Saturday, November 21, 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 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 summon 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, November 20, 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, November 19, 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.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Warren Mitchell Passes On

Warren Mitchell, who may be best known for playing the bigoted Alf Garnett in the British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part, died on November 14 2015 at the age of 89.

Warren Mitchell was born Warren Misell on January 14 1926 in Stoke Newington, London. His father's family were English Jews who could trace their family back to the Restoration. His mother's family had immigrated from Russia and operated a chip shop in Stoke, Newington, London. His father was a glass and china merchant. Warren Mitchell took an interest in acting while still very young. He attended the  Academy of Dramatic Arts in Walthamstow, London, as well as Southgate County School. He studied physical chemistry at University College, Oxford while a member and was a member of the University Air Squadron. In 1944 he joined the Royal Air Force where he served as a navigator.

It was while Warren Mitchell was at Oxford that he met Richard Burton, who inspired him to go into the acting profession. He studied at RADA for two years, while spending his evenings performing at the Unity Theatre in London. He made his professional debut in  at Finsbury Park Open Air Theatre in 1950.

Warren Mitchell made his film debut in an uncredited role in Five Days (1954). He made his television debut in an episode of The Children of the New Forest in 1955. In the Fifties he had recurring roles in the TV shows Drake's Progress, Three Tough Guys, Big Guns, and Hancock's Half-Hour. He also appeared on the TV shows Dick and the Duchess, The Larkins, Glencannon, BBC Sunday-Night Theatre, William Tell, Interpol Calling, The Four Just Men, Man from Interpol, and Danger Man. He appeared in the films Manuela (1957), Barnacle Bill (1957), The Trollenberg Terror (1958), Girls at Sea (1958), Tommy the Toreador (1959), The Pure Hell of St. Trinian's (1960), The Boy Who Stole a Million (1960), and Surprise Package (1960).

It was in 1966 that Warren Mitchell was cast in the lead role of racist bigot Alf Garnett on the sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. The series proved to be wildly successful, sometimes drawing as many as 20 million viewers. The show was adapted in the United States as the equally successful All in the Family. Till Death Us Do Part lasted until 1975. Warren Mitchell reprised the role on the subsequent shows Till Death..., In Sickness and in Health, and The Thoughts of Chairman Alf, as well as the feature films Till Death Us Do Part (1969) and The Alf Garnett Saga (1972). 

In the Sixties Warren Mitchell also appeared on such TV shows as ITV Playhouse, Colonel Trumper's Private War, Maigret, Z Cars, The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre, Ghost Squad, The Saint, Love Story, Gaslight Theatre, Danger Man, The Avengers, and Armchair Theatre. He appeared in such feature films as The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone (1961), We Joined the Navy (1962),  Unearthly Stranger (1963), Carry on Cleo (1964), The Intelligence Men (1965), Help! (1965), The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965), The Sandwich Man (1966), Drop Dead Darling (1966), The Joker (1967), Diamonds for Breakfast (1968), The Assassination Bureau (1969), Moon Zero Two (1969), and All the Way Up (1970).

In the Seventies Warren Mitchell continued to appear on Till Death Us Do Part. He starred in the TV show Men of Affairs. He appeared on the TV shows Black and Blue, It's Lulu, The Sweeney, The Ernie Sigley Show, and Bruce Forsyth and the Generation Game. He appeared in the films Innocent Bystanders (1972), What Changed Charley Farthing? (1976), Jabberwocky (1977), Stand Up, Virgin Soldiers (1977), and Meetings with Remarkable Men (1979).

In the Eighties Warren Mitchell reprised his role as Alf Garnett in the TV shows Till Death... and In Sickness and in Health. He appeared on the TV show The Main Attraction, Waterfront, and Ticket for the Titanic, Acropolis Now, He appeared in the films Norman Loves Rose (1982), The Chain (1984), Foreign Body (1986), Knights & Emeralds (1986), and Kokoda Crescent (1989).

In the Nineties Warren Mitchell continued to appear on In Sickness and in Health and reprised his role as Alf Garnett again in The Thoughts of Chairman Alf. He appeared on the programmes So You Think You've Got Troubles, Lovejoy, Kavanagh QC, Ain't Misbehavin', Gormenghast, and Monsignor Renard. He appeared in the film Crackers (1998).

In the Naughts Warren Mitchell appeared on the shows Last of the Summer Wine, Waking the Dead, and The Shark Net. He appeared in the film The 10th Man (2006).

There can be little doubt that Warren Mitchell will be best remembered as the bigoted cockney Alf Garnett. He not only played the character in his most successful show (Till Death Us Do Part), but throughout four decades (The Thoughts of Chairman Alf aired in 1998). Despite this, it would be a mistake to think he was only capable of playing Alf Garnett. On Men of Affairs he played the womanising government minister Sir William Mainwaring-Brown, a role about as far from Alf as one could get.  In Gormenghast he played Barquentine, the cantankerous but powerful Master of Ritual of the castle Gormenghast. In three episodes of The Saint he played Italian taxi cab driver  Marco de Cesari. Warren Mitchell played many roles through his career, quite a few of which were far removed from Alf Garnett. He was a versatile and talented actor.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Beatles' "All You Need is Love"

With the violence in the world of late, I thought that this song would be the most fitting response. The Beatles' song "All You Need is Love" made its debut on Our World, the first live, world-wide, satellite television programme. Our World featured segments from nineteen different countries. The Beatles were chosen to represent the United Kingdom. Also appearing on the programme were soprano Maria Callas, painter Pablo Picasso, and Italian horseman Colonel Piero d'Inzeo.

The Beatles were asked to contribute a song whose message could be easily understood by all nationalities. That having been said, today it is unclear whether "All You Need is Love" was composed for Our World or whether it had existed in some form prior to the request to appear on the programme was made to The Beatles. In the documentary The Beatles Anthology Sir Paul McCartney and George Harrison were not sure that the song was written for Our World; however, both Ringo Starr and producer George Martin insist that it was. Regardless, there is no argument that the song did not fit the occasion. "All You Need is Love" is a rather sophisticated song. Not only does it start off with "La Marseillaise", but it also contains snatches of Wayne Shanklin's hit "Chanson D'Amour" (the horn section in the chorus), Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" (in the closing), "Greensleeves" (in the closing), Johann Sebastian Bach's "Invention No. 8 in F major" (in the closing), and The Beatles' own "She Loves You" (in the closing). 

It was "All You Need is Love" that closed Our World. Here I must point out that the programme, including the "All You Need is Love" segment, was broadcast and filmed in black and white. This footage was later colourised for the documentary The Beatles Anthology.

the beatles "all you need is love" by miklo

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The 70th Anniversary of The Wicked Lady (1945)

It was 70 years ago today, on November 15 1945, that The Wicked Lady was released in the United Kingdom. Aside from The Lady Vanishes (1938) it remains Margaret Lockwood's most famous film. In the United Kingdom it also remains her highest grossing film. The Wicked Lady was the top grossing film in the United Kingdom for 1946. In fact, it made so much money that it remains the 9th highest grossing film in the United Kingdom for the 20th Century. It is also the second highest grossing British production in the United Kingdom, after Spring in Park Lane (1948). While The Wicked Lady would not perform nearly as well in the United States, it did very well at the box office and has remained a cult film in the U.S. ever since.

It was in 1943 that Gainsborough Pictures saw great success with The Man in Grey, the first of what would come to be known as the Gainsborough Melodramas. A bodice ripper set largely during the Regency, The Man in Grey starred Margaret Lockwood, James Mason, Phyllis Calvert, and Stewart Granger. The film proved to be an enormous success. While Margaret Lockwood was already a star, The Man in Grey propelled her to even greater heights of stardom. As to James Mason, Phyllis Calvert, and Stewart Granger, they suddenly found themselves to be bona fide film stars. As would be expected Gainsborough Pictures sought to emulate the success of The Man in Grey with similar melodramas. In short order The Man in Grey was followed by Fanny by Gaslight (1944), Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945), and They Were Sisters (1945). Given the success of The Man in Grey and the other Gainsborough Melodramas, it should come as no surprise that Gainsborough Pictures decided to adapt the best selling 1944 novel The Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton by Magdalen King-Hall for the big screen.

The Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton was inspired by legends surrounding  the real-life Lady Katherine Ferrers, who allegedly became a highwayman who preyed on travellers in Hertfordshire. Gainsborough shortened the title of the film simply to The Wicked Lady, but like the novel the film centred on the beautiful Lady Barbara Skelton (née Worth), who finds excitement in engaging in highway robbery. The Wicked Lady reunited two cast members from The Man in Grey, with Margaret Lockwood playing Lady Barbara Skelton and James Mason playing notorious highwayman Captain Jerry Jackson. In the role of Barbara's romantic rival and the film's "good girl", Caroline, was cast Patricia Roc, who had already played opposite Margaret Lockwood in Love Story (1944).  Jean Kent, who would soon be a major star herself, had a minor role as Captain Jackson's doxy. The role was to have originally been played by Valerie White, who had to bow out of the production due to appendicitis.

Margaret Lockwood threw herself into the role of Lady Barbara Skelton, For the role she had to learn to ride side saddle. Miss Lockwood had never ridden before, but took lessons in horsemanship every day. By the end of one week she had ridden so much she could barely walk. For the most part the cast enjoyed making The Wicked Lady. Patricia Roc said, "I loved making The Wicked Lady. We had such fun. It was just gorgeous." Miss Roc enjoyed working with Margaret Lockwood, saying of her co-star, " was a joy working with Maggie. I adored her." Perhaps the only member of the cast who did not enjoy making The Wicked Lady was James Mason, who at the time had pretensions of becoming a "serious actor". He considered the film to be beneath him, and it was a regular occurrence for him to walk angrily off the set muttering curses under his breath. Fortunately Mr. Mason's fits of pique did not disrupt the filming of The Wicked Lady.

Gainsborough Pictures promoted The Wicked Lady heavily. It should come as no surprise, then, that the film's premiere would be a gala event. Its premiere was held at the Gaumont on Haymarket in London. The proceeds for the premiere would go to the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Woolwich, Greater London. What is more, Queen Mary would be in attendance. Unfortunately the press was insistent on turning The Wicked Lady into a controversy. Critics decried the film as being "immoral," "disgraceful," "bawdy," and "salacious." Some even took insult that Queen Mary had been invited to view such a film.

The press's attacks on The Wicked Lady led to some concern as to whether the film was suitable viewing for Queen Mary. In fact, only hours before the premiere an advance screening of the film was arranged for an equerry to determine if The Wicked Lady was fit for the Queen Mother to watch. Fortunately The Wicked Lady received the equerry's approval and Queen Mary attended the premiere. Quite naturally Gainsborough was nervous as to whether Queen Mary would like the film. Ultimately they need not have worried. Queen Mary told Margaret Lockwood as she left the theatre, "That was very good. I enjoyed it very much."

While Queen Mary liked The Wicked Lady, critics most certainly did not. The Manchester Guardian referred to it as, " odd mixture of hot passion and cold suet pudding." In the Daily Express Leonard Mosley wrote, "I cannot believe in Miss Margaret Lockwood as a femme fatale." In Woman magazine Freda Bruce Lockhart wrote that Margaret Lockwood "...doesn't even look naughty." As mentioned above, many in the press were intent on labelling the film as "immoral," "disgraceful," "bawdy," and "salacious." Regardless of what the critics said, British audiences loved The Wicked Lady. It was the highest grossing film in the United Kingdom in 1946. Within three years of its release it had been seen by more than 30 million people in the United Kingdom and had grossed £23,000,000.

While the British press had tried to turn The Wicked Lady into a cause célèbre, The Wicked Lady would find itself at the centre of a very real controversy in the United States. In fact, it would be one that would change the English language forever. In February 1946 a copy of the script of The Wicked Lady was sent to the Motion Picture Association of America's Production Code Administration (PCA).  Joseph Breen, the head of the PCA, commented on the script, "This basic story is unacceptable because of its extremely low moral tone." He went on to mention that it contained "...several incidents of adultery, illicit sex, murder, rape, unacceptably intimate details of a bridal night, many offensive lines referring to mistresses, etc., and an unacceptable dance sequence." Needless to say, when the PCA actually screened The Wicked Lady they would find even more objectionable material.

While Joseph Breen actually liked The Wicked Lady ((he thought it would be a "...great money-maker"), the PCA  suggested several changes to the film after they screened it. Among other things, they recommended that several sexually suggestive lines be cut from the film, as well as scenes involving beds. They expressed a great deal of concern over the historically accurate, but very low-cut gowns worn by Margaret Lockwood and Patricia Roc. It was in discussing these low-cut gowns that the PCA gave new meaning to a then somewhat rarely used word in English language. Previously when discussing the hollow between a woman's breasts as exposed by a low cut garment, the word décolletage would have been used. For whatever strange reason the PCA chose to use the word cleavage, a word that literally means "the act of cleaving" or "the state of having been cleft". Prior to 1946 the word cleavage was used in various sciences, for instance, geologists referring to the way various minerals can break or biologists describing the division of cells in embryos. After 1946 cleavage would bring to mind something else entirely. The word cleavage, meaning "the hollow between a woman's breasts as exposed by a low cut garment," entered common usage because of the controversy over The Wicked Lady. For example, Time magazine referred to the term in its article on the controversy, "Cleavage & the Code", in its August 5 1946 issue.

Ultimately the PCA, American distributor Universal, and the Rank Organisation agreed upon reshooting those scenes in The Wicked Lady that had an amount of cleavage that would be "unacceptable" in the United States. It was then in August 1946 that Margaret Lockwood and Patricia Roc returned to Gainsborough Studios to reshoot specific scenes. The reshooting was painstaking. Sets and props had to be reassembled. Costumes had to be modified to show, well, less of Margaret Lockwood and Patricia Roc. In order to maintain the film's continuity, the actresses had to precisely duplicate any facial expressions or gestures from the scenes as originally shot. Beyond the reshooting of specific scenes, The Wicked Lady would also have five minutes worth of footage cut from the film for American audiences.

While the reshooting of entire scenes in The Wicked Lady would be inconvenient for Gainsborough, it ultimately proved worth it. The controversy over The Wicked Lady actually generated a good deal of press coverage for the film in the United States that it might not have otherwise gotten. Publicity materials for The Wicked Lady even capitalised on the controversy, giving people the idea that the film was filled with sex and sin. Posters referenced "...violent love and love of violence" and proclaimed "She couldn't resist anything that belonged to someone else!" Posters also prominently featured an image of stars Margaret Lockwood and James Mason in a passionate embrace. The controversy insured that The Wicked Lady would be a hit in the United States.

The Wicked Lady would continue to be a success in both the United Kingdom and the United States well after its initial release. Unfortunately such success insured that there would eventually be a remake. Director Michael Winner had seen the original film as a boy and had long wanted to remake the film. Faye Dunaway played the role of Lady Barbara Skelton, while Alan Bates played Captain Jackson. Like the original the remake generated its share of controversy. The British Board of Film Classification wanted to cut a scene in which two women fight with whips and Michael Winner refused. The fight over the scene (which ultimately remained in the film) delayed the release of the movie. As it was, the controversy would not help the remake. Released on April 21 1983 in the United Kingdom, the remake of The Wicked Lady not only met with scorn from critics, but with indifference from audiences. The film bombed at the box office.  While The Wicked Lady (1945) is today regarded as a classic, The Wicked Lady (1983) sometimes numbers on lists of the worst films ever made.

The initial success of The Wicked Lady is not hard to explain. Released not long after the end of World War II, there can be no doubt that audiences were looking for escapist entertainment that was filled with thrills and excitement. Often pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time, The Wicked Lady certainly did not disappoint. It must also be pointed out that The Wicked Lady also had a little bit of everything for everyone. British women still constrained largely in traditional roles could live vicariously through Lady Barbara Skelton, who led a daring double life as a highwayman. For British men there were two beautiful women to look at (Margaret Lockwood and Patricia Roc), not to mention more action and excitement than seen in many American swashbucklers. While the film was made for adults, even children could appreciate The Wicked Lady. Little girls could live vicariously through the wicked Lady Barbara, while little boys could thrill to the many fights throughout the film.

It is perhaps because The Wicked Lady has something for everyone that the film continues to be popular to this day. The film boasts gorgeous costumes and set design that is only matched by Warner Brothers' swashbucklers and the Hammer Horrors. It also boasts one of the best casts of any British-made film, with Margaret Lockwood, James Mason, and Patricia Roc in the lead roles. As to Leslie Arliss's script, it is filled with thrills, spills, excitement, and enough sex to satisfy anyone. In fact, the original, British cut of the film contained more sex than most American films would until the late Fifties. Ultimately, The Wicked Lady seems like a much more modern film than many of the American movies produced in the same period. And in the end that will probably insure its popularity for decades to come.