Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The 2020 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers!

"In a year which has been so improbable..."

The last time the Dodgers won the World Series was the week our oldest daughter was born.  Feeling pure joy tonight!

Classic Movie Hub: The 2020 Virtual Lone Pine Film Festival

This year, like so many other events, the 2020 Lone Pine Film Festival went "virtual."

This month at Classic Movie Hub I've written about my experience spending a weekend enjoying the online festival.

After the festival concluded I interviewed Shawn Lum, Director of the Museum of Western Film History, about how the festival went and what it might mean for the future.  Her comments are also included in my column.

Please click over to Classic Movie Hub to check it out.  As always, thanks for reading!

Previous Classic Movie Hub Western Roundup Column Links: June 2018; July 2018August 2018September 2018October 2018November 2018December 2018January 2019February 2019April 5, 2019April 30, 2019May 2019June 2019July 2019August 2019September 2019October 2019November 2019December 2019January 2020February 2020March 2020April 2020May 2020June 2020July 2020August 2020September 2020.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Disputed Passage (1939) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

DISPUTED PASSAGE (1939) is one of two Dorothy Lamour films for Paramount Pictures which were recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

The second film, SPAWN OF THE NORTH (1938), will be reviewed here at a future date.

DISPUTED PASSAGE is a melding of medical melodrama and love story based on a novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, who appears on screen briefly during the opening credits to express his satisfaction with the movie.

John Howard plays John Wesley Beaven, a medical student studying surgery under the demanding, difficult Dr. Tubby Forster (Akim Tamiroff).

As time goes on and he becomes more immersed in his work, Dr. Beaven puts aside all thoughts of any life outside of medicine; he begins teaching in the medical school as he continues to absorb Dr. Forster's knowledge.

Then Dr. Beaven meets beautiful Audrey Hilton (Dorothy Lamour), an American woman raised in China by Chinese foster parents, and realizes he wants a fully rounded life which makes room for love...but Dr. Forster plots to stand in his way.

DISPUTED PASSAGE may not be a classic, but it's a solid and engrossing 87 minutes which I enjoyed.  I also found it interesting seeing John Howard as the leading man, when I've more often seen him in supporting parts such as George in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY (1940).  He's quite good as the doctor who goes through both a personal and a professional evolution.

Director Frank Borzage manages to bring some of his famed romanticism to what at times is a somewhat dry story, given the many medical scenes; the moments in which John and Audrey connect and discuss their attraction are both somewhat unusual and moving.  The scenes are different from the norm in that the characters so frankly express their feelings, but there's also an emotional depth which is touching as they recognize their love.  We believe these two souls were meant to find each other and will have a happy life.

I assume the fact that Audrey was Chinese in appearance and language only was due to the conventions of the times, when it was more acceptable for an "American" to marry another American.  To the movie's credit, though, it's clearly conveyed that John doesn't particularly care one way or the other if she's Chinese or American, once he gets over the surprise of learning about her background, and he goes out of his way to do things which honor her background, such as calling her by her Chinese name or providing her with an authentic Chinese meal.  (The latter is due to the help of one of his Chinese students, played by the always-engaging Keye Luke.)

Tamiroff's Dr. Forster is completely annoying; from the opening moments I questioned why being a jerk equated with being a great doctor.  However, as the film goes on the reasons for Dr. Forster's unpleasant, standoffish attitude are explained, and part of the story concerns his own journey back to being a decent human being.

Judith Barrett has a somewhat truncated role as a female medical student who loves medicine but also wants to experience life beyond the hospital.  The cast also includes William Collier Sr., Elisabeth Risdon, Gordon Jones, Victor Varconi, and Philip Ahn.  Look for a young Richard Denning as a student and Fay McKenzie as a nurse.

The movie was lushly shot in black and white by William C. Mellor (A PLACE IN THE SUN); at times he utilizes some offbeat angles and interesting fade-outs, with Lamour's face coming in and out of focus in scenes near the end.  

Lamour, incidentally, is exquisitely beautiful in this, with lovely gowns designed by Edith Head.  Other than when she's manipulated by Dr. Forster, I appreciated that behind the quiet demeanor was a woman who knew her own mind and, like Dr. Beaven, had things in her own life she needed to address before she could commit to a relationship.

As a side note, some of the Chinese exteriors near the end of the movie appeared to me to have been filmed at Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth.

Extras include trailers for three additional films available from Kino Lorber and a new audio commentary by Nick Pinkerton.  The Blu-ray picture and sound are excellent.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Tonight's Movie: The Pied Piper (1942)

I had a nice surprise this morning, when I learned from a friend that THE PIED PIPER (1942), a film I've long wanted to see, would be streaming as part of a free online film festival.

It was shown by the 2nd Attaboy Clarence Film Festival, and as luck would have it, it fit perfectly into my schedule.

For reasons unknown to me this film from 20th Century-Fox is difficult to see, despite being nominated for three Academy Awards.  My movie viewing records show I saw this film on TV as a child, but it's a rare film which was pretty much a blank in my memories.  

I was chagrined to have missed a chance to see it on the big screen when it was unexpectedly shown at the 2018 Cinecon Film Festival; I had already left for the day when the projectionist opened up cans labeled ON THE AVENUE (1937) and it turned out to be THE PIED PIPER instead!  That made today an especially happy second chance to see the film.

Monty Woolley received a Best Actor nomination as John Sidney Howard, an Englishman who has the misfortune to be on a fishing holiday in France when the Germans invade.

Howard immediately makes plans to return to England, and he's persuaded by another couple at the lodge, the Cavanaughs (Lester Matthews and Jill Esmond), to take their children with him.  Mr. Cavanaugh is a diplomat headed for Geneva, and given the escalation into war, the Cavanaughs prefer that Ronnie and Sheila (Roddy McDowall and Peggy Ann Garner) go stay with their aunt in the relative safety of England.

Crochety Howard insists he doesn't like children but acquiesces to chaperoning them for what should be a straightforward trip of less than a day.  That's before the trains stop running and their bus is strafed...

As circumstances become more precarious, Howard and the children doggedly make their way toward the British Channel, unexpectedly picking up more children (Fleurette Zama, Maurice Tauzin, and Merrill Rodin) along the way.

Howard seeks refuge with a French family he knows in Chartres, and their adult daughter Nicole (Anne Baxter) volunteers to help get Howard and his young charges to the channel.  The challenges include trying to keep Ronnie and Sheila from speaking and calling attention to the fact that they're English, as they try to blend in and not attract the notice of Nazi soldiers.  

A fisherman (Marcel Dalio) is set to ferry the little group over to England when they are unexpectedly detained by a Nazi major (Otto Preminger).

THE PIED PIPER might be one of the least-known films ever nominated for Best Picture.  I found it to be quite engrossing, with the performances and a strong script by Nunnally Johnson (from a novel by Nevil Shute) overcoming the studio-bound sets.

The movie, sensitively directed by Irving Pichel, is an unflinching and unsentimental look at war and its impact on children; in that regard it would be well-paired on a double or triple bill with MGM's JOURNEY FOR MARGARET (1942) or Universal Pictures' THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY (1943).  It's not graphic, but it doesn't need to be in order to convey the horrors of war.

One scene in which Howard is threatened by the Nazi major is particularly disturbing, yet there's a fascinating and unexpected payoff after Howard proves his dedication to protecting the children in his charge.  (Clearly he doesn't really hate children, as his actions consistently prove.)  I won't share that plot twist here, other than to say it was reminiscent of another excellent Fox war film, THE MAN I MARRIED (1940).

I have a soft spot for Monty Woolley, who was so good in films like THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER (1942), SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944), and THE BISHOP'S WIFE, and McDowall and Garner were two of the finest child actors of the '40s.  While she's not especially French, Anne Baxter is fine as the brave young woman who comes to Howard's aid.

The cast also includes Helmut Dantine, noticeable in a small role as a Nazi soldier, and J. Carrol Naish, Ferike Boros, Odette Myrtil, and Marcelle Corday.  The movie was filmed in black and white by Oscar-nominated Edward Cronjager, with a score by Alfred Newman.

IMDb lists the running time as 87 minutes; the print I watched was a couple minutes shorter, but since it was shown from the UK it's possible this was due to "PAL speedup."

I really enjoyed the chance to see this film at long last.  Given its multiple Oscar nominations, it's a bit baffling that it hasn't been released on DVD; if nothing else, it seems as though it would be a good candidate for the Fox Cinema Archives DVD-R line, but perhaps there are rights issues.  Hopefully at some point in the future this movie will be more easily available for viewing, as it deserves to find wider audiences.

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...The Warner Archive has announced that LIBELED LADY (1936) and THE PIRATE (1948) will be released on Blu-ray in November.  A pair of excellent choices!

...The Academy Museum has named University of Chicago professor and TCM Silent Sunday Nights host Jacqueline Stewart as its Chief Artistic and Programming Officer.  Stewart gave an interview to the Los Angeles Times.

...Newly released by Critics' Choice on DVD: A "two-fer" of  THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS (1966) and WHERE ANGELS GO, TROUBLE FOLLOWS (1968) starring Rosalind Russell.

...I came across a brief  Variety article from last month about the restoration of ROMAN HOLIDAY (1953).

...Annette Bochenek of the Hometowns to Hollywood blog is hosting the Celluloid Road Trip Blogathon from December 9th through 11th.  Details at the link.

...AMC Theatres may be looking at declaring bankruptcy.

...The Fast and Furious franchise will wrap up with two additional films after F9 (2021), which is currently in postproduction.

...A couple summers ago I enjoyed the Jason Statham ocean adventure film THE MEG (2018).  A sequel is on the way.

...Thanksgiving week Netflix will be debuting a sequel to the entertaining THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES (2018), which starred Kurt Russell as Santa.  A trailer is now on YouTube.  This time around Goldie Hawn, who had a cameo in the prior film, will costar as Mrs Santa.

...I loved reading about the restoration of the neon signs in Lone Pine, California.

...With the governor of California finally making clear this week that he will not allow Disneyland and other amusement parks to reopen for many more months, yesterday Disney announced that its Downtown Disney shopping and restaurant district will soon extend into Disney California Adventure's Buena Vista Street, providing additional shopping and dining locations.  (I anticipate that the wait times to get into a socially distanced, decorated-for-the-holidays Buena Vista Street will be long.)  Meanwhile, a lawsuit against the state by either Disney or the California Attractions and Parks Association is expected in the coming days.

...Notable Passing: William Blinn, whose long career writing for television included BRIAN'S SONG (1971), has died at 83.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my October 17th roundup.

Have a great week, and Go Dodgers!

Friday, October 23, 2020

Dancing Great Marge Champion Dies at 101

The wonderful Marge Champion has died at the age of 101.

Champion, who was born in Los Angeles on September 2, 1919, passed away in the same city on October 21st.

Her death comes a little over two weeks after the recent passing of fellow '50s MGM musical dancer Tommy Rall.  

Champion, seen above and below with longtime husband Gower Champion, was the younger half-sister of actress Lina Basquette; her father was well-known dancing teacher Ernest Belcher, who instructed a number of future dancing stars.

Champion was a significant contributor to two different, equally notable phases in film history.  As a teenager married to Disney animator Art Babbitt from 1937-41, Champion worked on the first full-length animated film, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1937), modeling Snow White for the animators.

She also modeled the Blue Fairy in PINOCCHIO (1940), seen below, and minor characters in FANTASIA (1941) and DUMBO (1941).

She was named a Disney Legend, the studio's highest honor, in 2007.  Disney's D23 website posted an obituary with a look at her career which included this terrific photo of her with a statue of Walt Disney in the Disney California Adventure theme park.

In 1947 she married Gower Champion, to whom she was married for over a quarter century.  Champion had interesting family connections of his own; his brother was writer-director-producer John Champion, whose Western credits included work on PANHANDLE (1948), SHOTGUN (1955), and MUSTANG COUNTRY (1976).

The Champions were teamed in several MGM musicals: SHOW BOAT (1951), LOVELY TO LOOK AT (1952), EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS (1952), GIVE A GIRL A BREAK (1953), and JUPITER'S DARLING (1955).  "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" from LOVELY TO LOOK AT, seen above, is in my Top 5 favorite musical numbers ever put on film.

I was very fortunate to see her speak at Disney's 2012 Destination D event in Anaheim, which celebrated the 75th anniversary of SNOW WHITE.  She was then 93.

For much more regarding this very special performer, please visit the links below.

As someone who loves both MGM musicals and Disney animation, I feel deep gratitude for the many happy hours Marge Champion's work has given me.  My sincere condolences to her family and friends.

Previously reviewed Marge Champion films: SORORITY HOUSE (1939), EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS (1952), and GIVE A GIRL A BREAK (1953).

Additional previous links: Destination D: 75 Years of Disney Animation (2012), Happy Birthday, Marge Champion! (2014), and The Marge Champion Centennial (2019).

Thursday, October 22, 2020

A Tribute to Joan Fontaine

Note: I paid tribute to Joan Fontaine here on her birthday in 2010, reposting it in 2012

I further honored her with a look at her career upon her passing in 2013.

This year I'm celebrating her birthday sharing an updated version of my 2014 tribute for ClassicFlix.  Please click any hyperlinked title to read an extended review. 

Joan Fontaine was born Joan de Havilland on October 22, 1917, in Tokyo, Japan. 

When Joan first entered the film business, the name de Havilland was already "taken" by Joan's older sister, Olivia de Havilland. Particularly given the sisters' competitive relationship, there could not be two de Havillands acting in Hollywood, so Joan tried out the name Joan Burfield for her first film, MGM's NO MORE LADIES (1935). She then changed her mind and decided to adopt her stepfather's last name, Fontaine.

Joan gained experience in a series of programmers for RKO, and by 1937, two years after her first small role in NO MORE LADIES, she was cast as Fred Astaire's leading lady in A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS (1937). It was simply a standard-issue "English rose" romantic lead, but being the first actress other than Ginger Rogers to play opposite Astaire was a significant moment in Joan's career.

In 1940 Joan beat out tough competition and was cast as the Second Mrs. DeWinter in REBECCA (1940), directed by Alfred Hitchcock and produced by David O. Selznick. Selznick won his second Best Picture Oscar in a row, with REBECCA following GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) in receiving Hollywood's highest honor; Joan's sister Olivia received a Supporting Actress nomination for GONE WITH THE WIND. 

Despite a difficult filmmaking experience on REBECCA – among other things, Laurence Olivier was unhappy Joan had been cast instead of Vivien Leigh, whom he married in 1940 – Joan received her first Academy Award nomination as Best Actress, playing the shy young bride who grows up.

That film was immediately followed by Joan winning Best Actress for another Hitchcock picture, SUSPICION (1941), and she was permanently established as a star of the first magnitude.

Fontaine was a unique talent, a subtle actress requiring and deserving careful viewer attention; she fully inhabited her characters, with her voice and body language noticeably changing from role to role. She was so effective in a series of early "mousy" roles that I once tended to think of her as bland, yet when I returned to those movies years later I discovered shadings and nuances I had somehow previously missed. As I explored more of her work, I also discovered she played a greater variety of characters than I had once realized, believably portraying strong and even conniving women who were anything but shy.

Joan's personal life may have been rocky at times, with multiple marriages and tumultuous relationships with her daughters and her famous sister, but her film career was always interesting, if somewhat uneven. Her screen career stretched for over three decades, with only sporadic appearances after the early '60s.

The years after her film career included causing a bit of a stir with a frank autobiography, NO BED OF ROSES (1978). Joan's final years were spent enjoying life with a number of beloved dogs at her home in Carmel, California, where she passed away on December 15, 2013.  Joan's survivors included her daughters and her older sister Olivia, who died in July this year at the age of 104.

I hopefully await the DVD release of one of my favorite Fontaine films, RKO's FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (1946), in which she plays the optimistic wife of struggling veteran Mark Stevens, seen at right. In the meantime, here are some notable Joan Fontaine films which are currently available on DVD:

A DAMSEL IN DISTRESS (1937) - Joan has an interesting footnote in film history as Fred Astaire's first leading lady aside from Ginger Rogers. The movie is also particularly notable for the debut of the Gershwins' “A Foggy Day.” Directed by George Stevens.

GUNGA DIN (1939) - As Joan's star rose she was again directed by Stevens when cast as the love interest in this adventure classic, although the film really belongs to the male characters, including Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

THE WOMEN (1939) - Joan plays Peggy, who's gone to Reno but doesn't really want a divorce. A moving telephone scene where Peggy speaks with her unseen and unheard husband helped Fontaine stand out amidst the all-star cast. Directed by George Cukor.

REBECCA (1940) - Fontaine received her first Best Actress nomination for her role in this classic film, playing the young bride who seems to be competing with memories of her husband's late first wife. Fontaine more than holds her own in a cast which includes Laurence Olivier, George Sanders, and Judith Anderson.

SUSPICION (1941) - Joan won the Oscar for playing a young woman who loves well but not wisely, marrying a handsome cad (Cary Grant). The ending of the film will always be problematic, but Joan offers a superb performance.

THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943) - My favorite Fontaine performance, she plays a frail young girl who falls in love with an older musician (Charles Boyer). To watch Fontaine's opening scenes, skipping around while putting a ribbon in her hair and pulling it out again, is to watch a brilliant actress at work. Though in her mid-20s, she's completely believable as a 15-year-old. Directed by Edmund Goulding.

JANE EYRE (1944) - Joan plays the title role opposite Orson Welles in this excellent version of Charlotte Bronte's classic, directed by Robert Stevenson. A trio of excellent child actresses also starred: Peggy Ann Garner, who played Jane as a child, plus Elizabeth Taylor and Margaret O'Brien.

LETTER FROM AN UNKNOWN WOMAN (1948) - I think I'm in the minority in that I didn't care for this film's plot, in which Joan plays a young woman who convinces herself she's in love with a musician (Louis Jourdan), only to find that he's a cad who impregnates her and disappears. That said, Joan's performance is exquisite and the film should be seen if only for that reason.

BORN TO BE BAD (1950) - One of my favorite Fontaine films, she plays the manipulative Christabel, who steals her cousin's rich fiance while simultaneously conducting a hot affair with another man. Fontaine costars with Robert Ryan, Joan Leslie, and Zachary Scott, directed by Nicholas Ray. Grand fun.

IVANHOE (1952) - Joan played Rowena in MGM's version of the classic tale, with Robert Taylor in the title role and Elizabeth Taylor as Rebecca. Directed by Richard Thorpe.

UNTIL THEY SAIL (1957) - Joan has my favorite scene in this absorbing story of four sisters in New Zealand during WWII. She plays the eldest sister who falls in love with an American soldier (Charles Drake); the moment near the end when she hears from his parents is lovely. Unfortunately some of her role seems to have been left on the cutting-room floor, as stills and the trailer attest. Directed by Robert Wise.

VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1961) - Two decades after her Oscar win, Joan had a starring role in Irwin Allen's colorful adventure film.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Skinner's Dress Suit (1926) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Time for another film from the Kino Lorber Reginald Denny Collection!

I recently reviewed the enjoyable comedy THE RECKLESS AGE (1924).  SKINNER'S DRESS SUIT (1926) was even better, a smartly executed film mixing intricate plotting with amusing physical comedy.

Skinner (Denny) works as a clerk in a firm selling nuts and bolts.  His adoring wife Honey (Laura La Plante) believes her man can do anything and pushes him to ask for a raise.

Alas, the firm is about to lose its biggest customer, Jackson (Lionel Braham), and the answer to Skinner is "no."  Unfortunately Honey is so confident in her husband that she's already planned a celebratory dinner and told her friends about his "raise," and Skinner is embarrassed to tell her the truth.  Instead he lies and says he's received a raise of $10 a week, and Honey then insists he get a new suit on an installment plan.  Honey, meanwhile, gets a new dress.

Things go from bad to worse for Skinner when he's laid off, which he also avoids telling Honey.  Fortunately a couple of social encounters thanks to their unaffordable finery lead to an unexpected solution before Honey can find out the awful truth about their finances.

Denny and La Plante are utterly charming as the adoring young couple who have a cute little house but would love to "upgrade" their living situation.  The two actors engage in some marvelous physical comedy, much of it centered around learning a new dance step.

I also especially enjoyed Honey being smart enough to follow her husband's lead and adapt to curious situations, first when they meet Mr. Jackson at a hotel and later when her husband's employers show up at their home.  The change in her expressions is delightful as we see her initial reactions and then the adjustments she makes following her husband's cues.

One of the movie's strong points was what seemed like a very limited use of intertitle cards.  Lengthy scenes were played with minimal narration, relying instead on the actors' skills to put across what was happening.  The craftsmanship in this regard made me think of Harold Lloyd comedies.

The one aspect of the film I didn't care for was the plot device of Skinner lying to Honey; I tend to find stories centered around miscommunication or falsehoods stressful, but fortunately the longer the 70-minute movie goes on, the more amusing Skinner's situation becomes, and the unexpected resolution is quite delightful.  I think the next time I watch it -- and there will definitely be a next time -- I will enjoy it more as I won't be stressing out on Skinner's behalf!

The movie was a treat, and I'm very much looking forward to WHAT HAPPENED TO JONES? to finish off the set.

SKINNER'S DRESS SUIT was filmed by Arthur Todd.  The supporting cast includes Arthur Lake, Hedda Hopper, Betty Morrissey, Ben Hendricks Jr., and E.J. Ratcliffe.  

The movie was directed by William A. Seiter, who later directed Denny in the first film where he really caught my eye, THE RICHEST GIRL IN THE WORLD (1934).

Seiter married leading lady La Plante three months after SKINNER'S DRESS SUIT was released.  Their marriage lasted until 1934; shortly after the divorce La Plante and Seiter would each marry the spouse to whom they remained married for the remainder of their lives.

I thought the musical score by Leo Birenberg was excellent.  It added quite a bit to my enjoyment of the movie, which looks terrific on the Kino Lorber Blu-ray.

Like the other films in this set, the disc includes a commentary track by Anthony Slide.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...Actress Marsha Hunt turns 103 today!  Please check out the birthday tribute I wrote last year, which also links to several past tributes to this wonderful actress.  The tributes are filled with photos and movie review links.

...October 17th was a special day, as it's also the birthday of Julie Adams (my 2015 tribute is here), Rita Hayworth, Jean Arthur, and Beverly Garland.

...Critics' Choice has several interesting exclusive "Critics' Choice Collection" DVD sets now available, including the nine-film Buck Jones Western Collection, the six-movie Jungle Jim Movie Collection, and the seven-film Whistler Film Noir Collection. (Via 50 Westerns From the 50s.)

...Speaking of 50 Westerns From the 50s, Toby is hosting the Marie Windsor Blogathon December 11th-14th.

...There are some additional blogathons of interest coming to the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: The Third Annual Claude Rains Blogathon in November and the Second Happy Holidays Blogathon in December.

...Last week Disney announced a major reorganization of its entertainment divisions, with a new focus on streaming.  It will be interesting to see whether that emphasis continues once the pandemic clears up.

...I've mentioned previously my interest in Liam Neeson's new movie HONEST THIEF (2020), and a review from Frank Scheck at the Hollywood Reporter cements my wish to see it: "Minus its elaborate car chases and pyrotechnics, the film would have landed perfectly as a '40s-era Warner Brothers programmer starring the likes of James Cagney or Humphrey Bogart."

...The PUPPETOON MOVIE VOLUME 2 is available for pre-order.

...Earlier this month I shared information about the new drive-in programming at the American Legion's Post 43 in Hollywood.  The nightly drive-in showings are such a success that the American Legion is now raising funds to purchase a 35mm projector for the drive-in screenings, which would allow it to be only the second drive-in in the entire country showing 35mm films.  Again, it's going to be very interesting to see if the new interest in drive-in movies survives COVID.  The Post 43 experience sounds neat, and my husband and I hope to check it out at some point.

...MGM is reviving the American International Pictures label.

...Here's a Christmas music reissue of note: SEASON'S GREETINGS: THE FANTASTIC STRINGS OF FELIX SLATKIN.

...At A Classic Movie Blog KC reviews Scott Eyman's new bio CARY GRANT: A BRILLIANT DISGUISE.  My review is coming once I finish it!

...I'll also soon be reviewing Jeremy Arnold's attractive new book THE ESSENTIALS, VOL. 2: 52 MORE MUST-SEE MOVIES AND WHY THEY MATTER.

...A long, very informative 60-Tweet Twitter thread: The Case for Reopening Disneyland and How California Has Failed Its Citizens by Dre (@VashSky). 

...Notable Passings: We've lost a number of Hall of Fame baseball players this year, most recently Joe Morgan, who was part of Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" of my childhood, and the Yankees' Whitey Ford.  They were 77 and 91, respectively...Herbert Kretzmer, who wrote the English-language lyrics for the musical LES MISERABLES, has passed on at 95.

...For additional recent links of interest to classic film fans, please check out my October 10th roundup.

Have a great week! 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Rhonda Fleming Dies at 97

 Sad news this evening, actress Rhonda Fleming has left us at the age of 97.

She passed away on Wednesday, October 14th.  Her death has been reported by VarietyThe Hollywood Reporter, and Deadline.

She is survived by her son, four stepchildren, and numerous grandchildren.

In 2017 I wrote an extensive birthday tribute to Fleming which includes numerous photos and movie review links.  Please click on the link for much more on this special lady, who was not only a fine, beautiful actress but a generous philanthropist.

With gratitude for many happy hours "at the movies," rest in peace, Miss Fleming.

A Tribute to Linda Darnell

Note: I paid tribute to Linda Darnell here on her birthday in 2013. This year I am honoring the actress with a tribute sharing 10 favorite Linda Darnell films, adapted from my 2014 column for ClassicFlix. Please click any hyperlinked title to read an extended review. 

Linda Darnell is best remembered as one of the most beautiful women to grace the movies in the '40s and '50s, yet a closer look at her career suggests she was much more than that. The underrated Darnell was talented as both a dramatic actress and a comedienne, and her list of credits is one any actress would envy. 

Darnell starred in every kind of movie, including film noir, Westerns, swashbucklers, comedies, musicals, and dramas; some of her films are among the very finest titles in American cinematic history.

Linda Darnell was born Monetta Eloyse Darnell on October 16, 1923, in Dallas, Texas. Monetta's mother groomed her daughter for stardom from her earliest childhood, and Monetta was first brought to Hollywood by a Fox talent scout when she was just 14. Fox found Monetta too mature in appearance to be a child actress but too young to play adult roles, so she was sent home to Texas for another year.

In April 1939 15-year-old Monetta returned to Hollywood and went under contract to 20th Century-Fox, where she promptly began filming a starring role in her first movie, HOTEL FOR WOMEN (1939).

That same year she was still just 15 when she starred as the leading lady opposite Tyrone Power in DAY-TIME WIFE (1939). Darnell later recalled her embarrassment when one minute Power would be romancing her in front of the cameras, and then she'd be interrupted to work on her school lessons. Power, who would make three more films with Darnell, was kind to the young girl and when she became nervous and blew takes, he would muff lines himself and claim the bad takes were his fault.

Darnell started out at the top, in leading roles, and became a star almost literally overnight. She appeared in over 40 films, and she also did occasional guest roles on TV series in the late '50s and early '60s.

Off the screen, Darnell had three failed marriages. Most tragically, she died in a house fire on April 10, 1965; she was just 41 years old. Darnell was survived by her daughter Lola.

University of Oklahoma Press published a fine biography of Darnell, HOLLYWOOD BEAUTY: LINDA DARNELL AND THE AMERICAN DREAM by Ronald L. Davis. Davis's book includes a great deal of original primary source research and is highly recommended.

Some of Darnell's films, most significantly the Jerome Kern musical CENTENNIAL SUMMER (1946), are not yet available for home viewing. Here are some key Darnell films which can be seen on DVD and/or Blu-ray; as can be seen below, she worked with many of the American cinema's greatest directors and had an enviable film career.

THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940) - One of the greatest swashbucklers ever made, and a favorite that I never tire of watching, this was the best of Darnell's four films with Tyrone Power. She was just 16 when she starred in it; director Rouben Mamoulian was quoted by Linda's biographer as saying "She was like spring, young, sweet, and innocent."

BRIGHAM YOUNG (1940) - Another movie the 16-year-old Darnell made with Tyrone Power, this is a good rather than great film, but it's a personal favorite because Power and Darnell are so appealing together. The rugged locations in Lone Pine, California, and Kanab, Utah, add a great deal to the movie's dramatic power. Directed by Henry Hathaway, who said of Linda, "A sweeter girl never lived."

IT HAPPENED TOMORROW (1944) - An absolutely charming and funny comedy-fantasy directed by Rene Clair (I MARRIED A WITCH). Darnell was well-teamed with Dick Powell, who mysteriously receives newspapers predicting the next day's news. I wish they had made more films together.

HANGOVER SQUARE (1945) - A sumptuously produced Victorian murder melodrama directed by John Brahm, with Darnell as a music hall floozy involved with mentally disturbed composer Laird Cregar.

FALLEN ANGEL (1945) - One of my all-time favorite film noir titles, and one of Darnell's best performances, under the direction of Otto Preminger. She plays Stella, a tough waitress lusted after by stranger-in-town Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews). Stella wants to marry money, and the broke Eric comes up with a plan to persuade Stella to marry him -- but his convoluted plot involves him first marrying shy, wealthy June (Alice Faye).

ANNA AND THE KING OF SIAM (1946) - Darnell plays Tuptim in the excellent original dramatic version of the story which would later become THE KING AND I (1956). Irene Dunne stars as "Mrs. Anna" and Rex Harrison as the King, directed by John Cromwell. Darnell's death scene is so disturbing I've only been able to watch this movie once, especially as it foreshadows Darnell's tragic off-screen death.

MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946) - Darnell plays tough saloon girl Chihuahua in director John Ford's great American classic, which also stars Henry Fonda and Victor Mature. She more than held her own working with Ford and his excellent cast.

UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948) - Darnell is absolutely delightful as the bewildered wife of a jealous conductor (Rex Harrison) in this dark Preston Sturges comedy.

A LETTER TO THREE WIVES (1949) - This classic comedy-drama, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, might be Darnell's all-time best performance. She plays Lora Mae, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who wants financial security and marries rough-hewn but wealthy Porter Hollingsway (Paul Douglas), only to eventually realize she actually loves the big lug. The "beauty and the beast" pairing of Darnell and Douglas works very well, and they were teamed again in EVERYBODY DOES IT (1949) and THE GUY WHO CAME BACK (1951).

ZERO HOUR! (1957) - Darnell was reunited with her FALLEN ANGEL costar Dana Andrews in this classic airplane disaster film, costarring Sterling Hayden. The actors play it straight, but much of the unforgettable dialogue was used "as is" in the comedy spoof AIRPLANE! (1980). ZERO HOUR! is a camp classic which causes the viewer to chuckle - yet the actors somehow emerge with their dignity intact. And as I wrote in my tribute to Dana Andrews earlier this year, the more I see the film, the more seriously I take it! Amusing lines aside, I find it an exciting and suspenseful film. Directed by Hall Bartlett.

This post is adapted from an article originally published by ClassicFlix in 2014.

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