Bye, Mildred

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Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a very bumpy blogathon (OK, I couldn’t resist ūüôā ).

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Source: Subscene

It’s a fact of life that not all attraction is mutual. It’s also a fact that sometimes relationships happen because one person wants to throw the other a bone. It is yet another fact that abuse can come from any corner, and can be as hard to separate from as Super Glue from skin. Like lots of people, I had to learn these lessons, and they’re tough pills to swallow. 1934’s¬†Of¬†Human Bondage¬†explores the effects of toxic relationships, and one man’s efforts to gain freedom.

The film reunites Bette Davis with her co-star from¬†The¬†Petrified Forest, Leslie Howard. Most of the action revolves around Howard’s character, ¬†Philip Carey, a man with clubfoot who tries to be an artist in Paris, only to be told he has no future in it. Philip then proceeds to Plan B, which is to go to medical school. He seems to be plugging along at it, except for his professor’s condescending attitude towards him about his clubfoot. “It’s not interesting,” he says. Philip protests, but in a half-hearted way, as if he’s expecting to be kicked around.

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Something interesting up there, Mildred? (Source: The Film Experience)

One fateful day, a friend asks Philip to be his wingman and help him impress the pretty Cockney waitress at the local watering hole. As it sometimes happens with these types of schemes, however, his friend gets bored and Philip is the one to be taken with the waitress, whose name is Mildred.

Philip asks Mildred to dinner, and she’s a cold fish. Not even champagne thaws her out. It’s not that Mildred’s the hard-to-get type, either. Her disdain for Philip is obvious–she doesn’t bother to look at him properly at first, let alone smile, not even when he’s a customer at her place of employment. On the other hand, it’s probably a good thing that Mildred doesn’t often look at Philip straight on, because when she does, he’s hypnotized. As if under a spell, he’s got to hang around her restaurant waiting for her to get off work and beg her to go out with him. Philip winces as he sees Mildred carry on with a mustachioed, gregarious businessman named Emil Miller (Alan Hale). He’s so lovesick that his classroom work suffers. Philip is a lot like Walter Mitty in a way. He blissfully dreams of he and Mildred having a passionate love affair, complete with champagne toasts and him dancing brilliantly in spite of his clubfoot, along with Mildred’s Cockney accent magically disappearing.

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Don’t get caught. (Source:¬†TV Tropes)

Meanwhile, the reality is a lot less rosy. It’s not until Mildred tells Philip she’s been seeing Emil on the side that he really falls apart. He bombs his next exam at medical school, and thinks the only way to cheer up is to reunite with Mildred. She is amiable about the whole thing until Philip asks her to marry him, and Mildred blithely informs him she’s going to marry Emil. Devastated, Philip spends a lot of time walking back and forth, up and down the street, looking placidly morose. I groaned a bit as time went on, thinking, “Dude, you could do so much better.”

Philip rebounds with Norah (Kay Johnson), a romance writer who encourages him to do the best he can at school. She’s Mildred’s polar opposite, gentle and motherly. Norah obviously loves Philip and he gets a twinkle in his eye whenever he looks at her.

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Two degrees of torture. (Source: IMDb)

Unfortunately, though, our hero still can’t catch a break. Mildred suddenly reappears, pregnant and alone again. She goes all penitent and tells Philip she wants things to be different because Philip had always been kind to her. Ever the gentleman, Philip goes to see Emil and tells him he ought to marry Mildred or at least support her, at which Emil pulls out a photo of his wife and child. Whoops. Philip then takes it upon himself to provide for Mildred, while the bewildered and heartbroken Norah sends him telegrams, wondering why he hasn’t been to see her. The two break their relationship off, and Philip throws himself into caring for Mildred. Philip seems to think he can save Mildred, as if he’s a romantic hero and she’s the damsel in distress.

There’s only one not-so-minor problem, and it isn’t exactly a shock: Mildred has no intention of becoming a dutiful wife. She has a baby girl, but then sends her to an orphanage because she’s not interested in being a mother, and she’s plainly still bored with Philip. Ever trying to appease her, Philip invites his friend, Harry (Reginald Denny), over. Harry and Mildred laugh and carry on just a little too intimately, while Philip stands awkwardly by, and it soon becomes apparent that Harry is Mildred’s new Emil. Instead of striding forlornly up and down the streets, however, Philip kicks Mildred out. His friendship with Harry is rather icy for a long time as well, even though Harry dropped Mildred pretty quickly.

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At last! Someone who understands. (Source: Inafferrabile Leslie)

Free of Mildred again for the time being, Philip throws himself into his medical studies. One of his patients is a jovial Welshman, Mr. Altheny (Reginald Owen), who just happens to have a pretty daughter named Sally (Frances Dee). Mr. Altheny insists Philip come to dinner after he’s well, which turns out to be one of the nicest parts of the film, even though it’s late in the game, because Philip relaxes for the first time. He and Sally quickly fall in love, and everything is going great. If only the proverbial bad penny didn’t turn up again. And again, in even worse shape than before. Will Philip hop off Mildred’s carousel for good, or will he make another fruitless effort to grab the brass ring?

Of Human Bondage is a no-holds barred portrayal of abuse and also codependency. Anyone who’s ever been in a similar situation or knows someone who has may find it tough to watch. It’s not just that Mildred treats Philip like dirt, but she treats herself like dirt as well. In fact, she’s her own worst enemy. She’s habitually attracted to unavailable men, and she seems determined to drag others down with her. Philip trying to break free of Mildred reminds me of that Twitter meme, “Bye, Felicia.” It’s a bit from an Ice-T movie called Friday¬†(which I would not recommend to anyone under any circumstances). This woman named Felicia tries to sponge off Ice-T’s character and his buddy, but Ice-T is so jaded towards her that he dismisses her with “Bye, Felicia.” ¬†I so, so wanted Philip to have his “Bye Felicia” moment, where he tells Mildred to take a hike, and I also wanted him to shake off his fantasies of being the romantic hero and decide to be a real one. As it happens,¬†Of Human Bondage¬†winds up nicely. It’s sad for some characters, but satisfying for others.

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Reality bites hard sometimes. (Source: IMDb)

As far as the cast is concerned, there are some deft performances put in. Leslie Howard’s acting is always on point, and he really made me root for Philip. Bette’s turn as Mildred was, well, a teeny bit scary. She has a meltdown scene in the film that would give any of Joan Crawford’s plenty of competition. Crawford brought a lot of anger to her meltdowns, but I have to say, the daggers shooting from Bette’s eyes in Of Human Bondage had quite a bit of edge. On the other hand, Bette’s Cockney accent was a bit muddled, as she goes from Cockney to mid-Atlantic to high-class Brit all through the film. Maybe accents weren’t her thing. However, I can see why this film made her a star, because she lays it all out there–her Mildred almost literally deteriorates onscreen. It is definitely a memorable performance, and Of Human Bondage is a memorable movie. It’s not something to watch when feeling blue, but it’s a captivating film.

That concludes my Day One in¬†The Second Annual Bette Davis Blogathon. If anyone would like to see more about Bette, please visit¬†In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Until tomorrow, all…

 

A Highly Ordinary Life

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Source: Wikipedia

Producer Lynn Novick once called the generation that fought World War Two “reticent,” and this is absolutely true. These men believe that they’re no one special, and that they went to war because they knew they had a duty to defend their nation. Most of them weren’t career soldiers but regular guys who went off and did something they probably had never dreamed they were capable of, and millions upon millions of fascinating stories have resulted. One of the most famous of these in that time was that of Private Al Schmid, whose experiences were ably and movingly portrayed by John Garfield in the 1945 film,¬†Pride of the Marines.

Al Schmid is a native of Philadelphia who boards with his friends, Jim and Ella Mae Merchant, (John Ridgely and Ann Doran). Schmid is a welder who prides himself on his independence and toughness, but Ella Mae can’t resist setting him up with women. The first time we see Al he’s pulling up to a house on the 6500 block of Tulip Street and getting out of his car with a big bouquet of flowers for Ella Mae and Jim’s anniversary. Much to Al’s chagrin, Ella Mae has invited her friend Ruth (Eleanor Parker), who just happens to be single, to dinner. Al is suspicious, but when Ella Mae tells him Ruth is a terrific bowler, he’s intrigued.

pridemarinesscreencap1As it turns out, though, Ruth is the furthest thing from a terrific bowler, and Al gives her some grief about trying to hook a husband. Ruth calls Al a drip and storms out, leaving Al stunned. Not being used to a woman giving his guff right back to him, Al starts pursuing Ruth, and they fall in love. Their romance isn’t the typical lovey-dovey stuff, but playfully combative banter that’s fun to watch.

Since it’s 1941, Pearl Harbor looms. So many of the movies made about the war while it was taking place use Pearl Harbor as a major plot point. Naturally, this was done because Pearl Harbor was the moment for many Americans when things changed forever, but it also reminded audiences what plunged us into the war in the first place. When Al hears about the attack, he dismisses it for approximately thirty seconds before deciding to join the Marines. The day before he leaves, Al’s stubborn independence crops up, and he tells Ruth to not bother coming to the station, but to move on with her life. Ruth shows up anyway, and long story short, she and Al get engaged.

prideofthemarinesscreencap5Al is assigned to Guadalcanal, where he helps man a gun crew overlooking the river. He and his two crewmates, Johnny Rivers (Anthony Caruso) and Lee Diamond (Dane Clark), are beyond exhausted, but they know there are Japanese forces across the river, so they wait, picking off enemy soldiers whenever they see them. Unfortunately, Johnny dies from a shot to the head and Lee is badly wounded in the shoulder, so it’s up to Al to man the gun by himself, and the Japanese keep coming. There are shouts from everywhere: “Marine, tonight you die!” and Al mows them down, shouting back, “Why can’t I shut you up?” in a mixture of frustration, anger and terror. Then, just as things seem to be going quiet, a Japanese soldier crawls up to the foxhole with a grenade, and the last thing Al sees is his face and the explosion.

Blinded, Al picks up a gun, and Lee pleads with him not to kill himself. Amazingly enough, though, Al begs, “Tell me where they are, Lee! I’ll shoot ’em. Tell me where they are!”

It’s later revealed that Al was able to kill 200 Japanese soldiers under Lee’s direction, but the movie skips over the actual incident. The next thing we see is Ruth working at her office. Her Uncle Ralph calls her to let her know Al is in the Naval Hospital in San Diego. Then we see Al with his eyes bandaged, writing a letter to Ruth with the help of Red Cross worker Virginia Pfeiffer (Rosemary DeCamp). He doesn’t have much to talk about, just fluffy wait-until-I-get-my-hands-on-you generalities, mainly because he doesn’t want to tell anyone what he’s really thinking. Virginia doesn’t buy Al’s breezy act, though, and is concerned about Al hiding from his fianc√©.

Al asks Virginia to be in the room with him when he gets the bandages off. He has no hope of seeing much, but he’s positive he’ll see something. And…no. The doctor shines the light full in his face, but Al is completely blind. The doctor tries to reassure him that he can adjust to being blind, that it’s not a death sentence, and Al stormily refuses to listen. Understandably, he’s devastated and scared.

prideofthemarinesscreencap3Al’s not alone in his fear.¬†Pride of the Marines deals very frankly with the practicalities of returning to civilian life, and there’s a lengthy scene in a hospital ward in which the characters discuss some pressing concerns. Soldiers during World War Two had good reason to be nervous. After the first World War, many veterans came home to find there was no place for them in civilian life. They had no guarantee of getting their former jobs back, and they had no money. In 1924, the government promised Great War veterans a thousand-dollar bonus, to be paid in 1945, but that was cold comfort to men who were in dire straits. Their dissatisfaction culminated in a bonus march¬†on Washington, D.C. in 1932, with little to show for their pains. World War Two veterans were afraid of history repeating itself, even though there had been reforms since 1932. Theoretically, they were supposed to get their old jobs back. They had the G.I. Bill providing them with money to help them get on their feet, with college tuition besides if they wanted it. The characters in¬†Pride of the Marines voice some possible flaws in this seemingly ideal set-up, such as a job not existing anymore, or being pushed out by cheap labor. The film also deftly handles the barriers presented by race and ethnicity, and how many Americans felt marginalized.

On the other hand, though, the film went to great lengths to reassure veterans that they always had help available. They had friends and family who wouldn’t let them be left out in the cold. It also reminded them of the power Americans have to affect positive change, and that veterans have a unique vantage point when it comes to appreciating what America is meant to be. While this aspect of the film has been criticized for slowing down the narrative, in 1945 it would have imparted important messages to returning servicemen and civilians.

prideofthemarinesscreencap4In spite of the encouragement, Al still has a lot to learn, and is hard-pressed to come to terms with his new normal. He’s sent back to Philadelphia to recover in the Naval Hospital there and receive the Navy Cross. He’s broken up with Ruth, but Virginia explains the situation to her and Ruth is determined to fight for Al. How will it all work out? Well, here’s a spoiler: The real-life Al and Ruth got married and had two sons.

I honestly believe John Garfield and Eleanor Parker deserved Oscars for their performances in¬†Pride of the Marines. Their portrayals of Al and Ruth were honest and intense, as they should have been. Not only are they incredible actors, but both Garfield and Parker spent time with the real Al and Ruth, even going to 6504 Tulip Street, where Al boarded, as well as other locations around Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the movie only got one measly Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. My guess is that the raw emotion the cast, and John Garfield in particular, showed throughout the movie might have made Academy members uncomfortable, as actors of that day were supposed to retain at least a measure of cool. Veterans’ issues may not have been something the studios wanted to delve into all that much, anyway. The success of the few movies that were made about the aftermath of war, such as¬†The Best Years Of Our¬†Lives,¬†show that there was obviously a market for these types of films. It’s too bad, it really is, because what these men faced when they came home deserved to be examined and understood by the public.

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Ruth and Al Schmid (Source: findagrave.com)

When studying history, and in particular, war, it’s easy to forget that in the shadows of the heroes and personalities, wars have been fought by countless no-names. People who will never get famous (or stay famous) are the ones who do most of the fighting and then the cleanup afterwards. It’s how life is. Fame can be highly overrated anyway, and glory-grabbing shouldn’t be a reason to fight a war. I think Al Schmid would agree. Thank heaven he was one of many ordinary guys who just happened to do something extraordinary.¬†Pride of the Marines¬†is a fitting tribute to Al Schmid and his fellow veterans.

That concludes Day Three. For more entries in the¬†John Garfield: The Original Rebel Blogathon, please visit¬†Phyllis Loves Classic Movies.¬†Thanks for reading, and thanks heaps to Phyl for hosting. See you on March 24th for The Second Annual¬†Bette Davis Blogathon, hosted by¬†In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood!¬†Have a great month, everyone…

Waiting For Judgement

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Source:¬†I’d Love To Kiss You But I Just Washed My Hair

What happens after death is an interesting question, maybe a little scary, but very important. I definitely didn’t start this blog to proselytize, and I’m not going to start now, but death is something we’ll all face someday. The problem is, no one who dies can tell the rest of us what it’s like–all we can do is speculate.¬†Between Two Worlds, a 1944 film featuring such greats as John Garfield, Eleanor Parker, and Paul Henreid, reflects one view of the workings of the afterlife.

It is wartime London. At a steamship office, groups of people are sitting around waiting for transportation to ships bound for America. The departure board is blank except for a giant chalk “X” and there are posters everywhere reminding people that the enemy would love to know what they know. We see a line of passengers sitting and waiting, starting with a bored-looking young man and his girlfriend, who is polishing her nails. She shows them off to the fancy woman next to her, who recoils in horror and switches seats with her husband. Next is a jolly-looking Merchant Marine proudly telling the clergyman next to him about going home as a passenger. Deluxe. On the pastor’s other side is a kindly looking older woman who offers a bun from her basket to a man in a posh-looking suit, who is sitting gingerly and stiffly on the edge of the bench. The latter jumps up and demands that his staff be allowed to wait with him, but the officer in charge refuses, as there are no special privileges during wartime.

betweentwoworldsscreencap6A nervous-looking Austrian man runs up to the counter, hands shaking, and asks for passage on the next ship. The clerk regretfully tells him he can’t, as there’s nothing he can do if the man doesn’t have an exit permit. The man trudges off regretfully, leaving the clerk to remark to the officer that the man had been quite a soldier in the Free French and it was all too bad. The officer nods, and then calls Group F, which just happens to be the line of people on the bench. Group F rise as one and pile into a waiting car. Just as they’re about to drive away, a young woman runs up to the car looking desperately for someone named Henry. And as if that weren’t enough, the air raid siren goes off. The car with Group F drives away, only to catch a direct hit. The woman is thrown to the ground and watches in horror as the car burns.

The woman (whose name is Ann, played by Eleanor Parker) goes home and finds her husband, Henry (Paul Henreid), who was the man at the shipping office trying to buy a ticket. He tells her he’s no good for her as he can’t work, especially in the profession he loved, which was as a concert pianist. Ann passionately denies it, and then notices Henry has sealed all the windows and the gas is on.

The hissing of the gas gives way to the hissing of a ship’s whistle. Ann and Henry walk slowly down a long hallway, and then the deck, and just as slowly the truth dawns on them: they’re dead. They peer through a window at the bar and see the group from the cab at the shipping office, standing around in a clump as the steward passes out cabin assignments. Feeling more and more freaked, Ann and Henry go into a lounge, where Henry sits down at a baby grand piano and finds he can play again.

Soon Ann and Henry meet Scrubby, the steward, played by Ed Gwynn. Scrubby is a sympathetic soul who takes care of those just entering the afterlife. Scrubby warns the couple not to let the rest of the people know that they’re dead, but to let them figure it out on their own.

betweentwoworldsscreencap4Speaking of the other passengers, what took place on the bench tells us most of we need to know about them except for their names. Tom Prior (John Garfield) is a former foreign correspondent. He’s abrasive, outspoken, mad at the world, and uses wit and sarcasm to cover up how lonely he really is.

Maxine (Faye Emerson) is a mediocre actress who came to England to perform with the USO because she thought it would give her career a boost. It doesn’t pan out, and she takes up with Tom, probably because he’s handsome and exciting. When his career hits the skids, she loses interest very quickly and is bitter at everyone, Mr. Lingley being the one exception.

Mr. Lingley (George Coulouris) always introduces himself as “Mr. Lingley of Lingley, Limited.” He’s to-the-letter ruthless–a selfish, grabby snob who can’t believe he has to associate with the common man. His bodyguards are his security blankets. He also is on the lookout for a trophy wife or something, and in this instance he casts his eye at Maxine Russell. It’s clear the two don’t love each other (when would they have had time?), but Maxine sees Mr. Lingley as a possible meal ticket.

Next are Benjamin and Genevieve Cliveden-Banks (Gilbert Emery and Isobel Elsom), an older couple who were bound for America to help raise money for war orphans. Benjamin is relatively decent, but like Mr. Lingley, Genevieve is deeply snobby, aghast at having to mix with the unwashed masses. She treats her high-born husband more like a Maltese dog than a human being, only a lot less dotingly–if Genevieve could stick Benjamin in her handbag, she would.

betweentwoworldsscreencap8Also on the bench are Pete Musick (George Tobias), Mrs. Midget (Sara Allgood), and Reverend William Duke (Dennis King). Pete is a nice fellow from New York City who’s overjoyed to be going home to see his wife and new baby girl. He enjoys life and likes cheering people up. He’s also been torpedoed three times, and he thinks it’s his lucky charm that saved him–a little paper doll he’s named Hokus and carries in his pocket. Mrs. Midget is a gentle, motherly lady of the working class who’s going to America for her own reasons, and she likes sticking close to Tom. She encourages him to make friends and speak up for himself, which Tom is a wee bit baffled about. Last but not least is Reverend William, another gentle sort who is off to America because he wants to be out in the world meeting people. Reverend William has never left his parish, and is excited to talk to anyone of any class.

Tom figures the situation out first. He sees how strangely Ann and Henry are acting and tails them, overhearing them talking about how the others are still making plans for the future even though they suddenly have none. Tom breaks the news by putting on what his companions think is a magic show. It isn’t until he shoots Mr. Lingley that the group finally realizes something’s going on, and even then Tom has to spell it out for them. Most of the passengers take the new revelation calmly, but it’s more of a struggle for some than for others.

After that, there’s nothing to do but let the idea sink in. “But wait, there’s more,” Scrubby tells them, only he says it much more elegantly. The Examiner (Sydney Greenstreet) will be coming to evaluate them for their next destination, and they have absolutely no control over it. They don’t all take this lying down, either. Mr. Lingley in particular tries to do what he’s done his entire life, and that is to bribe, cajole, and intimidate. It’s a no-go with Scrubby and the Examiner, though. In fact, it makes things worse–like arguing with a cop after being pulled over. And that goes for the rest of the characters. They can’t bring anything to the table except who they are and how they’ve spent their time on earth. Some will be pleasantly surprised, others will have their hopes dashed, but they will all get what they deserve.

betweentwoworldsscreencap2Garfield plays Prior with an energy that just grabbed me, as if he was playing the role in the theater instead of in a film. He really gives the sense that Prior is smirking in the face of death, even though deep down he knows better. His bravado does begin to ebb, but for a good reason. I kept hoping he would have a new and better destination than what he left behind.

Between Two Worlds is a simple movie, but it raises some deep ideas. A fancy Art Deco ocean liner may not be exactly the way we make our way into the afterlife (and most likely it isn’t). We can’t presume to know how long we will live, and we certainly shouldn’t take matters into our own hands. What we do have a say in, though, is what we do with our lives. Do we throw life away, or do we seek to be the best people we can be? As C+C Music Factory once sang, “Things that make you go hmmmm…”

And that wraps up Day Two of The John Garfield Blogathon. There are more entries waiting for you at Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. Hope you enjoyed reading this, and see you tomorrow for Day Three!

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

And we’re off… ūüôā

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phone-gallery-199Have you ever explored a¬†B-17? I had the opportunity a few years ago, which was an amazing experience. The plane was the same one that appeared in the movie,¬†Memphis¬†Belle,¬†and it’s not only beautifully maintained, but it still flies. There was so much more to seeing the plane than being where Sean Astin, Harry Connick, Jr. and Eric Stoltz had been, too.¬†Bombers look big from the outside, and the B-17 was one of the more spacious planes, but it was still pretty cramped, especially the ball turret and the catwalk across the bomb bay. That bomber crews were able to work in these itty-bitty environments under intense pressure speaks very well of their training and the design and workmanship of the aircraft. I’ve grown up hearing about planes from my dad, but I was able to come away that day with a whole new appreciation for the B-17. I also have been able to look at familiar movies in a fresh way, one of them being the 1943 ensemble film¬†Air Force,¬†the cast of which includes John Garfield, Harry Carey, and John Ridgely.

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Source: Doctor Macro

Air Force is the story of a¬†B-17, the¬†Mary-Ann, and her crew, led by Captain Quincannon, who have been assigned to make what they think is a routine flight to Hawaii. All of the men are over the moon about the idea, except for John Garfield’s character, Joe Winocki, who has a massive chip on his shoulder. Joe wanted to be a pilot, but was washed out of flight school after an accident and retrained as a waist gunner, which he’s good at but too stroppy to appreciate. Since he didn’t get what he wanted, Joe wants to leave the Air Force behind, and as his enlistment is almost up, he figures the trip to Hawaii is just another way to run out the clock.

Here’s where the dramatic irony creeps in.¬†When the navigator, Monk Hausen, writes “December 6, 1941” in his logbook, we all know what’s ahead, but the characters don’t. The second radioman, Chester, is excited about being aboard the¬†Mary-Ann and has his sights set on a commission. Robby, the crew chief, looks forward to his son having a long and distinguished career in the Air Corps. Bill, the co-pilot, dreams of meeting up with the bombardier, Tom’s sister, Susan, in Hawaii. Weinberg, the assistant crew chief, is content to do his job and groove to Duke Ellington on the radio. Everyone except Joe is starry-eyed about the future.

vlcsnap-2017-02-11-12h41m41s363That’s why when the characters get their first inkling¬†of the attack on Pearl Harbor, it seems like a hoax. Joe even kids the chief radioman, Petersen, about having picked up Orson Welles. Stuff gets real very quickly, however, and one by one, their plans either change or are put on hold. The crew of the¬†Mary-Ann have no choice but to plunge right into the confusing craziness and horror that made up December 7th and the days immediately following.

Pearl Harbor was one in a series of attacks by the Japanese on American military and civilians of various nationalities across the Pacific. In a nutshell, Air Force consists of the Mary-Ann and her crew island-hopping many of these locations, heading for Australia. Their first stop is an emergency landing strip on the island of Maui, but it turns out to be full of snipers, so they head to Hickam Field on Oahu. Here they visit Susan, who is critically wounded and in the hospital. They also take on a passenger, a pursuit pilot by the nickname of Raider, who is critical of bombers and likes his planes small.

From Oahu they go on the Wake Island, which is up in flames. The Marines there are tough ¬†and resolute, but clearly outgunned and they know it. Several of them even persuade Weinberg to take a cute little terrier named Tripoli, who barks or bites legs at the word, “Moto”. Weinberg reluctantly agrees, even though it’s against regulations. He almost gets in trouble when Robby discovers Tripoli too, except that Joe covers for him.

vlcsnap-2017-02-11-13h55m30s214As they get farther and farther across the Pacific, the crew gets more and more frustrated as they see the destruction wrought by the Japanese attacks, but there’s nothing they can do officially until war is declared. Even cynical Joe rethinks getting out of the Army. Fortunately for the crew’s catharsis (and that of 1943 audiences) they get to hit back more than once, and do some damage to boot.

The Mary-Ann’s first¬†chance¬†comes at Clark Field in Manila, Philippines, where the American forces are in desperate need of large-scale weapons. Deaths of certain characters fuels their ire further, and they shoot down Japanese fighters with gusto. They even modify the Mary-Ann‘s tail and add a gun, which is a great ace in the hole (no pun intended). It comes in handy at the Battle of the Coral Sea, where the¬†Mary-Ann¬†also plays a very important role.

The fact that the Mary-Ann‘s crew relishes killing Japanese combatants may be a tricky thing for today’s audiences.¬†The temptation with a movie like¬†Air Force is to look at it through a presentist lens, but that’s a disservice, as it’s meant to reflect what many Americans thought and felt during the war. Sure, today it seems like propaganda, but back then there was a lot of animosity towards the Japanese (To be clear, I’m referring to the Japanese who were fighting against the Allies, not Nisei and Issei Japanese, which are completely different). Audiences who watched the film in 1943 would have been aware of Wake Island, Corregidor and Bataan, of the Battle of Guadalcanal, and other happenings in the Pacific theater. Not to mention, Pearl Harbor was a recent memory. In a way, it’s like what people felt right after 9-11. Plenty wanted to storm Afghanistan and take out Osama bin Laden as soon as they found out he was behind the attack. People were angry in 2001 just as they were in 1941, except that political correctness didn’t exist in the nineteen-forties. In my humble opinion, the best thing to do is to look at¬†Air Force¬†as a product of its time.

vlcsnap-2017-02-11-13h39m49s123Other than that, certain historical details aren’t so spot-on. That may have been due to some information being classified, or it may have been plain old human error. For instance, one of the officers at Hickam Field mentions “A lot of fifth-column work, too,” when recounting the attack to Captain Quincannon. In reality, there were no recorded instances of fifth-column work before, during, or after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s also the second movie I’ve seen that supports the myth of the Marines on Wake Island having a dog, so methinks in both cases the dog was there for comic relief. Plus, in the film the crew departs from Hamilton Field, while the radio version of the film has the¬†Mary-Ann¬†taking off from Maither Field. This was probably changed because Maither is (or was) a real Air Force base–it’s a head-scratcher that an actual base is mentioned.

Beyond its dated elements and small flubs, there are so many good points to the film. Every member of the cast is superb.¬†Air¬†Force¬†is meticulously accurate as to the workings of a bomber crew, and viewers get an excellent idea of what it was like to be aboard one of these ships. As for John Garfield, he’s pugnacious in his role of Joe Winocki, and it’s great watching his character learn to pick his battles. There is clear satisfaction on his face throughout¬†Air Force. Garfield was never able to serve in the armed forces himself, due to a heart condition he acquired from scarlet fever. No doubt he felt movies like this were a way of contributing to the war effort, and they were–they helped keep audiences fired up and reminded them of why America was fighting the war in the first place.

Thus concludes my part in Day One of the¬†John Garfield: The Original Rebel Blogathon. More contributions are waiting at¬†Phyllis Loves Classic Movies if anyone is so inclined. Hope you enjoyed, and see you tomorrow for Day Two…

And the Oscar Goes To…

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Source: Wikipedia

Ah, the Oscars are upon us yet again. It’s hard to believe, but this year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hits the big nine-oh, which is a pretty impressive milestone. Speaking of milestones, I think it would be great if the Academy added the “First” category, a special award given to films that dare to be new or unique. There have been quite a few motion pictures throughout cinema history that have taken movie-making to the next level. Some of them, like Snow White,¬†are recognized by the Academy, but a lot of times they aren’t for various reasons, such as a heavyweight blockbuster sweeping the big awards. Or they may just fly under the radar. To be fair, some of them came out before there was an Academy Awards ceremony, but that doesn’t diminish their significance. Anyway, without further ado, here are a few films worthy of a “First”…

First Movie With Multiple Shots: Come Along, Do! (1898)

comealongdo
Source: YouTube

Well, two shots to be precise. Directed by British filmmaker, R.W. Paul, Come Along, Do! is nothing more than an elderly couple having lunch and visiting a museum, but it marked one of the first times that a film had more than one scene in the same reel. Before that, each scene was sold or rented separately to theater owners. According to the British Film Institute, only one of the two scenes in this film survive, the second represented by stills. Come Along, Do! is easily accessible on YouTube and is definitely worth a view.

First Science Fiction Movie: A Trip To the Moon (1902)

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Source: Flickr

Anyone who’s ever seen the movie,¬†Hugo, is no doubt familiar with Georges Melies’s (very) early twentieth-century tour-de-force, and anyone who hasn’t is in for a treat. Moon¬†has¬†everything we expect from a sci-fi flick: explosions, space travel, aliens, and most importantly, suspension of disbelief. Speaking of the latter, the space travelers in this film are able to go to the moon and back without rocket propulsion. They can get around the moon just fine sans space suits. And their fancy Edwardian frock coats never get mussed, no matter how many scuffles they have with moon-people. It never gets old.

First Action Movie: The Great Train Robbery (1903)

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Source: Cineranter

The Great Train Robbery¬†is an Edwin Porter film produced by the Edison company, and its title says it all: Some guys get together, pull their kerchiefs over their faces, and rob a train. It was one of the first American movies to follow a narrative arc, and the first action movie as we know them. Robbery covers all the bases. Kinda. Hostages, heists, hijinks, not to mention throwing Momma from the train. Except it isn’t Momma, but a dummy. It even breaks the fourth wall. And it crams it all into twelve memorable¬†minutes. I can only imagine what it was like for audiences to see this film in 1903, considering they weren’t nearly as jaded as we are over a century later.

First Epic: Birth of A Nation (1915)

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Source: subscene.com

Ugh. I wish any movie but The¬†Birth of A Nation¬†could have been the first epic. Any movie at all. Orphans of the Storm. He Who Gets Slapped. Foolish Wives. Not The Birth of A Nation.¬†I tried watching this thing in college and barely made it halfway through. It is brazenly revisionist, racist, and repulsive (Heh. More alliteration.), with a glowing portrayal of the KKK. Still, it makes the cut because D.W. Griffith pioneered modern transitioning, close-ups, inserts, and how to make a crowd of hundreds look like a cast of thousands–basically everything that’s still done in film-making. Too bad there are all those bright, shiny Klansmen running around.

UPDATE (March 3): Mmmkay, 2017 must be the year for award flubs. I was reading Fritzi Kramer’s¬†blog¬†today and she happened to mention that¬†The Birth Of A Nation was not the first epic. This is correct–the first one was Giovanni Pastrone’s¬†Cabiria, an Italian film released in 1914. The film paved the way for what Griffith would later do, and was a major influence on his film, Intolerance. So…oops. My bad. Sorry, Mr. Griffith.

First Full-length Talkie: Lights of New York (1928)

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Source: John Link Movies

While¬†The Jazz Singer is rightly touted as the first talking picture, in reality it was only a few musical numbers and a little bit of dialogue inserted into a silent movie.¬†Studios weren’t sure if talking pictures were merely a fad or not, and¬†New York¬†was originally intended to be a two-reeler. However, the cast and crew quietly expanded the movie until it was just under an hour long, and the public ate it up, even if the critics didn’t. The film seems crude and awkward by today’s standards, as most of the scenes confine the actors around (presumably) hidden microphones, but the novelty factor is off the charts.

First Musical: Broadway Melody (1929)

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Source: The Last Blog Name On Earth

M-G-M further upped the talkie ante with their all talking, all singing, all dancing extravaganza about two sisters who try to make it on Broadway. Even though the acting is not so good and there are some silent-era holdovers like intertitles, this film marked both talkies and musicals coming into their own. Unlike Lights of New York, however, Broadway Melody really was a feature-length film, and scenes suddenly had much more vista instead of actors just huddling around a microphone. Also unlike New York, critics and public alike loved Broadway. The film garnered a Best Picture Oscar.

First Integrated Musical Film: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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Source: The Daily Mail

The Wizard of Oz is a “First”no-brainer. It broke a lot of untrodden ground in terms of special effects and makeup, among other factors, but its format may have been the most major move.¬†Prior to¬†The Wizard of Oz, musical films were primarily revues or backstage stories with a selection of random numbers.¬†Wizard¬†moves¬†between music and dialogue seamlessly, due to the efforts of its lyricist E.Y. Harburg, who had initially used rhyming dialogue to set up his songs on Broadway. It’s tough to imagine this movie being done any other way and coming off as well.¬†Wizard¬†won Best Song and Best Score Oscars, and Judy got her Juvenile Oscar, but some think it would have won more if¬†Gone With the Wind¬†hadn’t dominated the proceedings.

First Feature-length Cartoon: Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

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Source: Dreampunk

In 1937, film industry insiders thought no one would pay movie ticket prices to see a cartoon. Well,¬†Snow White¬†proved that idea wrong, to the tune of $3.5 million gross in its original release, or $58.6 million in today’s money. Not only did Snow White¬†go off-road in terms of length, but it featured realistic movement and graceful, lilting songs throughout instead of flip-floppy strutting and little jingles. It was warmly received by everyone and Disney won an honorary full-sized Oscar for it, along with seven tiny ones. It also, of course, inspired M-G-M to produce¬†The Wizard of Oz.¬†Eighty years later,¬†Snow White is as beloved and charming as ever.

First Movie To Revive Symphonic Scores: Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)

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Source: starwars.com

The first-ever¬†Star Wars¬†movie has so many firsts to its credit. It jolted the film industry and the movie-going public out of what had been a long lethargy, and it single-handedly made symphonic scores cool again. The majority of movies released in the early to mid-seventies used rock music or pretty much phoned it in when it came to scoring, and John Williams’s iconic theme and variations made everyone sit up and take notice. In addition to punctuating the action, it aided in character development. Try listening to the “Imperial March”¬†and not thinking of Darth Vader. I dare ya. ūüėČ Star Wars took home seven Oscars, including¬†Best Music, Original Score.

First Widescreen Movie to Use Close-ups: Ben-Hur (1959)

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

This,¬†in my humble opinion, is¬†the¬†best version of¬†Ben-Hur. Every element came together fabulously. The music and the action soar, the acting is fantastic, and the chariot race is quite a spectacle. However, the other big way¬†Ben-Hur¬†is a game-changer is that, according to film historian Bruce Crawford, it is the first widescreen movie to use close-ups. A lot of Golden Era directors hated widescreen–George Cukor said it was like filming through a coffin–and the prevailing sentiment was that close-ups would be oppressive in that format. William Wyler’s cinematographer, Robert Surteez, decided to show ’em how, and was awarded an Oscar for his work–one of eleven won by the film.

First Movie To Be Shot Digitally: Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002)

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Source: Wikipedia

Yes, another Star Wars¬†entry. People can say they will about the prequels, but¬†Clones¬†has the distinction of being fully in the Digital Age. Mr. Lucas does have the knack of being a trendsetter…

First Movie to Show Ceilings…And Use Deep Focus…And Extreme Close-ups…And…: Citizen Kane (1941)

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Source: DVDClassik.com

Okay, be honest–this pick is a total shock, right? Right? Nah. Seriously though,¬†Citizen Kane is the movie that every film studies student watches in at least one class, and for one excellent reason: It. Kicks. Tail. This movie changed everything about American cinema by combining German expressionism with Orson Welles’s unique vision, and the studios were scared spitless. After all, Welles was the guy who fooled almost the entire nation with a little radio play called¬†War of the Worlds. Plus, the executives didn’t want to incur the wrath of one William Randolph Hearst, who didn’t like that the film seemed to be based on him. That the movie was ever released to the public is amazing, and the fact that it won Best Screenplay is nothing short of a miracle. History has vindicated Welles, though, whose¬†Kane¬†will forever be the compass of American filmmaking.

Which movie would you give a “First” award to? If you could add a category to the Academy Awards, what would it be?

Here’s a sneak peek of what’s coming up in March, and it’s gonna be biz-ee.

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Yup. Two blogathons. Six posts. If anyone’s interested in getting in on these, please visit Phyllis Loves Classic Movies¬†and¬†In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood,¬†respectively. See you on March third!

Film Gris

Dick Powell had an interesting career. He went from being a crooner and a radio personality to a straight-ahead actor, best-known for playing hard-boiled types. While he had a lot of successful films to his credit, he did produce a turkey now and then, or something close to it. 1951’s¬†Cry Danger¬†is one of those, but it’s not without its charms.

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Source: Film Noir Of the Week

Rocky Malloy is a guy whose life sentence for robbery is commuted when he’s found to be innocent, and it’s up to him to make a fresh start. He’s ticked at being sent to prison in the first place and wants to set everything straight. Right away, things look suspicious, because no sooner is Rocky off the train than two guys start following him. They turn out to be Cobb, the private eye who worked on the case, and Delong, a former Marine and surprise alibi who helped prove Rocky’s innocence. Far from simply being a reunion, Cobb warns Rocky that the money from the robbery is still missing, and that Rocky could land back in the slammer if he tries to get at it. What a homecoming.

Naturally, Rocky has to get back on his feet, and that means securing new digs and a source of income. Conveniently, Delong has a Nash Rambler and a free schedule, so he agrees to help Rocky out. Like the gentleman he is, Rocky decides to call on Nancy Morgan, the wife of his friend, Danny, who is also doing time for the robbery and up for parole in six months. She lives in a trailer park in the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles, and of course, she’s overjoyed that Rocky’s back. A little too overjoyed, come to think of it. She and Rocky have a long history, as they used to be an item before Danny stole Nancy and they got married.

vlcsnap-2017-02-04-21h27m07s538It just so happens that Nancy’s trailer park has a vacant trailer for ten dollars a week. It’s the dumpiest one in the place, but Rocky and Delong snatch it up. Delong is reluctant, though, even if the park is also home to Darlene, a part-time model with just a touch of kleptomania. Still, he goes along with it.

Now that Rocky’s got a place to hang his hat and made contact with Nancy, it’s time to get the money rolling in. Rocky goes to see his old friend, Castro, who runs a bar called Los Amigos. Castro is also a “sixty-percent legitimate” bookie and gives him a sure tip on a horse. Rocky has to place the bet with a pretty girl at a convenience store in the Crosley Hotel. While he’s waiting, he starts to dig around for the missing loot from the robbery, even though Cobb warned him not to.

Well, he doesn’t exactly look for it. More precisely, Rocky tells Castro he wants $10,000 dollars a year from him because of what he went through. Then he goes to see Alice Fletcher, whose husband identified he and Danny in connection with the robbery. Only problems are, Mr. Fletcher died of a heart attack two years previously, and Alice would rather she and Rocky talk about her than about clearing Rocky and Danny. Then there’s the pesky matter of two guys who fire a few rounds at Rocky now and then, but we never find out why they want to kill him. They’re just faceless thugs who pop up and let loose. Rocky seems unperturbed by it, especially when the bet he made pays off handsomely. He has to go to a delicatessen to collect his winnings from a gentleman in a back room behind a curtain, which isn’t at all suspicious. After that, Rocky goes to town buying things for Nancy and going on a double date with she, Delong and Delores.

vlcsnap-2017-02-07-00h16m18s790Except for the tiny annoyance of being shot at, everything seems too easy, and it is. The money Rocky won turns out to be counterfeit, and all the people who helped him place the bets are mysteriously missing. The back room in the delicatessen is now covered in plywood, though the curtain is still there. Oops. Fortunately for Rocky, Castro slips up when he tries to lie about Rocky coming to visit him, and the fact that Cobb once saw Rocky leave Castro’s office doesn’t hurt either. I won’t give too many spoilers, except that no one except Rocky, Cobb and Darlene are who they say they are.

Cry Danger¬†is a mishmash. It’s a film noir sans many of the traditional film noir elements. It’s not really a mystery, or a suspense story, or a crime drama. Except for some snappy dialogue, it’s just bland. Rocky’s efforts to find the money, clear his and Danny’s names, or whatever he’s really after are pretty half-hearted. Nancy is more a designing woman than a¬†femme fatale,¬†which is okay in terms of story, but not very noir. Even Delong is a kind of hapless tagalong. It’s a mystery by itself why he suddenly becomes Rocky’s roommate after they’ve just met. Maybe Delong’s Nash Rambler had something to do with it. It’s also odd that Rocky takes up with Castro after getting out of prison–you’d think a guy with possibly more prison time hanging over him would want to keep his nose clean. Betting on horses through someone who’s “sixty percent legitimate” is a pretty risky way of walking the straight and narrow. As for the film’s pacing, nothing really picks up until almost three-quarters of the way through, and the conclusion is anti-climactic.

On the plus side, I did like seeing what Los Angeles was like in the early fifties. Since many of the locations have changed drastically since 1951, Cry Danger¬†does have a measure of historical significance. Too bad the total package is lackluster. One of the first and last things we see in the movie is Rocky walking toward the Lindbergh Beacon, as if he’s looking for direction. Maybe the filmmakers should have taken their own advice.

Under the Big Top

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Source: WOWT

As many of you have probably heard by now, Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus will be ending their 146-year run and heading for the history books.¬†A very few folks have been presumptuously gloating, but I won’t name names here. More often than not, though, a lot of people feel rather melancholy over the Greatest Show On Earth closing. It has been a rite of passage for American children to go to the circus, and Ringling Bros. has always been the Ziegfeld Follies of the circus world. Traveling shows of any kind are rare anymore, and rarer still in very rural areas. Those who live in bigger markets have no idea how huge it is to have a show of any kind come through when a town is hours from a major city, and Ringling Brothers always made a point to go wherever they could.

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Amazing what you can find on e-Bay.

I saw their show in 1983 at the Cow Palace in Daly City. I remember every kid in the audience had a special flashlight that looked like a cross between a torch and lighthouse, and during the show kids waved them around, making funny patterns all over the arena. My flashlight was blue, and I kept it for years and years until it finally broke or got lost, I’m not sure which. I remember seeing the motorcyclists riding around and around inside a Globe of Death. There was also a acrobatic act called Satin, in which two elegant ladies in blue did tricks using a star-shaped apparatus hung high in the air. Of course, there were clowns everywhere, including the legendary Lou Jacobs with his tiny car. Ringling Brothers was (and still is) a whirl of sparkles and excitement and music and novelty which I’ve never forgotten, and to think that it’s all ending pretty much stinks.

With that in mind, I pulled out my copy¬†of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1952 epic,¬†The Greatest Show On Earth a few days ago,¬†not really sure what I was going for except that I wanted to get lost in that world again. The movie is a generous taste of what the Ringling Brothers show was like in the early fifties, with a sprawling backstage story woven through it. The major plot line revolves around Brad (Charlton Heston), the circus manager, Holly (Betty Hutton), his trapeze artist girlfriend, and Sebastian (Cornel Wilde), the star performer who comes between them, but in true DeMille and Ringling Bros. fashion, there’s much more happening.

greatest
Source: Wikipedia

The movie opens in Florida, where the circus spends the winter. The whole group is excited about getting back on the road, but risk not playing a full season if they get in the red. Fortunately, Brad has brought in a ringer: The Great Sebastian, who is as notorious for his tricks with the ladies as he is for his aerial stunts. Only problem is, to keep him, Brad has to bump Holly from the center ring, and suffice it to say, she doesn’t take it well. Sebastian, like a gentleman, offers it to her, but Brad doesn’t go for it because Sebastian is the star and therefore entitled to the center ring. Holly resolves to become the star herself, and everything Sebastian does, she’ll do better. (Being that it¬†was¬†Betty Hutton saying this, I could almost hear a certain song from one of her other¬†films¬†playing in the background.)

Holly makes good on her promise, but Sebastian gives it right back to her. Their one-upmanship packs the crowds in at every show and makes the rest of the performers bite their nails. Unfortunately, Holly and Sebastian both get too cocky for their own good. Holly tries to set a record for doing the most flips while holding onto her rising rope, only to have Brad put the kibosh on it because the rope was fraying. Sebastian isn’t so fortunate. He attempts to fly through a paper hoop with no net, only to miss and plummet to the big-top floor. Spoiler alert: His injuries ground him, and Holly blames herself, since she goaded him into doing the stunt without a net.

vlcsnap-2017-01-26-09h12m04s861On the ground, Holly swings back and forth between Brad and Sebastian. She complains Brad cares more about the show than about her, and is attracted to Sebastian because of their having the trapeze in common. Plus, he’s a bad boy, which all us girls seem to go for at one time or another. Who does Holly end up with? Hmmm, who can tell…?

Like the three-ring circus,¬†Show¬†has other subplots revolving around Brad, Holly, and Sebastian. There’s Angel, one of the ladies in the elephant troupe, who has to fend off the elephant master, possessive and hot-tempered Klaus. She finally rebuffs him and heads for Brad. Klaus, in a rage takes up with some sinister fellows who are trying to sabotage the circus. Yeah, sabotage. In addition to all the backstage intrigue, Brad has to deal with hustlers. The course of true love never did run smooth, and neither do traveling shows, except that most of the time, sabotage isn’t the problem.

My favorite subplot had to do with a character named Buttons, played by one of my favorite actors, Jimmy Stewart. Clowning is such a departure from Stewart’s folky elegance, and he does the schtick superbly, selling it and giving out with the sight gags like a pro. Buttons is friends with everyone, especially Brad and Holly, but he’s hush-hush about his background, and, mysteriously enough, is never seen without clown makeup. Even more mysteriously, Buttons wraps rigging and takes care of injuries very skillfully for a clown, and when asked, says he was a pharmacist’s mate. The real topper is when Holly finds a newspaper story about a doctor who murdered his wife and then mysteriously vanished, which Buttons shrugs away. One may easily suspect there’s more going on behind the clown makeup than meets the eye.

vlcsnap-2017-01-26-09h45m05s429One of the biggest treats of Greatest Show¬†is the abundance of real Ringling Brothers performers throughout, as well as excerpts of the actual show as it was at that time. DeMille managed to smoothly blend the circus people with the actors, who trained extensively for their roles, and it gives the movie an almost documentary-like authenticity. While it does break up the narrative a bit, I appreciate that it allows audiences a backstage glimpse of nineteen-fifties circus tech, as well as circus culture in general. Traveling shows are funny creatures. Even if things seem to be going swimmingly on the surface, it takes a lot of activity underneath to keep a show moving, and people’s lives don’t stop just because they’re on the road. Some days, it’s the hardest thing in the world to put on a smile and blithely entertain. On other days it’s a cinch. On still other days, it’s a toss-up. Talk about more going on than meets the eye.

A lot of the recent reviews I’ve read of this movie have plenty of complaints, and I sort of see their point. The movie isn’t perfect by any means. The acting seems a bit pre-talkie at times. The music isn’t exactly on the level of George Gershwin and has definitely not been heard outside the context of the fifties. The length could be shorter. Some of the elements are a bit melodramatic or just plain implausible. The most frequent gripe is that the film is dated, which it is, but to hope for otherwise seems a wee bit unrealistic. Expecting a movie like Greatest Show¬†not to be dated is like being disappointed because the Benny Goodman Orchestra never played U2 songs.

After the intrigue and pageantry are spent, how does it all end? Well, when Cecil B. DeMille and Ringling Brothers come together, we know the finale will be spectacular, leaving us to walk away with smiles on our faces. While it makes a few tiny blunders,¬†The¬†Greatest Show On Earth¬†does a fine job of capturing the unique world of the traveling performer, and of what has made Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey such an important part of American cultural history. What’s nice is that the performances of many of its legends are captured within this movie, ready to be revisited anytime, even if Ringling Brothers no longer exists. As Irving Berlin once said, “The song has ended, but the melody lingers on.”

Thank you, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey. You will be missed.

Forgotten Man, Where Art Thou?

Here we are again. How were everyone’s holidays? Did anyone else feel like they just zipped by? Yeah, me too.

And yep, the eagle, er, angel has landed.

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The Great Depression looms large in twentieth-century history. Roughly twenty-five percent of the American public were unemployed in 1933, and farmers in particular found themselves displaced. Bankers were not much safer, as one of the factors in the crash was the closing of too many banks at once. Men riding the rails looking for work was a common sight, as were families loading down their vehicles and heading off into the great unknown, if they could make it that far. Many of these people felt as though they were forgotten by society and everything that makes life good. One of the scariest things about that time was no one knew for sure if they would be forgotten next.

In the midst of the uncertainty, Carole Lombard rose to fame, and her life is the stuff of legend. Both of her parents came from wealthy families. Carole was at once beautiful and zany, charming everyone she met. She was athletic and popular at school. Her film career quickly took her from bit parts to drama to what she is most remembered for: screwball comedy. She married The King, aka, Clark Gable. She was the highest-paid actress in Hollywood. Then, just like that, Carole’s life was tragically snuffed out when she was killed in a plane crash on her way home from a war bond drive.

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Source: Wikipedia

One of Carole’s most famous roles was that of Irene Bullock in the 1936 film,¬†My Man Godfrey, opposite William Powell. While it typifies the screwball comedies so prevalent during the Great Depression, the film also roasts the rich and shows just how easy it is for fortunes to change.

The first scene takes place in the city dump by the East River, where two ragged-looking men huddle around a fire. One of them, Mike, complains to his buddy, Duke, about the tough day he’s had trying to make a little bit of money. “If them cops would stick to their own racket and leave honest guys alone, we’d get somewhere in this country without a lot of this relief and all that stuff.”

“I wouldn’t worry, Mike. Prosperity is just around the corner.”

“Yeah, I’ve been hearing that for a long time. I wish I knew which corner.”

Mike heads off to bed, and seconds later the Bullock sisters enter, in search of a “Forgotten Man” for a scavenger hunt. Cornelia zeroes in on Duke, and is as casual as if she’s picking out new socks. After exchanging a few pleasantries, Duke nudges her away, literally–right into an ash pile.

Irene has better luck. Duke (who introduces himself as Godfrey) goes to the scavenger hunt with her out of curiosity, or so he says. The two of them end up in a chaotic ballroom at the Waldorf Ritz with a melee of other people in evening dress hauling in everything from nanny goats to bellows to produce carts. Godfrey is, of course, the hit of the night, and the well-heeled throng look at him rather curiously. He stays long enough to call them all nitwits before making a break for the door.

For some reason, though, Irene can’t bear to let Godfrey go, and offers him the job of butler. Long story short, suddenly the Forgotten Man is no longer forgotten, and he shows up at the Bullock mansion the next day having no idea what to expect. The maid informs him that the Bullock house has had a long succession of butlers who couldn’t even stick out the morning routine, because the family is extremely picky and also nutty, which is a volatile combination.

Amazingly, though, Godfrey manages to not only get through the morning, but takes the many foibles of his new job in stride, “foibles” being the operative word. The Bullocks are filthy rich, and they live in the proverbial opulent bubble. Heaven forbid any of them talk to someone of a lower class than theirs. The Bullocks give parties for a hundred without batting an eye, and are used to the finest of everything. In fact, they’re so used to the finest of things that Cornelia has a habit of losing jewelry costing six figures, or chucking it out of car windows in fits of pique.

Meanwhile, the mother, Angelica, has a proteg√© (kept man, more like) named Carlo, who is just¬†there, and he’s annoying. This guy spends his days torridly playing and singing “Ochi Chernye” on the piano and intoning Tennyson, not to mention acting like a gorilla and swinging from the fancy Art Deco double doors. Oh, and he eats like a horse. The dad, Alexander (who’s the sanest Bullock of the bunch), finally has enough and throws Carlo out on his ear.

vlcsnap-2017-01-16-08h32m22s643Then of course, there are Cornelia and Irene, the Bullock’s young-adult daughters. Cornelia is a selfish, to-the-letter snob and disdainful big sister, but Irene is a diva. A well-meaning but spoiled and manipulative diva. Irene has the idea that Godfrey is her Carlo, which Godfrey backs away from, but not before explaining to Irene that the proprieties must be observed.¬†Irene’s response is to fake crying jags or strike melodramatic poses to get sympathy, and her mother enables her. However, Irene has met her match in Godfrey. He doesn’t play her games, and she respects Godfrey for it even while she pines for him. He lets her help him do the dishes one night, and they have an actual conversation instead of her trying to work an angle. Funnily enough, Irene¬†likes housework, even something as menial as sewing on buttons, but she’s expected to be decorative and not think or do anything for herself.

For that matter, the rest of the family has met their match in Godfrey as well. This is probably due to Godfrey not being a typical butler. At first listen, he’s awfully well-spoken and cultured for a guy who lived in a cardboard box by the river. He slips into the high-toned butler role as if he’s been around rich people all his life. Godfrey also has a brief uncomfortable moment at a party when he meets an old friend, Tommy Gray, who says they went to Harvard together.¬†Hmmm. Apparently Godfrey isn’t as forgotten as he seems.

Over a drinks the next day, Godfrey comes clean to Tommy about what he’s been doing, and it’s no bolt from the blue that he comes from a well-to-do family himself. In a nutshell, he had woman troubles and wanted to spare his family the embarrassment, so he thought he would throw himself into the river. On the way, though, he couldn’t help but think twice when he saw the Forgotten Men. “There were some people fighting it out and not complaining. I never got as far as the river.”

On another day, Godfrey takes Tommy to see his shack. Tommy thinks Godfrey is crazy and owes nothing to the Forgotten Men, but Godfrey delivers a statement that blows Tommy’s mind: “The only difference between a derelict and a man is a job.”

Prescient words, because no one is safe from their circumstances shifting. The Bullock family learn that the hard way when Alexander tells his horrified wife and daughters that they’re about broke. Just as it looks as though¬†they’ll end up in a cardboard box by the river, newly-wise Godfrey tells them,¬†“There comes a turning point in every man’s life. A time when he needs help.” Whence does the Bullocks’ help come? I’m not going to give it away, except to say that the finish is satisfyingly ironic.

vlcsnap-2017-01-16-08h59m47s448While the bulk of the movie belongs to William Powell, Carole Lombard’s performance in¬†My Man Godfrey is wonderful. She plays ditzy diva Irene with obvious enjoyment, and takes the melodrama to the limit. She can be childish in spots, but she’s supposed to be, and fortunately it’s not in a Baby Snooks kind of way. Carole’s chemistry with William Powell is easy and fun. It doesn’t hurt that they were good friends in real life, as well as exes, having been divorced for three years by the time the film was released. In fact, Powell lobbied for Lombard to play the role of Irene, and how right he was.

So in the end, who is the Forgotten Man? Well, we have met him, and he is us. To be forgotten doesn’t always mean living in a cardboard box in the city dump. It can mean being a dressed-up doll when one really wants to do household chores. It can mean being so immersed in the filthy-rich lifestyle that a person loses sight of how much good they can be doing. It can also mean having a fortune suddenly whisked away. When people lose a healthy sense of purpose, they are forgotten. The key is, however, to remember, even if other people don’t. As Godfrey told Tommy, “It’s surprising how fast you can go downhill when you begin to feel sorry for yourself.”

For more Profane Angel entries, please stop by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. Thanks, Crystal and Laura for hosting this blogathon, thank you for reading, and see you all next time!

Eating For Victory

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Source: Amazon

I don’t have to tell you that we’re in the thick of the holiday party season. Fun, frolic, and for some, a fitness wrecker (Not that I’m complaining, but suffice it to say, I’m stepping up my workouts just in case.). Imagine, though, if you couldn’t get as much food as you wanted when you wanted it, if you could get it at all? And what do you do with what you can find, especially if it’s something you would ordinarily pass on? Those who lived through World War Two know the answers to these questions very well, and during that time they got plenty of tips for coping with unusual conditions. One such guru was British home economist Marguerite Patten, who compiled her wartime and postwar recipes in¬†Victory Cookbook: Nostalgic Food and Facts From 1940-1954.

I first became acquainted with Marguerite Patten when I saw the PBS series,¬†The 1940s House. If you haven’t seen it (and you can find a copy), I highly recommend it. A house outside of London was retrofitted as it would have been in the Second World War, and the Hymers family was chosen to live there for nine weeks, complete with rationing, mock air raids, and volunteer work. Mrs. Patten met the Hymers at the house when they arrived there and got them started on what they would have to do, providing some much-needed¬†perspective on the differences between the actual war and the project. About a month into it, she showed up for tea bearing honey and tomatoes.

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Marguerite Patten in the 1930s. (Source: The Daily Mail) 

The Hymers women were rather nervous about her coming for tea, and with good reason–Marguerite Patten was a pretty famous lady. While she liked to refer to herself as a home economist, cooking was her primary focus, and she hosted a BBC show called Kitchen Front¬†during the war, giving out ideas and recipes to maximize what foods were available. Mrs. Patten also published 172 cookbooks during her lifetime and contributed to magazines and newspapers. Once the war was over, she did in-store demonstrations and was the face of one of the first television cooking programs in Britain. Additionally, Mrs. Patten did product pitches, such as this one for a new¬†pressure cooker. As far as culinary philosophies go, I hesitate to compare her to anyone because Mrs. Patten was a pioneer in her own right. Julia Child would probably be the closest one, though, except that Mrs. Patten preceded her by thirty years. Among other similarities, both women encouraged people to make substitutions for ingredients when necessary and to bring a good attitude into their cooking.

Every country had some form of rationing during the war, but of the non-occupied nations, Britain’s shortages were the most severe. This was mainly due to the fact that a large percentage of their foods, such as onions, sugar, and tea were imported. Rations weren’t generous, either. For instance, one week’s allotment for an adult could include a half-cup of bacon and ham, sixpence-worth of meat, a quarter-cup each of cheese, tea, and butter, around a quart of milk, one cup of sugar, and one shell egg a week. Kids, the elderly, and pregnant women were given slightly more, plus a juice ration. Not every food was limited, ¬†however, and Victory Gardens eased the deficiency some, but British women still had to get creative. Dried eggs stood in for fresh, Spam was a familiar sight, and saccharine tablets replaced or bulked up the sugar content in desserts.

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Marguerite Patten in 1950. (Source: BBC)

This is where Mrs. Patten came in, and her¬†advice couldn’t have been more timely. Victory¬†Cookbook is three volumes in one: We’ll Eat Again, The Victory Cookbook,¬†and¬†Post-war Kitchen.¬†We’ll Eat Again is full of recipes that were used during the war. They featured the new staples–oats and potatoes–and these ingredients go where oats and potatoes ordinarily don’t. Mrs. Patten had recipes for oatmeal stuffing and oatmeal sausage. There was oatmeal soup, oatmeal mince, oatmeal flour, and oatmeal pastry. Oats could be used in breading, too. Potatoes could be found in pastry, not to mention in the usual casseroles and potato cakes, along with a potato-carrot pancake. Speaking of carrots, Mrs. Patten developed carrot cookies and carrot marmalade, as citrus fruit was practically non-existent in wartime Britain. There’s a big emphasis on using up everything as much as possible–more than a few recipes call for stale bread or other ingredients that would usually be thrown out.

Frequently seen in¬†We’ll Eat Again is the word, “mock.” Among them are mock cream (made with margarine and corn powder), mock crab (made with eggs and cheese), mock duck (made with sausage and apple), mock goose (made with potatoes), and mock oyster stew (made with leeks and fish trimmings). There are also several sneaky food hacks, such as Mrs. Patten’s recipe for honey made with boiled parsley. I’ve never tried making it, but I’ve heard parsley honey is very convincingly like the real thing. Other than that, the book is full of old British standbys, like toad-in-the-hole and corned beef hash, albeit with less meat and more vegetables.

The second book, The Victory Cookbook, is simply a compendium of party recipes for shindigs of all styles.¬†After six years of war, Brits were more than ready to celebrate VE Day, and it didn’t matter if you were a child, working in a factory, in the Armed Forces, or just a plain old person on the street–Mrs. Patten had the perfect menu for your V-Day celebration.

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Street party in Edmonton, 1945 (Source: 1900s.org.uk)

These parties must have been truly memorable, not only because of the war ending in Europe, but because Mrs. Patten’s food looks festive and rich in this section. Even though rationing was as tight as ever, people pooled their coupons so they could celebrate with a great big feast.

And feast they did. Mrs. Patten gave them recipes for such delicacies as beetroot fricassee, fillets of lamb, deviled pilchards, a Christmas chocolate log, and Patriotic Pudding. There are¬†tons¬†of recipes from just about every nation in the world, too, like Shrimp with Lime and Coconut from Singapore, pavlova from Russia, and a Czechoslovakian potato soup called kulajda. It’s all mouth-watering, it really is. The only recipe I made a face at was the chicken Maryland in the American section. I’ve made this dish many times, and I have never seen a recipe for it that had bananas but no gravy. Sorry, but ick. Maybe it seemed more exotic that way to the Brits, who knows.

Post-war Kitchen¬†reflects the changes in Britain’s eating habits as shortages continued into the early nineteen-fifties and then went away completely.¬†In the post-war period, rationing became a bit more stringent in that some foods that were never rationed during wartime, like bread, became metered out. Food also got weirder, as snoek (!) and whale (!!!) suddenly were on the menu. Mrs. Patten was always very matter-of-fact about culinary limitations, but she was no fan of whale meat because it smelled very strongly of fish and stale oil. She did include a couple of recipes using it, though–hamburgers and Hungarian goulash. Heh. All the paprika in the world can’t hide that taste.

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No more rationing! (Source: Loveahappyending)

Much less loathsome was pigeon. Immediately following the war there was a worldwide grain shortage, which was made worse in Britain due to pigeons noshing on it. The Brits got their revenge by eating the little thieves, and Mrs. Patten was asked by farmers to come up with pigeon recipes. The one featured in Victory looks delectable: butterfly and debone the pigeon, spread sausage meat on the cut side, coat with breadcrumbs and egg, and fry. Hmmm, I wonder if this method would work using game hens.

Not everything was weird and unusual after the war, though. Some of it was just unfamiliar. Mrs. Patten was delighted to introduce new-to-the-UK foods such as bell peppers and eggplant, which were (and are) unusual in traditional English cuisine, and new cooking methods (read: a lot less boiling and roasting). Fish sticks were big during this time, as more households began to use refrigeration. Menus also took on a much more international flair. I found quenelles, steak au poivre, apricot and lemon flan, and chicken terrapin. Yum, yum. As rationing was finally phased out in 1954, food became even more fancy: Mrs. Patten published recipes for puff pastry and lobster cutlets, both of which would still be rather decadent today. People frequently asked her for chocolate icing recipes, as sugar came off restriction, and the ones she includes in Post-war Kitchen look simple but fantastic.

Of course, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in June of 1953 was a colossal event, and rationing was temporarily relaxed so that the nation could party in style. Many Brits had buffets at lunchtime on that day, and more than a few of them probably served Mrs. Patten’s salmon dip and Coronation Chicken. Britain was hopeful and happy about their new queen, and they looked forward to the “new Elizabethan age.”

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Marguerite with Jamie Oliver in 2006. (Source: jamieoliver.com)

Marguerite Patten did a major service to the public with her cheerful, practical advice and innovative, nourishing recipes. Both the home front and the fighting forces were helped immensely by her efforts during the war and afterwards, and Victory Cookbook is a fine chronicle of the early years of her career.¬†I liked that in addition to the recipes, all three sections of Victory Cookbook¬†had lots of sidebars with facts about the war, advertisements, and cooking and nutrition advice.¬†The entire volume¬†is not only thoroughly enjoyable, but it’s got me wanting to try some of the recipes once the holiday hubbub has died down.

And with that, it’s time for vacay. Gonna read, play The Sims and my digital piano, watch movies, and do all that fun holiday stuff. Come January 16th, I’ll be back with a review of My Man Godfrey¬†for Crystal and Laura’s Carole Lombard Blogathon, and as anyone who’s familiar with Lombard can guess, this will be a fun one. If you would like to participate, head on over to¬†In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. Until then, have a merry Christmas (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc.), and a happy New Year, friends. See you in January…¬†

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That Darn Bat

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Source: Wikipedia

Every once in a while, even busy supporting players have to break out of their ruts, and Agnes Moorehead was no exception. In 1959 she got top billing in The Bat, opposite Vincent Price. A mildly suspenseful and slightly campy film, The Bat is an entertaining example of what Agnes could do with a lead role.

Director and screenwriter Crane Wilbur adapted The Bat¬†from a successful 1920s play and film by Mary Roberts Rinehart and Avery Hopwood. It’s about a best-selling mystery novelist, Cornelia Van Gorder, who rents a house in the town of Zenith for the summer. Before long, she finds herself embroiled in her own real-life thriller: The house she rented not only has a sordid and deadly past, but there’s a faceless character named The Bat on the loose, who rips his victims’ throats apart when he kills them. Lovely. Thickening the plot even further, the local bank is missing about a million dollars, plus three-hundred thousand in bonds and securities. That’s awkward.

John Fleming, the bank president (and the man who owns the house Miss Cornelia rented, natch), is on vacation at a cabin in the mountains with his physician, Dr. Malcolm Wells, played by Vincent Price. The two are hanging out after dinner when Mr. Fleming casually mentions that he embezzled a million dollars from the bank and is planning to hide it in his family crypt. He then offers to go halvsies with Dr. Wells if he’ll help Mr. Fleming fake his own death and frame Vic Bailey, the bank vice president, for it. The good(!) doctor has other ideas, though, and shoots Mr. Fleming.

croppedvlcsnap-2016-12-05-00h27m41s060Meanwhile, back at the mansion, Miss Cornelia finds that all of her household staff except for Lizzie, the maid, and Warner, the chauffeur, refuse to stay with her because of the house’s rather scary past. She tries to slough it off, but she and Lizzie are as jumpy as cats at a water balloon fight. A door bangs in the wind, a suit of armor falls down the stairs, and a tapestry rustles. Oh, and a black-gloved hand with claws reaches in the door and almost grabs Miss Cornelia. Lizzie puts the chain latch on the door, but will that stop a wily character like The Bat? Nope, not even close.¬†Miss Cornelia ends up letting Lizzie sleep on the couch in her room because there’s safety in numbers. Sometimes, anyway.

At least The Bat starts out giving fair warning before striking. With a bat that bears a remarkable resemblance to the one used in the 1931 version of¬†Dracula, might I add, except for the wingspan. Flies just about as well, too. In one scene, it circles in a corner, clearly suspended from a wire, and then supposedly bites Lizzie after obviously having been tossed at her by a crew member. Being bitten by a bat is no joke, but I had to laugh my head off at that little interlude. I couldn’t help it–the bat looked about as real as the shark in¬†Jaws.

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Same bat-time…
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…same bat channel?

Although Mr. Fleming has been taken out by Dr. Wells, his plan to blame young Vic Bailey goes off without a hitch, and Mr. Bailey goes to jail awaiting trial. Miss Cornelia wants to get to know his wife Dale better, so she invites her to stay at the Fleming house for the weekend. She also invites a young woman named Judy, played charmingly by Darla Hood. Yes, as in Darla from¬†Our Gang. She even has her own Alfalfa (sans cowlick, of course)–Mark Fleming, Miss Cornelia’s realtor and the only heir of his uncle, John Fleming. Inevitably, the weekend is anything ¬†but quiet, as The Bat is still lurking about and their supposed protection, police chief Lieutenant Anderson, is never around when the ladies need him.

Our heroine, Miss Cornelia, is on one hand terrified for her life and for those around her, but on the other, she’s itching to catch The Bat herself and find the missing money. For a mystery writer to be catapulted into her own saga is a dream come true, and she speculates and follows clues with obvious relish. She also sees a new book coming out of her predicament, and it just so happens that Mrs. Bailey was a secretary and knows shorthand.

croppedvlcsnap-2016-12-06-01h38m14s916I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, since it is a mystery and therefore consists of a series of gotchas. The doctor could be The Bat…or the chauffeur…or the nephew…or…someone else? But who? And where did that million dollars go? Will anyone make it out of the Fleming mansion alive?

Agnes’s performance in¬†The Bat is pitch perfect. Her Miss Cornelia is a combination of¬†queen and big sister–unpretentious, with a lot of humor, but also with a slight twist of diva. This is no simple damsel in distress, either. Miss Cornelia likes realism in her books, which is why she makes sure to carry a gun after the first encounter with The Bat. “I don’t write about things I’m unfamiliar with,” she tells Dr. Wells.

Speaking of familiarity, it helps that Mary Roberts Reinhart is best remembered for her mystery novels, so this was a genre she knew well. A mystery writer writing about a mystery writer who gets caught up in her own mystery. Nah, that’s not navel-gazing. At least she didn’t insert herself into¬†The Bat¬†like Garrison Keillor did in Pilgrims: A Lake Wobegon Romance.

But I digress.

The Bat is a very watchable movie. There are touches of hokeyness and predictability, but it’s still fun. Ms. Moorehead distinguishes herself in her rare-for-her lead role, leaving yet more might-have-beens hanging in the air.

Thanks, Crystal, for hosting the¬†Agnes Moorehead Blogathon and for inviting me to participate–it was a blast! We’ll have to do it again sometime. Thanks, all, for reading, and for more on Agnes, stop by¬†In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.