Wednesday, August 30, 2017


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


(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


(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


(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 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


(Post 17 of 20)

Marlene Dietrich looks for a way out
in Shanghai Express

Most of the passengers aboard the Shanghai Express (led by the exotic Shanghai Lil played by Marlene Dietrich) are just trying to get to their destination when their journey is interrupted by Chinese Guerrillas and the brutal General Chang. A hostage situation ensues. The film packs a lot of intrigue and romance, featuring Shanghai Lil and Clive Brook as a doctor from her past, into it's eighty minute running time manned by perhaps the greatest pioneer of early talkie cinema, Josef von Sternberg. The film would definitely make a good early thirties political intrigue double feature with Frank Capra's The Bitter Tea of General Yen.

Another exotic woman of the world aboard the train is  Hui Fei. To the film's credit she is played by Chinese-American star Anna May Wong...but there seemed to be more of a trend of casting Caucasians in many of the Asian roles, which leads us to...

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Warner Oland. It's interesting to see Oland as the Asian heavy General Chang in Shanghai Express, since he is best known as playing the Asian heroic detective Charlie Chan in sixteen films up until his death in 1938.

White actor Warner Oland as Charlie Chan...

...replaced by white actor Sidney Toler
as Charlie Chan...

...who was replaced by white actor 
Roland Winters as Charlie Chan...

...or maybe you prefer the 70's TV Charlie Chan
played by white actor Ross Martin or... about the silly Curse of the Dragon Queen
with Englishman Peter Ustinov as
Charlie Chan?

Oland also played Fu Manchu (below) in The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu. There is also a long list of non-Asian actors that played Fu Manchu, including Boris Karloff, Peter Sellers and Christopher Lee..but so it goes (or at least use to go) in Hollywood.

Thursday, August 10, 2017


(Post 16 of 20) 

 Lionel Barrymore, Jimmy Stewart, Jean Arthur, Edward Arnold
discuss politics, romance and right and wrong
in You Can't Take It With You

You Can't Take it With You is a film (based on the successful Kaufman and Hart play) that is about a man from a financial well-to-do family (Jimmy Stewart) who falls for a girl (Jean Arthur) who is from a family of eccentrics (led by the grandfather, Lionel Barrymore). There are lots of fun goings on and it isn't too hard to not picture this film as being adapted from the stage. In the end, The lovable Vanderhof family (led by Barrymore) get the best of the business minded Kirby family (led by Edward Arnold)...but no surprise there. 

This film won the 1938 Best Picture Oscar...but didn't make the 1001 movie book cut.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...(tie) Dub Taylor and Charles Lane. There are so many supporting players I could give this award to....Banker Edward Arnold, eccentric Mischa Auer, flighty Spring Byington, the meek Donald Meek, dancer Ann Miller, the put upon H. B. Warner and future Jack Benny regular Eddie "Rochester" Anderson. But I'm giving the award to two character actors that had exceptionally long Hollywood careers.

First is Dub Taylor. You Can't Take It With You is Dub's first screen credit. He racked up over 250 more movie and television credits during his career, culminating with Maverick in 1994. I always picture Dub as a grizzled prospector, but he played a variety of roles, many times as a heavy, and almost always in just a scene or two. Dub's memorable roles includes the guy that sets up Bonnie and Clyde in Bonnie and Clyde, the Reverend giving a sermon in The Wild Bunch and one of the three saloon old-timers (with Harry Carey Jr. and Pat Buttram) in Back to the Future III.

Taylor died in 1994 at the age of 87.

I'm guessing his role in You Can't Take It With You as the former Alabama football star who plays the xylophone is his only role where he gets to show off his xylophone skills, but I haven't researched it too thoroughly.

 Dancer Ann Miller and 
Xylophonist Dub Taylor in 
You Can't Take it With You

Dub Taylor before the bullets fly 
in Bonnie and Clyde

Charles Lane had an even longer career than Taylor. In You Can't Take It With You, he plays a stern, humorless IRS agent. He also plays Potter's associate in Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. It seemed like a stern and humorless suit without a heart is about the only part he ever played. He may be remembered best for the recurring role of Homer Bedlow on the sitcom Petticoat Junction, where he plays a stern, humorless suit (as always) who just wants to shutdown the train because...why does he always want to shut that train down again? Lane's sixy-five year career included 365 movie credits. About the only sympathetic part I can ever remember seeing him in was an episode of L. A. Law where he played an elderly bank robber. Lane died in 2007 at the ripe old age of 102.

No respect for the character actor: On the DVD extra for You Can't Take It With You, Frank Capra Jr. says something to the effect of "my dad always liked this actor, he used him often" during Lane's scene. You get that? Lane didn't even get his name mentioned in the commentary by the director's son even while praising his work!...Ah, the life of the character actor.

Lionel Barrymore gets the best of  I. R.S. worker
Charles Lane in You Can't Take It With You

Homer Bedlow (Charles Lane) schemes to shut down
the Hooterville train in an episode of Petticoat Junction.
I still can't remember why he wants to shut down
that damn train!

Saturday, August 5, 2017


(Post 15 of 20)

Chinese warlord General Yen (Nils Asther)
falls for American missionary Barbara Stanwyck
in The Bitter Tea of General Yen

I don't associate action war movies from director Frank Capra (except from perhaps his World War II documentaries), but The Bitter Tea of General Yen is set in China during a series of civil wars which provide the backdrop of this film about a tough Chinese warlord (played by Norwegian Nils Asther) whose battles are complicated by a pretty and opinionated American missionary named Megan (Barbara Stanwyck). Their relationship becomes pretty complicated amid the chaos and that is the drama that drives the film. There is a lot of good subtext to the film including: missionaries roles in such places, the difficulty in defining who to root for among these factions, Yen's complicated relationship with his concubine (Toshia Mori), and the role of the opportunistic American financial advisor (Walter Connolly, see below).

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Walter Connolly. Connolly was a major character actor during the 30's whose many supporting roles included The Good Earth, Libeled Lady and Twentieth Century. His most famous part was almost certainly as  Claudette Colbert's father in Capra's It Happened One Night. I think his part as General Yen's financial adviser is an even better role for him (just call him Jones). He plays the ugly American all right...keeping the General's eyes on what is important...profit. His callousness even makes Stanwyck sick to her stomach at one meal and I can't say that I blame her. He may elicit some sympathy in the final scene by comforting Stanwyck on the way back to Shanghai..but does he really deserve our compassion at this point? Either way...well, played Mr. Connolly.

Nils Asther and Walter Connolly 
in The Bitter Tea of General Yen

Connolly as the father of reluctant bride Claudette Colbert
in It Happened One Night