Tuesday, July 7, 2015

DESTRY RIDES AGAIN (1939)

HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 43 of 50)


Destry Rides Again probably doesn't offer too many surprises for those who have seen a lot of Westerns, but that's okay. Few from this era were probably as well made as this one. We have the seemingly harmless new deputy (perfect casting for Jimmy Stewart) that we know is going to be quite the force when he needs to be. We also have the out of place but formidable German singer (Marlene Dietrich) who is sharp and tough but will eventually fall for Destry we are quite sure (as well as serve as the inspiration for the character Madeline Kahn would play in Blazing Saddles). The standard businessman villain (Brian Donlevy) is there too.

We also get a couple of fun supporting comic performances from Charles Winniger and Mischa Auer as the new sheriff and the Russian who keeps losing his pants, respectively.

But...

...the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Billy Gilbert. Rotund, explosive, big-eyed comic actor Billy Gilbert shows up about three times in this film, but he is always good for a laugh whenever he loses money in his bar or Mischa Auer tries to steal his pants. Billy also shows up briefly in the Duck Soup and has a very funny bit as a process server in His Girl Friday.

But I know him best from my days of watching Laurel and Hardy shorts, where he served as Stan and Ollie's comic foil in Pack Up Your Troubles and most famously in The Music Box.



Saturday, July 4, 2015

THE HEIRESS (1949)

HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 42 of 50)


I can't say The Heiress was one of my favorite films from my Hollywood golden age list, but it is certainly a film with merit. And it is a fine role for Olivia De Havilland as the rich (or soon to be rich) woman who gets abused in different ways by both her father and her suitor (Montgomery Clift). As always, director William Wyler really sets the scene for his period pieces. In this case, it's the late 19th century. De Havilland's believable transformation from the shy spinster at the beginning of the film to the bitter woman we see at the closing credits clearly helped win her her second Oscar.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Sir Ralph Richardson. I think of Sir Ralph as a Shakespearean actor first and also as someone who played in a lot of BBC type endeavors. But his credits also include such diverse fare as Things to Come, Doctor Zhivago, O Lucky Man and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. He also gets points from me for playing "the librarian" in Rollerball.

The dignified and stuffy role of Dr. Sloper in The Heiress was well-suited for Mr. Richardson. His cruelty to his daughter is not by the hand, but with his words. Does he love his daughter or does he hate and resent her? That's open for interpretation. It is funny that he is actually correct about the motives of his daughter's suitor. 


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

ANGEL FACE (1952)

HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 41 of 50)


Another Robert Mitchum film noir! Well, sign me up! According to the commentary track, this was largely a forgotten B-movie, until those pesky French new wave critics cited it as one of their favorite movies. I can't say I liked it as much as Mitchum's Odd Man Out, but this Otto Preminger film is worth seeing as well, if only for the "car goes down the cliff" scene. It may even be worth seeing it twice to catch all the subtleties, now that I think of it. 

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..(tie) Herbert Marshall and Leon Ames. It seems when I've been choosing my imaginary award, I've come across several people that I've considered for one movie and passed on only to come up for another movie for me to select. Herbert Marshall played the put upon husband of Bette Davis in The Little Foxes and here in Angel Face, he plays yet another brow beaten husband! And he does it with his typical dignified English stoicism. Herbert's many roles include parts in the 50's horror classic The Fly and as Bette Davis's husband (again) in The Letter. I haven't seen The Letter, but I'm willing to bet things don't turn out good for Mr. Marshall. Here's to you, Herbert!

Barbara O'Neill, Jean Simmons and
that poor old chap Herbert Marshall
Leon Ames capably played the head of the household in Meet Me in St. Louis

In Angel Face, he plays the skilled lawyer who successfully defends Jean Simmons during her murder trial. Ames makes the well-written courtroom scene awfully fun by refuting every thing that the prosecutor (poor Jim Backus!) dishes out and still seem reasonably likable throughout. Perhaps because he's so open about what he's trying to do, you really can't hate him. At least not too much.

But when I think of Leon, I will always first and foremost think of him as the neighbor in one of my favorite TV shows from childhood, Mr. Ed

If I'm in trouble, I'd like Leon Ames defending me.
And a special Elisha Cook the third award goes to Bess Flowers...Bess has a few lines as Leon's secretary here, which is more than she does in many of the 865 IMDB credits she had during her career. 865! Well, someone has to play the part of the party guest in the background, courtroom spectator and nightclub table extra! Often that person was Bess Flowers. As you can imagine, her most frequently listed role on IMDB is uncredited.

I like her autographed picture below that says "thanks for remembering."


Sunday, June 28, 2015

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934)

HOLLYWOOD'S GOLDEN AGE
(Post 40 of 50)


Frank Capra's romantic comedy is pretty much a prototype of all romantic comedies that followed. The plot has a spoiled runaway heiress (Claudette Colbert) and a cynical newspaper (Clark Gable) reporter finding each other on the road. She wants to get to New York. He wants a story. They bicker. They bond. They fall in love. My favorite scenes are the ones in the auto camp where the two begin to bond and conspire to avoid detectives on their trail. A must for film buffs.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..(tie) Ward Bond/Alan Hale. Ward Bond has a small but funny role as the bus driver who simply can't get the best of Clark Gable. Ward would later have a more significant role for Capra as Bert the cop in It's a Wonderful Life (Who wants to see liver pills on their honeymoon?). He could also be seen in numerous John Ford movies, as well as Sergeant York, The Maltese Falcon, Gone With the Wind (as the Yankee captain) and many others.


Alan Hale Sr. has the role of the guy that picks up Gable and Cobert during the famous hitchhiking scene. His character sings loudly to his hitchhikers, singing improvisationally based on whatever his passengers most recently said. And he's pretty funny. His character also apparently has the strange criminal scheme of driving off with whatever possessions his riders have when they aren't looking. Oh, well. It's a plot device to give the two leads a car late in the movie.

Hale was one of most heavily used character movie actors in the 30's and 40's (frequently with Errol Flynn), racking up 250 movie credits before his death in 1950.