Saturday, August 4, 2018

Evergreen (1934)

(This post is part of the Rule, Britannia Blogathon hosted by A Shroud of Thoughts)

When Americans think of British cinema, they are inclined to think of Gainsborough melodramas, Ealing comedies, Hammer horrors, spy dramas, and war films. What might not come to Americans' minds when they think of British cinema are musicals. Despite this, the British have produced many movie musicals through the years, many of which date to the early years of the Talkie Era. In fact, it was in the Thirties that the British produced their first bona fide movie musical star: Jessie Matthews. Beautiful, shapely, a talented singer, and a fairly good dancer, Jessie Matthews was a superstar in 1930s Britain.

Jessie Matthews was already a star of the stage when she made the transition to film. She had appeared on the London stage in This Year of Grace and Wake Up and Dream before her breakout, starring role in the Rogers and Hart musical Ever Green (1930). With such success on stage, Miss Matthews made the transition to movies. Her first major role came in 1931 with Out of the Blue. It was followed by The Midshipmaid (1932) and There Goes the Bride (1932). It would be the 1934 movie adaptation of Ever Green, retitled simply Evergreen, that would make Jessie Matthews a film star.

Directed by Victor Saville for Gaumont British, Evergreen was changed substantially from the original stage musical. The original stage play centred on Edwardian music hall star Harriet Green, who returns to London after living in South Africa for many years and then masquerading as her twenty-something daughter. The film version centred on Harriet Green's daughter, who masquerades as her mother (an Edwardian music hall star who died years ago in South Africa). The film version also jettisoned most of Rogers and Hart's songs, retaining only "If I Give in to You", "Dear Dear", and "Dancing on the Ceiling". Victor Saville turned to songwriter Harry M. Woods to write new songs for the movie: "When You've Got a Little Springtime in Your Heart" and "Over My Shoulder" (which would become Jessie Mattthews's signature tune). Rogers and Hart were apparently happy with the changes, as Miss Matthews later said that Victor Saville received a telegram from them which read, "Wish we'd thought up this story."

While there was no doubt that Jessie Matthews would play the dual role of Harriet Green and her daughter, Evergreen could have had a very different leading man from young Barry MacKay (for whom Evergreen would be his first major role). Gaumont British wanted Fred Astaire, then appearing in London in a stage production of The Gay Divorcee, for the role. Mr. Astaire even wanted to star in the movie. Unfortunately RKO, to whom Fred Astatire was under contract, refused to loan him to Gaumont British.

As to Jessie Matthews herself, in many ways the production of Evergreen was not a particularly happy time for her. Always a fragile woman, Jessie Matthews was close to a nervous breakdown at the time, and she only did Evergreen because she believed it could be her breakout film role. Her experiences with director Albert de Courville on the sets of There Goes the Bride and The Midshipmaid had been particularly unpleasant. Fortunately, Victor Saville was the exact opposite of Albert de Courville, and offered Jessie Matthews all the support she needed to make it through filming. Amazingly enough, the beautiful Jessie Matthews worried that she was not photogenic enough for film. In particular, she worried about her nose. Victor Saville actually thought her nose was one of her best features. He told her once during filming, "You're a hell of a good actress, just act as though you knew you were a very attractive female."

Evergreen received overwhelmingly positive reviews on both sides of the Pond. What is more, it also proved to be a box office hit in both the United Kingdom and the United States. In the wake of the success of Evergreen, MGM reportedly approached Jessie Matthews with an offer, but Gaumont British refused to release her from her contract. Other Hollywood studios would follow MGM in wooing Miss Matthews, including RKO (home of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers), who offered $50,000 for her to co-star with Fred Astaire. Each time Hollywood was rebuffed, either because Gaumont British would not release Miss Matthews or because of her ill health and personal problems. Jessie Matthews would remain an exclusively British star.

Seen today it is not enough to say that Evergreen compares favourably with Hollywood musicals of the era, as it actually surpasses many of them. Jessie Matthews gives a good performance as Edwardian music hall star Harriet Green and her daughter of the same name. Miss Matthews was also a very good singer and a very good dancer, often better than some of the American musical stars of the period. What is more, Miss Matthews simply oozes sex appeal--I have to wonder that many British men of the era didn't fancy her. This is helped not only by the fact that Evergreen was a pre-Code film, but by the fact that it was made in Britain (the British Board of Film Censorship was less uptight about sex than the Hays Office). The film features some brilliant musical sequences, including those for "Dancing on the Ceiling" and "Over My Shoulder".  While these sequences might not match those created by Busby Berkeley, they are impressive on their own (and let's face it, very few musical sequences ever match those created by Busby Berkeley). The songs are all quite good, particularly "Dancing on the Ceiling" and "Over My Shoulder". Early in the film Jessie Matthews even gives a charming rendition of the Victorian standard "Daddy Wouldn't Buy Me a Bow Wow". The film also benefits from impressive set design, a perfect example of Art Deco in the Thirties.

Although a huge hit upon its initial release in the United States, today Evergreen has largely been forgotten by most Americans. It certainly is not as famous as some Hollywood musicals of the era, such as 42nd Street and Top Hat. That having been said, there is every reason Evergreen should be better known. It is one of the best musicals of the Thirties and proof that the British could easily compete with Hollywood when it came to make movie musicals.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The 5th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon is Here!

The Fifth Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon (formerly the British Invaders Blogathon) has arrived! The Rule, Britannia Blogathon is meant to celebrate classic, British films. While many think of Hollywood when they think of movies, the fact is that many classic films originated in the United Kingdom. From the Gainsborough melodramas to the Ealing comedies to the Hammer Horrors, the United Kingdom has made many contributions to classic film. The British Invaders Blogathon will last from today (August 3 2018) to Sunday (August 5 2018).

This year we have a wide range of posts lined up that span the history of British cinema. We also have a wide range of genres covered, from comedy to science fiction. For those participating in the blogathon, simply let me know in a comment here, a message on Twitter, or an email and I will add it to the list. And please remember to link to this page using one of the images from the introductory post! I want to thank everyone who is participating!

Anyhow, without further ado, here are the posts:

WadsWords: "Movie Crash Course: Blackmail"

The Midnite Drive-In: "Is That a Ray Gun in Your Pocket or Are You Just Happy to See Me?"

Caftan Woman: "The Rule Britannia Blogathon: The Mudlark (1950)"

Realweegiemidget Reviews: "Withnail and I (1987)" 

The Stop Button: : " Stormy Monday (1988)"

MovieRob: "5th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon--Sink the Bismark! (1960)"

The Hitless Wonder Movie Blog: "The Rule, Britannia Film Blogathon--The Ghoul (1932)

Crítica Retrô: "As Oito Vítimas/Kind Hearts and Coronets"

 Silver Scenes: Now and Forever (1956)

Taking Up Room: "Wings on Our Heels"

A Shroud of Thoughts: "Evergreen (1934)"

MovieRob: "5th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon--Time Bandits (1981)"

Liberal England: "The Magnet (1950): Enjoying the Ealing Apocrypha" 

Silver Scenes: 'Turn the Key Softly (1953)"

Moon in Gemini: "Rule, Britannia Blogathon: The Crying Game (1992)"  

MovieRob: "5th Annual Rule, Britannia Blogathon--The Sound Barrier (1952)"

Cinematic Catharsis: Yellow Submarine 

Cinetmatic Scribblings: "A Foreign Country: The Go-Between (1971)" 

A Scunner Darkley: "Universal Soldier (1971, Cy Endfield)--Rule Britannia Blogathon" 

In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood: "John Hurt is Joseph Merrick in The Elephant Man (1980)"  

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Doug Grindstaff Passes On

If you have watched very many episodes Star Trek or Dallas, then chances are good you have heard the work of Doug Grindstaff. Doug Griandstaff was the sound effects maestro responsible for many of the sounds one heard in several classic TV shows, everything from the beeps on the communicators of the crew of the Enterprise to the "whoosh" of the starship's lift doors. Mr. Grindstaff died on July 23 at the age of 87.

Doug Grindstaff was born on April 6 1931. He grew up in Los Angeles, California. He graduated from the California Institute of Arts. During the Korean War he served in the United States Army and saw combat.

Mr. Grindstaff's first credit was the TV movie Three Wise Boys in 1963. He worked on the films One Potato, Two Potato (1964) and Destination Inner Space (1966). In the mid-Sixties he began a very successful career working on various television studios. He served as sound effects editor for three classic shows that originated at Desilu: Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, and Mannix. In the Sixties he also worked on the TV shows Love, American Style; The Immortal; The Young Lawyers; The Odd Couple; and The Brady Bunch, as well as the TV movies Seven in Darkness and Weekend of Terror.  In the Seventies he worked on such TV movies as Medical Story (1976), A Killing Affair, Kill Me If You Can, and The Last Hurrah. He worked on the TV shows Police Story, Quark, and Beulah Land. He did uncredited work on the movie Cabaret (1972) and also worked on the film Sextette (1978).

In the Eighties Mr. Grindstarff worked on the night-time soap operas Dallas, Knot's Landing, and Falcon Crest, as well as such shows as Max Headroom, Our House, and Midnight Caller. He worked on the films St. Helen's (1981), Death Valley (1982), Mother Lode (1983), Tough Enough (1983), and Cross Creek (1983).

Doug Grindstaff served as the head of sound departments at Paramount, Columbia, and Pacific Sound. He also served as a vice president at Lorimar Pictures, and as president of the Motion Picture Sound Editors. Doug Grindstaff was nominated for multiple Emmy Awards, including one for his work on Star Trek. He won Emmys for his work on the TV show The Immortal, the TV movie Medical Story, the TV show Police Story, the TV movie Power, and the TV show Max Headroom.

There can be no doubt that Doug Grindstaff was a master of sound. He not only created the many unusual sounds heard on Star Trek, but sounds for classic shows from The Odd Couple to Knot's Landing. He was a master at creating sounds through means that might not occur to others. For example, he created the sound of Dr. McCoy's hypospray using an air compressor. He created the sound of one of Star Trek's most popular alien creatures, tribbles, by manipulating the sound of the coos of doves. Although he worked on many different shows, he seemed to have a particular gift for science fiction shows, creating sounds not only for Star Trek, but for Quark and Max Headroom as well. Few men were as talented at creating sounds as Doug Grindstaff was.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

The Late Great Mary Carlisle

Mary Carlisle, the beautiful actress who played opposite such leading men as Bing Crosby, Lew Ayres, and Gene Autry and who was the last of the WAMPAS Baby Stars, died today. She was believed to be 104.

Mary Carlisle was born Gwendolyn Witter February 3 in either 1912 or 1914 in Boston, Massachusetts. It was after her father's death that her family moved to Los Angeles, California. Her uncle was film editor and producer Robert Carlisle, through whom she learned of a casting call for chorus girls at MGM. She hurriedly took dance lessons and was surprised when she was hired. Once the truth came out that she didn't know how to dance, she was made a substitute, someone to step in if one of the chorus girls couldn't perform.

Mary Carlisle made her film debut in an uncredited part in Long Live the King in 1923. She spent the late Twenties and very early Thirties appearing in similar uncredited roles (including one as Little Bo Beep in the notorious pre-Code film Madam Satan). Her first credited role was as Cassandra Phelps in This Reckless Age in 1932. Miss Carlisle would prove to be very busy during the Thirties. She played opposite Bing Crosby in three films: College Humour (1933), Double or Nothing (1937), and Doctor Rhythm (1938). She appeared as a young honeymooner in Grand Hotel (1932). During the Thirties she was very prolific, appearing in such films as The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi (1933), Should Ladies Behave (1933), Palooka (1934), Murder in the Private Car (1934), Kentucky Kernels (1934), One Frightened Night (1935), The Old Homestead (1935), Hotel Haywire (1937), Hold 'Em Navy (1937), Hunted Men (1938), Illegal Traffic (1938), Beware Spooks! (1939), Rovin' Tumbleweeds (1939), and Dance, Girl, Dance (1940).

In the Forties Mary Carlisle appeared in the films Rags to Riches (1941), Torpedo Boat (1942), Baby Face Morgan (1942), and Dead Men Walk (1943). In 1942 she married actor James Edward Blakeley and retired from acting not long afterwards. Mr. Blakeley later became a 20th Century Fox executive and served as production manager on Batman and other shows. The two remained married until his death, a full 65 years. For years she was the manager of an Elizabeth Arden salon in Beverly Hills.

For her whole career Mary Carlisle was generally cast as ingénues. There should be little surprise why. Blonde and possessing a delicate beauty, Miss Carlisle certainly looked the part. That having been said, she possessed more talent than many young actresses who played ingénues during the era. Miss Carlisle was always convincing in the roles she played and showed a particular gift for comedy. While most of her roles were in low budget programmers, she remained very much in demand. She acted for multiple studios, from MGM to Republic. She also played opposite an impressive array of leading men, including Lew Ayres, Joe E. Brown, Ralph Byrd, Leo Carillo, Bing Crosby, and Wheeler and Woolsey. Charming and remarkably pretty and possessed of a good deal of talent, Mary Carlisle was always a delight to see on screen.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Yale Udoff Passes On

Screenwriter and playwright Yale Udoff died on July 19 at the age of 83. The cause was cardiac arrest.

Yale Udoff was born in 1935 in Brooklyn, New York. He graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in history and served in the United States Army in the infantry. He later took a job as one of ABC's East Coast executives. While legend often credits Mr. Udoff with coming up with the initial idea for the Sixties TV show Batman after watching the Forties "Batman" serials at a Playboy Club, in truth the show was in development well before they were shown at the Playboy Club in Chicago. That having been said, it seems possible that the Playboy Club's showings of the serials and Columbia's subsequent re-released of the serials to theatres probably helped propel the TV show Batman to success. While at ABC Yale Udoff worked with producers Douglas Cramer and Edgar Scherick, and executive Roone Arledge.

Yale Udoff came up with the story for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. episode "The Pieces of Fate Affair". He wrote the screenplays for the TV movies Hitchhike! and Third Degree Burn, as well as episodes of Against the Law and Tales from the Cyrpt. He wrote the films Bad Timing (1980) and Eve of Destruction (1991).

Mr. Udoff also a playwright who wrote the full lengh plays A Gun Play, The Example, Magritte Skies, First Draft, Bring Back Doris Day, Favourite Photos, The Invitation, Exiles, and A New Life. He also wrote the one act plays Shade, The Academy of Desire, The Little Gentleman, The Club, Nebraska, and Flowers for Marilyn. He won Stanley Drama Awards for The Little Gentleman and The Club, and a McArthur Award for Magritte Skies.

Monday, July 30, 2018

The 200th Anniversary of Emily Brontë's Birthday

It was 200 years ago today that Emily Brontë was born in the village of Thornton, a small village now on the outskirts of the city of Bradford that was then in the West Riding of Yorkshire. While Miss Brontë's name might not sound familiar to many, most people have probably heard of the one novel she wrote: Wuthering Heights. Published in 1847, it would become one of the most influential novels of the 19th Century.

Very little is known about Emily Brontë. She was one of the famous Brontë siblings, which included fellow authors Charlotte and Anne and artist Branwell. For a time she was a teacher at Law Hill School in Halifax until her health failed due to the school's heavy workload. She wrote a number of poems, many of which were published in the anthology Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, which included poetry by Charlotte (who was Currer Bell) and Anne (who was Acton Bell). Wuthering Heights was published in 1847 under Emily Brontë's pen name of Ellis Bell. Initially receiving mixed reviews, Wuthering Heights would later be hailed as a classic.

Indeed, the influence of Wuthering Heights can be seen not only in other works of literature, but movies, television shows, and even songs. Sylvia Path wrote a poem titled "Wuthering Heights" in 1961, the poem drawing upon the novel's imagery for inspiration. Albert Camus referenced Heathcliff, the anti-hero of Wuthering Heights, in his essay "The Rebel". Wuthering Heights would inspire yet other novels. Lin Haire-Sargent's 1974 novel H: The Story of Heathcliff's Journey Back to Wuthering Heights detailed Heatcliff's time away from Wuthering Heights. In the 1995 novel Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, author Terry Eagleton put forth the idea that young Heathcliff had survived the Irish potato famine. Alice Hoffman's 1997 novel Here on Earth updated Wuthering Heights to modern times. This is only a short list of works inspired by Wuthering Heights, and the novel is referenced in works from Anne Carson's poem "The Glass Essay" to V. C. Andrews's novel Flowers in the Attic.

Of course, there have been numerous film and television adaptations of Wuthering Heights, so many that it would be difficult to list them all. The first film adaptation was made in 1920. Sadly it is believed to be a lost film. Perhaps the most famous adaptation is the 1939 version directed by William Wyler and starring Lord Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. The film adapted only the first part of the novel. The first television adaptation of the novel was made as an episode of the anthology series Studio One in 1950. Charlton Heston starred as Heathcliff. Since then the novel has been adapted several times to film and on television, with the most recent version being a film adaptation released in 2011. Even Monty Python's Flying Circus used Wuthering Heights as the source for a skit, "The Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights" (in which Heathcliff and Cathy communicate through semaphore flags).

Even music has drawn inspiration from Wuthering Heights. The most famous song inspired by Wuthering Heights may well be Kate Bush's 1978 single "Wuthering Heights". The song has since been covered several times by other music artists. Interestingly enough, Kate Bush shares her birthday with Emily Brontë (July 30). Ten's song "Alone In The Dark Tonight" was inspired by Heathcliff's loss of Cathy. Among other songs inspired by Wuthering Heights are "Cath..." by Death Cab for Cutie, "Total Eclipse of the Heart"(performed by Bonnie Tyler and written by Jim Steinman), and "A Dark Congregation" by The Hush Sound.

Through the years several authors have been inspired by Wuthering Heights, including V. C. Andrews, Margaret Atwood, Sally Green, Ernest Hemingway (who included on a list of books he "..rather read again for the first time ... than have an assured income of a million dollars a year"), Henry Miller, and Kate Mosse.

Never particularly healthy, Emily Brontë died at the extremely young age of 30 on December 19 1848. It was only about a year after the publication of Wuthering Heights. While Miss Brontë's life was short, she left behind a legacy more lasting than some authors who lived to old age. Wuthering Heights would prove to be one of the most influential novels of its era. What is more, its influence is still being felt 200 years after Emily Brontë's birth.