Saturday, November 11, 2017

Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder

Many people when they hear the phrase "Hitchcock blonde" think of Grace Kelly. There is a very good reason for this. She made three films with Alfred Hitchcock. What is more they number among the most notable movies the director ever made. Rear Window (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955) may be better remembered, but Grace Kelly's first film with Hitchcock,  Dial M for Murder (1954), remains remarkable for several reasons.

Dial M for Murder originated as a play by playwright Frederick Knott. The play would be remarkable in that it would not make its debut on stage, but instead on television. It was on March 23 1952 that popular British TV programme BBC Sunday-Night Theatre aired Dial M for Murder. The original television production of Dial M for Murder featured Elizabeth Sellars as Sheila Wendice, Basil Appleby as Max Halliday, and Emrys Jones as Tony Wendice. It was on June 19 1952 that Dial M for Murder would make its stage debut on the West End, where it proved to have a long run. Success on the West End would lead to the play's debut on Broadway not long afterwards. Dial M for Murder made its Broadway debut on October 29 1952 at the Plymouth Theatre. As Tony Wendice it featured Maurice Evans, now best known as Samantha's father Maurice on Bewitched. Gusti Huber, who would later play Anne Frank's mother in both the play and the feature film The Diary of Anne Frank, played Margot Wendice. The play proved success on Broadway as well.

Given the success of Dial M for Murder on both London's West End and on Broadway, it was perhaps no surprise when Warner Bros. bought the rights to the play. At the time Alfred Hitchcock was working on an adaptation of David Duncan's novel The Bramble Bush. As it turned out, Hitchcock had run into difficulties on the project. Warner Bros. was not particularly enthusiastic about The Bramble Bush, and at the time wanted Alfred Hitchcock to direct a film in 3-D, the technology being particularly popular at the time. Hitchcock gladly abandoned The Bramble Bush and decided to direct Dial M for Murder.

For those unfamiliar with Dial M for Murder, both the film and the play centre on the wealthy Margot Wendice. When she begins a relationship with another man (Max Halliday in the play, renamed Mark Halliday in the film), her husband, playboy Tony Wendice, decides to murder her. As might be expected, things do not go exactly to Tony's plans.

Given the importance of the role of Margot Wendice in the play, it would take a very special actress to play her. At the time Grace Kelly had already made three films: Fourteen Hours (1951), High Noon (1952), and Mogambo (1953). She had made a screen test for the role of Mary in the film Taxi (1953), a role that would ultimately go to Constance Smith. As it would turn out, her screen test for Taxi would lead to better things. After seeing the screen test John Ford cast her in Mogambo. As for Alfred Hitchcock, after seeing the screen test, he thought Miss Kelly might be perfect for the role of Margot in Dial M for Murder.

Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock met in Burbank in June 1953. As it turned out, the two of them discussed topics from travel to food to fashion, everything except for the role of Margot in Dial M for Murder. It perhaps did not matter, as it was enough for Hitchcock to know that he was right in thinking she would be perfect for the role. Of course, for Miss Kelly to appear in Dial M for Murder, MGM had to loan her to Warner Bros. Fortunately, MGM agreed to do so.

Ray Milland, who had made a name for himself years earlier with his Oscar winning performance in The Lost Weekend (1945), was cast as Tony Wendice. Robert Cummings, who had already worked with Hitchcock on the film Saboteur (1942), was cast as mystery writer Mark Halliday. Two important actors from the Broadway production of Dial M for Murder were cast in the film. John Williams reprised his role as Inspector Hubbard in the movie. Anthony Dawson, who had played the role of Captain Lesgate in the Broadway production, was cast as Charles Swann.

Alfred Hitchcock and Grace Kelly got along very well on the set of Dial M for Murder, but the young actress was not afraid to speak her mind from time to time. For a scene in which Margot gets out of bed to answer the phone, Hitchcock wanted the costume department to make a velvet robe for Miss Kelly to wear. She would even have a fitting for it. Regardless, Grace Kelly did not think that it would be particularly realistic for Margot to put on a robe if she was all alone in her apartment. When she brought this up to Hitchcock, he asked her what she would put on to answer the phone. Miss Kelly told him she would put on nothing at all--she would simply get up and answer the phone in her nightgown. Alfred Hitchcock had to agree with her and as a result the scene was shot with Margot answering the phone wearing only her nightgown.

Grace Kelly would have a bigger disagreement with a makeup man on the film. The makeup man continually wanted to put more and more rouge on Grace Kelly, even in scenes where she realistically would not have had access to makeup. When she objected, the makeup man told her that studio head Jack Warner liked a lot of rouge on her actresses. Miss Kelly then said she would call Mr. Warner. When the makeup man informed her that Mr. Warner was in the south of France, she replied, "Well, you tell Mr. Warner that I refuse to wear all this rouge, and if he's angry with you, tell him I threw a fit and wouldn't wear it!" The makeup department told Hitchock about what had happened. Hitchcock once more agreed with Grace Kelly.

While Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock got along very well on the set of Dial M for Murder, that did not mean that things always went smoothly for her. The famous attempted murder scene in the film took an entire week to shoot. Extra special attention had to be paid to each shot in the scene, something that was made all the more difficult because of the 3-D technology used to make the film. After about there or four days of this Miss Kelly often found herself leaving the set with bruises.

Despite this Dial M for Murder would be a pleasant experience for Grace Kelly over all. She and Hitchcock spent a good deal of time talking about his next project, which would be the film Rear Window. Other than working with Grace Kelly for the first time, Dial M for Murder would not be quite as enjoyable for Alfred Hitchcock. He was not particularly enthusiastic about the film itself, nor was he particularly thrilled about having to shoot it in 3-D. Quite simply, he felt 3-D was a fad and that it was already coming to an end just as Dial M for Murder had went into production.

Regardless, Dial M for Murder would be the first of three films that Alfred Hitchcock and Grace Kelly made together. It would also mark the beginning of a long friendship between the two that would last until Hitchcock's death. Along with Ingrid Bergman, she would be the only leading lady to make three films with Alfred Hitchcock.

Dial M for Murder would prove to pivotal beyond being her first collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock. Indeed, it was the first film on which she was the leading lady (Katy Jurado was billed above her in High Noon and Ava Gardner was billed above her in Mogambo). What is more, in Dial M for Murder there is no doubt that it is Grace Kelly who is the star of the film. While both Ray Milland and Robert Cummings give solid performances, it is Grace Kelly to whom the audience is drawn. Indeed, it was with Dial M for Murder that she and Miss Kelly would create the screen image we most associate with her, that of a woman who is cool and restrained, and yet at the same time classy, vulnerable, and ultimately sexy. It would be an image that would be further refined with Rear Window, but it all began with Dial M for Murder.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The 50th Anniversary of The Moody Blues' Days of Future Passed

It was today in 1967 that The Moody Blues' seminal album, Days of Future Passed, was released in the United Kingdom. It would be released in the United States the following day. Days of Future Passed has since become regarded as one of the essential albums of 1967 and one of the most influential as well.

In some ways the release of Days of Future Passed must have seemed like a surprise to many in 1967, as it was unlike almost all of The Moody Blues' previous work. Founded in 1964 in Birmingham, The Moody Blues were originally a Merseybeat band with a strong infusion of rhythm and blues throw in for good measure. They would have a smash hit with the song "Go Now", which went all the way to number one in the United Kingdom and to number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. Unfortunately, The Moody Blues' following singles would not be nearly as successful. Original members Clint Warwick and Denny Laine eventually left the band. At the time a second album, Look Out, was planned. It would never be released.

Clint Warwick and Denny Laine would eventually be replaced by guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge. It was not long afterwards that The Moody Blues decided to move away from their rhythm and blues influenced Merseybeat sound to performing their own, original material. The first single released by the new configuration of The Moody Blues (Justin Hayward and John Lodge along with original members Graeme Edge, Mike Pinder, and Ray Thomas) was "Fly Me High"/"I Really Haven't Got the Time", but it would be their following single, "Love and Beauty"/ "Leave This Man Alone", that would truly signal the band's new direction. The song "Love and Beauty" featured Mike Pinder's mellotron, which gave it a slight symphonic sound.

Unfortunately, at the time The Moody Blues' contract with Decca Records was nearly at an end. The band still owed the label several thousands of pounds in advances, and had never produced a promised second album. Fortunately Decca A&R manager Hugh Mendl still supported the band. He had been pivotal in establishing Decca's new subsidiary label Deram Records and was able to get The Moody Blues a deal to record on the new label. It is from here that stories vary a bit as to what happened next. The Moody Blues claim that they were offered a chance to record a rock version of Antonín Dvořák's New World Symphony to demonstrate the company's Deramic Stereo Sound audio format, for which their debt to Decca would be forgiven in return. The Moody Blues insisted on total artistic control and instead decided to focus on what would become the album Days of Future Passed. This account is disputed by recording engineer Derek Varnals (who worked on Days of Future Passed), who has maintained there were no plans to record the New World Symphony in 1967 and that there was no talk of recording it until the Seventies.

Regardless of how it came about, Days of Future Passed would prove to be different from anything The Moody Blues, or most other bands at the time, had ever done. For one thing, it was one of rock music's earliest concept albums. Days of Future Passed centred on the day in the life of an average man. For another thing, it blended the music of The Moody Blues with the music of the London Festival Orchestra, which at the time was Decca Records' house orchestra. The album began with an overture ("The Day Begins") composed by composer-director-arranger Peter Knight. Mr. Knight also composed orchestral interludes that linked the various songs on the album, drawing inspiration from the themes in the songs by The Moody Blues. The album's climactic song, "Nights in White Satin" by Justin Hayward, would be the only song on the album recorded with the full London Festival Orchestra. In fact, "Nights in White Satin" would take five days alone to finish.

Following its release, Days of Future Passed  would prove extremely successful. The album's first single, "Nights in White Satin", reached no. 19 in the United Kingdom, This in turn propelled the album to number 27 on the British album chart. Initially Days of Future Passed did relatively well in the United States, but not nearly as well as it had in the United Kingdom. "Nights in White Satin" peaked at no, 19 on the Billboard Hot 100, while "Tuesday Afternoon [titled Forever Afternoon (Tuesday?)" on the album] reached no. 24.  Upon its re-release in the United States Days of Future Passed would surpass even the success it had in Britain in 1967. In 1972 the album peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard album chart. What is more, it remained on the Billboard album chart for two years. "Nights in White Satin" also did well upon its re-release in the States, peaking at no. 2 in 1972.

Ultimately Days of Future Passed would prove to a pivotal album for The Moody Blues. It would provide the template for all of their albums to come. Their following albums, from 1968's In Search of the Lost Chord to 1999's Strange Days, would owe something to Days of Future Passed. It would also prove to be a very influential album. It was one of the earliest concept albums in the history of rock music, released only a few months after The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and about a month before The Who's The Who Sell Out. Alongside works of The Nice, Pink Floyd, and Procol Harum, Days of Future Passed is considered one of the primogenitors of progressive rock. While the use of symphonic instruments go all the way back through such bands The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones to early rock 'n' roller Buddy Holly, Days of Future Passed and other works released in 1967 marked a much extensive use of them in rock music. For that reason, Days of Future Passed is one of the first examples of symphonic rock. It would be The Moody Blues' work on Days of Future Passed that would lead to such diverse bands as the Alan Parsons Project, the Electric Light Orchestra, Jethro Tull, and Queen.

Days of Future Passed was a remarkable album released in a year notable for remarkable albums. It would prove extremely influential, so much so that its influence can still be felt to this day. It seems likely its influence will continue to be felt for as long as there is rock music.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Karin Dor Passes On

Karin Dor, a German actress who appeared in such films as The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967), and Topaz (1969), died on November 6 2017 at the age of 79.

Karin Dor was born Kätherose Derr in Wiesbaden, Germany on February 22 1938. She made her film debut as an extra in the film Der letzte Walzer in 1953. In the Fifties she appeared in such films as Rosen aus dem Süden (1954), Solange du lebst (1955), Santa Lucia (1956), Mit Eva fing die Sünde an (1958), So angelt man keinen Mann (1959), Ein Sommer, den man nie vergißt (1959), and Die Bande des Schreckens (1960).

It was in 1962 that Karin Dor appeared in her first English language film, The Bellboy and the Playgirls (1962). In the Sixties she appeared alongside Lex Baxter in a number of German made Westerns based on novels by Karl May, including Der Schatz im Silbersee (1962), Winnetou - 2. Teil (1964), Winnetou - 3. Teil (1965), and Winnetou und Shatterhand im Tal der Toten (1968). She also co-starred with Mr. Baxter in Die unsichtbaren Krallen des Dr. Mabuse (1962). She appeared with Sir Christopher Lee in the first of producer Harry Alan Towers's Fu Manchu movies, The Face of Fu Manchu. In the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice she played SPECTRE assassin Helga Brandt. In Topaz she played French agent' Devereaux's mistress and revolutionary Juanita de Cordoba. She also appeared in such films as Der Teppich des Grauens (1962), Die weiße Spinne (1963), Der Würger von Schloß Blackmoor (1963), Zimmer 13 (1964), Der unheimliche Mönch (1965), Die Nibelungen, Teil 1 - Siegfried (1966), Die Nibelungen, Teil 2 - Kriemhilds Rache (1967), Die Schlangengrube und das Pendel (1967), and Los monstruos del terror (1970). She guest starred on the American TV shows It takes a Thief, Ironside, and The F.B.I.

In the Seventies Karin Dor's career shifted largely to West German television, on which she appeared in several German TV movies. She guest starred on the TV show Achtung Zoll!.She also appeared in the feature films Haie an Bord (1971), Die Antwort kennt nur der Wind (1974), Dark Echoes (1977), Warhead (1977), and Frauenstation (1977).  In the Eighties she appeared in the film Johann Strauss - Der König ohne Kron (1987).  From the Nineties to the Teens she appeared on the TV shows Die große Freiheit, SOKO München, Inga Lindström, Das Traumschiff, and Rosamunde Pilcher. She appeared in the films Ich bin die Andere (2006) and Die abhandene Welt (2015).

Later in her career she appeared primarily on stage.

At least of those available widely available in the English speaking world, many of the films Karin Dor appeared in were not exactly Academy Award material. That having been said, whether she was in a low-budget B-movie like The Face of Fu Manchu or a A-picture like You Only Live Twice, Miss Dor could always be depended upon for a fairly good performance. She could also play a wide variety of roles, whether it was a murderess in Zimmer 13, a SPECTRE assassin in You Only Live Twice, a Native American woman in the Winnetou movies, or a scientist in The Face of Fu Manchu. Miss Dor was certainly beautiful, but she also had the talent to be convincing in many roles.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Buck Rogers in the 25th Century Debuted on Radio 85 years Ago Today

It was on November 7 1932 that the radio show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century debuted on CBS Radio. It was historic as the first ever science fiction radio show. The series was based on the comic strip of the same name, which debuted on  January 7 1929. A Sunday comic strip was added alongside the daily strip on March 30 1930. The comic strip itself was based on  Philip F. Nowlan's Armageddon 2419 A.D., which had been published in the August 1928 issue of the science fiction pulp magazine Amazing Stories.

The original incarnation of the radio show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century was a 15 minute show airing on CBS Radio from Monday to Thursday.  The show was cut back to Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in 1936. It then went off the air on May 22 1936.  It would be three years before Buck Rogers would return to radio. This time it aired on the Mutual Broadcasting System. Mutual aired it from April 5 to July 31, 1939. After a break of over a year, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century returned for a brief run from May 18 to July 27 1940.  This run included a 30 minute version of the show that aired on Saturday.

Buck Rogers would be absent from the airwaves before returning on September 30 1946, once more on Mutual. This version was 15 minutes long on weekdays. It lasted until March 28 1947.

The success of the original version of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century would play a role in making the already popular comic strip even more popular. A year after the radio show debuted, in 1933, the first Buck Rogers toys appeared on store shelves. That same year Whitman published 12 Buck Rogers Big Little Books. Also in 1933 cereal maker Kellogg's of Battle Creek put out a  giveaway comic. They published another one in 1935. In 1939 Universal Pictures released the movie serial Buck Rogers.

Given the success of the radio show Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, it is surprising that it did not immediately lead to other science fiction radio shows. Buck Rogers's rival comic strip Flash Gordon was adapted as a radio show in 1935 and was notable for featuring Gale Gordon in the lead role. That having been said, it lasted a little under a year and Flash Gordon, although highly successful in other media, never returned to radio. For much of the Thirties and Forties, science fiction would only occasionally appear in episodes of such anthology shows as Suspense  and Escape. There would not be a rush toward sci-fi radio shows until the early Fifties, when radio shows such as Planet Man, Dimension X, Space Patrol (based on the TV show of the same name), Tom Corbett (also based on TV show), and yet other shows aired.