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benbess

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1949
Adam's_Rib_(1949_poster).jpeg
 

dana martin

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Robert Crawford

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I'll repete three 1943 titles from earlier in the thread:

Bataan
Air Force
Destination Tokyo
Action In The North Atlantic.

I just hope we get some more war movies.
I would die a happy man if WA would release the following on Blu-ray:

Bataan
Back to Bataan
Air Force
Destination Tokyo
Action in the North Atlantic
Tall in the Saddle
3 Godfathers
 

benbess

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I'd enjoy seeing more war films as well.

If the original three-strip Technicolor negative survives I'd also like to see the surreal musical from 1945 called Yolanda and the Thief.

yolanda 2.jpeg
 
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Beckford

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Ken
1947 Part 1
MY WILD IRISH ROSE
In the late 40’s movie musicals weren’t simply in vogue; the genre was probably at the height of its popularity. A prominent cycle in those years was the composer biopic. These came complete with a musical hook - ready-made and hopefully marketable. And whatever elements in the artists’ actual lives were deemed either too disreputable for the Hayes Code or too boring to sustain audience interest, were easily replaced. Generally with a standard boy meets girl tale of romantic bumps on the road to fame and fortune, the whole world eventually singing along for a happy and/or tearful finale.
There weren’t enough Kerns and Porters and Gershwins to go around. So Hollywood soon had to look elsewhere for musical biopic inspiration. Classical composers were one solution. And sometimes – if sufficiently romanticized, with strict concentration on the parts of their music most likely to appeal to a pop audience – these could score big at the box-office. Columbia hit the jackpot with their Chopin concoction, “A Song to Remember”; it not only propelled the composer onto 40’s record charts but also created a brief Cornel Wilde craze. Mostly, though, classical music was a hard sell to Joe Public.
Also popular during the era were a cycle of films frequently referred to as Gay 90’s movies, though they actually encompassed all the decades from the Civil War through the early 20th century.
In those pre-television days, all ages – kids to grandparents – regularly trooped to the movies. And the older segment of that audience harbored vivid memories of the days of bustles, buggies and barbershop quartets, the era when traffic sounds were generally confined to clip, clop and plop. For them, movies about that time evoked a very personal nostalgia.
Hollywood had already dealt with Stephen Foster (in 1939’s “Swanee River”) as personified by Don Ameche, the same year he invented the telephone in “The Story of Alexander Graham Bell”. So movie moguls turned their attention to some of the era’s lesser lights – men who weren’t household names, but nevertheless had written a couple of songs that still lingered in the memories of 40’s audiences.
20th Century Fox, action central for this particular type of film, gave us “My Gal Sal” (Victor Mature as Paul Dresser), “Irish Eyes are Smiling” (Dick Haymes as Ernest R. Ball), “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now” (Mark Stevens as Joseph E. Howard) and “Oh You Beautiful Doll” (S.Z. Sakall as Fred Fisher - though here photogenic - and fictitious - young lovers June Haver and Mark Stevens monopolized most of the screen time).
Warners had enjoyed great success with ”Yankee Doodle Dandy”, their salute to Irish/American songsmith George M. Cohan. So In 1947 they set their sights on another Irish/American show biz figure from the Gilded Age, tenor/composer Chauncey Olcott. An Olcott biomusical seemed an ideal vehicle for the studio’s own jack-of-all-trades (including tenor vocals) Dennis Morgan, then at the height of his considerable popularity. Morgan was a handsome, likeable and versatile performer who’d developed into a considerable draw during the war years. Ladies loved him. Someone who worked at Warners at the time once remarked how the whole female office staff (who had occasion to interact with him regularly) adored the guy. For a while, Morgan’s musical comedy teamings with Jack Carson made the duo legitimate box office rivals to Crosby & Hope. There was a point in the late 40’s when Dennis Morgan’s volume of fan mail outstripped Cagney, Bogart and Flynn. Onscreen the guy gave off nice guy vibes, but he had no trouble projecting an edge when needed (see “The Hard Way”). There was a general perception among audiences that his background was Irish; this was reinforced by previous films like “Tear Gas Squad” and “Three Cheers for the Irish” and a singing voice that cozily lent itself to sentimental Irish ballads. In actual fact, Morgan’s forefathers hailed from Sweden. But Irish Americans made up a bigger slice of the movie-viewing audience than Swedish/Americans, So Warners made no attempt to disabuse the public of its happy misconception. I doubt anyone in those days would have objected had they seen Dennis Morgan leading a St, Patrick’s Day Parade – which – at some point – I’ll bet he did. “My Wild Irish Rose” proved to be one of the highlights of Warners’ 1947 output and kept box-office cash registers happily jingling everywhere. Once the film had made its way through the movie theaters of America, Morgan was probably considered every bit as Irish as Barry Fitzgerald and the Blarney Stone.
As with so many of these shillelagh and shamrock musicals, not a moment of the thing is actually set on the Emerald Isle; it’s all about Irish America. Chauncey Olcott’s mom may have come from County Cork, but Chauncey himself was born in Buffalo, New York and that’s where the film kicks off.
Morgan’s Chauncey is a self-starter with an unshakeable belief in his own gifts as singer and songwriter.
Family & friends – working class Joes attached to the tugboat business - generally see his dreams of stardom as strictly castle-in-the-air stuff.
“You could be a good deckhand someday” urges his brother. As long-term plans go, Chauncey views this one as distinctly low on Broadway glitter.
Young Olcott finally strikes out on his chosen path with the reluctant blessing of his mother. Which prompts me to say a few words about the marvelous actress who plays her. Sara Allgood was a distinguished veteran of Ireland’s famous Abbey Theatre. She successfully toured America in plays like “Juno and the Paycock” (in the starring role she’d originated in Ireland), finally launching a Hollywood film career around the time she turned 60. And - first year out - landed an Oscar nomination in John Ford’s “How Green Was My Valley”. The actress played Welsh in that film. But in subsequent roles, her wonderful face and voice inevitably conveyed an intrinsic, elemental Irishness. Behind an overlay of bustling practicality, Allgood was able to suggest impressive depths of feeling. Effortlessly conferring gravitas on speeches and situations that might have devolved into sentimental caricature. Her first big moment in “My Wild Irish Rose” is her parting scene with son, Chauncey and she hits paydirt with every quiver of her brogue. This is instinctively flawless playing – nuanced and affecting. What most character actors dreamed of achieving, Allgood had perfected to the point where it just seemed to come naturally.
The script portrays Olcott as a good-natured conniver, full of schemes that do no real harm but repeatedly land him in amusingly fraught situations. Throughout, Dennis Morgan’s immense personal likeability keeps us firmly on his side. When stage star Lillian Russell makes an appearance in Olcott’s hometown, Chauncey glibly bluffs his way into an afterparty with Russell and some of her millionaire suitors. He lets them all think he’s a shipping magnate, but once he’s got Russell alone on the dancefloor, serenades her with a pretty irresistible version of “My Nellie’s Blue Eyes”. She’s intrigued – but the incident’s cut short when circumstances linked to his deception get him thrown out of the place. Lillian Russell exits the story for the time being. But let’s talk about the actress who plays her.
Andrea King spent three years under contract to Warners but had only one opportunity to fully shine (with her terrific work in 1945’s “Hotel Berlin”). Somehow that hadn’t convinced studio heads of the lady’s value and she was dropped in ’46. Virginia Bruce had been set to play Lillian Russell in “My Wild Irish Rose” (somewhat surprisingly as the actress had been pretty low-profile since her 30’s heyday as a semi-star at Metro). Somehow negotiations between Bruce and the studio went sour. And the Brothers Warner sent out an S.O.S. to their former contractee. True, they’d let her go; but they knew she was a quick study who could probably get up to speed in the part at short notice. King had already started freelancing with some success. And no one could have blamed her for nursing a grudge against a studio that had so recently dumped her. But Warners offered her an enticingly lucrative one-picture deal and she signed on. The studio had no reason to regret their decision. King sails through the role with aplomb - lovingly photographed and set off in a series of stunningly decorative period outfits. From her initial appearance onstage in spangled white satin, the actress models a parade of gowns and hats that embrace every shade of the Technicolor rainbow. A red number she dons to dine at Delmonico’s is a particular eye-popper. And though the wasp-waisted fashions may well have been designed for Virginia Bruce, King’s figure displays them to perfection. She also sings beautifully (albeit dubbed by someone else). But then how much can a lady – no matter how glamorously resourceful - be expected to learn with only a week’s notice? I still consider her stunning work in “Hotel Berlin” the best of her career. But Andrea King’s Lillian Russell still rates a shiny gold star. And she really nails one particular speech – pragmatic, yet still deeply-felt - about the precarious nature of show business romances.
There’s something of the picaresque about Chauncey’s story (at least this version of it). Along the way (the journey frequently accelerated by smoothly accomplished visual montages) he encounters a number of colorful characters. And - thanks to the wealth of on-call talent in 40’s Hollywood - every one’s portrayed by an expert.
First off, Chauncey picks up a sidekick played by comedian Ben Blue, a guy who’d bounced into showbusiness as a kid and never looked back. By the time of “My Wild Irish Rose”, he had more than 30 years’ experience under his belt, having earned his stripes in almost every branch of the business. By the 40’s he’d become a vaguely familiar face in movies, providing second and third-string comic relief, often lost in the shuffle behind the front and center stars of MGM musicals. “My Wild Irish Rose” finally gave him a part that played to his strengths and enough screen time to display them.
In time-honored sidekick tradition, his character’s an up for anything type who helps get Chauncey in and out of whatever scrapes, schemes or complications the script throws at them. And it’s fun watching him do it. His face evokes the feeling of a silent movie clown, perhaps Larry Semon, the Scarecrow from the 20’s version of “The Wizard of Oz”. And - like Harry Langdon - Blue can use a seemingly vacant expression to somehow project a kind of soulfulness. With the combination of that face and his pipe-cleaner physique, Blue often looks like an elongated elf. His energy and comic commitment are pretty much bottomless. And he’s got the agility to pull off almost any kind of physical business. Early on, he does a comic bit that lands nicely. He’s a bellboy in a crowded hotel lobby. Fast-talking George O’Brien gives him a demonstration in what’s supposed to be jujitsu. “It’s all about nerve reaction; you’ve just got touch the right nerve” he explains. And wherever he jabs Blue, reflex reaction instantly causes a different body part to thrust itself out. Finally O’Brien presses his finger into Blue’s chest and Blue, instantaneously launching his head forward, plants a big kiss on O’Brien’s mouth. While everybody else (onscreen and in the audience) are processing this, Blue spots an imposing brunette beauty heading for the elevator. “Can this work on anyone?’, he asks O’Brien. “As long as you touch the right nerve”, comes the reply. With a goofily optimistic look on his face, Blue follows the haughty glamazon into the elevator. We watch as the doors close behind them and the elevator goes up one floor. It stops and comes straight down. The doors open and there’s no lady in the lift anymore. Just Blue, who emerges, dishevelled and dazed, his uniform in tatters.
“What happened?”, someone calls out.
“I must have touched the wrong nerve”. But he’s still grinning,
Actor George Tobias had a gift for comic dialects; this time out it’s Greek. He’s Mr. Popolis (“with one pop”). And even if - at the start - he mounts a hyper-charged linguistic offensive against Olcott, like most every character in the picture he eventually winds up firmly in Chauncey’s corner.
This is, after all, a Warner Brothers picture, so it’s no surprise to see Alan Hale turn up. He, too, is initially presented as a cranky obstacle to Chauncey’s progress. But that natural merriment Hale was so good at projecting eventually bubbles out from beneath the bluster and he too becomes an Olcott booster.
One-time cowboy star, George O’Brien radiates good humor (and Irishness) from the get-go as an affable champion wrestler, eventual proprietor of a gymnasium and Turkish bath where several key scenes unfold. A natural athlete and genial show-off, O’Brien even turns up in a stage tableau as a seriously underdressed discus thrower.
Who doesn’t give an inner cheer when comedian Grady Sutton shows up in a picture? This time he employs his doughy expertise to play a hypochondriac quartet singer. Just before a gig, he’s flat on his back in a hotel bed, flashing that eternally worried look of his as he stresses over imaginary ailments. Within earshot of Olcott, someone warns, “Don’t mention doctors or he’ll get panicky and faint”. Chauncey, smelling an opportunity, takes the doctor image one step further and shows up at the guy’s bedside in head-to-toe black, presenting himself as an undertaker. Sutton promptly faints and Morgan scores a singing job.
We still haven’t talked about Morgan’s actual leading lady, the Irish Rose of the title. That’s Arlene Dahl as Rose Donovan. First spotted on a runaway horse, she’s saved by Chauncey. And instantly becomes the apple of his eye. A sentiment probably shared by most men in the audience. Let’s first of all get it out of the way that Arlene Dahl’s one of the most beautiful women ever. Period. Her coloring and complexion are peaches and cream perfection – with emerald green eyes and – of course – the dramatic red hair that became her signature. It’s hard to say which benefited most – she from Technicolor, or the process itself from her presence. But – among the screen’s various candidates for Technicolor Queen – I’ve always rated Dahl number one.
What’s more, though still in her early twenties, Arlene Dahl seemed to arrive on the screen fully formed. There she was with a leading role in a big production – and there wasn’t a bit of uncertainty or hesitation in her performance. She had a lovely speaking voice and a natural ability with dialogue. Coming off as assured – but nicely vulnerable. Her character’s well-written, unusually so for a musical. But the writing couldn’t do it all. Dahl’s intrinsic gifts gave the part just the right balance of smart and sympathetic.
While catching their breath after the runaway steed incident, she and Chauncey start to talk. And - by conversation’s end - Cupid’s in the air. As she starts to remount that troublesome horse, Chauncey suggests it might not be a good idea. She responds, with a captivating smile, “Maybe I was hoping for another romantic rescue”. Dahl’s Rose quickly registers as bright, humorous, perceptive, forthright and tactful. A combination that should seem too good to be true. But the actress makes it all seem quite believable And keeps it up for the rest of the picture, adding other qualities along the way - loyalty, integrity, resourcefulness and resilience. Definitely a movie heroine worth winning. It’s quite possibly 1947’s most charming film debut. Janet Leigh made a wonderful first impression at MGM that same year in “The Romance of Rosy Ridge”. But though each picture represented a lovely star is born moment for its leading lady, Leigh’s movie wasn’t as entertaining as “My Wild Irish Rose”. So I’d say the Newcomer Cup for 1947 belongs to Dahl.
The clothes in “My Wild Irish Rose” movie are stunning. Especially Dahl’s. Some are outlandishly ornate, befrilled, beribboned , sometimes topped by preposterously pretty hats. Dahl had a flawless figure, of course. But - even more importantly - instinctively knew how to make wearing spectacularly embellished fashions seem as natural as breathing. Sadly, costume design Oscars were not introduced till 1948. But even in a year that boasted Technicolor dazzlers like “Forever Amber”, “Black Narcissus”, “Captain from Castile” and “Mother Wore Tights”, I think “My Wild Irish Rose” would have been a formidable contender.
Somehow Warners let Arlene Dahl slip out of their grasp. I seem to remember that some sort of paperwork mistake involving her contract renewal left the lady at professional liberty for a day or two. And MGM swooped in to sign her. That studio obviously realized she was a valuable property. But they didn’t handle her career as well as they might have. Instead of building her up as a top star, they stuck her in too many lame comedies and unexceptional programmers. Admittedly the studio did right by her a couple of times. She’s memorably appealing in the Fred Astaire musical “Three Little Words”. Especially in her solo number, “I Love You So Much”, sung as she’s descending a staircase while elegantly manipulating a giant pink feather fan. And check out her terrific stab at duplicity in the underseen 1951 noir “No Questions Asked”. But for every good decision made concerning Dahl’s career, MGM made several poor ones. For instance, Jose Ferrer, was set on having her as Roxane in his “Cyrano de Bergerac”, but Metro refused to loan the lady out. The film went on to Oscar winning acclaim (but, sadly, without Arlene Dahl). Some sort of compensation arrived a few years later, when – free of her MGM contract – Dahl did get to play Roxane opposite Ferrer on Broadway. And to positive reaction all round.
I like MGM’s 1952 version of “The Merry Widow”. It’s wildly opulent, tuneful - and leading man Fernando Lamas comes through mahvelously in the showcase role of his career. But – as the widow herself - Lana Turner’s a bit of a non-event. Granted, she looked better than she had in years. But her glamour’s resolutely generic. And neither merriment nor wit were really her thing. I’ve always wished Metro would have cast Arlene Dahl instead. Her brand of glamour was definitely more distinctive. She could have brought a lot more style and panache to the part. And - oh what a Technicolor dream she’d have been, rocking those extravagant period fashions –not to mention the famous Merry Widow hats. Dahl could’ve even done her own singing (Lana’s was dubbed). And she obviously had chemistry with Lamas. Not only did they co-star on screen a couple of times during the next year or two. They actually got married. A Dahl-Lamas “Merry Widow” was – sadly - not to be. But the pair did eventually perform together in a musical. They toured in a late 50’s stage production of “The King and I”. Definitely something I’d love to have seen.
Away from MGM, Dahl made the most of a couple of good movie roles, both courtesy of 20th Century Fox. She and Lauren Bacall are probably best in show in the all-star hit “Woman’s World”. And in 1959 she showed up rather unexpectedly as James Mason’s leading lady in the fondly remembered ”Journey to the Center of the Earth”. The great Mason had played opposite some distinguished actresses. But Dahl – peppery and determined - proved one of his best screen matches ever.
Arlene Dahl drifted out of movies in the 60’s, concentrating henceforth on business ventures, mostly related to the beauty industry. Around 1978 I encountered her at an event where she was endorsing something. A book? A perfume? Something else? I can’t remember now. But the lady was still lovely to look at. I got to speak to her briefly and she radiated a graciousness that (though no doubt well practised) was extremely easy to take. I do recall that what she was most eager to talk about was the news she’d heard the night before that her son Lorenzo Lamas, then unknown, had landed a role in the upcoming movie version of “Grease”. And I remember that a proud mother’s glow looked particularly becoming on her.
Though Morgan’s Chauncey is unquestionably ambitious, the script makes sure he never goes full-on Eve Harrington. At the same time, the guy’s no shrinking violet when it comes to taking advantage of circumstances. He susses out each situation, sometimes stretching ethical boundaries a bit to make sure he’s in the right place at the right time, then waits for the inevitable.
When Lillian Russell comes back on the scene, he promotes a romance (and the attendant publicity),
ignoring certain vows he’d made to Rose. He gets his come-uppance – with both ladies emerging as better and wiser than he. But he’s genuinely contrite and – because it’s Dennis Morgan – we’re soon as ready to forgive him as Rose is.
In another part of the picture, Chauncey pulls a few tricks to get a job as understudy to a veteran tenor whose voice he knows is fading. He doesn’t actually toss down any banana peels, but he’s definitely Johnny on the spot the second the star can’t go on. The aging singer in question, one William (Billy) Scanlan, is played by none other than William Frawley, Fred Mertz himself. And he does a lovely job. At the point we catch up with him, Scanlan’s been top dog Irish tenor for years. But decades of touring in Irish musicals with titles like “Mavourneen” have taken their toll – in the form of chronic throat problems. Like Fred Mertz, Scanlan can be obstreperous and open to flattery, but he’s basically a good guy in a tough spot. The toupee Frawley wears for the part – a kind of upside down bird’s nest - is a comic punch-line on its own. Olcott does some sneaky manoeuvring that allows Scanlan to hear him sing without seeing him. He’s intrigued.
“What does the guy look like?”, he asks O’Brien.
Comes the lilting response: “Why, the part of the map of Ireland they didn’t have room for on your face they gave him”.
Frawley lets his manager hire Chauncey as his understudy.
I should mention that Frawley does his own singing in the picture. Admittedly Scanlan’s supposed to be well past his prime, but Frawley’s tenor still sounds pretty good. It always reminds me of how “I Love Lucy” ’s Fred & Ethel used to catch us pleasantly off guard with the unexpectedly sweet sound of their occasional musical duets.
Eventually, his voice failing, Scanlan’s forced to lip-sync to Morgan’s offstage warbling.
Finally one night when Scanlan’s too sick to go on, Olcott takes the stage himself. The audience is initially hostile. But the veteran tenor comes out to smooth the waters and essentially pass the baton to the younger man. He does so with grace and poignancy. And Frawley plays the scene beautifully.
Olcott, now on a fast track to stardom, gives a triumphant performance back in his hometown. This time family and friends are in a fancy theater box cheering him on. A couple of them come backstage to congratulate him. But his mom’s too moved by it all and has remained quietly alone in the box. Olcott, still in costume, walks softly into the now darkened theater and approaches her. She can barely look at him, saying, “Now the whole world’s celebrating your talent. But I should have been the first to see it and encourage it … and I didn’t”. To which a gently smiling Chauncey responds with a beautiful rendition of “Mother Machree”, just for her. It’s a lovely moment, the theater empty except for a couple of tearily approving cleaning ladies. It’s another sequence where Sara Allgood’s simply magnificent. What she conveys just listening to the song adds grace notes to every moment of it. In short, whatever the Warner Brothers were paying her, it wasn’t enough.
By the way, though Individual details in the film may be well-spun scriptwriter fantasies, it should be noted that William Scanlan was – like Lillian Russell – a real-life celebrity whose path Olcott did fortuitously cross.
As noted, lesser known vintage composers chosen as biopic subjects usually had a couple of songs still somewhat familiar to audiences of the 40’s and 50’s. But to keep customers musically engaged throughout, film-makers tended to augment the scores with well-known tunes from the era – or with newly composed material from studio-contracted tunesmiths. “My Wild Irish Rose” has several freshly minted songs –written by M.K. Jerome and Ted Koehler. Served up in accessible show biz style, these new numbers are all plusses.
The film brims over with musical set pieces, overseen by Warners’ house choreographer LeRoy Prinz. The straightforward proscenium style was seemingly favored by LeRoy Prinz (and by implication, Warner Brothers, since they employed him for so many years). And that’s basically the formula he sticks to in “My Wild Irish Rose”. Yet, everything seems to be a little livelier and more enthusiastic here. More effectively organized than usual, as well.
There are not one but two (now problematic) minstrel show numbers. In the second they don’t just resort to blackface. Half the men onstage are decked out in doo-rag drag as well. In an age when RuPaul’s Drag Race is accepted as fully approved mainstream entertainment, who’s to say whether the cross-dressing component makes the number less or more woke for modern audiences. I guess the burnt-cork blackface approach trumps everything else, though, rendering all other elements moot.
The number’s set to a terrific Jerome-Koehler tune called “The Natchez and the Robert E. Lee”. And the cinematographer helps spice things up, occasionally upending the proscenium style presentation with some unusual angles and giddy camera tilts that help keep the whole thing galloping nicely. The onstage presentation of a riverboat race is also quite cleverly conceived for both stage and screen. The whole thing’s pretty intricately choreographed and the entire company goes full-tilt throughout. A limber Ben Blue (in comedy drag as leading lady Lindy Lou) performs with particular verve. I guess you either turn the picture off at this point. Or tell yourself this is all about historical context and continue watching.
No burnt cork in the movie’s big finale. Just plenty of County Cork. This number’s Irish to the nth degree.
If you don’t like jigs, pony carts or the color green avert your eyes. The stage is packed to the brim with constant movement and song, the backdrop’s a colorful St, Paddy’s Day dream. And Morgan looks and sings like a beguiling embodiment of all things Irish. There’s really nothing negative to say about what’s on display. The happy ending we all knew was coming has been confirmed. This number simply stands as a lovely culmination of all the Technicolor fun that’s preceded it.
The company puts every bit of Irish enthusiasm they’ve got into the dances; routines and melodies
flow into each other with a precision that somehow manages to seem spontaneous. At one point, Morgan drives onto the stage in a pony cart, with a gaggle of beautiful colleens in green (what else?) beside him. One of them’s a debuting Penny Edwards, joining Morgan for a few captivating bars. She makes an instant impression. And was, in fact, immediately catapulted into one of the leads in the next Morgan/Carson film. Eventually Edwards became a Trucolor queen at Republic - as Roy Rogers’ leading lady when Dale Evans was otherwise engaged. But she never looked or sounded more wonderful than she does in “My Wild Irish Rose”. The marathon number also includes some jaw-dropping acrobatic dancing from a guy named Lou Wills Jr. Hurtling onto the stage as a jack in the box who’s leaped out of his container, Wills propels himself into an extended series of twists, turns, hyper-flips and assorted super-cool moves that still look pretty amazing. And at the end, happily exhausted, the guy flashes a winning “Gee, I made it” grin”.
The final spotlight, though, lingers on star Dennis Morgan gently singing “Hush-a-bye, Wee Rose of Killarney” (another Jerome-Koehler original) to a pretty little child. The scene becomes even more endearing if you know that the little girl onscreen was actually Morgan’s own nine year old daughter, Kristin. Kudos to director David Butler (Thank Your Lucky Stars, San Antonio, Calamity Jane) for once again figuring out how to pull ten thousand threads together and combine them all into one terrific picture. The best musicals charm not just during the songs but between them as well. And this one does just that.
Modern reaction would depend on one’s own level enthusiasm for Irish tenors, squeaky-clean romances and movie musicals in general (not to mention shillelaghs and shamrocks).
My ninety-three year old mother loves “Hello Dolly”, “Funny Girl”, “Far and Away”, “Crazy Rich Asians” and … wait for it … “The Blue Max” {she’s very partial to George Peppard}. But her favorite film is probably “My Wild Irish Rose”. It’s also a favorite of mine. But then neither of us are exactly “Transformer” fans.
“My Wild Irish Rose’ is not part of the MCU. But it definitely holds a place of honor in the MMU (Movie Musical Universe). That’s a cycle that goes back further. And – for some of us –still strikes the sweetest note.
 
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Bert Greene

Supporting Actor
Joined
Apr 1, 2004
Messages
932
Great write-up, Beckford. A ton of fascinating insights to chew on. It always did seem amazing in that time at just how reflective the world of entertainment had become towards itself and its origins, seemingly compelled by both nostalgia and a sense of finally imbuing an aura of historic respect and 'legitimacy' that it didn't exactly maintain in its early days. The only clunker note indeed being the dogged embrace of minstrel fare, which the old show-biz stalwarts still included in their romantic canopy despite modern 1940s audiences having pretty much moved on. These musical period-pieces and biopics usually pull me in competing directions. I have an innate nostalgia gene and seem to vicariously groove on it, but the cliched storytelling and the glossy artificiality of the eras they purport to evoke invariably undermines things for me.

I've always found that early era of entertainment intriguing, with its more grassroots, more organic ties. That mix of small touring companies, nickelodeons, vaudeville, 10-20-30 melodramas, riverboat jazz bands, regional opera houses, Chautauqua, medicine shows, and even early Tin Pan Alley stuff. Although a hard-scrabble backdrop, the 'bottom-up' connection the entertainment world had to the culture at large always interested me more than the 'top-down' transition ultimately created by mass media. In fact, any interest I have in the stage/theatrical milieu tends to drop like a rock in the postwar years. Hit a similar brick wall with musicals not too long after the Universal mixture of Ryan/O'Connor teen-fests with the Jivin' Jacks and Jills, or Ann Miller's tapping in Paramount's "Priorities on Parade" as Jerry Colonna is croaking out the immortal tune "Cooperate with Your Air-Raid Warden."
 

bestactor

Agent
Joined
Aug 13, 2012
Messages
36
Real Name
TJK
Since many comments are adding titles from other studios and decades--
*Where's Charley (WB 1952)-captures Ray Bolger's finest role, very nice adaptation of Loesser's musical
*Another Part of the Forest (UNIV 1948)-prequel to The Little Foxes. Fredric March, Dan Duryea, Ann Blyth
*Dark at the Top of the Stairs (WB 1960)--How this fine film is MIA deserves investigation! Delbert Mann directs Robert Preston, Angela Lansbury, Dorothy McGuire, Shirley Knight, Eve Arden in William Inge's film adaptation. Was critically acclaimed in 1960.
*All the Way Home (PAR 1963)--brilliant film adaptation of Tad Mosel's play of Agee's A Death in the Family--Jean Simmons, Robert Preston.
*Call Me Madam(FOX 1953)--probably the best film adaptation of an Irving Berlin musical, Merman's best film, Donald O'Connor and Vera Ellen give spectacular performances
 

Beckford

Stunt Coordinator
Joined
Oct 15, 2021
Messages
136
Real Name
Ken
1947 Part 2
BORN TO KILL
“Born to Kill” is a movie I feel confident in recommending to all film noir lovers. If the film’s available to you in some form – and you haven’t yet seen it, go for it. It’s not out on Blu-ray at this point but I don’t expect the format will bypass it much longer. This picture’s just got too many things going for it that qualify as noir-fan catnip. Including the onscreen participation of three genre icons – Lawrence Tierney, Claire Trevor and Elisha Cook Jr.
It boasts plenty of the moody, chiaroscuro photography noir lovers crave. And radiates the atmosphere of moral murkiness identified with so many of the genre’s pinnacle works. The film does a great job of capturing the angst nestling balefully within the American dream. Not to mention the inexorable sense that fate is the hunter and there’s no escape.
This is a handsome RKO production, released when noir’s momentum was building to a climax. And in the late 40’s RKO was at the genre’s forefront with celebrated titles like “Murder, My Sweet”, “Out of the Past”, “Crossfire”, “The Set-Up” and “They Live By Night”.
“Born to Kill” also has a hefty body count. The film was, in fact, notorious in its day for violence, both shown and implied. There’s no shortage of tense situations, some portrayed with unusual explicitness. A perceived atmosphere of moral turpitude in the script caused guardians of public virtue, class of ’47, much pearl-clutching. The picture was even banned in some cities. It still plays with a kind of pre-code rawness. The film-makers even slip in the word “damn” – hard to do in the 40’s. It may be couched within the semi-respectability of an antique phrase ( “I don’t give a tinker’s damn)”, but the word’s still delivered with vehemence. Hard to say whether the fact that it’s spoken by a woman made it more or less of a jolt for 40’s audiences. Certainly, it still jumps out at anyone acclimated to 40’s code-enforced verbal pussyfooting.
The whole thing’s helmed by Robert Wise, someone who - by 1947 - had already racked up an impressive CV . The guy had edited RKO classics like the Charles Laughton version of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Plus “Citizen Kane” and “The Magnificent Ambersons”. Then made an impressive leap into directing with one of the very best Lewton films, “The Curse of the Cat People”. After confirming his mastery in noir, Robert Wise went on to establish himself as a director of massive versatility - in sci-fi (“The Day the Earth Stood Still”), spectacle (“Helen of Troy”), horror (“The Haunting”) and musicals (“West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music”). Wise made a great return to noir in ’59 with the terrific “Odds Against Tomorrow”. And was still going strong in the 70’s. I love 1975’s “The Hindenburg”. And “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” made a massive splash at the box-office in 1979, initially outgrossing “Alien” and “Apocalypse Now”.
“Born to Kill” ’s set-up is instantly absorbing. Helen, a recent divorcee, is a sophisticated woman in her 30’s. Used to being the smartest person in the room, she moves in an affluent set. Problem is she’s financially dependent on the kindness of a wealthy relative. And – smarting that she can’t quite control the (purse)strings of her own destiny – finds herself stifling increasing bitterness. This is a not unlikeable woman; one whose life could go either way – toward the light or toward the dark. An engagement to a wealthy man – nice but on the dull side - seems like a sensible move. And she’s set on going through with it. Yet still yearns for something more. When Helen stumbles on a murder scene, she leaves without reporting it, coolly preferring to remain uninvolved. But wheels have been set in motion ensuring a level of involvement that will eventually overwhelm her. At first, the mounting situation intrigues and excites her; but when she begins surrendering to her more reckless impulses, the ramifications start seeping poisonously into every aspect of her life.
Helen’s the movie’s central character. And the marvelous Claire Trevor gives the role her considerable all. Apparently Tallulah Bankhead was originally sought. But I’m glad that casting didn’t happen. Entertaining as Bankhead could be, she was just too flamboyantly theatrical a personality to disappear into this or possibly any part. Not that anyone who hired Bankhead expected or wanted her to disappear into a part. But she inevitably approached her dialogue as a series of coups de theatre. Not right for Helen. Trevor, on the other hand, has a gift for remaining understated but still compellingly watchable; her characters tend to be grounded in a thoroughly real and recognizably human way. Ida Lupino could have played the part effectively. But she wouldn’t have been better than Claire Trevor. This performance remains one of the lady's career highlights.
Top-billed Lawrence Tierney was riding a wave at the time, having recently struck gold in the surprise hit “Dillinger”. The guy was something of a one-off. Physically imposing – like a Frankenstein monster whose creator had found a way to graft an unsettling version of handsomeness onto him. But no less dangerous – with the cold-eyed look of a killer. He sometimes makes me think of a wrong side of the tracks Hurd Hatfield. Tierney’s minimalist acting style wasn’t what you’d normally call impressive. Yet, he impresses. The actor speaks with the refrigerated monotone of George Raft. But the entire effect is undoubtedly arresting. His character, Sam, is coldly magnetic and fearless to the point of folly.
This is the guy Helen meets – by chance – and immediately the sparks start flying. Even if the heat Sam generates is of the dry ice variety. Helen’s wavering moral compass makes her open to bad influences. And they don’t come any badder than Tierney’s conscienceless Sam.
Whatever Sam’s emotional deficiencies, he has a built in detector when it comes to recognizing potential ruthlessness in others.
“Your roots are down where mine are. I knew that the first time I looked at you”, and Helen shudders with barely concealed excitement at his frankness.
Helen doesn’t tell Sam about her engagement - but privately has no plans to give it up; she also sends out clear signals that she’s up for some sideline hanky panky. Helen initially believes she can call the shots and keep things on the down-low. But when Sam unexpectedly shows up at a swanky family and friends get-together at Helen’s, she’s at a loss as to how to manage unfolding developments.
Sam makes a cutting remark to her about crossing the tracks with a bag of goodies for the poor boy then scooting back to where she came from. And Helen loses some of her composure.
When Sam finds out that Helen’s foster sister is the one with the money, he immediately moves in on her. This guy definitely seems to have what the ladies want. As scrawny little housemaid Ellen Corby observes, “His eyes get me. They run up and down you like a searchlight”.
And – in no time flat – Sam and Miss Moneybags are engaged, then married. The bride’s all starry eyed. Sam’s feelings are somewhat less romantic. “Marrying into that crowd I can spit in anybody’s eye”.
To make matters worse, Helen’s still living in the family mansion with the newlyweds. The whole situation sticks in her craw, roiling up her discontent and frustration even more. From there, events proceed on a downward spiral.
One of the most fascinating aspects of “Born to Kill” is the curious relationship between Sam and sidekick Marty (Elisha Cook Jr.) We don’t get much in the way of backstory about them. But apparently the two have been living together for five years, moving – it seems – from town to town, from one seedy hotel room double bed to another. Maybe they met in prison. Who knows? But the relationship’s become pretty symbiotic.
As cagey as Sam can be in the moment, he seldom thinks too far ahead. And constantly overestimates his own capabilities. Once he’s hooked the heiress, he figures – with not a whit of experience - he can start running the massive family newspaper business. His urge to get even is something else that can’t be overestimated. “I never let anybody cut in on me”. Sam has a violent temper combined with zero sympathy for any of the victims of his murderous rage.
He also has no doubts about his power over women. Marty has stayed behind smoothing out complications created by Sam’s last mess. In a phone call from San Francisco Sam tells Marty about the impending wedding. “Hurry up and get here”, he says, “I don’t know how long I can hold her off”.
It’s no doubt due to Marty’s efforts that Sam isn’t in jail or dead. Marty’s operates not just as sounding board and enabler. He’s also in charge of talking Sam down, of relocating the stopper when his rage valve blows. Sometimes his job basically consists of trying to undetonate dynamite. Though Marty spends most of his time trying clean up Sam’s messes he still adores the guy– is magnetically drawn to him. He also displays zero remorse about any of the victims of Sam’s brutality. Marty’s sole motivation is to keep Sam free from consequences, in the process insuring their continued interdependence.
When Marty finds out a gal’s been two-timing Sam, his honest reaction, is “What dame in her right mind could resist you?”
Helen’s fiancée and her foster-sister (played by Philip Terry and Audrey Long) are little more than babes in the woods in this scenario, with Long especially unaware of the battery acid that’s coursing through the halls of her mansion. These two – their feelings and their lives - eventually wind up as so much collateral damage.
A far more intriguing figure is shady private detective Albert Arnett played by the invaluable Walter Slezak. The actor moves through his surroundings with unctuous delicacy. Speaking in an accent that make his origins provokingly unclear, he employs a wheedling tone - at once deferential, impudent and insinuating. Constantly spouting bible quotations and making them sound like leering limericks.
Physically and morally unkempt, Arnett’s a moistly plump slug, a stain on his surroundings wherever he goes. But he’s hard to shake. And wily – an expert at gauging the level of corruption around him, forever ferreting out information from people with no desire to share it. The guy delights in testing the limits of what will intrigue and what will get him a slap in the face (he never gets one, though you can feel the urge in the air whenever he’s questioning women). In short, this is the last man Helen wants to show up snooping into her affairs. But show up he does.
Even with the high level of accomplishment on display throughout the film, I think my favorite element may be the supporting performance of character actress Esther Howard. Born in 1892, Esther made her initial mark on stage as a pretty ingenue. She eventually transitioned to films. But by the 40’s her stock in trade had become comic matrons and aging floozies. She was a regular member of Preston Sturges’ virtual repertory company at Paramount, especially remembered from “Sullivan’s Travels” as the rural spinster with a major yen for hunky Joel McCrea. Over the years, the large eyes that had projected a melting Marion Davies comeliness somehow acquired the curious big-orbed intensity of a Margaret Keane painting. By the late 40’s Howard was specializing in blowsy harridans, giving the type one of its most masterfully layered exhibitions in “Born to Kill”. With the combined forces of the makeup department and the lady's own acting genius, that pretty face of yore now gave off a sunken aura of mildewed decomposition. With an enthusiastically applied layer of powder and paint intensifying rather than mitigating the effect.
The picture opens in Reno where Helen has gone to finalize her divorce. She’s been staying at a small boarding house run by one Mrs. Kraft (Esther Howard). Helen enters, divorce decree in hand, to find
Mrs. K and her buddy, Laurey (Isabel Jewell) in high (booze-fueled) spirits. This is a duo made in Rooming House Heaven (or Hell), Mrs. K, decked out like a sideshow fortune teller, cackling hysterically (she thinks Laurey’s a laugh a minute). And Laurey regaling her with the latest details of her love-life. Seems she’s got a new beau but tonight she’s stepping out with the previous one. “Why go out with the old one?”, brays Mrs.K.
“To needle the new one”, Laurey shoots back. Sending the old gal into another spasm of laughter. Younger and trimmer, Laurey doesn’t sport the badly stuffed sofa look Mrs. K seems to be going for. She’s more of a skin and bones floozie. But though her outfit may cling to her scrawny form, it’s still decidedly over the top. The dress itself, popping with a busy floral pattern makes enough of an overstatement on its own. But she’s set the thing off with a mammoth rhinestone brooch pinned to the center of her chest – a misplaced sun that’s somehow blundered into the wrong universe.
Watching Isabel Jewell as a life of the party type is a new experience for me. I’m used to seeing her in various stages of droopy downerism. Sharing a tumbril ride to the guillotine in “A Tale of Two Cities”, exceeding her limit of negative emotional baggage on that plane in “Lost Horizon” or wanly fighting a losing battle against fate in Lewton Land.
In “Born to Kill” she’s happily knocking back the beers (though she can’t quite match Mrs. K’s rate of consumption). Helen observes them with wry detachment, cordially tolerant of the two low-lives. But she just wants to settle her bill and get going. The landlady, however, loudly urges her to join them. Helen politely declines. But that doesn’t stop Mrs. K from yelling out to the housemaid for more beer (“and hop to it!”). When that woebegone creature appears with the news that they’re all out, Mrs. K goes nuts. As if it’s the maid’s fault those beers have been disappearing at such a clip.
When Laurey talks admiringly of her sexy new boyfriend, Mrs. K slumps into momentary deflation.
“My two husbands was turnips”. Seems both Laurey and Mrs. K are divorcees (the two have kept their married names) – and – as it turns out – both own reasonably nice houses (next door to each other). As neither seems particularly industrious, it’s possible both homes come courtesy of divorce settlements. Anyway Laurey’s soon heading out for that night on the town she’s bent on having. Unfortunately it turns out to be her last night on earth. Good-natured but reckless - and definitely bad judgment personified - she’s about to figure in one of the film’s most stunningly mounted set-pieces of sudden, startling violence. It’s the last we'll see of Laurey. But not of Mrs. K.
A few scenes later that lady’s in San Francisco, engaged - with a drunkard’s determination - on a quest to solve her best friend’s murder. She’s arranged a meeting with a private detective (enter Walter Slezak). Though she doesn’t know it, this guy’s too sketchy to have an office, so they meet on a park bench.
In broad daylight – away from her Reno lair – Mrs. K looks blowsier than ever, an in your face burp of a woman. This time her outfit has a mass of tassles and doodads dangling from it - with a tired fur piece drooping dejectedly around her shoulders. She looks very much like the last table of unsold goods at a yard sale.
We eventually see her in her San Francisco hotel headquarters, morning sun peering into a room thick with empty bottles and stale cigarette smoke. It’s here we get to watch her share further encounters with Trevor, Cook and Slezak. And it’s a joy to see Esther Howard interacting with these icons. She doesn’t so much steal scenes as elevate them. Making her partners, experts themselves, up their own games just to keep pace with her.
One of the movie’s climactic set-pieces is a midnight encounter between Howard and Elisha Cook in a sandy waste on the city’s outskirts. It’s wonderfully mounted and photographed, full of harrowing tension. And there’s an ugly, protracted struggle involved that calls on tremendous physicality from both actors. Definitely a sequence that belongs in the Noir Hall of Fame.
Helen, meanwhile, has abandoned all scruples. She’s determined to make the old gal drop her investigation and shows up at the lady’s hotel room. By this point, a supremely spooked Mrs. K has pretty much dispensed with make-up and all assorted fashion flounces. What’s left is just a bone-weary, frightened old woman. Helen proceeds to terrify her further with a threateningly detailed description of the slow, painful violent death she might be facing if the meddling doesn’t stop.
As Mrs.K sees Helen to the door, she trains her gaze on her and says slowly, “You’re the coldest thing I’ve ever seen”. Followed by a parting gesture I’ll leave you to enjoy when you see the film.
1947 boasted a brilliant crop of supporting performances from Hollywood actresses. Boiling it down to a top five would mean ignoring great work from names like Ethel Barrymore, Gloria Grahame, Mary Astor, Anne Revere and Shelley Winters.
But though none of the following ladies were actually nominated that year my Oscar candidates for 1947 would have been:

Esther Howard (“Born to Kill”)
Ruth Warrick (“Daisy Kenyon”)
Joan Blondell (“Nightmare Alley”)
Helen Walker (“Nightmare Alley”)
Natalie Wood (“Miracle on 34th Street”)

Hard to pick a winner there - though It might be nice to picture that Oscar under little Natalie’s Christmas tree. And to imagine the other four raising an egg nog toast to her. But you can bet if Esther Howard’s Mrs. Kraft had anything to say about it, that libation would be heavily and heartily spiked.
 
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Henry Gondorff

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It's probably been mentioned here before, but I'd like to see a properly restored version of John Huston's Moby Dick 1956.

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