Saturday, September 14, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Passion Flower (1930) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Kay Francis stars in PASSION FLOWER (1930), available on DVD from the Warner Archive.

While Francis is most strongly associated with her work at Warner Bros., at this stage in her career she made films for multiple studios, including MGM and Paramount. Her costars in MGM's PASSION FLOWER were longtime MGM contract player Lewis Stone as well as Charles Bickford and Kay Johnson, stars of the previous year's MGM film DYNAMITE (1930).

DYNAMITE has been directed by Cecil B. DeMille, and as it happens, PASSION FLOWER was directed by Cecil's older brother, William C. DeMille.

In PASSION FLOWER Kay plays Dulce Morado, in a loveless marriage to a nice -- and very wealthy -- man, Antonio (Stone).

When Dulce's cousin Cassy (Johnson) marries the family chauffeur Dan (Bickford) -- shades of DOWNTON ABBEY! -- her father (Winter Hall) disowns her. Dulce and Antonio try to gift Dan and Cassy with a small farm next to Morado's estate on their wedding day, but Dan is too proud to accept.

Flash forward half a decade, and Dan has been trapped in a job as a stevedore for the duration of the marriage, and he and Cassy are trying to raise two children in a small garret apartment. When Dan loses his job, he decides it's finally time to move to the country. Dan and Cassy's former landlady (the always-amusing ZaSu Pitts) comes along to live with the family as their housekeeper.

Things are looking up for Dan and Cassy with a new life and a healthier environment for their little ones...and then Dan and Dulce spoil it all by falling in love.

This was an absorbing 79 minutes, though I questioned some of the character motivations. After Dan's long struggle to independently support his family, I'm not sure how much sense it made for him to jump from that to becoming Dulce's "do nothing" lover, but perhaps once he gave in on the farm, that role was a logical next step. And the screenplay does at least make that an issue which bothers Dan.

It was also hard to buy Dulce and Dan betraying the loyal, steadfast Cassy to such an extent; it seemed especially cruel given how she had cheerfully stood by Dan through thick and thin, but then again people don't always do the reasonable thing. The ultimate resolution was interesting.

The leads are all fine, though I've never found Bickford very compelling as a leading man. Johnson is a bit reminiscent of Karen Morley as the long-suffering wife, while Francis is always good as a bored society type. Stone, a fine actor, is pushed to the background in this one and mostly sits around frowning with concern.

The melodrama is lightened by Pitts' amusing deadpan deliveries, and the late Dick Moore, whose birthday was last week on September 12th, is absolutely adorable as Dan and Cassy's son Tommy. He would have been about four or five when he filmed this. I probably could have watched a whole movie consisting only of scenes with Moore playing with his puppy, he's so cute.

Interesting faces spotted in bit parts in this film are Mary Carlisle and future Oscar winner Ray Milland as party guests; Carlisle can just barely be glimpsed, but the young Milland has several lines. He's seen at the left of the DVD cover at the top of this post.

PASSION FLOWER was filmed by Hal Rosson. The script by Martin Flavin was based on a novel by Kathleen Norris. L.E. Johnson and Edith Fitzgerald also contributed to the script.

As is sometimes the case with films of this vintage, the soundtrack of this Warner Archive DVD is a bit fuzzy at times; I had to turn it up louder than normal to be sure I was catching everything. The picture is soft but overall quite acceptable for its age. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Tonight's Movies: Mills of the Gods (1934) and For Heaven's Sake (1950) at Cinecon

My second day at this year's Cinecon Classic Film Festival consisted of seeing four movies, with a short in the mix as well.

I started off with the silent films THE SHAMROCK HANDICAP (1926) and THE DELICIOUS LITTLE DEVIL (1919), both reviewed here, along with the short ROOM MATES (1933).

Then it was time for a mid '30s film, MILLS OF THE GODS (1934), which was a mashup of workplace drama and family soap opera, followed by the comedic fantasy FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE (1950), featuring festival honoree Gigi Perreau; the former child actress sat just a few rows ahead of me as she watched herself acting six decades ago!

MILLS OF THE GODS stars May Robson as Mary Hastings, the head of Hastings Plow Works.

Mary's family (including Fay Wray, James Blakely, Raymond Walburn, and Josephine Whittell) are content to enjoy the wealthy lifestyle the Plow Works affords them, but none of them are interested in succeeding the aging Mary as company head. Truth to tell, they're a collection of selfish jerks.

Things change when business begins to tank due to the Great Depression, which also results in labor unrest. Mary summons her family home, hoping against hope that they will help loosen up some trust funds to bail out the company, but the family members prefer to "take the money and run," letting the company close and putting all the employees out of work.

Sarcastic, hard-edged Jean Hastings (Wray) chances to get to know labor leader Jim Devlin (Victor Jory) and a crack in her armor appears when she decides to help him avoid being arrested on a trumped-up charge cooked up by her relatives. Jean and Jim flee to hide overnight at a mountain cabin; as they get to know one another in their hours together, Jean's attitude begins to change.

This was an interesting 66 minutes, although one of the big questions raised is how did someone as "noble" as Mary raise such a collection of unpleasant people? When Jim gets to know Jean, he asks what had hurt her and caused her to act as she does, but she never answers the question. We're left to wonder. Perhaps Mary was too wrapped up in the business even decades earlier? Or was it just plain bad luck and out of her hands? Clearly there were issues never explained to the audience.

Despite that lingering question mark, the film is worthwhile, especially the extended sequence with Wray and Jory in the cabin. It's sharply written and adult, with excellent performances by Wray and Jory. The sequence zigs when you expect it to zag -- I was glad when it appeared something bad would happen, but it didn't come to pass -- and all in all this section is really superbly done. The movie doesn't go for a pat ending with Wray and Jory, either; it seemed fitting to leave it more open-ended.

MILLS OF THE GODS was directed by Roy William Neill, known for Sherlock Holmes movies, and was filmed by Allen G. Siegler.

The last film of the day for me was FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE (1950), which was a favorite of mine on local TV when I was growing up here in Southern California. Though I've seen it multiple times, I doubt I had seen the movie in the better part of four decades.

FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE is a fantasy in which a pair of angels, Charles (Clifton Webb) and Arthur (Edmund Gwenn), are attempting to retrieve a little sprite of sorts (Gigi Perreau) from a New York penthouse. The little one believes she is destined to be the child of the people who live in the apartment, a playwright named Jeff (Robert Cummings) and his actress wife Lydia (Joan Bennett); careers and marital uncertainty continually cause the couple to put off having children.

The angels take pity on the little girl and Charles temporarily takes human form as "Slim," a possible backer for Jeff's next show, hoping to help push Jeff and Lydia closer together and finally have their baby.

As may be deduced from the briefest of descriptions, this one is pretty wild, between the oddball fantasy and Clifton Webb's scenes playing a different kind of "angel," a Broadway investor; Slim is a Western oilman and as one might imagine, Webb is pretty funny in these scenes, playing wildly against his usual urbane type.

The film is a tad long at 92 minutes, but the interesting premise and solid cast make it worthwhile. The film was a reunion for Gwenn and director-cowriter George Seaton, who had worked together on MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947).

FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE was filmed in black and white by Lloyd Ahern Sr. The top supporting cast includes Joan Blondell, Jack La Rue, Harry von Zell, Tommy Rettig, Charles Lane, Whit Bissell, and Robert Kent.

Perreau was interviewed after the film; her entire family was there to watch the movie with her, which she had never seen theatrically. I'm fortunate in that this was my second time to see her interviewed in person this year. She also appeared at a Noir City Hollywood screening of SHADOW ON THE WALL (1950).

Perreau said that while Webb was clearly not very comfortable around children, he was also quite nice, as was Gwenn, and she had a wonderful experience working on the movie. Perreau is very appreciative in general of the many special people she worked with as a child; happily it all seems to have been positive for her, and she grew up to be a happy, well-adjusted adult.

Coming soon: My final reviews from my last day at this year's Cinecon fest: HIT PARADE OF 1941 (1940), CROOKED STREETS (1920), and CHATTERBOX (1943).

Today at Disneyland: Halloween Time 2019

It's hard to believe it will be autumn in just a few more days!


The change of seasons was definitely in the air as we spent a lovely afternoon and evening enjoying Halloween Time at Disneyland.


Some of the seasonal landscaping was quite different this year. I loved this flower bed at Town Square:


A bit of Main Street U.S.A. decked out in its annual Halloween bunting:


These gorgeous flowers were at the Hub in the center of the park:


I loved these balloon-shaped popcorn buckets:


More beautiful flowers, this time near Zocalo Park in Frontierland:


Dia de los Muertos decorations in Frontierland's Zocalo Park:




Ray Bradbury's Halloween Tree in Frontierland has been one of my favorite things about Halloween Time since the tree was first decorated a dozen years ago. It's a wonderful tribute to Walt Disney's longtime friend, who loved Disneyland:




Main Street U.S.A. as the sun began to set:



The entrance to Disney California Adventure, seen as we left:


Three years ago I attended the Halloween Party in Disneyland. This year I have a ticket for the Oogie Boogie Bash which will take place in Disney California Adventure; the festivities include a brand-new World of Color show, Villainous!, and Mickey's Trick or Treat show. Plus, as usual, all the Halloween candy you can carry!

The party is now sold out for 2019 so I'm glad we got tickets as soon as they went on sale! I expect to share the Halloween party photos here next weekend.

Previous Halloween Time Posts and Photos: September 29, 2006, September 30, 2006, October 21, 2006, September 28, 2007, October 12, 2007, October 17, 2008, October 9, 2009, October 15, 2010, the 2011 Annual Passholder Private Party (October 17, 2011); October 21, 2012, September 13, 2013, October 18, 2013, September 12, 2014, September 18, 2015, September 20, 2016, September 23, 2016, Mickey's Halloween Party, posted on October 18, 2016September 29, 2017October 14, 2017, October 13, 2018 (Disneyland) and October 15, 2018 (Disney California Adventure).

A Tribute to Claudette Colbert

Note: Today is the birthday of one of my very favorite actresses, Claudette Colbert.

I celebrated Colbert with a birthday tribute here in 2011.

Today I honor her with this adaptation of my 2015 column originally published at ClassicFlix. While this piece shares some of the same anecdotes as my 2011 post, it also includes a list of a dozen essential Claudette Colbert films. Click any of the hyperlinked titles for an extended review.


Claudette Colbert, an elegant star adept at both comedy and drama, was born in France on September 13, 1903.

Colbert's family moved to the U.S. when she was young. By her early 20s she was acting on Broadway, where she found particular success in the 1927 production THE BARKER, costarring Walter Huston and her future first husband, Norman Foster.

Colbert's film career began that same year, and by the early '30s she was the star of such films as Ernst Lubitsch's THE SMILING LIEUTENANT (1931) and Cecil B. DeMille's THE SIGN OF THE CROSS (1932). Her film career would last over three decades, punctuated with a notable one-role TV comeback in the late '80s.

Much has been written about Colbert -- her fashion sense, her famed desire to be photographed from the left side of her face -- but perhaps one of the most admirable things about her is the way she mentored younger actors, helping them when they were just starting out. In a business known to have its fair share of self-centered stars, Colbert was the opposite.

Fred MacMurray worked with Colbert on his first major film, THE GILDED LILY (1935), and said, "I'll never forget how kind Claudette was...She was so positive, so kind-hearted, and so unselfish with other players." GILDED LILY costar Ray Milland said years later Claudette was "spiritually lovely inside."

Natalie Wood, who appeared in TOMORROW IS FOREVER (1946), was also quoted years later as saying Colbert was "so kind...such a loving woman," while Richard Long, another costar from that film, said, "I was green and awkward, and I know she sensed my hesitancies and doubts. I always felt that in the complicated scenes I had to do with her that she was playing back specially to me, her eyes willing ease and encouragement."

June Allyson so appreciated Colbert's help on THE SECRET HEART (1946) that she and Dick Powell asked Colbert to be the godmother to their daughter, Pamela; Allyson hoped Colbert would "someday teach her whatever she needed to know, as she had taught me." Claudette Colbert's legacy is thus not simply her work on screen but the many actors she generously helped early in their careers.

Claudette Colbert left the screen after PARRISH (1961), but 26 years later she made a spectacular comeback in the TV-movie THE TWO MRS. GRENVILLES (1987). She gave such an assured performance that it seemed impossible she'd been off the screen for over a quarter of a century, and she was awarded a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.

Colbert was married to actor-director Norman Foster from 1928 to 1935, after which she married Dr. Joel Pressman, a union which lasted until his death in 1968. Foster, incidentally, would also have a very successful second marriage, to Loretta Young's older sister, Sally Blane.

Colbert died in 1996 in Barbados, where she had a home for many years. She was 92.

Claudette Colbert was in so many interesting films it's difficult to try to limit the discussion of "must see" titles! Here are a baker's dozen of essential Claudette Colbert films which are all available on DVD.

IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) - Colbert won an Academy Award as Best Actress for this sleeper hit which swept the Oscars. Whether learning to dunk donuts or teaching Clark Gable the most effective way to hitchhike, Colbert is perfection itself in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT as a runaway heiress who finds love with a newspaper reporter.

CLEOPATRA (1934) - This Cecil B. DeMille epic has to be seen to be believed. Colbert is front and center as the bold, haughty, seductive -- and funny -- title character, wearing eye-popping creations by Travis Banton. The first time I saw this film I found myself repeatedly exclaiming 'Wow!'

MIDNIGHT (1939) (1939) - This film written by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder and directed by Mitchell Leisen is one of the best comedies ever made. It deserves to be even better known than it is, as it's brilliantly funny. Colbert plays a poor Cinderella who moves into the upper echelon of high society thanks to an odd "fairy godmother," played by John Barrymore; meanwhile she's also fallen in love with a penniless taxicab driver (Don Ameche). This is a witty, highly imaginative film, executed in every way with great style, and Colbert was never better.

DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK (1939) - Director John Ford's first Technicolor film couldn't have been more different from the same year's MIDNIGHT, yet it's equally outstanding and Colbert looked lovely in Technicolor! Colbert plays Lana, the wife of a frontier settler (Henry Fonda) in the Colonial era, who must overcome fear and cope with both Indian attacks and the American Revolution.

THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942) - The fact that Colbert starred in some of the greatest comedies ever made is no accident; she's a key reason the movies were so good. Preston Sturges' THE PALM BEACH STORY is another great example. Colbert loves her husband (Joel McCrea) but decides that since they're flat broke the only thing to do is go to Palm Beach and find a rich millionaire who will marry her -- after making her ex wealthy with a divorce settlement! The story gets loonier than that, and it's a great ride, with priceless supporting performances by Mary Astor and Rudy Vallee. Colbert's line deliveries are razor sharp, and she's a stunner in gowns by Irene.

NO TIME FOR LOVE (1943) - This is one of Colbert's lesser-known comedies, but it's a gem. She's teamed with frequent costar Fred MacMurray as an upper-class magazine photographer who meets working-class ditch digger MacMurray on a shoot. They have electric chemistry, and Colbert is once again at her very best, tossing off zingers and looking smashing in gowns by Irene.

SO PROUDLY WE HAIL! (1943) - One of the best WWII films and a moving tribute to the nurses who served at Bataan and Corregidor. With Veronica Lake and Paulette Goddard in fine support it's a somber, realistic film with the only concession to glamour being the black nightgown Goddard clings to as a morale booster.

SINCE YOU WENT AWAY (1944) - Another of the finest films made depicting the WWII era. Having received Best Actress nominations for IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934) and PRIVATE WORLDS (1935), Colbert received her third and last Best Actress nomination as a woman trying to raise her daughters (Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple) and stay financially afloat while her husband is off to war.

WITHOUT RESERVATIONS (1946) - This charming "rom com" pairing of Colbert with John Wayne works surprisingly well. Colbert plays a writer traveling to Hollywood to consult on the filming of her new book; learning that the casting of Cary Grant has fallen through, she believes a Marine pilot (Wayne) on the train would be perfect for the part! The genteel yet game Colbert and rough-hewn Wayne have excellent chemistry.

THE SECRET HEART (1946) - An enjoyable melodrama in which Colbert plays a widow who has raised a pair of stepchildren (Robert Sterling and June Allyson) and is now ready for love with an old friend (Walter Pidgeon), if her neurotic stepdaughter can get out of the way! I like the easy teaming of Colbert and Pidgeon, who seem to be having as much fun as their characters.

THE EGG AND I (1947) - This isn't the best of Colbert's films with Fred MacMurray, but this story of city slickers trying to make a living on a farm is perhaps the best-known film they made together, and it's fun to watch. The movie is particularly notable for spinning off Ma and Pa Kettle (Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride) into their own movie series.

SLEEP, MY LOVE (1948) - Claudette plays a seemingly happily married woman who's being "gaslighted" into thinking she's crazy by her slimy husband (Don Ameche). Robert Cummings plays Claudette's new friend turned knight in shining armor in this well-paced thriller directed by Douglas Sirk. The movie has a nice sense of humor along with thrills and chills.

THUNDER ON THE HILL (1951) - A lesser-known film worth checking out and another directed by Douglas Sirk, with Colbert playing a nun improbably trying to clear a young woman (Ann Blyth) of her brother's murder. This film has a well-constructed story and interesting setting, with Colbert excellent as a perfectionist still dealing with guilt over her own sister's suicide.

This post is adapted from an article originally published by ClassicFlix in 2015.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Let's Make Music (1941) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

LET'S MAKE MUSIC (1941) is a slight but pleasant "big band" musical released on DVD earlier this year by the Warner Archive.

The oddball story has elderly music teacher Malvina Adams (Elisabeth Risdon) trying to bring a little excitement to her school's music program, so she writes a school fight song.

Malvina is sad her students aren't receptive to it, especially as the principal (Louis Jean Heydt) has told her she must build up the enrollment in her elective course. Malvina's niece Abby (Jean Rogers), herself a teacher, sends the song off to a music publisher in New York, where it comes to the attention of bandleader Bob Crosby (himself).

Crosby makes the song a novelty number for his band and it's a hit. Malvina and Abby travel to New York at Bob's invitation, where Malvina even sings her song with the band. Abby, meanwhile, is a bit embarrassed and concerned her aunt isn't acting in a "proper" way for a schoolteacher, especially one of "a certain age." But when Abby and Bob fall in love, her attiude begins to change...

This is a rather strange film, one of the last things written by Nathanael West before he was killed in a 1940 car accident. One of the movie's peculiarities is that Malvina is a hit with audiences when performing her song; honestly, she really can't sing, nor is the song all that good.

Rogers' character is all over the map, building her aunt up one minute, tearing her down and chastising her the next. She loosens up as the film goes on, but although she's pretty, it's a bit hard to fathom any connection felt between the steely schoolteacher and the easygoing bandleader.

Crosby is cute in a low-key way, with the performance of "The Big Noise From Winnetka" a highlight, but he's missing that special something which made his more famous brother Bing such a huge star. That said, Bob is enjoyable and he had a long and successful career himself, including appearing in many films over a quarter century, beginning in 1934.

The music performed by Crosby and his orchestra are the highlights of the film, yet unfortunately most of the tunes just aren't that memorable. I love a number of lesser-known musicals of the era, such as Monogram's LADY, LET'S DANCE! (1944) and Republic Pictures' HIT PARADE OF 1941 (1940) and BRAZIL (1944), but compared to those this RKO musical is quite minor, with the chance to see Crosby as the leading man its main draw.

The movie was directed by Leslie Goodwins and filmed in black and white by Jack Mackenzie. The supporting cast includes Joyce Compton, Frank Orth, Joseph Buloff, Benny Bartlett, and Grant Withers. The film runs 84 minutes.

Though the film didn't wow me, kudos to the Warner Archive for making this slice of musical history available to viewers in a good print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Quick Preview of TCM in December

Turner Classic Movies recently posted its tentative schedule for December!

Joan Blondell will be the December Star of the Month. Blondell beat out Joan Bennett in voting held by members of TCM Backlot.

I love both ladies and hope that Bennett receives a Star of the Month tribute in the not-too-distant future!

The November Noir Alley titles will be BERLIN EXPRESS (1948), CRISS CROSS (1949), CASH ON DEMAND (1961), and REPEAT PERFORMANCE (1947).

I love CRISS CROSS but am most excited about the showing of REPEAT PERFORMANCE, a big favorite of mine which I've been fortunate to see at multiple film festivals. It's the perfect film to view around New Year's Eve, and I strongly encourage anyone who hasn't seen this special film to make it part of their holiday season viewing.

Of course, this being December, TCM will be showing Christmas movies throughout the month. As usual, I'll have a separate overview of Christmas titles showing on TCM posted here just after Thanksgiving, along with December highlights and a look at the Star of the Month titles.

As was the case last year, New Year's Eve will be spent with the THIN MAN movies, followed by the THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! series of excerpts from MGM musicals.

The TCM Spotlight will focus on remakes, showing multiple versions of the same story back to back throughout the month, including some of the Christmas titles.

Filmmakers receiving multifilm tributes in December include Oscar Levant, Anthony Quinn, Richard Burton, Frank Sinatra, Sydney Greenstreet, and Ann-Margret.

A day of "in memoriam" films honoring filmmakers who died this year will honor Julie Adams, David Hedison, Carol Channing, and Bibi Andersson, among others.

Pets will be an extended theme throughout December. Additional themes include films with "pink" and "young" in the title, the 80th anniversary of GONE WITH THE WIND (1939), the Great Depression, and "George Stevens' WWII."

In other TCM news, TCM announced yesterday that Jacqueline Stewart, a professor at the University of Chicago, will be the host of the Silent Sunday Nights franchise beginning on September 15th. The Hollywood Reporter published a detailed article on Stewart, along with the Silent Sunday Nights schedule through the end of October.

Look for more information on the December 2019 schedule here at the end of November.

In the meantime, Sidney Poitier continues as the September Star of the Month. Paul Muni will be the Star of the Month for October, and Bette Davis will be honored in November.

A Tribute to Edmond O'Brien

Note: September 10th is the birthday of a wonderful actor, Edmond O'Brien.

I paid tribute to O'Brien here on the centennial of his birthday in 2015.

Here's a different look at O'Brien, focusing on eight favorite titles. It's adapted from my 2016 column for ClassicFlix. Please click any of the hyperlinked titles to read an extended review.


Oscar-winning actor Edmond O'Brien was born in New York just over a century ago, on September 10, 1915.

O'Brien made his Broadway debut at the age of 21 and four years later made his film debut opposite Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME (1939). He continued to work in theater, including starring as Mercutio opposite Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in a 1940 production of ROMEO AND JULIET, and also appeared in a handful of other films before leaving the screen for service in World War II.

O'Brien's movie career kicked into high gear after the war, with appearances in many crime and film noir classics; O'Brien's noir filmography in and of itself earn him a notable place in film history. But there was much more to his career, including an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954). A decade later O'Brien received a second Supporting Actor nomination for SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964).

Off screen O'Brien was married to Nancy Kelly for a year in the early '40s, and then married Olga San Juan in 1946. O'Brien and San Juan were married nearly 30 years, and although they eventually divorced, neither remarried. Two of the O'Brien children, Maria and Brendan, became actors themselves, while daughter Bridget worked in TV news.

Edmond O'Brien died May 9, 1985, at age 69. He is buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City where, along with the years of his birth and death, his gravestone reads simply "Edmond Joseph O'Brien. US Army."

Edmond O'Brien appeared in countless classic films and was never less than compelling. In addition to the titles mentioned above, his best-known credits include A DOUBLE LIFE (1947), JULIUS CAESAR (1953), THE BIGAMIST (1953), THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962), BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ (1962), FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966), and The WILD BUNCH (1969).

What follows is a list of personal favorites starring Edmond O'Brien, heavy on film noir, with a touch of romantic comedy on the side:

THE AMAZING MRS. HOLLIDAY (1943) - This is admittedly a vehicle for Deanna Durbin, and indeed I feel it's one of her best films, in which she plays a young teacher who has fled war-torn China with eight orphans in tow. O'Brien is part of what makes the movie so enjoyable; his immediate affection for the group of children who unexpectedly land on his doorstep in San Francisco is very appealing, and he and Durbin have a pleasing chemistry.

THE KILLERS (1946) - O'Brien plays the dogged insurance investigator who pieces together the life of a man (Burt Lancaster) bumped off by a pair of hitmen (William Conrad and Charles McGraw). This was O'Brien's first film after the war and he makes the most of his role amidst a superb cast which also includes Ava Gardner and Sam Levene. While O'Brien often played tortured characters, here he leaves that to Lancaster and is a real charmer as the enthusiastic detective.

FOR THE LOVE OF MARY(1948) - O'Brien reunited with Deanna Durbin in this delightful romantic comedy. Deanna plays a White House telephone operator romanced by three men, O'Brien, Don Taylor, and Jeffrey Lynn. Several Supreme Court justices and even the (unseen) President of the United States intervene in Mary's life to play matchmaker, with amusing results. This isn't one of Deanna's better-known films but I find it a real "feel good" movie which has stood up to repeat viewings.

WHITE HEAT (1949) - O'Brien is again a good guy as the FBI agent who goes undercover in prison to get the goods on psychopathic killer Cody Jarrett (James Cagney) and his gang. He's quick-thinking and confident, giving the audience someone to root for amidst a crowd of lowlifes.

711 OCEAN DRIVE (1950) - This film is a particular favorite of mine, with a superb performance by O'Brien as a telephone lineman who improbably ends up running a bookie operation, then runs into trouble when a mobster (Otto Kruger) wants in on the action. Things get more complicated when O'Brien falls for Joanne Dru, who plays the wife of the mobster's right-hand man. O'Brien is one of the most sympathetic crooks in the movies, a nice guy in a bad business. There's even a certain satisfaction when he hires a hit man to wipe out Dru's husband after he beats her. There's some especially great location photography, with the climax filmed at Hoover Dam.

BETWEEN MIDNIGHT AND DAWN (1950) - A 'docu-noir' about the lives of cops (Edmond O'Brien and Mark Stevens) who fought together in the South Pacific and now are teamed up in a police squad car. The men are both sweet on a police dispatcher (Gale Storm), but their biggest problem is a mobster (Donald Buka) who escapes from prison and is coming after them... One wonders if this film impacted the development of later police shows such as ADAM-12, with O'Brien's older, more mature cop mentoring the less experienced Stevens.

D.O.A. (1950) - D.O.A. is one of the most unusual and unforgettable crime films of all time. Frank Bigelow (O'Brien) walks into an L.A. police station to report his own murder. Bigelow is shocked to learn he's dying due to a 'luminous poison' and races to solve the mystery of who wants him dead and why before time runs out. O'Brien is terrific as a man who might be a bit of a heel, having difficulty committing to his girlfriend (Pamela Britton), then suffering the heartbreak of realizing what's really important when it's too late. Like 711 OCEAN DRIVE, there is some terrific location shooting, in both San Francisco and Los Angeles; the L.A. locations include the famed Bradbury Building.

THE HITCH-HIKER (1953) - O'Brien and another favorite actor of the era, Frank Lovejoy, play best buddies headed on a fishing trip. Being good-natured types they pick up a hitch-hiker (William Tallman) they believe has run out of gas, but it turns out he's a psychotic killer who's already murdered a few other people that week. Under Ida Lupino's direction, O'Brien and Lovejoy are superb as a pair of "regular Joes" who can't quite believe what is happening to them, which makes the film all the more realistic and scary. It's an edge-of-the-seat thriller which packs quite a punch.

This post is adapted from an article originally published by ClassicFlix in 2016.

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