Friday, March 30, 2012

The Damned Don't Cry (4 stars)

The Damned Don't Cry--a solid 4-star film for me---is a romantic crime/drama from 1950.  Starring Joan Crawford, David Brian, Steve Cochran, and Kent Smith, this movie, which gets to the action immediately, also falls into the noir genre.  This is another of the films I enjoyed for the first time as part of my Joan Crawford birthday celebration.

In the desert of California, land surveyors come upon the dead body of a notorious racketeer; with no clues immediately available, detectives look into the man's home movies, which reveal that he was somehow connected to Texas oil heiress, Lorna Hanson Forbes (Joan Crawford).  A visit to Miss Forbes' home reveals blood on the carpet of her empty house, and not sure whether that means she, too, was slain, the authorities begin an active search for her.  Meanwhile, in another part of the city, the missing woman is reflecting on how she came to find herself on the run.

After her young son is killed while riding the bicycle she insisted he be given, money-hungry Ethel Whitehead (as Lorna was known then) sees no reason to stay with the husband she doesn't love.  Tired of scraping and penny-pinching, yet barely getting by, Ethel wants more out of life and moves to New York where she begins a modeling career.  In addition to modeling dresses, Ethel entertains her boss's out of town buyers by taking them to Grady's, a local gambling establishment.

Grady's is only a small part of a much larger operation of illegal activities---narcotics, prostitution, and gambling are all part of the business of George Castleman (David Brian), and Ethel, anxious to make up for all the lean years, soon gets involved with him.  At Castleman's suggestion, Ethel invents an impressive past and takes on the grand socialite-sounding name of Lorna Hanson Forbes.  Now the mistress of the wealthy, powerful Castleman, Lorna is privy to many of his business dealings, so when it appears to Castleman that his associate Nick Prenta (Steve Cochran) is double-crossing him, he sends Lorna/Ethel to seduce the man and discover what he is up to.

With Castleman's promise to be free when she returns, Ethel/Lorna sets out for California and quickly puts her plan into motion.  What she didn't count on, though, was falling for Nick.  Suddenly, she doesn't want to report his disloyalty to Castleman, but when reports from Lorna aren't forthcoming, the big man decides to investigate for himself.  Will he find out that Nick intends to doublecross him?  Will he realize that Lorna is in love with Nick?  And what about the honest CPA (Kent Smith), who the flirtatious Lorna led right into the lion's den of criminal activity?  And just which one of these men is the one thrown into the California desert?  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

The Damned Don't Cry is a very interesting, exciting, suspenseful film.  Each one of the stars----Crawford, Brian, Smith, and Cochran---was great in their part.  While Joan, at 44, may have been a trifle old to be playing the femme fatale role, that didn't matter to me.  I thought her performance was believable, and even if a younger woman would have been more appropriate for the seduction of Steve Cochran (who was 33 here), I think Joan played the part perfectly.  I thought she was was Cochran.  He was his usual wonderful, sleazy self.  David Brian, as the brutal crime boss, was terrific as well.  The exciting storyline, coupled with the great acting, makes this a very solid 4-star film for me.  The only negative I have is that everything seemed to wrap up too quickly, making the ending a bit abrupt.

The film is out on DVD as part of the Joan Crawford Collection.  Other titles in that 5-volume collection are The Women, Possessed, Mildred Pierce, and Humoresque.  Fans of Miss Crawford ought to really enjoy this film.

Happy viewing!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Thoughts About My Casablanca Night

Last week's big-screen experience of the masterpiece, Casablanca, was amazing.  Truly, that film---and all classic films---were meant to be seen that way!  Humphrey Bogart was made for the big screen!!   Oh, I'm thankful for the opportunity to buy DVD's which can be watched on my television and/or computer, but, oh, how incredibly thrilling it was to experience a classic film (and the classic movie stars!) the way audiences of decades past did.

Given that Casablanca is such an iconic film---and one which I have assumed nearly everyone has seen or at least knows about---I have never reviewed it on here.  (In the same way, I've never written about Gone with the Wind, as it is so famous it needs no introduction.)  However, I've come to realize that everyone has NOT seen Casablanca.  While it may be a "famous" film, that doesn't mean it's been seen by all.  Just as there are several "famous" films I've not yet seen (Citizen Kane, The Quiet Man, and Vertigo to name just a few), Casablanca may be one of those films on any number of people's "gotta watch it" list.  With that in mind, I decided that a brief review of this beloved movie is in order.

With the Nazi army conquering Europe, terrified people are fleeing from their countries, and a stopping point for many is Casablanca, French Morocco, where they wait endlessly for exit visas so as to travel further.  With so many visas in demand and so few given, naturally, corruption follows, with those who can pay the highest price receiving the coveted "freedom ticket."  One man with riches on his mind is Ugarte (Peter Lorre), who intends to sell two stolen visas, pocket the money, and hightail it out of Casablanca.

Knowing the Nazi officials are hot on his trail, however, he pleads with American expatriate and cafe owner, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), to safeguard the in-demand documents.  Shortly after entrusting them to Rick, Ugarte is apprehended by Nazi officials and never seen again.

In Casablanca with hopes of acquiring an exit visa for himself and his lady companion is Nazi resistance fighter, Victor Lazlo (Paul Henreid).

A thorn in the side of the Nazis, Lazlo had long been imprisoned in a concentration camp, and now that he is free and is continuing his resistance work, he desperately needs to obtain the transit papers Ugarte has entrusted to Rick.  Rick, who has said he "sticks his neck out for nobody" isn't keen on providing the documents to Lazlo, especially when he discovers that Victor's companion is none other than Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman, who is beyond gorgeous in this film), a woman with whom he has some sort of troubled history.  (I won't disclose the nature of relationships, as I don't want to give too much away.)

All the while Mr. Lazlo is seeking to obtain the necessary exit papers from Casablanca, Nazi officials (one of which is wonderfully played by Conrad Veidt) are determined to keep him there.  Knowing Lazlo would continue his resistance efforts if he is able to make his way to parts West, they seek to detain him and get him back into captivity...or to gather from him the names of other resistance members.  Ilsa, meanwhile, calling upon her former relationship with Rick, hopes to obtain the papers as well; in the midst of it all, the local Prefecture of Police (fabulously played by Claude Rains), is loyal to neither side.  How it all works out is the balance of the film.

Casablanca, which won the Academy Awards for best picture, best director, and best writing, is a totally brilliant film in every aspect.  Michael Curtiz's direction was sensational, the casting was completely perfect, and the acting was beyond wonderful.  Next to Treasure of the Sierra Madre, a film for which Humphrey Bogart did not even receive an Academy Award nomination, I think Casablanca is his absolute finest hour!  He is totally fantastic in the role of Rick Blaine---definitely Oscar worthy!!  I need to do a re-watch of Watch on the Rhine to see how in the world Paul Lukas snagged the win that year. Ingrid Bergman was more beautiful than I've ever seen her, and she was perfect  in her role as well.  Already nominated that year for her role in For Whom the Bell Tolls, she did not receive any Academy recognition for her work in Casablanca.  Paul Henreid was wonderful as well.  He was the perfect Victor Lazlo; especially because he hailed from Europe and spoke with a beautiful European accent, he was completely believeable in the role.  Claude Rains did receive a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but he lost out to Charles Coburn for his work in The More the Merrier.  (I do think Coburn was terrific in that role, but Mr. Rains was also completely stellar in his, so he was definitely win-worthy.)

Several famous movie quotes were given to us by Casablanca.  Here are just a few:

"Play it, Sam."  (Ingrid Bergman to Dooley Wilson, as she asks him to play "As Time Goes By" on the piano.)

"Here's looking at you, kid."  (Humphrey Bogart to Ingrid Bergman)

"We'll always have Paris."  (Humphrey Bogart to Ingrid of my favorite movie quotes)

"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine."  (Humphrey Bogart about Ingrid Bergman)

I first saw Casablanca when I was 19 years old (way back in the early 1980's).  At that time, I hated the film...and I hated the ending.  Now, as a more mature adult, I completely love it and count it as my #2 movie of all time.  Add to that, I love the ending...I think it's the right ending.  Seeing this beloved film on the big screen has only increased my love for it.  It was an experience I will long remember...and one which I could enjoy on a regular basis.  (HINT:  Let's bring a beloved classic to the big screen every single month!!)

There is one aspect of the big-screen showing which I was hoping for which did not pan out, however.  I was hoping for a real stepping back in time.  I was hoping that the attire of the movie-goers would reflect a 1940's flair. I am a dress-up person, and I love seeing people dressed up…men included. People of the 1940′s would no more have gone to the theatre in jeans and a flannel shirt than they would have flown to the moon. The men would have been in suits and ties, the women in dresses. Alas, I was the only woman (at least that I saw) wearing a dress…and I saw no men in suits. To me, dressing the part was an essential part of the experience, so in that aspect, I was disappointed.  (However, the magic of the film itself far outweighed that disappointment!)

While my review of this incredible film and its 70th anniversary celebration really doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of it beauty, I hope that for anyone who has not yet seen this film, you have been intrigued enough to seek it out.  Casablanca is, without question, a must-see film!

Happy viewing!!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Breaking Point (5 stars)

Ta Da!!  I have a new favorite John Garfield movie!!  From 1950, comes The Breaking Point---the second adaption of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not.  Said to be more faithful to Mr. Hemingway's story than the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall film of 1944, The Breaking Point, directed by Michael Curtiz, stars Mr. Garfield---in his next to last film appearance---and Patricia Neal, with Phyllis Thaxter, Wallace Ford, and Juano Hernandez taking on supporting roles.

With his dream of operating a fleet of fishing boats not working out as he had hoped, family man Harry Morgan (Garfield) is having trouble making ends meet.  Instead of a fleet of boats, the former Navy man owns only one boat, which he charters for fishing excursions; with only one craft, and a wife and two young daughters to support, Harry is heavily weighed down with financial burdens.  Although his wife, Lucy (Phyllis Thaxter), suggests that Harry take an agricultural job at her father's ranch, he refuses to do so and is more determined than ever to make a go of things on the sea.

Telling Lucy everything will work out, Harry sets out on an excursion to Mexico with a man named Hannigan and his mistress, Leona Charles (Patricia Neal).

Upon reaching their destination, Harry asks for his payment; although Hannigan promises to pay as soon as the banks open in the morning, he, in fact, skips out on both Harry and Leona.    Left high and dry in Mexico, and needing cash for the return trip, Harry---an honest man, with an honest boat---accepts an illegal job...that of smuggling eight Chinese passengers into the States.  Things don't go as planned, though, and Harry is double-crossed, which leads to a killing and the disembarking of the passengers.

With the Coast Guard alerted to the illegal activity, when Harry returns home, his boat is impounded, then later repossessed for lack of payment. But the loss of his boat and the ongoing financial struggles aren't Harry's only problems---Leona, who has stayed on in Newport, has begun putting the moves on him, and Lucy, knowing a woman was part of the Mexican excursion, is jealous.  Additionally, the shady attorney (Wallace Ford) who arranged the transportation of the illegals is pressuring Harry into taking another job--one he just might take after his pride is hurt when Lucy takes on work to support the family.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

As always, Mr. Garfield gives a superb performance.  Really, he was completely perfect and totally wonderful in this role...I also really enjoyed the opportunity of seeing a playfully romantic side of him as his character interacted with his wife

and a paternal side as he interacted with his daughters.

While I adore Mr. Garfield in his chip-on-the-shoulder, cynical man roles and think he played them all brilliantly, every now and then it's nice to see a bit of a softer side.  Adding to the slightly more vulnerable side of his character was how incredibly handsome he was at this point in his career.  He aged extremely well, and I think he is even better looking here at 37 than he was when he began his film career at 25.  The ever-so-slight lines in his face give him a gorgeous maturity,

and the captain's cap he wore for much of the film only added to his appeal.

I will watch this film over and over again simply for the eye candy I found him to be!!

The supporting cast of the film was really wonderful as well.  Phyllis Thaxter gave an excellent performance as Harry's wife, and the chemistry between her and Garfield was great.  Patricia Neal (who I absolutely do not like) played her part perfectly as well.  Though I don't care for her, she was really very much a supporting player, so I only had to take her in small doses.  Plus, I was thrilled to pieces that Garfield's character didn't succumb to an extra-marital affair with her!!  Juano Hernandez, who portrayed Harry's friend and first mate, was quite good in his role as well.  And, oh, that final scene, which features Hernandez's character's son is a heartbreaker!

To be honest, I must say that I put off watching this movie because I knew it was based on To Have and Have Not and I really don't care for the Bogart/Bacall film of the same name.  (Dare I say that?)  For me, it's a 2-star film, so I wasn't sure I wanted to try this one; however, in the interest of finding some new-to-me Garfield films in honor of his birthday, I decided to "bite the bullet" and watch this one.  I am so glad I did, because I totally love it!!  In fact, with my viewing of this movie, Dust Be My Destiny has lost its status as my favorite Garfield film; though I still love that sweet film (which I reviewed HERE), I love The Breaking Point even more.  Incidentally, the Hemingway novel also inspired a 1958 remake as well.  Starring Audie Murphy in the lead role, the film is called The Gun Runners.  Since I quite like Mr. Murphy, I intend to watch that one at some point in the future.

This film is out on DVD, so I hope you are able to track it down.  Definitely, if you are a John Garfield admirer (as I am), you will want to see this.  Also, if you are a Hemingway fan, since this adaption was the truest to his story, you may want to take a look at this.  Or if you love the Bogey and Bacall version, you might want to check this one out to see how it compares.

Happy viewing!!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Call Northside 777 (4 stars)

Based on a true story, Call Northside 777 is a 1948 drama directed by Henry Hathaway and starring James Stewart, with Richard Conte and Lee J. Cobb taking on supporting roles.  In honor of Mr. Conte's March 24th birthday, I took a break from the Garfield, Crawford, Brent, and Heflin films which have been occupying me this month and enjoyed a re-watch of this film.  I was then inspired to learn a bit about the actual case upon which the story is based.

With Prohibition in full force, violent gangster activity has taken over Chicago, and in December, 1932, the 8th police killing of the year takes place in a speakeasy in the Polish district. Fronting as a grocery store, the speakeasy is owned by Wanda Skutnik, who is talking with a police officer in her back room when two masked men enter, shoot the officer, then make a hasty exit.  Witnesses finger two unemployed men---Frank Wiecek (Richard Conte) and Tomek Zaleska, and very soon, the men are indicted and brought to trial.

Identified by Miss Skutnik as the men who entered her store, Wiecek and Zaleska receive convictions and sentences of 99 years.

Eleven years later, in October, 1944, a small advertisement appears in the Chicago newspaper.  Offering a $5,000 reward for information about the shooting of Officer Bundy, the tiny ad provides the contact phone number of Northside 777.  Curious as to who would be interested in an eleven year-old case which has already been solved, Chicago Times editor Brian Kelly (Lee J. Cobb) puts reporter Jim "Mac" McNeal (James Stewart) on the story.

Finding that the ad was placed by Tillie Wiecek---mother of the convicted Frank---McNeal pays her a visit.  Convinced her son could never have committed such a crime, Mrs. Wiecek has scrubbed floors all these years---saving every penny she could---so as to earn reward money which may provide new evidence in the case. Though Mac doesn't share the woman's belief in Frank's innocence, he nevertheless realizes he has just been provided with a great human interest story---which may well increase circulation; therefore, he writes a feature piece about Mrs. Wiecek's faith in her son.   As expected, the public response to the story is extremely positive, which causes Mac to continue pumping out articles about the case.

Eventually, after going to the penitentiary and meeting with Frank and doing a bit of investigation, Mac comes to believe that Wiecek truly is innocent.  He commits himself to pursuing one lead after another until Frank is exonerated.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

Call Northside 777 is a very interesting, exciting film----all the more so because it is based on actual events.  Rather than just a fictional man languishing in prison eleven years for a crime he didn't commit, this is the story of a very real man---a man who lost eleven years of his life...and who, but for the courage and dedication of a news reporter, may have lost dozens more years as well.  The acting in the movie is very good...very believable.

For more information about the real story upon which Call Northside 777 is based, HERE is a link to an interesting piece written by a Chicago Tribune reporter back in 2009.  He links to several other fascinating articles.  While the movie took liberties with the true story, the basic facts were not altered.

The film is out on DVD, so it should be easy to track down.  Additionally, it is on the TCM schedule for Sunday, April 8th, at 8:00 p.m. (ET).  It is also available on YouTube in several different parts.

Happy viewing!!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rain (4 stars)

Rain---a 4-star film for me---is a hard-hitting romantic drama from 1932.  Starring Joan Crawford and Walter Huston, this troubling pre-code film takes a disturbing look at some heavy social issues.  It's a film I had never even heard of prior to this month, when I was seeking out Joan Crawford's early works.

When the ship they are traveling on is detained in Pago Pago due to a cholera outbreak, the passengers are forced to spend several days on the South Pacific island.  Among those finding accommodations in the rooms above the town's general store are prostitute Sadie Thompson (Joan Crawford) and Christian missionary Alfred Davidson (Walter Huston) and his wife (Beulah Bondi).  Though they had been together on the ship, their paths hadn't crossed; however, in the confines of the small general store, the three are continually face-to-face with one another...a situation which immediately creates problems.

As Sadie takes up residence in the store, the American servicemen stationed on the island find their way to her room, and that, along with Sadie's loud, music-blaring, provocatively-dressed lifestyle does not sit well with the Davidsons.   When his continual calls for Sadie to repent fall on deaf ears, Arthur requests that the governor deport her and ship her back to San Francisco where she will be imprisoned for a crime she says she did not commit.  Before her deportation, however, Sadie has a radical conversion experience and completely changes her ways; Arthur Davidson, too, has a change of ways and gives in to his lust for Sadie.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

Rain is an extremely troubling movie for me.  As a Christian, I am not on the "anything goes" page; there are plenty of  things from which people need to repent (not the least of which is sexual immorality).  I felt that the call for repentance and a turning from immoral behavior was being mocked here.  At the same time, though, I am not one who would ever go up to a perfect stranger and start preaching at them to change their ways (as Huston's character did).  I am fully capable---as are many Christians---of "blowing things off" and just being friendly even if I don't approve of someone's behavior.  Also, Huston and Bondi were portrayed only as self-righteous, religious fanatics.  While I know there is hypocrisy in Christianity, there is also great love---something which was never exhibited in this film.  At one point, Miss Bondi's character said to another woman, "Don't even look at her" (about Sadie), almost as if she would be contaminated by doing so.  Mr. Huston's character wildly chanted the Lord's prayer over and over again, even as Sadie was talking to him...almost as if his chants were drowning out the devil.  These negative aspects of a faith I hold dear made the movie troubling for me.

On the flip side, though, was the acting.  While Joan was harsh and gawdy in this film---and not her beautiful, glamorous self---her acting was terrific.  I think she totally owned the part and brought Sadie vividly to life.

Walter Huston, too, was completely sensational.  The acting of the two of them makes this a 4-star film. Incidentally, Rain was remade as Miss Sadie Thompson in 1953 with Rita Hayworth as Sadie and Jose Ferrer as Alfred Davidson.  I really like Miss Hayworth, so I may end up checking out that version sometime.

Although I found this film to be troubling, it was definitely interesting and completely riveting.  Much as I hated the way the Christian was being portrayed, I couldn't stop watching---I definitely wanted to see how the story turned out.  In my opinion, Rain really is a must-see film...especially for Joan Crawford and Walter Huston fans.  Out on DVD, you should have a fairly easy time tracking it down.  Also, it is available through Net Flix instant viewing and on YouTube (HERE).

Happy viewing!!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Force of Evil (3 stars)

Force of Evil---a solid 3-star film for me---is a gritty crime drama/film noir starring John Garfield and Thomas Gomez.  This 1948 film, which features another outstanding performance by Mr. Garfield, is one which I recently watched for the first time.

A lawyer for a racketeer, Joe Morse (Garfield) is intending to make his first million dollars on the upcoming 4th of July holiday.  Knowing that the numbers played will undoubtedly be 776, Joe's employer is "fixing" things so that those are the numbers which hit, thereby causing a run on the "numbers banks."  With all the banks scrambling to make their payoffs, most are bound to go broke, allowing the syndicate (Joe's client) to put them out of business and gather the market for themselves.  Stepping in after the crash, the syndicate's plan is to loan money to certain banks, but to let certain others be swallowed up.

Joe's only hesitation in the scheme is because his brother, Leo (Thomas Gomez), runs one of the operations, and Joe wants to warn him.  He plans to encourage Leo to close up shop early...before he's had a chance to receive any 776 bets.  No bets means no payoffs to break him.  The powers-that-be, however, deny Joe permission to do that, forcing him to double-cross the syndicate and take matters into his own hands.

What happens to Leo, who really believes he runs a legitimate lottery operation?  What happens to Joe when the gangsters realize one of their own has double-crossed them?  These are the questions which play out in the balance of the film.


Force of Evil is an interesting, exciting, suspenseful film, with superb performances by all.  John Garfield was terrific here---another of the many roles which I think is perhaps his best.  Beyond Garfield, though, is Thomas Gomez.  Wow!  He was the star of the show for me.  Really, his performance surpassed even the brilliance of Garfield!  Thomas Gomez may be a name you don't automatically recognize---well, he was Edward G. Robinson's chief hood (Curly) in Key Largo.  Though in somewhat of a supporting role here, he definitely more than held his own with Mr. Garfield. I have to admit, however, that this film was ultra-confusing to me.  Perhaps because I don't fully grasp the "numbers game," syndicates, and "numbers banks," I was a little perplexed on occasion.  I enjoyed the story and the acting (and I always love Mr. Garfield); however, if  I had understood the film a bit more, I'm sure I would have gone with 4 stars.  Therefore, while I'm calling this a 3-star film, it could easily be 4.

The film is out on DVD, so it should be fairly easy to track down.  At one point, it was available on YouTube; however, I can't find it there anymore, so it must have been removed.

Happy viewing!!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Happy Birthday, Joan Crawford!!!

Happy 106th birthday to the sensational Joan Crawford.  (March 23, 1906 - May 10, 1977)  NOTE:  Although birth years of 1904, 1905, and 1908 have all been mentioned for Miss Crawford, I am going with the birth year of 1906 based on information obtained from The Legendary Joan Crawford website (HERE).

Born Lucille Fay LeSueur, Miss Crawford began her career as a dancer and, among other "gigs," was part of a chorus line.  After getting her start in silent films, she successfully made the transition to "talkies" and was one of the biggest female stars of the early-to-mid 1930's.

The Academy Award-winning Joan (who, by the way, just upset top seed Barbara Stanwyck in the All Good Things Classic Movie Actress Tournament) is one of those stars for whom I have only recently developed an appreciation.  Though I had seen two or three of her films a couple years ago, it's only been in the last eight months that I have really come to love her.  So in the past eight months, she's gone from not even being on my radar to being in my top 15.  Definitely...a gal on the move!!  Since I lean to dramatic films over comedic ones---and since Joan excelled at high drama---it is natural that I would enjoy her works.

Of the dozen or so Joan Crawford films I've seen, my all-time favorite is Mildred Pierce...the film for which she received her Best Actress Academy Award.

Rounding out my list of five favorite Joan Crawford films are:

2.  Whatever Happened to Baby Jane  (with Bette Davis)

3.  Possessed  (with Van Heflin and Raymond Massey---reviewed HERE)

4.  Humoresque  (with John Garfield---reviewed HERE)

5.  Female on the Beach  (with Jeff Chandler---reviewed HERE)

Since Miss Crawford has only recently come onto my "favorites list," there are many of her films I haven't seen yet; therefore, this list of favorites will probably change as I see more of her works.  I am especially intrigued to see her eight collaborations with Clark Gable and her seven with one-time husband, Franchot Tone.

So, Miss Joan Crawford, here's to you on your 106th birthday!  You were a terrific actress, and I'm really enjoying the opportunity of seeing all your wonderful films.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Kid from Cleveland (3 stars)

The Kid from Cleveland  is a 1949 baseball drama starring George Brent, Lynn Bari, and in his first credited role, Russ Tamblyn.  Always a fan of baseball movies, this was one I recently enjoyed for the first time during my George Brent birthday month celebration.  As in the case of other baseball films, actual ballplayers appear in the film as themselves (the legendary Satchell Paige among them).  While The Kid from Cleveland is nowhere near the same caliber as my all-time favorite baseball movie The Pride of the Yankees, it is, nonetheless, a sweet, heartwarming story and a nice "message movie" about investing in the lives of others.

On the eve of the 5th game of the 1948 World Series---pitting the Cleveland Indians against the Boston Braves---the Indians' radio broadcaster, Mike Jackson (George Brent), enters the stadium for a conference with the team's hierarchy.  Unbeknownst to Mike, a young teen boy (Russ Tamblyn) is creeping along behind him, and as Mike attends his meeting, the youth heads to the playing field, picks up a bat, and takes his stance at home plate.  When the boy's presence is discovered, he introduces himself as Johnny Barrows, an orphan, and explains that he had hitch-hiked up from Columbus for the game.  Declaring that he will sleep in the dugout that night, Johnny's love for the baseball team is quite apparent to all; Mike, having been an orphan himself, feels for Johnny and not only promises to get him into the next day's game, but also to put him up at his home for the night.  Thus, a solid father-son kind of relationship is born.

As Mike soon finds out, though, very little about Johnny's story is true.  For one thing, the boy doesn't hail from Columbus...he lives right there in Cleveland, where he runs with a rough, law-breaking crowd. For another thing, Johnny is far from an orphan; while he did lose his dad in the war, he has a mother and a stepfather, both of whom are worried about him.  Johnny doesn't just have a problem with lying, but also with stealing, even taking advantage of Mike's kindness and stealing from him.  Still, though, Mike cares about Johnny and wants to influence him for good.  He hopes that by giving Johnny an opportunity to work with the team, he will be giving him the right sort of heroes and keeping him from admiring the wrong ones.

Wanting to adopt Johnny---or at least be his foster family---Mike and his wife (Lynn Bari) petition the court for custody; before any decisions are made, though, Johnny finds himself angry at Mike and in deeper trouble than he's ever been.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

Though not spectacular, The Kid from Cleveland is an interesting, enjoyable, very solid 3-star film.  It features George Brent in a role which I think fit him perfectly.  (Actually, it did fit him perfectly, as he really was an orphan by the age of 11.)  The acting in the film, though not sensational,  was solid and believable...and it was loads of fun seeing Russ Tamblyn in his first credited role.  I love him in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and I could definitely see shades of the future Gideon in the 15 year-old Russ.  The film is worth viewing just to see Russ as a young teen.

This film is not out on DVD, though it is available in its entirety on YouTube (in several parts).  Fans of George Brent, Russ Tamblyn, the Cleveland Indians, or baseball movies will probably enjoy it.

Happy viewing!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Possessed (4 stars)

As part of my Joan Crawford birthday celebration, I recently enjoyed a re-watch of 1947's Possessed.  A romantic drama/film noir which also stars Van Heflin, Raymond Massey, and Geraldine Brooks, this incredibly-acted film is among my favorite of Miss Crawford's works.  (Interestingly, in 1931 Miss Crawford starred with Clark Gable in a film called Possessed; this film is not a remake of that one.  Although they have the same titles, they are two completely different stories.)

As the film begins, a confused and distraught woman (Joan Crawford) wanders the streets of Los Angeles, inquiring about the whereabouts of a man named David.

After passing out in a coffee shop, she is taken to a hospital, where an examination reveals she has fallen into a non-traumatic stupor, a diagnosis which finds her immediately admitted to the psychiatric unit.

The woman's name is Louise Howell, and as the doctors seek to help her, her story is brought to life.

Completely in love with David Sutton (Van Heflin), Louise is devastated when he breaks things off with her.  Telling her that he doesn't love her the way she loves him and that he feels smothered by her, David has determined that the best thing to do is to end the relationship.  He believes Louise will even be glad of it one day.

Hysterical at the thought of losing David, Louise begs him not to leave, even assuring him she would do anything for him; David, who doesn't love Louise and doesn't want to be tied down by her, will not be swayed, though, and to put distance between them, he agrees to take a job in Canada.

Nurse to the invalid wife of wealthy Dean Graham (Raymond Massey),Louise lives with the Grahams in their lakefront home.

Mrs. Graham has come to believe that her nurse and her husband are having an affair, and she even writes a letter to her college-age daughter, Carol (Geraldine Brooks), informing her of that fact.

There is no affair going on, but to make things easier on Mr. Graham, Louise is willing to give up her job.  He convinces her to stay on, however, and not long afterwards---on one of Louise's days off---Mrs. Graham drowns in the lake.  Though Louise's nursing skills are no longer needed, Dean asks her to remain in his employ, as a caregiver to his young son.  Louise agrees...and she moves to Washington with the family.  Eventually, Dean---who tells Louise she is a part of his home and his life---asks her to marry him, and although she isn't in love with him, she does believe she can make him happy, so she accepts his proposal.

Though Louise appears to be happy and stable, the old obsessiveness soon comes bubbling to the surface.  David Sutton, who is a longtime friend and business partner of Dean, makes an appearance at their wedding reception, and as if seeing him again isn't bad enough, it would appear that her new step-daughter, Carol, may  just be the woman who has captured David's heart.

Still obsessed with David herself, Louise will do whatever it takes to keep Carol and David apart.  How it all plays out is the balance of the film.

Possessed is an amazingly acted film.  Joan Crawford's portrayal of the obsessive, possessive, fanatical love-crazed woman is completely brilliant.  Without question, she was worthy of the Oscar nomination she received for her work here.  And Van Heflin...well, this is THE FILM which began to change my mind about him. Prior to my first viewing of Possessed, I had little regard for Mr. Heflin...even thought him kind of wimpy; however, after seeing him here, my eyes were opened to a whole new side of him, and as I have already made known, the more of his films I discovered, the more I came to like him.  While some might see his character as callous and unfeeling, I didn't see him that way at all; rather, I see him as a man who simply wanted to extricate himself from a love affair gone bad.  I'm not overly familiar with Raymond Massey, but generally when I've seen him, he has been a villianous character, so seeing him as a decent guy was a bit odd.  (It worked, though.)

This film is out on DVD, so it should be fairly easy to track down.  Plus, it is on the TCM schedule for Tuesday, June 12th at 8:00 p.m. (EDT).  Hope you get a chance to see it.  Joan Crawford and Van Heflin fans ought to especially enjoy this one.

Happy viewing!!

Monday, March 19, 2012

More Than a Secretary (4 stars)

More Than a Secretary, from 1936, is a romantic comedy starring Jean Arthur and George Brent.  Featuring the wonderful supporting cast of Lionel Stander, Dorothea Kent, Ruth Donnelly, Charles Halton, and Reginald Denny, this film falls into the screwball comedy genre.  While I am not a huge fan of screwball films, I do really like this one.  I caught it on TCM about four years ago and have watched it a few times, and with March being George Brent's birthday month and this being one of my favorite George Brent films, I decided a re-watch was a perfect way to celebrate.

Carol Baldwin (Jean Arthur) and her friend Helen (Ruth Donnelly) run a secretarial school, and it seems that for many of their students, the school---and their subsequent secretarial work---is a means to getting a man.  When a former student pops by for a visit and shares the news of her recent engagement to a man she had gone to work for, Miss Baldwin begins to believe there is a bit of truth in the girls' thoughts.

One of the school's clients, Fred Gilbert (George Brent), goes through secretaries faster than the speed of light.  Publisher of the magazine Body & Brain, Mr. Gilbert is always dissatisfied with and complaining about the secretaries the school sends to him.  Irritated by this and wanting to find out why the man is so difficult to please, Carol makes a trip to his office.

Mistaking her for the latest secretary the school promised to send, Mr. Gilbert assumes Carol has come to work for him, and finding him attractive, Carol doesn't tell him she is more than a secretary---instead, she goes to work for him.  With her creative ideas, Carol manages to increase circulation of the magazine---something Gilbert had been having difficulty doing.

Very much into health and fitness, Mr. Gilbert runs his magazine rather like a health spa; regular exercise times are included in the work day, as is a lunch of buttermilk and a bran muffin.

Declaring it unhealthy, the man does not eat meat; therefore, when he takes his new secretary to dinner and she orders a steak, she is shocked to discover that it is nothing of the animal kingdom on her plate.  Despite the man's quirks, though, Carol has completely fallen for Fred and entertains high hopes that he will soon feel the same way towards her.

Just as Fred is developing an interest in Carol, his friend Bill (Reginald Denny) requests that he take beautiful but ditzy secretary Maisy (Dorothea Kent) off his hands.

With his wife returning from a European vacation, and knowing that she would be jealous, Bob needs to get Maisy out of his office; since he doesn't want to leave her high and dry without a job, he requests that Fred use her skills.  Smitten by the woman, Fred does just that, only in order to give Maisy Carol's job, he must first promote Carol to aother position.

Having instructed Maisy at the secretarial school, Carol knows the girl is completely scatter-brained; in fact, since she has no clerical ability at all, Carol knows exactly why Mr. Gilbert has hired her.  As Fred spends more and more time with Maisy and less and less time working on his magazine, Carol, who has had enough, walks out.

More Than a Secretary is pure delight.  Yes, it's predictable and quite corny, but isn't that the essence of screwball comedy?!  George Brent is so dashing and handsome here.  I just love him in this role.  Jean Arthur is her adorable, loveable self, and I thought she and Mr. Brent were terrific together.  Beyond the leads, though, is the supporting cast.  Every single one of them is completely perfect.  Lionel Stander was a scream, especially when he is leading exercises and when he gives a workout to Charles Halton.  Let me tell you, I was feeling the pain of that workout.

Dorothea Kent was sensational as the "ditzy" blond, who was not quite as clueless as everyone thought she was.  Oh, sure, she couldn't type and she didn't know how to spell...but she did know Jean was her rival for Mr. Gilbert's affections.  I really got a huge kick out of her.

Charles Halton was quite adorable as the advanced-in-years magazine owner, who is thrilled to pieces to see a woman as lovely and desirable as Maisy working in his company.

At one point in the film, Mr. Brent's character is complaining about Jean's plan to put a swimsuit-clad girl on the cover of the magazine.  Saying he "wasn't putting out a sex magazine" and that "semi-nude women on the cover" would be offensive, the magazine publisher refused her ideas.  I thought that was hysterical!  Wonder what he would think of the trashy magazine covers of today!?

This film is out on DVD as part of the Jean Arthur Comedy Collection; I do hope you can track it down, as it isn't often on the TCM schedule---in the last four years, I've only noticed them airing it one time.  If you are a fan of screwball comedy, Jean Arthur, George Brent, or any of the supporting players, I feel sure you will enjoy this fun, lighthearted film.

Happy viewing!!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Purchase Price (3 stars)

The Purchase Price, from 1932, is a pre-code romantic dramedy starring Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent, and Lyle Talbot.  With this past Thursday having been Mr. Brent's birthday, there have been several of his films on the TCM schedule this week---some, like this one, I am catching for the very first time.  It's always fun making a new film discovery, and while I didn't love this movie, I found it to be an enjoyable viewing experience.

Nightclub singer Joan Gordon (Barbara Stanwyck) has grown weary of her married racketeer boyfriend, Eddie (Lyle Talbot), and to escape him, runs off to Montreal, taking on the name Francine LaRue.  Despite the name change, Joan knows Eddie has ways of tracking her down, so, with the help of a hotel maid, she comes up with the perfect plan to be rid of him forever.

It seems the maid, Emily, is about to become a bride---a mail-order bride, that is---to a man she has never even met.  Through a matrimonial agency, Emily was matched with wheat farmer Jim Gilson (George Brent), and she is due to leave immediately for his home in Elks Crossing, North Dakota.  When Emily mentions that instead of sending a photo of herself, she sent one of Joan, the desperate-to-disappear young woman realizes she has just been given the perfect escape route---she, not Emily, will take the train to North Dakota and become the farmer's wife.  After all, since Jim is expecting to marry the woman of the photograph, he will never even know a switch has been made.

Things don't go as smoothly as either the bride or groom expected; for one thing, the wedding ceremony is more like a circus...complete with a bargained-for ring which doesn't even come close to fitting Joan's finger.  Also, a heavy mortgage and a merciless banker are nipping at Jim's heels; to make matters even worse, Joan intends the marriage to be in name arrangement Jim is none too happy about.  Slapping him when he makes advances towards her, Joan succeeds in building a wall between the two of them....and just as the wall begins to show signs of toppling, the old gangster boyfriend shows up at the farm, alerting Jim to the fact that his wife isn't the "good girl" he thought she was.

Do Jim and Joan find love together?  Or does Joan go back to Eddie?  Are they able to save the farm from foreclosure?  These are the questions which play out in the balance of this sweet little film.

While I enjoyed The Purchase Price, I have to admit, it was beyond odd to see George Brent in this kind of role.  Instead of the dapper, distinguished, suit-wearing gentleman he generally portrays (and which I prefer), here, he was a bit on the socially awkward side...and wearing long johns and jeans which were too big in the rear end.  Not his usual elegant self, that's for sure.  Plus, he wasn't sporting a mustache at this point in his career, and I must say, Mr. Brent is one of the few actors I love with a bit of facial hair (Clark Gable too).  Also, at one point, his character got down on all fours to look for something, and there was at least a 10-second shot of his backside.  Not exactly a dignified pose!!  Just as uncomfortable to watch was the scene in which a mentally-challenged young man howls at the newlyweds.  Still, though, despite the strange casting and the lack of sophistication, the story was sweet.  Additionally, it was loads of fun seeing the lovely Miss Stanwyck way back at the tender age of 25.  She's young and beautiful here, and in the very early stages of her career.   What a pleasure to see her in the days before her star began to rise...we even get an opportunity to hear her sing.  I know very little about Lyle Talbot, but he was quite a good-looking man...not sure why he wasn't more of a star.  Finally, the scene in which the ladies are talking on the train is a definite clue that this is a pre-code film.  Their conversation is filled with innuendo which would not have gotten by the censors a few years later.

This film is out on DVD as part of the Forbidden Hollywood Collection, so you might be able to track it down that way.  I've been unable to locate either the entire film or even a trailer on YouTube. of luck seeking this one out.

Happy viewing!!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sudden Fear (3 stars)

Sudden Fear, from 1952, is a suspenseful thriller starring Joan Crawford, Jack Palance, and Gloria Grahame, with Bruce Bennett taking on a supporting role.  This film, for which Miss Crawford received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination, is one I recently enjoyed as part of my Joan Crawford birthday month celebration.

In New York to oversee the casting of her most recent play, playwright Myra Hudson (Joan Crawford) is about to find her life changed forever.  After firing Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) from the production because she does not see him as romantic leading man material, the wealthy San Francisco native boards a train for home.  As it happens, Mr. Blaine is on the same train, and before their arrival in California, Myra sees the actor in a completely different light and is head over heels about him.

Although Blaine protests that he doesn't belong to her world, Myra convinces him that without him she has nothing, and in typical whirlwind fashion, the two are soon married.  Completely in love with Lester, Myra is happier than she has ever been in her life.

Not even for a moment does Myra suspect that her husband isn't what he seems to be, so when her attorney, Steve Kearney (Bruce Bennett), requests her signature on documents which would give Lester a limited income upon her death, she refuses to sign them.  Instead, she asks Steve to draw up new documents---documents which leave every cent of her estate to her husband.

The morning after her meeting with Steve, Myra discovers that her dictaphone had been left on all night; as she moves to turn it off, it begins playing, revealing a conversation from the previous evening.  That conversation, between Lester and another woman (Gloria Grahame), devastates Myra and causes her to be violently ill, for she realizes that her husband not only never loved her, but that he wants to be rid of her and, thus, get his hands on her fortune.  Saying her death must look like an accident, Lester pledges to accomplish it that weekend.

Though Myra is completely heartstick and terrified by what she hears, she is determined to fight back and to save her life....without letting on to Lester that she has found him out.  How everything plays out is the balance of the film.

Sudden Fear is an interesting, exciting, suspenseful film, with good acting by all.  I think Joan Crawford is really super in her portrayal of Myra---a bit over the top, but that definitely goes with the territory.  Jack Palance, who received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his work here, was completely terrific in his role.  Gloria Grahame was perfectly cast.  Always a fabulous femme fatale, she was totally stellar here.  Though Bruce Bennett had worked so well with Miss Crawford in Mildred Pierce, he really had little to do in this film.  The movie's ending was quite exciting...and unexpected.  Really, I didn't see that coming.  All in all, this is a great little noir, close to 4 stars; since it's out on DVD, it should be easy to track down.

Happy viewing!!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, George Brent!!

Happy 113th birthday to the very dashing and debonair George Brent.  (March 15, 1899-May 26, 1979)

Born in Ireland with the name George Brendan Nolan, Mr. Brent, who was capable in both comedic and dramatic roles, began his career on the stage.   Always an extremely solid leading man, he very much complemented any actress with whom he was paired.  Far and away, the lady with whom Mr. Brent co-starred the most was Bette Davis.  The two of them appeared together in eleven films...and they truly were magical together.  Actually, he seemed to be quite magical with any of the lovely ladies he worked with...Miss Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, Claudette Colbert, Jean Arthur, Merle Oberon, and on and on.  He even made a film with future wife Ann Sheridan, and though their marriage didn't last long, they made a great couple on screen.  (Mr. Brent also starred opposite another of his wives---Ruth Chatterton---in four films, though I haven't seen any of those to judge their chemistry.)

George Brent is easily one of my top 20 favorite actors, and I enjoy several of his films.  My all-time favorite  is Dark Victory (reviewed HERE).  That beloved movie, in which he stars with the sensational Bette Davis, is actually one of my 20 favorite movies of all-time.  It is a totally beautiful movie, and the dashing Mr. Brent gives one of his very best performances.

Rounding out my list of five favorite George Brent films are:

2.  Tomorrow Is Forever  (with Claudette Colbert and Orson Welles---reviewed HERE)

3.  The Great Lie  (with Bette Davis and Mary Astor)

4.  The Old Maid  (with Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins---although Mr. Brent isn't in this film for long, I'm still counting it among my favorite of his films.  Reviewed HERE)

5.  More Than a Secretary  (with Jean Arthur---reviewed HERE)

So, here's to you, George Brent, on your 113th birthday---thank you for making so many beautiful movies!  You will always be one of my favorite actors!