Saturday, September 7, 2019

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)

(This post is part of the Costume Drama Blogathon hosted by Moon in Gemini)

The Count of Monte Cristo was written by Alexandre Dumas (père) and was serialised in the Journal des Débats from August 28 1844 to January 15 1846. The first single volume English translation of the novel would be published in January 26 1846 under title The Prisoner of If or The Revenge of Monte Christo. Whether in French or English, The Count of Monte Cristo would prove to be one of Alexandre Dumas's most popular novels, alongside such works as The Three Musketeers

As might be expected given the novel's popularity, it has been adapted to other media several times. The first film adaptation was made in 1908, with four more made in the Silent Era alone (in 1913, in 1918, in 1922, and in 1929). The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), directed by Rowland V. Lee, would be the first sound film adaptation of the novel. 

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) originated with producer Edward Small. Mr. Small had begun his career as a talent agent in New York City in 1917 and later moved to Los Angeles. Eventually he entered film production, producing movies both through his own production companies and Columbia. It was in 1932 that he and partner Harry M. Goetz formed Reliance Pictures, a company formed with financing from Art Cinema, a subsidiary company of United Artists. The first two films Edward Small produced for United Artists were I Cover the Waterfront (1933), a crime drama, and Palooka (1933), film based on teh popular comic strip Joe Palooka starring Jimmy Durante. The third was The Count of Monte Cristo (1934).

Edward Small hired Rowland V. Lee to both direct and write the film. Mr. Lee wrote a treatment for the movie with playwright Dan Totheroh. When Dan Totheroh moved to New York City, Rowland V. Lee brought Philip Dunne onto the project to write the dialogue. According to Mr. Dunne, he told Rowland V. Lee that he had never read The Count of Monte Cristo. Mr. Lee told him not to worry, that he would act it out for him. According to Philip Dunne, Rowland V. Lee did such a good job that he ended up using all of Mr. Dunne's dialogue. 

Fredric March was initially considered for the lead role of Edmond Dantès, the titular Count of Monte Cristo. Fredric March proved unavailable and as a result Robert Donat was cast in the role. Robert Donat was fresh from his success as Thomas Culpepper in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933). British producer Alexander Korda then loaned Mr. Donat to Edward Small for The Count of Monte Cristo (1934). It would be the only film that Robert Donat made in Hollywood. Mr. Donat did not particularly like Hollywood and he also suffered from asthma that made travel unpleasant. He would go onto further success in his native Britain in The 39 Steps (1935) and Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). He won the Oscar for Best Actor for the latter film.

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) received generally positive reviews. Variety remarked of the film, "Monte Cristo is a near-perfect blend of thrilling action and grand dialog, both of which elements are inherent in Alexandre Dumas' original story." In his review in The New York Times, Andre Sennwald wrote of The Count of the Monte Cristo (1934), "In its third cinema reincarnation, "The Count of Monte Cristo, which began an engagement at the Rivoli yesterday, is still as passionate and grand as the waves that crash against the grim battlements of the Château d'If.." The National Board of Review also named it one of the 10 best films of 1934. It also did very well with audiences.

In fact, The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) was such a success at the box office that, along with MGM's Treasure Island (1934) and Alexander Korda's The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), it triggered an entire cycle of swashbucklers that would last into the early Forties. If not for The Count of Monte Cristo (1934), then, we might not have Captain Blood (1935), The Prisoner of Zenda (1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Man in the Iron Mask (1939), or The Black Swan (1942). The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) would also produce two sequels: The Son of Monte Cristo (1940) and The Return of Monte Cristo (1946).

Like the original novel, The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) centres on Edmond Dantès, a merchant sailor who is imprisoned for years and, after escaping, begins extracting revenge on the corrupt individuals who imprisoned him. That is not to say that there were considerable differences between the novel and the 1934 film adaptation. The novel is a complex and to large degree serious examination of the theme of revenge. The movie is a less complicated work whose emphasis is on swashbuckling. It is largely because of the novel's complexity that several major characters from the book do not appear in the movie and other character's roles are reduced in the film. There are also several plot points that differ in the book from the movie. In the novel Mercédès Mondego is Edmond Dantès's fiancée. Following his escape from prison, Mercédès and Edmond elect to part ways. In the movie they resume their relationship. In the novel Fernand and Edmond never engage in a sword fight as they do in the movie. There are several more ways in which the novel differs from the movie, changes made either because of the novel's complexity or simply to make the novel more accessible to American movie audiences in 1934.

While The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) differs a good deal from the original novel, that is not to say it is in anyway inferior. The novel is a classic that examines the idea of revenge. The movie is a well-executed swashbuckler. In fact, it is arguably one of the greatest films made in the genre.

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) would have a lasting impact. As mentioned earlier, it spurred an entire cycle of swashbuckler movies that would last into the Forties. What is more, its influence is still being felt in the 21st Century. Kevin Reynolds's 2002 adaptation of the novel would seem to owe a good deal to the 1934 movie (including his sword duel with Fernand). The plot of the 1980s graphic novel V for Vendetta would seem to owe something to the original novel, both dealing with imprisoned men who then extract revenge on those who wronged them. The 2005 film based on the graphic novel acknowledged this influence by making Count of Monte Cristo (1934) V's favourite film. It is safe to say that The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) will continue to have an influence. Indeed, after 85 years, it is still considered by many to be the quintessential film version of the novel.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Godspeed Carol Lynley

Carol Lynley, the actress who starred in such films as Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), and The Poseidon Adventure (1972), died on September 3 2019 at the age of 77. The cause was a heart attack.

Carol Lynley was born Carole Ann Jones in New York City. She started modelling as a child, working under the name Carolyn Lee. She was so successful as a model that she appeared on the cover of Life when she was only 15. She was in her early teens when she began acting. Because former child actress Carolyn Lee had already registered the name with Actors Equity, she changed her stage name to "Carol Lynley." It was a simple case of taking the final syllable of "Carolyn" and combining it with the name "Lee."

Carol Lynley made her television debut in an episode of Goodyear Television Playhouse in 1956. In the final years of the Fifties she appeared on the shows The Alcoa Hour, The Kaiser Aluminum Hour, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The DuPont Show of the Month, Pursuit, Shirley Temple's Storybook, and General Electric Theatre. She made her film debut in the Disney film The Light in the Forest in 1958. In the late Fifties she also appeared in the films Holiday for Lovers (1959), Blue Denim (1959), and Hound-Dog Man (1959). She made her debut in Broadway in The Potting Shed in 1957. She originated the role of Janet Willard in Blue Denim on Broadway the following year.

The Sixties saw Carol Lynley's film career at its height. She starred in the films Return to Peyton Place (1961), The Last Sunset (1961), The Stripper (1963),  Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963), The Cardinal (1963), Shock Treatment (1964), The Pleasure Seekers (1964), Harlow (1965), Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), The Shuttered Room (1967), Danger Route (1967), The Maltese Bippy (1969), Once You Kiss a Stranger... (1969), and Norwood (1970). She made several guest appearances on television during the decade, including the shows The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Alcoa Premiere, The Virginian, The Dick Powell Show, Run for Your Life, Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Invaders, The F.B.I., Journey to the Unknown, The Big Valley, It Takes a Thief, The Immortal, The Bold Ones: The New Doctors, and The Most Deadly Game.

By the early Seventies Miss Lynley's film career was in decline. Despite a high profile role in The Poseidon Adventure (1972), most of her career was spent in television during the decade. She also appeared in the films Beware! The Blob (1972), Cotter (1973), The Four Deuces (1975), Bad Georgia Road (1977), The Washington Affair (1977), The Cat and Canary (1978), and The Shape of Things to Come (1979). On television she made several guest appearances on Fantasy Island. She also guest starred on the shows Night Gallery, The Sixth Sense, Orson Welles' Great Mysteries, The Magician, The Evil Touch, Thriller, Quincy M.E., Police Woman, Kojak, Future Cop, Hawaii Five-O, Richie Brockelman Private Eye, Sword of Justice, The Littlest Hobo, and Charlie's Angels. She appeared in several TV movies throughout the decade,the most notable of which was The Night Stalker (which would eventually lead to the TV show Kolchak: The Night Stalker). She appeared one last time on Broadway in Absurd Person Singular.

In the Eighties she guest starred on the shows Hart to Hart, Baker's Dozen, The Fall Guy, Hotel, Fantasy Island, Tales of the Unexpected, Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense, Finder of Lost Loves, Night Heat, Another World, and Monsters. She appeared in the films Vigilante (1982), Balboa (1983), Blackout (1988), Dark Tower (1989), and Spirits (1990).

In the Nineties Carol Lynley appeared in the movies Neon Signs (1996), Flypaper (1999), and Drowning on Dry Land (1999). In the Naughts she appeared in the feature film A Light in the Forest (2003) and the short subject "Vic" (2006).

Carol Lynley's career began at what was in some ways a fortuitous time for her. In the late Fifties and early Sixties, blonde, teenage actresses were very much in fashion, examples of which include Sandra Dee, Hayley Mills, Tuesday Weld, and, on the other side of the Pond, Julia Lockwood. That having been said, Carol Lynley went beyond the wholesome, sensitive image of her early career. In Return to Peyton Place she played a bestselling author who returns to her hometown and has an affair with a married man. In Under the Yum Yum Tree she played a young woman whose boyfriend moves in with her (a strictly platonic arrangement) in order to determine how compatible they are. In The Pleasure Seekers she played a secretary who had just ended an affair and is in love with her boss. In Bunny Lake is Missing she played a mother whose daughter has disappeared (the "Bunny" of the title). In The Poseidon Adventure she played the singer of the ship of the title (although her singing voice was dubbed by singer Renee Armand). On television Carol Lynley played an even wider variety of roles. Starting out as one of many teenage blondes in Hollywood in the Fifties, Carol Lynley proved extremely versatile as an actress.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The First Appearance of James Bond in an American Comic Book

Tonight Turner Classic Movies begins their spotlight on James Bond with the very first James Bond movie, Dr. No (1962). What only the most ardent 007 fans might not realise is that there was a comic book adaptation of the film. What is more, this comic book adaptation would be published in the United States, making it the first comic book in the United States to feature James Bond.

Of course, James Bond had appeared in comic strips long before he appeared in movies. In 1957 the Daily Express struck an agreement with Ian Fleming to adapt his novels as comic strips. The James Bond comic strip then began on July 7 1958 with an adaptation of Casino Royale. While James Bond comic strips emerged in the late Fifties, it would not be until the early Sixties that a James Bond comic book was published, and then it was primarily because of the movie Dr. No.

It would be the British edition of Classics Illustrated that would finally bring James Bond to comic books. Classics Illustrated was a comic book series that began in 1941 as Classic Comics. Its name would be changed to Classics Illustrated in 1947. Classics Illustrated was conceived by Albert Kanter as a means of introducing children to classic literature. The series proved so successful that it soon expanded to other countries, including the United Kingdom in 1951.

With the feature film Dr. No set to come out, it was then that the British edition of Classics Illustrated adapted Dr. No for #158A in December 1962. In many ways Dr. No would seem an odd fit for Classics Illustrated. At the time Ian Fleming's work was not counted as "classic literature," and the comic book was actually an adaptation of the screen treatment rather than the novel itself. Of course, given comic books were regarded as children's literature in Britain at the time (as they were in the United States as well), the sex and violence in Dr. No was toned down considerably. Regardless, it would be in Classics Illustrated that James Bond made his first appearance in a comic book.

While Dr. No was considered suitable for inclusion in Classics Illustrated in the United Kingdom, this was not the case in the United States. In the United States Classics Illustrated was often bought by libraries and schools, who found the comic book series an easy way to introduce young readers to such works as Ivanhoe and The Count of Monte Cristo. Gilberton Company Inc., the publisher of Classic Illustrated, figured that American libraries and schools probably would not be receptive to an adaptation of Dr. No. It was then that Gilberton Company Inc. licensed the adaptation to National Periodical Publications, then known informally (and now officially) as DC Comics. The contract with DC Comics included a ten year option for an ongoing James Bond comic books series for a small fee

At the time DC Comics was publishing a try-out anthology book called Showcase, a title which had introduced both the Silver Age Flash and the Silver Age Green Lantern. The adaptation of Dr. No appeared in Showcase no 43, March-April 1963. Here it must be pointed out that DC Comics made some changes to the adaptation. All Asian and black characters were coloured as if they were Caucasian. Regardless, the adaptation of Dr. No that appeared in Showcase #43 was unique for DC Comics. At that point not only did the company rarely adapt films for comic books, but almost all of their material originated in house.

Unfortunately for DC Comics, they chose a poor time to publish a James Bond comic book in the United States. In late 1962 and early 1963 James Bond did not have the name recognition that he would later have. While adults may well have been aware of the character due to President John F. Kennedy being a fan of the series, young readers may well have not recognised the character at all. It would be another four months after Showcase no. 43 had hit newsstands before Dr. No would be released in the United States (keep in mind that comic books were traditionally released a few months before their cover date). For that reason Showcase no. 43 sold poorly and a regular James Bond series did not emerge at DC Comics at the time.

Of course, while James Bond had little name recognition among the youth of the United States in 1963, he would become a veritable phenomenon in short order. Surprisingly, even though they had a ten year option on the character, DC Comics never exercised it during the Sixties, even as the Bond movies were raking in money at the box office. It was not until early 1972, when their ten year option was nearing its end, that DC Comics considered doing a regular James Bond series. Ultimately, DC Comics decided against the idea as Sean Connery, following Diamonds Are Forever (1971), had announced that he would not be playing Bond again. Sean Connery's decision then put the future of the character in some doubt.

James Bond would not again appear in an American comic book again until Marvel Comics adapted the movie For Your Eyes Only in 1981. Marvel would also adapt Octopussy in their larger, black and white magazine format in 1983. In 1989 Eclipse Comics adapted the movie Licence to Kill. Since then James Bond comic books have appeared on a somewhat regular basis in the United States, with such companies as Dark Horse, Topp Comics, and Dynamite Entertainment publishing 007 related titles. Of course, it all started in the most unexpected of places, an issue of Classics Illustrated in the United Kingdom, a title dedicated to adapting works of classic literature.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Noir Alley Returns to TCM This Saturday

Like most Turner Classic Movies fans, I love Summer Under the Stars, but the one downside of the event is that Noir Alley is off the air for the month of August. By the time September starts then, I am more than ready for its return, as I am sure most Noir Alley fans are. Fortunately, it won't be long before Noir Alley is back. It returns on Saturday, September 7 2019 with The Big Clock (1948).

In the next few months Noir Alley will have a number of must see noirs. Later this month, on September 28, The Harder They Fall (1956) airs. It is Humphrey Bogart's final film, and is centred on the world of boxing. On October 12 Fritz Lang's Clash by Night (1952) airs on Noir Alley. On October 19 there is This Gun for Hire (1942) on Noir Alley. It was this proto-noir that would propel Alan Ladd to stardom. The following week, on October 26, is Force of Evil (1949), which centres on the numbers racket. On November 11 is a film noir that I consider an essential. It is The Hitch-Hiker, directed by Ida Lupino. This is one of the hardest edged noirs ever made, with William Talman giving a chilling performance as killer Emmett Myers.

Anyhow, after going a whole month without Noir Alley I am glad that it will be back. It looks like they have a solid line-up for the next three months.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Happy 8th Anniversary to #TCMParty

It was 8 years ago today that #TCMParty began. For those of you who don't know what #TCMParty is, it is both a collective live tweeting of movies aired on Turner Classic Movies using that hashtag and the community of TCM fans who do so. That very first #TCMParty was a live tweet to the classic Casablanca (1942).

I won't go into a detailed history of #TCMParty here, because I have done so elsewhere (here is my post on #TCMParty's 5th anniversary). I will say that #TCMParty was started by Kathleen Callaway, then using the Twitter handle hockmangirl. At the time live tweeting to movies on TCM had been going on for some time, but there was not much way of keeping track of the tweets. Kathleen Callaway conceived of the hashtag #TCMParty as a means of doing so. She was the first #TCMParty host. As was the custom then, she would choose a specific movie from the schedule and then letting everyone know that there would be a #TCMParty for that particular film. It was in October 2011 that Paula Guthat began hosting #TCMParty. She also set up the website for it and the official #TCMParty Twitter account (TCM_Party) that same month. Paula has since became the name most associated with #TCMParty. Of course, while there are still scheduled, #TCMParty live tweets, live tweets using #TCMParty now take place 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

I am proud to say that I am counted among the original members of #TCMParty, having joined in the first three months of its existence. I used to believe that my first #TCMParty was a live tweet for a Thin Man marathon that aired on Turner Classic Movies on December 22 2011; however, a search today on Twitter revealed that my first #TCMParty actually took place a few days earlier. It was on December 16 2011 and it was a live tweet to The Bishop's Wife (1947). My first #TCMParty tweet was, "I'm watching The Bishop's Wife right now. I suspect most women would gladly have an angel like Cary Grant around. LOL. #TCMParty" I made that tweet at 7:10 PM Central Standard Time. Since then I have guest hosted many times, and I am pretty much the default host any time Turner Classic Movies shows A Hard Day's Night (1964).

I have to say that I owe a good deal to #TCMParty, as do most of its members. What is more, it is not a simple case of #TCMParty increasing my name recognition on Twitter, which is always a good thing for a writer and blogger. 2011 was a very rough year for me. I was laid off from my job of 8 years that April. Both my best friend Brian and my cat Max died that year. #TCMParty made life a lot more bearable and a lot happier. And while I knew many of the #TCMParty members prior to its creation, I found many new friends through #TCMParty Indeed, many of the friends I made through #TCMParty now number among my closest friends. I won't mention her here, as I sometimes worry that people get tired of hearing me talk about her, but suffice it to say that it was through #TCMParty that I first got to know the most important person in my life. When she died, it was my #TCMParty friends who helped me through (and are still helping me through) the darkest days of my life.

I know many other #TCMParty members can tell stories similar to my own. All of us have met some of our best friends through #TCMParty, and those friends have helped many of us through our roughest times. From a simple live tweet of movies on Turner Classic Movies, #TCMParty has grown into a large and close knit community of TCM fans who are very much a part of each other's lives. One hears so many negative things about Twitter, but #TCMParty is proof that something positive can come out of that social media platform. 

Monday, September 2, 2019

Terrance Dicks Passes On

Terrance Dicks, an author, television writer, script editor, and producer who worked extensively on the classic TV show Doctor Who, died on August 29 2019 at the age of 84.

Terrance Dicks was born on April 14 1935 in East Ham, Essex. He studied English at Downing College, Cambridge. He later served two years in the British Army. After he was discharged from the Army, Mr. Dicks worked several years as an advertising copywriter. He also wrote radio plays for the BBC on the side.

His first work in television came about when friend and television writer Malcolm Hulke asked for assistance in writing the episode "The Mauritius Penny" for the brand new ITV programme The Avengers. Terrance Dicks wrote or co-wrote three more episodes of The Avengers: "Intercrime" in 1963; "Concerto" in 1964; and "Homicide and Old Lace" in 1969. It was in 1968 that he first began writing for Doctor Who. That same year he began a long stint as the show's script editor. He would continue writing for Doctor Who until 1983 and served as its script editor until 1974. He would also write or co-write many Doctor Who novels from the Seventies into the Eighties.

In the Seventies Terrance Dicks continued writing episodes of Doctor Who. He also wrote episodes of Moonbase 3 and Space: 1999. He continued to serve as script editor on Doctor Who until 1974 and served as a script editor on Moonbase 3. In the Eighties Mr. Dicks continued writing on Doctor Who. He served as scenario editor on Beau Geste. He served as script editor on the mini-series Great Expectations, Stalky & Co.; The Hound of the Baskervilles; Jane Eyre; Goodbye, Mr. Chips; The Invisible Man; and The Pickwick Papers. He served as a producer on the mini-series Oliver Twist, Alice in Wonderland, Brat Farrar, David Copperfield, and The Diary of Anne Frank. He also served as a producer on the programmes Vanity Fair, and The Franchise Affair.

Throughout his career Terrance Dicks also wrote several children's books in addition to his many Doctor Who novels.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

The 75th Anniversary of the Premiere of Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

It was 75 years ago today that the movie Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) premiered at the Strand in New York City. The film has since been regarded as a classic and is a favourite to watch around Halloween for many people. It has long been one of my favourite movies. If you want to read a more in depth post on the movie, I wrote one a few years back.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) was based on the play of the same name, which opened on Broadway at the Fulton Theatre in 1941. The play proved to be a sensation, so that a film adaptation was inevitable. In fact, nearly every major studio was vying for the film rights, among them Paramount and Samuel Goldwyn. Ultimately Warner Bros. won the rights. That having been said, the film rights would come with one condition: the movie could not be released until the play had run for at least two years. This meant that the movie could not open until at least January 1 1943. As it is, the play turned out to be such a success that it would not close until June 17 1944 after 1444 performances.

It is for this reason that while Arsenic and Old Lace would be shot from October 20 1941 to December 16 1941, it would not have its premiere until September 1 1944. That having been said, its premiere at the Strand in New York City would not be the first time Arsenic and Old Lace had been seen by audiences. It was shown to troops serving overseas during World War II in 1943.

Upon its premiere on September 1 1944, Arsenic and Old Lace received largely positive reviews. The film would also prove to be a success at the box office. It made $2,836,000 in the United States and $1,948,000 overseas. It has remained a favourite of audiences ever since. In 2000 the American Film Institute included it at no. 30 in their list of the funniest movies ever made, "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs."

Arsenic and Old Lace is one of my all time favourite movies. It is also among the first Cary Grant movies I have ever seen and the first Frank Capra movies I have ever seen. I consider it the perfect movie for Halloween, as linked in my mind to that holiday as It's a Wonderful Life (1946) is to Christmas. After all, it not only takes place at Halloween, but it includes what may be the first ever instance of trick-or-treating in a feature film. Of course, it is also a very funny film. Indeed, I consider it one of the best comedies ever made. Seventy five years after its release, Arsenic and Old Lace is still as hilarious as it was upon its premiere.