Hold Back the Dawn (Mitchell Leisen, 1941)

Charles Boyer, Paulette Goddard and Olivia de Havilland in Hold Back the Dawn

Charles Boyer, Paulette Goddard and Olivia de Havilland

Happy 100th birthday, Olivia de Havilland! This is my contribution to her centenary blogathon, being organised by The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. Please visit and read the other entries, which cover a wide range of Olivia de Havilland’s films.

With a fine cast headed by Olivia de Havilland and Charles Boyer, a great director in Mitchell Leisen and a sharp script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, it’s a mystery that bitter-sweet comedy romance Hold Back the Dawn isn’t better known. The story is sadly only too topical, centring on a group of refugees who have fled from war and are trying to cross a border. Let’s hope the celebrations for de Havilland’s centenary lead to this fine film getting more attention. At my time of writing, it’s only available on a Spanish DVD in region 2 – I bought an import copy and can confirm that the picture quality is fine. However, it will be shown on TCM in the US at 1.45am ET on July 22, 2016, and again at 9.45pm on August 29.

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Our Town (Sam Wood, 1940)

Our Town 7This is my contribution to the Golden Boy Blogathon hosted by Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema. Please visit and read the other postings, about a wide range of films starring William Holden.

One of William Holden’s earliest roles was as George Gibbs in a poignant screen adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play about American small-town life, Our Town. This is a film well worth seeing, with a good director, Sam Wood, and a cast including Martha Scott and Frank Craven, who had starred in the original Broadway production, as well as  character actors such as Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi and Guy Kibbee. It also has a  stirring and atmospheric score by Aaron Copland. However, there is a big but!

Before getting into discussion of the film itself, I’d urge anybody setting out to watch it to learn from my mistake and be very careful about the print you choose. Unfortunately, this is one of those movies which has fallen out of copyright and into one of the lowest circles of public domain hell. There are dodgy copies around where the picture is grey and shaky and the surface noise is so loud you can hardly hear the dialogue or music. Worse still, some of these duped copies have huge chunks of the film missing. After initially starting to watch a truly dire copy, I belatedly realised it had a running time of only 75 minutes instead of 90 and gave up. Fortunately, I then found a complete version in reasonable condition, free to watch, at The Video Cellar YouTube channel, but I’d be interested to hear if anyone has seen a good DVD or Blu-ray of the film.

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Lulu Belle (Leslie Fenton, 1948)

This is my contribution to the Dorothy Lamour blogathon, hosted by Silver Screenings and Font and Frock. Please visit and take a look at the other postings.

lulu belle 4Dorothy Lamour is magnetic to watch in this  sometimes noirish period melodrama laced with music, but sadly the film just doesn’t hold together overall. Lamour’s title character is clearly intended to be a woman who ruthlessly climbs her way from one man to another, like numerous pre-Code anti-heroines But this movie was made when the Production Code was in full force, so the portrayal of Lulu Belle is somewhat confused.

The film is based on a smash hit 1920s Broadway play by Charles MacArthur and Edward Sheldon, which had a mainly African-American cast, although the lead roles were played by white actors in blackface. The character of blues singer Lulu Belle was played by white actress Lenore Ulric. (I found out about the original play by reading an extract from Bulldaggers, Pansies, and Chocolate Babies: Performance, Race, and Sexuality in the Harlem Renaissance, by James F. Wilson, via Google books.) However, when the drama was belatedly adapted as a film, more than 20 years on, the character of Lulu Belle was turned into a white singer, and there was also a lot of censorship brought into force. For instance, although Lulu clearly makes money from men, any suggestion of prostitution is fudged, as it had to be under the Code.

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Hedy Lamarr Film Marathon

This posting is my contribution to the Marathon Stars Blogathon hosted by Virginie at The Wonderful World of Cinema and Crystal at The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood blogs. Please do visit and read the other postings!

Hedy_lamarr_-_1940The challenge for the Marathon Stars Blogathon was to watch 5 films featuring a star whom I’d only seen in up to 3 movies previously. I found it quite difficult to pick someone, since often as soon as I notice an actor I rush to see as many of their films as possible, promptly ruling them out for this particular blogathon!

However, I realised I had seen just two films starring Hedy Lamarr, and that she had made a favourable impression on me in both. She is on something of a hiding to nothing in Algiers (John Cromwell, 1938), which is almost a frame by frame remake of the great French drama Pépé le Moko, made only a year earlier – but she still gives a good performance. However, the film I had really liked her in was Come Live With Me (Clarence Brown, 1941), a bitter-sweet romantic comedy where she plays a Viennese exile in the US who gradually falls for awkward young writer James Stewart. That’s still probably my favourite of hers even after seeing the 5 new-to-me films that I’ve watched for this marathon, which covered a range of genres and were all highly enjoyable.

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Raoul Walsh and James Cagney’s 4 Films Together

Raoul Walsh and James Cagney

Raoul Walsh and James Cagney

This is my contribution to the Symbiotic Collaborations blogathon, being hosted by CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch. Please take a look at the other postings, which all focus on collaborations between a director and star.

Both Raoul Walsh and James Cagney are known for their quality of toughness, so it’s no surprise that two of the four movies they made together are famous gangster films. But both director and actor were also interested in focusing on character and, beyond the action sequences,  their films also contain equally powerful scenes bringing out the vulnerability of the heroes/villains played by Cagney. I can’t look at every aspect of all four films here, so am concentrating on this theme. I’ve also put a separate bit about some of the films’ endings at the end, including pictures.

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Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby

Frank and Bing

Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank

This piece is my first contribution to the Sinatra Centennial blogathon, which I’m proudly co-hosting with Emily at The Vintage Cameo. I’m also hoping to put a second piece up before the event ends on Sunday!

They might have only co-starred in two movies, but Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby loom large in each other’s legend. Sinatra took inspiration to start out on his singing career from Crosby’s success, while Bing jokingly spoofed Frank on film. Although best-known as singers, both were also Oscar-winning actors. They appeared together on radio and TV over the years, most famously in the TV special Happy Holidays with Bing and Frank, which has recently been resurrected – and is perfect festive viewing for Sinatra’s Centennial.

According to a biography of the young Sinatra I read a few years ago, Frank: The Making of a Legend by James Kaplan, the young Frank had a picture of Bing on his wall and wore the style of cap favoured by his idol. Once Sinatra started to make a name for himself as a singer and followed Crosby into films, comparisons were soon being made between the two.

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What a Character – Zeffie Tilbury

This is my contribution to the What a Character blogathon. Please do visit and look at the other contributions.

Zeffie Tilbury 3

Zeffie Tilbury as Grandma in The Grapes of Wrath

Zeffie Tilbury appeared in more than 70 films, came from a famous theatrical family and had a long stage career before making her film debut at the age of 54. So I’ve been surprised to see how hard it is to find much information about this grand old lady of film and theatre. Admittedly, many of her movie parts were small and uncredited – but she also played a number of major roles.

The first time I really noticed her was in Desire (1936), directed by Frank Borzage and starring Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper.  Tilbury, who was then in her 70s, plays an elderly conwoman going under the name Aunt Olga, and urging on Dietrich’s character to press ahead with her efforts to con Cooper. She makes a memorable entrance, heading for the booze and admitting in her aristocratic English voice that she is just out of jail. There aren’t many actors who can hold their own with Dietrich on camera, let alone steal a scene, but I’d say Tilbury manages to do it on this occasion.

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