jenkins) off to sabotage Ipswich's plans. So the Ippsie Wippsie crew comes up with a plan. They want to get Glory a beau. They zero in on Jim (Norman Foster), a simple country man from Kentucky who was plucked out of a batch of prospective fan letters. They bring him to New York City and thus starts the media circus of publicity stunts that journalists, including the clueless Elmerada (Zasu Pitts) and mid-mannered Stu (Sterling Holloway), just lap up. No one stops to think what Glory really wants... except for Jim. Will Glory find true happiness in the midst of all of this chaos?

Professional Sweetheart (1933) was directed by William A. Seiter for RKO. The story was written by Maurine Dallas Watkins, best known for her stage play Chicago. This Ginger Rogers' first film for RKO and later that year she signed her own contract with them. Norman Foster was loaned out from Fox to play the leading man.

The biggest draw for me to this film was the cast. There were so many of my favorites crammed into one 79 minute movie: Ginger Rogers, Theresa Harris, Frank McHugh, Allen Jenkins, Zasu Pitts and Sterling Holloway. Wow! My perennial favorite Akim Tamiroff has a small role as the hotel waiter who takes Frank Pangborn's elaborate food order.

Speaking of food, I love to see how it's represented in early films. I was delighted with one scene in particular when characters discuss what they'd like to order from the hotel room service.

What Glory (Ginger Rogers) wants to order: caviar, lobster in wine, avocado salad, champagne, fruit salad with whipped cream, nuts and maraschino cherries
What Herbert (Franklin Pangborn) orders for Glory: breast of young chicken on whole wheat toast with no mayonnaise, unsalted butter, baked apples with cream (certified not pasteurized), cocoa (not chocolate).
What Herbert (Franklin Pangborn) orders for himself: caviar, Lobster Thermidor, avocado salad, fruit salad with whipped cream, nuts and maraschino cherries, chocolate ice cream, hot fudge sauce and marshmallow cake.
What Speed (Frank McHugh) orders for Elmerada (Zasu Pitts) to delay her: Baked Alaska (because it takes 20 minutes to make.)

"You don't kiss like you look." - Glory

Professional Sweetheart warns viewers of the dangers of treating humans like commodities although it wraps up nicely in the end. Glory as a character can be insufferable with her spoiled behavior and tantrums. She wasn't winning any points from me with her blatant distaste for books. But you can't help sympathize with her. She just wants her personal freedom. That's something everyone deserves.

The film spices things up by featuring Ginger Rogers in various states of undress giving it some Pre-Code flavor. Allen Jenkins is probably the most suave I've ever seen him in a film role. As O'Connor he uses his knowledge of romantic relationships, women ("I know dames backwards.") and business to manipulate the different characters.

Unfortunately the racism in this film is quite palpable. The management team clearly wants to appeal to a conservative white audience ("It doesn't look good to the corn belt."). When they search for Glory's prospective beau they make it clear that he has to be as white and pure as possible. Especially after Glory has expressed her desire to visit Harlem. Frank McHugh's Speed travels to "Home of the Purest Anglo-Saxons" to find Jim (Norman Foster).

Theresa Harris has a marvelous role as Glory's maid and friend Vera. Glory wants Vera's lifestyle as a young woman living it up in New York City. Both Harris and her character get the shaft. Harris has a substantial role, even more so than Sterling Holloway who only speaks a few lines and gets on screen credit where Harris remains uncredited. Vera is Glory's superior when it comes to her singing skills and we get one glorious scene where Vera takes over Glory's show delivering a sexier and more adult voice over the waves. Vera disappears shortly after as the story wraps up in Glory's favor.

Professional Sweetheart (1933) is a lighthearted Pre-Code with a fantastic cast and a lot of charm. It suffers from the trappings of the era most notably in the depiction of gender and race.

Professional Sweetheart (1933) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection and can be purchased at the WB Shop. When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thank you!

This is the film's DVD debut. George, D.W. and Matt of the Warner Archive Podcast discuss this film in the January episode Jungle Kings, Giants and Jokers.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I feature titles from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to Warner Archive for sending me copy of Professional Sweetheart (1933).

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Sylvia Scarlett (1935)

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

"I'll be a boy and rough and hard. I won't care what I do."

Bookkeeper Henry Snow (Edmund Gwenn) is in a terrible jam. To pay off his gambling debts he's been dipping into the company finances. When his coworkers catch wind of Henry's transgressions, he's desperate to escape Marseilles for London in an effort to avoid jail time. It seems risky to take his daughter Syliva (Katharine Hepburn) with him. What if they're caught? Sylvia, who refuses to be left behind, cuts off her long braids, dresses like a man and adopts the name Sylvester Scarlett. While on the boat to England, Sylvester and Henry meet con artist Jimmy 'Monk' Monkley (Cary Grant). Monk has a way about him with his cockney accent and ability to charm anyone out of their hard earned cash. The trio join forces to con well-to-do Londoners. While Monk and Henry are perfectly content to live as criminals, Sylvester wants to earn income the old-fashioned way, through honest work. They meet Maudie (Dennie Moore), the maid to a wealthy family and when Sylvester spoils the plot to steal the household jewels, the four to head to the seashore. It's here that Sylvester meets Michael Fane (Brian Aherne) a curly haired artist who makes Sylvester wish she was Sylvia again. When Michael's girlfriend Lily (Natalie Paley) shows up, Sylvia must decide whether to continue as Sylvester or to transition back to Sylvia to win Michael's affections.

Directed by George Cukor, Sylvia Scarlett (1935) was produced by Pando S. Berman for RKO. The story is based on Compton Mackenzie's novel The Early Life and Adventures of Sylvia Scarlett published in 1918. That story is the sequel to Sinister Street, published in 1914 and offers the origin story of the Michael Fane character. In 1919, Mackenzie followed up Sylvia Scarlett with the novel Sylvia and Michael. Sylvia Scarlett was adapted to the screen by author John Collier and screenwriters Gladys Unger and Mortimer Offner. According to the AFI:

After Collier had completed his draft, Cukor brought in Gladys Unger and Mortimer Offner to tone down the sexual implications of the story and to write a ten-minute prologue and a fifteen-minute ending that would make Sylvia a more sympathetic and comprehensible character.

Sylvia Scarlett was the first of four films pairing Hepburn and Grant. Both actors are well-suited to their parts. Hepburn is perfect as Sylvester/Sylvia and Grant, who was on loan from Paramount, was in his element as the playful con artist. The film was also an auspicious debut for actress Dennie Moore who doesn't get on screen credit but plays a substantial role as Maudie the flighty maid who dreams of being a singer.

The film was not well received both by critics and by audiences. It was a box office failure and lost a significant amount of money. Hepburn later became branded as "box office poison" until her comeback with The Philadelphia Story (1940) which also stars Cary Grant. Sylvia Scarlett was a pet project for both Hepburn and Cukor. They tried but failed to make amends with producer Berman who was disappointed with the final result.

Sylvia Scarlett suffers from a convoluted plot that doesn't hold the viewer's interest or attention. However, I still really enjoyed the film and found that I was willing to deal with the messy storyline to get at all of the subversive goodness. I've always been drawn to stories that explore gender dynamics, sexual politics and identity and in this regard Sylvia Scarlett delivers. Contemporary audiences will be more apt to appreciate the film's exploration of gender identity. It's truly ahead of its time. We're also more likely to cast a discerning eye on the gendered representations of women as weak and emotional and men as tough and carefree and how the film both relies on those stereotypes and attempts to break them down. I'm not one for remakes but Sylvia Scarlett seems like a prime candidate for a 21st century makeover.

Disclaimer: As a DVD Nation director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. You can rent Sylvia Scarlett on

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Big Steal (1949)

This post is sponsored by DVD Netflix.

In 1949 RKO found themselves in a bit of a bind. Their latest project, The Big Steal, was already in the works when their star, Robert Mitchum, found himself in the clink for possession of narcotics. A couple of years earlier RKO had purchased Richard Worsmer’s short story from Columbia Pictures. They had planned to make the film with their star Chester Morris. When RKO bought the rights they turned to Daniel Mainwaring (aka Geoffrey Homes) to adapt the screenplay. They needed a leading lady and RKO made a deal with Hal Wallis for him to loan out Lizabeth Scott. But with Mitchum’s headline making scandal Scott and Wallis wanted nothing more to do with the project. No one knew exactly what effect Mitchum’s incarceration would have on his career. RKO chief Howard Hughes wasn’t about to his star Jane Russell be associated with Mitchum. At least not for a few more years when Mitchum and Russell made His Kind of Woman (1951) and Macao (1952). Hughes and his team needed what The Washington Post called “a bankable last-minute casting replacement.” And that replacement was Jane Greer.

Mitchum and Greer had starred together in the film noir Out of the Past (1947). It was a natural fit to reunite them for The Big Steal. “The woman with the Mona Lisa smile” had fond memories of working for RKO and would tell stories of the family atmosphere of the studio. They groomed their stars and had an active role in training them and building their careers from the ground up. In the early days of her career she auditioned for several studios and moguls but it was independent producer Howard Hughes who signed her up for a contract. Hughes was obsessed with Greer and would deny her work when she didn’t return his affection. She managed to get out of that contract and sign up with RKO. However Hughes bought RKO a few years later and was back in control of Greer’s acting career. In an interview with journalist James Bawden, Greer said,

“He had bought RKO and I figured I was through. But he was still fixated with me. When I was well enough to work, he simply stopped sending scripts. Had to pay me or the contract would have blown up. But just to get at me, he sent the checks and no work offers. Refused to loan me out. He was going to punish me for marrying someone else. He was going to make me suffer.”

It’s sad that we can’t discuss Jane Greer’s work without talking about all the times Hughes tried to sabotage it. In the case of The Big Steal, Hughes placed in a precarious position of starring alongside an actor with a potentially tarnished reputation. But little did Hughes know that Mitchum’s arrest would have the opposite affect on his career and that audiences would embrace seeing Greer and Mitchum on screen once again.

“Never mind where you’ve been just worry where you’re going.”

The Big Steal stars Robert Mitchum as Duke Halliday, an army lieutenant on the run from his captain Vincent Blake (William Bendix) who thinks Duke stole $300,000 cash from the Army. Blake follows Halliday to Mexico where Halliday is on the chase for the person who actually stole the money, Jim Fiske (Patric Knowles). Along the way Halliday meets Joan Graham (Jane Greer), Fiske’s girlfriend and another victim of Fiske’s double-crossing schemes. Halliday and Graham do not get along. It’s a battle of wits between these two. Just as Halliday has Fiske in his grasp, he’s thwarted by police inspector General Ortega (Ramon Novarro). Halliday hitches a ride with Graham, much to her dismay, and the two set off on a wild goose chase through the Mexican countryside in search of Fiske. With Blake on their tail and a lot of obstacles in their way, this unlikely pair are about to find out that not everything is as it seems.

Film historian James Ursini refers to The Big Steal as “screwball comedy meets film noir.” You may watch this film and wonder what’s so noir about it. It’s truly a hybrid film, much lighter fare than Mitchum and Greer’s Out of the Past (1947). This was an opportunity for the two to tap into their comedic talents. Greer’s lost a bit of her youthful glow and not as soft and deceptively innocent looking as she was in the role of Kathie Moffat. Greer’s Joan Graham is wise and world-weary. She has the ingenuity to keep things moving along especially when Duke stalls. Their scenes together are playful. Halliday calls her “Chiquita”, Spanish for small. He makes fun of Graham’s driving only to discover that his sexist remark is completely unfounded: she’s a more than competent driver and can tackle the winding roads at great speed. She's the sidekick he needed. They don’t trust each other at first but soon develop a sweet affection for each other that blossoms into a romance but also makes them protective of each other. Theirs is a hate-love relationship whereas in Out of the Past it was very much love-hate.

Shot on location in Mexico, relative newcomer, director Don Siegel, had to keep production going while Mitchum served his time in the LA County jail. In an interview, Greer remembers, “We all sat around for two months getting paid and waiting for our leading man to reappear.” Any scene that could be shot without Mitchum or with a stand-in was filmed. Mitchum was released from jail in March 1949 and it was full speed ahead for production. There was another time crunch to deal with. Greer was pregnant with her second child and starting to show. What resulted was a taut little 71 minute movie, a non-stop chase movie with some continuity errors but no room for needless lingering. One notable aspect of the film is the depiction of Mexicans in the film. They are wary of tourists, especially American ones. Graham chastises Halliday for treating various Mexican characters in an abrupt manner. It’s clear that Graham and Halliday have to work with the locals rather than have the locals work for them. As a Latina, I look for the representation of Latino characters in film and I found these scenes kind of refreshing.

For fans of Out of the Past (1947), seeing Mitchum and Greer together again, albeit in a very different type of movie, is a treat. It’s not a great film but it’s enjoyable viewing for Noirvember. Stay tuned because I have an in-depth article on Jane Greer and Robert Mitchum coming up in the annual "giant" issue of The Dark Pages newsletter.

Disclaimer: As a DVD Nation director, I earn rewards from DVD Netflix. You can rent The Big Steal on

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Sorority House (1939)

Sorority House (1939)

Alice Fisher (Anne Shirley) and her father Lew (J.M. Kerrigan) live simple lives. Mr. Fisher runs a humble grocery story and his bright daughter helps him with the ins and outs of the business. Attending Talbot University is a pipe dream for Alice until her father surprises her with a selfless gift. He sacrifices what little money he has for two years tuition so Alice can fulfill her dream. Once at college, Alice immediately gets caught up the social politics of sorority culture. Being part of a good sorority, like the Gamma House, ensures a proper standing in campus culture.

Anne Shirley and J.M. Kerrigan in Sorority House (1939)
Anne Shirley and J.M. Kerrigan
"I'll miss your brains." - Mr. Fisher to his daughter Alice

Alice rooms with two very different coeds. First there is Dotty (Barbara Read), a wise-cracking dame who befriends Alice and rejects sorority culture because she's been rejected herself. She refers to fellow rejects as dreeps (a dreary college girls who weep). Then there is Merle (Adele Pearce, later known as Pamela Blake) who has drunk the sorority Kool-Aid and wants nothing more than to be a member of the Gamma House. Alice and Merle soon discover the downside of sorority rushes. Merle becomes the target of powerful Gamma sorority ice queen Neva (Doris Jordan, later known as Doris Davenport). Alice gets a boost from medical student Bill Loomis (James Ellison), a big man on campus who has a lot of sway with the Gamma girls. However, Alice starts to lose sight of her values and the simple lifestyle her father taught her, as she gets caught up in the tangle of campus life.

Anne Shirley, Barbara Read and Pamela Blake in Sorority House (1939)
Anne Shirley, Barbara Read and Pamela Blake

"That doesn't sound very democratic to me." - Alice
"Whoever told you college was democratic? - Dotty

Directed by John Farrow, Sorority House (1939) is a collegiate drama released by RKO. Based on a story by Mary Coyle Chase, the script is injected with a poignant social message by screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. As I do with many of Dalton Trumbo's works, I had quite a strong reaction to the story line and characters. At one point I felt the urge to slap Alice across the face and burn the Gamma House down to the ground. The story hooks you from that initially emotionally heartwarming scene so when the kick in the butt comes at the story's climax you feel it. Sorority House isn't just your run-of-the-mill collegiate fluff. It's a story with an important social message. It warns against the dangers of groups like sororities that do a lot of damage when they exclude or try to control others behaviors. The moral of the story: "live and let live."

"The essence of success is a good start." - Mrs. Scott (Elizabeth Risdon)

I particularly enjoyed the performances by J.M. Kerrigan and Anne Shirley. Poor James Ellison has a rather weak role as Alice's boyfriend. He's really there for the plot and doesn't add much more to the movie which is unfortunate. Actresses Veronica Lake and Marge Champion have bit roles as coeds. I wasn't able to spot them but maybe someone with a sharp eye can. Chill Wills has a brief role at the start of the film.

Anne Shirley and James Ellison

1930s era Sorority House
The Gamma girls

I have absolutely no interest in modern collegiate life so I live vicariously through these old movies. Sorority House has it's silly and somewhat backwards moments (like Mr. Fisher telling Dotty she might not become an Abe Lincoln but she could be the mother of a future president). However, I loved it's overall message. If you're looking for a good double bill, I recommend Sorority House (1939) with RKO's Finishing School (1934), both available from the Warner Archive Collection.

Sorority House (1939) is available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive. You can purchase the DVD from the WB Shop. Use my buy links to shop and you will 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 Sorority House (1939) to review!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Beauty for the Asking (1939)

Patric Knowles, Lucille Ball and Donald Woods in Beauty for the Asking (1939)

Beautician Jean Russell (Lucille Ball) has just mastered her formula for astringent cold cream. The business and financial prospects are enough that she can finally marry her live-in beau Denny (Patric Knowles). However, it turns out Denny has his higher aims and plans to marry wealthy yet homely socialite Flora Barton (Frieda Inescort). Settling into life without Denny, Jean and her straight-talking roommate Gwen (Inez Courtney) set out to make Jean's cold cream a success. Jean barges into the office of advertising executive Jeffrey Martin (Donald Woods) determined to get his help with her product. The cold cream evolves into a whole line of beauty products and salons. When Jean and Jeffrey get backing from Denny's new bride Flora, things get awful complicated especially when Denny and Jeffrey vie for Jean's romantic attentions.

RKO's Beauty for Asking (1939) was directed by Glenn Tryon who most will recognize as the male lead in two Pal Fejos films Lonesome (1928) and Broadway (1929). The story was based on an original idea by women screenwriters Grace Norton and Adele Buffington and would then be fleshed out by Edmund L. Hartmann, Doris Anderson and Paul Jarrico.

Adele Buffington, who would later write under the names Jesse Bowers and Colt Remington, championed original stories for film instead of adaptations of plays and novels which were the norm in Hollywood. She got her start as a teenager working at as a ticket cashier at a cinema. This job allowed her to watch as many silent movies as she wanted. At the tender age of 19 she wrote her first screenplay and her journey to Hollywood began. In 1924 she wrote an article for the Los Angeles Times called Beauty and Brains Go Together, in which she fought against the stereotype that intellectuals were ugly and beautiful women were dumb.

This idea, perhaps progressive for the time, made its way into Beauty for the Asking where socialites and business women alike are known for their smarts as well as their looks. In fact the weakest character, Flora Barton-Williams, blossoms when she achieves not only self-confidence and glamour but also grows wise to the motives of her husband. Flora gets help from Jean who is not just her romantic rival but also a role model. Jean who is still smarting from Denny's betrayal is also a diligent business woman who makes a career for herself with her own invention. She didn't intend to give up her aspirations even when marriage with Denny seemed likely. She tells him:

"Why should a woman stop using her brains just because she's caught her man?" - Jean Russell

The screenwriting team was also inspired by Helena Rubinstein, the cosmetics entrepreneur who became rich off of her business. She believed in packaging, up-pricing, endorsements and the perceived power of science.  According to an article on, screenwriter Paul Jarrico did quite a bit of research hoping to reveal the shady tricks the beauty industry employs to fool customers. A little of this remains in the movie however the focus of the story is more about the main characters relationships with each other than the beauty industry that sustains them.

Beauty for the Asking is a darling little movie. Pair this in a double bill with The Women (1939) and it would serve as a nice little appetizer for that main course. As many classic movie lovers know, 1939 was a great year for the film industry. This doesn't only include the big pictures but for B-movies too.

Beauty for the Asking and The Women (1939)
Beauty for the Asking is available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive.You can purchase the DVD from the WB Shop. Use my buy links to shop and you will 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 Beauty for the Asking (1939) 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

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Till the End of Time (1946)

Till the End of Time (1946) title card

Till the End of Time (1946) is an RKO melodrama exploring the difficulties of repatriation in post-WWII America. The film stars Guy Madison as Cliff Harper, a highly decorated marine who heads home after almost 4 years at war. His failure to launch into the next phase of his life has his pushy parents concerned. He falls for local war widow Pat Ruscomb (Dorothy McGuire) who is holding steadfast to the memory of her dead husband Johnny while seeking solace in the arms of Harper and other vets. The story also follows his two war buddies. First there's William Tabeshaw (Robert Mitchum), a smart-mouthed marine who is determined to gather up the funds to start his ranch but is hindered bu the physical affects of the silver plate in his head, a result of a war wound. Then there's Perry Kincheloe (Bill Williams), a former champion boxer who lost both his legs in the war and struggles to move forward with his life.

Guy Madison and Dorothy McGuire in Till the End of Time (1946)
Guy Madison and Dorothy McGuire

Bill Williams in Till the End of Time (1946)
Bill Williams

The physical and mental trauma of war and the adjustment to civilian life are themes at the heart of this story. Directed by Edward Dmytryk , Till the End of Time was based on the novel They Dream of Home by Niven Busch. Many changes were made to the original story by Allen Rivkin to adapt it to the screen. For example, Kincheloe was African-American and Tabeshaw was Native American. That's not to say race didn't factor into the movie. In the latter part of the film, a bigoted group of WWII vets called the American War Patriots try to recruit the film's trio of buddies into their organization. They accept "no Catholics, Jews or Negros" a proclamation that angers Harper, Tabeshaw and Kincheloe and leads to an epic bar fight which becomes the climax of the film.

Caleb Peterson in Till the End of Time (1946)
Caleb Peterson

Till the End of Time (1946) is a poor man's version of The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). The film was profitable for RKO but it suffers from a weak plot, poor character building and silly melodrama. The two principles played by Madison and McGuire proved to be a bland and uninteresting couple. I didn't care if they got together or they didn't. In fact I thought Madison's other love interest Helen Ingersoll, played by  Jean Porter, was much more vivacious and interesting character and better suited to breathe some life into Harper. Porter met director Edward Dmytryk while making this film. He must have been captivated by her charm because the two married a couple of years later and stayed married until Dmytryk's death in 1999. Porter is the sole surviving cast member of the film at the time of this writing.

"I want to kiss you goodbye. But the room's too crowded." - Harper to Ruscomb 

Dorothy McGuire in Till the End of Time (1946)
Dorothy McGuire

Jean Porter in Till the End of Time (1946)
Jean Porter

I was particularly interested in how this film explored how WWII veterans suffered from the effects of the mental trauma of the war. There was one very engrossing scene with Richard Benedict. Harper and Ruscomb witness Benedict, credited as "the boy from Idaho", suffering from the shakes. It's clear he's going through some symptoms of PTSD. He doesn't want to go home because of the shame attached to "battle fatigue". It's a powerful scene and had there been more thought-provoking moments like that one it would have been a better movie as a result.

There are a lot of silly moments in this film. I thought it was hilarious that Madison's poor dancing skills were praised by the characters where as Jean Porter's real dancing skills were overlooked. And maybe it was the Howard Hughes touch but they did try to cram as much needless sexuality into this film. McGuire and Porter's characters are forward in their sexuality and punished for it. Heartthrob Guy Madison's good looks were over-utilized. Any time they could make an excuse to film him topless (in bed, on the beach, wherever) they took it.

Guy Madison in Till the End of Time (1946)
Guy Madison, topless. Again.

Till the End of Time wins a prize for what is probably the most homoerotic publicity photo of the era. This image of Madison and Mitchum together has always confused me. What's going on? Why is Madison holding Mitchum like that? I'm glad I watched the film to finally solve that mystery.

Guy Madison & Robert Mitchum in Till the End of Time (1946)

This may come off as biased because I'm such a big Robert Mitchum fan but he's really the best part about this movie, with the lovely Jean Porter battling him for the top spot. The film would have been vastly improved if it had focused on his character instead of Madison's Harper. Mitchum's swagger is charming. He's a tough guy with a heart of gold.

Robert Mitchum in Till the End of Time (1946)
How could anyone resist Robert Mitchum's grin?

Till the End of Time (1946) is available on DVD-MOD from the Warner Archive Collection.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to the Warner Archive for sending me Till the End of Time (1946) for review!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Anne of Green Gables (1934)

Anne of Green Gables (1934)
Anne Shirley and O.P. Heggie in a publicity shot for Anne of Green Gables (1934)

"I cannot imagine my red hair away. I do my best but it's no use. It will be my lifelong sorrow." - Annie Shirley

It's the film that gave actress Anne Shirley her name.

Anne of Green Gables (1934) stars Anne Shirley as Anne (with an "e") Shirley, the protagonist of L.M. Montgomery's beloved series of books. It was a surprise hit for RKO who had secured the rights to the story but severely underestimated its potential. Directed by George Nicholls Jr. and with musical direction by Max Steiner, this is a charming adaptation that gives us a brief taste of the world of Anne of Green Gables. I say that because this 78 minute film can only capture so much of the idyllic fictional town of Avonlea and its residents. Reading the book and devouring the TV mini-series will give you much more. (And if you're a weirdo like me you also watch the Anne of Green Gables animated series for kicks.) It's not a faithful adaptation but Anne Shirley does a marvelous job with her role and you can't help but want to reach through the screen and hug O.P. Heggie who plays Matthew Cuthbert.

O.P. Heggie in Anne of Green Gables (1934)
O.P. Heggie in Anne of Green Gables (1934)

Brother and sister Matthew (O.P. Heggie) and Marila Cuthbert (Helen Westley) live at Green Gables. They are getting on in years and could use some help around the house and on the farm. They send for a boy from an orphanage. Not only do they get a girl instead of a boy, they also get a lot more than they bargained for with the energetic Anne Shirley. She's got a crazy imagination, a mouth that keeps yapping away and bright red hair. And she's also got the biggest heart. We follow her adventures as she adjusts to life in Avonlea, has a less than stellar start with future beau Gilbert Blythe (Tom Brown) and befriends her bosom buddy Diana Barry (Gertrude Messinger).

Anne of Green Gables (1934)
Helen Westley, Anne Shirley and O.P. Heggie in Anne of Green Gables (1934)

Anne Shirley is one of the most beloved and complex characters of fiction for a reason. She is the embodiment of individuality and gives us all license to our weird quirky selves. We love Anne for her wild ideas, her flowery language, her love of people, her rambunctiousness, her red locks and even her fragile ego. Anne energizes everyone around her. She breathes life into Matthew and Marila who up until that point were just going through the motions. We see her breathe new life into them and into others too.

Readers of the novel and the audiences of the many adaptations of the story can’t help but see Anne as their own bosom friend. But it goes beyond that. Anne is a character many young women admire. Not only do we want to be Anne, we want to fall in love with Gilbert, be friends with Diana, hug Matthew and please Marila. And we want to frolic around Prince Edward Island too.

Anne Shirley is full of spirit even though she comes from rather dire circumstances. Everything seems to be going against her. She’s an orphan who doesn’t seem to be wanted by anybody. Her red hair doesn't help matters either. Even the Cuthberts aren’t quite sure what to do with her, although they are quickly won over. The system tries to break her down but her personality withstands it all.

Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables (1934)

I’ve always had a deep love for Anne of Green Gables. The novel by L.M. Montgomery is one of my favorites and the character of Anne Shirley is one I keep close to my heart. Matthew Cuthbert is also very special to me. I consider him the sweetest character in all of fiction. For those of you who were affected by his storyline in the novel, you’ll be happy to know that it’s altered in this film to save you some heartache.

Anne of Green Gables (1934) gives you a glimpse into the world of Anne and Avonlea. It’s really an appetizer more than a full course. Because it’s such a short film much is missing but the essence is still there. Tom Brown adeptly plays Gilbert Blythe, a romantic character who rivals Austen’s Mr. Darcy from Pride & Prejudice for devotees. There are lots of great performances in this film most notably the leads Anne Shirley, who embodies the spirit of the character, O.P. Heggie, whose facial expressions as Matthew are spot on, Helen Westley as the tough Marila and Sara Haden as busybody Mrs. Barry.

Tom Brown in Anne of Green Gables
Tom Brown as Gilbert Blythe in Anne of Green Gables (1934)

Anne of Green Gables (1934) captures all the charm of the original story. What it lacks in plot it makes up for in ambiance. This film s is available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive.

Anne Of Green Gables (Mod) from Warner Bros.
Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received Anne of Green Gables (1934) from Warner Archive for review.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Government Girl (1943)

Washington, D.C. during WWII was a hectic place. The new jobs created to support the war effort drove many to the nation’s capital. The influx of people caused a housing shortage that had workers and hotels scrambling. And with so many men away on duty, D.C. became a 10-women-to-every-man kind of a town leaving single gals with few options. The “government girls”, who took on a variety of important roles, were crucial to war effort’s success.

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What better way to examine chaos than with a screwball comedy? The film Government Girl (1943) is a humorous look at this moment in history. It was directed by Dudley Nichols, produced by RKO and adapted by Nichols and Budd Schulberg from a short story written by Adela Rogers St. John. Olivia de Havilland stars as Ms. Elizabeth Allard, AKA "Smokey", a “government girl” living and working in D.C. She’s booked a honeymoon suite at a hotel for her best friend May (Anne Shirley) and her soon-to-be-husband Sgt. Joe Blake (James Dunn). Joe only has 24 hours to get married, have quick honeymoon and be back on duty, so they are on a time crunch.

Anne Shirley and Olivia de Havilland in Government Girl (1943)

Unbeknownst to Smokey, the hotel gave their suite to Ed Browne (Sonny Tufts) a mechanic who has been hired by the government to do important work for the Air Force. When Smokey finds out the gentleman who lent her his ring so that her friend May could get married with one has the suite, they begin to butt heads.

Sonny Tufts in Government Girl (1943)
Sonny Tufts in Government Girl (1943)

And they keep butting heads when they eventually find out Smokey, or Ms. Allard, is really Ed Browne’s new secretary. He thinks she’s the one who was getting married. But really she’s a single government gal who already has two suitors, which is virtually a miracle in a town with an imbalanced ratio of men to women. Ms. Allard becomes Browne’s Girl Friday, helping him with important government work and championing for him when crooked government types try to screw him over.

Olivia de Havilland, Sonny Tufts and FDR.

This movie had a lot of potential but never quite realizes it. I read that Olivia de Havilland got stuck doing this film for RKO because of an arranged loan out from Warner Bros. What would follow was a difficult battle with Warner Bros. over her contract. Would the film have been better if circumstances for de Havilland were different? Male lead Sonny Tufts was being groomed during WWII to be a replacement star. With so many actors on duty and away from Hollywood, film studios needed more leading men. Tufts didn’t quite make the splash they were hoping for.

Government Girl is a quirky and funny movie but ultimately falls flat. The More the Merrier (1943), a Columbia picture starring Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea and Charles Coburn, is from the same year, deals with the same topic but is much more entertaining. If you are interested in the topic of American life during WWII, I suggest you watch Government Girl and then The More the Merrier to achieve a better experience. 

Agnes Moorehead and Jess Barker in Government Girl (1943)
Agnes Moorehead and Jess Barker in Government Girl (1943)

Notable appearances in the film include Agnes Moorehead as the villain Mrs. Right, Harry Davenport as Senator MacVickers and Una O'Connor as the honeymoon-wrecker-landlady. I love Anne Shirley but I thought her role as the daft but loveable May was a little too similar to Joan Fontaine’s portrayal of Peggy in The Women (1939). I’m not sure why I made that comparison while I was watching the film but perhaps it has something to do with Fontaine and de Havilland being sisters.

The main reason I watched the film is because I’m interested in the D.C. housing shortage during WWII. I’ve lived in cramped quarters all my life so I enjoy watching films about similar situations. The More the Merrier (1943), it’s remake Walk, Don’t Run (1966), Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948) and Buster Keaton’s Scarecrow (1920) are some of my top favorite movies partly for that reason.

One final note: fans of 1940s fashion will want to watch this for the excellent outfits worn by Olivia de Havilland, Anne Shirley and Agnes Moorehead.

Government Girl (1943) is available from Warner Archive on DVD-MOD.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received Government Girl (1943) from Warner Archive for review.

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