Berserk (1967) -Joan Crawford at the Circus

Murder and intrigue at the circus! Berserk (1967) follows Monica Rivers (Joan Crawford), the ringmaster and owner of a circus that might be forced to close after mysterious fatal accidents continue.

It's a murderous tale akin to Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None,  with characters getting knocked off one by one, but with the spectacle and color of a circus to make the deaths even more gruesome by comparison.

Into the fray comes a new acrobat, Fred Hawkins (played by Ty Hardin), who wishes to prove his mettle on the high wire and his love for Monica. Hardin was a few years out of his Wild West television show, "Bronco." He would continue to make action and adventure movies. His role here is to give the audience another suspect and an occasional breather from the murder so that he can make his move on the widowed ringmaster.

This would become one of Crawford's last films before retiring from the public in the 1970s. Crawford is cool and confident at this point in her career. Her feathers are never ruffled in this role, which makes her character both awesome to behold and mildly robotic, considering the mayhem.

Berserk is pure 1960s camp murder and horror for which our star would become synonymous in later years. It's slowly paced, but if you are a Joan Crawford completest, this is the show for you.

The Bride Wore Red (1937)

A poor, mercenary woman mixes with the upper crust . This type of fish-out-of-water movie was quite common in the 1930s and early 1940s. We’ve seen Barbara Stanwyck rock the wealthy  ocean-going set in The Lady Eve. Joan Blondell might sacrifice her dignity to convince a rich man to help her cross the pond in Good Girls Go to Paris. And in The Bride Wore Red, Joan Crawford stars as a penniless woman whose drunken benefactor sends her off to an exclusive vacation spot where our heroine plans to marry a millionaire within a couple of weeks.

 The Bride Wore Red is a drama with humor. Crawford is warm and sympathetic and yet not cloying. This is the most vulnerable I’ve ever seen this star. She can break your heart with just the hint of a tear glistening in her eye, then -stiff chin, square shoulder– it’s gone and she’s the Rock of Gibraltar. It’s a complex character.

Many people know Crawford as one half of the dueling duo in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? In that film, Crawford plays opposite Bette Davis, a person with whom she shared mutual professional admiration, but there was no love lost personally. Their well-rehearsed, off-screen squabbles often stemmed from romancing the same man. One of those men is Joan’s co-star in The Bride Wore RedFranchot Tone.

Tone plays the happy-go-lucky poor guy who has an enormous amount of patience with ladies who plan wild schemes.  [Burgess Meredith plays a similar character in Tom, Dick and Harry. James Fox plays a delightful satire of this kind of character in Thoroughly Modern Millie.] This kind of role is the listening ear and the ardent pursuer, making the lady’s task of marrying for money all the harder.
To round out the cast , playing the upper crust are Billie Burke, Reginald Owen and Robert Young (the wealthy sitting duck) who are at turns the most gullible people you’ve ever seen and also the shrewdest.

A favorite scene that tugs at my heart strings is when a waiter inconspicuously and gently instructs our nervous heroine about the correct usage of forks at the dinner table.  She’s so grateful, you just want to hug her and tell her to relax. I would have loved a mentor relationship to grow out of their understanding. Alas, it is not to be.

This is director Dorothy Arzner’s 19th picture and one of her last feature films. After World War II, Azner directed for television. She would later reunite with Joan Crawford (by then married to Pepsi-Cola Chairman Alfred Steele) to direct Pepsi commercials.

The Bride Wore Red is a dark, cautionary Cinderella tale with humor sprinkled throughout. Crawford will give you a lump in your throat. Recommended.

Tyrone Power Events Continue

On November 15, 1958, actor Tyrone Edmund Power (b. May 5, 1914) died on the set of Solomon and Sheba in Madrid. On this the year of the actor's centenary there have been several events. They continue in Los Angeles, CA.

November 14, 2014
  1. Opening of the Tyrone Power Exhibit – The Hollywood Museum 
  2. Showing of Alexander’s Ragtime Band at the  Barnsdall Gallery Theater
November 15th
  1. Memorial Service at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery at 11 AM
  2.   Showing of Captain From Castile at the Barnsdall Gallery Theater 

See Movie Memories for further details:
Also, join the Facebook group Tyrone Power - The King of Twentieth Century Fox. The members helped to organize some of the events.

Facebook: A Place for Lively Classic Movie Discussions

Facebook Groups can be a wonderful resource for lively discussion about your favorite people from Hollywood. I've only just discovered this.

As opposed to joining groups that are about all aspects of classic movies, I have chosen to stick to Facebook Groups dedicated to only one person to have a more in-depth discussion about his/her life.  The first one was for Joan Crawford. I'm learning far more about the Mildred Peirce star than I ever bothered to discover before. Crawford's life is quite interesting. Someone will mention a fact and I'll spend a few minutes down that rabbit hole searching for verification and more information. It's fun.

There are various levels of knowledge in these groups. Some are historians. Some are newbies. It's great when someone tells the story of having worked with a star. It's also wonderful to gain a fresh perspective from someone who has just seen, say, The Mark of Zorro for the first time. And I cracked up laughing when watching this video that someone shared in the Bette Davis Group about Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. It's also wonderful to chat with those who keep up with current news related to classic movies.

I have even joined a Facebook Group dedicated to one movie - The Wizard of Oz. However, this group is less about the movie and more about memorabilia. It's still entertaining to see fans become excited about a 75th anniversary Oz puzzle.

A Facebook Group is like a melding of a forum and a short-form blog. It's crowd-sourced and moderated, like a forum, but you have one main page, no sub-forums. So everyone sees your contribution.

The groups with more than 500 members but fewer than 3000 have been the best in terms of discussing someone in-depth. Too many members and the best posts are quickly off the front page. Too few and you're running a group by yourself. For instance, there is a group each for Leslie Caron  and Dorothy Dandridge, but with fewer than 100 members, you might not see much activity at either one.

Search for Facebook Groups of your favorite directors, stars, screenwriters, etc. to join. Which Facebook Groups do you enjoy?

The Kissing Bandit (1948) - Frank Sinatra and Kathryn Grayson

The world's goofiest bandit makes time with a young lady in The Kissing Bandit (1948).

Ricardo (Frank Sinatra) returns home from training in hotel management to discover that his late father was not an inn keeper but a famous bandit who kisses every woman he meets. His father's second in command, Chico (J. Carrol Naish), convinces the son to join the family business despite Ricardo's lack of training in criminal activities.

On his first crime spree, Ricardo robs the coach of Teresa (Kathryn Grayson)  - a desperate ingenue who has just graduated from a girls' school and can't get kissed fast enough. She puckers prettily, waiting for the inevitable, but Ricardo is something of a gentleman and abstains. The rest of the film sees the two of them awkwardly taking strides towards one another.

Watch for the always-hilarious Mildred Natwick as Teresa's Aunt Isabella who eagerly steps outside the coach, willing to take the kiss to spare her niece. Ah, the sacrifices!

The Nacio Herb Brown songs are light and beautiful (Yours truly is particularly fond of the appropriately lethargic "Siesta.") and are winningly performed by two of MGM's top singing stars.

There is a funny song ("I Like You") where a woman (Sono Osato) tries to seduce Ricardo.
However, she only succeeds in frightening the man with her ability to crack whips and snuff out candles with her bare hands.

Despite the fun songs, this film is famous as a flop. Legend has it that the producers apparently knew this film was lacking, so they rushed a last-minute performance into the works. There is a well-known, 5-minute cameo by superstars Ricardo Montalban, Cyd Charisse and Ann Miller who perform "The Dance of Fury" out of nowhere.

It didn't save the film from losing money, but it's an exciting little dance where two women dressed nearly identically (Sisters?) fight over one man. There is a progression from pure elation, to frustration, to manipulation, to a final calm. Brilliant story-telling in dance. You'll probably remember excerpts of it from That's Entertainment III (1994).

This film has a jovial, lightweight plot, yet almost all of the posters for The Kissing Bandit have a sober tone to them.  Under Sinatra's and Grayson's earnest faces are taglines like, "The Boldest Story Ever Told in Music and Technicolor."  You would think this is the torrid love affair of Untamed (1955). Maybe that's why the film didn't make the money they expected - false advertisement.

 Although the plot in The Kissing Bandit is just there to keep you occupied between songs and dances, it's still an entertaining musical comedy. Recommended.

Untamed (1955) - Susan Hayward, Tyrone Power Adventure

Scarlett O'Hara takes South Africa. This is perhaps the best way to describe the film adaptation of Helga Moray's novel, Untamed.

Susan Hayward stars as Katie O'Neil, a spoiled young woman who must have everything her heart desires, regardless of the consequences to self or others. After the potato famine in Ireland, Katie leaves her destitute estate and marries one man (John Justin) to move to South Africa where she pursues another man (Tyrone Power) that she met once back home. As with Scarlett, a green dress plays a strong role in seducing men.

The first man dies and Katie - as with Edna Ferber's heroine in Gone With the Wind - practically dances on his grave. She's free now to continue her quest for the impossible - to get rugged Paul (Power) to forget about establishing the Dutch Free State and concentrate on her. (Katie even tells Paul "I'll never let you go,"  which, coming from her, sounds less like poignant longing and more like a threat.)

In the meantime, she manipulates a third man (Richard Egan) who's not quite as clueless as everyone else, but is instantly in love with her in spite of his sense of self-preservation. He and Power are each a combination of Ashley Wilkes and Rhett Butler.

Power is barely in the film; he's the MacGuffin, the plot device which keeps Katie's adventure going. And going it does. Katie loses more than one fortune, becomes a shady gold and diamond trader, has several shoot-'em-outs and two babies.

The movie celebrates the character for her resilience and strong-will, but Katie is really an anti-hero. She runs roughshod over everyone and ultimately learns nothing.

Although the protagonist is a mild disappointment, Hayward's performance of her is not. The actress plays Katie with relish, chewing up the screen. She was born to play this kind of fiery woman. Brava!

This film is also impressive for its breathtaking landscapes. Though the copy of the film that I watched was kind of murky, the location shots are still majestic. There is a battle scene where hundreds of Zulu warriors line up in a circle on a hillside and chant. It must have looked great in CinemaScope.

Watch for a brief performance by Rita Moreno as Julia - the "other woman" who waits in the wings for one of Katie's leftover men.

I usually enjoy studying the posters of the film, just to see how close the ad comes to the finished film in terms of tone.

The English language posters mostly show a Zulu warrior standing over Katie and Paul who are embracing on the ground. They do embrace on the ground a lot, but the battle scene is just one episode in Katie's life.

There doesn't seem to be a poster that truly captures the film. This Spanish poster or lobby card comes close. The warrior is to one side and there are several scenes. This better captures how the film feels - busy, action-packed, one episode after another.

Beyond the film itself,  one of Power's costumes in the final 20 minutes of the film intrigued me. I'd seen it before. Then it hit me. It's the same one which can be seen on the cover of his daughter's book - Searching for My Father by Romina Power. 


 His family visited the set while on location.

Tyrone and Romina Power . Source.
Although Untamed seems to be inspired by Gone With the Wind, there is plenty to be said of its casting and impressive location shots. Unlike the other film -which is pretty long at nearly 4 hours- Untamed packs in plenty of action into a re-watchable hour and a half.

Around the Web

Newspaper Archives

Over the past few weeks, yours truly has gathered the internet version of classic movie newspaper and magazine clippings and sorted them into categories by decade. In the 1930s section, you'll find news of a young Judy Garland at a fraternity and Mary Pickford directing. In the 1940s, Ruby Dee is on Broadway.  In the 1950s, We catch up with Marilyn Monroe's roommate, Ann Baxter rebels against social mores, Montgomery Clift baffles Hollywood and Tyrone Power marries for the third time.  In the 1960s, Rita Moreno discusses her career, Ginger Rogers dislikes the latest dance craze, Marilyn Monroe has surgery.
In the 1970s, Ann Blyth renews vows and Jane Powell's career takes a new direction.
In the 1980s, DiMaggio stops sending flowers to Marilyn Monroe's grave and Howard Keel makes a comeback.

As we discover more, these archives will be updated. Enjoy!

A Moment of Confusion

Saul Bass has said that the title credits of a movie should set the "mood and the prime underlying core of the film’s story."  Thus, when I saw water shadows under the credits of Good Girls Go to Paris (1939), I was slightly confused.

Water and Paris...
To what are they alluding?  The Seine River? No. -Spoiler alert- the "good girl" never arrives in Paris. The whole thing takes place in the U.S.

Then it hit me. If you were a young lady in the U. S. in 1939, desperate to visit Paris - as Joan Blondell is in this movie- you hop on a ship. Water was definitely associated with this journey, as opposed to the commercial passenger planes that I had forgotten didn't yet exist for transatlantic flight.
By the time this film was released, many firsts in aviation had been made (including Charles Lindbergh's solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927) or were about to be made. However, commercial transatlantic flights were still in the distance and wouldn't be available until after World War II.

Thus, a Paris-bound traveler would take a ship... or swim or something. I had to think through all of this before I understood the water shadows on the credit sequence. Whereas others - especially the audience contemporary with the film- would have understood in an instance.

Ah, classic movies - familiar yet foreign, which makes them endlessly fascinating.

Classic Fashion in Later Times

The more things change the more they stay the same. Even fashion-wise

The peplum skirt has made a comeback. On the left, Judy Garland wears a dress with peplum for the film The Clock in 1945. On the right, a pattern for a peplum blouse or skirted blouse from the 1960s. In the middle, peplum on the skirt, peplum on the blouse and peplum dress from runways of today.

Overalls were always functional. Deanna Durbin's tailored overalls with puffed sleeves on the right is comfortably stylish. And people still wear them around the house.

On the left, a publicity still of Tom Cruise for the film Top Gun in 1986. On the right, an anonymous riveter in 1942. Rolledup sleeves and a crew cut seem to be a timeless, work-a-day style.

People have basically worn different combination of the same thing for the past century. I wonder what styles will look like in movies in the coming hundred years.
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