Monday, July 21, 2014

Remembering James Garner

Turner Classic Movies Remembers as only they can


Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy 4th of July from Classic Movie Man

And Betty Hutton!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hitchcock’s Mr. and Mrs. Smith to screen July 8, 2014 at Daystar Center

When: Tuesday, July 8, 2014 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Venue 1550 at the Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street

Yes, a Hitchcock Screwball Comedy
In 1940, Alfred Hitchcock’s third American film, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, was a screwball comedy. Yes, that’s right a screwball comedy. And it starred Carole Lombard, who had recently been proclaimed the “Screwball Girl” in a Life magazine profile. Few classic movie fans are familiar with this Hitchcock comedy, even though it was a critical and commercial hit, making its debut at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.

Typically screwball
The plot is typical for a screwball comedy. Ann (Lombard) and David (Robert Montgomery) Smith, discover that through a technicality their marriage isn’t legal. After David admits to his wife that if he had it to do all over again, he wouldn’t get married, Ann decides that she doesn’t want to be married either. What follows is a series of events in which each spouse tries to make the other jealous. Ann starts dating David’s law partner Jeff Custer (Gene Raymond) and David takes a room at his club and starts to hang out with a philandering Chuck Bensen (Jack Carson), which leads to some of the film’s funniest moments.

Carole Lombard and Alfred Hitchcock look at the script
His kind of actress
Alfred Hitchcock loved Carole Lombard. She was his type of actress: beautiful, smart, earthy, and blonde. The Hitchcock family rented Lombard’s house after she and Clark Gable were married in 1939. The Hitchcock’s and the Gable’s became fast friends and it was inevitable that the director and actress would work together. Unfortunately, Lombard would make one movie after Mr. and Mrs. Smith, dying tragically in a plane crash the next year, after a successful war bond drive during World War II.


Award-winning script writer
The script written by Oscar winner, Norman Krasna (Hands Across the Table, Bachelor Mother, It Started with Eve, Princess O’Rourke) is quite good and Lombard and Montgomery have great on-screen chemistry and deliver good performances. Raymond is perfect as Montgomery’s strait-laced college chum and partner. The film is peppered with some great character actors like Carson, Lucile Watson, Charles Halton, Esther Dale, and Betty Compson.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith proved that Hitchcock, the master of suspense, could be successful in any genre he put his mind to.

Have some Joe and Enjoy the Show!
Before the movie, grab a cup of coffee from Overflow Coffee Bar, located within the Daystar Center. You can bring food and beverages into the auditorium; we even have small tables set up next to some of the seats.

Join the Chicago Film club, join the discussion
The Chicago Film Club is for classic movie fans. Once a month we screen a classic film and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click here. To purchase your ticket in advance, click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.

Lombard and Anne Shirley in Vigil in the Night

Backstory: Mr. and Mrs. Smith opened on February 20, 1941 at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Hitchcock and Lombard had hoped to get Cary Grant to costar, but he was not available. Some Hitchcock critics say that Mr. and Mrs. Smith was a critical and financial flop. This is not true. Audiences were delighted to see Lombard in a comedy after starring in two heavy dramas (Vigil in Night and They Knew What They Wanted). Hitchcock’s first three American films were all solid commercial successes.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Hitchcock’s “Foreign Correspondent” to screen June 10, 2014

When: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Venue 1550 at the Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street

Foreign Correspondent was Alfred Hitchcock’s second American film. On loan-out to producer Walter Wanger, Hitchcock enjoyed a level of freedom that he hadn’t experienced on the set of Rebecca with David O. Selznick. Although the director didn’t get the stars he wanted, he had almost unlimited resources to create a first-class suspense classic.

Personal History
Wanger owned a property called Personal History, the memoir of a journalist named Vincent Sheean. He had owned the rights to the memoir since 1935, but was unable to turn it into a workable property. When Wanger learned that Hitchcock was available on loan-out from Selznick, he jumped at the chance to hire him. Hitchcock and his team worked over the memoir, in effect rewriting it so that it would appeal to contemporary audiences.

Laraine Day played nurse
Nancy Lamont in the Dr. Kildare series
Starstruck
The producer was hoping that along with Hitchcock he could borrow Joan Fontaine and Brian Aherne, who were recently married as his stars. Hitchcock wanted Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. Cooper turned him down, saying he didn’t want to star in a thriller and Stanwyck was unavailable. In the end, the director had to settle on Joel McCrea and Laraine Day. Although not as big a star as Cooper, McCrea was a star in his own right. Day was a contract player at MGM who starred in the popular Dr. Kildare series with Lew Ayers. In spite of the director’s disappointment with the casting, he got terrific performances out of his leads. McCrea and Day had genuine chemistry that is both charming and believable.





Europe on the brink
Joel McCrae, Barbara Stanwyck, and Robert Preston
in publicity photo from Union Pacific
The plot revolves around Johnny Jones, (McCrea) christened “Huntley Haverstock” by his newspaper’s editor (Harry Davenport) as a newly minted American foreign correspondent. On assignment in Europe, he is tasked to find out if the continent is on the brink of a World War. In Holland, Haverstock meets Carol Fisher (Day), daughter of Stephen Fisher, (Herbert Marshall) head of the Universal Peace Party. When a Dutch diplomat named Van Meer, (Albert Basserman) is assassinated, the plot really takes off. Who killed Van Meer and why? And is the head of the Universal Peace Party really working for peace in Europe?

Foreign Correspondent set the template for future Hitchcock films, including Saboteur and North By Northwest. With its amazing set pieces and complicated action sequences, it is a master class in film making. We’ll discuss the film, it’s reception and influence. Join us!

Who is that man reading the paper?
Excellent Support
Besides the other cast members already mentioned, the outstanding supporting players also includes George Sanders (playing a good guy this time), Edmund Gwen, and Robert Benchley, who supposedly wrote his own dialogue.

Have some Joe and Enjoy the Show!
Before the movie, grab a cup of coffee from Overflow Coffee Bar, located within the Daystar Center. You can bring food and beverages into the auditorium; we even have small tables set up next to some of the seats.

Join the Chicago Film club, join the discussion
The Chicago Film Club is for classic movie fans. Once a month we screen a classic film and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click here. To purchase your ticket in advance, click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.

Monday, May 5, 2014

“Rebecca” to launch “Hitchcock in the 40s” film series May 13, 2014

When: Tuesday, May 13, 2014 6:30 p.m.
Where: The Venue 1550 at the Daystar Center, 1550 S. State Street


Hitchcock comes to America
By the late 1930s, Alfred Hitchcock had established himself as a major film director in his native England. The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes, Hollywood came calling. Independent producer, David O. Selznick put Hitchcock under exclusive contract in 1939 and the director moved to Los Angeles with his family. Hitchcock cemented his place in movie history with his first American feature, Rebecca.
After the successes of the

The search for the second Mrs. De Winter
Rebecca was released in 1940, but was in production during 1939, the same year Selznick’s epic Gone With The Wind was released. Many actresses vied for the female lead. However the desire to find a “new star” didn’t turn into the crazy spectacle like the search for Scarlet O’Hara. Many established actresses auditioned for the role, including Margaret Sullivan, Loretta Young, and Scarlet herself, Vivian Leigh. A 16-year-old Anne Baxter tested for the lead, and tested well.

A David O. Selznick production
Although Hitchcock was the director, Selznick was in control of the production and the casting. Originally, he wanted Olivia De Havilland for the second Mrs. DeWinter. Unfortunately, she was contracted to star in another film, plus, when she found out her younger sister Joan Fontaine was under consideration for the role, she was reluctant to pursue it seriously.

Judith Anderson and Joan Fontaine
The lead roles are set
For the role of Maxim DeWinter, Selznick originally wanted Ronald Coleman, who turned it down. Second choice was William Powell, but he wanted too much money, $200,000 to be exact. Lawrence Olivier, hot off of his success in Wuthering Heights, agreed to play Maxim for $100,000. He had hoped to have Leigh, his lover in real life, as his costar, but Selznick never thought Leigh was right for the part. However, Selznick agreed to test her. It’s clear from those tests (which still exist) that Selznick’s instincts were correct. Both Hitchcock and Selznick were happy with casting Olivier, but they still needed to cast the second Mrs. DeWinter. After reviewing all the screen tests it came down to Fontaine and Baxter, with Fontaine finally snagging the role (At 16, Baxter was considered too young). The pivotal role of the menacing Mrs. Danvers went to Judith Anderson. George Saunders, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, Florence Bates, and Reginald Denny rounded out the supporting cast.

Hitchcock at the helm
Although Rebecca was directed by Hitchcock, Selznick’s influence is everywhere. The production is posh Rear Window). Even with Selznick’s micro-management, Hitchcock’s hand is clearly seen. The performances he elicits from Fontaine, in her first major role, and the way he captures Olivier’s dark side as Maxim are clearly the result of Hitchcock’s masterful direction. Many of the supporting cast, including Nigel Bruce, George Saunders, and Leo G. Carroll would appear in future Hitchcock films to great effectiveness.
and the crew used is all Selznick, including musician Franz Waxman (when Hitchcock had more control of his films, he would use Waxman to score

The main cast  in a pivotal scene 
Award-winning success
Alfred Hitchcock was brought to America with all the great fanfare a showman like David O. Selznick could muster. The pressure was on both Selznick, to reproduce the success of the colossal Gone With The Wind and Hitchcock, to live up to the publicity stoked by Selznick. Rebecca proved the hype wasn’t misplaced. The film was an enormous success both critically and financially. It would go on to receive 11 Academy Award nominations, winning for cinematography, black and white, and Best Picture of the Year. Hitchcock was nominated for Best Director, but lost out to John Ford for The Grapes of Wrath.

Have some Joe and Enjoy the Show!
Before the movie, grab a cup of coffee from Overflow Coffee Bar, located within the Daystar Center. You can bring food and beverages into the auditorium; we even have small tables set up next to some of the seats.

Join the Chicago Film club, join the discussion
The Chicago Film Club is for classic movie fans. Once a month we screen a classic film and have a brief discussion afterward. For more information, including how to join (it’s free), click here. To purchase your ticket in advance, click here. The Venue 1550 is easily accessible by the CTA. Please visit Transit Chicago for more information on transportation options.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The most chilling of them all: Joseph Cotton in “Shadow of a Doubt”

Joseph Cotton created the role of C. K. Dexter Haven in the original Broadway production of The Philadelphia Story, opposite Katharine Hepburn. After the play’s successful run, Cotton thought he had a shot at playing Dexter in the film version. That didn’t happen, obviously, but Cotton stayed in Hollywood and we’re glad he did.
Our first glimpse of Uncle Charlie

Cotton is perhaps most famous for his films with Orson Welles, but his best screen performance, in my opinion, is as the mysterious Uncle Charlie in the Alfred Hitchcock classic, Shadow of a Doubt. As the dapper and sophisticated uncle visiting his older sister’s family in California, Cotton establishes himself as a menacing presence from the moment he first appears on the screen.

Our first glimpse of Charles Oakley is of him laying on a bed in a boarding house, dressed in a perfectly tailored suit, smoking a cigar. The way the scene is shot and Cotton’s non-verbal, acting, we’re tipped off that Uncle Charlie is an unsavory sort. His face is stiff and immobile at times. His movements measured and deliberate.

Was there ever a more menacing train?
While the audience suspects Uncle Charlie may have a darker side, it isn’t immediately obvious to his niece Charlotte “Charley” Newton, played by Teresa Wright. Young Charley, as she is called, is bored with what she thinks is a pretty dull life. When she finds out that her favorite uncle is coming to visit, she’s excited and happy, thinking he will snap the Newton family out of their drab existence.

Uncle Charlie travels to Santa Rosa, California, by railroad. When the train arrives, the engine’s smoke stack spits out the biggest, darkest cloud of smoke, casting a shadow on the small train station, another clue that this is no ordinary family visit. In the beginning, all is well. Charlie loves showing off her handsome uncle who dresses like a first class passenger on a luxury ocean liner. Then, little by little, things begin to change.

“You’re hurting me, Uncle Charlie!”
After dinner one evening, Uncle Charley is seen making a house out of newspaper, ostensibly to amuse the two younger Newton children, Ann (Edna May Wonacott) and Roger (Charles Bates). It’s clear to the audience that there is something in that newspaper that he doesn’t want anyone to see. The children are not amused and Young Charley senses this house-made-out-of-paper game is fishy too. Before she goes to bed, Young Charley brings a pitcher of water to her uncle. She spies the clipping that Uncle Charley ripped out of the paper. She grabs it, but Uncle Charley, who has been polishing his shoes, jumps out of his chair, face a blank, to wrestle the article out of Young Charley’s hands, hurting her.

Uncle Charlie, a murderer?
When two detectives, pretending to be government employees doing a profile of an “average American family,” show up asking questions, things begin to get tense. Uncle Charlie’s behavior becomes darker and just plain creepy. One of the detectives, Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey) takes Young Charlie on a date. He tells her that her uncle might be a killer. She doesn’t believe it’s possible, but there is a shadow of a doubt. What was in that newspaper article that Uncle Charley didn’t want anyone to see?

At the library, Young Charley finds the article that her uncle ripped out of the paper. It says that there are two men suspected of being the “Merry- Widow” Murderer. A man back east and one out west. One of the victims has the same initials that were engraved in a ring Young Charley’s uncle gave her. She is now convinced her uncle is a murderer. At dinner the next day, Uncle Charley talks about rich women, widows and all their money. The money their husbands made that they’re spending “frivolously.” Moments before Young Charley recounts a dream that makes it clear that she knows something about her uncle. From that moment on, the tension increases and it’s clear that Uncle Charley isn’t going to let his niece get in the way of his plans: to settle down in Santa Rosa. Cotton’s performance which had hints of menace now goes full throttle, warning his niece not to get in his way in so many words. The glimpses of charm that Young Charley saw earlier have vanished. Cotton’s face becomes tighter, more mask-like; it’s hard to know what he’s thinking, but you’re convinced it isn’t anything good.

“…or are they fact, wheezing animals?”
Now with things out in the open, Uncle Charlie does his best to intimidate his niece and when that doesn’t work, he tries to bump her off. He messes with the back stairs. Young Charley nearly falls down the entire flight when one of the steps breaks. Next he tries asphyxiating her in the garage with the family car running. She survives that attempt and it looks like she may have won the battle, especially when it is revealed that Uncle Charlie is leaving Santa Rosa rather suddenly.

Finally Uncle Charlie is leaving town by train. Young Charlie, Ann and Roger are on the train saying their good-byes. While Ann and Roger get off the train, Uncle Charlie grabs his niece. As the train starts moving, Young Charlie realizes that he’s going to kill her. “Your hands,” she shouts, as their struggle now becomes physical.

“Your hands!”
Of all the evil screen villains, and there are many, Joseph Cotton’s performance is one of the most chilling. Hitchcock loved exploring the theme that evil isn’t always “out there,” but generally closer to home. Contrasted against his young innocent niece and the All-American surroundings of Santa Rosa, Uncle Charlie’s evil is all the more striking.

Cotton is so good in Shadow of a Doubt that it is incredible to me that he was passed over come Oscar time. Cotton’s performance is so well played that it just looked too easy, I guess. Still it’s one of the great Hollywood injustices that He wasn’t even nominated.

If you’re looking for a good screen villain, you can’t do much better than Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt.

This post is part of the Great Villian Blogathon hosted by Ruth of Silver ScreeningsKaren of Shadows & Satin, and Kristina of Speakeasy. Click on any of the links to read more posts on great movie villains.
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