Thursday, 26 November 2015

Happy Thanksgiving 2015

It is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. As I usually do on holidays, then, I will leave you with some classic pinups.

Lelia Hyams would rather cuddle her turkey than eat him!

Joan Shawlee has an entire cornucopia for her Thanksgiving feast!

Debbie Reynolds just finished carving on Plymouth Rock!

The lovely Ann Blyth is wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

Rita Hayworth stalking turkeys!

And what could be better than Thanksgiving dinner served by Ann Miller!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Godspeed David Canary

David Canary, who played Candy Canaday on Bonanza and also appeared on the soap operas Peyton Place and All My Children, died November 16 2015 at the age of 77.

David Canary was born on August 25 1938 in Elwood, Indiana. He attended the University of Cincinnati on a football scholarship and majored in music. It was while he was at the University of Cincinnati that he developed an interest in acting. The Denver Broncos tried to recruit him for a career in professional American football, but David Canary turned them down to move to New York City to pursue a career in acting instead. He served two years in the United States Army before resuming his acting career.

David Canary made his debut on Broadway in The Happiest Girl in the World in 1961. He appeared on Broadway in the production Great Day in the Morning in 1962. In 1965 he made his television debut in a regular role on the night-time soap opera Peyton Place. In 1967 Mr. Canary was cast in the role of Candy Canaday, the Cartwrights' ranch foreman, on the classic TV Western Bonanza.  He remained in the role for three years before leaving due to a contract dispute. He returned to the show for its final season. In the Sixties David Canary also guest starred on Gunsmoke, Dundee and the Culhane, and Cimarron Strip. He made his film debut in Hombre in 1967. In the Sixties he appeared in the films The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967) and The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969).

In the Seventies David Canary had a recurring role in the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. He guest starred on the shows The F.B.I., Hawaii Five-O, Bearcats!, Alias Smith and Jones, Police Story, Kung Fu, and S.W.A.T. He appeared in the mini-series The Dain Curse. He appeared in the films Sharks' Treasure (1975), Posse (1975), and Johnny Firecloud (1975) .He appeared on Broadway in Clothes for a Summer Hotel.

In 1984 David Canary joined the cast of the soap opera All My Children, where he remained for nearly thirty years. In the Eighties he also appeared on the soap opera Another World. He appeared in an edition of American Playhouse on PBS, as well as in the feature film In a Pig's Eye (1990). In the Nineties he guest starred on Remember WENN and Law & Order. He appeared in the feature film Secret Santa.

In the Naughts David Canary guest starred on the soap opera One Life to Life, as well as the primetime semi-anthology Touched by An Angel. In the teens he guest starred on Curb Your Enthusiasm.

During his career David Canary also appeared frequently on stage, in such productions as The Fantastics, Kismet, Macbeth, The Man of La Mancha, and The Seagull.

For many, perhaps most, people David Canary will always be Candy Canaday on Bonanza. He was perfectly cast as the gutsy and confidant ranch foreman. As a member of the cast of Bonanza David Canary fit in so well that it was hard to believe that he was not one of the Cartwright family. Indeed, besides Hoss, Little Joe, and Ben Cartwright themselves, he might be the most popular character on the show (possibly more popular even than Adam Cartwright). 

Of course, David Canary played many other roles besides Candy, some of them as far removed from the brave ranch foreman as possible. He played gangster Frank Gusenberg in The St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Reportedly one of his two characters on All My Children (he played twins) was the ruthless businessman Adam Chandler.  Although perhaps best known for playing a Western hero, David Canary was perfectly capable of playing villains. He was quite versatile.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Rex Reason R.I.P.

Rex Reason, who starred in the TV shows Man Without a Gun and The Roaring 20's, as well as the classic sci-fi movie This Island Earthdied on November 19 2016 at the age of 86.

Rex Reason was born on November 30 1928 in Berlin, Germany, where his family was on a business trip. He grew up in Los Angeles. His brother Rhodes Reason, who would also become an actor, was born two years later. He attended Hoover High School in Glendale, California. He enlisted in the United States Army when he was 17 years old. Following his stint in the Army, Rex Reason studied acting at the Pasadena Playhouse.

Mr. Reason had an uncredited role in Scaramouche (1952) before playing the lead role in Storm Over Tibet (1952). He appeared in the films Mission Over Korea (1953) and China Venture (1953) before signing with Universal. Universal insisted on billing him as "Bart Roberts" in the films Taza, Son of Cochise (1954) and Yankee Pasha (1954) before he demanded to use his given name. During the Fifties he went onto appear in such films as Smoke Signal (1955), This Island Earth (1955),  Lady Godiva of Coventry (1955), The Creature Walks Among Us (1956). Badlands of Montana (1957), and The Rawhide Trail (1958).

Rex Reason made his television debut in an episode of Schlitz Playhouse. He starred in the TV series Man Without a Gun for two seasons before starring in The Roaring 20's for a single season. In the Fifties he appeared on such shows as Lux Video Theatre, Matinee Theatre, The Millionaire, Tales of the 77th Bengal Lancers, The Ford Television Theatre, Conflict, The Web, 77 Sunset Strip, Bronco, Bourbon Street Beat, and The Alaskans.

In the Sixties Rex Reason guest starred on the shows Perry Mason, G.E. True, and Wagon Train. Afterwards he quit acting to go into real estate.

In many way Rex Reason was ideal for playing all-American heroic leads in the Fifties. Between his good looks and a distinct baritone voice he could be very convincing as a jet pilot, the editor of a newspaper in the Old West, or a reporter in the 1920s. Had he not ended his career when he did, it seems likely that he could have played the lead in yet another series (dark haired leading men being popular for action shows of the Sixties). As it is he left us with some memorable roles, particularly Dr. Cal Meacham in This Island Earth.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Keith Michell Passes On

Keith Michell, who played Henry VIII in the mini-series The Six Wives of Henry VIII, died on November 20 2015 at the age of 88.

Keith Michell was born on December 1 1926 in Adelaide, South Australia. He grew up in Warnertown, South Australia. He attended  Port Pirie High School, Adelaide Teacher’s College, Adelaide School of Arts and Crafts, and Adelaide University. Mr. Michell was working as an art teacher in Adelaide when he made his stage debut in the play Lover's Leap at the Playbox Theatre there. In 1949 he went to work for ABC Radio (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) for a brief time before moving to London to study at the Old Vic Theatre. He spent a year with the Young Vic Company. During that time he played played Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice and Ellis Duckworth in an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Black Arrow. The Black Arrow was shot by the BBC and so it also marked his television debut when it was aired in 1951. That same year he made his debut on the West End in musical And So To Bed at the New Theatre, playing King Charles II.

In the Fifties Keith Michell toured Australia with Anthony Quayle’s Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company. He spent time with the Royal Shakespeare Company and appeared in Don Juan and the Death of Satan. He went back to the Old Vic where he appeared in productions of Much Ado About Nothing, Titus Andronicus, and Antony and Cleopatra. He appeared in Irma La Douce both in the West End and on Broadway. On television he appeared on the shows BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, Armchair Theatre, and Dow Hour of Great Mysteries. He appeared in the films True as a Turtle (1957), Dangerous Exile (1957), and The Gypsy and the Gentleman (1958).

In the Sixties he appeared on stage in The Chances, Man of La Mancha, and Robert And Elizabeth. He appeared on television on the shows BBC Sunday-Night Play, The Spread of the Eagle, Festival, Theatre 625, Hallmark Hall of Fame, ITV Play of the Week, Love Story, and BBC Play of the Month, as well as productions of Wuthering Heights and Robert and Elizabeth. In 1970 he starred as Henry VIII in The Six Wives of Henry VIII. He appeared in the films The Hellfire Club (1961), All Night Long (1962), Il dominatore dei 7 mari (1962), Prudence and the Pill (1968), and The Executioner (1970).

In the Seventies Keith Michell was the artistic director of the Chichester Festival Theatre from 1974 to 1977. While there he appeared in productions of  Oedipus Tyrannus; A Month in the Country; and Tonight, We Improvise. Afterwards he appeared on stage in Othello. He appeared on television on Elizabeth R, BBC Show of the Week, and Late Night Theatre, as well as the productions The Story of Jacob and Joseph, The Story of David, Julius Caesar, and The Day Christ Died. He appeared in the film Moments (1974).

In the Eighties he appeared as Sallieri in Amadeus on stage. He played Captain Cook in the mini-series Captain James Cook. He also had a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote as jewel thief turned insurance investigator Dennis Stanton. He appeared in such TV movies as Ruddigore, The Gondoliers, The Pirates of Penzance, Memorial Day, and The Miracle, as well as the mini-series My Brother Tom. He appeared in the film The Deceivers (1988).

In 1991 he made his last appearance on stage, appearing in Henry VIII. He appeared in the two-part TV movie The Prince and the Pauper in the Nineties, and in the film Love/Loss (2010).

Keith Michell was a phenomenally talented actor. He gave an astounding performance in The Six Wives of Henry VIII, playing Henry VIII through several years of his life. In fact, he did so well that he was often called upon to play Henry VIII several more times throughout this career. Of course, Keith Michell was a versatile actor and was capable of playing much more than Henry VIII. Indeed, he seemed to have a gift for playing historical figures. He played figures from history as diverse as Robert Browning, Pontius Pilate, and Captain James Cook. He also played a number of famous characters from drama and literature throughout the years, including  Prof. Henry Higgins in Pygmalion, Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Caliban in The Tempest, and  Major General Stanley in The Pirates of Penzance. He was a versatile actor who was always guaranteed to give a good performance, whether it was in a horror film like The Hellfire Club or a production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Frank Morgan: The Man Behind the Curtain

 (This post is part of the What a Character! Blogathon)

For many today Frank Morgan is best known as the Wizard of Oz from the classic 1939 movie of the same name. Of course, in The Wizard of Oz Frank Morgan played multiple characters, including Professor Marvel, The Gatekeeper, The Carriage Driver, and The Guard. Beyond The Wizard of Oz people might think of the many befuddled, middle-aged characters he played throughout the years. Despite this Frank Morgan actually played a large variety of roles throughout the years, some of them far removed from Professor Marvel or the Wizard of Oz.

Frank Morgan was born Francis Wupperman on June 1 1890 in New York City. He was the youngest of eleven children in a wealthy family. His brother Raphael Wupperman was the eighth of the siblings and would go into show business, taking the stage name "Ralph Morgan". Francis Wupperman attended Cornell University and then followed his elder brother Ralph Morgan into the entertainment industry, taking the stage name "Frank Morgan".

Frank Morgan made his debut on Broadway in the play A Woman Killed with Kindness / Granny Maumee in 1914. It only ran for one performance, but Mr. Morgan would return to Broadway several more times. From 1914 to 1920 alone he appeared in the productions Mr. Wu, Under Fire, Under Sentence, Rock-a-Bye Babym and My Lady Friends. Over the years Frank Morgan appeared in some very notable productions on Broadway. He played the role of Henry Spoffard in the original production of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in 1926, the rich Philadelphian played by George Winslow in the 1953 film. He also appeared in the original production of The Band Wagon in 1931. Among the songs he performed in the revue were "(What's the Use of Being) Miserable With You" and "Nanette". While both the Broadway revue The Band Wagon and the 1953 movie of the same name starred Fred Astaire, there were some significant differences between the two. Aside from the fact that the revue had no real plot, it also featured some songs that did not appear in the movie while the movie has some songs that were not even written at the time the revue appeared on Broadway.
As an actor on Broadway Frank Morgan did receive his share of critical acclaim. In 1923 he was widely lauded for his performance as Count Carlo Boretti in The Lullaby. It was his role in The Firebrand in 1924 as Alessandro, the Duke of Florence that established Frank Morgan's style as an actor. Originally meant to be played straight, through talks with playwright Edwin Justus Mayer the character was made more comic and the play was turned into a farce. Afterwards all of the productions in which Frank Morgan appeared on Broadway would be comedies. In Topaze in 1930 Mr. Morgan actually played the lead role, that of the unlucky professor of the title. Frank Morgan's last appearance on Broadway would be in 1922 in the revue Hey Nonny Nonny!

While Frank Morgan was very successful on Broadway, in many respects it should not be surprising that he ended his Broadway career, as he became very much in demand in films as the Silent Era gave way to talkies. Mr. Morgan made his film debut in 1916 in The Suspect, a film that unfortunately is now considered lost. At the time of his film debut he was still going by the name "Frank Wupperman". For his next two films (The Daring of Diana and The Girl Philippa, both from 1916) he was billed as "Francis Morgan". It was with his fourth film, A Modern Cinderella (1917), that he became "Frank Morgan".

Frank Morgan quickly established himself as a character actor during the Silent Era. Among his most significant roles of the era was that of Bunny Manders, the companion and partner in crime of gentleman burglar Raffles in Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman (1917). In the Twenties Frank Morgan concentrated his career on the stage, so his output in silent films was not particularly large when compared to other performers from the era. Among his most notable silent films were Manhandled (1924), in which the lead was the legendary Gloria Swanson; The Crowded Hour (1925), with Bebe Daniels in the lead; and Love's Greatest Mistake (1927), opposite Evelyn Brent and William Powell.

Frank Morgan would be much more prolific in talkies than he ever was silent films. This should have come as no surprise, as the strength of many of Mr. Morgan's performances was his delivery of words. Frank Morgan's first talkie was the short subject "Belle of the Night", which also marked the film debut of Penny Singleton (who was still going by her given name Dorothy McNulty). His first feature film with sound was the Western comedy Dangerous Nan McGrew (1930), starring Helen Kane. With the Thirties Frank Morgan soon found himself very much in demand in motion pictures. For the entire decade he appeared in multiple movies each year. He reprised his role of Alessandro, the Duke of Florence in 20th Century Pictures adaptation of The Firebrand, retitled The Affairs of Cellini (1934) for the big screen. Mr. Morgan received his first Oscar nomination, this one for Best Actor in a Leading Role, for the film. Frank Morgan was so prized as an actor that MGM gave him a lifetime contract.

Besides the Wizard of Oz, some of Frank Morgan's best performances were made during the Thirties. He was loaned to United Artists for the film Hallelujah I'm a Bum (1933), in which he played  John Hastings, playboy and mayor of New York City (a bit of a departure from his usual roles). In 1936 he was part of the all-star cast of The Great Ziegfeld, playing Flo Ziegfeld's long time friend Jack Billings. Frank Morgan shined in the role, which is much more typical of the parts he played, that of a lovable but bumbling, middle-aged man. Mr. Morgan had the rare chance to play a lead role in Beg, Borrow or Steal (1937). In the film Frank Morgan played conman Ingraham Steward, who, feeling guilty at having abandoned his wife and daughter years earlier, seeks to win them back. In Saratoga (1937) Frank Morgan played  Jesse Kiffmeyer, a man who is allergic to horses who find himself owning one.

Of course, Frank Morgan's most famous roles from the Thirties (indeed, of all time) are that of the Wizard of Oz and Professor Marvel in The Wizard of Oz. As shocking as it might seem today, Frank Morgan was not initially considered for the role. Producer Mervyn LeRoy initially wanted Ed Wynn for the role, but he turned it down. Arthur Freed, who worked in an uncredited role as associate producer on the film, offered the role to W. C. Fields. Reportedly MGM and Mr. Fields could not agree on his fee for the film, although it has also been reported that he wanted to devote his time to writing the script for You Can't Cheat an Honest Man (1939). At last on September 22 1938 MGM cast Frank Morgan in the roles the Wizard of Oz and Professor Marvel. As mentioned earlier he also played Professor Marvel, The Gatekeeper, The Carriage Driver, and The Guard.

In many respects The Wizard of Oz can be considered Frank Morgan's acting tour de force. It is notable that the multiple characters differ somewhat in personality. Professor Marvel was similar to the con men Frank Morgan had played, but at the same time was both warm and wise. The Wizard of Oz ultimately proved to be most similar to the many bumbling but lovable middle-aged men Frank Morgan played through the years, but one who could summer the bluster and bravado to be the Wizard, while at the same time possessing a warmth and wisdom all his own. The Gatekeeper could be firm, but was also sentimental. The Carriage Driver was warm and friendly. Very few actors could have accomplished the feat of differentiating the five characters so well.

Frank Morgan would follow The Wizard of Oz with a lead role in the Western comedy Henry Goes Arizona (1939) and a supporting role in Balalaika (1939) before playing what may be his most famous role besides those in The Wizard of Oz--that of shopkeeper Hugo Matuschek in The Shop Around the Corner (1940). Hugo Matuschek was a slight departure from most of the roles he had played. He was highstrung and could even be imperious at times, but at the same time was lovable and bumbling. Beyond the Wizard of Oz and Professor Marvel, for many Hugo Matuschek may well be Frank Morgan's most memorable role.

It was also in 1940 that Frank Morgan played another memorable, but much more serious role. The Mortal Storm (1940) was one of the few blatantly anti-Nazi films released prior to the United States' entry into the war. In the film Frank Morgan plays Professor Roth, who taught medicine at a Bavarian University. Professor Roth is described as "non-Aryan" (a roundabout way of saying that he was Jewish) and finds the new regime in Germany abhorrent. Unfortunately he also believes that he is safe from harm because he is an academic and pretty much apolitical.

Frank Morgan continued to play remarkable roles into the Forties. In Tortilla Flat (1942) Frank Morgan played the Pirate, an elderly vagabond and dog lover who has saved up a good deal of money. Frank Morgan received his second Oscar nomination for the role, this one for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. Frank Morgan delivered another impressive performance in The Human Comedy (1943), which was reportedly Louis B. Mayer's favourite film. In the film Frank Morgan played telegrapher Willie Grogan, who both waxes philosophical and drinks. Curiously two of Frank Morgan's best roles in the Forties were, well, Frank Morgan. In the all star revue Thousands Cheer he played Dr. Frank Morgan, more or less Frank Morgan as many movie goers must have always pictured him. In the featurette The Great Morgan he again played Frank Morgan, who is given the opportunity to put together his own film. The film was more or less a revue, with Frank Morgan playing his typical screen persona.

Frank Morgan continued to play interesting roles into the late Forties. He played the shepherd Harry McBain in Courage of Lassie (1946), the drunken Uncle Sid in Summer Holiday (1948), and  King Louis XIII in The Three Musketeers (1948). Unfortunately time was running out for Frank Morgan. A heavy drinker most of his life, he was not in particularly good health by the late Forties. In 1949 he had recently completed the film Key to the City (1950) and had been cast as Buffalo Bill Cody in Annie Get Your Gun (1950), having even completed costume tests and the opening scene of the film. Sadly he died on September 18 1949 at the age of 59 from a heart attack. Key to the City would be released posthumously, while Louis Calhern replaced Frank Morgan as Buffalo Bill in Annie Get Your Gun.  Sadly, Frank Morgan was the only member of the cast of The Wizard of Oz who did not live to see its debut on television in 1956.

In addition to his career on film Frank Morgan also had a career on radio. In the Forties, alongside Fanny Brice, he was the star of Maxwell House Coffee Time (also known as The Frank Morgan-Fanny Brice Show). On the first half of the show Frank Morgan would tell outlandish tales of his adventures, quite similar to those for which Baron Munchausen was known. For the second half of the show Fanny Brice took over in her famous role as Baby Snooks. When Fanny Brice left the show it became simply The Frank Morgan Show.  In 1947 he was the star of The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy.  He also appeared on such shows as Good News, The Bickersons, The Don Ameche Show, Command Performance, and Kraft Music Hall.

Frank Morgan was an incredible character actor. While today he is best known as the Wizard of Oz and Professor Marvel from The Wizard of Oz, he played many other roles throughout his career. And while today he is best known for playing slightly bumbling, middle aged men, he also played a wide variety of roles. He could be an absurd Italian nobleman, as in The Affairs of Cellini (1934), a nervous shopkeeper, as in The Shop Around the Corner (1940), a philosophical telegrapher, as in The Human Comedy (1943), and even King Louis XIII in The Three Musketeers (1948). What is more, he shined in every part he played. Frank Morgan was a remarkable actor with a gift for creating memorable characters. Quite simply, he was a true character actor if ever there was one.

Friday, 20 November 2015

The Criterion Blogathon: That Hamilton Woman (1941)

As fans of Vivien Leigh and Lord Laurence Olivier well know, That Hamilton Woman (1941), known as Lady Hamilton in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, was the third and final film they made together. It was also the only film that they made together while they were married. That having been said, the historical significance of That Hamilton Woman goes well beyond the involvement of the Oliviers.

That Hamilton Woman had its basis in actual history. The film chronicled the life of Emma, Lady Hamilton (Vivien Leigh), who became the wife of Sir William Hamilton (at the time Britain's ambassador to Naples) and then the mistress of Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté (Laurence Olivier). Lady Hamilton and Admiral Nelson's love affair had been previously portrayed on screen in the German silent movie Lady Hamilton in 1921. That film was based on two novels by two novels by Heinrich Vollrath Schumacher, but That Lady Hamilton would have an original screenplay by Walter Reisch and R. C. Sherriff.

That Hamilton Woman was produced and directed by British filmmaker Alexander Korda. Mr. Korda had begun his film career in his native Hungary in 1914, writing the script for the film Watchhouse in the Carpathians.  Over the next several years Mr. Korda made films in several different countries, including Germany and the United Kingdom. From 1926 to 1932 he made films in Hollywood and afterwards made films in the United Kingdom. The outbreak of World War II began just as production on Alexander Korda's remake of The Thief of Baghdad was underway. It was completed in Hollywood where Mr. Korda would work until 1943.

With That Hamilton Woman Alexander Korda sought to accomplish two things. First, he had been requested by Prime Minister Winston Churchill himself to make a film that would support the United Kingdom's war effort. Second, he wanted to make another film with Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier. He had previously produced Fire Over England (the film on which Miss Leigh and Mr. Olivier's romance had blossomed) and 21 Days, on both of which he worked with the two actors.

While That Hamilton Woman was meant to serve as wartime propaganda, Alexander Korda made sure that the focus of the film was firmly on the romance between Lady Hamilton and Admiral Nelson. This caused some concern for the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America's Production Code Administration (PCA), headed by Joseph Breen. In October 1940 Joseph Breen actually called screenwriter R. C. Sheriff to his office to tell him that the PCA could not approve the film for release in the United States. Quite simply the PCA was concerned about the affair between Admiral Nelson and Lady Hamilton, which constituted adultery. Before the PCA would consider approving the film changes would have to be made in which it is shown the two lovers are punished for their affair. Screenwriters Walter Reisch and R. C. Sherriff then set about rewriting the script so that Admiral Nelson is reprimanded by his pious father for his sins and Lady Hamilton suffers a much worse fate. These changes appeased the PCA.

The fact that That Hamilton Woman was essentially wartime propaganda caused no concern for the Production Code Administration, and very little at the film's distributor United Artists as well. According to the film's music director Miklós Rózsa one of the executives at United Artists did object to the use of the song "Rule Britannia" in the battle scenes, which he thought made it too blatant that the film was British propaganda. Messrs. Rózsa  and Korda then simply left the song's less readily recognised verses in the film, with its chorus only heard as instrumental music.

Given the film's timeliness, Alexander Korda wanted to get That Hamilton Woman out as soon as possible. In fact, the script was not fully completed at the time shooting began. That Hamilton Woman was shot in only six weeks between September and October 1940. While the film was shot very quickly, Alexander Korda spared very little in the way of expense on That Hamilton Woman. He even had a fleet of miniature ships built with miniature cannons that actually fired.

While Alexander Korda focused firmly on the romance between Lady Hamilton and Admiral Nelson, the status of That Hamilton Woman as British wartime propaganda was not lost on many. The review in The New York Times noted that the film had "...has some especially timely opinions about dictators who would desire to invade England." The critic for The New Yorker wrote that the movie "...falls over backward in drawing the analogy between England's trial today and its crisis and ultimate triumph in the Napoleonic wars." In July 1941 the isolationist organisation America First Committee, who opposed the United States' entry in the war, recognised That Hamilton Woman, along with The Great Dictator (1940) and Foreign Correspondent (1940) as propaganda and urged American movie goers to boycott all three films.

Even isolationist politicians in Washington D.C. were unhappy with That Hamilton Woman, which they viewed as inciting the public to war.  A Senate committee actually subpoenaed Alexander Korda to ask him questions about the film as well as his offices being used as a cover for British agents. The date of Mr. Korda's appearance before the Senate committee was December 12 1941. With the attack on Pearl Harbour on December 7 1941 Mr. Korda's testimony was cancelled. The United States was officially in the war.

That Hamilton Woman received positive reviews for the most part. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote, "Yet there is much in the picture which is exciting, and, for one with a taste for history, it is absorbing most of the way" and "...Vivien Leigh's entire performance as Lady Hamilton is delightful to behold." In Variety it was noted that "Miss Leigh hits the peaks with her delineation of Lady Hamilton, a vivacious girl who is pictured as a victim of men, but whose ingenuity in statecraft saves the Empire." While That Hamilton Woman was not a smash hit at the box office, it did moderately well, taking in $1,147,000 in North America. It did even better in the United Kingdom, where it was the fifth highest grossing film of 1941. As been noted many times before, That Hamilton Woman had a huge fan in Winston Churchill, who apparently counted it as one of his favourite films. Reportedly he watched the film over and over again.

That Hamilton Woman won the Oscar for Best Sound, Recording. It was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Interior Decoration, Black-and-White and Best Effects, Special Effects.

Seen today That Hamilton Woman can be appreciated as a love story set against a historical backdrop. Its status as British wartime propaganda was obvious to those at the time it was released and will be obvious to those who know the history of the film's production, but probably will not so blatant to those who do not already know it was meant as propaganda. Vivien Leight's portrayal of Emma, Lady Hamilton numbers among her best performances. Quite simply she is magnetic on the screen. While Laurence Olivier has a much more limited role as Horatio Nelson, he still does quite well in the part. The film is also very sumptuous looking. Given the elaborateness of the sets and the costumes it is hard to believe that Alexander not only shot the film very quickly, but was working on a somewhat limited budget.

That Hamilton Woman is not as well known as some of Vivien Leigh's other films. It is certainly not as famous as Gone with the Wind or A Streetcar Named Desire. That having been said, it really should be. Not only does it occupy a space in the history of films made in the early days of World War II when the United States was officially neutral, it is also an finely made film with a great performance from Vivien Leigh and a the extravagant look of a true spectacle.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Gene Tierney in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

Today Gene Tierney's turn as Lucy Muir in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947) remains one of her most acclaimed performances. It should then come as no surprise that The Ghost and Mr.s Muir is one of her best loved movies. Indeed, it also remains one of her best known movies today, if not the best known.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was based on the novel of the same name by R. A. Dick (the pseudonym of  Josephine Leslie). It was adapted for the screen by Philip Dunne, who had already written several period pieces. He had previously written the screenplays for The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), The Last of the Mohicans (1936), and How Green Was My Valley (1941). The film was directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Joseph L. Mankiewicz was already a well established screenwriter, his first screenplay being The Dummy in 1929. His directorial debut would be an auspicious one, Dragonwyck in 1946 (which also starred Gene Tierney). He would go on to direct such films as A Letter to Three Wives (1949), All About Eve (1950), Guys and Dolls (1955), and Sleuth (1972).

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was set in the Edwardian Era and centred on Lucy Muir, a young widow with a daughter who moves to the English village of Whitecliff. There she lives in Gull Cottage, which is haunted by the ghost of Captain Daniel Gregg. Fortunately Captain Gregg (Rex Harrison), although a bit of a rascal, is amicable to the young Mrs. Muir. While The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was set in England, the movie was entirely shot entirely in California. Much of the film was shot on Stage 9 of 20th Century Fox Studios, with scenes shot at such locations as Carmel-by-the-Sea and the Monterey Peninsula. The village of Whitecliff was actually a standing set on the 20th Century Fox backlot.

Rex Harrison, who played Captain Gregg, had already starred in several British films, including the classic Night Train to Munich (1940). He had even starred in a film involving ghosts, the Noel Coward comedy Blithe Spirit (1945). With Anna and the King of Siam (1946) he made the move to Hollywood. Lucy Muir's young daughter was played by Natalie Wood, whose next film, Miracle on 34th Street, would bring her lasting fame as a child star.

Shooting on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir began in 1947. Unfortunately the film would not be without its problems. Namely, it was early in the film's production that Gene Tierney took a spill down a flight of stairs. As a result she broke a bone in her left foot. This required Miss Tierney to be a cast. Filming was delayed on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir for a time. When it recommenced. Joseph L. Mankiewicz had to shoot around Gene Tierney's cast. Many scenes were shot with Lucy Muir sitting and in yet others long gowns were used to hide the cast. After two weeks of this Gene Tierney begged her doctor to remove the cast even though the foot was not fully healed. She preferred the slight pain to constantly being in a cast.

Gene Tierney's costume designer on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was Gene Tierney's estranged husband Oleg Cassini. The two had separated in October 1946 after a little over five years of marriage. Despite the separation Gene Tierney and Oleg Cassini remained friendly and, in fact, refused to attack each other in the press. By the end of the production the two had reconciled. The two would eventually divorce in 1952, but remained friends for the rest of their lives.

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir premiered on June 26 1947. Surprisingly for a film now considered a classic, reviews were mixed. The critic at The Times wrote of the film, "Mr. Harrison, whose spiritual home is rather the drawing room than the nineteenth century fo'c'sle, fumes and stumps about with an admirable assumption of heartiness, and the pity is that, in spite of all these supernatural goings-on, so little happens." A review published in The New York Times was a bit more positive, beginning, "There is a most engaging spirit of a salty seafarer loose on the screen of the Radio City Music Hall. His name is Capt. Daniel Gregg. And it is a pleasure to be in the captain's mischievous company when he is haunting would-be occupants out of the cozy cottage he built on a bluff overlooking the English Channel, but was forced to quit abruptly when a gas heater snuffed out his life." The critic at The Los Angeles Times also liked The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, stating, "Tierney enacts her role with studious care and is remarkably effective."

Surprisingly given the film's popularity today, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was not a huge hit at the box office, although it did do moderate business. It was the 10th highest grossing film of 1947 with a box office take of $3,750,000. Curiously it was just slightly ahead in the box office of another supernatural comedy that is now regarded as a beloved classic, The Bishop's Wife (no. 11 for the year). The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was nominated for only one Academy Award, the one for Best Cinematography.

Regardless, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir has proven popular through the years. It was twice adapted for radio. The first time was on December 1 1947 on Lux Radio Theatre with  Charles Boyer and Madeleine Carroll in the lead roles. It was adapted to radio a second time on August 16 1951 on Screen Director's Playhouse. In 1968 a television sitcom very loosely based on the original novel, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, debuted on NBC. For its second and final season it moved to ABC.

Although it received mixed critics and only did moderately well at the box office upon its debut, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir has since become one of Gene Tierney's best loved movies. For its list of the greatest love stories on the big screen, the American Film Institute The Ghost and Mrs. Muir at no. 73. There can be little doubt that for many fans it is their favourite Gene Tierney movie. A blend of romance, comedy, and a ghost story, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir will remain popular for years to come.