Sunday, June 28, 2015


(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.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


(Post 39 of 50)

It has been a long time since I last saw The Magnificent Ambersons, Orson Welles's follow-up to Citizen Kane. It is based on Booth Tarkington's classic story of a rich family whose fortunes are off-set by progress and the coming of the automobile personified in the person of entrepreneur and suitor (Joesph Cotten) to Isabel Amberson (Dolores Costello). The leading character is the spoiled son of Isabel, George Anderson (Tim Holt).

The film is beautiful to look at and features lively performances and Welles uses his famous quick cuts to maximum effect and the story moves along at a rapid pace. Some like this film more than Kane, but I'm not willing to go quite that far. The major flaw is the happy ending tacked on by the studio. Damn studio execs strike again!

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Agnes Moorehead. Agnes had a nice but small role in Citizen Kane as Kane's mother. Her role in Ambersons is larger and she has a field day as George's emotional Aunt Fanny. Agnes runs the gamut of emotions from bitterness and jealousy to ultimately resignation and acceptance.

After many years in movies, Agnes appeared in one of the most famous episodes of The Twilight Zone (The Invaders). She is probably best known as Endora, the wicked witch from the 60's sitcom Bewitched.

Monday, June 22, 2015


(Post 38 of 50)

I'm not sure that there are too many film buffs who wouldn't take exception to Going My Way winning the Best Picture Oscar for 1944. It's a nice film, but the story of a radical (as much as Bing Crosby can be radical) priest being assigned to a floundering parish under the guidance of the crusty but lovable Father Fitzgibbon doesn't seem exactly groundbreaking. But it's a pleasant enough film, and a good one to check out to remember the time when Bing Crosby was Hollywood's biggest movie star. But should this really have beaten out Double Indemnity for Best Picture?

Speaking of Double Indemnity: The short career of ingenue Jean Heather (eight film credits) featured the interesting coincidence of her having important supporting parts in Going My Way and Double Indemnity, the two top contenders for the Best Picture Oscar that year. She plays Barbara Stanwyck's step-daughter in Double Indemnity and the young girl who Bing Crosby teaches about singing in Going My Way

Carol James in Going My Way

Carol James in Double Indemnity

And yet another Little Rascal alert: Going through these fifty films, I first came across former Little Rascal Stymie Beard in Jezebel. Then I came across former Little Rascal Dickie Moore in Sergeant York and Out of the Past. And Going My Way features former Little Rascal Alfalfa Switzer as one of the tough kids Bing teaches to sing. I guess I should consider adding Fritz Lang's The Woman in the Window to this list just to include Spanky McFarland's bit part as a boy scout in that one!

"Stymie" in Jezebel
"Dickie" in Sergeant York
"Alfalfa" in Going My Way
"Spanky" in The Woman in the Window
And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Barry Fitzgerald. It's hard not to give this to Barry, even though he already won Best Supporting Actor and was also nominated for Best Actor for the same film! Other memorable roles for the Irishman include And Then There Were None, The Quiet Man and Bringing Up Baby, but its' the role of Father Fitzgibbon that he is best remembered for.

Friday, June 19, 2015


(Post 37 of 50)

Meet Me in St. Louis was probably my mother's favorite movie. Seeing what she loved about this movie is pretty easy. Beautiful technicolor, elaborate period costumes, a nostalgic look back at a simpler time (1944 looking back at 1903), a youthful and vivacious Judy Garland, lots of light comedy, a plot with some peril that you know will be fully resolved by the end and of course those songs-"The Trolley Song," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Meet Me in St. Louie," and "Skip to My Lou." I really can't believe I haven't seen this one before. 

Criticism? I offer none because I loved my mother too much.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Marjorie Main. I was in a play by Larry Shue called The Nerd where there is a line about how the last person to have gumption was Marjorie Main. Meet Me in St. Louis seems a typical role for the old girl, playing the gruff housekeeper with a heart of gold. Marjorie's best know role originated as a supporting part in The Egg and I, where she played the Ma half of the rustic Ma and Pa Kettle team. The popularity of these characters led Marjorie (and Percy Kilbride as Pa Kettle) to get her own series of very successful films with these characters as the stars.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

RED RIVER (1948)

(Post 36 of 50)

If you want the ultimate movie about a cross country cattle drive, then look no further than Red River. I hadn't seen this in a long time and really enjoyed it this time around. You got to give a lot of credit to Hawks for keeping the story written by Borden Chase alive and keeping the cattle (and the plot) moving over hundreds of miles. But the centerpiece of the story is represented by John Wayne as the tough head of the drive and his protegee/adopted son played by Montgomery Cliff. The fact that the two of them come from different acting schools (Clift is a method actor, Wayne is NOT)  is really to the film's favor. I'm not sure I've liked either actor as much as I've liked them in this.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Noah Beery, Jr. I know I should give this to Walter (Groot) Brennan, but I just gave the award to him for Sergeant York and I can't always give this to Walter Brennan! Also could have given this to Harry Carey Jr. or Harry Carey Sr., but I'll give it to Noah Beery Jr. in a real nice role as the dedicated member of the cattle driver and the guy who becomes Clift's right hand man during the second part of the film. I also like whenever he yells (I think it's a yell) out for them cattle to get a move on.

Beery has showed up in other films on 1001 list, including Only Angels Have Wings and Sergeant York, as well as a small roles in many other films like Inherit the Wind. But is still probably best remembered by my generation as Rocky from 70's TV classic The Rockford Files

Saturday, June 13, 2015


(Post 35 of 50)

One of the few Hollywood movies (along with Confessions of a Nazi spy) to address the Nazi menace head on in the early stages of World War II. At times a very powerful film, The Mortal Storm shows how easy it is to turn on your friends and neighbors and change your whole value system when the situation dictates it. It's also interesting to see such clean cut leading men such as Robert Stack and Robert Young fall prey to this, but I think that's the whole point. Jimmy Stewart is strong in the lead male role, but it is Margaret Sullavan as the professor's daughter that stands up to the Nazi threat who really carries the film.

It's interesting that Sullavan wasn't even nominated for an Academy Award for this, but then The Mortal Storm wasn't nominated for any Academy Awards! Stewart won Best Actor this year for the more lightweight Philadelphia Story.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Frank Morgan. Many moviegoers know Frank Morgan for one role, that of the Wizard/Professor Marvel in The Wizard of Oz. You can definitely see some of the wizard in Professor Roth, but where the Wizard was a phony, the professor is a man of deep conviction and values. His persecution is the core of the film and was sadly representative to what happened at the time to many.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


(Post 34 of 50)

If you love film noir (and if you are a film buff, you're pretty much required to love film noir), In a Lonely Place is a required addition you need to add to your viewing resume. Humphrey Bogart plays a screenwriter with a violent temper who is accused of murder and one begins to wonder as the movie progresses whether or not he might really be guilty. Bogart seems to have aged quite a bit by 1951, but the force of his personality really shines through and I have no trouble believing a saucy dame like Gloria Grahame could fall for him. 

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Gloria Grahame. The lovely Miss Grahame has shown up in a handful of 1001 movie listings, including The Big Heat, where Lee Marvin famously throws coffee in her face. She also plays the Bedford Falls slut in It's a Wonderful Life and the equally easy Ado Annie in the musical Oklahoma! She also has a interesting if minor turn as Dick Powell's wife in The Bad and the Beautiful. Her role as the tough but vulnerable Laurel in In a Lonely Place might be her best role of the bunch. Her relationship with Bogart's character Dixon Steele is uneasy, yet passionate, difficult, but inevitable. But this is film noir and there ain't gonna be no happily ever afters, sweetheart.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

OKLAHOMA! (1955)

(Post 33 of 50)

I'm not sure how Fred Zinneman could have adapted Oklahoma! to the screen any better than he did. He took it off the stage and opened up great technicolor vistas that you couldn't have in a theater. But there are a lot of musicals that are established on stage that are just better on stage. You simply can't beat the intimacy of live theater with the songs and actors right in front of you. So I would say that you should see Oklahoma! in some form, it just doesn't have to be on celluloid.

Confession #1: The Farmer and the Cowboy Should be Friends is near the top of my list of  favorite songs from a musical. 

The Partridge Family vs. The Brady Bunch: A chapter in this ongoing debate that I didn't know about is Oklahoma! I knew that future hot Partridge Family mom Shirley Jones played Laurie in the movie. What I didn't realize was that future hot Brady Bunch mom Florence Henderson played Laurie on Broadway in 1953. You learn something everyday, I guess.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Eddie Albert. Honestly, most of the laughs that Oklahoma! generates comes for Albert's Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler man, who spends tmost of the movie trying to avoid getting married to Ado Annie. Albert had many other scene stealing supporting roles during his career, including the artist in Roman Holiday. But it is funny that his best know role is as the lead in the TV show Green Acres, when he had to play straight man to some of the goofiest characters in TV history. 

Confession #2: Green Acres is still one of my favorite shows.

Thursday, June 4, 2015


(Post 32 of 50)

Before there was Altman's The Player, there was Vincent Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful. It's the story of ruthless movie producer Jonathan Shields (Kirk Douglas) who runs over many bodies to get to the top, including a starlet (Lana Turner), a director (Barry Sullivan) and a writer (Dick Powell). Even within the limits of what you could show in 1952 Hollywood, the movie digs up a lot of dirt and shows enough manipulation and bad behavior to be a strong Hollywood self-examination. Plus, Kirk is fun to watch and it's really his movie much more than it is the top-billed Turner.

Censorship alert! There is an important scene in the film where the audience needs to see the desperate starlet played by Lana Turner throw herself at Jonathan Shields. We have to establish in that scene that she is an alcoholic and a slut. And we see her do it! It's not coyly implied, it's clear what she is doing. I'm not sure how the censors let that one pass, even if it is an important plot point. There is also a scene when Shields is on the phone and asks the ladies man actor if he'd like to squire a southern belle. After the unheard response on the other end, Shields say, "No, I said SQUIRE." It's not too hard to guess what word the actor thought he said.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Barry Sullivan. The Bad and the Beautiful is generally regarded as Sullivan's best movie role, playing the director friend of Jonathan Shields who gets left out in the cold by him. Sullivan did occasionally have a staring role, such as the film noir The Gangster. In later years, I remember him as a doctor in Earthquake. But Sullivan really belongs in the character actor Hall of Fame for his many TV roles. And I mean many! From the 50's until the end of the 70's, Sullivan credits include virtually every TV show on the networks during that time. I guess whenever a role came along for a dignified, middle-aged doctor or lawyer role came along, I guess producers would shout out, "Let's get Barry Sullivan!" One of his last roles was in an episode of The Love Boat, the defacto retirement home for many Hollywood careers.

Monday, June 1, 2015


(Post 31 of 50)

Force of Evil is a movie that grew in prominence years after it was released due to the admiration of certain critics as well as Martin Scorcese (Of course, Martin Scorcese!). It involves a lawyer played by John Garfiled mixed up in the numbers racket with various gangster types. He begins to grow a conscience partly based on his guilt about getting his brother involved with criminals and partly because of his growing affection for his brother's young secretary. One thing the movie really emphasizes is that it isn't just some bad apples that are spoiling the barrel, but the entire structure of the barrel itself that may be the problem. It's an interesting role for Garfield, as none of the other movies I've seen him in would he have been a likely candidate to get a law degree. This is a compact, worthwhile film, though I'm pretty easy when it comes to recommending film noirs.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to…Paul Fix. I probably should have given this to Thomas Gomez, who really is the conscience of the film as Garfield's brother (above), a man of character that remains true to his beliefs at great risk to his well-being. But I'm going with Paul Fix, who plays an unsympathetic crook name Bill Fico in Force of Evil. Fix's long career included 336 IMDB credits. He was a staple of Westerns, and an associate and mentor of John Wayne. He also had such varied roles as the Judge in To Kill a Mockingbird and as the ship's doctor in the pilot episode of Star Trek! He is probably best know (at least to me) as Micah the sheriff on the classic TV western, The Rifleman.