Classic Literature on Film blogathon – Crimes at the Dark House (Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White)

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The stupendously hammy Crimes at the Dark House (1940, dir. George King) follows a plot not too dissimilar to that of the wonderful The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, the book it is loosely based on: a man pretending to be Sir Percival Clyde (Tod Slaughter) begins his murderous spree in a wealthy manor in order to inherit his estate, with the help of Dr Fosco (Hay Petrie). This is all very well, but I’m not going to lie: Crimes at the Dark House is bad. The Woman in White is not. In fact, it’s probably one of the best books of its genre and it was the first one that came to mind when my friend Paul from Silver Screen Classics announced his Classic Literature on Film blogathon. But the low-budget, melodramatic horror film does not do it justice, nor, I suspect, did it ever think it would. For starters, the book’s opening sequence is grand, mysterious and eerie, and while Crimes at the Dark House opens quite dramatically, it is entirely different altogether. Then, it’s only one hour and seven minutes long and, as a result, it overlooks a lot of subplots and key elements – the sisterly relationship between Laurie (Sylvia Marriot) and Marion Fairlie (Hilary Eaves), for instance, could have been better explored, as it is in the book. The film is dramatic and suspenseful when it needs to be, but apart from that, it lacks all the things that make the book great and, at times, it’s downright laughable. Now I’m not saying I don’t understand why it came to be that way. I get it. These George King-Tod Slaughter melodramas came out at an alarming rate and without the necessary budget, in order to fill a quota, and to be honest, they are not entirely un-enjoyable. I just found it interesting to witness the differences between the book and the film and I can’t help but wonder what Robert Siodmak would have done with it. Or even Edgar G. Ulmer. But alas, we’ll never know.

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FAVORITE ANGRY MAN #10: Juror 12 (Robert Webber)

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Like Juror 7, Juror 12 is much more interested in his life outside of that room than in the case. He’s an adversiting executive and his constant references to his job seem to indicate a safety net that he created for himself, which makes it harder for him to come out of it and focus on something else for once. At first, he’s distracted and indecisive and he seems to be perfectly okay with a ‘hung jury’ verdict but eventually, he drops his shallow and dismissive demeanour and starts focusing. Juror 12’s inabibility and unwillingness to find his voice and use it wisely could have had dire consequences for ‘The Boy’, and his attitude is a lesson on the dangers of staying in your comfort zone, especially if it hurts other people in the process. Caring and speaking up cost nothing and Juror 12 had to learn that throughout the film.

SCREENPLAY BY: Virginia Kellogg

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There isn’t a whole lot of information about Virginia Kellogg out there, but the information I got was enough for me to want to include her in the SCREENPLAY BY series. She has 7 credits to her name, 2 Oscar nominations and a crazy story for the sake of research.

Virginia Kellogg was born in Los Angeles in 1907. After graduating from high school, she got a job working as a reporter for the Los Angeles Times. In 1926, she started working as a script girl and secretary for director Clarence Brown, and by the early 1930s, she was a scenarist for Paramount. Her first credit came in 1931 with The Road to Reno (dir. Richard Wallace) and in 1933, she wrote Mary Stevens, M. D. (dir. Lloyd Bacon). Four years later, she wrote Stolen Holiday (1937) for Michael Curtiz, and around this time, she was also writing radio plays and magazine articles. In 1947, she wrote T-Men (dir. Anthony Mann) with John C. Higgins, whom I covered here. In 1949, she received her first Oscar nomination in the now-defuct category Best Story for White Heat (dir. Raoul Walsh), followed by her second nomination in the same category for Caged (1950, dir. John Cromwell). As research for Caged, one of the most iconic films set in a women’s prison, Kellogg was incarcerated with a false conviction of embezzlement with the help of the authorities (!) and she ended up serving time in four prisons. Talk about dedication to your craft!

Her last credit came in 1956 with Screaming Eagles (dir. Charles F. Haas) and in 1981, she passed away at the age of 73.

FAVORITE ANGRY MAN #11: Juror 7 (Jack Warden)

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My 11th favorite Angry Man is arguably the most obnoxious of them all. Right from the off, Juror 7 (Jack Warden) makes his position known: he is not happy about doing jury duty and he would much rather be at the baseball game. He dismisses the case initially because not only does it seem to him like an open-and-shut case but also because he couldn’t care less and, while it would be accurate to claim that he represents many people’s feelings about jury duty, he represents more than that. Juror 7 is the embodiment of apathy, indifference and standing for nothing. He is not doing this maliciously, of course, he’s doing it because he has probably never been in this situation before and he would rather go back to the life he knows, without giving it much thought. This mindset is perhaps the only one he’s used to, because has never had to have any other. Juror 7 sadly represents the majority of people. He functions as one of the antagonists of the film, and eventually comes around after being confronted – after he realizes the game has already started. It’s an uncomfortable yet necessary portrayal of one of society’s biggest shortcomings.

Number 10 will be here next month!

Six classics, zero Oscar nominations

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It’s Oscar season! For the past four years during the month of February, I’ve talked about Oscar races – Best Actress of 1942/43 and Best Supporting Actress of 1952/53, Howard Hawks’ sole nomination, and people who never won an Oscar . So, this year, I’m going to talk about classic films that received ZERO nominations (prepare to be outraged) and the nominations I would have given them. Remember, this is all just a bit of fun. Here we go!

Bringing up Baby (1938, dir. Howard Hawks) – That’s right, the funniest screwball ever made was a flop when it came out and received nothing. My nomination: Best Supporting Actor (Charles Ruggles)

Sweet Smell of Success (1957, dir. Alexander Mackendrick) – You know this is one of my favorites, and, in the year of The Bridge on the River Kwai (dir. David Lean) and 12 Angry Men (dir. Sidney Lumet), it would have had very strong competition anyway. My nominations: Best Actor (Tony Curtis), Best Actor (Burt Lancaster), Best Adapted Screenplay (Ernest Lehman and Clifford Odets) and Best Cinematography (James Wong Howe)

Baby Face (1933, dir. Alfred E. Green) – Between this and Three on a Match (1932), I can’t decide what my favorite Pre-Code is, but Baby Face’s significance in the Pre-Code canon cannot be overlooked. My nominations: Best Actress (Barbara Stanwyck) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Gene Markey and Kathryn Scola) Note: the Supporting categories were introduced in 1936, so I couldn’t have nominated Theresa Harris since this came out in 1933, but she was wonderful.

Three on a Match (1932, dir. Mervyn LeRoy) – I covered this absolute masterpiece here, and will never stop praising it. My nominations: Best Actress (Ann Dvorak) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Lucien Hubbard). Joan Blondell and Warren William would have gotten nods in the Supporting categories (see above).

In a Lonely Place (1950, dir. Nicholas Ray) – The noir melodrama that may very well be one of the very finest of all time got no love at the Oscars. My nominations: Best Actor (Humphrey Bogart), Best Actress (Gloria Grahame) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Andrew Solt, Edmund H. North)

The Searchers (1956, dir. John Ford) – The greatest Western of all time and the proud owner of the most homaged shot in cinema history (looking at you, Tarantino, Scorsese and Carpenter!). My nominations: Best Cinematography (Winton C. Hoch), Best Director (John Ford) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Frank S. Nugent)

#OscarSeason

SCREENPLAY BY: Carl Foreman

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The absolute omnishambles that was Carl Foreman’s career in Hollywood should be a lesson in decency, morals and how not to treat people and his blacklisting, along with that of so many other creatives, serves as a testament to what is arguably Hollywood’s darkest period.

Born in Chicago in 1914, Carl Foreman attended the University of Illinois, quitting in 1934 at 19 to go to Hollywood. He came back to Chicago to study law, before dropping out again to work as a newspaper reporter, press agent, theatre director, among other things. He returned to Hollywood in 1938 and, in 1941, he received his first screen credit for Bowery Blitzkrieg (dir. Wallace Fox), the first of his films with Monogram Pictures. In the early 40s, he served in US military, and, in 1945, he wrote Know Your Enemy – Japan (dir. Frank Capra) as well as Dakota (dir. Joseph Kane), starring John Wayne. He then began a prosperous if tumultous working relationship with producer-director Stanley Kramer, starting with So This Is New York (1948, dir. Richard Fleischer), then Champion (1949, dir. Mark Robson), for which Foreman received his first Oscar nomination. Then came Home of the Brave (1949, Robson), and, in 1950, he wrote The Men (dir. Fred Zinnemann), Cyrano de Bergerac (dir. Michael Gordon) and Young Man With a Horn (dir. Michael Curtiz), which I covered here. Then in 1952, as he was writing what would become High Noon (dir. Fred Zinnemann), he was summoned by the House Un-American Activities Commitee, after being accused of being a member of the Communist Party. He was subsequently blacklisted, but amazingly received an Oscar nomination for the screenplay of the film, which to this day is still being debated as an allegory for McCarthyism. He ended up emigrating to England that same year and, while there, he wrote the screenplay for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957, dir. David Lean). Due to his blacklisting, the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay went to someone else as a front – we now know that this wasn’t the only time this happened. He continued to write and produce films, including The Guns of Navarone (1961, dir. J. Lee Thompson) and he eventually became the President of the Writers Guild of Great Britain. He received a CBE for his contributions to British cinema and the BAFTA for Outstanding Debut is named in his honor. In 1984, Carl Foreman died of a brain tumor at the age of 69. The day before he died, he was told that he would finally receive his Oscar for The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Bernard Herrmann and Vertigo (1958)

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If pressed, I would have to say that Bernard Herrmann’s score for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) is my all-time favorite movie score. I’ve mentioned this a few times here on the Garden, but as I was writing next month’s Oscars-themed post, I realized when Vertigo came up (stay tuned!) that I had never actually talked about it. As in, why it is my favorite. First of all, and I’m sure I don’t even have to mention this, Bernard Herrmann was an absolute genius. He is my favorite film composer and what I love about his work is that, while most film scores complement the film, his scores feel like another character. They complement the story by being the pure embodiment of it. Vertigo, in particular, is the perfect example of this. Every motif, conflict, theme and hidden meaning is perfectly reflected in Herrmann’s haunting masterpiece. From the eerie Prelude to the ominous tones of Carlota’s Portrait to the breath-taking, bittersweet climax of Scene D’Amour, Vertigo‘s theme tells Vertigo‘s story. And its many complex layers are all there. At times, it even feels like the theme is haunted by whatever psychological troubles Scotty (James Stewart) endures throughout the film. In fact, one could argue that Vertigo‘s theme is the reflection of what goes on inside Scotty’s head. And if so, then it remains baffling that Herrmann was overlooked for an award – as was the whole film. Few music scores merge with their films so completely and so immersively the way Vertigo‘s does and Bernard Herrmann’s ability to understand and match what is arguably Hitchcock’s most complex film is a thing to behold.

FAVORITE ANGRY MAN #12: Juror 2 (John Fiedler)

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The Old Hollywood Garden is proud to present a brand new series of posts: my top twelve favorite jurors from 12 Angry Men (1957, dir. Sidney Lumet)! Starting in January and ending in December, I will talk about each of the jurors from my 12th favorite to my number 1 favorite, one per month. What’s that? This is the wackiest idea I’ve ever had for the blog? You’re darn right. Let’s go!

12 Angry Men is one of the most universally beloved films ever made and one of the few that I personally consider to be perfect. Its simple premise – twelve jurors decide on the fate of an 18-year-old boy who is accused of murdering his father – as well as the fact that it takes place in one single room, allows for the characters to breathe, ironically, and is perhaps one of the greatest character studies ever put on film. My criteria for this list is based on personal feelings as well as the significance that I consider each character to have. This does not mean that I think any one character is objectively more important that the others; this is purely a subjective list about one of my all-time favorite movies.

Let’s kick things off with my number 12: Juror 2, played by John Fiedler. With his soft, high-pitched voice – the voice of Piglet, in fact – and harmless demeanour, Juror 2 is arguably the most unassuming of them all. He eventually finds his voice when he brings up the situation about the knife again and thus crucially makes a great point that sways the votes once more. It’s an important turning point for the film but also for his character and he, along with Juror 12 (Robert Webber), makes a case for why you shouldn’t always have to ‘go along with it’, in his own words. And that can’t be easy when you’re sitting next to Juror 3 (Lee J. Cobb) for most of the film!

Stay tuned for my number 11 next month!

SCREENPLAY BY: Frank S. Nugent

nugent.jpgHaving the screenplay of the greatest Western of all time as your magnum opus is pretty grand as it is, but to claim a further ten scripts written for John Ford is as sweet as can be.

Born in New York City in 1908, Frank S. Nugent studied journalism at Columbia University, after which he began his career as a news reporter with The New York Times in 1929. A few years later, he started writing film reviews and he became known for his witty, ‘tell-it-like-it-is’ style, his reviews subsequently gaining a lot of attention – do check them out, if you get the chance! In the early 1940s, his review of John Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath (1940) led Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck to offer him a job as a script editor. However, in 1944, he was terminted, and three years later, while working on a article about The Fugitive (1947), he met John Ford, whom he greatly admired, on the set and was hired to write Fort Apache (1948) for him. He ended up writing eleven scripts for Ford, including 3 Godfathers (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Quiet Man (1952), which won him the Writers Guild of America award for Best Comedy as well as a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination, Mister Roberts (1955), for which he won his second WAG award for Comedy, and The Searchers (1956), which is widely regarded as one of the greatest screenplays of all time and indeed one of the greatest movies in cinema history. Nugent went on to serve as the President of the Writers Guild of America, West in the late 1950s and in 1965, he died from a heart attack at the age of 57.

Hollywood’s Greatest Year: My ten favorite movies of 1939

2019 is almost over and what better way to finish it off than with a top ten list of my favorite Hollywood films of… 1939? Seems about right! It’s been 80 years since Hollywood’s Greatest Year, so I wanted to do something about it this year. Like always, personal list, subjective choices, will leave some out, blah blah blah. Here we go!

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10. The Women (dir. George Cukor) – A groundbreaking hit featuring an all-female cast (including the animals!), The Women’s iconic status is deserved, though here on The Garden, I’ve discussed my love-hate relationship with it.

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9. Midnight (dir. Mitchell Leisen) – A typical screwball comedy, funny and witty, with the added bonus of having one of John Barrymore’s greatest performances. The cherry on top is Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett’s script saga, which is always a great piece of trivia to read about – look it up!

maxresdefault.jpg8. Gone with the Wind (dir. Victor Fleming) – One of the most iconic films in cinema history and easily the right choice for Best Picture at the 12th Academy Awards. There really isn’t a whole lot left to say about it.

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7. Destry Rides Again (dir. George Marshall) – The second best western of 1939, Destry Rides Again is the fun one. Marlene Dietrich has arguably never been more enjoyable, Jimmy Stewart gives a solid performance as the titular Destry and the two of them make a thouroughly magnetic pair.

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Only Angels Have Wings 4.jpg6. Golden Boy (dir. Rouben Mamoulian) – The big weepie of 1939 along with Love Affair, this was William Holden’s breakthrough role and it started a lifelong friendship between him and Barbara Stanwyck, who, like always, is fantastic. Lee J. Cobb, however, stands out as Holden’s loving father.

5. Only Angels Have Wings (dir. Howard Hawks) – An utterly enjoyable multi-genre soap-opera type, Only Angels Have Wings is one of Hawks’ overlooked gems and it really shouldn’t be. 1939’s most all-round complete film.

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4. The Wizard of Oz (dir. Victor Fleming) – Fleming was certainly busy in 1939 (Cukor’s uncredited direction in GWTW aside) and to have THE two most iconic and beloved films of that year under your belt is quite a feat. One suspects this would be number 1 on most people’s lists of 1939 and with good reason. There is not a single frame of it that isn’t wonderful and it is surely one of the best arguments for why cinema is the greatest thing there has ever been.

image-w856.jpg3. Stagecoach (dir. John Ford) – John Ford and John Wayne’s first big collaboration, Stagecoach still stands as one of Hollywood’s greatest westerns and has maybe the best assortment of peculiar characters in any film of 1939 – needless to say, its character study does not go unnoticed.

mr-smith-goes-to-washington-watching-recommendation-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600-1084x610.jpg2. Mr Smith Goes to Washington (dir. Frank Capra) – A timeless classic that only gets more poignant as the years go by, perhaps depressingly so. Jimmy Stewart’s performance is magnificent and, like Ford/Wayne, the Capra/Stewart team was a force of nature.

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1. Ninotchka (dir. Ernst Lubitsch) – Ah, Ninotchka. Garbo’s greatest performance and probably the funniest movie of 1939. Billy Wilder, Walter Reisch and Charles Brackett’s screenplay as well as Ernst Lubitsch’s direction are a wonderful thing to behold and as I mentioned in a previous COMEDY GOLD, 1939 may have been Gone With the Wind’s year, but Ninotchka takes top spot here at The Old Hollywood Garden.

Happy New Year, everyone!