Friday, July 27, 2012

The Great Recast: A Touch of Class starring Cary Grant and Cary Grant

This is my contribution to The Great Recasting Blogathon, hosted by Frankly My Dear and In the Mood. The game is to recast a post-1965 film with pre-1965 actors. Check out the other delicious concoctions dreamed up by other classic movie lovers!
The film I have chosen to recast is 1973 romantic comedy "A Touch of Class."
I have always contended that any film would be made better simply by having Cary Grant in the cast. Well, here's a chance to put my money where my mouth is.
"A Touch of Class" is a perfectly fine romantic comedy that has 2 actors that fit their roles quite nicely. However, there is always room for improvement, right? Which takes me back to my standby, fail-safe position that any film can be improved by the presence of Cary.
Cute, but no Cary Grant
George Segal is a wonderful actor and I like him very much, but let's face it, he's no Cary Grant. As the married man who is just looking for an affair and finds himself in love, Cary would bring much more that just a touch of class to the role. I mean, what gal would not want to run away with him?
Now, isn't this better?
In fact, the role was originally meant for Cary Grant, who wanted the age difference between him and the leading lady made very clear. However, Cary decided he liked being retired from acting and the role was rewritten for a younger man. 
Okay, she was good, but a tad frosty
Glenda Jackson won an Oscar for her role in this film, but really, she is no Cary Grant either. Cary is so luscious, he should be the object of his own desire. In fact, Mr. Grant always excelled playing the pursued, rather than the pursuer, so this role is right up his alley!

And, certainly, Cary has already demonstrated that he has a feminine side:

Besides, this role will Cary a chance to show how well he wore fashion. And it is fitting that they do not end up together. After all, this affair could be very tough on a gal's lingerie.

I was a little worried about the Cary(him) and Cary(her) on screen at the same time, but them remembered the 2 Bettes in "Dead Ringer" and 2 Olivias in "The Dark Mirror," so it could be done (although the clinch might prove challenging).

Of course, the rather straight forward sexuality of the story would have to be changed for the times. Cary and Cary could certainly run away to Malaga together, and the will they-won't they shenanigans in the bedroom are perfect for pre-1965 (think "My Favorite Wife"). But, I'd suspect female Cary would have to be coaxed into an affair with a married man such as himself and not be quite so willing. But these are minor tweaks. In the end, the pre-1965 and post-1965 message is the same: an affair with a married man can make a girl sad.
The man could do it all

Just for fun, I'd also  like to give the directing assignment to Cary, as I don't think he ever directed a film. He could not have 2 more cooperative actors. In fact, Cary Grant actually did stay connected to this film. Although he declined the role eventually played by George Segal, it was produced by Fabergé's Brut Productions, and Grant was on the board of directors for Fabergé. When I hear the phrase "a touch of class" there is no one else who comes to mind before Cary Grant.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Bitches and Blaggards: Lizabeth Scott and Jack Palance

This is the seventh in the "Bitches and Blaggards" series; monthly posts devoted to my favorite movie bad girls and rogues A bitch is a selfish, malicious woman. A blaggard is a villain, a rogue and a black-hearted man. Both are bad, both are devastatingly alluring.

Lizabeth Scott
After watching and listening to Lizabeth Scott in anything, I feel as though I have just smoked a pack of cigarettes. No other actress fits the word “smoky” better than Liz. Although she is often compared to both Lauren Bacall and Veronica Lake (Paramount called her “the Threat” as a means to keep both actresses in line), Lizabeth Scott is uniquely a noir-ish babe with the muss of real life clinging to her. She was usually the girl pal of the story, but in a few films she really got to show she was a class "A" bitch.

Too Late For Tears
Oh, baby, this is the one. In "Too Late For Tears," Lizabeth Scott gets to play one of the most evil women in film and she does it with both girlish glee and gusto. As Jane Palmer, she is a dissatisfied gal whose prayers are answered when a suitcase of cash suddenly lands in her car. Trouble is, the crooks who stole it want it back. She shoots her husband, poisons the cop who tries to help her and, before  meeting the fate that all bad girls must ultimately meet, she gets to go on a big spending spree and live high on the hog. You gotta love this gal.

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers
The film starred Barbara Stanwyck and Van Heflin, but 2 newcomers, Kirk Douglas and Lizabeth Scott, made lasting impressions. Cast as Toni Marachek, she's the gal who, just sprung from jail, is already in trouble for violating her parole. In order to help herself, she sets up an innocent man, but, hey, a babe has to do what a babe has to do.

Jack Palance

When it comes to a black heart, Jack Palance could play the character with the blackest. When it came to charm, well, once you get past the fear factor, I guess he could charm the buzzards out of the trees.

With the cruelly handsome face and physique of a fighter, Jack Palance was a good actor and even has the Academy Award to prove it. He was always a tough guy and could play a good tough guy, but very few could do crazy bad like Jack Palance. 2 of my favorite crazy bad Jack Palance performances are in “Sudden Fear” and “Shane.”

Sudden Fear
As Lester Blaine, Palance is the rejected actor who plans the ultimate revenge. Joan Crawford, in one of her last good roles, portrays a playwright who, though rejecting Lester for an acting part in her upcoming play, later falls for and marries him. This is pretty stupid on her part, since Lester’s duplicity oozes off him like a BP rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Once he learns that Joan intends to leave her considerable fortune to charity, he enlists chick-on-the-side Gloria Grahame (boy do these 2 deserve one another) to help murder Joan. Joan figures it out and the 2 love-baddies get theirs, but the stench of Jack’s menace lingers.


Playing psycho-gunslinger Jack Wilson, Palance is a disturbing presence that sets the drama on its ear. Sure, Shane is a good guy, but how much good is needed to overcome the pure evil of Jack Wilson? For him, murder is not a business, nor a necessity. No, for him it is a pleasure – one he gets positively giddy about. I guess you could say he was a man passionately devoted to his craft. Every good guy needs a bad guy, and Jack Palance as Jack Wilson wears the biggest, blackest hat in town.

City Slickers
Since he was such a good actor, its hard to separate the real Jack Palance from his image. Thank goodness, then, for “City Slickers.” As Curly, he is a tough guy, but his scary-tough act is played for laughs.

For this role he won his only Oscar (and treated viewers to the unforgettable moment of his one-armed push up). I’ll bet he was a sweetie, after all. Ya think?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Midnight Mary and the Mesmerizing Beauty of Loretta Young

Meet Mary Martin: Orphaned and sent away to a reformatory at 14 , hooker and gun moll at 17 and a secretary and murderess by 20. She's a good girl at heart who just has a real string of bad luck. Sounds like a juicy role for Harlow or Stanwyck, but, instead, Mary is played by Loretta Young.
Until seeing this film, I always thought of Loretta Young as the ultimate "great lady." Growing up, I saw her as the regal vision floating down a flight of stairs at the beginning of her TV show. In the movies I was most familiar with, she carried herself always as a lady above reproach. She was beautiful, but she was oh so proper; kind of an American Greer Garson. Imagine my surprise at meeting pre-code Loretta, a luscious, sexy and naughty wench.

Made in 1933, "Midnight Mary" was directed by the two-fisted William Wellman. With a running time of about 75 minutes, it plays like a slam bang Warner Brothers pre-code tale of gangsters and other low-life types, but was actually made by MGM. This gave Loretta the advantage of wearing some very swanky outfits designed by Adrian when Mary was living the high life.
Mary and Bunny: a girl has to eat
Getting ready to give it up in the back seat of a car
We first meet Mary as a woman on trial for murder. While the charges against her are read, she peruses Cosmopolitan magazine. She is a woman resigned to her fate and has not tried to defend herself. While waiting for the jury's verdict, Mary relives the journey that landed her perilously close to the gas chamber. Her memories start at age 14 when she and her friend Bunny (played by Una Merkel) are playing in the neighborhood junk yard. Sweet. Both Loretta and Una played their characters at 14 and it actually works. Mary learns of her mother's death and soon ends up in reform school (unjustly blamed for stealing, Bunny being the real culprit and a continual bad influence). As soon as Mary is sprung, the 2 pals are at it again and Mary gives it up in the back seat of a car when picked up by a stranger. From there, it is a short trip from sex for pay to a gangster's moll when she meets hood Leo Darcy, played by Ricardo Cortez. 

Darcy is nuts for Mary, but she is conflicted about her life as a moll
Mary is very conflicted by her role as live-in gal pal to Leo. He has a serious yen for her and treats her pretty well (for a thug). She tries to break free and find work, but soon ends up back in that apartment with Leo, Bunny and his cronies. It sure beats sleeping in the streets.
Mary whispers lewd suggestions while Darcy sucks her fingertips. Oh Miss Young!
Mary and Leo share a frank and sexy relationship. Mary always looks a little apprehensive (just to show us she really is a good girl), but Leo is one sexy gangster. Plus, Mary looks swell in chinchilla.

As good molls, Mary and Bunny have to assist their men in a robbery at a private gambling house. While Mary is waiting for the hold-up to start (Bunny acting as a diversion), she meets and is instantly attracted to society lawyer Tom Mannering, Jr. (Franchot Tone). Tom helps Mary escape when the cops break up the robbery. Mary sees him as a way out of her sordid life and asks Tom to help her go straight. Tom wants to talk about sex, but he sends her to secretarial school and hires her at his firm instead.
Tom rescues Mary (gorgeous in her Adrian cap and gown)
and feeds her turkey and talks of sex

Tom also serves coffee and talks of sex
Mary works hard and Tom pretends to ignore her, but before long, they are in one another's arms and planning a future. All seems rosy until one night, at a Chinese restaurant, Mary is spotted by one of the policemen who raided the gambling house. To protect Tom's reputation, Mary tells Tom she was only playing him for a fool. She then gives herself up to the law, but refuses to implicate Darcy. For that, she gets sent to prison.

Pleasure deferred: Tom pretends to ignore Mary
While in prison, Mary reads of Tom's marriage to a socialite. Once released, she tries desperately to find honest work, but succumbs to Darcy's offer of the good life once again. One night Mary and Darcy meet Tom at a nightclub. It has been made clear that Tom is unhappily married and Mary can't hide her delight to see him. Darcy spies the two and is instantly jealous. After provoking a fist fight with Tom, Darcy sends his men out to murder the lawyer. Mary follows Tom to his home to warn him. It is there that they both discover that Tom's best friend, who had taken his car, was shot and killed. Clearly, the bullet was meant for Tom.
Before the slapping and shooting, Mary tries to seduce Darcy with those big eyes
Mary returns home to Darcy and pretends that Tom means nothing to her. Darcy almost buys her act until he catches her in a lie concerning her whereabouts after the fight. Realizing the wrong man was killed, he aims to make sure Tom is plugged for good and slaps Mary around for good measure. As he prepares to leave, Mary shoots and kills Darcy in a very effective scene. The jury finds her guilty, but before the judge hands down the sentence, Tom comes forward and requests a new trial, stating that he has evidence that will clear Mary and prove that she only shot Darcy to save Tom's life. Tom then tells Mary that his wife was filed for divorce and that he knows that they will be able to put this behind them and finally be together.

Like all good and juicy pre-code films, this one is loaded with innuendo, girls in underwear and men and women who think nothing of having sex outside of marriage. When Bunny becomes pregnant, she wonders what she is going to do. She does have the baby, but we know that she considers the alternative.

Loretta Young, at age 19, is incredibly sensual and sexy. She later said that she was so naive that she had no idea she and Darcy were living together. I find that a little hard to believe. She is sexy and tough here and just mesmerizingly beautiful. I also liked Ricardo Cortez a lot and found him to be much sexier than Franchot Tone.

So, next time you see that ever-so-ladylike Miss Young floating down a staircase or across a screen, check her out pre-Hays Code and see what a hot tamale she was!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Leave Her To Heaven: Charlie's Strange Aunt on a Train

This is my contribution to The Best Hitchcock Film That Hitchcock Never Made blogathon, hosted by Tales of the Easily Distracted and ClassicBecky's Brainfood. Click here to check out the rest of the awesome posts! Some people have a great imagination!

A beautiful woman, beautiful locations, gorgeous color and murder. Put them all together and what do you get? A film that wasn't made by Alfred Hitchcock,  but could have been. Maybe.

Leave Her To Heaven is the feminine answer to Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. There always seemed to me to be a little psycho link between Uncle Charlie and Ellen Berent. Let's see...

Uncle Charlie: handsome, charming, evil. He fell on his head as a child, presumably the reason for his twisted mentality.

Ellen: Beautiful, selfish, charming, evil. She mourns the loss of the father she loved obsessively and needs a replacement.

Even the supporting players seem similar...

Emma Newton: loving, stupid, so besotted by Charlie.

Richard Harland (Cornel Wilde): loving, stupid, so besotted by Ellen

Young Charlie: she knows what evil lurks beneath the smooth surface of Uncle Charlie's charm.
Ruth Berent: she knows what evil lurks beneath the smooth surface of Ellen's perfection.

Both stories take place in lovely, peaceful locations. Shadow of a Doubt gives us deceptively simple Santa Rosa, California. Leave Her To Heaven gives us gorgeous New Mexico and Maine homes, color and locales more reminiscent of Hitchcock's later films. In both stories, the beauty of place masks an evil unseen.
Peaceful Santa Rosa
The beautiful desert of New Mexico
Back of the Moon, Maine - a perfect place for a murder
Both stories start with a train ride into this peaceful place. Charlie famously arrives and departs on a train to Santa Rosa. Ellen and Richard meet in a charming scene on a train as Ellen is on the way to her father's funeral. Here, a little taste of Bruno from Strangers on a Train creeps (and I do mean creeps) in. Like Guy, Richard unwittingly enters into a tangled pact.
A train brings Uncle Charlie and also takes him away (for good)
A fateful meeting on a train
Do you think Ellen and Bruno would have gotten along?
What Spins this story on its head is that the evil at its heart is the beautiful woman. Sometimes a Hitchcock beauty was bad (Madeline/Judy of Vertigo and Marnie come to mind), but they were usually redeemed or reformed by love (except for Judy's faulty footing at the top of the bell tower). Ellen, so possessive of her man that she kills both his brother and unborn child, is beyond redemption or reform and manages to use her considerable powers for one last punishment from the grave (poor hubby goes to jail as an accomplice for his silence).
Ellen wins - always
Directed by John Stahl, Leave Her To Heaven contains one of the most disturbing murders on film. Ellen, jealous of the love her new husband has for his handicapped brother, takes him out in the lake for a swim and coldly watches him drown. Gene Tierney, here so beautiful and so much more than a pretty face, is masterful. This is one cold cookie who could give Bette Davis's Regina Giddens a run for her money.

This is one scene that might even have made Hitchcock a little jealous (but not as jealous as Ellen, I hope). What's wrong with Ellen? She's a beautiful, freakin' psycho, that's what! Beautifully dressed, groomed and photographed, she is the Hitchcock heroine in brightly colored negative. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Spark That Lit The Flame

I've been doing some amateur time-line therapy on my movie obsessions lately, trying to work backwards to find the sparks that lit the flames that grew from interest to obsession (in a good way, of course). It could have been a photo, a TV show or even a movie that started me on one of my many journeys and, as with the best journeys in life, they often lead to a most unexpected destination.

Since movie magazines and TV were my first introduction to classic films and stars, the spark usually started there. It is great to be able to look things up on the internet, but, boy, was it fun to go exploring at the public  library, hoping to discover some unknown information about a new interest. And, oh the excitement, when you did!

These flames are eternal.
 The Sparks

Spark: "The Public Enemy"
Just an afternoon movie that came on immediately after the usual Saturday afternoon Bowery Boys installment. Maybe I was too lazy to get off of the couch and change the channel (no remotes at our house), maybe something in the preview intrigued me, but whatever it was, I stayed glued to the TV throughout the entire film.

Spark: Unknown Chaplin
This 3-part Kevin Brownlow and David Gill series, shown on PBS, was a revelation (having seen it before the "Hollywood" series). Like most of the world, I knew who Charlie Chaplin was and had seen many bad copies of his early films. I wasn't impressed. This series changed everything.

Spark: The 16-part "Hollywood" series, also by Kevin Brownlow and David Gil. I had actually picked up the companion book "The Parade's Gone By" earlier, but it did not have the same impact as the series. This treasure trove of information and interviews literally changed my life. Kevin Brownlow is one of my heroes.

Spark: This photo of Jean Harlow
I saw this photo in a large picture book called "The Stars" by Richard Schickel. Other photos fascinated, but there was something about this blonde lady on a horse checking her make-up. My Aunt Lois said "oh, that's Jean. She never wore underwear."

Spark: 1940's "City For Conquest."
Any Cagney movie was always a must, but this one had an added surprise.

Spark: "Three on a Match"
Having developed a slavish devotion to all things Warner Brothers, this little film with favorites Bette Davis and Joan Blondell seemed a natural.

Spark: David Shipman's "The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Era."
This epic volume had a profound impression on me and I still refer to it to this day. It's a welcome companion on a blue day.

Spark: David Robinson's 1985 book "Chaplin: His Life and Art"
I have re-read this amazing bio many, many times. While there may have been others that are more factually accurate, this paints an unforgettable portrait and offers wonderful information about those early Hollywood years.

Spark: "Vertigo"
It's easy to become obsessed about a film about obsession. No matter how many times I watch it I still have so many unanswered questions.

Spark: "Sunset Boulevard"
Probably my favorite movie of all time. It combines my love of the silent era as well as more modern films.

Spark: Richard Schickel's bio "D.W. Griffith: An American Life."
A must for anyone who cares about the origins of American movie-making. I earned a great respect for Griffith and his work. A fascinating story.

Spark: "Charade"
The music, Paris, continental romance and beautiful clothes, a chance viewing lead from love to obsession.


The Flames

Flame: James Cagney
After viewing "The Public Enemy" on that chance Saturday afternoon, my love of old movies was born and I had only 2 burning questions for my mom: who was James Cagney and where can I find out more about him? Such charm, such charisma. I tell you, I was a gonner!
Others have come and gone, and many have stayed for along time, but Jimmy will always be foremost in my heart. He was the first classic movie star I loved and how lucky for me that my first love is eternal.

Flame: Charlie Chaplin
Once I fell under the enchanted spell of the Little Tramp, it was only a short while before his genius revealed itself to me. 
Aside from a comic, he is an artist whose humanity is as big as the world. Others may be funnier, but none  shine a light into the secret recesses of the human heart better than Charlie.

Flame: From the "Hollywood" series: Silent Film, Buster Keaton, Clara Bow, William S. Hart and Rudolph Valentino.
Thank you Kevin Brownlow and David Gil for opening the door to a lifelong passion.

Flame: 1930s Glamour Photography. Seeing Jean Harlow in all of her platinum glory taught me the definition of glamour. 
Drooling over black and white works of art from the great portrait photographers is an obsession I never tire of. 

Flame: Ann Sheridan
Ann Sheridan in "City for Conquest" was, to me, the most beautiful, down-to-earth woman I had ever seen! 
Her chemistry with Cagney is unsurpassed. No matter what the film, Ann is always a pleasure to watch.

Flame: Ann Dvorak
Ann's performance in "Three on a Match" was a revelation to me.
She was beautiful, jittery, and doomed - a perfect pre-code woman! Plus, she looked great in lingerie. Her too-early exit from starring roles is unfortunate.

Flame: Kay Francis
David Shipman described her as "wavishing Kay Fwancis," one of the best-dressed women in Hollywood.
That was enough for me. Who the hell was Kay Francis? Why haven't I ever seen her and how can I see more of her?  Before TCM, it was a challenge, but after seeing "Trouble in Paradise," I am coo-coo for Kay-Kay.

Flame: Edna Purviance
I can't say why, but Edna Purviance fascinates me. Perhaps it because she remains a bit of a mystery in a world where everything is known about everyone. 
Her story seemed to be written in the margins of Chaplin's life and film. As the years have gone by, I have learned much about Edna, but there remains so much more learn. This is one journey I want to savor.

Flame: Alfred Hitchcock
It's a close race with Billy Wilder, but I think Hitch wins the race for favorite director. 
Endlessly watchable, endlessly debatable, always beautiful and fascinating. How many dreams started with a Hitchcock film?

Flame: Gloria Swanson, Pola Negri, Norma Talmadge, Alla Nazimova, Theda Bara
and all of the silent great ladies whose names were forgotten.
They did, indeed, have faces then. But, besides faces, they had a way to reach into your heart and cast a spell. They were the very definition of "Movie Star."

Flame: Mary Pickford and Miriam Cooper
Both ladies worked for Griffith. One went on to become to be the world's biggest star. The other faded into obscurity. 
Mary's life is well known and it is an endless pleasure to me to discover her art. Miriam's work is harder to find and she is probably not a great actress, but there is something about classy, loony Miriam...

Flame: Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. Too hot to go near.
Before "Charade," I loved them both. After "Charade," it was total obsession. 

In those sophisticated, elegant early 1960s, he was the perfect man and she was the perfect woman. To me, that will never change.

Some long-burning embers that may erupt at any moment:

"The Man Who Would Be King" - Michael Caine
"The Apartment" - Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder
"How To Steal a Million"  - Peter O'Toole
"Sherlock Holmes" - Robert Downey, Jr.
and Veronica Lake, William Holden, Robert Mitchum, Hayley Mills, and on and on!

What were your sparks that lit the fire that caused the flame of a movie obsession?