Mickey Rooney: A Little Song, A Little Dance, A Little Noir

•March 16, 2014 • 10 Comments

What is there to say about Mickey Rooney that hasn’t already been said? The world’s biggest movie star at 19, he was a has-been at 30. He’s had eight wives, fathered eight children, battled drug addiction, and been forced into bankruptcy on more than one occasion. In his best-selling autobiography, he maintained that he had affairs with such Hollywood luminaries as Lana Turner and Norma Shearer; he later claimed responsibility for discovering Sammy Davis, Jr., and Red Skelton; and he once asserted that it was his idea to change the name of Norma Jean Baker to Marilyn Monroe. Conquering nearly every performing medium, he has manifested his multifaceted talent as an actor, dancer, singer, songwriter, musician, and author. And during a career that spans an almost unimaginable 10 decades, he has earned five Emmy nominations, four Academy Award nominations, and received two honorary Oscars – one for lifetime achievement.

When one speaks of Mickey Rooney, however, the shadowy realm of film noir is not exactly the first image that springs to mind. He is far more likely to be envisioned as the wholesome Andy Hardy, dancing in a spur-of-the-moment musical number with Judy Garland at his side, than he is with a gat in his hand and his fedora cocked to one side. His most familiar screen persona notwithstanding, Rooney earned a solid place in the era of film noir with starring roles in four features from the period: Quicksand (1950), The Strip (1951), Drive a Crooked Road (1954), and Baby Face Nelson (1957).

A showman from the start.

A showman from the start.

The five-foot, three-inch actor once crowned “The King of the Movies” was born Joe Yule, Jr., on September 23, 1920, to vaudeville performers Joe Yule and his wife, Nell Carter. Young Joe was first seen on the stage at an early age; during the actor’s career, more than one colorful anecdote surfaced to describe this debut. According to one account, the lad first appeared in his parents’ act at the age of 15 months, portraying a midget and equipped with a tuxedo and a big rubber cigar. Another version states that Joe crawled into the orchestra pit during his parents’ onstage routine and started pounding on the drums, while a third claims that he escaped from the dressing room in a Rochester, New York theater, toddled out to the center of the stage, and stood on his head. According to Rooney himself, however, his foray into show business occurred by happenstance while he was watching his father perform at a Chicago theater. After he let out a sneeze, the spotlight focused on the two-year-old, who immediately shifted into performing mode.

“I had a harmonica I kept playing like mad,” the actor said in a 1957 McCall’s magazine article, “and I loved it out there with all those lights. It was so pretty.”

As Mickey "Himself" McGuire.

As Mickey “Himself” McGuire.

Before long, the youngster was a regular part of his parents’ act, but they separated when Joe was four years old and he wound up in Hollywood with his mother. It didn’t take long for Joe to pick up his budding career where he’d left off, performing in a local musical revue at the Orange Grove Theater, and making his screen debut as a midget in the 1926 silent feature, Not to be Trusted. Two years after his first film, Joe landed the role of Mickey “Himself” McGuire in a series of comedies released by the Standard Film Corporation, appearing in nearly 80 episodes between 1928 and 1932. During the run of the series, Joe’s name was legally changed to Mickey McGuire, but it was later altered again, and Mickey Rooney was introduced to the world.

Rooney and Garland were frequent co-stars and lifelong friends.

Rooney and Garland were frequent co-stars and lifelong friends.

Rooney’s career really took off in 1934 when he was placed under contract by MGM, beginning an association that would last for the next 14 years. During that time, Rooney appeared in a number of Hollywood gems, including Manhattan Melodrama (1934), where he played Clark Gable’s character, Blackie, at age 12; a Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935), in which he turned in a memorable performance of the mischievous Puck; Captains Courageous (1937), starring Spencer Tracy and Freddie Bartholomew; Boys Town (1938), where Rooney demonstrated his dramatic range as delinquent teen Whitey Marsh; and National Velvet (1944), co-starring Elizabeth Taylor. In addition to these features, Rooney appeared in 1937 in A Family Affair, a comedy focusing on a small-town family named Hardy. The film was an unexpected hit and led to a popular eight-year, 15-episode series starring Rooney as Andy Hardy. One of Rooney’s co-stars in the series was actress Judy Garland, who portrayed Betsy Booth in three of the Andy Hardy features; following their first screen appearance in the 1937 film Thoroughbreds Don’t Cry, Rooney and Garland would become one of Hollywood’s most popular duos and appear in a total of 10 features together.

By the late 1930s, Rooney had become one of the most successful and celebrated actors in the country and in 1938 was honored, along with Deanna Durbin, with a special Academy Award for “bringing the spirit and personification of youth to the screen.” The following year, the actor received his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his role opposite Garland in Babes in Arms (1939), and earned a second nomination in 1943 for his touching performance in The Human Comedy. Although he lost both times (the first to Robert Donat for Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and later to Paul Lukas in Watch on the Rhine), Rooney was at the height of his success, and reigned from 1939 to 1941 as the top box-office actor in Hollywood. As a testament to Rooney’s fame – as well as his versatility – the actor performed with the National Symphony Orchestra at the 1941 inaugural ceremonies for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, playing one his own compositions, entitled “Melodante.” In addition to this work, Rooney composed hundreds of songs throughout his career, and in the late 1950s, he recorded an album, “Mickey Rooney Sings George M. Cohan.”

With Ava Gardner shortly before their wedding.

With Ava Gardner shortly before their wedding.

Meanwhile, Rooney had by now embarked on what he once referred to as “a lifetime of marriage.” In 1942, at the age of 21, he married actress Ava Gardner, but the union lasted only 18 months. Wife number two was a 17-year-old blonde named Betty Jane Rase, a former Miss Alabama.

“I knew her two weeks, and then we got married,” Rooney later recalled. The actor’s first child, Mickey Rooney, Jr., was born in 1946, but the marriage ended shortly after the birth of his second son, Timothy, in 1947. Rooney wasn’t unattached for long, however; shortly after his divorce, he began seeing actress Martha Vickers.

“I’d admired her so much on the screen that I tracked down her telephone number and we made a date,” Rooney later recalled. “I guess we were both lonely at the time. We married fast, and stayed married for two and a half years.” During that time, Rooney welcomed a third son, Theodore, born in 1950.

Rooney and Barbara, in happier times.

Rooney and Barbara, in happier times.

In 1952, a year after his divorce from Vickers, Rooney married former model Elaine Mahnken, telling one reporter, “I wish Elaine had been the first girl in my life. Things would have been a lot different.” But six years later, after the actor’s affair with local beauty queen Barbara Ann Thomason, this union, too, ended in divorce. A few weeks after his May 1959 divorce, Rooney and Barbara were married – and three months later, his fourth child, daughter Kelly Ann, was born. The couple would go on to have three more children, Kerry Yule, Michael Kyle, and Kimmy Sue, but this union, Rooney’s longest to date, would end in tragedy.

In the mid-1960s, reportedly as payback for Rooney’s infidelity, Barbara became involved with an aspiring actor named Milos Milosevic and Rooney filed for divorce, seeking custody of their children. Rooney and Barbara later reconciled, but on February 1, 1966, Milosevic shot Barbara to death in the couple’s Brentwood home, then killed himself.

“I died, too,” Rooney wrote in his 1991 autobiography, Life is Too Short. “Something like a steel band seemed to encircle my chest. And I didn’t take a full breath for three years.” (In later years, Rooney sued for custody of his four children with Barbara, but the court ultimately ruled that they should remain with the woman’s parents.)

With Jan at the TCM Film Festival a few years back.

With Jan at the TCM Film Festival a few years back.

A year after Barbara’s murder, Rooney married her closest friend, Marge Lane, but this ill-advised union ended after only 100 days, and Rooney wed wife number seven, secretary Carolyn Hockett, two years later. Rooney and Carolyn welcomed the actor’s youngest child, Jonell, in January 1970, but by 1974, the marriage was over. Finally, in July 1978, Rooney took his eighth trip down the aisle – “This time for keeps,” the actor once said – to Jan Chamberlin, a country-and-western singer who was nearly 20 years his junior. Although this marriage would, indeed, turn out to be his longest, he and Jan separated permanently in 2012, a year after Rooney filed elder abuse and fraud charges against Jan’s son, Christopher Aber and Aber’s wife, and testified before a U.S. Senate committee about his experience. “I felt trapped, scared, used, frustrated,” Rooney testified, “and overall, when a man feels helpless, it’s terrible.”

Between marriages, Rooney had seen his screen career fall as swiftly and as surely as it has risen. After serving from 1944 to 1946 in U.S. Army, during which he entertained thousands of troops overseas, Rooney returned to Hollywood to discover that he had been dethroned as “The King of the Movies.” In the late 1940s, he severed his ties with MGM and started his own production company, a move he later called “one of the dumbest things I ever did.” With few offers coming his way, Rooney was seen in a series of low-budget features, including his entry into the world of film noir, Quicksand (1950).

If you haven't seen "Quicksand" yet, you simply must!

If you haven’t seen “Quicksand” yet, you simply must!

Here, Rooney starred as Don Brady, a womanizing auto mechanic who finds himself mired in a series of misdeeds after a sexy blonde cashier catches his eye. Although Quicksand is tension-filled and well-acted for most of its 79 minutes, it takes a wildly implausible turn near the end and peters out to an unsatisfying conclusion. Rooney himself wrote in Life is Too Short, “The less said about Quicksand, the better, except to note that it was aptly titled. We sank in it.” Despite the actor’s opinion, for my money, it’s a great ride, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

The actor fared only slightly better the following year when he returned to MGM for his second film noir, The Strip (1951), playing jazz drummer Stanley Maxton. The Strip managed to turn a slight profit, but the “B” level picture was dismissed by critics, including the reviewer for Variety, who wrote that the “performances are generally ineffective, as characters are not real enough to be believable.” The same critic acknowledged, however, that film’s best moments were its musical numbers, and noted: “Rooney beats his drums solidly.”

Rooney earned raves for "Drive a Crooked Road."

Rooney earned raves for “Drive a Crooked Road.”

After a handful of mediocre features, Rooney rebounded with a starring role in his third film noir, Drive a Crooked Road (1954). In this well-done feature, Rooney portrayed a lonely garage mechanic, Eddie Shannon, who signs on as the wheel man for an intricate heist at the urging of a beautiful brunette. The film was a disappointment at the box office, but it was named “Picture of the Month” by famed columnist Louella Parsons and Rooney earned raves for his performance. Margaret Harford of the Hollywood Citizen-News praised the actor’s “earnest, sympathetic” portrayal; Philip K. Scheuer wrote in the Los Angeles Times that “Rooney and every one else in the cast deliver performances that scarcely could be bettered”; and in the Los Angeles Daily News, Roy Ringer opined:  “[The film] will come as a surprise to those who can imagine Mickey Rooney only in comedy or song and dance roles. In Drive a Crooked Road, he switches to tragic drama and turns in a skillful and sympathetic performance.”

As Baby Face Nelson.

As Baby Face Nelson.

After starring in his own television series (which aired against the popular Jackie Gleason Show and only lasted a year) and earning an Oscar nomination for his performance in The Bold and the Brave (1956) – losing to Anthony Quinn in Lust for Life – Rooney starred in his final film noir, Baby Face Nelson (1957). This feature – described in the prologue as a “re-creation of an era of jazz, jalopies, prohibition, and trigger-happy punks!” – depicted the transformation of ex-convict Lester M. Gillis into the violent gangster known as Baby Face Nelson. Although one critic wrote that Rooney’s portrayal of the infamous gangster “lacks . . . understanding of the lust that drove Nelson to kill,” other reviewers were more favorable. John L. Scott of the Los Angeles Times described the film as “a hard-hitting story in which a snarling Rooney in the title role blazes a trail of murder with his machine gun,” adding that “the energetic star never goes halfway in any characterization,” and the critic for the Hollywood Citizen-News wrote, “Rooney delivers a most convincing performance as the gun-happy gangster, Baby Face.”

Rooney continued to regain a measure of his former prominence during the next several years with Emmy-nominated roles in three television shows, and exhibited a flair for character acting in such films as Requiem for a Heavyweight (1962). Rooney also appeared in record-breaking performances during a nightclub circuit tour with Bobby Van in 1964, and in a three-week revival of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in Los Angeles, earning praise from one critic who termed his performance a “personal triumph.” But Rooney was by now facing more pressing concerns than his acting career.

The 1960s weren't kind to Rooney, seen here in "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini."

The 1960s weren’t kind to Rooney, seen here in “How to Stuff a Wild Bikini.”

In 1962, Rooney filed for bankruptcy, claiming that, while he had made more than $12 million during his career, his income had been chipped away through alimony and child support payments to his various ex-wives, his penchant for gambling, and bad business deals.

“I spent, lent, married, and I don’t know how, I went through twelve million dollars,” Rooney wrote in his first autobiography, i.e., released in 1965. “It isn’t as if my bankruptcy can be traced to any single cause, placed in any single period of years, explained with a single flip phrase. If I knew how I did it, I wouldn’t have done it in the first place. Ask a drunk where the booze has gone. That’s like asking me about my money.” (Although Rooney eventually recovered from this financial blow, the actor filed for bankruptcy a second time in 1996, revealing that he owed the IRS approximately $1.75 million dating back to 1974.)

The 1960s also saw an escalation in Rooney’s use of barbiturates, which had started during the previous decade and escalated following the 1966 murder of his fifth wife, Barbara. In his 1991 autobiography, the actor wrote that he was so “drugged out” during his subsequent marriage to Marge Lane that “I hardly remember her now.”

Rooney and Ann Miller wowed 'em in "Sugar Babies."

Rooney and Ann Miller wowed ‘em in “Sugar Babies.”

After managing to kick his addiction to pills in the early 1970s (“It wasn’t easy . . . [but] I looked to a Power higher than myself,” Rooney recalled), the actor continued his varied professional appearances, and although the vehicles he chose were not always first-rate, the energetic actor was seldom idle. And his luck took yet another upswing late in the decade, when he earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as a former horse trainer in The Black Stallion (1979) (he lost to Melvyn Douglas for Being There); earned raves for his performance opposite Ann Miller in the three-year stage tour of Sugar Babies (1979); won an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe for his portrayal of a retarded man in Bill (1982); and received an honorary Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement (1983). In presenting the latter award to Rooney, veteran comedian Bob Hope called the actor “the kid who illuminated all our yesterdays and the man who brightens all our todays.”

With Dick Van Dyke and Bill Cobbs in "Night at the Museum."

With Dick Van Dyke and Bill Cobbs in “Night at the Museum.”

Now in his 90s, Mickey Rooney is still going strong. After earning a fifth Emmy nomination for Bill: On His Own (1983), the actor continued to accept roles in a variety of films, television shows, and stage productions, and also took time to pen his first published novel, The Search for Sonny Skies, in 1994. In the decades that have followed, he appeared in such feature films as Babe:  Pig in the City (1998), the sequel to the hit 1995 film, Babe, and The First of May (2000), starring Julie Harris; guested on television series including The Simpsons (1995) and ER (1998); served as television spokesperson for the Garden State Life Insurance Company; played the title role in a long-running, well-received tour of The Wizard of Oz; and performed in a stage show with wife Jan Chamberlin entitled One Man–One Wife (in the midst of a tour for the latter production, Rooney underwent heart bypass surgery, but was back on stage a few months later). His best-known films in recent years were Night at the Museum (2006), starring Ben Stiller, and The Muppets (2011), with Amy Adams and Jason Segel.

A national treasure.

A national treasure.

Mickey Rooney – from whom, according to the actor, famed rodent Mickey Mouse received his name – is truly a national treasure. Essaying more comebacks than he might care to remember, and triumphing over an often rocky and sometimes tragic life off-screen, Rooney demonstrated during his phenomenal career that he possessed a versatility, determination, and longevity that nearly defies description. A few years ago, the nonagenarian shared his outlook that “age is experience – and some of us are more experienced than others.”

“Inspire, don’t retire,” Rooney advised. “Life is too short to be in pain all the time or wish you could change who you are. It’s being a participant in the game called life that’s important.”

31 Days of Oscar Blogathon: Van Heflin in Johnny Eager (1941)

•February 15, 2014 • 15 Comments
Van Heflin was a standout in Johnny Eager.

Van Heflin was a standout in Johnny Eager.

You don’t hear a lot about Van Heflin these days.

When the classic conversation rolls around to actors of the Golden Age, you can pretty much count on the names of Clark Gable and Cary Grant popping up, along with Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney – maybe William Holden, Gary Cooper, and Spencer Tracy. James Stewart. Gregory Peck. Edward G. Robinson.

I think you’d have to be talking for a long time before someone mentioned Van Heflin.

And that’s a shame, because Heflin had some acting chops that could rival the best of them, as he proved in such features as The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), Madame Bovary (1949), The Prowler (1951), Shane (1953), and the film that earned him the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor – Johnny Eager (1941).

Jeff was Johnny's right hand man.

Jeff was Johnny’s right hand man.

Released relatively early in Heflin’s three-decade-long career, Johnny Eager stars Robert Taylor in the title role – a sort of wolf in deceptively handsome sheep’s clothing. On the outside, Johnny is a mild-mannered parolee who’s paid his debt to society and is working his way through the right side of life as a taxicab driver.

On the inside, he’s a ruthless racketeer who’ll stop at nothing – even murder – to achieve his illicit aspirations. Heflin portrays Jeff Hartnett, Johnny’s right-hand man. And Heflin doesn’t just portray Jeff – he inhabits him.

Jeff was the most well-read hood in film.

Jeff was the most well-read hood in film.

Jeff’s primary and most outstanding character trait is his, shall we say, fondness for the bottle. In fact, we can say that Jeff and the bottle are having quite the steamy love affair. But that’s not all there is to Jeff – Heflin (assisted generously by screenwriter John Lee Mahin) creates a multifaceted character who’s intelligent, well-read, and sensitive. He quotes Shakespeare at the drop of a hat, uses polysyllabic, 12-dollar words, and makes literary references that would make a head librarian beam with pride. And although he’s firmly ensconced in the life of the underworld, he seems to be in a constant struggle, with the reality of his vocation battling against his deep-seated morals and values. In fact, when once asked by Johnny why he drinks so much, Jeff responds, “Every now and then I’ve got to look in a mirror.”

Jeff was the perfect guy to have your back.

Jeff was the perfect guy to have your back.

We get our first hint of Jeff’s persona before we see him – Johnny’s flavor-of-the month, Garnet (Patricia Dane), is complaining to Johnny about something Jeff has said to her: “If you’re looking for Mr. Hartnett, he was here earlier this morning . . . but he wandered away, full of gin and big words. Say, who was Herod Agrippa? He said you were the modern-day Herod Agrippa. And then he said I was your inamorata. I’m going to get a load of what that means, too.”

Jeff doesn’t show up in the flesh until more than 20 minutes into the film, but when he does, he makes an instant impact. He’s in a state that we’ll come to expect – three (or possibly four) sheets to the wind. And when Johnny points out his drunken state, the ever-erudite Jeff rejoins, “Now, Eager, that’s obvious. Very obvious. Don’t be obvious. You’re out of character when you’re obvious. Adroitness is your racket. Hard, clever and adroit – that’s your description.”

Jeff was Johnny's friend, protector, and conscience.

Jeff was Johnny’s friend, protector, and conscience.

Jeff is more than Johnny’s aide-de-camp. Despite the fact that he’s either drunk, on his way to getting drunk , or recovering from being drunk, he serves as Johnny’s highly perceptive conscience, never hesitating to analyze his boss and share the results of his scrutiny. Take the scene where Johnny sends his soon-to-be-former gal, Garnet, off to Florida. Jeff sits silently by, sipping brandy from a teacup while Johnny lowers the subtle boom, but the moment Garnet leaves, Jeff doesn’t bite his tongue. “Poor Garnet, she’ll hang around in Florida eating her heart out until it finally dawns on her that Lancelot is not coming. Johnny, why didn’t you tell her the truth, the poor kid.” Jeff also acknowledges that he doesn’t care for Garnet, but he does feel sympathy toward her, explaining that “you can feel sorry for someone you don’t like if you’ve got a heart or soul or decency. I guess you don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Heflin was touching and poignant in the film's final scene.

Heflin was touching and poignant in the film’s final scene.

But while it cannot be denied that Jeff “tells it like it is” when it comes to Johnny, it is also clear that he loves Johnny more than anyone in the world – more than Garnet, and more than the woman who steals Johnny’s heart, Lisbeth Bard (Lana Turner). And nothing can diminish that love. Not Johnny’s misdeeds, not his insults – not even a punch Johnny lands on Jeff’s chin (and which lands Jeff on the floor) after Jeff makes an especially insightful and stinging observation. No matter what Johnny does or is, Jeff doesn’t give up on him. And in the final reel (spoiler ahead – sorry!), when Johnny meets his end, it’s Jeff who cradles him and cries over his lifeless body.

Van Heflin’s competition in the Best Supporting Actor race of 1941 was William Bendix (Wake Island), Walter Huston (Yankee Doodle Dandy), Frank Morgan (Tortilla Flat), and Henry Travers (Mrs. Miniver). It was Heflin’s first and only nomination, and at the time he won the golden statue, at age 32, he was the youngest-ever actor to win an Academy Award. I’ve never seen Wake Island or Tortilla Flat, I don’t remember Henry Travers’s character in Mrs. Miniver, and I wasn’t exactly blown away by Walter Huston’s performance in Yankee Doodle Dandy. But whatever his fellow nominees did in their films, there’s no doubt that Heflin’s performance in Johnny Eager was of Academy Award caliber – it was just that good. When he’s on the screen, you can’t take your eyes off of him, and when he’s not, you find yourself watching and waiting for his return.

If you’ve never seen Johnny Eager, do yourself a huge solid and check it out.

It might just make you start talking about Van Heflin.

This post is part of the 31 Days of Oscar Blogathon, hosted by Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. Do yourself a favor and visit these sites to check out the wealth of great posts being offered as part of this fantastic event! 

Announcing the Great Villain Blogathon!

•February 9, 2014 • 18 Comments

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” So said one of the greatest movie villains ever, but many classic films have convinced us quite thoroughly that evil does indeed exist, and usually in the form of a compelling, riveting, powerful character, a villain brought to life by superb writing and acting, then seared into the memory of movie fans.

And so we announce that you are cordially invited to participate in the Great Villain Blogathon, a celebration, an examination, a rumination on your choice of classic movie menace, whether monster or family member. Whether human, fantastical, alien, mineral or animal, whether on horseback or spaceship, clad in toga, trenchcoat or cardigan, whether mantrap, mild mannered or commanding vast armies, write up a post on your favorite movie baddie, doer of dastardly deeds or offender of moral order.

Your co-hosts in this exploration of villainy are

Ruth of Silver Screenings  925screenings [at] gmail.com

Karen of Shadows & Satin  thedarkpages [at] yahoo.com

Kristina of Speakeasy  mail.speakeasy [at] yahoo.com

If you wish to take part, please leave a comment or send an email, help yourself to one of these banners to paste up on your blog, and prepare to share who you think is filmdom’s worst.

This event will unfold over the week of APRIL 20 – 26, 2014, so if you want to post on a certain day make sure to mention that, otherwise you will be assigned a date.

Here’s the lineup so far:

Ruth @ Silver Screenings: Angela Lansbury / The Manchurian Candidate (April 24)

Karen @ Shadows & Satin: Dan Duryea / Scarlet Street (April 20)

Karen @ Shadows & Satin: Clark Gable / Night Nurse (April 26)

Kristina @ Speakeasy : Henry Fonda / Once Upon a Time in the West (April 21)

Kristina @ Speakeasy : Terence Stamp / Superman II (April 25)

Mike @ Mike’s Take on the Movies: Eli Wallach / Magnificent Seven (April 23)

Stephen @ Classic Movie Man : Joseph Cotten / Shadow of a Doubt

Pete @ Furious Cinema : Rutger Hauer / The Hitcher

Fritzi @ Movies, Silently: Les Vampires (April 20)

Dorian @ Tales of the Easily Distracted : Anthony Perkins / Psycho (April 26)

Maedez @ A Small Press Life : Gene Tierney / Leave Her to Heaven (April 25)

Emily @ The Vintage Cameo : Bette Davis / Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Kellee @ Outspoken & Freckled; Orson Welles / The Stranger

Aurora @ Once Upon a Screen : Robert Mitchum / Cape Fear ‘vs’ Night of the Hunter (April 26)

geelw @ Destroy all Fanboys : Ann Savage/ Detour

Ivan @Thrilling Days of Yesteryear : Henry Brandon / Babes in Toyland & Our Gang Follies of 1936 (April 22)

Paul @ Lasso the Movies : Maleficent / Sleeping Beauty (April 21)

Craig @ Viking Samurai Peter Sellers/Christopher Lee as Fu Manchu

Aurora @ Once Upon a Screen Lionel Barrymore / It’s a Wonderful Life  (April 23)

Kristen @ Journeys in Classic Film: Terence Stamp / The Collector

Le @ Critica Retro:  Peter Lorre / The Man Who Knew too Much

Nitrate Diva @ http://nitratediva.wordpress.com/ Robert Montgomery / Night Must Fall

Jennifer @ http://virtualvirago.blogspot.com Laird Cregar / Hangover Square

Tom @ http://motionpicturegems.blogspot.com Robert Ryan / Billy Budd

Ginny @ http://oldmoviesnostalgia.com Orson Welles / The Third Man

Todd @ http://forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com/  Butch & The Woim /Our Gang AND William Zabka / The Karate Kid, Back to School, Just One of the Guys

Todd @ http://forgottenfilmcast.wordpress.com/ William Zabka / The Karate Kid, Back to School, Just One of the Guys

Anna @ http://filmgrimoire.wordpress.com/ Death / The Seventh Seal

Marlee @ http://marleewalters.com/ Moriarty Incarnations

Vincent @ http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/ C. Aubrey Smith / No More Orchids

Vicki @ http://girlsdofilm.wordpress.com/ Margaret Hamilton / The Wizard of Oz

Debbie @ http://debravega.wordpress.com/ Waldo Lydecker / Laura

Madeline @ http://classicmoviegab.com/ Broderick Crawford / All the King’s Men

Jo @ http://thelastdrivein.com/ Gloria Holden + Gloria Swanson as sympathetic anti-heroes

Jo @ http://thelastdrivein.com/ James Caan / Lady in a Cage

Gary @ http://midnightpalace.com Olga Baclanova / Freaks

Parker @ http://theartisticpackrat.wordpress.com/ The Joker / The Dark Knight

Patricia @ http://caftanwoman.blogspot.ca/ Andrea Spedding / The Spider Woman

Becky @ http://movielottery.wordpress.com/ Bela Lugosi / The Human

Jill @ http://sittinonabackyardfence.com Claude Rains / Notorious

Leah @ http://hardboiledgirl.wordpress.com/ Richard Widmark / Kiss of Death

Jenni @ http://portraitsbyjenni.wordpress.com Conrad Veidt / A Woman’s Face

jtr @ http://thabto.wordpress.com/ Raymond Burr / Rear Window

Andrew @ http://1001movieman.blogspot.com/ David Carradine / Kill Bill

Eve @ http://eves-reel-life.blogspot.com/ Robert Walker / Strangers on a Train

Adam @ http://ocdviewer.com/ Kjell Nilsson / The Road Warrior (Mad Max 2)

Joe @ http://fadedvideolabels.blogspot.com/ Orson Welles / Touch of Evil

John @ http://twentyfourframes.wordpress.com/ Michael Powell / Peeping Tom

Aubyn @ http://thegirlwiththewhiteparasol.blogspot.ca/ Vincent Price / Dragonwyck

David @ http://moviedavid.blogspot.com/ Otto Kruger / Saboteur

Beth @ http://www.mildredsfatburgers.com/the-blog.html Geraldine Fitzgerald / Three Strangers

Leah @ http://carygrantwonteatyou.com/ Charles Boyer /  Gaslight

Dan @ http://dandayjr35.blogspot.com Michael Gough / Konga

ImagineMDD @ http://imaginemdd.blogspot.com/ Judith Anderson / Rebecca

Constance @ http://silverscenesblog.blogspot.com/ Professor Fate / The Great Race

Sean @ http://lipranzer.wordpress.com/ John Huston / Chinatown

Sean @ http://lipranzer.wordpress.com/ Al Pacino / The Godfather, Part 2

Judy @ http://movieclassics.wordpress.com/ Laurence Olivier / Richard III

Kerry @ http://prowlerneedsajump.wordpress.com/ Gary Oldman / Take as Directed

Angelica @ http://madwomenandmuses.com/ Bette Davis / The Little Foxes

Margaret @ http://thegreatkh.blogspot.com/ Disney Villainesses

Patti @ http://classicmoviesnippets.blogspot.ca/ Steve Cochran / Private Hell 36

Bill @ http://friscokidtx.com/ Al Pacino / Devil’s Advocate

Vanessa @ http://www.bwallover.blogspot.ca/ Porter Hall / The Thin Man

Robert @ http://www.dejareviewer.com/ Dick Jones and Clarence Boddicker /RoboCop, Loki /The Avengers, Bob Parr’s boss /The Incredibles, The Grim Reaper /Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, The Wet Bandits /Home Alone, Greedo /Star Wars, the Corleones /The Godfather Part II

Marcie @ http://thecinematika.com/ Dennis Hopper / Blue Velvet

Danny @ http://pre-code.com/ Impotep / The Mummy

Charlie @ http://iloveterriblemovies.wordpress.com/ Mocata / The Devil Rides Out

Captain Video @ http://captainvideossecretsanctum.blogspot.ca/  Ming the Merciless / Flash Gordon movies

Emily @ http://funkyforestfirstcontact.wordpress.com/  Satan / The Exorcist

Sofia @ http://filmflare.wordpress.com/  Cary Grant / Suspicion

Gary @ http://moviefanfare.com/ Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith, Lee Meriwether and Cesar Romero / 1966 Batman movie

N.R. @ http://thegreatbaz.wordpress.com/  Necessity of Villains featuring Basil Rathbone

Terry @ http://mercurie.blogspot.ca/ Henry Frankenstein / The Hammer Films

Lara @http://backlots.net/  Barbara Stanwyck / Double Indemnity

Constance @http://silverscenesblog.blogspot.ca/ The Great Race

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TCM Film Noir Pick for February

•February 8, 2014 • 7 Comments

There’re a whole lot of first-rate Oscar-worthy films airing on TCM in February, but not a whole lot of noir. But that’s okay, because on February 20th, TCM is airing Leave Her to Heaven (1945), a rare color noir that you’re not going to want to miss. (Some say it isn’t noir at all, but I’m not one of those people, see). (That was to be read in a sneering Edward G. Robinson voice.) Sorry – I digress.

The plot:

Gene Tierney stars as the beautiful and cultured Ellen Berent, whose all-consuming love for her husband (Cornel Wilde) threatens to destroy everyone who gets in her way.

See? No ring!

See? No ring!

Favorite scene:

I don’t want to give away any major plot points, so I’m going to steer clear from my actual favorite scene. (If you’ve seen the film, just think of Ellen, sunglasses, rowboat, and Danny, and you’ll know the one.) Instead, I’ll share another that’s fascinating to me – and which gives a perfect glimpse into Ellen’s persona. The scene takes place near the start of the picture and Ellen has recently met writer Richard Harland on a train. Turns out they’re both headed for the same town in New Mexico and are, coincidentally, both staying with the same family, the Robies. On the day after their meeting, as Richard sits typing beside a huge natural pool, Ellen surprises him by surfacing from beneath the water. “I do hope I’ve interrupted you in your work,” she tells him frankly. Throughout their conversation, she flirts with her body, first swimming toward him, then pushing away in a sultry back float. At one point, she makes sure that he sees her left hand, which is now missing the engagement ring she’d been sporting the night before. “I took it off an hour ago,” she explains. “Forever.” When Ellen is joined by the two Robie children, Lin and Tess, Ellen challenges them to a race across the pool, and they take off, with Richard watching and cheering on the young boy. “Lin’s going to win,” Richard remarks. A second later he’s contradicted by the children’s father, Glen (Ray Collins). “No – Ellen,” Glen says with certainty. “Ellen always wins.” Sure enough, a few seconds later, Ellen emerges first from the water and for just a moment, stands rather triumphantly over the children as she crows, “The winnah!”

“I don’t want anybody else but me to do anything for you.”

Favorite quotes:

“I have no intention of hiring a cook. Or a housekeeper, or any other servants. Ever. I don’t want anybody else but me to do anything for you. I want to keep your house, and wash your clothes, and cook your food. And besides, I don’t want anyone else in the house but us. Ever.” Ellen Berent (Gene Tierney)

“I don’t envy you, Ellen. All my life I’ve tried to love you, done everything to please you. All of us have – Mother, Father, and now Richard. And what have you done? With your love, you wrecked Mother’s life. With your love, you pressed Father to death. With your love, you’ve made a shadow of Richard. No, Ellen, I don’t envy you. I’m sorry for you. You’re the most pitiful creature I’ve ever known.” Ruth Berent (Jeanne Crain)

Other stuff:

The screenplay for Leave Her to Heaven was written by Jo Swerling (who, up until I did the research for this post, I thought was a woman!) (Boing.). Swerling contributed to the screenplay for Gone With the Wind (1939) and also wrote the screenplays for such classics as Blood and Sand (1941), Pride of the Yankees (1942) (for which he received an Oscar nomination), and Lifeboat (1944).

Price as the jilted Russell Quinton.

Price as the jilted Russell Quinton.

In Leave Her to Heaven, Vincent Price plays the man to whom Ellen was engaged before she dumped him in favor of Richard. The previous year, in Laura (1944), Price played another man who was engaged, for a time, to Gene Tierney’s character.

The film’s director, John Stahl, helmed the original versions of three pictures with well-known remakes: Back Street (1932) with Irene Dunne and John Boles, Imitation of Life (1934) with Claudette Colbert and Louise Beavers, and Magnificent Obsession (1935) with Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor.

The music for the film reminded me, in places, of the score for All About Eve (1950). When I looked it up, I saw that the same man, Alfred Newman, composed the music for both pictures. (Score!)

Tierney earned her only Oscar nomination for this role.

Tierney earned her only Oscar nomination for this role.

Gene Tierney was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her performance – the only one of her career. Also nominated that year were Ingrid Bergman (The Bells of St. Marys), Greer Garson (The Valley of Decision), Jennifer Jones (Love Letters), and Joan Crawford, who won for Mildred Pierce.

The picture did win a well-deserved Oscar for best color cinematography, which went to Leon Shamroy. During Shamroy’s five-decade-long career, he earned 18 Oscar nominations and four wins. (The film was also nominated for Best Sound Recording and Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Color.)

The movie was based on a novel by the same name by Ben Ames Williams. The title was taken from a passage in Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “Taint not thy mind, nor let thy soul contrive against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven, and to those thorns that in her bosom lodge to prick and sting her.”

It's worth it to watch the DVD extras just to see these two!

It’s worth it to watch the DVD extras just to see these two!

The extras for the DVD of Leave Her to Heaven include the Hollywood premiere for the picture. (I love seeing these.) Attendees included Roddy McDowall and Jane Powell (both looking SO adorable), Victor Mature and June Haver, and Tyrone Power and his wife, Annabella. The extras also include commentary by co-star Darryl Hickman, who portrayed Cornel Wilde’s disabled brother, Danny – and who had nothing much good to say about anybody.

The role of Danny’s doctor was played by Reed Hadley, who was famed for his roles off screen, doing the narration for such films as Guadalcanal Diary (1943), The House on 92nd Street (1945), T-Men (1947), Canon City (1948), He Walked By Night (1948), and The Killer That Stalked New York (1950).

If you’ve never seen Leave Her to Heaven, you’re in for a treat. Mark your calendar, set your DVR.

You only owe it to yourself.

Humphrey Bogart, Primo Carnera, and The Harder They Fall

•February 4, 2014 • 6 Comments
Bogart with co-stars Jan Sterling and Mike Lane

Bogart with co-stars Jan Sterling and Mike Lane

The final film of Humphrey Bogart’s career was The Harder They Fall (1956). In this saga of the seedy side of the boxing world, Bogart is Eddie Willis, an unemployed sportswriter who is hired as a press agent by an unscrupulous promoter, Nick Benko (the great Rod Steiger). Willis’s primary job is to foster publicity for Benko’s latest acquisition, a huge South American fighter, Toro Moreno (Mike Lane), but Willis soon discovers that Moreno is a “powder puff” in the ring. Despite his increasing qualms about the exploitation of the dim-witted boxer, Willis effectively guides him through a lengthy series of fixed fights to the heavyweight championship. Later, after learning that Moreno’s contract has secretly been sold, and unable to stomach the dirty business any longer, Willis gives Moreno the $26,000 he earned as his press agent and sends the young man back to his home in South America. Incensed by Willis’s disloyalty, Benko threatens his life, but the agent reveals his plan to write a series of articles exposing the racket, telling him, “You can’t scare me and you can’t buy me.”

Real-life boxer Primo Carnera (right) claimed the film's story was his own. (And he wasn't happy about it!)

Real-life boxer Primo Carnera (right) claimed the film’s story was his own. (And he wasn’t happy about it!)

Hailed by one critic as a “lively and stinging film,” The Harder They Fall was a hit at the box office, probably enhanced by the amount of publicity it received. In December 1955, Columbia Studios announced that because of “lack of cooperation from the International Boxing Commission,” it had been unable to gain permission to use any stadium in the country for filming, and was forced to combine two stages to make a boxing arena. The film garnered more press in May 1956, when former heavy weight boxing champion Primo Carnera filed a $1.5 million lawsuit against the studio, claiming that the movie paralleled his “rise and fall in the ring” and that, as a result, he had been “subjected to ridicule” and “has lost the admiration, respect, and friendship of neighbors and business acquaintances.” In August of that year, the ex-fighter, who later became a wrestler and restauranteur, lost his case when Judge Stanley Mosk, of the Santa Monica Superior Court, ruled that “one who became a celebrity or public figure waived the right of privacy and did not regain it by changing his profession.”

And how was YOUR day??

Happy birthday, Clark Gable!

•February 1, 2014 • 14 Comments
Warning: Pre-Code Gable may cause your eyes to cross!

Warning: Pre-Code Gable may cause your eyes to cross!

Clark Gable may be best-known for his performance as Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, but for my money, he gave us some of his most memorable characters during the pre-Code era. In celebration of his birth, 113 years ago today, I offer you my favorite Gable pre-Code films.

The Easiest Way (1931)

This feature stars Constance Bennett as Laura Murdock, a working girl who finds her way to Easy Street when she becomes the mistress of a wealthy older man (Adolphe Menjou). Gable was featured as Nick, Laura’s brother-in-law, who is none-too-approving of her lifestyle. Amiable, hard-working, and very much in love with his wife, Peg (Anita Page), Nick was a bit of a moralistic ass where Laura was concerned, sniping about her pulling up to his house in a limo and refusing to allow Peg to accept her sister’s fancy hand-me-downs (“My wife don’t have to wear the castoffs of a woman like you.”) But he turned out to be a good egg in the end.

Oh, my . . .

Oh, my . . .

A Free Soul (1931)

Oooh, whee! Gable was something else in this one, portraying gang leader Ace Wilfong (don’t know where they got that name from), who catches the eye of a free-spirited society gal when her dipsomaniac dad defends him for murder. We have no problem seeing why the attorney’s daughter, Jan Ashe (Norma Shearer), falls for Ace – he’s powerful, fearless, and sexy as hell. Later on, though, we’re cheering Jan’s efforts to get as far away from this guy as she can!

Gable in Night Nurse: Not a nice guy. At all. Seriously.

Gable in Night Nurse: Not a nice guy. At all. Seriously.

Night Nurse (1931)

Speaking of wanting to get away from guys, Gable’s character in Night Nurse was 10 times worse than Ace Wilfong ever aspired to be – he portrayed another guy named Nick, this time a dastardly chauffeur whose dirty deeds include trying to kill the two young offspring of his alcoholic employer. He also socks nurse Barbara Stanwyck in the jaw. Bastard!

Possessed (1931)

I loved Gable through and through in this one. He played moneyed attorney Mark Whitney, who has a longtime affair with admitted gold-digger Marian Martin (Joan Crawford), transforming her into a lady and falling for her in the process. There was everything to love and (almost) nothing to dislike – except maybe his reluctance to marry the obviously devoted Marian. But we forgive him even that.

If he knew what was coming, Gene Raymond would’ve stayed on the boat.

Red Dust (1932)

In one of Gable’s best-known pre-Code features, he played rubber plantation owner Dennis Carson, a real man’s man whose magnetism attracted both down-to-earth, good-time gal Vantine (Jean Harlow), and high-class married woman Barbara Willis (Mary Astor). If you look too close, Dennis was actually kind of a jerk – he was rude and intolerant with the workers on his plantation, treated poor Vantine like trash, and had an affair with Barbara under her husband’s nose – but you were still rooting for him in the end.

Dames were always fightin' over Gable.

Dames were always fightin’ over Gable.

Hold Your Man (1933)

Here, Gable was re-teamed with Jean Harlow, this time playing a small-time con man who goes on the lam when he delivers a lucky punch that’s not so lucky after all. Once again, Gable managed to create a likable persona out of a character with less than stellar morals. This is definitely Harlow’s film, but Gable’s character, Eddie, is very much a presence throughout. (Plus, it’s got that great title song!)

So, those are my favorite Clark Gable pre-Codes – what are some of yours?

Top 10 Reasons Why I Love Mildred Pierce

•January 22, 2014 • 18 Comments

Along with Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, and Sudden Fear, Mildred Pierce is one of the few films noirs that I have had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen. Because of this, it’s a sentimental favorite of mine, but I also love it on its own merit – and there’s so much to love! Here are the top 10 reasons why I’m wild about Mildred Pierce:

Mildred Pierce starts out with a bang. Literally.

Mildred Pierce starts out with a bang. Literally.

1. The film’s opening. We’re taking in the view of a beautiful beach house on the edge of the Pacific when the film’s pleasant score is suddenly interrupted by the sound of repeated gunshots. Inside the house, we see that the target of the shots is a tuxedo-clad, mustachioed gent, Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott) who falls forward into the camera, muttering one name before he dies: Mildred. I’m not ashamed to admit (well, maybe a little) that the first time I saw Mildred Pierce, I went through the entire film firmly convinced (incorrectly) that I knew who killed Monte.

2. Jo Ann Marlowe. She played Kay Pierce, the younger of Mildred’s two daughters. I don’t remember ever seeing her in any other movie (although the IMDB states that she played uncredited roles in Yankee Doodle Dandy and Of Human Bondage), and her last film was in 1950, but she was a delight to watch, cute as a button and a completely natural young actress.

3. The little signs that point to the fact, early on, that Veda is a massive bitch. Like when she chides her baby sister for playing ball in the street and mussing her clothes, telling her she looks like a “peasant.” Her snooty tone when she informs her mother that “Valse Brilliante” means “brilliant waltz.” And when she returns her mother’s declaration of love, but adds, “don’t let’s be sticky about it.”

This scene is mesmerizing. No matter how many times I see it.

This scene is mesmerizing. No matter how many times I see it.

4. The scene where Mildred learns that Veda lied about her pregnancy in order to extort money from her would-be spouse. It starts with Veda tenderly kissing the ten thousand dollar check she received. From there, it doesn’t take long for it to dawn on Mildred that, in her own words, Veda is “cheap and horrible.” Veda delivers her great speech about why she wanted the money (see below) and when Mildred tears up the check, Veda serves up a slap that literally knocks Mildred off her feet. But, boy, when she gets up! I love the steely look in Mildred’s eyes, the barely perceptible quaver of rage in her voice, and her economical choice of words when she tells her daughter, “Get your things out of this house before I throw them into the street and you with them. Get out before I kill you.”

5. Jack Carson. In doing a little research for this post, I learned that during his career, Jack Carson was never even nominated – let alone won – an Academy Award, or any other kind of movie award. Such a shame, because Carson’s portrayal of Wally Fay was definitely of award-winning caliber. Carson took this fellow, infused him with equal parts humor, intelligence, and charm, threw in some ruthlessness and deceit, added a dash of cool – and gave us one of his most memorable and watchable characters.

6. The women’s clothes. My favorites were the suit and matching hat worn by Veda on the day she got her new car, the shiny striped number Ida wore to Veda’s 17th birthday party, and the jaunty little hat Mildred had on in the scene in the attorney’s office. Honorable mention to Mildred’s gorgeous fur jacket. (Sorry, PETA!)

Wouldn't you love to have a pal like Ida? I would.

Wouldn’t you love to have a pal like Ida? I would.

7. Ida Corwin. She was the cool pal that every woman would love to have – somebody you could share a drink with in the middle of the day, and count on to give it to you straight, no chaser. Both literally and figuratively. If you know what I mean.

8. Joan Crawford. Actually, this should have been number one. What was I thinking?

9. Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but I love the fact that Mildred winds up with Bert in the end.

10. And, finally, the lines – oh, the lines! Like these:

“Being a detective is like making an automobile. You just take all the pieces and put them together one by one. First thing you know you’ve got an automobile. Or a murderer.” Inspector Peterson (Moroni Olsen)

“I was in love with him, and I knew it for the first time that night. But now he’s dead and I’m not sorry. He wasn’t worth it.” Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford)

"What's on your mind, lady?"

“What’s on your mind, lady?”

“What’s on your mind, lady? You know what I think? I think maybe you had an idea you’d take a swim, that’s what I think. You take a swim, I’d have to take a swim. Is that fair? Just cause you feel like bumping yourself off, I gotta get pneumonia. Never thought about that, did you? Okay. Think about it. Go on, beat it now. Go on home before we both take a swim.” Policeman on Pier (Garry Owen)

“With this money, I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and from everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its mean that wear overalls. You think just because you made a little money, you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can’t. Because you’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing. With this money I can get away from every rotten, stinking thing that makes me think of this place or you!” Veda Pierce (Ann Blyth)

"Alligators eat their young."

“Alligators eat their young.”

“Oh, men. I never yet met one of them that didn’t have the instincts of a heel.” Ida Corwin (Eve Arden)

“Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.” Ida Corwin (Eve Arden)

“You still don’t understand, do you? You think new curtains are enough to make me happy. No, I want more than that. . . . The way you want to live isn’t good enough for me.” Veda Pierce (Ann Blyth)

“You don’t really believe I could be in love with a rotten little tramp like you, do you?” Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott)

Don’t miss Mildred Pierce, airing on TCM Thursday, January 23rd, as part of the spotlight on Joan Crawford. You only owe it to yourself. (For real, though.)

Note: A version of this post appeared at 1001 Movies I (Apparently) MUST See Before I Die, as part of the Seven Shadows blog event.


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