List o’ the Week: Unsung Oscars

•March 23, 2022 • 10 Comments

I’ve always loved awards season, and I’ve always been a huge fan of the Academy Awards – I never miss them; before my daughters went away to college (and then moved out of my house), we used to have Oscar parties every year where we’d dress up, eat pizza, and watch the show. As soon as the nominations were announced each year, I’d embark on a quest to see as many nominated films as possible – with streaming, this will be the first year that I have seen every film nominated in all the major categories for the Academy Awards. What a thrill!

If you look at the Oscar categories from the 1940s and 1950s, you’ll notice very few film noir features among the nominees and winners, which is a real shame because there were so many that were worthy of acknowledgment. In celebration of this year’s Academy Awards event, I’m listing films and performances during the film noir era that I believe were Oscar noteworthy and deserving of being nominated for that golden statuette. Here goes:

Edward G. Robinson was made for this role.

Judith Anderson: Best Supporting Actress – Laura (1944)

Edward G. Robinson: Best Actor – Scarlet Street (1945)

Nina Foch: Best Actress – My Name is Julia Ross (1945)

John Garfield: Best Actor – The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Claire Trevor: Best Actress – Born to Kill (1947)

Kent Smith: Best Actor – Nora Prentiss (1947)

Tryone Power: Best Actor – Nightmare Alley (1947)

Richard Widmark: Best Actor – Road House (1948)

O’Donnell’s Keechie was a heartbreaker.

Cathy O’Donnell: Best Actress – They Live By Night (1948)

Van Helflin: Best Actor – Act of Violence (1949)

Robert Ryan: Best Actor – The Set-Up (1949)

Wallace Ford: Best Supporting Actor – The Breaking Point (1950)

Jean Hagen: Best Supporting Actress – The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Lloyd Bridges: Best Supporting Actor – Try and Get Me (1950)

Night and the City (1950): Best Picture

Kirk Douglas: Best Actor – Detective Story (1951)


Nobody could have played this role like Robert Walker. Nobody.

Robert Walker: Best Actor – Strangers on a Train (1951)

Ace in the Hole (1951): Best Picture

Marie Windsor: Best Supporting Actress – The Narrow Margin (1952)

Gloria Grahame: Best Supporting Actress – Sudden Fear (1952)

Jean Peters: Best Actress – Pickup on South Street (1953)

Ida Lupino: Best Director – The Hitchhiker (1953)

Mickey Rooney: Best Actor – Drive a Crooked Road (1954)

Carolyn Jones: Best Supporting Actress – Shield for Murder (1954)

Richard Conte: Best Actor – The Big Combo (1955)

Everett Sloane: Best Supporting Actor – The Big Knife (1955)

The Killing (1956): Best Picture

Tony Curtis: Best Actor – The Sweet Smell of Success (1957)

What are some performances or films that you think should have been nominated for an Oscar? Leave a comment and let me know!

Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM for March 2022

•March 3, 2022 • 7 Comments

Beginning this month, I’m stepping into my Shadows and Satin past and resurrecting a series I used to have back in the day – serving up monthly recommendations for film noir and pre-Code features airing on TCM.

As part of its annual celebration of the Academy Awards, the March line-up on TCM focuses on Oscar winners in a wide variety of categories. My picks for the month feature a winner for Best Actress (Joan Crawford) and Best Story (a category that was eliminated in 1957 and replaced by Best Original Screenplay). Read on for my shadowy and satiny selections for the month of March!

Shadowy Pick: Mildred Pierce (1945)

Veda (Ann Blyth) may look sweet, but believe me. She ain’t.

The March pickings are slim on the noir side on TCM, so I’m recommending a tried and true favorite: Mildred Pierce (1945). Starring Joan Crawford in the title role, this feature tells the tale of a single mother and the lengths she’ll go to for her children (in particular her older daughter) – which may or may not include homicide. The film opens with the murder of Mildred’s second husband, Monty Beragon (Zachary Scott) – in a string of flashbacks, we get to know Mildred, who makes ends meet by working as a waitress and baking pies when her first husband, Bert (Bruce Bennett) flies the coop; Mildred’s daughters Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe), a delightful tomboy, and Veda (Ann Blyth), a self-absorbed, social-climbing snob; Mildred’s loyal pal, Ida (Eve Arden), who’s always quick with a quip or a sage word of advice; and Wally Fay (Jack Carson), Bert Pierce’s ex-partner and Mildred’s would-be boyfriend (if Wally had his way). For the Top 10 reasons why I’m simply mad about this film, click here.

Other stuff:

Barbara Stanwyck wore this same mink in another 1945 movie. Good thing she and Joanie were pals!

The striking mink coat that Joan Crawford wears in Mildred Pierce was also worn that same year by Barbara Stanwyck in Christmas in Connecticut (1945). Similarly, the brooch Crawford wears in the scene where she proposes to Monty (“Sold – one Beragon.”) was worn by Ingrid Bergman in her first scene in Casablanca (1942) and by Ilka Chase in Now, Voyager (1942). All of these were Warner Bros. films. Talk about economizing!

The role of Mildred Pierce was initially offered to, and rejected by, Bette Davis. The next choice was Barbara Stanwyck, who was the front-runner for the part until director Michael Curtiz saw Joan Crawford’s screen test.

Michael Curtiz’s house doubled as Monty’s beach house.

Monty Beragon’s beach house, seen several times throughout the film, was actually owned by director Michael Curtiz. Built in 1929, the house was located in Malibu and was washed into the ocean following several days of heavy storms in early 1983.

Satin Pick: Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

By happenstance, I watched Manhattan Melodrama (1934) just a few days before I started work on this post. It had been years since I’d seen this juicy melodrama, and I enjoyed it just as much as I did the first (and second, and third) time I saw it. The movie opens in the early 1900s, where a large group of families, men, women and children, are on their way to a picnic via a paddlewheel steamboat called the General Slocum. Among the young passengers are pint-size hooligan Blackie Gallagher (Mickey Rooney), and his bookish pal, Jim Wade (Jimmy Butler), who are taken in by the father of a school friend when the boat catches fire and their parents are killed.

These three.

The film goes on to follow these two friends for the next 30 years, as Blackie (Clark Gable) grows up to be a smooth-talking but ruthless gangster and Jim (William Powell), on the other side of the law, becomes a district attorney and then governor of the state. In addition to their friendship, the men also share their love for a good woman – Eleanor – played by Myrna Loy.

Other Stuff:

The General Slocum was an actual boat that suffered a real-life tragedy on June 15, 1904. On that day, a group of more than 1,000 people were on their way to an end-of-year church picnic on the North Shore of Long Island when the boat caught fire. A total of 1,021 souls were lost.

John Dillinger was killed by police in front of this Chicago theater after seeing Manhattan Melodrama.

Famed gangster John Dillinger had just seen this movie in Chicago when he was gunned down by police in front of the Biograph Theater. The Biograph was still a fully operational movie theater until 2004 – I saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show there in the 1980s. It was renovated and reopened in 2006 for live performances.

Listen for a song in the film titled “The Bad in Every Man.” After the film’s release, lyricist Lorenz Hart was tapped to write words to the song that would be more commercially successful. The result was “Blue Moon.” Hart also wrote the lyrics to such standards as “The Lady is a Tramp” and “My Funny Valentine.”

Mildred Pierce airs on TCM on March 20th and Manhattan Melodrama can be seen on TCM on March 14th. Celebrate the Oscars and check ‘em out!

You only owe it to yourself.

And Now For Something Completely Different . . .

•February 17, 2022 • 4 Comments

I’ve always been a collector.

I have collections of dolls, ashtrays, shot glasses, vintage radios, refrigerator magnets, souvenir bells, and books that were made into classic movies. But my favorite collection is my classic movie magazines. I’m fascinated by these publications – they offer such interesting snapshots of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Today at Shadows and Satin, I’m taking a look at the July 1931 issue of The New Movie Magazine. (New Movie, incidentally, is one of my favorites – the cover art is always exquisite!) Specifically, I’m diving into the section of the magazine titled “Gossip of the Studios” to provide, in hindsight, a follow-up to the predictions, innuendos, and miscellaneous reportage offered up by the anonymous columnist.

MacDonald and Raymond wed.

New Movie Magazine Gossip Item: Jeanette MacDonald (best known today for her tuneful teamings with Nelson Eddy in films like Naughty Marietta [1935] and Maytime [1937]) has set June 1932 as her wedding month to New York stockbroker Robert Ritchie. The two met in 1928 at the Mayfair Club in New York.

What Really Happened: There were no wedding bells between MacDonald and Ritchie. Instead, in 1937, MacDonald married actor Gene Raymond. They were together until MacDonald’s death in 1965 at the age of 61. (By the by, I’ve come across a lot of information about MacDonald, Raymond, and MacDonald’s relationship with co-star Nelson Eddy, including that MacDonald and Eddy were madly in love, that Raymond was either gay or bisexual, that Eddy was “blackmailed” into marrying Ann Franklin – ex-wife of director Sidney Franklin – and that MacDonald and Eddy continued seeing each other, despite their respective unions. I told you it was a lot. Whew!)

New Movie Magazine Gossip Item: Charles Farrell recently returned from his European honeymoon with bride Virginia Valli. While in Europe, they sent a postcard to a friend that read, “Having a grand time – glad you’re not here.”

Farrell and Valli.

What Really Happened: Farrell is best known today for the 12 movies he starred in with Janet Gaynor and as Gale Storm’s father in TV’s My Little Margie, and Valli was a popular actress during the silent era; her films included Alfred Hitchcock’s first feature, The Pleasure Garden. The two wed on Valentine’s Day in 1931 and, afterward, Valli quit the movies.

Farrell and Valli moved to Palm Springs; Farrell was instrumental in the town’s growth and served as its mayor for three terms. The couple remained married until Valli’s death in 1968 and Farrell never remarried. He died of a heart attack in 1990 at the age of 89 – in 1999, a statue of Farrell was dedicated in front of the Palm Springs airport.

New Movie Magazine Gossip Item: Fifi D’Orsay has filed an application to become a United States citizen. The actress stated that, by the time she received her citizenship, she hoped to find a man who would make her a good husband. According to the columnist, D’Orsay says “there’s no use having a nice house with a gate if there is no one at the gate to meet you when you come home.”

Fifi, the “Ooh-la-la” girl.

What Really Happened: D’Orsay was a Canadian native who usually played a French coquette and was credited with popularizing the phrase, “Ooh la-la,” She can be seen in such films as Wonder Bar (1934) and The Merry Widow (1935).

D’Orsay received her U.S. citizenship in 1936. She apparently couldn’t wait to be a citizen before getting married – in 1933, she married Earl Hill, the son of a Chicago manufacturer, but she divorced him in 1939. In 1947, she tried again, this time with restauranteur Peter LaRicos, but this union ended five years later.

New Movie Magazine Gossip Item: Director King Vidor has selected Ernest Torrence for “one of the more important roles” in Greta Garbo’s newest picture, Susan Lenox (Her Fall and Rise).

Ernest Torrence: Gone too soon.

What Really Happened: Torrence, whose biggest films were silent features The King of Kings (1927) and Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928), was not in the cast of Susan Lenox, released in October 1931. He only appeared in seven more features; in 1933 at the age of 54, he died of complications following surgery. Shortly before his death, he’d completed filming what would be his last movie, I Cover the Waterfront, starring Claudette Colbert.

And that’s all she wrote. How was YOUR day?

TCM Is Going Film Noir Nutty . . . Again!

•February 9, 2022 • 5 Comments

Once again, TCM is going film noir nutty! Coming up on February 10th (which happens to be the day that my beloved grandmother – who lived to be 109 – was born), TCM is airing not one, not five, not seven – but a whopping TEN features from the classic noir era. From morning ‘til night, you can satisfy your noir craving and even have some left over for snacks and dessert! Here’s a rundown of what you can expect:

The Set-Up (1949)

One of my favorite noirs, The Set-Up stars Robert Ryan as Stoker Thompson, an aging boxer who still believes that he’s just one punch away from victory. Shot in real-time, the film shows Stoker and his fellow boxers preparing for the night’s bouts while, at the same time, we see that his manager and trainer (George Tobias and Percy Helton) have sold him out to local gangster Little Boy (Alan Baxter), promising the dapper hood that Stoker would take a fall. For more on this feature, click here.

Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

Things don’t look good for Elisha Cook, Jr.

Considered by many – including me – to be the first film of the classic noir era, this feature centers on Joe Briggs (Elisha Cook, Jr.), an ill-fated taxi driver who is arrested after fleeing the scene of a murder. When Briggs is convicted for the crime and sentenced to death, the reporter (Joe McGuire) whose testimony was responsible for the conviction begins to have second thoughts about Briggs’s guilt.

The Locket (1946)

Nancy and John don’t appreciate Dr. Blair’s wedding gift.

This is another one of my personal favorites; it’s the only noir I know of that has a flashback within a flashback within a flashback, and I am there for all of them. As the film opens, it’s the wedding day of the beautiful, poised, and sophisticated Nancy Blair (Laraine Day), and her husband-to-be (Gene Raymond), John Willis, receives a visit from one Dr. Henry Blair (Brian Aherne). Blair insists that he is married to Nancy and that he has some important (and damning) information about Nancy that John must know. This sets up the heretofore mentioned flashback sequences, where we get to know Nancy and learn that there’s more to her than just a pretty face. More on the film and its star can be found here.

The Woman on Pier 13 (1950)

The not-so-happy couple.

Originally titled I Married a Communist, the film tells the story of Nan Collins (Laraine Day again), who marries Brad (Robert Ryan), a successful executive with a secret past. Among other things, Brad is a former member of the Communist Party, and his happy life with Nan is turned upside down when local agitators use Brad’s ex-girlfriend to stir up trouble.

Cornered (1945)

In this feature, Dick Powell plays a Canadian pilot and prisoner of war survivor who is determined to track down the Nazi collaborator responsible for the death of his French war bride. This was Powell’s follow-up to Murder, My Sweet (1944), his first foray into noir and his initial step toward transforming his screen image from light-hearted everyman to world-weary anti-hero.

Frances only has eyes for the detective.

Nocturne (1946)

This film opens with the murder of a womanizing composer, who’s in the midst of cold-heartedly breaking up with his latest paramour. We don’t see who’s responsible for the deed, but the chief suspects are bit actress Frances Ransom and her nightclub singer sister (Lynn Bari and Virginia Huston) – and the detective on the case, played by George Raft, finds himself falling for one of them.

Angel Face (1953)

Jean Simmons, playing the title role of Diane Tremayne, ain’t no angel. Ambulance driver Frank Jessup (Robert Mitchum) finds this out when Diane’s stepmother is “accidentally” overcome by escaping gas and it turns out that Diane is behind the deed. The climax of this feature is a shocker and truly something to see. For a deep dive into the film, click here.

While the City Sleeps (1956)

The employees of Kyne Enterprises.

This one is chock full of noir vets including Ida Lupino, Dana Andrews, Thomas Mitchell, Vincent Price, Rhonda Fleming, Sally Forrest, James Craig, and George Sanders. Directed by Fritz Lang, the film opens with the death of a media mogul and the takeover of the organization by his indolent son, Walter, played by Vincent Price. Walter, looking for someone to “do the actual work,” announces a new position, vowing to award it to the employee who solves a series of sex murders.

Journey into Fear (1941)

Howard Graham is on the run.

Produced by Orson Welles and co-written by Welles and star Joseph Cotten, this often-complicated feature centers on munitions expert Howard Graham, who survives an assassination attempt in Istanbul. Learning that he’s the target of a Nazi conspiracy, Graham flees to America on a cargo ship, where he finds that his life is in even more danger. Norman Foster – one of my favorite pre-Code actors – is credited with directing the film, but it’s believed that Welles helmed at least parts of it (although he later said that he did not).

The Roberts of Crossfire.

Crossfire (1947)

One of the first films to deal with the topic of anti-Semitism, Crossfire focuses on the murder of Jewish war veteran Joseph Samuels (Sam Levene) and the efforts of a detective (Robert Young) to find the killer. Also on board is Robert Mitchum as an ex-serviceman who aids in the investigation, and Robert Ryan, a blustering, repellant soldier whose anti-Semitic invective makes him a key suspect.

I hope your schedule allows you to see at least one of these film noir features on February 10th. You only owe it to yourself.

Pre-Code on YouTube: Part 2

•February 6, 2022 • 6 Comments

Usually, in this spot, I offer my half of Pre-Code Crazy, where I share my recommended TCM pre-Code feature for the coming month. My partner in this venture, Kristina over at Speakeasy, is working on other projects for a while, so I’m doing a bit of retooling; starting in March, I will be serving up both a pre-Code and a film noir TCM pick of the month – just like in the early days of my blog. So stay tuned for that!

Meanwhile, I’m continuing with a series that I started early last year – pre-Code features that I’ve found on YouTube; today, I’m shining the spotlight on two: The Sins of the Children (1930) and My Woman (1932).

THE SINS OF THE CHILDREN

Also known as The Richest Man in the World, this film stars an actor I’d never heard of before – Louis Mann. Born in New York City in 1865, Mann started his career as a child actor in German-language theatrical productions and, as an adult, performed primarily on the stage. He was only in a handful of films; the last was The Sins of the Children, where he played German immigrant Adolf Wagenkampf, a devoted father of five children – three boys and two girls. As the film begins, Adolf, a barber, is on the brink of finalizing a business deal with a friend to open a savings and loan company. The children are still youngsters, and we quickly see that Adolf is devoted to them. He lovingly awakens each child every morning, and shares his own experiences to impart valuable life lessons to them. When a doctor tells him that his oldest son, Ludwig, is suffering from an illness that can only be cured through a two-year stay in a drier climate, Adolf sacrifices the $3,000 he’d saved to invest in the building and loan. (His former partner winds up a wealthy man, and Adolf remains a barber for the rest of his life.) Years later, when his son Johann (Elliott Nugent) steals money from his job for a “sure thing” horse race, Adolf sells a valuable piece of land to keep him out of jail. He tamps down his hurt feelings when Ludwig (Francis X. Bushman, Jr.) returns home from medical school with an Americanized name, and defends his son when the rest of the family disapproves. He even mortgages his barber shop so that Ludwig – er, Lawrence – can open his own practice. There’s no end to what Adolf would do for his children.

Robert Montgomery has a small part as the boyfriend of Leila Hyams’s character.

But while Adolf’s paternal adoration and support never waver over the years, the viewer sees that, as adults, his children aren’t always the loving, thoughtful offspring that Adolf deserves. We cringe when he finds himself in financial straits and goes begging to Lawrence for help, and when his younger daughter (Leila Hyams) speaks to him with disrespect. We’re about ready to throttle the lot of them when the picture gifts us with an ending that left me in tears – and for me, that’s always a sign of a winning film!

Other stuff:

The matriarch of the Wagenkampf family was played by Clara Blandick – nine years before her performance as Auntie Em in The Wizard of Oz. After years of ailing health, Blandick committed suicide in April 1962 at the age of 85.

The film was based on a short story written by Elliott Nugent, who played Johann, and his father, actor J.C. Nugent. The dialogue was penned by the younger Nugent and Clara Lipman, Louis Mann’s real-life wife.

Louis Mann died the year after Sins of the Children was released. He was 65 years old.

Lobby card featuring Louis Mann, Mary Doran, and Elliott Nugent.

A featured role as a manicurist in Adolf’s barber shop (and Johann’s love interest) is played by Mary Doran. Born Frieda Applebaum in 1910, Doran’s career lasted less than 10 years. I’m always glad to see her in a film; she first piqued my interest as the homewrecker in The Divorcee (1930), and I’ve also seen her in small parts in such films as Their Own Desire (1929), Our Blushing Brides (1930), and Beauty and the Boss (1932).

Most Internet reviews of this film state that Adolf had four children, but there were actually five. The three boys are seen early in the film, as children, but in a scene after the children are grown, Adolf reveals that one of his sons, Rudolf, was killed in World War I.

MY WOMAN

I’ve been a Helen Twelvetrees fan for several years, ever since I saw her in Millie (1931) – so anytime I come across one of her movies, you can bet I’m going to check it out. So far, I’ve never been disappointed, and My Woman was no exception. In it, Twelvetrees stars as singer/dancer Connie Rollins who, along with her comedian husband, Chick (Wallace Ford), performs in her father’s nightclub in Panama. One night, Connie charms a visitor to the club, John Bradley (Victor Jory), president of the world’s largest broadcasting system, who winds up promising her an audition if she’s ever in New York. What Bradley doesn’t know is that Connie is actually interested in promoting her husband, and she and Chick waste no time in hightailing it to the Big Apple. It doesn’t take long for us to see that Chick is a bit of a loafer – charismatic, but lacking in class and character. When they arrive in New York, Connie finds that he’s gambled away most of their meager savings, and he finds a job for her in a “honky tonk,” but refuses to work himself, insisting that he’s “big time from now on.” Still, Connie is devoted to Chick and works tirelessly until she snags an audition for him with Bradley, writes all of Chick’s comedy bits for the radio, and watches with pride as he becomes an overnight sensation.

Chick isn’t exactly a shining example of the ideal husband.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long Chick’s inner asshat to emerge. He throws lavish parties – as many as three in one week. He grows overly fond of the cocktail hour (if you know what I mean), and sometimes shows up drunk to his radio performances. And he falls prey to the attentions of a snooty society dame (Claire Dodd, who’s always so perfect in these roles). I’m not exactly sure what I expected to happen at the film’s end, but I can tell you that I was thrown for a loop – and I loved it!

Other stuff:

Watch for a brief appearance by a young Walter Brennan who plays a stuttering animal impressionist who unsuccessfully (and hilariously) auditions for a radio spot.

Victor Jory had a long and successful career.

Another familiar face belongs to Charles Lane – if you don’t know the name, you’ll surely recognize him when you see him. Here, he adds some comic relief as a fast-talking, uber-supportive entertainment agent with a series of clients who don’t quite make the grade.

Victor Jory enjoyed a prolific career that encompassed film and television as well as the stage, and spanned five decades. Among his best-known roles were the overseer Jonas Wilkerson in Gone With the Wind (1939) and Helen Keller’s father in The Miracle Worker (1962).

The film was directed by Victor Schertzinger, who would later helm the first two of the popular Bing Crosby-Bob Hope “road” pictures: Road to Singapore (1940) and Road to Zanzibar (1941). He died of a heart attack in 1941 at the age of 53.

Tune into YouTube and check out these pre-Code goodies. And let me know what you think!

Pre-Code Crazy: Flesh (1932)

•January 2, 2022 • 13 Comments

I saw Flesh (1932) for the first time when it aired on TCM last year. I don’t remember now what made me decide to watch it, but I enjoyed it so much that I tracked down the DVD and promptly added it to my collection! And when I saw it on the TCM schedule for this month, I didn’t have to look any further – it was a no-brainer to recommend it for my first Pre-Code Crazy pick of 2022.

The film opens with the release of an American woman, Laura Nash (Karen Morley), from a penitentiary in Germany, where she has been imprisoned along with her boyfriend, Nicky Grant (Ricardo Cortez). Laura is being discharged because she is pregnant, but she’s dismayed to learn that Nicky – who, incidentally, doesn’t know that Laura is with child (neither do we, at this point) – will remain locked up. She also dismisses the warden’s suggestion that she return to America.

Polakai’s post-match routine includes a whole lot o’ beer.

Alone, homeless and broke, she winds up at the Kaiserhof, a local beer garden built around a huge wrestling ring; a match is taking place, and the winner is crowd favorite Polakai (Wallace Beery). Laura is supposed to meet Joe Willard (John Miljan) there – apparently Laura, Nicky and Joe were involved in some kind of criminal enterprise where Joe wound up with the money they acquired, and Nicky and Laura ended up “taking the rap.” Laura eats a huge meal, but Joe stands her up, she’s unable to pay, and the beer garden’s owner, Mr. Herman (Jean Hersholt), threatens to contact the police. Laura is rescued, however, when Polakai intervenes, promising to fork over the money for her bill. As it turns out, this is only the first of numerous good deeds to be extended by the good-hearted (but slightly simple-minded) Polakai. Later that night, he invites Laura to sleep in his room, which is in a boarding house owned by Mr. Herman and his wife (Greta Meyer). And when Mrs. Herman discovers Laura’s presence and orders her out, Polakai insists that if Laura leaves, he will follow. Unwilling to allow their beloved Polakai to move, the Hermans allow Laura to stay in the vacant room across the hall from Polakai.

Not exactly a gleesome threesome.

As the days and weeks go by, Polakai falls in love with Laura – she can do no wrong in his eyes. When he catches her trying to steal money from his room, he believes her when she says she needs the money to spring her brother from prison, and he uses his cache to secure Nicky’s release. Laura wants to leave town with Nicky right away, telling him that Polakai wants to marry her. But Nicky wants to stick around – in fact, he suggests that Laura accept Polakai’s proposal: “What’s so terrible about that? It’s been done before. I’ll be around,” he says callously. “You’re all alike. It’s always the same. I show you how to get us out of a jam and you start squawking.”

I won’t give you any more specifics, but let’s just say that there is SO much movie left, with a whole lot of pre-Code drama and nary a dull moment. And it’s chock full of fascinating characters, beginning with Wallace Beery’s Polakai. I’m the first to admit that I’m not a huge Wallace Beery fan – I liked (to dislike) him in Grand Hotel (1931), but overall, I think he tends to overact and stray into the ham zone, if you get my drift. But here, he was lovable, sweet, believable – as innocent and guileless as a child but, ultimately, no pushover. Laura is painfully pathetic for much of the film, the type of woman who allows a man to walk all over her like she’s wall-to-wall carpet – in one scene she tells Nicky, “I’ll do anything you want me to. Only be nice to me, Nicky. I love you – even after what you said to me, I love you.” And then there’s Nicky, who’s simply awful – a liar, abuser, double-crosser, and all-round unredeemable creep. (He’s perhaps the worst character I’ve seen Ricardo Cortez play – and that’s saying something.) Other notables in the cast include the oily Joe Willard (who pops up later in the film) and Jean Hersholt’s kindly and loyal Mr. Herman.

Such an attractive couple. Looks can be deceiving.

Tune in to TCM on January 10th to catch Flesh – and let me know if you enjoy this feature as much as I do.

Meanwhile, here are a few trivia tidbits about the film to tide you over . . .

Flesh was co-produced and directed by John Ford (yes, THAT John Ford).

A number of notable personages worked on the screenplay, including Moss Hart, who would become best known for his plays and musicals like My Fair Lady (1956), but would also write the screenplays for such classics as Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) and A Star is Born (1954); William Faulkner, whose most famous novel, The Sound and the Fury, was published in 1929, and who also worked on the screenplays for To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946); and Edmund Goulding, whose primary claim to fame was his career as a director of films like Grand Hotel (1932), Dark Victory (1939), and Nightmare Alley (1947).b

A small role as an ineffectual wrestler is played by Nat Pendleton who, ironically, was a wrestler before becoming an actor and earned a silver medal at the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp. You might recognize Pendleton from numerous films he was in, including Horse Feathers (1932), Manhattan Melodrama (1934), The Thin Man (1934), and The Great Ziegfeld (1936).

Don’t miss Flesh (1932) on January 10th – and be sure to visit Speakeasy to find out what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending this month!

The ‘What a Character’ Blogathon: Barton MacLane

•December 3, 2021 • 12 Comments

Perhaps best known to modern audiences as the blustering General Peterson on the hit television comedy I Dream of Jeannie, Barton MacLane was better recognized in his heyday as one of the screen’s most enduring heavies. In a film career that spanned decades, MacLane was seen alongside such cinematic legends as Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Errol Flynn, and Paul Muni, and was featured in a number of classic screen gems, including The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). As adept at comedy as he was at heavy drama, the versatile character actor also appeared in four films noirs: High Sierra (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941), Red Light (1949), and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950).

MacLane was born in Columbia, South Carolina, on Christmas Day, 1902, the son of the superintendent of a Columbia mental hospital. When MacLane was seven, his family – which included four siblings – moved to Cromwell, Connecticut, where he attended elementary and secondary school. After high school, MacLane enrolled as an English major at Wesleyan University in Middleton, Connecticut, where he was captain of the basketball team and a star of the football team. MacLane’s athleticism provide to serve as his introduction to the world of the cinema when, in a football game against Massachusetts State University during his senior year, he returned a kickoff for 100 yards, a touchdown, a season record – and nationwide attention.

“It was good for a bit of publicity,” MacLane modestly recalled years later.

Barton overseeing Bogie and Edward G. Robinson in Bullets or Ballots.

Among those who took note of MacLane’s feat was actor Richard Dix, who was in nearby Long Island, New York, preparing for a new film, The Quarterback. After seeing a newspaper article on MacLane, Dix sent for him, casting the young man in a bit part as a football player. The exposure to the celluloid world of the movies was all it took to change MacLane’s career direction from writing to performing.

After graduating from Wesleyan, MacLane studied for a year at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and began appearing with a stock company in Brooklyn. He made his Broadway debut in the late 1920s with a walk-on in The Trial of Mary Dugan, and later appeared in such productions as the long-running Subway Express, Yellow Jack, and Hangman’s Whip. During his appearance in the latter play, MacLane was spotted by a talent scout from Paramount Studios, signed to a standard contract, and began appearing in minor roles in films including the Marx Brothers feature The Cocoanuts (1929); His Woman (1931), starring Gary Cooper and Claudette Colbert; and Tillie and Gus (1933), a W.C. Fields vehicle.

In the summer of 1932, MacLane wrote his own play, Rendezvous, which he sold to producer Arthur Hopkins, obtaining a contract to play the lead. The production earned favorable notices, including one from New York Times critic Brooks Atkinson, who wrote that MacLane “has written [Rendezvous] in a glow of youthful exaltation. Although it is realistic in form and told in the resilient argot of the streets, it is ore properly a fantasy of what might happen if a courageous bruiser set about reforming the world at the point of a pistol.”

He was a good guy in the Torchy Blane series.

When his contract with Paramount expired, MacLane was picked up by Warner Bros., where he earned a reputation for portraying gangsters, convicts, or desperadoes in such films as ‘G’ Men (1935), Black Fury (1935), and Bullets and Ballots (1936). But MacLane wasn’t always a villain – in a rare departure from his “heavy” mantle, he played an animal tamer in The Bengal Tiger (1936) and was lauded by one of the film’s professional animal handlers for his “utter confidence and courage.” He also turned in a top-notch performance as a prizefighter in The Kid Comes Back (1938); in a typical notice, New York Times reviewer Frank S. Nugent wrote: “[MacLane], who has been in so many Warner Class B’s that he has begun to buzz when he talks, has found a solid role at last. His Gunner Malone is the stout fighting heart of [the movie] . . . keeping the prize-ring melodrama on its cinematic feet long after the scriptwriters have grown too weary to punch out another line or jab a new situation. Also during this period, MacLane appeared on the right side of the laws as Lt. Steve McBride in the Torchy Blane series, opposite Glenda Farrell.

With his film career in full gear, MacLane also found time for romance. In the early 1930s, he married a non-professional named Martha Stewart, with whom he had two children, William and Marlane. (His daughter would make headlines in 1953 after revealing that she had worked for the FBI as an undercover agent in the Communist Party.) Before the end of the decade, however, the union was over, and in 1939 MacLane married actress Charlotte Wynters, an actress who would be seen in bit roles in classics like The Women (1939), The Great Lie (1941), and Now, Voyager (1942). The couple would remain married until the actor’s death three decades later.

But he was back to playing the villain in High Sierra.

Career-wise, MacLane made his first film noir appearances in 1941, with featured roles in two of the finest examples of the era, High Sierra and The Maltese Falcon. The first, High Sierra, starred Humphrey Bogart as Roy “Mad Dog” Earle, a veteran criminal who emerges from an eight-year prison stretch to plan the heist of a resort hotel. As Jake Kranmer, MacLane played a double-crossing hood who plans to steal Roy’s take from the heist. Next, in The Maltese Falcon, MacLane was on the right side of the law, portraying Lt. Detective Dundy, a tough, uncompromising cop who suspects private eye Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart) of murder.

Never at a loss for film assignments, MacLane was seen throughout the 1940s in a wide variety of features, including horror films, westerns, war-themed movies, prison pictures, and even two entries in the TarIzan series – Tarzan and the Amazons (1945) and Tarzan and the Huntress (1947). Also during this period, MacLane was seen in the well-received Humphrey Bogart starrer, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948); wrote his second play, Black John, which was produced in Dallas and Los Angeles; and appeared in two more films noirs, Red Light (1948) and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1950).

His cop in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye was on the wrong side of the law.

The first, a so-so offering with strong religious overtones, starred George Raft as a trucking magnate who is bent on avenging the shooting death of his chaplain brother. In a fairly good-sized role, MacLane portrayed a cop who investigates the murder, and was singled out by one critic for his “outstanding” performance. He also played a cop – this time a crooked one – in Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, which starred James Cagney as a ruthless, sociopathic hood. For his portrayal of the conniving police officer, Barton was again praised by reviewers, including Edwin Schaller of the Los Angeles Times, who labeled him “tops.”

During the 1950s, MacLane played supporting roles in such box office successes as The Glenn Miller Story (1954), an entertaining biopic of the big band leader with James Stewart in the title role. But he was more often seen in a spate of westerns that included Best of the Badmen (1951), Foxfire (1955) – one of five films in which MacLane appeared with his wife – and Frontier Gun (1958). MacLane also busied himself during the period with guest spots on a variety of television series, including Cheyenne and Gunsmoke.

MacLane departed from his typical bad guy persona in 1960, when he took on the part of U.S. Marshal Frank Caine in the NBC-TV series The Outlaws. The change was a welcome one for the actor, who admitted that he felt uncomfortable playing the villain.

From The Outlaws.

“I’ve never liked playing heavies,” the actor told TV Guide in 1961. “In fact, I hated ‘em. But that’s what they wanted. And that’s what they got. Well, eventually old heavies mellow. TV is giving me something I have seldom had before – a chance to play the fine fellow. It’s a good feeling.”

After one season on the program, MacLane – along with most of the series’ regulars – was cut from the cast of The Outlaws, but the actor continued to stay busy both on the small screen and in feature films. His television work included appearances on Perry Mason and Laramie, and he was seen on the big screen in such films as Pocketful of Miracles (1961), Frank Capra’s final directing effort, and The Rounders (1965), an amusing comedy-western featuring Glenn Ford and Henry Fonda.

Also in the mid-1960s, MacLane landed a recurring role on the hit situation comedy series I Dream of Jeannie, portraying General Martin Peterson a no-nonsense Air Force official. During the course of the five-year series, MacLane took time out to return to feature films, playing a country doctor in Buckskin (1968) and a sheriff in Arizona Bushwackers (1968). But the latter would be his final screen appearance. Shortly after filming an episode for I Dream of Jeannie, MacLane was admitted to St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California, suffer from double pneumonia. Two weeks later, on January 1, 1969, the 66-year-old actor succumbed to the illness.

Typically cast throughout his career in a series of roles calling for ruthless outlaws, hard-edge convicts, venal cops, or bullying gangsters, MacLane nonetheless managed to bring a special something to his performances, creating memorable portraits out of cardboard-cutout characters. With his trademark scowl and raspy voice, MacLane demonstrated that he was – as labeled by one writer – as fine a heavy . . . as ever shot his way down the movie pike.”

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This post is part of the “What a Character!” Blogathon, hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen, Kellee at Outspoken and Freckled, and Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club. Visit these blogs to read a variety of posts on Hollywood’s greatest character actors!

You only owe it to yourself.

Pre-Code Crazy: Man of the World (1931)

•December 3, 2021 • 2 Comments

Now that another Noirvember celebration is behind us, it’s time to return to Pre-Code Crazy, where I join my pal Kristina, over at Speakeasy, in recommending a pre-Code feature that’s airing on TCM during the month. My pick for December is Man of the World (1931), a film that I’d never heard of until a year or so ago, which surprised me, because it stars two of my favorite performers, William Powell and Carole Lombard.

Powell plays Michael Trevor, an American living in Paris who, in the film’s first scene encounters a man who insists he’s a former reporter from the States named Jimmy Powers. Although Trevor denies that he’s Powers, and produces identification to back up his claim, it turns out that the man was right. Powers-turned-Trevor now makes his living as a refined con-man; he produces a scandal sheet that reports on the misdeeds of visiting Americans, then blackmails them to suppress the damaging information. He’s assisted in this enterprise by his partners Fred (George Chandler) and Irene (Wynne Gibson), who previously had an affair with Trevor and is still toting around a pretty hefty torch.

Trevor, Mary, and Uncle Harry.

We first see Trevor in action when he visits Pennsylvania native Harry Taylor (Guy Kibbee), whose recent dalliance with a local blonde has led to his potential exposure in the underground paper. Presenting himself as an intermediary, Trevor tells him that he can speak to the publisher on Taylor’s behalf and give the publisher $2,000 from Taylor to ensure that the item isn’t printed. Just as Trevor is leaving with his ill-gotten gains, he literally bumps into Taylor’s niece, Mary (Lombard), and for the first time we see Trevor thrown for a loop. He seems to be unable to take his eyes off Mary – she practically takes his breath away, like he’s seen an angel in human form.

When Taylor seeks a restaurant recommendation for Mary and her would-be fiancée, Frank (Lawrence Gray), Trevor endorses a favorite establishment, then shows up that night himself. When he arrives, we get a further glimpse into his character, as he surveys the patrons and gets the lowdown on the night’s action from the maître d’. One of the couples consists of a known local swindler, and the wealthy – and tipsy – American woman he’s romancing. We learn that Trevor operates according to a strict code of ethics that frowns on fleecing the fairer sex. To put the kibosh on the scenario he sees unfolding, he writes an anonymous note to the gigolo, strongly suggesting that he excuse himself from the premises.

The soup is fair, but Mary only has eyes for Michael.

A series of circumstances leads to Trevor sitting with Mary and Frank, taking them to a small local bistro, then squiring Mary around Paris the following day, after Frank travels to London for business. In whirlwind fashion, one thing leads to another, and Mary and Trevor fall in love. But what does their future hold? What will happen if Mary learns how Trevor makes a living? Will Irene’s red-hot jealousy provide an obstacle? And what about Frank?

For the answer to these and other burning questions, tune in to TCM on December 9th – you only owe it to yourself. And in the meantime, treat yourself to some trivia tidbits about this interesting little pre-Code.

The screenplay for the film was written by Herman Mankiewicz, whose many credits include co-writing Citizen Kane (1941), for which he won an Oscar, as well as Dinner at Eight (1933), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), and The Enchanted Cottage (1945). Mankiewicz is the grandfather of TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz and the brother of producer/director/writer Joseph Mankiewicz.

The Strange Case of Clara Deane, starring Wynne Gibson — coming soon to a blog near you.

Like this film, I only discovered Wynne Gibson – who played Trevor’s green-eyed ex-lover – during the past year, in a film called The Strange Case of Clara Deane (which I’ll be covering on this blog in the coming months). She enjoyed her heyday during the pre-Code era, with featured roles in films like Children of Pleasure (1930), City Streets (1931), and Ladies of the Big House (1931).

The film’s director, Richard Wallace, was one of the founding members of the Directors Guild of America. During his career, he directed a number of stars, from Clara Bow to John Wayne; his biggest feature was probably Bombadier (1943), a war film starring Randolph Scott and Pat O’Brien.

William Powell and Carole Lombard met in 1930 on the set of Man of the World and married the following year. They divorced two years later, in August 1933, but reportedly remained friends.

Catch Man of the World on TCM on December 9th – it’s a treat for William Powell fans and offers an intriguing look at Carole Lombard near the start of her career. And it features an ending that, frankly, caught me completely off-guard. All things considered, it’s definitely worth your time. I hope you’ll check it out and let me know what you think – and be sure to pop over to Speakeasy to see what pre-Code gem Kristina is recommending for this month!

Day 30 of Noirvember: Millie Pickens in Among the Living (1941)

•November 30, 2021 • 12 Comments

The final post for Noirvember 2021 shines the spotlight on a gal who’s often more femme than fatale: Millie Pickens in Among the Living (1941).

Millie is completely aware of her charms.

WHAT’S AMONG THE LIVING ABOUT?

Nestled in a category I think of as Gothic noir, Among the Living tells the story of a millionaire, John Baden (Albert Dekker) who is accused of a series of murders that were actually committed by his insane identical twin brother, Paul (also Albert Dekker). Spearheading the manhunt for John is local sexpot Millie Pickens (Susan Hayward), who mistakes him for the brother she’s been cozying up to.

INTRODUCING MILLIE PICKENS:

Millie’s mother (Maude Eburne) runs a boarding house; we meet Millie when Paul Raden goes to the house looking for a place to stay and Mrs. Pickens yells for Millie to show him a room. We spot Millie standing at the top of the stairs, and in just a few seconds, we get our first glimpse into her personality. She’s been cleaning house and has a scarf covering her head, but when she sees Paul, she smoothly removes it and fixes her hair, her eyes lit with sudden interest. She meets him halfway down the staircase, and even the way she descends those few steps is flirty, sexy, and crammed with confidence.

Mind you, she just met this dude, and doesn’t even know his name.

WHY DID I PICK MILLIE?

She’s a cute little trick, and she knows it. She’s full of life, full of sex appeal, a little common. When Paul displays a fistful of cash, her eyes literally widen like she’s a kid being offered a bowl of free candy. She has no shame about depositing the rent money in her bra, and when Paul gives her $30 to buy a dress, she pulls up her skirt and tucks the cash – with nary a hint of self-consciousness – into her garter belt. When they visit a local store together, she dabs on some perfume, then offers her neck to Paul to smell. And she’s so wrapped up in the notion of snagging a $5,000 reward for the capture of the killer (“Wouldn’t that be wonderful? I could get a fur coat! I could get out of this town!”) that she’s completely oblivious to the red flags popping up all around Paul. She’s undeniably the most compelling character in the film.

FROM THE MOUTH OF MILLIE:

“Say, if I had a wad of foldin’ dough like that, I’d go right out and buy myself an outfit that would knock this neighborhood cockeyed!”

PLAYED BY SUSAN HAYWARD:

Born Edythe Marrenner on June 30, 1918, the future star grew up in a tenement in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. When she was seven years old, she was struck by a car, fracturing her hip. Despite her doctor’s forecast that she would probably never walk again, Edythe was able to get around on crutches after six months, and she returned to school a year later. She got her first real acting experiences at Girls Commercial High school, where she acted in numerous plays. After high school, she took a course at Manhattan’s Feagan Drama School, and joined the Walter Thornton Agency to pursue modeling. Before long, she was appearing in numerous magazines, advertising everything from Ritz crackers to Noxema skin cream. Shortly after she appeared in an eight-page spread in the Saturday Evening Post, she signed a test contract with Selznick Studios and was asked to audition for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. She headed for California in November 1937; although she was judged too young and inexperienced for the Gone with the Wind part, she secured an agent, signed a six-month contract with Warner Bros. studio, and was transformed into Susan Hayward (a name given to her by Warners talent exec Max Arnow). Her first appearance on screen was an uncredited role in Hollywood Hotel (1937), starring Dick Powell. Among the Living was her first noir.

And that’s it for Noirvember 2021, folks! It’s been a stone gas and I want to sincerely thank every single person who read, liked, or commented on any of the articles I’ve posted this month – you helped make this year’s event the most enjoyable yet, and I couldn’t be more grateful. And I mean that.

See you in the shadows!

Day 29 of Noirvember: Joe Rolfe in Kansas City Confidential (1952)

•November 29, 2021 • 4 Comments

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on a stand-up guy on a mission: Joe Rolfe in Kansas City Confidential (1952).

Joe is on a mission.

WHAT’S KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL ABOUT?

Flower deliveryman Joe Rolfe (John Payne) is framed for a million dollar heist and determines to find the men responsible. Simple, right? Don’t forget that this is noir . . .

INTRODUCING JOE ROLFE:

We meet Joe on a city street when his florist truck is stopped by a horde of police cars and he’s confronted by cops with their guns drawn. He’s naturally bewildered and a little heated, but he wisely keeps his anger banked down as they start shoving him around and tearing through his boxes of flowers. We next see him when he’s being questioned in a room that includes detectives and his boss at the flower shop, where we learn that (1) Joe spent a year in the pen over a gambling debt, (2) he left college to serve in the war, and (3) he went back to school after he was released from service. Despite Joe’s insistence that he’s innocent, his boss reluctantly fires him (“Nothing personal, you understand . . .”) and the cops continue to hammer at him and – off-screen – try to beat a confession out of him. It’s not looking good for Joe.

WHY DID I PICK JOE?

And he ain’t playing with you.

He grabs your sympathy from the start – we can feel his growing fear and sense of helplessness as the police insist that he was responsible for the heist. We also feel his fury when the cops realize they’ve got the wrong man and release him with a simple, “Sorry we had to detain you. These things happen.” And we certainly feel the frustration that drives his quest to find the men who framed him. There are many things he could have done – turned to crime, moved to another town, or even given up on life, but he didn’t. And we’re with him every step of the way.

FROM THE MOUTH OF JOE:

“Look, you’re a nice girl, but in case you’re thinking of mothering me, forget it! I’m no stray dog you can pick up, and I like my neck without a collar. Now get lost!”

PLAYED BY JOHN PAYNE:

John Payne was born on May 23, 1912, in Roanoke, Virginia, one of three boys; his father was a real estate and construction mogul and his mother once sang minor roles with the Metropolitan Opera. Payne grew up in a life of ease, but the family’s fortunes changed with the stock market crash of 1929, and he was forced to suspend his studies at Roanoke University in order to help support his family. He took on a variety of jobs – including singing at local radio stations – and within a few years, he was able to enroll at the Pulitzer School of Journalism at Columbia University, paying his way by working as a pulp story writer. He also earned money as a boxer and, later, a wrestler – billed as Alexei Petroff, the Savage of the Steppes. He later got a job on radio and was offered a job in the road company of a play produced by the famed Shuberts. He next landed a part as understudy for actor Reginald Gardiner in a popular musical At Home Abroad. According to legend, Payne was spotted in the play by Sam Goldwyn, who signed him to a contract and gave him a bit part in his film debut, Dodsworth (1936), starring Walter Huston. He entered the realm of noir more than a decade later in The Crooked Way (1949).

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for the last day (sniff!) of Noirvember!