Tuesday, March 29, 2016

A Birthday Tribute to Dennis O'Keefe

NOTE: This post is part of a multi-week Detectives and Dames blogathon hosted by Flicker Alley to celebrate the upcoming Blu-ray/DVD releases of WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950), which costars Dennis O'Keefe, and TOO LATE FOR TEARS (1949). The main blogathon page may be found at Flicker Alley here, and this tribute is cross-posted at the Flicker Alley site here.

WOMAN ON THE RUN may be preordered from Flicker Alley here and TOO LATE FOR TEARS right here. They're both fantastic movies and come with some great extras, including commentary tracks by the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller (for WOMAN ON THE RUN) and Alan K. Rode (on TOO LATE FOR TEARS).

Actor Dennis O'Keefe was born on this date 108 years ago.

O'Keefe was born in Fort Madison, Iowa, on March 29, 1908.

Over the last couple of years O'Keefe has become a real favorite, and I'm always glad to see his name in a movie's opening credits! I particularly value his many contributions to film noir.

O'Keefe, originally known as Edward "Bud" Flanagan, was born to parents who were in vaudeville. Bud worked as an extra and bit player in roughly 200 films between 1930 and 1937.

He can be spotted dancing behind Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler in COLLEEN (1936), working at a charity party in LIBELED LADY (1936), or as a casino guest in LADY KILLER (1933), along with dozens of other bit parts.

As Dennis O'Keefe, he finally broke out of the pack at MGM with a leading man role opposite Maureen O'Sullivan in the "B" picture HOLD THAT KISS (1938).

In honor of O'Keefe's birthday, here's a photo gallery of some favorite O'Keefe films. Review links for each movie may be found at the end of the post.

With Jean Brooks in Val Lewton's unforgettable THE LEOPARD MAN (1943):

With Mary Meade in a publicity photo for the Anthony Mann noir classic T-MEN (1947):

The entertaining MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY (1947), costarring Marguerite Chapman:

With Louis Hayward in a great publicity shot for WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948). Love those shadows!

With Claire Trevor and Marsha Hunt in another film noir classic from Anthony Mann, RAW DEAL (1948):

O'Keefe was also a talented writer; using the pen name Jonathan Rix he cowrote what might be my favorite of his films, COVER UP (1949), a small-town Christmastime mystery costarring Barbara Britton.

COVER UP was also filmed for TV's LUX VIDEO THEATRE in 1955, with Steve Brodie and Jane Howard replacing O'Keefe and Britton; William Bendix reprised his supporting role from the movie.

I'm also very fond of ABANDONED (1949), released the same year as COVER UP. O'Keefe, Gale Storm, and Jeff Chandler deal with villain Raymond Burr in some marvelous Los Angeles locations, with great William Bowers dialogue.

Another terrific noir which has been restored in recent years is WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950), costarring Ann Sheridan. This excellent film, with O'Keefe in an atypical role, was directed by Norman Foster. It comes to Blu-ray and DVD from Flicker Alley in May.

O'Keefe, wrote, directed and starred in THE DIAMOND WIZARD (1954), as well as the following year's ANGELA (1955).

LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN (1955) is a minor film but a personal favorite. I love the romantic intimacy O'Keefe creates with leading lady Coleen Gray; he was equally special romancing Barbara Britton in the aforementioned COVER UP.

I recently discovered DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE (1957) after it was highly recommended by fellow Western fans, and it is indeed excellent:

O'Keefe was married to actress Steffi Duna from 1940 until his passing in 1968. Their son, James O'Keefe, is a TV producer-director who has worked on shows such as MORK & MINDY and FULL HOUSE.

Dennis O'Keefe was just 60 when he passed away due to lung cancer on August 31, 1968.

Steffi Duna would live many more years, passing away on April 22, 1992, at the age of 82. I met her briefly in the late '70s at a screening of the Technicolor short LA CUCARACHA (1934) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. I had no idea at the time how much I would eventually come to admire her husband!

(As a postscript, the LA CUCARACHA screening was part of an RKO marathon, and one of the films listed on this sheet which Duna autographed was HELL'S HIGHWAY, which I coincidentally just reviewed last weekend. Although I didn't see HELL'S HIGHWAY at the marathon, I did see FIVE CAME BACK -- which costarred Kent Taylor, star of another movie seen last weekend, TRACK THE MAN DOWN. Fun connections!)

I strongly encourage readers to explore Dennis O'Keefe's film career, which contains many rewarding gems. Each review linked here contains information on DVDs and other sources to see his films.

Previously reviewed Dennis O'Keefe films in which he had featured or starring roles: HOLD THAT KISS (1938), ARISE, MY LOVE (1940) (also here), THE LEOPARD MAN (1943), T-MEN (1947), DISHONORED LADY (1947) (seen at right), MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY (1947), WALK A CROOKED MILE (1948), RAW DEAL (1948), ABANDONED (1949), COVER UP (1949), WOMAN ON THE RUN (1950), THE COMPANY SHE KEEPS (1951), EVERYTHING I HAVE IS YOURS (1952), THE FAKE (1953), THE DIAMOND WIZARD (1954) (also here), LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN (1955), CHICAGO SYNDICATE (1955), and DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE (1957).

May 2016 Update: Here is my review of the Flicker Alley release of WOMAN ON THE RUN.

2017 Update: Reviews of THE AFFAIRS OF SUSAN (1945) and a pair of films in which O'Keefe had noticeable bit roles, DEVIL DOGS OF THE AIR (1935) and PICCADILLY JIM (1936). Also: A review of an early O'Keefe lead role in THE KID FROM TEXAS (1939).

2018 Update: Here are reviews of additional early O'Keefe leads, in THE CHASER (1938) and BURN 'EM UP O'CONNOR (1939).

2019 Update: Here's a review of O'Keefe in LADY SCARFACE (1941).

2020 Update: I've reviewed O'Keefe in MR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY (1941) and in the new Blu-ray release of one of my favorite O'Keefe films, ABANDONED (1949). My original 2015 review of ABANDONED may be found linked a few paragraphs above.

2023 Update: O'Keefe had a noticeable bit role in SARATOGA (1937).


Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Thank you for the reason to celebrate and to program some O'Keefe films for the evening's entertainment.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Another very nice tribute to another favourite, Laura!

I also have only come to really appreciate O'Keefe in fairly recent times and I am struck by just how many really good films appear in his filmography. One you didn't mention that is a great favourite of mine is "THE COMPANY SHE KEEPS"(1951) in which he is memorably teamed with Lizabeth Scott and Jane Greer. So many good 'uns.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much, Jerry!

O'Keefe was really off my radar until fairly recently -- which is interesting as he had such a busy screen career! I've been trying to make up for last time -- last year he tied with Randolph Scott for my "most seen" actor.

Although I didn't spotlight it, I enjoyed THE COMPANY SHE KEEPS as well. Very solid movie with two great leading ladies. Thanks for mentioning it here!

Best wishes,

2:53 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Caftan Woman, your comment was hung up in moderation, apparently! It was my great pleasure, and I'd love to hear which O'Keefe films you chose to watch! :) :)

Best wishes,

7:36 PM  
Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura, Lovely tribute.

Did I send you THE EAGLE & THE HAWK a sprawling Pine-Thomas Western with Dennis,
John Payne and Rhonda Fleming.? O'Keefe and John Payne make a great team in that
film and I'd love to know your opinion of it.
I should soon get the Hollywood Scrapheap version of PAGGAGE WEST with Payne and
O'Keefe which should be an up-grade on the copy I have. It's a really tough gritty
Western and the pair have a classic fight in the film.
I would love to get your opinion on this one too. :)
Great to hear some love for LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN...such a shame that it's an Allied
Artists film Warners do not own the rights to.

A old friend of mine John Burns now in his late eighties and a member of the UK
B Western "gang" (which includes Jerry Entract & friends) met Dennis O Keefe
during the Fifties-he spotted him coming out of a West End Hotel.
He said Dennis was really friendly and most wiling to engage in a conversation.

5:36 AM  
Blogger Mary-Catherine said...

Your birthday tributes to these (mostly) unsung heroes and heroines of classic film are always a treat. Thank you, and keep up the good work!

8:24 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, John and Maricatrin!!

John, I do have THE EAGLE AND THE HAWK in my stack thanks to you! And PASSAGE WEST is coming up on GritTV soon and I'll make myself a copy sans commercials (any port in a storm...). They sound great!

I really loved LAS VEGAS SHAKEDOWN a lot...sure, it's a relatively minor film but it made me happy when I watched it and you can't ask for more than that.

Love the anecdote about your friend who ran into Dennis!! Lovely to hear.

Maricatrin, thank you so much! I especially love to call attention to the players I love who might not be quite as popular as the biggest names in the business -- they nonetheless contributed so much to our enjoyment of the classic film era, and I hope more people will come to enjoy their work!

Best wishes,

12:59 PM  

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