Wednesday, August 30, 2017

DILLINGER (1945)

Lawrence Tierney as Dillinger

I've enjoyed highlighting the character actors and actresses of the 30's through the 50's on this blog under the title of the imaginary Elisha Cook Jr. supporting performer award. It seems I've now run out of Hollywood movies from this era from the 1001 list, but thought I might like to add one more off the list.

Dillinger (1945) is a fictionalized account of the crime life of Public Enemy Number One, John Dillinger. It's low budget Republic Picture release that has elements of film noir and biography and also boasts the early career casting of future Reservoir Dog leader and by all personal accounts out of his mind Lawrence Tierney in the lead role.

And the final Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award from this blog goes to...(of course) Elisha Cook Jr. Elisha plays one of the Dillinger gang that the noted criminal meets in prison and eventually helps him on his later crime spree. About midway through the film, a train robbery goes awry and guess who gets killed of the group? The always expendable Mr. Cook...In very few of his films, did he make it to the closing credits. 

Elisha Cook Jr. prepares to spit at Dillinger before coming
around and joining his gang.

Elisha had a much better survival rate on his television appearances...

Elisha Cook Jr. with William Shatner
in the the 60's Sci-Fi Star Trek

 Elisha Cook Jr. in the 80's Sci-Fi ALF

Elisha Cook Jr. as master criminal Ice Pick 
in Magnum P. I.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (1930)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 20 of 20)

Lew Ayres and a fallen adversary in
All Quiet on the Western Front

There is a lot of criticism of a lot of the early Best Picture Academy Award choices, but the 1930 Best Picture choice of All Quiet on the Western Front is a decision that has stood the test of time. Even prickly alternative Oscar writer Danny Peary thinks the Academy got this one right.

The film is of course based on the anti-war novel by Erich Maria Remarque and depicts a group of young soldiers excitedly joining the German army during World War I only to find their dreams of heroism brings them mostly horror and death. I don't think that there were any war films like this in the early talkie era and one can only imagine the impact the sounds of warfare had on audiences of the time.

Read the book...see the movie.. then.go do something to make the world a better place.
 
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Tall and lanky Slim Summerville got his start in movies during the silent era as a supporting foil in numerous the comedies of Charlie Chaplin, Sydney Chaplin and Fatty Arbuckile, as well as one of Mack Sennett's Keystone Kops.

Once the talkie era came, Slim continued to have numerous supporting roles in many films and even teamed up with comeddiene Zasu Pitts for a series of low-budget comedies. The interesting caveat to Slim's career seems to be that he occasionally got a good supporting part in dramas, including All Quiet on the Western Front. His scene in this film of trying to woo the local French girls with goodies is a rare light moment in the film.

Slim was actively performing  in films up until his death in 1946 at age 53.  

Slim Summerville in All Quiet in the Western Front

 Zasu Pitts and Slim Summerville in
Miss Polly (1941)

Friday, August 25, 2017

CAVALCADE (1933)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 19 of 20)

Clive Brook and Dana Wynyard
in Cavalcade

On Noel  Coward…
When I was a kid, I’d sometimes hear jokes about some slapstick or low rent comedy skit or movie being criticized as “not exactly Noel Coward.”  I always got the impression from this that a Noel  Coward comedy was probably about a group of rich people in tuxedos sitting in a room sipping martinis, puffing on pipes and making caustic observations about the monarchy or the working class. I’m not sure if this was quite right and realized I haven’t really seen that many Noel  Coward movies or plays over the years to confirm or reject this impression.

Coward’s theater input spans from World War I all the way up to the 1960’s, with Blithe Spirit being the one I’m most familiar with. He also wrote many musical revues beginning in the 1920’s of which I confess to not being familiar with any of the titles.

Many of Coward’s plays have been adapted for film over the years, including David Lean’s Brief Encounter and Ernst Lubitsch’s Trouble in Paradise.  He also contributed screenplays to the works of others including Our Man in Havana and Around the World in 80 Days.

Coward’s only original play that was adapted to a film that won Best Picture was Frank Lloyd’s Cavalcade in 1933. It has to rank as one of the least seen (I’m just guessing with this observation, but I’ll bet I’m right) of all the Best Picture winners over the years. The film’s plot involves the lives of a well-to-do (naturally) London family over the years whose life is dramatized amid the backdrop of important historical events. The film starts during the Boer War in 1899 and proceeds to the sinking of the Titanic, World War II and culminates to modern times (1933 modern times, of course). It is largely a well done film (If not exactly riveting) and the presentation of a multi-generational drama has been done many times since.

Oscar Note: According to the book Inside Oscar by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona, the voting totals for Best Picture of 1933 was actually announced at the ceremony! Cavalcade won the vote by nearly fifty percent over the runner up A Farewell to Arms.  I think it would be interesting if the Academy would do that today, but doesn’t seem very likely.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to Una O’Connor. The diminutive, high strung Miss O’Connor served as comic relief in at least every movie I’ve seen her in. She may be best known for The Bride of Frankenstein (providing some memorable screaming), but she had many others, including as the maid with the shaky testimony in her last film, Witness for the Prosecution in 1957 .She has some amusing and a couple of poignant moments as the maid (I wonder how may times she played a maid) in Cavalcade.


Una O'Connor makes a point
in Cavalcade

Una O'Connor in a lighter moment from
Bride of Frankenstein

Sunday, August 20, 2017

CIMARRON (1931)

MORE 1001 MOVIES FROM THE 30's
(Post 18 of 20)

Irene Dunne and Richard Dix in Cimarron

This is conjecture on my part: The early talkies gave us a couple of big Western movies The Big Trail (with John Wayne) and Cimarron. The Big Trail was a disappointment financially, but Cimarron was a hit and managed to win Best Picture in 1931. Despite these mixed results, the Western was about to go the way of low budget serials (and take John Wayne with it) through the rest of the decade. Even when the Western genre became more respected under the films of Hawks and Ford in the 40's, no Western picture won Best Picture again until Dances With Wolves almost sixty years after Cimarron.

Cimarron itself doesn't seem to get much respect nowadays. It didn't make the 1001 movie book and I can't remember it playing ever on television, even on channels that show black and white movies! It also probably doesn't compare in most film buffs mind to another film based on an Edna Ferber book telling a multi-generational Western story with more iconic stars (Spoiler: I'm taking about Giant, with Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean and Rock Hudson).

But I actually liked Cimarron. The story of the family struggle is interesting and it really does have an early epic feel to it that is satisfying. I even got used to Richard Dix's rather mannered acting style after awhile. I can see why it was chosen as Best Picture for 1931, though I doubt many would think that was the right choice in retrospect. Alternative Oscar Writer Danny Peary says that Chaplin's City Lights should have won and I won't argue with that. 


And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Roscoe Ates. Roscoe provides much of the comic relief in Cimarron as the bumbling and stuttering newspaper editor, Jesse Rickey. He provides a nice contrast to the often overly dramatic Mr. Dix.

Roscoe Ates provides the comic relief in Cimarron

Roscoe had 150 screen credits dating from the start of the talking era up until his death in the early 60's. His most famous role (I don't think it's even a question) is as the long suffering (and stuttering) husband of one of the Siamese twin Hilton sisters in Freaks. "I think she likes you - but he d-d-d-d-don't."

Roscoe also played the role of Soapy Jones in a 40's western serial named after the star Eddie Dean. I had never heard of this one before, but I did find a clip of it on YouTube. Roscoe once again plays the comic relief in these films, but he appears to have lost his stutter over time.

 Roscoe Ates contemplates the possibilities of being married
to a Siamese twin in Freaks