Author Archives: Jessie

About Jessie

I work in the Chester County Library System in Pennsylvania.

The League of Alternate Superstars: Glenn Ford

It is a shame that Glenn Ford (1916-2006), contemporary of many Hollywood luminaries including his chum William Holden, did not receive the credit he deserved for a long and distinguished film and TV career.  Perhaps the most egregious omission is that Citadel Press never published The Films of Glenn Ford.

In The Great Movie Stars:  The International Years, David Shipman wrote of Ford, “It is always a pleasure to renew acquaintance with him, especially in comedy, where his relaxed and impish performances as a bumbling ordinary guy have been much underrated.  In drama he remains the Little Man, often victimized and battling grimly against the forces of fate.”

Gwyllyn Samuel Newton Ford was born on May 1, 1916 in Quebec City.  In 1922 the family relocated to Los Angeles.  Gwyllyn, now Glenn, made his first feature film in 1937, Night in Manhattan.  In 1939, the same year as Holden gained fame in Golden Boy, Ford was 4th billed in Heaven with a Barbed Wire Fence but was in fact the key player.  His breakout role was as a young German caught up in the Nazi net cast over Jews and others the Fascist regimes considered undesirables in So Ends Our Night (1941), a major film starring Fredric March and Margaret Sullavan.  The same year he co-starred with Holden in the quality western, Texas.   Eventually the Holden character goes bad.  (Almost a decade later they reversed roles for The Man from Colorado, with Ford as a psychopathic colonel become federal judge after the Civil War.)

Like Holden, Tyrone Power, Clark Gable and various other Hollywood leading men, Ford joined the service during World War II.  He enlisted in the Marines.

The war over, Ford returned to the Columbia Pictures fold and had his big breakout role as Johnny Farrell opposite siren Rita Hayworth in Gilda (1946).  Now considered a staple of film noir, it would not be Ford’s last venture into that arena.  Although hardly anyone realizes it today, Ford and Hayworth were a legitimate movie team, co-starring in three other films:  The Loves of Carmen (1948), Affair in Trinidad (1952), and The Money Trap (1966).  Unfortunately, these films were primarily memorable for the casts, not the plots.

Ford became a major western hero, and sometimes, like James Stewart, a tortured one.  The same year as The Man from Colorado (1948), Ford starred in Lust for Gold, a tale of the search for the Lost Dutchman mine.  The ending featured a spectacular earthquake.  In Western Films:  A Complete Guide, author Brian Garfield suggested that as the amoral German immigrant, Ford gave the best performance of his career.  (Note that the same year The Treasure of the Sierra Madre had a similar plot and theme:  greed.).  Ford’s son wrote that co-star Ida Lupino ranked his father and Richard Widmark as her favorite leading men.

Five quality westerns followed:  The Violent Men (1955) opposite Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson, Jubal (1956) opposite Felicia Farr and Valerie French and the amazing male duo of Ernest Borgnine and Rod Steiger with Charles Bronson in support.  An acknowledged classic was next:  3:10 to Yuma.  Ford played ingratiating but dangerous outlaw Ben Wade, captured and assigned to Dan Evans (Van Heflin), a rancher hired to put him on the train over the dangerous obstacle of Wade’s scurvy gang.  Wade comes to respect Evans and actually helps him survive.  There were two westerns in 1958.  Cowboy was rather epic in scope, with a hard edge befitting this tale based on fact.  The dude played by Jack Lemmon joined Ford’s no-nonsense rancher on his cattle drive and became a man.  The Sheepman was not so hard-edged, with Ford battling with the cattlemen (naturally) and sparring with spunky Shirley MacLaine in this, her fifth film.  A sixth western intended as a large-scale remake of the epic 1931 Best Picture Academy Award winner, 1960’s Cimarron was a major disappointment, as would the 1962 remake of 1921’s The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Ford’s first noir classic had been Gilda, and Ford had another significant—and vastly more violent entry in that realm in 1953.  Directed by Fritz Lang, The Big Heat joined the pantheon of most famous noirs.  After his family is attacked, Detective Dan Bannion (Ford) goes all out for revenge on Mike Lagana’s crime syndicate and its prime hitman (Lee Marvin).  It would not be much of a stretch to label Experiment in Terror (1962) a noir.  Ross Martin’s psychopath terrorized sisters played by Lee Remick and Stefanie Powers. Ford’s detective is out to nab the miscreant, and symbolic of changing times, in one scene Ford stands alone among a gaggle of female mannequins.  His attire may be symbolic:  still in fedora, which by decade’s end will disappear from the noggins of both policemen and hoods, but his trenchcoat has no belt.

Contemporary issues were also in Ford’s repertoire.  The most famous and significant film in this bailiwick was Blackboard Jungle (1955), whose theme “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and the Comets became the anthem for rock ‘n roll.  Ford played teacher Richard Dadier (or “daddio” to the punks) at an inner city school packed with society’s newly christened “juvenile delinquents”, including Vic Morrow.  The film was controversial on several accounts, not least in casting Sidney Poitier in a prime role as one of the students.

After Blackboard Jungle Ford began a spate of military movies in that almost forgotten comedy subgenre:  the “service comedy”:  The Teahouse of the August Moon (1956), Don’t Go Near the Water (1957) Imitation General (1958), and Cry for Happy (1961). As Shipman indicated, he was also adept at light contemporary comedies (The Gazebo, 1960; Love is a Ball, 1963) and comedy-dramas (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, 1963; Dear Heart, 1964).

It may be that Ford’s on-screen persona was so soothing and made things seem so effortless that he was not a perennial Academy Award-nominee.  He did, however, receive nominations and win awards presented by other organizations, including the Golden Globe for Best Actor-Comedy or Musical (Pocketful of Miracles, 1961), the Golden Apple Award for Most Cooperative Actor (1948 and 1957), the Golden Boot Award (1987), the Laurel Award for Top Male Comedy Performance (Don’t Go Near the Water, 1957), and the Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1987 San Sebastien International Film Festival.  He received his Hollywood Walk of Fame Star in 1960.

By Kim

 

References

Ford, Peter.  Glenn Ford:  A Life.  Madison, WI:  University of Wisconsin Press, 2011.

Garfield, Brian.  Western Films:  A Complete Guide.  Rawson Associates, 1982.

Shipman, David.  The Great Stars:  The International Years.  London:  Angus & Robertson, 1972.

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The Curse of Elvis? You Be the Judge

One would think that getting a leading lady gig in a 1960s Elvis Presley movie would lead to something.  However, if the actress in question hadn’t already started her cinematic career and had some buzz, appearing with Elvis didn’t amount to much.  Naturally talent, a competent agent, persistence and luck played their part in achieving and maintaining stardom, whether or not you were in an Elvis film.

Those who failed or perhaps were not fanatical about their careers enough to leverage their presence in an Elvis vehicle into long-term, big-screen stardom included Joan Blackman (Kid Galahad), Blackman and Jenny Maxwell (Blue Hawaii), Laurel Goodwin (Girls! Girls! Girls!), Pamela Austin, Cynthia Pepper (Kissin’ Cousins), Joan Freeman (Roustabout), Jocelyn Lane (Tickle Me), Mary Ann Mobley (Harum Scarum), Shelley Fabares (Spinout and Clambake), Pat Priest (Easy Come, Easy Go), Donna Douglas (Frankie and Johnny), Susanna Leigh and Marianna Hill (Paradise, Hawaiian Style), Michele Carey (Live a Little, Love a Little), Annette Day (Double Trouble), Nancy Sinatra (Speedway), and Marlyn Mason (The Trouble with Girls).  It didn’t help that Elvis, who could have done so much more himself, was kept from even trying by his guru, Colonel Parker.  As a result, Elvis’ films became ever weaker as the decade came to a close.

Sometimes there was no expectation of superstardom via Elvis.  Anne Helm was his leading lady in 1962’s Follow That Dream (released in April), but she’d been very busy that year: The Couch (February), The Magic Sword (April), The Interns (August).  (The Swingin’ Maiden was a 1962 British film released in the U.S. in December, 1963.)

In April of this year Ms. Helm responded to a question about Follow That Dream:

I know there were quite a few names up for the part when I tested for it.  I loved the part but really didn’t think I would get it because of some of the names attached to it, one being Tuesday Weld.  I can’t remember the other ones.  I never really thought about future ambitions in those days.  God I was so young.  I think I was more intent on my prince coming along at that time of my life.  My career as an actress was not motivated by a lot of ambition, although I was always glad to be working.  Looking back now I see it all as a grand play unfolding and I just showed up…so happy to be working.  How lucky was I to have played so many different roles.

 

Three actresses not affected positively or negatively by being in a 1960s Elvis movie were Joan O’Brien, Stella Stevens and Ann-Margret.  O’Brien, a successful singer, transitioned into actress and had significant roles on TV and in Operation Petticoat (1959), The Alamo (1960) and It’s Only Money (1962) before playing opposite Elvis in It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963).  Stevens played opposite Elvis in Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), but her cinematic career had begun in 1959 and included roles in Li’l Abner, The Blue Angel, and Say One for Me.  She was a Playboy centerfold in 1960 (another venue that rarely led to a significant acting career) and that same year guested on five TV series.  She was on her way and had a solid film career through the decade and beyond (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, The Nutty Professor, The Silencers, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Slaughter, The Poseidon Adventure).  Like Stevens, before she costarred with Elvis in 1964’s Viva Las Vegas, Ann-Margret had a big-screen career on the fast track:  Pocketful of Miracles (1961), State Fair (1962), and Bye, Bye Birdie (1963).  She was a multi-talented performer who could hold her own with The King.

Further corroboration that his leading ladies got short shrift is that except for a small frame of the prime cast in Kissin’ Cousins, they did not appear on the cover or reverse of Elvis’ soundtrack albums.  This includes the legendary Barbara Stanwyck (Roustabout).  The King Creole (1958) soundtrack reverse does feature a few black and white photos that include Carolyn Jones.  One can only surmise Colonel Parker demanded every column of space devoted to his protégé.

By Kim

Reference

Anne Helm email to author, April 18, 2017.  Helm made 77 guest appearances on 1960s TV series, from Route 66 to Gunsmoke, from Run for Your Life to Hawaii Five-O.  Her pal Yvonne Craig, who in addition to her role in Elvis’ Kissin’ Cousins briefly appeared at the beginning of his It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963), also had over 70 guest starring roles on 60s TV, including her stint as Batgirl on Batman.

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by | July 10, 2017 · 3:08 pm

Riot in Cell Block 11: When Character Actors Star

With a sterling resume as an independent Hollywood producer (The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Queen Christina, Algiers, Stagecoach, Foreign Correspondent, Canyon Passage, and in 1963, Cleopatra), Walter Wanger opted to use his talents to expose prison injustice in the 1954 film Riot in Cell Block 11.  The immediate prompt was his 1952 incarceration at the Wayside Honor Farm for putting a slug into the groin of agent Jennings Lang, believed to be having an affair with Wanger’s wife, actress Joan Bennett. 

The resulting spare film (80 minutes) is an attack on a society—wardens, guards, politicians and the public at large—that could care less about rehabilitation or the tendency to dump psychopaths into the general prison population.  Aptly, the director was Don Siegel, cutting his teeth on B-movies generally more interesting and in retrospect more important than most big-budget studio films.  Soon Siegel would helm Wanger’s seminal science fiction movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers and later achieve greater fame directing Clint Eastwood in such films as Coogan’s Bluff, The Beguiled and Dirty HarryRiot bears his occasional semi-documentary approach, beginning with newsreel film of actual U.S. prison riots.

Filmed at Folsom State Prison in California, Riot in Cell Block 11 is unique in that all of the stars  are character actors:  the riot’s fomenter Dunn (highly decorated WW II soldier Neville Brand in a sympathetic role), his brutish enforcer (Leo “The Scariest Guy in Hollywood” Gordon), the frustrated warden (Emile Meyer, fresh off his role as cattle baron Ryker in Shane), the by-the-book commissioner (Frank Faylen, an It’s a Wonderful Life alumnus soon to play Dwayne Hickman’s dad on TV’s The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis), Snader (Whit Bissell, once disparaged as an American everyman, here a despicable guard whereas in 1947’s Brute Force he’d been a con—and in 1957 would play mad scientists in I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein), “The Colonel” (Robert Osterloh, veteran then and later of innumerable TV and film roles) here playing an intelligent war vet incarcerated for a lapse in judgment that led to a manslaughter conviction), hepped-up Mickey (William Phipps, a nuclear holocaust survivor in Five as the most unhinged of the prisoners), victimized guard Monroe (Paul Frees, the ubiquitous narrator and voice actor, e.g., Boris Badenov on TV’s Rocky and His Friends), news reporter (William Schallert, the father on The Patty Duke Show in the 1960s), the con who initiates the riot (Dabbs Greer, veteran by the end of his life of over 300 roles), “Gator” (Alvy Moore of the future TV series Green Acres in a long-billed cap that must be seen to be believed).  Pay attention or you’ll miss James Anderson, who will be playing Scout’s brutish nemesis in To Kill a Mockingbird (1962) and a chain gang captain in Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run (1969).

In summary, Riot in Cell Block 11 may be the only major Hollywood film whose performers were all members of the unsung but necessary and often compelling caste:  the character actor.

By Kim

 

References

Holston, Kim.  Susan Hayward:  Her Films and Life.  Jefferson, NC:  McFarland & Co., 2002.  Trace producer Wanger’s trial and incarceration in at least 12 New York Times 1952 articles.

Kaminsky, Stuart M.  Don Siegel, Director.  New York:  Curtis Books, 1974.  See “Chapter VI:  700 Prisoners and a Handful of Actors.”  Siegel said San Quentin ex-con, now actor, Leo Gordon, was not originally welcomed by the warden, who made him enter a separate gate and searched.  Siegel and producer Wanger knew Gordon’s worth.  “Had he not been in the picture it would surely have suffered,” said the director.

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Peyton Place: Return to Innocence

Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place was the scandalous and best-selling novel of 1956-57.  The title has become synonymous with small-town America, especially its hidden, often odious human substratum.  Here, in a story set immediately before and during World War II, patriotic parades, picnics, and proms mask hypocritical, sexually repressed, judgmental, mean-spirited, alcoholic, catty, and even murderous citizens.

In 1957 Peyton Place was made into a big-budget and highly successful film that may be the ultimate quality Hollywood soap opera.  (It became a hit primetime TV soap in 1964.)  With a running time of 2 hours and 37 minutes, Peyton Place allowed significant time for each of its multitude of characters to make an impression, and of its 9 Academy Award nominations five were for acting:   Best Actress (Lana Turner), Supporting Actor (Arthur Kennedy, Russ Tamblyn), Supporting Actress (Diane Varsi, Hope Lange).

The virtually unknown Varsi landed the key role of Allison MacKenzie, the high school senior who doesn’t want to attend college to learn how to write, she wants to write even if her apprenticeship is on the town’s newspaper.  It is Allison’s voice periodically narrating the story.  Another prominent inhabitant of the town is Dr. Swain, played by ubiquitous character/supporting actor Lloyd Nolan.  The climax turns on Swain’s decision to renege on a promise.  His voice of reason and compassion is raised to hold the community accountable.

Even now Peyton Place is a surprisingly affecting movie that can bring tears to the eyes.  Why?  Is it the tree-lined streets, the lake, the Labor Day celebration, the students and teachers holding hands and singing “Auld Lang Syne”?  It is perhaps a fantasy, a terrain that never existed, an environment we think or wish or maybe did inhabit as carefree children.  (Another example of this yearning is seen in “Walking Distance,” the 1959 Twilight Zone episode in which Gig Young interacts with his younger self and longs to remain in the town of his youth.).  One must not neglect another “character” that allows the film to successfully carry all this emotional weight:  Franz Waxman’s lovely theme and score.  Just before Waxman’s music wraps it up, Allison’s voice provides hope for the future:  “We’d finally discovered that season of love.  It is only found in someone else’s heart.  Right now someone you know is looking everywhere for it, and it’s in you.”

 

[Thank you, Mike Varano, for identifying potentially significant subtext:  characters are constantly opening and closing doors:  front, back, classroom, diner, restroom, office, closet, kitchen, pantry, car, bus, train carriage.]

By Kim

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Saddle the Wind  (1958)

In Western Films:  A Complete Guide (1982), Brian Garfield extols Royal Dano’s performance but otherwise comes down fairly hard on Saddle the Wind (1958).  He thought the actors had not received much direction, New York-born John Cassavetes was miscast, and the story familiar and clichéd.  Yet there is much to give pleasure in this film, especially for film aficionados who can put the whole shebang into context.  Familiarity with the entire corpus of film allows one to enjoy almost any movie.

The Colorado scenery is captivating, the gunplay choreography judicious, the music by future master of western scores Elmer Bernstein, and the character actors backing up Robert Taylor and Julie London rather stunning:  Dano as the fanatical, perhaps unhinged Union army veteran who shakes a deed to the verdant valley into the faces of Sinclair (Robert Taylor) and Deneen (Donald Crisp) and dares them to run off him and his small group of sodbusters, Jay Adler as a bedraggled saloon worker, gravely-voiced Charles McGraw as the extremely nasty Venables come to town to test himself against former gunman Sinclair, Douglas Spencer as the ranch hand incapable of chaperoning the increasingly violent Tony (Cassavetes), and Ray Teal as Deneen’s major domo.

The dialogue is also sparkling, and it’s easy to see why.  Rod Serling was the screenwriter.  He’d written Patterns (1955) and Requiem for a Heavyweight (1956) for TV.  The year after Saddle the Wind he was narrating and writing his ground-breaking TV series, The Twilight Zone.

Some of the movie’s pithy monologues:

“Looking after your brother is like poking hot butter in a wildcat’s ear.  It just can’t be done.”  (Douglas Spencer as Hemp Scribner)

“Sonny, I got the guts and the know-how to puncture your belly six times before you can take a breath of air.”  (Charles McGraw as Venables)

“I’m no slut, Mr. Sinclair.  He didn’t buy me like he bought that gun.”  (Julie London as Joan Blake)

“Yes, but not to a man.  I’m telling it to a dirty, little, trigger-happy jackal without a heart in his body. I can’t say it much plainer that that, Tony.”  (Donald Crisp as Dennis Deneen)

Beyond the sociopathic behavior of Tony, larger issues emerge.  Like Shane (1953), in Saddle the Wind we observe characters embroiled in an imbroglio from which neither side can claim a fully satisfactory outcome.  Who should control the valley, the farmers or the cattlemen?  Both have solid arguments.  Human detritus from the Civil War is also in evidence, with the Union veteran (Dano) being taunted by “Dallas” (Richard Erdman).  Consider Cassavetes’ Tony the incarnation of Shane’s gun-for-hire Wilson (Jack Palance) who insults and blows away Elisha Cook, Jr.’s Reb.  Or maybe Charles McGraw’s Venables is the parallel, although we don’t learn anything of his backstory.

By Kim

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Everything, Everything Book to Movie Discussion CANCELLED

Unfortunately, the Book to Movie Discussion of Everything, Everything has been cancelled.

We hope to have a Book to Movie discussion of The Dark Tower in August.

 

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The Circle Book to Movie Event

Calling all book and movie lovers! Join us at the Movie Tavern at Main Street in Exton on Tuesday, May 2nd for the 6:50 showing of The Circle. We’ll have a discussion after the movie for anyone interested in discussing and comparing details from the book and movie.

Get popcorn and a drink for $7.50 by showing your library card!

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New Releases 4/25

Movies
La La Land
Underworld: Blood Wars
Agatha Christie’s The Witness for the Prosecution
Disturbing the Peace
Mean Dreams
The Levelling
The Daughter
Catfight
Right Now, Wrong Then
Walerian Borowczyk: Short Films Collection
Mifune: The Last Samurai

TV Series
Animal Kingdom season 1
The Affair season 3

Music
Love and War by Brad Paisley
Life. Love. Flesh. Blood. by Imelda May
Americana by Ray Davies

Audiobooks
Beartown by Fredrik Backman
Golden Prey by John Sandford
The Red Hunter by Lisa Unger
No Easy Target by Iris Johansen

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The Noblest Romans (and Greek) of Them All

cleopatraIn Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Mark Antony praised Brutus as the noblest Roman of them all.  One might have thought it would be Caesar himself who deserved that accolade, and he has been portrayed nobly on film, especially by Rex Harrison in Cleopatra (1963).  He was properly outraged when the head of his rival Pompey was brought to him when he landed in Egypt.  At the sarcophagus of Alexander the Great he waxed melancholic at the certainty that he was himself too old to accomplish what the Macedonian conqueror had during his brief life.  But was Caesar the noblest character in Cleopatra?  Was it not Flavius (George Cole)?  As Caesar’s dog’s-body, he soothed and protected his master during epileptic fits.  What of Mark Antony (Richard Burton)?  No, it was his factotum Rufio (Martin Landau), who was murdered  rather than desert his comrade in the desert as Octavian’s forces approached for battle.  What of the Queen of the Nile (Elizabeth Taylor) herself?  Once again, it was her Greek servant Appolodorus (Caesare Danova) who deserves our praise.  He facilitated her first, secret, meeting with Caesar and attended her until the end.

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Don Rickles (1926-2017)

The legendary comedian Don Rickles passed away on April 6, 2017.  Labeled “Mr. Warmth” by Johnny Carson and considered the king of insult comedy, Rickles also acted on film, notably as a submariner in Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a nasty dancehall impresario in The Rat Race (1960), and one of Clint Eastwood’s ragtag band of G.I.s intent on stealing Nazi gold in Kelly’s Heroes (1970).  Little known or remembered is Rickles’ appearance on ABC’s The Joey Bishop Show in February, 1968.  The very popular and Academy Award-winning actress Susan Hayward, then on screen in Valley of the Dolls, was the prime guest.  Hayward hardly ever appeared on TV but agreed to come on in exchange for Bishop allowing her friend Jack Frost to play the organ.  Rickles was already ensconced on stage when she arrived.  Contrary to expectations that he would continue his penchant for needling and persecuting every celebrity and audience he encountered, Rickles was agog and complimented Hayward effusively.  He told her, “And I say this, like with great respect.  It is a great treat to see you, Miss Hayward.  And I say Susan if I may.  From the days of the Slate Brothers [nightclub] this woman came to see me when I really needed a fan.  And it is a delight to see you on the screen and may I say from the bottom of my heart, you are one of our greatest actresses and I adore you.”

By Kim

Reference

Holston, Kim.  Susan Hayward:  Her Films and Life.  Jefferson, NC:  McFarland & Co., 2002.

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