Friday, August 16, 2013

Cinéma Inhabituel for August 16-22

A Guide to the Interesting and Unusual on TCM

By Ed Garea

August 17

10:45 am Rationing (MGM, 1944) – Director: Willis Goldbeck. Cast: Wallace Beery, Marjorie Main, Donald Meek, & Dorothy Morris. B&W, 94 minutes.

This is a movie well worth a viewing since it reflects what was going on in Wartime America. Beery, who, by the ‘40s was relegated to the B-side of the bill, plays a small-town butcher whose long feud with postmistress Main is rekindled when she’s put in charge of rationing. Main had taken over for the late Marie Dressler as Beery’s co-star and love interest, making seven films with him in the ‘40s. Together they constituted a great slob couple, picking right up where Beery and Dressler had left off. Though none of their films together rose above the level of programmer, they are all entertaining to watch, as both Beery and Main were solid pros who never gave less than 100% no matter how insipid or wretched the film.

12:00 am Min and Bill (MGM, 1930) – Director: George Hill. Cast: Wallace Beery, Marie Dressler, Dorothy Jordan, Marjorie Rambeau, & Donald Dillaway. B&W, 69 minutes.

As long as we’re discussing Beery and Dressler, TCM is showing their first – and most successful – screen pairing. It’s a wonderful film, but it tends to be forgotten in the gloss that was MGM in the early ‘30s. Not only was this a blockbuster at the box office, it also won Dressler an Oscar for Best Actress. Beery and Dressler were the ultimate slob couple, a sort of remedy to the glam exuded by Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, Clark Gable and Jean Harlow, and William Powell and Myrna Loy. Min and Bill is the sort of heart-tugging comedy Hollywood just doesn’t make these days. Dressler leads Beery along and was largely responsible for the public perception of him as a loveable lout. This is a film every serious film fan should see – and add to his or her collection.

Trivia: On screen Beery played a loveable lout. Off screen he was still a lout, only not so loveable. Gloria Swanson, who married the 30-year old Beery on her 17th birthday, wrote in her autobiography, Swanson on Swanson, that not only did Beery rape her violently on their wedding night, but when she became pregnant, he tricked her into drinking a concoction that resulted in a miscarriage, because he did not want the child. When his career faltered, she supported them both. His reaction to the situation was to frequently get drunk and beat the snot out of her. He was also long rumored to have been part of a trio that delivered an ultimately fatal beating to actor Ted Healy at the Café Trocadero in 1937. But perhaps the funniest Beery story – and one that describes the depths of his loutishness – was during the shooting of Bad Bascomb in 1946. Margaret O’Brien, Beery’s co-star in the film, stated that besides constantly pinching her (Beery did not like children), he also used to steal her lunch.

As to the rumors about Beery killing Healy, these are a staple of what passes for fact often on the Internet. I have to agree with The Self-Styled Siren (whose wonderful blog on films can be accessed at that one should only use Wikipedia as a starting point, and not as a source – check the references at the bottom. There is also another excellent blog written by Larry Harnisch called The Daily Mirror, which is devoted to the history of Los Angeles. (You can find it at Harnisch has done a lot – a lot – of research on the Beery-Healy story, and you can read the fruits of that research on his site. It is a fascinating look at a fabled piece of Hollywood history that ultimately owes more to fable than reality. 

August 20

12:00 am Show Boat (Universal, 1936) – Director: James Whale. Cast: Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Paul Robeson, Charles Winninger, & Helen Morgan. B&W 110 min.

Whale directing a musical? Isn’t that somewhat like The Three Stooges doing Macbeth? Well . . . yes and no. Certainly Whale was noted for his horror fare (FrankensteinBride of FrankensteinThe Old Dark HouseThe Invisible Man), but the truth of the matter is that he indulged in many genres, including the Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein Broadway adaptation of Edna Ferber’s novel about life on a showboat that cruises the Mississippi River. Fans of musicals should love this; I think it superior to the 1951 MGM color remake. Dunne, who we don’t often associate with musicals, and Jones star, but the real star is Robeson and his magnificent booming voice, especially on “Ol’ Man River.” And even those that are not fans of musicals – and you know who you are, sitting there in Ohio – should take this in if only to see a master director at work with different material than for which he became famous.

Trivia: Of all the films he directed, this was Whale’s favorite.

August 22

10:30 am Young Cassidy (MGM, 1965) – Director: Jack Cardiff. Cast: Rod Taylor, Flora Robson, Jack MacGowran, Sian Phillips, & Maggie Smith. Color, 108 minutes.

Cardiff is universally acknowledged to have been one of the best cinematographers that ever stood behind a camera. Justly lauded for his photography of such enduring classics as Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), A Matter of Life and Death (1946), Black Narcissus (1947), and The Red Shoes (1948), Cardiff also turned his hand toward directing, beginning with the short, The Story of William Tell, in 1953. As a director he didn’t reach the heights he did as a cinematographer, but he was nevertheless quite good. Young Cassidy, which he made in 1965, is the story of Irish playwright Sean O’Casey (called “John Cassidy” in the film), from his involvement in the 1911 Dublin uprising, to his move to England in the 1920’s after his play “The Plough and the Stars,” caused riots. Taylor stars as Cassidy (he took the role after Sean Connery turned it down), and acquits himself rather nicely. Also watch for Julie Christie as Cassidy’s first love, Daisy Battles, and Smith as Nopra, a bookshop clerk who encourages Cassidy’s writing endeavors and falls in love with him. Pictures such as this can be traps of boredom, but Young Cassidy sparkles throughout, mainly due to its excellent cast and taut direction that sticks to the basic story without meandering off as in all too many other would-be biographical epics.

Trivia: John Ford was the original director on the project, but fell ill during production and was replaced by Cardiff. Many critics cited the riot scene as a sterling example of Ford at his best, but in truth the riot was filmed by Cardiff, who said he based it on inspiration he received from a screening of The Battleship Potemkin.

8:00 pm Nowhere to Go (Ealing, 1958) – Director: Seth Holt. Cast: George Nader, Maggie Smith, Bernard Lee, Geoffrey Keen, & Bessie Love. B&W, 88 minutes.

This is an early Smith gem, her first starring role in a feature film, and she plays Bridget Howard, a young woman that becomes involved with a man she barely knows (Nader) and later helps to hide him when he’s on the lam from the police. Nader is fine in this forgotten British example of noir as a con man double-crossed by his partner (Lee) and made an example of by the justice system. Nader is a curious case. Somewhat famous among bad film fans for his starring turn in that trash classic, Robot Monster, he later signed with Universal and, given his talent and good looks, was headed for a bright future, starting by taking roles turned down by Rock Hudson, Tony Curtis, and Jeff Chandler. However, it was during this time that tabloids such as Confidential began exposing homosexuals in the Hollywood community. The story goes that Universal, in order to protect and save Rock Hudson’s much more lucrative career, threw Nader to the wolves as a diversion. Nader packed up and moved to Europe, where such things were not important, and enjoyed as good career that was cut short by an eye injury sustained on the set of the unreleased film Zigzag when a blank pistol round exploded unexpectedly near his eyes. He developed glaucoma as a result, and in 1974, retired from movies, turning instead to writing. His 1978 sci-fi novel, Chrome, developed a cult following due to its theme of gay robots (?!). Though he was sacrificed by Universal so that Hudson could prosper, he and Hudson remained close until Hudson’s death from AIDS in 1985, and Nader received a bequest from Hudson’s estate. Also, Nader’s long-time partner, Mark Miller, was Hudson’s personal secretary for over 12 years.

Trivia: This film was tragic in another sense. It was Seth Holt’s first feature film as a director at Ealing. As the years passed, Holt began to build a strong resume, helming such notable fare as the excellent psychological thriller, Scream of Fear (1961), the steamy Station Six-Sahara (1962) with Carroll Baker, a favorite film of Martin Scorsese, and the Bette Davis thriller, The Nanny (1965). But Holt could never break out of the B’s, and his battle with alcohol took its toll. Picked to direct Lindsay Anderson’s classic schoolhouse rebellion film, If, in 1968, his physical and mental condition were so bad that Anderson was forced to remove him from the film. He died from heart failure while on the set of his last picture, Blood From the Mummy’s Tomb.

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