Photo Given To Husband Bill Baker During WWII

Photo Given To Husband Bill Baker During WWII
Niece Leslie Sodaro: "Here's a stunning shot of my Aunt Shirley from 1944!"

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Gerry Orlando, coordinator of Cinefest (Syracuse, NY): "...That cover photo is the most beautiful picture of Shirley Booth I've ever seen! I did a MASSIVE double-take to make sure that it was her! WOW!"







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As of August 26, 2014, For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story by Jim Manago is no longer in print. Though the listing of the book might still appear online in some places, new copies are no longer being sold. You can still get a new copy signed by the author for $40.00 postpaid (U.S.) if you send your name, address, and email address by clicking on message to this blogger.




Friday, August 29, 2014

On Ingrid Bergman -She's INIMITABLE!

ANNIVERSARY TODAY:

Actress Ingrid Bergman was born and died on this day (August 29, 1915 – August 29, 1982)

*****

Legendary actress Ingrid Bergman offered us so many memorable films, including Gaslight (1944) - for which she won an Oscar for Best Actress, Spellbound (1945), The Bells of St. Mary's (1945), Notorious (1946), Joan of Arc (1948), Stromboli (1950), Anastasia (1956), Autumn Sonata (1978) and so on.

Last year I got to see her in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941), Saratoga Trunk (1945), and The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958). Clearly Ingrid Bergman has the ability to charm you. She simply shines time and again - undoubtedly she is among the best actresses of all time.

I remember her television appearance at the AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards wherein she briefly recreated the scene with piano player Sam from Casablanca. Unfortunately she succumbed to cancer at the age of 67. The television production A Woman Called Golda concluded her acting career.

As with Rosalind Russell, Barbara Stanwyck, and several other luminaries, I would have loved to meet her. Nonetheless, Ingrid Bergman will always be with us in spirit through her many productions.

As a tribute to her, I selected one of my favorite films that she starred in. I found in my archives, my defense of Spellbound (1945), published forty years after the film was made in 1985. What I said then holds true today, now sixty-seven years later since the film's premiere...

This article originally appeared in Classic Images, No. 112 (April 1985). Spellbound has been denigrated as not being a "true" Hitchcock film when comparing it to the typical Hitchcock scenario. Nevertheless, I liked it enough to write this. The extraordinary Ingrid Bergman shines in this complex plot involving psychoanalytic theory.

A response (2 issues later) from one of the paper's readers follows.

In Defense Of Hitchcock's Spellbound
by Jim Manago

Spellbound has been downgraded for many reasons. Some anti-Hitchcockians (those critical of Hitch) will say the director's shift to a film about psychoanalysis, which seems so un-Hitchcockian on the basis of previous films proves he is less of an artist for it shows the lack of a unified philosophy.

Also, the presence of audience manipulation via the larger-than-life trick gun shows this wise showmanship ability of maintaining his audience's attention - which a true artist would not be concerned with. I believe these are unfair charges.

Those critics that revere Hitchcock but exclude Spellbound as one of his triumphs usually charge the film with oversimplifying psychoanalysis. This and the pedagogic/didactic quality of the dialogue are what I consider the only fair accusations of any real substance. Yet I believe these accusations could be disregarded given Hitchcock's beautiful direction and careful development of the narrative via well-chosen visual effects.

Grossing around 8 million dollars by 1949, with only a one-and-half million dollar cost, Spellbound was a huge commercial triumph for Hitchcock. Yet he underestimated the film by calling it "just another manhunt story wrapped up in pseudo-psychoanalysis." He added surprisingly: "The whole thing's too complicated, and I found the explanation toward the end very confusing." To the contrary, I perceive the film as very logical and understandable. Unfortunately though for psychoanalysts, Spellbound tends to reduce psychoanalysis to simply detective work.

As the second of three films Hitchcock did for David O. Selznick (besides Rebecca and The Paradine Case) Spellbound bears no resemblance to it's inspiration, Francis Beeding's novel "The House of Dr. Edwardes." However, the novel did suggest the setting in a psychiatric hospital and the notion of the hospital director being mad. Ben Hecht wrote the screenplay because, as Hitchcock put it, he was "keen on psychoanalysis." Surrealist artist Salvador Dali was chosen to give the famous dream sequence what Hitchcock felt real dreams involve, namely the quality of "architectural sharpness," though have said Dali was invited to assist only for publicity reasons. Hitchcock had to compromise on the filming of the dream sequence: he preferred doing it outdoors for the added sharpness but Selznick objected to this on the grounds of the added expense such a practice would incur.

Spellbound is basically a study of the process involved in solving the amnesiac's (Gregory Peck) guilt complex which cause him to assume the identity of a murdered Dr. Edwardes, the new hospital director. The ski trip Dr. Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) takes the amnesiac on helps to evoke a catharsis that reveals the origin of the guilt complex. The amnesiac assumed the role of Dr. Edwardes because witnessing the death at a ski resort (where there is snow and parallel lines created by the skis) reminded him of the accidental death of his brother in his childhood (caused by Peck's sliding him into a spiked fence). The previous guilt complex re-emerged and caused the amnesia when the Edwardes' murder occured. Later Dr. Petersen is able to piece together the meaning of the amnesiac's dream, thus discovering who murdered Dr. Edwardes with the help of a Freudian slip by Dr. Murchison. Undoubtedly this may sound confusing or undramatic when explained. Nonetheless, Spellbound is an engaging film to me despite what any critic has said.

Dr. Petersen is a woman of reason who becomes more emotionally mature when she stops repressing [her true self] with academic manners and attitudes. Her abnormal and almost absurd concern or belief in the innocence of the amnesiac when the latter believes he's guilty shows her new-found willingness to open up in her personality other avenues of knowledge. Reason is balanced by feeling.

Michael Chekhov as the old doctor, who is friend and previous instructor of Dr. Petersen, gives a marvelous performance full of humorous moments based on his somewhat eccentric behavior. He plays out perfectly the old adage that 'genius borders on insanity.' Ingrid Bergman's acting presence in Spellbound needs no explanation - she's inimitable. Gregory Peck most effectively portrays the bewilderment and fear of an amnesiac. Though not as sympathetic as other 'Hitchcock villains' Leo G. Carroll as Dr. Murchison gives us no real hint of his criminality.

Hitchcock was a master at integrating those visual tricks, techniques, or pieces of business (whatever you might call them) into the narrative which one will remember long after the film. Some of these effects include: the gun fired at the audience with a flash of color, the kissing scene between Bergman and Peck where doors are shown opening indicating the opening-up of Bergman's cold academic personality to the warm feelings of love, the recurring sharp radiant objects (a letter opener, razor, spiked fence, scissors in the dream sequence), the surrealistic dream sequence, the parallel lines motif in it's many manifestations (fork trails in a tablecloth, lines in a robe, train tracks, bedspread with lines, sled tracks, etc.) the color white motif in it's many manifestations (snow, light, a sink, chair, shaving soap, etc.), the camera's emphasis on the eyeglasses which when removed by Dr. Petersen indicates her experience of removing that cold intellectual facade to reveal another creature more human underneath.

Such 'Hitchcock touches' are not devices existing for their own sake like those anti-Hitchcockian critics contend. Instead these visual effects form the narrative and Hitchcock's unique perception of the way narrative must be advanced visually. They do not serve the function of being excess baggage, but are integral cinematic features of Spellbound.

Two other aspects of Spellbound that I particularly enjoyed are the music and the likening of psychiatric work to detective work. For a change, the score is not obtrusive or cloying as in earlier Hitchcock films. The composer, Miklos Rozsa, won an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Dramatic Picture. The theremin, an oscillating instrument, was effectively played every time Peck experienced the psychotic state of confusion and anxiety. As for the overlapping of psychiatric and detective work: the house detective for the Empire State Hotel acts like a psychologist (and even admits his work requires it), Dr. Petersen acts like a detective in piecing together the various clues of the Dr. Edwardes' mystery.

Film scholar Andrew Sarris has recognized the problem with Hitchcock criticism, and his remark seems particularly applicable to Hitchcock's film Spellbound: "Certainly Hitchcock's reputation has suffered from the fact that he has given audiences more pleasure than is permissible for serious cinema. No one who is so entertaining could possibly seem profound to the intellectual puritans." Although some watching Spellbound may be disappointed for the fact that it's a less typical Hitchcock film. But consider its merit of being one the first American films to acquaint us with psychoanalysis besides serving as proof of Hitchcock's versatility.

NOTE: This article is an excerpt from the author's film notes to Spellbound, previously published for The St. John's Picture Show, St. John's University, Jamaica, NY (February, 1984).

*****

In response to my defense, there was an interesting letter from a reader two issues later (Classic Images, No. 120, June 1985). Here's that letter published originally in the "from the mailbag" column:

Spellbinding Ingrid


Jim Manago's "In Defense of Hitchcock's Spellbound" in the April 1985 Classic Images is the best analysis ever written of that engrossing film. His observations are astute, but not pedantic, which is a common fault that the critics of today exhibit frequently. His interpretation of the opening doors, which were enhanced immeasurably by Rozsa's romantic music and the meaning behind Ingrid's removing her eyeglasses, ring true. One might say that only when she took them off was she able to actually see.
Mr. Manago states that one aspect that he enjoyed was the likening of psychiatric and detective work. There is the strategic clue to appreciating this film. Ingrid Bergman portrays Mrs. Holmes, not Dr. Peterson.

She has to resolve two quandaries. First, what made Peck ill? The solution is brilliantly realized by Hitch and Ingrid in the scene when she glances questioningly out the window at the falling snow and murmurs knowingly: "Snow...snow." The look of discovery on Bergman's face is exquisite emoting. The other dilemma for her to probe is how to find the killer of Dr. Edwardes. She is assisted by a slip of the tongue. It is the scene immediately after this that is so compelling, depicting Ms.Bergman in her room alone as she incessantly hears the tell-tale words: "I only met him once."

Other fine moments linger in the mind, such as Bergman's artful acting in the final confrontation with her adversary when she accuses him of the crime. yet, the highlight occurs when Ingrid and Peck frolic during the country stroll. They reach a hilltop, and she says breathlessly: "Oh, isn't this lovely?" Peck, with his eyes fastened on her lustrous face replies: "Perfect!"

Then Peck asks her if she wants a ham or liverwurst sandwich. Ingrid, overwhelmed by the far-reaching prospect, sums up in one word as she inimitably could (remember her saying, "Delicieuse!" in Saratoga Trunk), how she feels about the incredible view, by declaring ecstatically: "Liverwurst!"

John J. Croft
*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!


JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****
For purchasing any of my books, you can visit Amazon.com
You can also check www.bookfinder.com
which offers the best prices on new & used copies.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Signed Copies Available for $40.00pp

Friday, August 22, 2014

On Memories of Wildwood...

It is with summer that thoughts and memories surface of going to amusement parks and beaches. It seems nowadays looking at stills of Shirley Booth's Broadway hit By the Beautiful Sea (April 8, 1954 - November 27, 1954) reminds me most of those bygone days in the sand and the sea of my childhood. 

Shirley's show depicted turn-of-the century Coney Island in the early 1900's. It included the excitement of Steeplechase Park's Tunnel of Love, the Old Mill boat ride, the Midway, and balloon parachuting.  It celebrated all things summer including the beach and the amusement park. 

As the month of August comes to an end, I yearn for some of my own bygone days.

I remember many happy summers in the 1970's vacationing with my family in Wildwood, New Jersey. Back then there was the huge King Kong ride towering over the pier (it fell apart when it was being moved in 1980). Also, Wildwood had the cleanest beaches I had ever seen. Most importantly, there were some truly wonderful people - all gone now, but not forgotten.

There was the Sand Dollar Motel on Surf & 9th Avenues owned then by the late Carl Curcio - a truly remarkable motel owner and family friend. On Friday nights he would set up the 16mm sound projector next to the outdoor pool and show some intriguing travel documentaries that were loaned to him. He always had that happiness and smile whatever he happened to be doing (from cleaning the pool to greeting and chatting with his guests). During the winter months he worked with my father as a coin/stamp salesman/concessionaire at the Abraham & Strauss Stores in New York.

There was the miniature golf park around the corner, along with the rental of tricycles and bicycles by the arcade concession managed by a rather plump Mrs. Botto! I remember it was a time when having some extra body fat wasn't politically incorrect or something to worry about or despise...She was a lady who participated in the fun of the visitors to the town. She lived life to the fullest and people seemed to easily catch her energy!

I have many Super 8 silent films I took of Wildwood, including Mrs. Botto riding and almost falling off the tricycle as she turned the corners of the block. These are truly funny segments of real people living in the moment. Sometimes I wonder whatever happened to her and so many others after I left there. They are probably all dead now. Nevertheless, those people to this day (some 40 years later) have provided me with so many wonderful memories!!!

My films of The Sand Dollar Motel, and the surrounding sites (including the huge King Kong pier ride) are most valuable since so much of North Wildwood has been razed in the last ten years....

 I would conclude my home movies that I shot and edited of those trips with a song. The thirty to forty-minute Super 8mm films would end with scenes of getting ready to leave, such as family members carrying luggage to the car and saying goodbye in front of the resort, driving away, passing through what was then called "Shantytown," back over the Verrazano Bridge, etc. 

The song that I played to these final minutes of my home movies was Bobby Vinton's 1972 rendition of the song, "Sealed with A Kiss." I know I wore out more than several 45rpm's of this recording back then.  The precocious kid in me was even given the name of "Mr. MGM" by the Sand Dollar motel owner Carl Curcio for my creativity and intense effort I put into these home movies.

But anyone who saw them knew that the finale's memorable song by Vinton gave my film productions a poignant conclusion.  His song has become a beautiful and inseparable part of the fabric of my life.

I offer singer Bobby Vinton (born April 16, 1935) a very special "Thanks!"  Although his version of "Sealed with A Kiss" is at least the third rendition recorded of this beautiful 1960 song by Peter Udell and Gary Geld - it is arguably THE BEST! The lyrics are bittersweet (including the lines "I don't wanna say goodbye for the summer - knowing the love we'll miss..." and "But I'll fill the emptiness - I'll send you all my love in a letter").

Vinton's superb and lush vocals in  "Sealed with A Kiss" are complemented by a fine orchestration and some very distinctive drumming. There’s an unforgettable sadness captured by that song that rings so true!  It's one of the best from that era.

Interestingly, I discovered one of the early versions of this song was done by Brian Hyland (best known for recording "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" ....). Hyland was born a short distance from where I lived in Richmond Hill, New York from 1967 to 2000...Hyland was born a mile away in the adjoining community of Woodhaven where most of the good stores were along Jamaica Avenue.


As I sadly learned, the wrecking ball has wiped the Sand Dollar motel from the map...But my memories of Wildwood live on...


Thursday, August 14, 2014

On Shirley Booth Expressing Real Emotion In "The Gals They Left Behind"

In regard to yesterday's discussion of the radio production "The Gals They Left Behind,"' (Cavalcade of America: 08.14.44), the show's finale has an emotionally pent-up Shirley Booth as character Jo speaking her love letter to her Bill who is away at war.

Interestingly, few know that reality crossed over here as the real Shirley Booth was expressing her own love for her husband Bill Baker who was off to war in France fighting the Nazis! It is so full of real emotion that it goes beyond acting.


Check Shirley's delivery for about a minute from 25:30. Go To: http://ia700509.us.archive.org/16/items/OTRR_Cavalcade_of_America_Singles/CALV_440814_396_The_Gals_They_Left_Behind.mp3

Listen to this wonderful actress close the show with: 

"So my Bill, here we'll stay. And we'll keep poking at the fire, and hoeing the garden and writing letters, common ordinary stuff. It's nothing to shout about. But when the bells ring, all the whistles blow, and your ship comes steaming up the harbor. Soon my darling, it will be Soon! We'll be there in a gay and handsome bonnet. Our arms wide open. And then I'll, I'll take you back to Hosstrough for a swing in the hammock.  And I'll feed you a bowl of raspberries yellow with Rosie's golden cream. And you'll think what a lucky girl I've been all along. And oh darling, you'll be right. I love you Bill, Jo."

For my tribute to Shirley Booth's real marriage to Bill, see my book For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

On The Gals They Left Behind...70 Years Ago TODAY!

This post comes with some changes and a new look to this blogsite, now entitled Shirley Booth & More.

"The Gals They Left Behind, August 14, 1944"

Before Hazel, Shirley Booth was heard on numerous radio shows.  Seventy years ago today, back in 1944, Shirley was in a program based upon a topical  book, "The Gals They Left Behind."  The publisher was Ives Washburn, Inc. The story has apparently not been renewed for copyright protection so it appears up on The Internet Archive for free viewing or download.  

The original story is by Margaret Shea with illustrations by Bek Files, and it runs around 130 pages. The entire book is written in a diary fashion and makes for an easy read. The book was released at the same time as the radio show production. The two main characters express their day-to-day experiences in letters to their men fighting overseas in World War II. It's a quite intriguing little gem of a play, which I recommend reading.

The story tells of the struggles of two soldiers' wives, Jo Sullivan and Taffy Smith, who move from New York City to a Maine farmhouse inherited from Aunt Het. Along with the young Daphne (named Eloise in the radio version), these two lonely women learn how to cope with raising chickens, how to milk a cow, grow vegetables, among the myriad of skills that farm life entails.

The radio show developed from this story reworks the material and uses the information conveyed in the letters to tell the narrative and occasionally relies on the story's letter device ("Dear Bill").

In the radio production, Shirley Booth plays Jo Sullivan, and co-star Helen Clare plays Taffy Smith. Shirley's Jo tellingly says how she's quite lonely for her husband Corporal Bill. So too, Taffy is hysterically missing her Hank. If you listen to this radio adaptation (which is unfortunately a small portion of the story), then you will hear Shirley Booth's fine performance in conveying this character. I read the book and I can say that Shirley literally brings Jo Sullivan to life. She beautifully conveys the heart-felt tears of character Jo by the timbre and crack of her voice at the conclusion of the radio show. The wonderful sincerity and conviction is revealed throughout by Shirley's distinct voice in this radio production.

The story is simply about the Home Front during World War II. As the radio announcer summarized the story about two soldiers' wives: "It might well be called an army of occupation. They are truly occupied..with waiting, working, praying for their sons and husbands."

The calm and efficient New Englander Jo Sullivan seems to always be the stronger one in this harsh setting. Jo (Booth) seems to lean more towards a masculine gender expression in her ability and desire to do the tedious tasks of the farm and stand firm like a man. Finicky and fussy Taffy Smith is from the South and is clearly more expressing a feminine gender and stereotypically prone to emotional breakdowns.

When the Jo and Taffy spend their first night in the lumpy mattress, there's a precious moment in which a genuine attempt at some sort of closeness or bonding occurs. Taffy (played well by Helen Clare) says quite sweetly and child-like in her loneliness: "Jo....Jo, would you....would you mind if we held hands, I know it sounds childish?" 

Apparently the women read books on the subject before arriving. They take on the task of watching several children besides caring for the animals. But the local farmer calls some of their successes just "plain luck."

The harsh 30 and 40-degree below zero cold takes it's toll on them, particularly on Taffy. There's the cows staying in the parlor, hens under Taffy's bed, frozen well-water, etc. On the verge of a complete breakdown Taffy at one point wants to leave this rugged farm world and head back to Atlanta, Georgia...The gals' luck in seeing this thing through has run out....

Taffy says she's very sick of this. Jo calls it a "bad case of cracked morale..But it's not a fatal disease..."

"You like to see people miserable," says Taffy. 

Jo's January 16th letter to Bill explains her understanding of the complaining, scared, and stressed-out Taffy:

The world is full of Taffys, the ones who won't pay the asking price, the ones who want a band playing while they work. The novelty is gone from kerosene lamps. The novelty of playing the heroine has departed. Let her go. To the magnolia blossoms and her mother's bosom. A new world toughened by hardship and sorrow is coming up that will have no place for hothouse plants like her.

I'm all alone now. The kids are asleep. The hens too. Glum has the cow and calf, but I'll get them back when it warms up. Outside may be treacherous or friendly by morning. I don't care, for I'm here to stay. 

Yours, fairly forlorn,
Jo

Though the book covers a year on the farm starting and ending in April, the radio show wraps things up at this point (from the January 16th letter) with plans of painting the farmhouse in the spring...

"The Gals They Left Behind" is truly a fine salute to those lonely women who manage to survive their men's absence during the truly horrible wartime of 1944. It captures the essence of their troubled existence quite well! 

My only regret is that Shirley Booth did not perform the entire story, but did just this truncated version of 30 minutes length on radio. Nevertheless. "The Gals They Left Behind" certainly deserves a listen by all those who love Shirley Booth.  For Shirley Booth at her radio best (Cavalcade of America, 08/14/44, episode #396), go to the Internet Archive: http://ia700509.us.archive.org/16/items/OTRR_Cavalcade_of_America_Singles/CALV_440814_396_The_Gals_They_Left_Behind.mp3

Shirley Booth made a total of four appearances on The Cavalcade of America radio show. There's "Check Your Heart at Home," broadcast on December 13, 1943, "The Woman on Lime Rock," broadcast on January 6, 1947 (with Les Tremayne), and "The Man Who Took the Freedom Train," from April 1 2, 1948 (with Eddie Albert).

***** 

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro



Monday, July 28, 2014

On Some Favorite Films...

For your summer viewing I offer you a partial list of some of my favorite classic films from the thousands I have seen over the years...

Ace in the Hole
Billy Wilder's tale targets the greed of newspaper reporters and the media that sometimes “create” the circuses around stories.

And Soon the Darkness

This well-made thriller is set in the beautiful French countryside with two young girls bicycling. However, the story quickly manages to chillingly show the darkness, menace, and treachery that could come to anyone in the broad-daylight.  Indeed, no one can be trusted.



Angels With Dirty Faces
James Cagney is at his best here with great support from Pat O'Brien and the Dead End Kids. The story flows so smoothly and it ends in an unforgettable manner - still gives me chills every time I see it.

The Birds
This is Alfred Hitchcock’s mesmerizing tale of seeming Armageddon.


The Bride of Frankenstein
 This film resonates beauty with its flawless art direction, cinematography, lighting, acting, script and musical score as well as the whole inversion of Christian iconography. In effect, the Frankenstein Monster rises from the dead only then to be crucified, etc. See my blog post on this title.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

I love this Thornton Wilder story although each time it has been filmed – the productions are flawed. Latest version in 2004 has its share of problems, but it has the talented Kathy Bates. Enjoyed 1944 version with Nazimova, despite story changes.

 

Brother Orchid
Edward G. Robinson & Humphrey Bogart in this enjoyable spoof of Warner Brothers' gangster films. Here Robinson joins a monastery to hide out and then comes to realize the true meaning of life.

 

Casablanca
Stellar cast, excellent writing, superb score, and the fine visuals captures so much of that anxiety-ridden era of occupied France and Morocco in World War II by wrapping a love story around the issue of isolationism and resistance fighting.

 

Christmas in Connecticut
Superb acting and witty dialogue combine in this farce about how the Christmas spirit and deception don’t blend very well!
  This film best gives us the flavor of 1940’s Christmas - at least the way filmmakers saw America at  the time.  In short, I just love the whole production from start to finish!

Citizen Kane

This Orson Welles’ masterpiece stands the test of time.

 
City Lights

Charlie Chaplin shines with pathos and comedy - perhaps his best of all time…..Unforgettable ending - a must-see film.

City of the Dead
(aka Horror Hotel)

Sinister atmosphere created by some brilliant black & white cinematography, set design and acting make this an unforgettable horror film. See my blog post on this film.

 
Come Back, Little Sheba

Shirley’s Booth’s amazing acting skill is on display here in her first film for which she received a deserved best actress Oscar.


Dark Victory
Bette Davis, George Brent and Geraldine Fitzgerald move this tearjerker to a higher level and make it one of the best films to ever deal with dying.  Max Steiner's score is superb, especially love the "Resignation" theme.

Forbidden Planet
The talents of Leslie Nielsen, Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, and Robby the Robot all make this science fiction film work. It’s an ever-so fascinating and superb story of a vastly superior civilization (“the Krell”) and the reason for their demise.

The Great Dictator

Charles Chaplin's spoof of Hitler stands the test of time!

The House of Haunted Hill

Vincent Price pulled out all the stops with this William Castle entry. 
He seems to be enjoying every second playing the host of this haunted house.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

Some amazing special effects and the last five-minute soliloquy about the meaning of life makes this one a true gem.

It’s A Wonderful Life

This optimistic slice-of-life reminds one the meaningfulness of living despite the many trials and tribulations that it entails.


Larceny Inc.

This is an amazingly funny spoof of Warner Brothers’ gangster films with Edward G. Robinson in top film, along with a host of fine support from Jane Wyman, Broderick Crawford, Jack Carson, Anthony Quinn and Edward Brophy.  

 One of Anthony Quinn's earliest roles was as an escaped convict in the 1940 Warner Brothers' gangster spoof Larceny, Inc. Here a group of ex-cons (Edward G. Robinson, Broderick Crawford & Edward Brophy) purchase a luggage store with the intent to tunnel under the store into the next-door bank. They hit water and oil pipes while business upstairs booms quite annoyingly. They eventually abandon their heist plans at mid-point when they realize their future is best served by staying honest.

But in walks their old pal Leo Dexter (Anthony Quinn), who broke out of jail to set his pals right. Leo forces them to finish the break-in because he needs some dough. Quinn delivers a memorable line: "You guys couldn't steal a towel out of a hotel without my help!"

The actors played it really straight and serious. There’s a very young Jackie Gleason mugging it up as a soda jerk. The film has a wonderful Christmas scene of Robinson outrageously dressed as Santa Claus, smoking a cigar, and being a lookout on Christmas Eve while tunneling continues underneath the bank.

Laura
One of my favorites directed by Otto Preminger has superb cast (including beautiful Gene Tierney and a young Vincent Price before his horror films), compelling story by Vera Caspary, good score by David Raksin, and Academy Award-winning black & white cinematography by Johnny LaShelle. 
 
Little Giant
One of the only two films in which Abbott & Costello play not as a team....need I say more?


The Lost Weekend

Billy Wilder's essay on alcoholism with Ray Milland in top form!  I just love his masterful portrayal of alcoholic writer Don Birnam. Actress Jane Wyman  (1/5/17 - 9/10/07) offered a very good performance as Birnam's girlfriend Helen St. James.  Another excellent film with Milland in it is the 1962 apocalyptic Panic in the Year Zero. It's a quite disturbing but effective film directed by Milland himself.

Make Way for Tomorrow
There's a genuine sincerity that evidences itself in Leo McCarey's films - a result of his improvisational script method which draws the best from his actors. Victor Moore and Beulah Bondi are superb, with an uncompromising finale, in this story that deals with aging so beautifully and truthfully - despite the tears it will release. 

March of the Wooden Soldiers
Laurel & Hardy show up in this take-off of Victor Herbert's operetta "Babes in Toyland."  A film that gets better each passing year. See my blog post on this title.

Mighty Joe Young
The 1949 film Mighty Joe Young would always be a late afternoon movie in New York on Thanksgiving Day. King Kong from 1933 always seemed to get all the attention.  Mighty Joe Young was seen as an unnecessary tale of the gorilla Joe Young using the same creators (director Ernest B. Schoedsack and producer Merian C. Cooper, with the addition of John Ford as executive producer).

However, the more detailed movements of the lovable Mighty Joe Young lend a credibility and sympathy to the character.  This is thanks to Ray Harryhausen's superb stop-motion animation. In some ways this makes the film substantially better than King Kong.

Mildred Pierce
Joan Crawford, Zachary Scott, Jack Carson & Ann Blyth really deliver in this film noir about a dysfunctional family and the American dream! Worth repeatedly viewings!


Mississippi

Though disturbingly replete with plenty of myths related to the Old South that Hollywood liked to perpetuate (the admirable Southern aristocracy, the pretty ladies and the genteel manners, the happy slaves, and so on), it's still a worth watching for its superb score by Rodgers & Hart, beautiful cinematography and a great cast.  See my review.

Modern Times
It's Charlie Chaplin's amusing take on the abuses of technology (and capitalism).....Paulette Goddard is superb. The final scene is unforgettable!


Night and Fog (original French title: Nuit et Brouillard)
This is my only non-fiction entry in this list. This extremely disturbing indictment to ignorance and inhumanity offers brilliant editing, expressive commentary, and chilling music to make it a heartbreaking and horrific film essay.


Now, Voyager
This beautiful and endearing Olive Higgins Proust story brought faithfully to life on the screen...see my blog post on this title.


The Poseidon Adventure
Though this is a later entry out of place with the other titles mentioned here, this disaster film holds interest throughout with great performances. One of the best from the 1970's.   A star-studded cast all brought Paul Gallico's great disaster tale to life - along with Red Buttons, Shelley Winters, Jack Albertson, Carol Lynley, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens, and Leslie Nielsen. Ernest Borgnine. Borgnine offers some good acting, particularly his vivid expressions. He played his part as Detective Mike Rogo to the hilt. There's his memorable closing line, in reference to his adversary, the preacher played by Gene Hackman: "That preacher was right. That beautiful son-of-a-bitch was right!" With rescue from the capsized ship imminent, he looks back, and offers an unforgettable face acknowledging the loss of his wife, Linda (Stevens).  Borgnine received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in the final episode of ER in 2009, in which similarly he played a husband who loses his wife.


The Postman Always Rings Twice
Lana Turner & John Garfield plotting murder leads to the inevitable payback in this exciting well-done film noir!


Rashomon
Japanese director  Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece on the subjectivity of truth!


Spellbound
 Hitchcock's take on psychoanalysis...For more on this title, see my blog post on it.

Star Spangled Rhythm

Great vignettes of Paramount Studios talents at their best during World War II!


Swing Time
The Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers classic is the best romance of all time. Astaire singing "The Way You Look Tonight" is unforgettable!
 
The Tingler
Another of the entertaining Vincent Price and William Castle collaborations that holds up extremely well!


The Time of Their Lives
The only other Abbott & Costello film with them not playing as a team - this ghost story is a period piece set during the American Revolution...

Tokyo Story
This is a true masterpiece from my favorite Japanese director, Yasujiro Ozu.  The family story may seem primitive and unimportant, but it offers a poignancy that says much about life itself.


The Treasure of the Sierra Madre
Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston & Tim Holt in this John Huston-directed tale of greed is unsurpassed!

The Trouble With Angels
Just watching Rosalind Russell superbly playing a nun is enough - but add in the comedy hi-jinks of June Harding and Hayley Mills - and you have a really fun film!

 
Vertigo
Alfred Hitchcock's best film has a dreamlike mystique to it....could write a book about this one.

 
Way Out West
Laurel & Hardy at their best in the Old West!

 
White Heat
James Cagney plays a despicable character reaching for the top of the world! There's many moments of mention, especially unforgettable is the finale!

 
The Wistful Widow of Wagon Gap
Abbott & Costello in the Old West - a funny concept. God help us!

 
Wuthering Heights
Laurence Olivier & Merle Oberon under the direction of William Wyler bring tears home by the finale in this masterpiece!



TO BE CONTINUED...


*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!
 
JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010


Thursday, July 3, 2014

On The Fourth of July...

******HAPPY FOURTH OF JULY******
**********************************
HOPE YOU HAVE A GRAND DAY!!!
************************************

*****

James Cagney Takes Center Stage Fourth of July

Once again I will be enjoying a couple of those flag-waving gems.  First, there's the perfectly cast James Cagney as George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy. You don't want to skip this must-see Fourth of July film!

Jimmy Cagney (July 17, 1899 - March 30, 1986.) stands in a class all by himself. He has given us so many great and memorable films, including my favorites; Angels With Dirty Faces, Yankee Doodle Dandy, City for Conquest, White Heat, and Man of a Thousand Faces.

I remember my father's excitement when they would run marathon evenings of Cagney's films on New York local broadcast television. Those days are long gone now...


Angels With Dirty Faces exhibits Cagney at his best with fine support from Pat O'Brien and The Dead End Kids. The story flows so smoothly and it ends in an unforgettable manner - still gives me chills every time I see it. If I had time to watch only one Cagney film I'd choose this brilliant classic! 

Even more entertaining classic for the holiday is the 1942 film Star Spangled Rhythm.  I particularly enjoy Bing Crosby's salute to the American flag in the rousing "Old Glory" finale.

There's also beautiful Dona Drake in the suggestive "Swing Shift" number. Then there's the enchanting "A Sweater, A Sarong and A Peek-A-Boo Bang" number with Dorothy Lamour, Paulette Goddard and Veronica Lake. Wow!!!  Particularly amusing is Sterling Holloway in drag spoofing Veronica Lake.

I almost forgot to mention "That Old Black Magic" with Vera Zorina dancing and Johnny Johnston singing (the latter starred with Shirley in the Broadway musical A Tree Grows in Brooklyn).

The very entertaining Star Spangled Rhythm has every star associated with Paramount Studios...it's unbelievable! There's a good energy about this production. They certainly don't make movies like this anymore! But I must say that even though I enjoy watching the Hollywood stars perform the songs and skits of this era, I certainly would not want to go back to that time (December of 1942) when the horrendous World War II was raging!!! They really weren't the good old days as people like to remember them...


*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago
Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010



Wednesday, June 4, 2014

On Celebrated Actress & Humanitarian Rosalind Russell Shined In THE TROUBLE WITH ANGELS!

ANNIVERSARY TODAY:
Celebrated actress Rosalind Russell was born today.

(June 4, 1907 – November 28, 1976).

*****

I just loved Rosalind in so many films, especially her best known film Auntie Mame, but my favorite has to be (and this may be surprising to some readers - but hold your breath) - it's when she played Reverend Mother in The Trouble With Angels (1966), and Where Angels Go Trouble Follows (1968).

I remember watching this film many times (first in the theatre as a youngster), and I wondered about the picturesque castle settings. I learned that the exteriors were shot in Ambler, Pennsylvania at what is St. Mary's Villa, a home for troubled children... It was once known as Lindenwold Castle www.dupontcastle.com/castles/lindenwo.htm  and was built by the executive of the company (Dr. Mattison) known for manufacturing asbestos (Keasbey and Mattison Company). This amazing picturesque setting overlooked his company factory. 

The story of The Trouble With Angels is adapted from the book by Jane Trahey called Life with Mother Superior. Trahey based her book on the real-life experiences she had while attending a Catholic school in the 1930's. It's a fun story about the chaos that occurs when teenage girls and nuns mix. There's obviously minor changes, though I think the film improves on the original story. The book tells the story from Jane's point of view (in the film this is the character played by June Harding - namely, Rachel Devery).

Rosalind Russell superbly mastered the part of Reverend Mother. I just love her way of making it so believable and genuine by her look and voice. Her knowing glances, her compassion, her frustration are all so real and palpable. This is a testament to her great acting skill. Russell exhibits all the traits and emotions that go with the Catholic nuns of memory. She can be firm and bossy, but have a heart of gold and emotional vulnerability. 

Almost everyone in the supporting cast does a good job with the understandable limitations imposed by the stock parts, particularly Marge Redmond as Sister Liguori (Reverend Mother's assistant and confidante), Mary Wickes as Sister Clarissa, Camilla Sparv as Sister Constance, and so on. Gypsy Rose Lee even makes an appearance here, playing dance instructor Mrs. Mabel Dowling Phipps. 

Although the film has been criticized as episodic, this is apparently done purposefully, as in the original story. That is, both Reverend Mother and the misbehaving adolescents Mary Clancy (Hayley Mills) and Rachel Devery (June Harding's first film) must come to terms. There's some real growing up to do in this coming-of-age story, so various showdowns allow a maturing and a true understanding to be achieved by all three characters. 

The episodes of misbehavior all have a basic repetitive pattern of wrongdoing, getting caught, and suffering the consequences. Thanks to both Mills and Harding for giving it their all to make the story work - but I think Russell must be given most of the credit as far as making the story most believable. 

In the story Mary wants attention and acceptance. She apparently admires Reverend Mother's strength and kindness. Oftentimes Mary's means of getting what she wants is by acting out "a most scathingly brilliant idea." Reverend Mother likewise sees the strong-willed characteristics of herself in Mary, and so acknowledges how the Church was tolerant of her own such temperament. Both Mary and Reverend Mother are inextricably linked and drawn to each other. It's seeing how it's worked out that makes this film most interesting. 

There's a few very brief, though beautiful, reflective moments in The Trouble With Angels wherein the action slows or almost pauses. Reverend Mother and Mary look at each other with a sense that they want to influence and be in the other's thoughts. Those such moments make nice scene transitions. In the hands of another director, perhaps a male director, those moments would have been replaced with dialogue and/or more action. The film benefits most from these wonderful pauses wisely incorporated by the television screenwriter Blanche Hanalis (famed for developing the TV series Little House on the Prairie). The superb screenplay is under the fitting direction of Ida Lupino. 

The Trouble With Angels offers some laughs as well as serious moments. The comedy is quite light but amusing nonetheless. One memorable scene is when Sister Rose Marie (Dolores Sutton) is put in charge of taking the girls to do some undergarment shopping, she's distressed. It's funny because she's uncomfortable naming the item she will be buying. She says to Reverend Mother. "I have no experience with binders." Reverend Mother unabashedly responds by saying: "It's brassieres Sister, brassieres!" The scene in the store continues the hilarity. There are other such moments sprinkled throughout the film. 

The somber moments include when one of the dear nuns dies, and with a crying senior citizen at a Christmas party. 

I give much credit to Ida Lupino for even pursuing a career as a director in a very sexist Hollywood field of endeavour, especially back in the 1940's to 1960's. The industry (including critics) would find any reason to degrade a "woman director." I think if a man directed this film, the critics would probably call it "brilliant." But Lupino suffered the secondary status accorded her as a result of working in a male-dominated film industry. In just trying to be a good director I think she did make strides. 

The story material allowed Lupino to work the original story, injecting a favorable women's point of view. The men are highly insignificant and given a somewhat limited influence as far as the narrative goes - they are mostly "the Outsiders" in the story and credits.

Of course, I will not spoil the ending here, but I will say that it's not so surprising, as it is strangely satisfying. Overall, the production (from opening cartoon credits to the finale) is quite admirable and worthwhile viewing, including Jerry Goldsmith's playful score. Certainly it can be faulted - but if anything, Rosalind Russell definitely shines. She is quite convincing and likable as a nun. I would suggest that The Trouble With Angels is a good movie to watch on a rainy afternoon. 

From her autobiography .....Life is a Banquet (by Rosalind Russell & Chris Chase, Random House, 1977), Russell observed: Hayley Mills "...was a demon. She used to stick out her tongue whenever I passed (she couldn't stand me) and she was bursting at the seams with repressed sexuality." I would love to hear what Hayley has to say about that comment... 

I came across the video of Frank Sinatra announcing Rosalind Russell when she received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1972 at the Oscars. Russell got involved in this work early on in her career. She did so much...there's her work with the Jewish Home for the Aged, she founded the League for Crippled Children for the Orthopedic Hospital in Los Angeles, fund raised for her friend Sister Kenny, chaired the Lighthouse for the Blind, got involved with the National Arthritis Foundation, Catholic Charities in New York, Children's Services in Connecticut, Tornado Victims in Kansas, Motion Picture & Television Relief Fund, and was one of the founders of USO in Los Angeles, and so on... 

But I believe her acceptance speech tells you much about the humility of Rosalind Russell...it's worth repeating: 

Russell said: "Someone out there would think I was kind of special...far from it....You know the people of this nation have a golden tradition of taking care of each other, and across America right now, there are men & women, countless numbers of them - young and old - who are giving of themselves to hospitals, to orphanages, to drug clinics, to youth, and even possibly watching a little child take her first steps after being crippled as I have watched." 

Russell continued: "So the only unique thing about me tonight is that I am here with this, knowing that it belongs to so many others. I would also like to tell you that I have been the victim of this kindness, and want to thank each and every one of them, and all the letters that were sent to me over the years for all they did for me when I was not quite well. Thank you very much!"

*****

June Harding, one of the rebellious teens in The Trouble with Angels, lives in Maine and has created some beautiful paintings. I printed her note as one of the comments below.



*****

THANKS FOR VISITING!

JOIN ME AGAIN SOON!

*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro

Published December 1, 2010



Thursday, May 8, 2014

On A Wish That Could Never Come True...

One of my favorite episodes of the 1952 Abbott & Costello Show is "Lou's Birthday Party." At the conclusion of the episode, Lou receives a surprise from Mr. Bacciagalupe (superbly played by Lou's brother-in-law Joe Kirk) when he says the line: "Get Me Some Coffee, I'll Eat It HERE!"

The great Lou Costello, one of my favorites, who ranks up there with Charles Chaplin died on March 3, 1959, just three days short of his 53rd birthday.  Many of his films still hold up quite well.

At 54 years old, my cousin shared one thing with Lou Costello in that he also met an early demise.  My readers will know that I dedicated my first book (Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story) to my cousin, Joseph Nizzari. 

I always will cherish that one afternoon when he visited while that particular episode was on Channel 11. He explained to me what Mr. Bacciagalupe was saying with his fractured Italian.  Joseph had learned some Italian from his father.

Joseph loved watching and recreating routines of Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy and all the other great comedians.

One time he drove me to an all-day Harold Lloyd film festival that was held at The New School in New York City back in the 1980's.  Best of all, he gave up his entire day and stayed with me so that we he could enjoy every bit of the festival as well!

One wish I have that I know can never come true, but I wish anyway, is that my cousin was still here to enjoy Abbott & Costello with me... 


*****

I share with you the importance that he has meant to me by reprinting what I said about him in my book's introduction....

Shirley Booth once said, "I feel sorry for people that don’t have the pleasure of acting because I think it’s a great release." I experienced that pleasure whenever my cousin Joseph Nizzari would visit my family in Richmond Hill, New York. He encouraged and indulged my interest in acting and cinematography by recreating Abbott & Costello routines, gangster movie skits, and so forth. I wish he could have lived to see this book in print. With much sadness, I dedicate this book in memory of him.

from Love is the Reason for it All: The Shirley Booth Story, by Jim Manago
BearManor Media, 2008.

Though I know this will always be a very sad week for many members in my family, I feel it best to remember all the fun that my cousin offered to all who had the privilege of his friendship. My cousin had a fantastic humor and a knack for making you feel good. Yes, he had many talents; among them his wonderful skill as a baker. But more than any one achievement he managed to help others find enjoyment in the moment - despite the daily slings and arrows that life has a way of delivering us all. 

 
Unfortunately, I lost touch with him for a number of years. But sadder still is to know that the last few years of his short life were obviously harrowing and painful for him and for anyone that watched him battle cancer.

Yes, I will always miss his selflessness - so few people I have met in my entire life have been so sacrificial as he was. I will always remember his love for his family, for his good kindly nature, and for so much happiness that he brought to all our lives!


*****


Joseph Nizzari
(May 3, 1953 - February 2, 2008)

*****

For Bill, His Pinup Girl: The Shirley Booth & Bill Baker Story
by Jim Manago

Foreword by Leslie Sodaro