Tuesday, July 28, 2015


(Post 50 of 50)

Marlon Brando's historically troubled Western has apparently gone through critical re-evaluation over the years to have gained enough respect to be included in the 1001 movie book.

Stanley Kubrick was originally going to be the director, but had creative differences with the temperamental leading man and quit (or was fired, depending on whose account you read). It does make you wonder what innovations Kubrick would have brought to the film, but it was just not to be. The finished film was also seen by many (including that temperamental leading man and others) as being butchered by the studios. 

But what is left is a fairly standard revenge plot which benefits greatly from Brando's screen presence. It's a bit long, but if you are a fan of the genre or Brando, it's certainly worth watching.

It's also interesting to see Brando and Karl Malden in a much different teaming than in A Streetcar Named Desire.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Elisha Cook, Jr. Probably on merit, I should give the supporting award to Western character actor legends Ben Johnson or Slim Pickens, but I'm not going to deny Elisha his own award on my very last Elisha Cook award entry!

Elisha doesn't appear until late in the film as a bank teller. Keep in mind this is a film about a big bank robbery and you probably are going to figure out that Mr. Cook isn't going to survive for very long in this movie. But the meek bank teller at least gets to get in a couple of shots of his own before heading to the great character actor heaven in the sky (as he does in almost every film he was ever in) about five minutes after he first appears in the movie.

Here's to you Mr. Cook!

Saturday, July 25, 2015


(Post 49 of 50)

"The most depressing damn film I've ever seen!" Or something to that effect was Orson Welles's commentary on Make Way For Tomorrow.

Leo McCarey's film is about a families struggle with what to do about aging parents with nowhere to go. Comparable to Ozu's Tokyo Story, it is a rarity among Hollywood movies of the time (and today for that matter) to deal with older people and their struggles as a main focus. It's also a rarity that there are no headline stars to be seen, which actually works in the film's favor. A gem of a movie in my book.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Pretty much the whole cast

Victor Moore  

As the patriarch of the Cooper clan, Victor Moore plays a rare lead role here that demonstrates a lot of poignancy, resolve, but still demonstrates a lot of feistiness. I love when someone asks him if he used to be a bookkeeper and he exclaims, "I'm still a bookkeeper!" Moore played supporting roles in many movies, including: The Awful Truth, Swing Time and Gold Diggers of 1937. His final screen credit is as plumber in The Seven Year Itch. 

Beulah Bondi

As the sympathetic matriarch of the Cooper clan, Bondi was playing a much older woman than she was at the time and does so very believably. Bondi's many supporting roles include playing Jimmy Stewart's mother in both It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington!

Thomas Mitchell

Mitchell plays the oldest son here, who is torn between doing what is
right for his family and still trying to somehow take care of his 
aging parents.
Mitchell was definitely one of Hollywood's golden age supporting all-stars, co-starring in Gone With the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Only Angels Have Wings and winning an Oscar for Stagecoach all in the same year!
He may be best known today for his role of the absent-minded Uncle Billy in It's a Wonderful Life, where Beulah Bondi plays his sister-in-law.  

Fay Bainter

Fay Bainter plays Mitchell's wife, who definitely doesn't want to take care of his aging parents, but her role is far from just being a one-dimensional heavy. She is real in her needs and not totally uncaring. One of the things that is good about this film is that the characters aren't painted in black and white colors. Interesting that Bainter's daughter in the film actually does bond with her grandmother. Long time supporting stalwart Bainter won an Supporting Oscar the next year in William Wyler's Jezebel.

Porter Hall
I almost gave Porter hall the Elisha Cook award for this role as the editor in Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole. Other 1001 movie roles for Porter include the witness in Double Indemnity and parts in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, His Girl Friday and The Thin Man. In Make Way for Tomorrow, he has one scene as a grumpy son-in-law who doesn’t want the old folks to move in with his family.                        

Lousie Beavers

Other than Hattie McDaniel, Louise Beavers was the most frequently seen African-American actress in Hollywood movies during the golden age of Hollywood. She plays a sympathetic role here, but as with most all of her roles she was relegated to playing a servant or domestic of some kind. If you look at the list of name of her characters you get an idea-Mamie, Pearl, Mammy, Mattie, Mammy Lou, Petunia, Opal, Bedelia...and her televison role as Beulah. Sometimes her billing was just as "The Maid." A later role in the 50's film Imitation of Life got Louise the best reviews of her career.

Maurice Moscovitch  

Russian born Jew Moscovitch only had a brief Hollywood career, but I liked his role as the sympathetic friend to Mr. Cooper enough to give him a mention. He also had a part in Chaplin's The Great Dictator, relased the year of Moscovitch's death in 1940.

Ray Mayer

The main problem I have with Ray Mayer in Make Way for Tomorrow is that there isn't enough of him! He's the one child that seems to know what is going on and puts his smart aleck mouth to good use as much as possible. But after his opening scene, we don't see a whole lot of him. The movie cold have used more of his take on the family dynamic.  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


(Post 48 of 50)

When I think of Raymond Chandler's detective Philip Marlowe, I naturally first think of Humphrey Bogart in The Big Sleep. One might also conjure up Elliot Gould's version in The Long Goodbye or Robert Mitchum in Farewell, My Lovely. But I never pictured Dick Powell as Marlowe, mainly because I know him mostly as the juvenile musical lead in Busby Berkley films such as Goldiggers of 1933. But all perceptions aside, he turns out to be a pretty good Marlowe in Murder, My Sweet. Tough and smart-mouthed, and a guy who likes his dames, booze and money. If you watched one of Powell's early musicals right before you saw Murder, My Sweet, you'd hardly think it was the same actor.

The plot of Murder, My Sweet is a variation of Chandler's Farewell My Lovely. It's a very moody piece that features a nice drug induced dream sequence. Chandler's dialogue and Marlowe's snappy narration are sure to please noir fans. It may not be regarded as quite the classic that The Big Sleep is, but at least the plot of Murder, My Sweet is easier to follow!

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Otto Kruger. Otto's debonair looks and German heritage assured him of playing mostly villains in films in the 30's and 40's. He plays the suave but untrustworthy Jules Amthor here and does it all with a sophistication that is a nice contrast to his less refined associate Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurski). 

Otto also played a heavy in Hitchcock's Saboteur and later played the sheriff in High Noon. I also found a clip of Otto in the 1933 film The Women in His Life, which has a scene with Otto (sophisticated as always) playing a game of pinball of all things! Otto later re-teamed with Dick Powell to appear in a couple of episodes of TV's Dick Powell Theater in the early 60's. 

Otto Kruger watches as Mike Mazurski does the dirty work
on Philip Malowe in Murder, My Sweet.

Sunday, July 19, 2015


(Post 47 of 50)

A Western that features a posse, criminal gangs, double crosses, revenge, and a retired gunslinger named Johnny Guitar. But ultimately, this film relies heavily on the complex relationship between the female leads (a middle-aged Joan Crawford and the plain-Jane Mercedes McCambridge). I've never liked either of them more than in this film and they are both fun to watch.

Joan is stoic, but strong casino owner Violette, whose past may be catching up to her with the return of ex-flame Johnny Guitar. Mercedes is Emma, whose unrequited love for bank robber The Dancing Kid leads her to lash out at everybody, but she saves her most special animus for Violette. 

Certainly a must for Western fans.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..The ultimate showdown might feature the ladies, but there are a lot of good male supporting players here, including past Elisha Cook Award winners Ward Bond, Ernest Borgnine and Paul Fix. 

But I'm giving it this time to John Carradine, who in this film plays the sympathetic schlep who is loyal to a fault to Vienna and can't seem to get anyone to notice him until his big death scene.

Carradine played in hundreds of movies and television shows throughout his long career, including the Christ figure (or was it John the Baptist?) in The Grapes of Wrath,  the southern gentleman in Stagecoach, and Dracula in House of Dracula and House of Frankenstein.

But I gotta tell you, the first thing I still think of when I think of John Carradine is his comic turn in Woody Allen's Everything you wanted to know about sex, where he plays a doctor whose sexual experiments have turned him mad. "They laughed at me at Masters and Johnsons! But I showed them!"

Thursday, July 16, 2015


(Post 46 of 50)

Nicholas Ray's mid-50's drama about alienated youth still packs a punch if you can look past the fact that a lot of what might have been needed in the picture would have never made it past the 1955 censors. But it's still a gripping film and the themes ring true. 

Of course, it is also noted as the defining role of the too brief career of James Dean. James plays Jim Stark, a student who seems more like someone trying to find himself than a rebel. But he's a complex character, aided by Dean's charisma and somewhat surprising empathy he shows for those around him. 

But equally strong is Sal Mineo, whose Plato is clearly meant to be homosexual as much as a 50's movie could portray one. How did the scene when Plato is lovingly hugging Jim's jacket get past the censors? I'm glad it did, it's a great moment! 

The third youth is the girl, Natalie Wood, who has also has a father that can't relate to her and only seems to begin to find herself when she is around Jim. I didn't think her story is as well developed as the other two, but I certainly still have an affection for this trio who all died too soon in real life.

Ray wanted the ending to resemble a Greek tragedy and Plato's demise achieves that in my book.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..Jim Backus. Most people remember Jim for his broadly comic roles, especially as Thurston Howell on Gilligan's Island. He was also the voice of Mr. Magoo for many years as well. It's interesting to see him in more dramatic roles. He played the hard working, but out-classed prosecutor in Angel Face, but his role as Dean's ineffectual and emasculated father in Rebel Without a Cause is probably his defining movie role. Like Jim, he's a complex character in his own right. I'm not sure whether to dislike him, root for him or feel sorry for him. A little bit of all of the above, I suppose. Nice work, Mr. Howell and nice apron. 

Monday, July 13, 2015


(Post 45 of 50)

It's either hawks or pigeons in this hard-edged classic about politics and corruption on the waterfront docks. Director Elia Kazan, screenwriter Budd Shulberg and star Marlon Brando put it all together in this famous drama that I admit to liking a lot more than I did when I saw it years ago.

It's worth watching just for Brando's "I could have been a contender" scene above.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Karl Malden. Malden as the priest, Lee J. Cobb as the crime boss and Rod Steiger as Terry's smarter brother were all nominated for Oscars for On the Waterfront (And all losing to Edmond O'Brien in The Barefoot Contessa). I'm going with Malden, who did win the Oscar for his other Brando/Kazan collaboration, A Streetcar Named Desire. Malden also later teamed with Brando in One Eyed Jacks.

Malden's had lots of second banana and villain roles that I've seen, inlcluding: The Cincinnati Kid, Murderer's Row, Patton, Birdman of Alcatraz and many others. Malden is best probably best remembered by children of the 70's for his role as Detective Stone in The Streets of San Francisco. 

But let us also not forget Karl and all those American Express commercials from the 70's...
Don't Leave Home Without It!
It's dangerous to carry cash!

Friday, July 10, 2015


(Post 44 of 50)

Hard hitting movie for its time about the day to day struggle of an alcoholic writer played by Ray Milland. The movie is strong, but seems to pull its punches at the end. Interesting that director Billy Wilder used more of a romantic leading man Milland in the dramatic lead role much the same way he used romantic comedy lead Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity. It's an overall strong movie, but wouldn't rank in my top five of Wilder films. (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment and Some Like It Hot would be those five. I also like One, Two, Three a little more.)

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Howard Da Silva. I recently saw Howard as one of Alvin York's buddies in Sergeant York. He gave support in many movies in the 40's, the bartender in The Lost Weekend being the most prominent. A victim of the blacklist in the 50's, Howard returned during the 60's to play his most famous role, Ben Franklin in the musical 1776. That movie is a favorite of mine and I've seen it at least a dozen times. And Howard Da Silva is Ben Franklin.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


(Post 43 of 50)

Destry Rides Again probably doesn't offer too many surprises for those who have seen a lot of Westerns, but that's okay. Few from this era were probably as well made as this one. We have the seemingly harmless new deputy (perfect casting for Jimmy Stewart) that we know is going to be quite the force when he needs to be. We also have the out of place but formidable German singer (Marlene Dietrich) who is sharp and tough but will eventually fall for Destry we are quite sure (as well as serve as the inspiration for the character Madeline Kahn would play in Blazing Saddles). The standard businessman villain (Brian Donlevy) is there too.

We also get a couple of fun supporting comic performances from Charles Winniger and Mischa Auer as the new sheriff and the Russian who keeps losing his pants, respectively.


...the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Billy Gilbert. Rotund, explosive, big-eyed comic actor Billy Gilbert shows up about three times in this film, but he is always good for a laugh whenever he loses money in his bar or Mischa Auer tries to steal his pants. Billy also shows up briefly in the Duck Soup and has a very funny bit as a process server in His Girl Friday.

But I know him best from my days of watching Laurel and Hardy shorts, where he served as Stan and Ollie's comic foil in Pack Up Your Troubles and most famously in The Music Box.

Saturday, July 4, 2015


(Post 42 of 50)

I can't say The Heiress was one of my favorite films from my Hollywood golden age list, but it is certainly a film with merit. And it is a fine role for Olivia De Havilland as the rich (or soon to be rich) woman who gets abused in different ways by both her father and her suitor (Montgomery Clift). As always, director William Wyler really sets the scene for his period pieces. In this case, it's the late 19th century. De Havilland's believable transformation from the shy spinster at the beginning of the film to the bitter woman we see at the closing credits clearly helped win her her second Oscar.

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to...Sir Ralph Richardson. I think of Sir Ralph as a Shakespearean actor first and also as someone who played in a lot of BBC type endeavors. But his credits also include such diverse fare as Things to Come, Doctor Zhivago, O Lucky Man and Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. He also gets points from me for playing "the librarian" in Rollerball.

The dignified and stuffy role of Dr. Sloper in The Heiress was well-suited for Mr. Richardson. His cruelty to his daughter is not by the hand, but with his words. Does he love his daughter or does he hate and resent her? That's open for interpretation. It is funny that he is actually correct about the motives of his daughter's suitor. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2015


(Post 41 of 50)

Another Robert Mitchum film noir! Well, sign me up! According to the commentary track, this was largely a forgotten B-movie, until those pesky French new wave critics cited it as one of their favorite movies. I can't say I liked it as much as Mitchum's Odd Man Out, but this Otto Preminger film is worth seeing as well, if only for the "car goes down the cliff" scene. It may even be worth seeing it twice to catch all the subtleties, now that I think of it. 

And the Elisha Cook Jr. supporting player award goes to..(tie) Herbert Marshall and Leon Ames. It seems when I've been choosing my imaginary award, I've come across several people that I've considered for one movie and passed on only to come up for another movie for me to select. Herbert Marshall played the put upon husband of Bette Davis in The Little Foxes and here in Angel Face, he plays yet another brow beaten husband! And he does it with his typical dignified English stoicism. Herbert's many roles include parts in the 50's horror classic The Fly and as Bette Davis's husband (again) in The Letter. I haven't seen The Letter, but I'm willing to bet things don't turn out good for Mr. Marshall. Here's to you, Herbert!

Barbara O'Neill, Jean Simmons and
that poor old chap Herbert Marshall
Leon Ames capably played the head of the household in Meet Me in St. Louis

In Angel Face, he plays the skilled lawyer who successfully defends Jean Simmons during her murder trial. Ames makes the well-written courtroom scene awfully fun by refuting every thing that the prosecutor (poor Jim Backus!) dishes out and still seem reasonably likable throughout. Perhaps because he's so open about what he's trying to do, you really can't hate him. At least not too much.

But when I think of Leon, I will always first and foremost think of him as the neighbor in one of my favorite TV shows from childhood, Mr. Ed

If I'm in trouble, I'd like Leon Ames defending me.
And a special Elisha Cook the third award goes to Bess Flowers...Bess has a few lines as Leon's secretary here, which is more than she does in many of the 865 IMDB credits she had during her career. 865! Well, someone has to play the part of the party guest in the background, courtroom spectator and nightclub table extra! Often that person was Bess Flowers. As you can imagine, her most frequently listed role on IMDB is uncredited.

I like her autographed picture below that says "thanks for remembering."