Monday, May 23, 2016

One Way Passage

Films in Focus

By Ed Garea

One Way Passage (WB, 1932) – Director: Tay Garnett. Writers: Wilson Mizner & Joseph Jackson (s/p). Robert Lord (story). Stars: Kay Francis, William Powell, Aline MacMahon, Frank McHugh, Warren Hymer, & Frederick Burton. B&W, 67 minutes.

Today, Kay Francis is seen as the Queen of the Weepies. That, along with her Elmer Fudd-like speech impediment, tends to downgrade her in the eyes of many casual fans. But Kay Francis was one of the most important figures in the development of motion pictures in the era of sound. Her four-hankie films drew many women customers and enabled Warner Bros. to escape financial ruin during the Depression. Francis also coined a type: the mink-clad martyr who suffered nobly through each film, bravely overcoming whatever difficulties were cooked up by the writers. She set the canvas for later queens of suffering such as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.

One of her best weepies is One Way Passage, from 1932, a film she almost didn’t get to make. Although director Tay Garnett wanted her as the star, studio executive Darryl Zanuck thought she was too lightweight an actress for such a heavy role. But Garnett won out and Francis was cast.

The film opens in a Hong Kong bar, as Joan Ames (Francis) and Dan Hardest (Powell) literally bump into one another, causing Dan to spill his freshly made Paradise Cocktail. But it’s love at first sight, and leads to a toast, as Joan remarks, "Always the most precious. The last few drops.” (Not only Dan’s spilled drink, we quickly surmise, but about what remains.) They break their glasses and cross the stems before Dan departs, a motif that would be employed throughout the film.

Trusting in chance as their only hope for seeing each other again, Joan returns to her friends. Dan, without taking his eyes off her, leaves the bar, where he is arrested by Steve Burke (Hymer), a policeman who pokes a gun in Dan’s back and swiftly overcomes Dan’s resistance to slap the bracelets on him, cuffing him to his own wrist. Steve, it seems, has been pursuing Dan since he escaped from San Quentin, where he was sent after being convicted of murder. Burke’s job is to bring him back to hang.

While on deck of the ship headed to San Francisco, Dan, still cuffed to Burke, talks his captor into showing him the key to the cuffs. Burke also remarks to Dan that he can’t swim. Unbolting the railing without Steve’s knowledge, Dan pulls Burke overboard with him to the ocean and manages to unlock the handcuffs. Then, instead of swimming to shore, Dan dunks Burke underwater and holds him there. But director Garnett, knowing this act of cold-blooded murder would lose Dan sympathy in the eyes of the audience, has Dan come to his senses after hearing the cry of ”man overboard” coming from the ship. He lifts Burke’s head out of the water and swims him back to the boat. Dan may be a murderer, but to soften his character with the audience, McHugh’s character, Skippy, says at one point that Dan was “croaking the dirtiest heel who ever lived.”

Grateful to his rescuer, and realizing there is no way for Dan to escape from the ship, Steve agrees to remove his handcuffs. Joan is also aboard the ship, and while she seems healthy, we learn she is actually very ill and has only a short time to live, although we are never told what it is that’s killing her. (Terminal prickly-heat? Mogo on the gogogo?)

Just before the ship leaves its dock, Skippy, a petty thief on the run, barely eludes the Hong Kong police by running up the gangplank and jumping onto the ship as it pulls away. During the voyage, Dan and Joan spend every minute together, breaking their glasses after a toast to symbolize living for the moment.

Steve also has his moments, as when he is immediately smitten by the exotic figure and accent of Countess Barilhaus (MacMahon). But as they pass by Dan and Joan, the Countess and Dan share a recognizing glance, tipping us off that there’s more here than meets the eye. And so there is, for in the next scene the Countess and Skippy are sharing a bottle. As she reminisces over old times in her natural voice we learn that the "Countess Barilhaus," is better known as Barrel House Betty (MacMahon), a dame who makes her living on the grift. We also learn that Betty is tired of this life and wishes to settle down with a financially-secure man.

Neither Dan nor Joan can bear to tell the other the truth, but while Joan plans a trip ashore in Honolulu, Dan plans an escape. But Steve, expecting Dan to escape, has him locked in the brig during the stopover. Betty also decides to help Dan. Flirting with Steve, she gets the key to the brig and passes it to Skippy (McHugh). Skippy unlocks the cell, releasing Dan, who goes ashore with Joan while Steve and Betty do the same. 

There is a wonderful scene that just could not be filmed if the picture were made a couple of years later. Skippy meets up with Betty in her cabin where she hands him the bullets from Burke’s gun. This should give Dan free range once the boat docks in Honolulu. Skippy, puzzled, asks Betty how she got close enough to get a hold of Burke’s pistol. Betty simply replies with a jerk of her head, which the camera follows to reveal Burke's tie laid across a chair. She then shushes Skippy, leaving the audience no doubt that not only did she seduce Burke, but that he's still asleep in her bed.

After spending a lovely day together, Dan is about to tell Joan about his planned escape when she suddenly collapses. To save her life, Dan carries her back to the ship, giving up his chance at freedom. The doctor warns him that another shock could kill Joan, so he keeps his secret. Meanwhile, Steve and Betty have also fallen in love. Steve asks Betty to marry him. She tells him who she really is, but it doesn’t matter. Joan learns the truth about Dan when she overhears a porter’s conversation, but says goodbye to him, pretending that everything is fine. They agree to meet in Caliente on New Year's Eve even though they know that is impossible. At midnight on New Year's Eve, a bartender in Caliente hears a sound and turns to find the shattered stems of two glasses, broken in the same way that Dan and Joan always broke them, but no one is there.

One thing Warner Bros. had going for it was its strong supporting cast of actors, which is on full display in One Way Passage. Warren Hymer brings a little depth to what otherwise would be a cardboard role as Steve Burke. His humanity in releasing Dan from the cuffs after Dan rescued him from the water is tempered with common sense, as when he has Dan committed to the brig while the ship stops in Honolulu. It’s a typical Hymer one-note performance, but in this film he has a little more to do than simply growl and act tough, and he comes through nicely.

Frank McHugh is the real underpinning of the film. Without his antics the movie would sink of its own weight. When he jumps aboard the S.S. Maloa just as it’s pulling out of Hong Kong he looks back and gives his patented “ha…ha…ha” laugh. No one can do that like McHugh, who did it in almost every film he made. He's given several scenes to pick pockets and steal liquor. Watch for his scene where he has a run-in with himself in a mirror. It’s an old gag that could have easily fallen flat, but McHugh pulls off the character of Skippy so deftly that we believe that is indeed who he really is. He functions in the film as the link between Joan and Dan on the one hand, and Steve and Betty on the other. 

MacMahon also shines as Betty the grifter, putting on her act with such grace that we actually buy it. At first, she speaks in broken English, and later rattling off her lines in wonderfully slangy English with Skippy. Her scenes with McHugh are precious as they let their hair down with each other, almost like an old married couple. From these scenes it’s obvious that they know each other very well. When they run into one another, Skippy asks, “Betty, don’t they ever get on to ya? You’ve been gettin’ away with this stuff for years.”

Behind the scenery, Garnett’s direction was superb, getting exceptional performances out of his cast. Powell is his usual suave, sophisticated self, but in One Way Passage, Garnett makes him more vulnerable than we see him in other films, where he is always so reassured. With Francis’ character, Garnett tones down the suds and gives her a softer glow. 

We see what he did with Hymer, and as for McHugh and MacMahon, he seems just to have simply let them do their thing, as it were. The duo never needed any special coaching, as their professionalism never allowed them to stoop to overacting to steal a scene. MacMahon could steal a scene just with her eyes alone, and McHugh knew, instinctively it seems, when to ratchet things up and when to tone them down.

Robert Lord won an Oscar for Original Story for his part in writing the film, and screenwriters Wilson and Jackson mix in plenty of period lingo without drawing the dialogue. Robert Kurrle’s cinematography is consistent throughout, using lighting to great effect, especially in the opening scene where our lovers meet.

The film was re-released in 1937 in a edited form and remade in 1939 as Till We Meet Again, starring Merle Oberon and George Brent as the doomed couple. Bette Davis was originally approached for the role, but as she starred in Dark Victory the same year, she decided against going to the proverbial well once too often, at least in the same year. The remake tanked at the box office, as Oberon and Brent failed their chemistry class. Later that same year, Francis and Powell recreated their roles for a radio adaptation on Lux Radio Theatre. It would be the last time the two actors worked together.

One Way Passage stands as one of the finest romances ever to come out of Hollywood. It also marks the sixth pairing of Powell and Francis, and was their biggest hit, both critically and commercially, grossing slightly over $1.1 million. The pair was first teamed at Paramount, where their on-screen chemistry was noticed by the studio, and turned into a string of financially successful melodramas. When Warner Bros. lured them away (Paramount could no longer afford them), they teamed for two films, Jewel Robbery and this film. Yet, despite their success they were never teamed again by the studio.

A little over a year later, Powell, thoroughly disillusioned by the way the studio was using him, jumped over to MGM. As for Francis, her career slowly began to fade, a victim of poor scripts and a lack of interest on the part of the studio. By the mid-40s she was working at Monogram Studios, where she was given the “luxury” of being billed as the producer in addition to her star billing. But while her career was at its height run the early ‘30s, there was no actress more popular than Kay Francis. Besides playing the mink-clad martyr, Francis also excelled at playing the free-thinking, independent woman, seen in such Pre-Code favorites as Mary Stevens, MD (1933), Mandalay, and Dr. Monica (both 1934). Of all the forgotten stars of Hollywood, her star burned brightest during its height.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

TCM TiVo Alert for May 23-31

May 23–May 31


BLACULA (May 26, 3:45 am): Only American International Pictures could successfully make a Blaxploitation horror film, and the small studio did it twice - the original from 1972 and the sequel Scream Blacula Scream a year later. William Marshall is an African prince Mamuwalde in the year 1780 visiting Count Dracula to convince him to help stop the slave trade. Instead, Dracula laughs at him and bites him on the neck turning him into a vampire. Mamuwalde is given the clever name "Blacula" by the Count, sealed in a coffin and locked in a room with his wife, who subsequently dies, for all eternity. That is until a couple of interior decorators buy everything at Count Dracula's castle, including Blacula's coffin, and brings all of it to then-modern-day Los Angeles. Blacula is released from his coffin, and roams the streets of L.A. at night, terrorizing some and falling in love with a woman who looks just like his wife – primarily because the same actress plays both roles. It's a lot of fun with very little blood. 

BREAKING AWAY (May 31, 9:30 pm): This is an excellent coming-of-age film about a group of four directionless high school graduates from working-class families in Bloomington, Indiana, the home of Indiana University. The college kids look down on the townies, who they call "cutters" because their fathers and/or grandfathers used to work as stonecutters in a quarry. Of the four, the lead is Dave (Dennis Christopher), a talented cyclist enamored with Italian races to the point he speaks with an Italian accent. He falls in love with a female college student using the accent and claims to attend the university. His life falls apart when a professional Italian cycling team comes to Bloomington to participate in a race. He tries to bond with them, but when they see how good he is, they treat him poorly and one puts a tire pump in his bicycle wheel causing him to crash. He then tells the girl (Robyn Douglass) the truth and she slaps him. The film's climax is The Little 500, an annual four-man bicycle race with the boys believing Dave can ride the entire race and win. He nearly does it, but gets hurt with the other three each have to get on the bike. The film is spectacular and the ending will have you cheering. The supporting cast is solid with great performances from Dennis Quaid, Daniel Stern and Jackie Earle Haley as Dave's three friends, and Barbara Barrie and Paul Dooley as Dave's parents. 


THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (May 26, 8:00 pm): A totally enjoyable romp with Vincent Price as Dr. Anton Phibes, a madman who is hunting down and killing a team of doctors he believes killed his beloved wife. Phibes disposes of his victims in a spectacular variety of gruesome ways, all of which are based on the 10 biblical curses inflicted on the Egyptians in Exodus. Virginia North is excellent as Phibes’ assistant, Vulnavia,and Joseph Cotten is the Dr. Vesalius, the chief surgeon of the mishandled operation. Directed with campy style by Robert Fuest, a former art director, the movie is a hoot from beginning to end as Price never lets up.

THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME (May 27, 8:30 am): A most vivid telling of Richard Conner’s classic story about a megalomanic big-game hunter named Count Zaroff who hunts people on his remote island. As Zaroff Leslie Banks gives a great over-the-top creepy, almost campy, performance. Joel McCrea and Fay Wray are selected to be his latest prey, but what Zaroff doesn’t take into account is that McCrea’s characters is a big-game hunter himself. With Robert Armstrong in an effective performance as Wray’s weak, alcoholic brother. A must for those who haven’t yet seen it, it’s one of the classics of the horror genre. Remade several times without success.

WE AGREE ON ... THE 400 BLOWS (May 31, 11:30 pm)

ED: A+. Francois Truffaut’s landmark film is one of the most intense and moving movies ever made about the life of a young adolescent and how he drifts into delinquency. Truffaut reaches back into his own childhood and, through the character of Antoine Doinel, brings the viewer into his private world: a resourceful boy typecast by adults as a troublemaker and a victim of a self-absorbed mother and stepfather who take no interest in him or his world, ministering only to their particular needs of the moment. When he is arrested for petty theft (the starkest scene in the movie is the image of the young Doinel in the paddy wagon, riding through the streets of Paris at night and looking out through the bars), his parents discuss him as a lost cause with the police and leave him to the mercy of the social services, which place him in a reform school/youth camp, from which he runs away at the end. Watch for Jeanne Moreau in a cameo as a woman walking her dog on a Paris street. 

DAVID: A+. Francois Truffaut's first feature length film from 1959 is a masterpiece. I enjoy it so much that I watched it again earlier this week, and it's as fresh as the first time I saw it. As Ed wrote, it's an intense look at Antoine Doinel (expertly played by Jean-Pierre Léaud, who would portray the same character in three more feature-length films and a short), a mischievous and clever 12-year-old Parisian. He isn't a bad kid. But his defiance of authority and lack of supervision by his mother – who attempts to manipulate him when the boy sees her kissing another man – and stepfather gets him labeled a delinquent. That leads to him cutting school, running away and eventually stealing a typewriter from his father's office resulting in his arrest when he returns it after failing to sell it. That is the turning point in the film with his stepfather – we don't find out he's not Antoine's biological father until then – allowing his stepson to be prosecuted by the police and eventually sent to a camp for juvenile delinquents. It is there that we experience the true horror of an intelligent boy who made mistakes paying a very serious penalty. Most of the key players in the film are children, which can be very risky as they have limited or no acting experience. But Truffaut was already a brilliant director – on his way to being the greatest in the history of cinema – and he is able to get fantastic performances from the boys. Also, the cinematography is stunning with the gritty streets of Paris being Antoine's main supporting actor. The final scene is liberating and beautiful with Antoine successfully escaping from the camp and making it to the ocean, which he had dreamed of visiting. Don't be fooled by the title. It's a literal translation of a term the French use which means to raise hell.

For the complete list of films on the TCM TiVo Alert, click here.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Elvis & Nixon

Dinner and a Movie

By Steve Herte

Elvis & Nixon (Bleecker Street Media, 2016) – Director: Liza Johnson. Writers: Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal & Cary Elwes (s/p). Stars: Kevin Spacey, Michael Shannon, Alex Pettier, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Sky Ferreira, Tracy Letts, Tate Donovan, Ashley Benson, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Ahna O’Reilly, Ian Hoch, Ritchie Montgomery, & Nathalie Love. Color, Rated R, 86 minutes.

It’s December of 1970, and Elvis Presley (Shannon) is sitting in his television room at Graceland. Several screens are tuned to various news programs and show protests, drug busts, and hippies burning the American flag. Elvis takes out a pistol, shoots the nearest television and shuts the system down.

Like a teleprompter typing a script for a newscaster, we see words explaining that this month, Elvis went to the White House and spent a few hours with President Richard Nixon (Spacey). But no one knows what the conversation was like as it occurred behind closed doors. This clever film posits a possible scenario.

Elvis has just come off a major tour and his love of all things American fuels his zeal to destroy the “drug culture” that is destroying the youth of his homeland. He decides to fly to Los Angeles and see his best friend Jerry Schilling (Pettyfer) and reunite with Sonny West (Knoxville) to hopefully arrange a meeting with the deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs John Finlator (Letts) to volunteer as an undercover agent at large. But first he has to get on a plane from Tennessee. Though star struck when she first sees Elvis, Margaret the ticket agent (Benson) for American Airlines is appropriately terrified when he reveals he’s packing a sidearm. He’s held by security until Jerry can talk them out of this “misunderstanding.”

Though Jerry is reluctant to be “back in the business,” Elvis talks him into going to Washington, D.C., where Sonny joins them at their hotel.

The visit to Finlator proves futile and disappointing and the FBI is not an option. The next step is the president himself. Elvis writes his introductory letter to the president on the plane ride and soon, Jerry drives him to the west gate of the White House. There, the guards restrain their amazement at who’s visiting to do their job, but are eventually sweet-talked into delivering the letter. When it gets to presidential advisers Egil Krogh (Hanks) and Dwight Chapin (Peters) and verified by White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman (Donovan), they are ecstatic at what a visit from Elvis would mean to Nixon’s image.

But Nixon nixes the idea of talking with a “rock and roller.” It’s not until Krogh and Chapin meet with Sonny and Jerry at “an undisclosed Washington, D.C., location” that the idea of contacting Nixon’s daughter Julie and that’s the key that unlocks the door to the Oval Office.

Elvis and Nixon is a subtle comedy of the meeting between two huge egos and what they could have talked about. Kevin Spacey’s portrayal of Richard Nixon is frankly amazing. Though the caricature is close visually, his mannerisms and vocal accents make the role believable. Michael Shannon’s Elvis has Johnny Cash overtones but still is very convincing.

There is a funny scene at the Los Angeles International Airport where an Elvis impersonator mistakes Elvis to be a fellow impersonator and he demonstrates how he should act. Shannon applauds him and, as Elvis would, accepts the advice without correcting the error. And yes, just once, he says, “Thank you. Thank you very much.” Alex Pettyfer is wonderful as Jerry, a man who now has a life, a girl he wants to marry – Charlotte (Ferreira) – and a date he wants to keep with her parents. He manages to effectively juggle this situation with his deep friendship with Elvis until finally, Presley releases him to his future.

Aside from a few “F” bombs – two from Nixon and two from Krogh – the dialogue in this film is clean and well written. The script never verges on the incredible and the humor never gets silly. The whole concept of Elvis deeming himself capable of going around unnoticed and undercover is the main cause for laughter in the movie, especially when he wears an enormous gold belt into the Oval Office.

The end credits reveal what happened to each character afterward, the Watergate scandal and its results, and states “Elvis never went undercover.” I enjoyed Elvis and Nixon and hope it plays in more theaters (only two in Manhattan a week after opening). It’s a good film about the most requested photo from the National Archives: Nixon and Elvis shaking hands (and David's computer screensaver).

Rating: 4 out of 5 Martini glasses.

Cherche Midi
282 Bowery, New York

Somehow I thought this restaurant was a lot older than it is. In fact, the blue pinstriped awning only went up in June of 2014, a little less than one and a half years ago. Owner Keith McNally named it after the left-bank street in Paris where he once lived; a street famous in 1847 for a military prison built there. The name Cherche Midi means to search for midday. It comes from the popular French phrase, Elle cherche midi à quatorze heurs” – searching for noon at two in the afternoon. It's a way of explaining that a person makes a situation more difficult than it has to be. But there’s nothing easier than dining at Cherche Midi.

The entrance on Bowery Street leads straight to the Captain’s Station where my reservation was confirmed, I was seated by the window to the street and sat on a red leather banquette with my back to the wall. The room is spacious and lit with a golden glow from the globes suspended from the ceiling. The octagonal-tiled floor harkens back to a simpler time and the gigantic wine rack is made even more formidable by well-placed mirrors. The effect is calming: this is a place to meet, talk and dine in comfort.

When I was settled in, my server John greeted me and, after listing the specials, asked if I wanted a cocktail. I chose “The Ol’ Sour cocktail,” a mixture of Maker’s Mark Cask Strength bourbon, cognac, génépy (an herbal liqueur from the Alpine regions that, like absinthe, is made from wormwood), sweet vermouth, and a lemon twist. I like bourbon and I loved this drink. It had a subtler, “greener” tang to it and a sturdy kick.

After a brief session with John over the size of certain dishes, I was ready to order. Before he left he asked if I wanted bread. “What’s a meal without bread?” I said, and soon there was a lovely basket of bread and butter.

The first course was crispy tête de cochon (pig’s head), three croquettes stuffed with extremely tender pork and flavored with grain mustard on a platter with pickled vegetables (cauliflower, wild mushrooms, red onions) providing color as well as a contrasting taste.

When I saw that the restaurant served Zinfandel by the glass, I ordered the 2013 Three Valley Zinfandel, from Ridge Vineyards in Sonoma County California. It was a delicious, full-bodied red with a fruity nose and sturdy aftertaste promising a solid marriage to my meal.

The second course was the only one not a special, but something I look for in all “real” French restaurants. The frog’s legs were not served as I would expect. Instead of the traditional “cuisses” (looking like little pairs of pants on the plate), the bones were dislocated and served in a beautiful green garlic velouté with garlic chips and crisp parsley. It was almost too pretty to eat, but I got over that. 

Next came the pan-roasted halibut over tiny morels with fingerling potatoes and ramp beurre blanc sauce. When John described this dish he called the morels “mushrooms,” which is like calling a truffle a fungus. They are so much more than a mushroom: Their woody flavor melded with the flaky fish and the savory ramps and butter to create a major experience rather than “just halibut.”

Although I love crêpes suzette, the selection of cheeses was too enticing and, when I saw how they were displayed by the servers, with little name flags on a silver platter, I knew what my dessert would be. I chose the Moses Sleeper raw cow cheese from Vermont, the mimolettea hard orange cow choose from France and the fragrant bleu Colston Bassett Stilton. They were served with green apple slices, red grapes, honey, compote and almost black, toasted baguette slices. It was Heaven. I was so happy I forgot about an after dinner drink with my double espresso.

For such an excellent, innovative, yet traditional, French restaurant, Cherche Midi is in rather a strange location, but I’m not complaining. The prices are reasonable, the service is friendly, there are at least three other red wines I have to try, and of course, there’s the fantastic food. As Schwarzenegger once said, “I’ll be back!”

And the restaurant had quite the unusual bathroom. See for yourself.

For the Dinner and a Movie archive, click here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

William Schallert: In Memoriam

By Ed Garea

Actor William Schallert, best known as Martin Lane, the father on The Patty Duke Show and for his troubles with tribbles, passed away May 8 at the age of 93 at his home in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

Schallert was the epitome of the working actor, with nearly 400 credits in a career that began in 1947. 

Besides his work on The Patty Duke Show, Schallert was also known for his role as Nilz Baris, the Federation Undersecretary of Agricultural Affairs who discovered the batch of furry grain-devouring aliens who multiplied faster than rabbits in “The Trouble With Tribbles,” the classic December 1967 episode of NBC’s Star Trek

Born July 6, 1922, in Los Angeles, he was the son of Edwin and Elza Schallert. Edwin was a reviewer, columnist and drama editor of the Los Angeles Times from 1919 to 1958. Elza handled publicity for Sid Grauman, had her own radio show, and wrote for movie fan magazines. In interviews, he said that his parents’ connections got him into birthday parties for child star Shirley Temple on the Fox lot.

Schallert enrolled in UCLA with the goal of becoming a composer, but when America entered World War II he left to serve as an Army fighter pilot. He returned to college and graduated in 1946, then studied theater for a year in England on a Fulbright scholarship. Returning to Los Angeles, he joined The Circle Theatre, an intimate group that performed in the round in a former drugstore.

Among the Circle actors were Charlie Chaplin’s children Charles Chaplin Jr. and Sydney Chaplin. Father Charlie directed Schallert and June Havoc in a 1948 production of Somerset Maugham’s Rain. Over the next three or four years, Schallert appeared in about 25 plays. Also among the Circle players was actress Leah Waggner (born Rosemarie Diann Waggner). She married Schallert in 1949, with the marriage lasting until her death in 2015.

In 1947, he made his film debut in The Foxes of Harrow, starring Rex Harrison and Maureen O’Hara, for 20th Century Fox. Cast in the uncredited role of “Philadelphia Banker,” he was paid $75 per day for three days. His first credited role was as “George Brant” in producer Jerry Fairbanks’ 1947 drama Doctor Jim, starring Stuart Erwin as a country doctor.

Schallert received his first significant screen time as the scheming Dr. Mears opposite Margaret Field, the mother of actress Sally Field, in Edgar G. Ulmer’s low budget classic The Man From Planet X (1951). 

Many film buffs know Schallert for his work in sci-fi films like Captive Women (1952), Them! (1954), Gog (1954) and The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957). But he also worked in such films as Red Badge of Courage (1951), Singin’ in the Rain (1952, though his scene was left on the cutting room floor), The High and the Mighty (1954), Written on the Wind (1956), Friendly Persuasion (1956) and Pillow Talk (1959).

And who can forget his turn as unfortunate Oracle, Texas Marshal Scott Hood, whose assassination in the opening of Roger Corman’s Gunslinger (1956) left his widow Rose (Beverly Garland) to take his badge and finish the job of cleaning up the town? He also played Walter Matthau's mild-mannered deputy in the Kirk Douglas film Lonely Are the Brave (1962, a role he later said was his favorite), small-town Mississippi Mayor Webb Schubert in the Oscar-winning best picture In the Heat of the Night (1967), a down-and-out ex-racer with Elvis Presley in 1968’s Speedway, a professor in The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), and a sheriff in Charley Varrick (1973) with Matthau.

Joe Dante, long a fan of Schallert’s sci-fi appearances, cast him in such films as Gremlins (1984) as Father Bartlett, Innerspace (1987) as Dr. Greenbush, and the cult favorite Matinee (1993), where he played Dr. Grabow in the trailer for Mant, about a man who becomes an ant.

Realizing that being a supporting actor in movies wasn’t enough to pay the bills, Schallert turned to television, where he cranked out an impressive resume. In 1956, he starred in the very first installment of the famed live CBS anthology series Playhouse 90, directed by John Frankenheimer. 

Over the years, he guest starred on such TV series as The Lone RangerGunsmokeThe George Burns and Gracie Allen ShowFather Knows BestDeath Valley Days, MaverickThe Twilight ZoneThe Jack Benny ShowPeter GunnThe Red Skelton Hour, One Step Beyond77 Sunset Strip, Have Gun Will Travel, The Donna Reed ShowPerry MasonWanted: Dead or AliveWagon Train, Zane Grey Theater, The Andy Griffith Show, The Rifleman, The Dick Van Dyke ShowBonanza, Dr. Kildare, Here Come the BridesMaudeLou GrantStar Trek: Deep Space Nine, Desperate Housewives, How I Met Your Mother, and 2 Broke Girls.

He’s also had recurring roles on Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (Ted Richards), The Adventures of Jim Bowie (Justinian Tibbs), Steve Canyon (Maj. Karl Richmond), Philip Marlowe (Lt. Manny Harris), The Nancy Walker Show (Teddy Futterman), The Waltons (Stanley Perkins), and The New Gidget (Russell Lawrence). 

In a 1960 interview with The Milwaukee Journal, Schallert praised the number and variety of available television parts: “In the past year, for instance, I have appeared as an old, feuding hillbilly; a vicious prosecuting attorney; an intelligent psychiatrist; a submarine commander; a blind ex-tennis player; a priest; a bartender; a hard-bitten Civil War major; an acidulous high-school teacher; a Bowery bum; and now a police lieutenant.”

Some of the recurring roles brought him a bit of fame, such as his portrayal of English teacher Leander Pomfritt, who was perpetually perplexed by students Dobie (Dwayne Hickman) and his beatnik buddy Maynard G. Krebs (Bob Denver), to whom he often asked, “You ready, my young barbarians?” on CBS’ The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, (1959-63).

After Dobie Gillis was canceled, he won the role of Martin Lane, the warm-hearted father of impetuous teenager Patty Lane and uncle to her sophisticated and level-headed twin cousin Cathy on The Patty Duke Show (1963-66). The memories of the show were still strong enough that in 2004 Schallert placed No. 39 on the list of TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Dads.

Other well-known Schallert roles were on Get Smart as Admiral Hargrade, the brittle founder of CONTROL; The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries as Carson Drew, Nancy Drew’s (Pamela Sue Martin) father; Agent Frank Harper on The Wild, Wild West (stepping in after Ross Martin was sidelined after suffering a heart attack); Wesley Hodges, the elderly boarder in The Torkelsons who lives on Martin Lane (get it?); and Mayor Norris on True Blood

Schallert performed in numerous miniseries, including 1979’s Blind Ambition (as Nixon adviser Herbert Kalmbach), 1986’s North and South, Book II (as Robert E. Lee), 1988-89’s War and Remembrance (as Harry Hopkins), and 2011’s Bag of Bones (as Harry Devore).

Schallert even lent his voice to animated shows These Are the Days (1974), David and Goliath (1986), Sparky’s Magic Piano (1987), Dinosaurs (1992), and What’s New, Scooby Doo? (2003-2005). He did voiceover work for numerous television and radio commercials over the years, including a long-running role as the voice of Milton the Toaster, the spokesman for Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts.

But perhaps there was no better example of the trials and tribulations of being a supporting actor than Schallert experienced in 1964, when he was chosen for the lead in Philbert, an innovative TV pilot for ABC that combined live action camera work with animation. The series, created by Warner Bros. animator Friz Freleng and directed by Richard Donner, cast Schallert as a cartoonist whose creation, Philbert, comes to life. But when the producers told ABC the series would cost $75,000 per episode, the station wanted a top name in the lead to bring in viewers. At this point, Warner Bros. pulled the plug on the series, although the completed pilot was later released in theaters as a short subject. In an interview, Schallert said, “It was a hard pill to swallow.”

Offstage, Schallert was elected president of the 46,000-member Screen Actors Guild in 1979. The next year, he led the union in a 13-week strike over issues including actors’ pay for films made for the then-new cable television industry. During his tenure, he founded the Committee for Performers With Disabilities. In 1993, Schallert received the Ralph Morgan Award for service to the guild.

The settlement the union reached to end the strike was widely criticized by many in the union, and in 1981, Schallert was succeeded by Ed Asner. Asner, in turn, was succeeded in 1985 by none other than Mr. Schallert’s former screen daughter, Duke. 

For years Schallert kept working despite suffering from peripheral neuropathy, which required him to wear braces on his legs, a secret he finally divulged in a 2014 interview. 

Schallert is survived by sons Edwin, Joseph, Mark and Brendan and seven grandchildren.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Cinéma Inhabituel for May 16-31

A Guide to the Rare and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea


May’s Star of the Month, Robert Ryan, has over 90 movie and television credits to his name. His last film was The Iceman Cometh in 1973, shortly before he succumbed to lung cancer. Ryan was born in Chicago on November 11, 1909, to a wealthy family who owned a real estate firm. He attended Dartmouth College, where he worked on the campus newspaper and joined the boxing team, compiling a 5-0 record. Ryan moved out to California in the late ‘30s, studying acting under Max Reinhardt, and it was here that he met his wife, fellow student Jessica Cadwalader. After their marriage, she retired from acting to raise a family and became a successful children’s book author. He served in the Marines during World War II as a drill sergeant and was a boxing champion, both of which served him well in the movies. He first gained attention as the anti-Semitic villain in 1947’s Crossfire and as the washed-up boxer who refuses to take a dive in The Set-Up (1948). These set the tone for the rest of his career, which took advantage of his athletic build, handsome looks and authoritarian voice and bearing. He was made for the shadowy world of film noir and especially for war films, as some of his best remembered roles were in both genres. The irony in Ryan’s acting career was that, while he often played violent men, he himself was of a gentle nature and a pacifist – a founder of the antinuclear weapon group SANE.

May 20: Not a whole lot to choose from tonight. At 10:00, there’s The Outfit (1973) with Ryan as a crime boss targeted for revenge by ex-con Robert Duvall for murdering Duvall’s brother. This is followed at midnight by the pick for the evening, Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969), a wonderful violent over-the-top Western with Ryan as the leader of a group of bounty hunter out to snare his old gang, with an ending only Sam Peckinpah could come up with. Highly recommended despite the violence.

May 27: Ryan kicks off The Memorial Day Marathon with four of his war films, starting at 8:00 pm with Battle of the Bulge (1965), a wildly fictionalized account of the famous World War II battle. Ryan plays General Gray, leader of the American troops at Bastogne and a fictional double for General Anthony McAuliffe. At 11:00. Ryan co-stars in one of the most famous war movies ever made, The Longest Day (1962), as General Gavin. The movie is unique in that it covers the viewpoints of the Allies, the Germans, and the French Resistance. Based on Cornelius Ryan’s book of the same name, the movie is almost three hours long, with five directors and an all-star cast led by John Wayne, Ryan, Robert Mitchum, Henry Fonda, and Richard Burton.

At 2:00 comes another of Ryan’s most notable war movies, The Dirty Dozen (1967). Ryan has a supporting role as Colonel Breed, who opposes Major Reisman's (Lee Marvin) idea of fashioning a commando unit from 12 convicted military convicts. Of course, Breed’s opposition dies out after the Major’s men capture his entire staff during war games, or we wouldn’t have had any movie. It’s a lot of fun for the eighth grader in all of us as Marvin and the boys successfully infiltrate the chateau where top ranking German officers are busy planning the war.

Rounding out the evening during the graveyard hour of 4:30 am is Men In War (1957), a taut story about a band of American soldiers trying to survive a mission behind enemy lines during the Korean War. Ryan is their leader, Lt. Benson. Directed by Anthony Mann, the film is unique in that it shows the action from the viewpoint of the average GI, much like Sam Fuller’s earlier Korean War drama, The Steel Helmet. It’s a film that deserves to be seen despite the unfortunate hour and we recommend recording, unless insomnia gets the better of you. 


May 19: Tonight the focus is on AIP in the ‘60s, beginning with Beach Party (1963) at 8:00, the movie that, while it didn’t start the “beach movie” craze (Gidget did), probably did more to popularize the craze than any other movie. It also began the biker craze phenomenon in a way with Harvey Lembeck playing biker boss Eric Von Zipper.

At 10:00 comes The Wild Angels (1966) from director Roger Corman starring Peter Fonda and Nancy Sinatra. There were other biker films in the past, most notably The Wild One (1953), but Corman’s low budget flick ignited the biker craze of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Whereas Eric Von Zipper of the Beach Party films was played for laughs, Corman’s films were serious, celebrating youthful rebellion, free love, and anti-authoritarianism, all to the merry jungle of the cash register.

Corman continues to cash in at 11:45 with 1967’s The Trip as Peter Fonda drops acid in search of a cure for his troubled emotional life.  

At 1:15 comes a film we’re surprised Corman didn’t make: Wild in the Streets (1968). Get this lot: Max Frost (Christopher Jones) its elected president of the United States after managing, by doping Congress with LSD, to have the voting age lowered to 14. President Frost decrees that anyone over the age of 30 is to be sent to a concentration camp, where they’re forced to take hallucinogens. It’s ham-fisted satire at its very best. Watch for Shelley Winters as Max’s mother giving one of the most bizarre performances of her career. That alone is worth tuning in to see. When liberal senator Hal Holbrook drops in to see her to complain that her son is paralyzing the country, she answers, “I’m sure my son has a very good reason for paralyzing the country.” The ultimate stereotypical Jewish mother.

At 3:15, it’s Three in the Attic (1968), a black comedy whose quasi-feminist theme was somewhat ahead of its time. When three college students (Yvette Mimieux, Judy Pace, and Maggie Threat) discover their erstwhile boyfriend (Christoper Jones) is sleeping with all of them, they take him captive and keep him in an attic, where they take turns hoping to service him to death. 

Finally, at 5:00 am, it’s Vincent Price at his hammiest in Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965). Price is a mad scientist (What else?) out to ensnare the fortunes of the world’s wealthiest men through the use of the beautiful bikini-clad robots he manufactures in his laboratory. Out to stop the mad doctor is secret agent Frankie Avalon of S.I.C. (Secret Intelligence Command). A film that’s perfect for Mystery Science Theater 3000.

May 26: The evening is devoted to AIP in the ‘70s, beginning at 8:00 with Vincent Price totally enjoying himself in The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971), a definite Must See for those of a psychotronic bent. At 10:00, it’s Martin Scorsese’s Boxcar Bertha (1972), starring the then husband-and-wife-team of David Carradine and Barbara Hershey. At midnight, it’s yet another Hitchcock imitation from director Brian De Palma – Sisters (1973) – starring Margot Kidder and Jennifer Salt. Journalist Salt sees a man brutally murdered in Kidder’s neighboring apartment, but the police aren’t buying her story. She enlists the help of private detective Charles Durning to get to the bottom of things with the usual strange results.

At 2:00 am, Shelley Winters chews clear through every piece of scenery she can find as Ma Barker in Roger Corman’s Bloody Mama (1970). The most interesting thing in the film is the young Robert De Niro as son Lloyd Barker. At 3:45, it’s renowned Shakespearean actor William Marshall taking the lead role in the camp cult blaxploitation classic Blacula (1972). And, finally, at 5:30 am, it’s Liza Minelli and Ingrid Bergman in the 1976 romantic drama, A Matter of Time, directed by Liza’s father, Vincente. Liza is a young woman who helps eccentric elderly countess Bergman deal with old age, and Bergman, in turn, introduces Liza to the world of the upper crust. It could have been a really interesting film, but the low budget and overuse of stock footage does in whatever director Minelli is trying to create. But worth seeing, especially for Bergman completists.


May 16: At 2:45 am, it’s the sublime House of Pleasure (1954) from director Max Ophuls. Co-writers Ophuls and Jacques Natanson adapted three short stories by Guy de Maupassant that relate the joy and irony of romance. "Le Masque'' is about an elderly man who recovers his youth with the aid of a magic mask. "Le Maison Tellier'' sees a bevy of prostitutes embark on their annual holiday in the countryside. And in "Le Modele,'' a free-living artist weds a model after she cripples herself in a failed suicide attempt. The film is a typical lush Ophuls’ production with his trademark fluid camera and baroque art decoration. Narrated by Peter Ustinov (the English version; Jean Servais narrates the original) the film has an all-star cast featuring Jean Gabin, Danielle Darrieux, Simone Simon, Claude Dauphin, Gaby Morlay, Pierre Brasseur, Pauline Dubost, Madeleine Renaud, and Daniel Gelin.

May 22: Two rarities beginning at 8:00 pm with Henry Hathaway’s 1933 revenge Western, To the Last Man starring Randolph Scott, Esther Ralston, Barton MacLane, and Buster Crabbe. It’s followed at 9:30 pm by the 1962 animated, educational feature film Of Stars and Men. Based on the 1959 book of the same name by astronomer Dr. Harlow Shapley, it’s an engaging movie about theories concerning space and time, matter and energy, and our place in the universe. Though it can be a bit dry at times, it still enchants and educates. A film truly ahead of its time.


May on TCM means the annual Memorial Day Marathon, saluting movies about war and our reaction to war. Though nothing new is added to this year’s schedule, there are still several favorites being run for our enjoyment.

May 28: Begin at 9:00 am with the wonderfully weird Behind the Rising Sun (1943). The best bad movies are those that take themselves very seriously, and this film, with J. Carroll Naish, Tom Neal, and Margo playing Asians, comes close to being an outright laff riot. It’s in the “must be seen to be believed” category, and we urge you to tune in.

Later that day is the marvelous The Caine Mutiny (1954) at 3:30, followed by the tense The Hill (1965) with Sean Connery and Ossie Davis. In the evening, it’s the oft played The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), followed at 11:00 by the not-so-oft-played A Bridge Too Far (1977).

May 29: Two classics running back to back beginning at 8:00 with the magnificent Civil War drama Glory (1989) about the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first African-American regiment in war. Starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington (who got the Oscar), and Morgan Freeman (who steals the movie). Following at 10:15 is William Wyler’s perceptive drama The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) documenting the difficult adjustment veterans and their families must make after war is over. 

May 30: At 9:00 am, it’s Howard Hawks’ durable Sergeant York (1941) with Gary Cooper as the man who captured 132 Germans in one battle during World War I. At 2:15 comes The Great Escape (1963), based on the true story of a mass escape from a German POW camp during World War II. Richard Attenborough, James Garner, and Steve McQueen star. Immediately following at 5:15 is The Guns of Navarone (1961), adapted from the novel by Alistair McLean starring Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn as a team of Allied saboteurs who must disable a huge pair of Nazi cannon making life tough for the Allies in Greece. 

The evening begins at 8:00 with another McLean adaptation, this one being Where Eagles Dare (1968), starring Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood as part of a team of commandos parachuted into the Bavarian Alps to rescue an Allied officer held prisoner at a castle-fortress known as the “Castle of the Eagle.” At 10:45 pm, Eastwood stars in Kelly’s Heroes (1970) based on the true story of a group of GIs out to rob a bank in occupied France containing 14,000 bars of gold. Originally a subtle anti-war film, Eastwood and director Brian G. Hutton were forced to make cuts by their studio, MGM, that resulted in a different film from the one they originally made. It wasn’t until 1999 that the same plot of soldiers taking leave of a war to find hidden gold was employed for the movie Three Kings, which was not cut by the studio. 

Finally, at 3:30 am comes Errol Flynn and company fighting the Japanese in Raoul Walsh’s 1945 actioner, Objective, Burma!


May 17: Three solid Pre-Codes, beginning at 6:00 am with Warren William obsessed with his building in Skyscraper Souls (read our essay on it here.) At 9:15 am, it’s the irrepressible Marie Dressler (June’s Star of the Month) in one of her finest roles as Tugboat Annie (1933) co-starring Wallace Beery, Robert Young, and Maureen O’Sullivan.

We now have to wait until the late hour of 3:15 am for the rarely shown film Are These Our Children? (1931). It's the story of a youth (Eric Linden) from a decent background who falls in with the wrong people and is led down the road to juvenile delinquency, and ultimately, death row. With Beryl Mercer in her usual role of the suffering relative, Rochelle Hudson, and Ben Alexander. I caught this years ago at a midnight show and can testify to the fact that it’s a real corker. Definitely worth catching.

May 31: At 8:00 pm, it’s Lew Ayres starring in the 1930 flawed gangster epic The Doorway to Hell. Ayres was miscast as ruthless gang baron Louie Ricarno, who “retires” from the rackets to his Florida mansion to write his memoirs. Co-star Jimmy Cagney steals the film as Ricarno’s right-hand man, Steve Mileaway. There's also a brief, but unforgettable performance by the underrated Dwight Frye as hitman Monk, who packs his chopper in a violin case. 


May 22: Enigmatic German director Rainer Warner Fassbinder dominates the late night beginning at 2:00 am with two of his more popular films: Lola (1981), and 1969’s Love is Colder Than Death. The former is Fassbinder’s take on the classic The Blue Angel, from 1930, with Armin Mueller-Stahl as Von Bohm, an upright building commissioner who’s smitten with his landlady’s daughter, a single mother named Lola (Barbara Sukowa). What he doesn’t know is that she’s a singer at a local bordello and the mistress of Schukert (Mario Adorf), a developer whose profits rely heavily on Von Bohm’s projects. The question: Can Von Bohm discover Lola’s real occupation and what Schukert is up to? A clever and perceptive social satire. 

Love is Colder Than Death is a rather unusual gangster story. Small time pimp Franz (Fassbinder) is torn between his mistress Johanna (Hanna Schygulla) and Bruno (Ulli Lommel), the gangster sent after him by the syndicate that he has refused to join. Things are turned upside down when Franz and Bruno strike up a friendship that evolves to the point where Franz shares Johanna with Bruno. They also form a crime trio with Bruno doing most of the dirty work. It’s a film I have a hard time recommending because of its uneven style, but it’s one that should be seen at least once. Think of Godard’s Pierrot Le Fou with a nihilistic bent.  


May 18: Tune in at 6:15 for the classic and unsettling Eyes Without a Face (1959). Pierre Brasseur stars as a surgeon who accidentally disfigured his daughter (Edith Scob) in an auto accident and now lures young women in order to graft their face onto that of his daughter. 

May 21: At 9:15 am, the Lone Wolf series hits rock bottom with the last (thankfully) in the series, The Lone Wolf and His Lady (1949). The role of Michael Lanyard, once played with with style and grace by Warren William is now in the hands of Ron Randell, an actor who also put the Bulldog Drummond series out of its misery. Alan Mowbray takes over for Eric Blore as Jamison, but there’s little he can do given the script. It’s followed at 10:30 am by The Bowery Boys in Let’s Go Navy (1951), the second of their four “service” comedies. In this surprising lively entry, the Boys enlist in the Navy to catch some crooks posing as sailors. 

May 22: At 2:00 pm it’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), followed by Forbidden Planet (1956) at 4:30 pm, and Village of the Damned (1961) at 6:15. 

May 26: Six vintage John Wayne B’s from the early ‘30s begin with Ride Him, Cowboy (1932) at 6:00 am. At 7:00 am, it’s The Big Stampede (1932); followed by Haunted Gold (1932) at 8:00 am; The Telegraph Trail (1933) at 9:00; Somewhere in Sonora (1933) at 10:00; and The Man From Monterey (1933) at 11:00. 

May 31: At 6:00 am, it’s Leo Gorcey’s swan song as a Bowery Boy, 1956’s Crashing Las Vegas. The plot is typical: an electrical shock gives Sach (Huntz Hall) psychic powers, so the boys decide to make a killing in Las Vegas, where Sach cleans up at roulette. For Gorcey, this was the end on the line. He had been in bad shape since his father, Bernard, was killed in an auto accident. To deal with his grief he drank heavily and the results can be seen in the movie, where he clearly appears intoxicated. He also trashed the set a couple of times between set-ups in frustration and grief. After filming ended, Gorcey demanded a huge increase in his salary. The studio (Allied Artists), noting his behavior, refused and Gorcey left the series. Watch for the scene in Sach’s hotel room, where, after his soliloquy, Gorcey comes in too early with his line, “What time do they give out the awards?” He then cracks up laughing and looking skyward, as if to his father for approval.