Showing posts with label Susan Peters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Susan Peters. 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!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Song of Russia (1944)

Robert Taylor and Susan Peters in Song of Russia (1944)
Robert Taylor and Susan Peters in Song of Russia (1944)

1944 was a good year for actress Susan Peters. She was nominated the previous year for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance in Random Harvest (1942) and MGM was grooming her for stardom. They were giving her more substantial parts including roles in Assignment in Brittany (1943), Young Ideas (1943) and the pro-Soviet Union propaganda film Song of Russia (1944). Tragedy would strike New Year's Day 1945 when a hunting accident left her paralyzed.

Song of Russia (1944) showcased Susan Peters at her best. Peters had a sort of lingering melancholy and her eyes glistened as though she were always seconds away from crying, whether from joy, pride or sorrow. The leading role of Nadya, opposite star Robert Taylor, was perfectly suited to her because it allowed her to play herself but with a fake Russian accent.

American conductor John Meredith (Robert Taylor) heads to Russia with his manager Hank Higgins (Robert Benchley) for a nationwide tour conducting the music of Tchaikovsky. Nadja, a talented pianist, is desperate to get John's attention. She and all of the musical prodigies that inhabit her small Russian village of Tschaikowskoye want John Meredith to conduct at their humble music festival. Nadja wins him over and they soon fall in love. But their happiness is short-lived as Russia is on the brink of war with the Nazis. Will Nadja and John's love for their home countries get in the way of their love for each other?

"We have serious differences. Socially, culturally. We cannot even discuss them." - Nadja
"We'll discuss them tomorrow. The day after." - John

Song of Russia was a WWII propaganda film to help strengthen the bond between the US and it's ally Russia as they joined forces to defeat the Nazis. This was last film Robert Taylor made before he joined the Navy. Years later during the HUAC hearings, the conservative and anti-Communist Taylor suggested he was blackmailed into making this film. His reluctance to star in it met with pressure from MGM and supposedly he was told if he didn't make the film there would a delay in him getting into the Navy. Taylor named names to the HUAC but didn't go so far as to say outright that he was blackmailed. Not only did MGM deny the claim made by Taylor, they also refused to admit that Song of Russia was a propaganda film.

“It is true, of course, that Russia was our ally in 1943, and that our government was very friendly to the Soviets. But that was not why Song of Russia was made.” – Louis B. Mayer

Despite what Mayer said, no one who watches this film will see it as anything but a pro-Russia movie. It was directed by a Russian, Gregory Ratoff, and although it was filmed on the MGM lot in Culver City travelogue and documentary scenes of actual Russia are woven into the film to make audiences feel like they were there. We go on a tour of Moscow and we see real war footage. Nadja orders John a traditional Russian meal at a fancy restaurant. In order to get as many Russian terms into the scenes as possible, she goes a bit overboard and requests Borscht, beef stroganoff, zakuski, pirog and other Russian dishes. Tchaikovsky's music is the soundtrack of the movie making it a quasi-musical. Robert Taylor's John Meredith is ignorant of Russian culture so as he learns about Nadja's country the audience learns as well.

Susan Peters, Robert Taylor and Russia are the stars of this film but it's important to note some of the smaller performances by other well-known actors. Child actor Darryl Hickman plays Nadya's nephew and the script gives him some substantial scenes. Robert Benchley is under-utilized as Taylor's publicist and manager. Jacqueline White has a small and sorry role as a young resident of Tschaikowskoye. John Hodiak, Joan Loring and Tamara Shayne also appear in the movie.

I was impressed with Susan Peters' performance in this film. She aptly plays the piano (no body double or camera tricks were used) and she even does some traditional Russian dancing. She's a good match for Robert Taylor and holds her own in the picture.

Song of Russia is a WWII curio that has its place in movie history. It's a must-see for history buffs. For all it's pro-Russian sentiment, in the end audiences came away from it with one final message: America is the greatest nation of them all. Once you see the film you'll know what I mean. Whether you agree with this message or not, it was a fundamental principle that drove 1940s Hollywood.

Song of Russia (1944) is available from the Warner Archive on DVD-MOD.
When you use my buy links you help support this site. Thanks!

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection.

TCM article on Song of Russia

Film Producer Denies Song of Russia Red

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Big Shot (1942)

“He was a big shot once.”

The 1930s saw Humphrey Bogart in countless crime dramas playing every different variation on the gangster character. It wasn’t until the early 1940s, thanks to some poor decisions made by fellow actor George Raft, that Bogart’s career would do an about face. Raft turned down High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon (1941) and these two films launched Bogart into mega stardom. George Raft also bailed out on another film, the lesser known Warner Bros. movie The Big Shot (1942) which would serve as Bogie’s goodbye to the gangster film genre. It would the last vestige of that former career.

“You can’t be a crook anymore because you used up your chances. And you can’t be honest because nobody’ll let you.” – Bogie as Duke Berne

Bogart stars as Duke Berne, a career criminal who just got out of prison for the third time. One more strike and he’ll be in the hoosegow for life. He’s determined to make an honest go at things but the police have a close eye on him and his old cronies are back to rope him into another heist. This time it’s an armored car they’re after and District Attorney Fleming (Stanley Ridges) is the brains behind the operation. Turns out Fleming is married to Duke’s old flame Lorna, played the dazzling singer turned actress Irene Manning. Lorna convinces Duke to bail on the heist and spend the night with her instead.

“This armored car is no can of corn.” – Bogie as Duke Berne

The heist goes terribly wrong and Duke is misidentified by a witness, thanks to police coercion, and sent to prison for life. Lorna is his only alibi but neither can reveal that they were together that night. Salesman George Anderson (Richard Travis), desperate for money so he can marry his girlfriend Ruth Carter (Susan Peters), is hired as a fake alibi but things go terribly wrong for everyone involved. We know from the onset that things won’t turn out well for Duke. The first scene of the film shows Duke in the hospital ward of a prison dying with George and Ruth by his side. The majority of film is a flashback revealing Duke’s tragic story.

Directed by Lewis Seiler, The Big Shot (1942) is part film noir, part gangster flick, part courtroom drama and part prison film. This is a rare Bogart film which is an odd thing to say considering how easy it is to access the majority of Bogart’s film work. It was unavailable for a long time, I always missed it when it was on TCM and I was very happy to see Warner Archive made it available on DVD. I was particularly interested in this film because of Susan Peters, a favorite actress of mine who was at the height of her career in 1942. That same year she would land a plum role in Random Harvest and she would be nominated for an Oscar for that performance. 1942 also saw Bogart in the mega classic Casablanca so needless to say it was a really good year for him too.

This film is very flawed but still enjoyable to watch. There is a lot of fantastic dialogue delivered expertly by Bogart and even though Bogart and Manning didn’t get along on set they do make an electric pair on screen. Some of the cinematography in the film is delightful. There is one scene in which Bogart reveals himself from behind a curtain and he is lit to perfection. Some of the editing is not that great and while I don’t have a fine tuned eye for this sort of thing it was quite noticeable in this film which is a bad sign. There are several plot lines which makes this film more a series of vignettes than one continuous story.

The biggest problem with the film is the black face. Isn’t that always a problem when it appears in old movies? Not to reveal too much about the plot but one of the pivotal scenes towards the end of the film involves a fellow prisoner of Duke’s donning black face for a prison talent show. The black face itself is not really a plot element, just something this character did, but it does date the movie for contemporary audiences. It may also be one of the many reasons this film remains relatively unknown.

Bogart completists need to watch The Big Shot (1942). And who isn’t a Bogart completist? I know I am! The Big Shot is an oddity and an entertaining one at that.

The Big Shot (1942) on DVD is available from Warner Archive.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received The Big Shot (1942) from Warner Archive for review. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ Tish (1942)

Tish from Warner Bros.

Where do I begin? How do I even talk about such an odd movie? Oh dear! Well, here goes nothing...

Tish (1942) is an adaptation of the Tish stories by Mary Roberts Rinehart. Tish Carberry (Marjorie Main) is part of a threesome of spinsters which includes Aggie Pilkington (Zasu Pitts) and Lizzie Wilkins (Aline MacMahon). Together they cause all sorts of ruckus in their small New England town. Tish lives in her childhood home, now owned by her nephew Charlie Sands (Lee Bowman), and her friends live in a nearby boarding house along with the orphaned teenager Cora Edwards (Susan Peters). All three ladies practically raise Cora.

Now let's add some romantic entanglements, shall we? Cora is in love with Charlie who is newly engaged to Kit Bowser (Virginia Grey) whose brother Ted (Richard Quine) is in love with Cora. That's quite a mess, no? Tish tries to meddle in the love lives of the young folks by trying to fix Cora up with Charlie. She takes them on a camping trip together (some hilarious moments ensue) but Cora has a change of heart. Charlie marries Kit in a church ceremony and Cora and Ted secretly elope before Ted is sent off to war.

So far this film is a light comedy about three delightful spinsters in a small New England town and the young people in their lives. The romantic entanglement, more of a circle than a triangle, gets settled but then the story takes a bizarre turn for the worst.


Cora becomes pregnant, finds out Ted is lost at sea, faints, has her baby and dies. Yes, dies. What the heck? Tish finds out about the baby and takes him into her care. But realizes that it might be a bit complicated because the baby is not hers nor did she go through the proper channels to legally adopt him. So Tish tells everyone she had the baby. No one believes her because she's too old to have a baby. She is so adamant that everyone starts to think she's crazy. Charlie reluctantly puts her in a mental institution. Eventually things resolve themselves and there is a happy yet somewhat bittersweet surprise at the end but good grief.


What could have been just a light 1940s comedy turned out to be a rather bizarre curio of the time. I haven't read the Tish stories so I'm not sure how much this film stays true to the original tales.

This film is notable because of Susan Peters and she's the main reason I watched the film. Playing Cora in Tish (1942) was Susan Peters' first substantial role at MGM. Studio heads were impressed with her and she went on to do Random Harvest (1942) and several other films. Peters was being groomed to become a leading lady and a starlet all thanks to the film Tish. Also, Susan Peters met her future husband Richard Quine while making this film. Peters and Quine married the following year, adopted a son and later divorced in 1948. Susan Peters became paralyzed as a result of a hunting accident in 1945, continued to have health problems and died in 1952 (it's a complicated story that I won't go into in this post). Researching the life of Susan Peters is a pet project of mine so it was imperative that I watch Tish (1942).

Susan Peters is really delightful in this film as are the other actors. So if you are a fan of anyone in the cast, Tish is worth at least one viewing. I'd like to also point out that Guy Kibbee has a supporting role as Judge Bowser (father of the characters Kit and Ted). Kibbee has some hilarious scenes and his character is often put in embarrassing situations courtesy of the three spinsters. Note that Aline MacMahon and Guy Kibbee played a couple in Gold Diggers of 1933 so it's nice to see them together again in Tish!

One last note for vintage hair and fashion enthusiasts. Watch this film for the outfits and hairstyles of Susan Peters and Virginia Grey. You'll get lots of ideas because the wardrobe and hair departments took extra effort grooming these two young ladies for the film.

Tish  (1942) is available on DVD MOD from Warner Archive.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. I received Tish (1942) from Warner Archive for review.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Catching Up with Quelle (7)

Oh Wedding Day - Many thanks to J.P. from the blog Comet over Hollywood for sending me this lovely picture of actress Susan Peters on her wedding day with director Richard Quine. I had never seen it before!

 How well do you know my favorites? - Play my IMDB Quiz! Make sure you play the Genius version for even more fun. 

Old Favorites versus New-to-me Classics - I have been going through a difficult time lately. I feel trapped with no way out. Every time I find a glimmer of hope it seems like there is always someone that comes along to block it out. Whenever I feel blue, I can't be bothered to watch new movies. I know a lot of you watch movies by the boatload but I just can't handle that. Watching a film that is new to me can be an emotional ordeal. There is a lot to take in and to think about. When I'm feeling blue, I find that old favorites are comforting. Movies that I know well, that I know I will enjoy and that have no mystery. What kind of movies do you like to watch when you are blue?

Maybe a viewing of one of my all-time favorites Nancy Drew - Detective (1938) will cheer me up.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Warner Archive Wednesday ~ Young Ideas (1943)

A screen cap of the title page of the film Young Ideas 1943

Young Ideas (1943) is a fun collegiate/family movie directed by Jules Dassin. Josephine Evans (Mary Astor) is a wildly popular author of novels. Her latest book, As I Knew Paris, is on its 10th edition and she's very in demand.

3 girls engrossed in Josephine Evans' latest novel.

Mary Astor plays Josephine Evans and this portrait hangs in her agent's office.

The trouble is, no one seems to know where she is. She's completely disappeared! And she won't tell anyone where she's hiding. Jo has been booked for many lectures and appearances but she has skipped them all. Her agent is at his wits end. 

Agent is frustrated as his prize author Josephine Evans (Mary Astor) has disappeared.

In comes Jo's kids Susan Evans (Susan Peters) and Jeff Evans (Elliott Reid). They've grown accustom to the lifestyle that their mother's very successful writing career. They have all the luxuries they need and get to socialize with the best authors and poets. And they don't want to give that up!

Elliot Reed and Susan Peters play the children of Mary Astor's Josephine Evans in Young Ideas 1943

They go to find their mother who has fallen in love with some mystery man. When they track her down to the last college town where she delivered a lecture. They find her there but things are a bit more complicated than they expected. Their mother Jo has secretly gotten married to Chemistry Professor Michael Kingsley (Herbert Marshall). And Michael's got it in his mind that he'll take care of Jo and she can give up her writing career.

Elliott Reed and Susan Peters in Young Ideas 1943

Jo: "For the past 10 tens I have been living with Michael as a respectable married woman."
Susan: "Mother! You ought to be ashamed of yourself."

Susan and Jeff hatch a plan. They'll become students at Michael's college. That will buy them time to work on splitting up their mom from Michael. And of course hilarity ensues.

Mary Astor and Herbert Marshall in Young Ideas 1943

Mary Astor, Herbert Marshall, Elliott Reed and Susan Peters in Young Ideas 1943.

This is a very fun movie. I adore early films with a collegiate theme. And because I'm such a book nerd that the literary theme was a plus for me as well. The cast works well together and you feel bad for Jo who is trapped in the middle of this drama. She loves her new husband but still wants to make her kids happy. While Susan and Jeff could come off as spoiled brats, their characters develop through the movie which helps immensely when it comes to connecting with their characters. I also enjoyed Herbert Marshall's portrayal of the uptight yet loving professor. Fans of Richard Carlson will be amused to see him here as Tom Farrell, a young poetry professor who is charmed by Susan's literary smarts.

Richard Carlson plays a poetry professor in Young Ideas 1943

As many of you know, I'm a devoted fan of actress Susan Peters. I just think she was simply wonderful and she's the reason I chose to rent this film to watch. It's interesting to note that she receives top billing in the movie over both Mary Astor and Herbert Marshall.

Susan Peters gets top billing next to Herbert Marshall and Mary Astor

MGM must have been really trying to build her up as an up and coming star. 

Susan Peters, Mary Astor and Elliott Reed at college.

They also made a lot of effort grooming her. Susan Peters has the best wardrobe, makeup and hair of the entire cast. 

Susan Peters wears a collegiate sweater with writing all over it.
One of the oddest things about the movie is the password siblings Jeff and Susan come up with in case Susan gets too emotional during their plan to break up their mother's new marriage. Of course Susan would be the weak emotional one being the female (ugh). Their choice for a password is strange.

Elliott Reed and Susan Peters in Young Ideas 1943

Jeff: "They scrape a ton of rust a year from a iron bridge over the Yukon."
Susan: "No doubt you're right."

Umm, why that line? Why not something more simple? Like "don't be silly" or something?

Young Ideas (1943) is available on DVD via Warner Archive.

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Movies selected are rented from Classicflix, watched on TCM or purchased from Warner Archive, Classicflix or TCM. This series is not sponsored by Warner Archive.

Friday, March 20, 2009

No One Ever Thinks of Susan Peters

Susan Peters (1921-1952) has a soft spot in my heart. I may have been the only one who participated in the 20 Actresses Movie meme to have chosen her as one of my top faves. Susan Peters had a soft, unassuming quality that made her mesmerizing yet approachable. She was a quintessential 1940's beauty with gentle features, glistening eyes and soft pouty lips. She had an aura of innocence, understanding and sadness that intrigues me. She always manages to fascinate me whenever she graced the screen. Susan Peters worked with big names such as Olivia DeHavilland, Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Lana Turner, Greer Garson and Ronald Colman yet in her own quiet way was never overshadowed by these brighter stars.

Peters had a short-lived career with various films in the 1940s. She started off with small roles in 1940 and 1941 under her real name Suzanne Carnahan. She switched to the more Hollywood-friendly name of Susan Peters and in 1942 made a formidable impression on the industry in her role in Random Harvest (1942), a role which got her a nomination for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. This was the first film I had seen her in and I was immediately drawn to her.

The height of Susan Peter's career was 1942-1944 . Within that time she married film director Richard Quine and folks in the industry saw her as a young star on the rise with lots of potential. She made several films, a few of which got her top billing. In 1944 she filmed Keep Your Powder Dry (1945), a WWII movie about 3 very different young women who join the Women Army Corps (WACS) while the men are off at war. It's a very sweet film about patriotism, love, friendship and self-sacrifice. This just happens to be the favorite of the Susan Peters films I have seen because it showcases her at her most genuine. It also happens to be Susan Peters last hurrah.

Shortly after filming ended, Susan Peters became paralyzed from the waist down, an unfortunate result from a hunting accident, and was wheel-chair bound. Peters made one more film The Sign of the Ram (1948), played Elizabeth Barrett Browning in a stage production of The Barretts of Wimpole Street and was in the 1951 TV series Miss Susan. All of these were valiant attempts to keep her career going despite her disability. However, she went into deep depression, her marriage with Richard Quine ended and her contract with MGM was terminated. She died in 1952 of what most people say was a long, slow suicide in which she lost the will to live and succumbed to starvation.

I often think of what she could have been if the accident hadn't happened, but I don't think her life be overshadowed by her tragic demise. It's really her career and wonderful films that should be celebrated. I hope you will watch one of her films if you haven't already. Luckily, there are several opportunities for you to do this.

Turner Classic Movies (US) is showing 5 of her films in the next few months. Here is the line-up.

Santa Fe Trail (1940) - March 25
Meet John Doe (1941) - April 16
Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant (1942) - April 28
The Sign of the Ram (1948) - May 10
Random Harvest (1942) - June 20

Some of Susan Peter's films are on DVD too.

Santa Fe Trail (1940)
Meet John Doe (1941)
Random Harvest (1942)

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