Classic Links

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RIP Mike Nichols. That way he had of combining sexy/smart/funny was unique, and maybe influential, but very difficult to emulate. Check out his life in pictures.

TCM played Miracle on 34th Street (1947) in front of Macy's in New York City seven times yesterday. Robert Obsborne even popped up in the evening to introduce a showing. Watching this video of his appearance makes me feel a lot better about not being there to see it in person!--
Cinematically Insane


And since you can never get enough of Robert Osborne, here's a lovely profile from the New York Times.

Molly Haskell having a conversation with Farran Smith Nehme about the latter's new novel. What a perfect combo--Criterion Collection

You can never know too much about Rod Taylor--TCM/Movie Morlocks

Leonard Maltin talks Smell-O-Vision--Movie Crazy

I'm excited that there will finally be a biopic about Paul Robeson, especially because it will be directed by Steve McQueen. He seems to put so much care into his work--/Film

And another upcoming biopic: Laurel and Hardy, helmed by Filth director Jon S Baird--The Guardian 

I love this GIF gallery of ten favorite femme fatales. So much evil glamour--Nitrate Diva

Birthdays

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Eleanor Powell (1912-1982)
Ralph Meeker (1920-1988)
Corinne Griffith (1894-1979)

Birthdays

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Gene Tierney (1920-1991)
Phyllis Thaxter (1921-2012)
Evelyn Keyes (1916-2008)

New From Warner Archive: 8-year-old Robert Blake in Mokey (1942)


Robert Blake is one of those actors who has experienced so much drama in real life, that it tends to cast a shadow on his film and television work. We know too much about the real man to separate him from the roles he plays. I suppose that's why I had an uneasy feeling watching him play Mokey, a boy who means well, but keeps causing problems for the adults around him. The film is one of three new releases from Warner Archive, along with Revolt in the Big House (1958) and Corky (1972), which explore Blake's early roles.

Mokey began as a series of magazine stories, which were eventually compiled into a book in 1935. They are apparently based on a real boy who had a good heart, but very poor decision making skills.

In the film, Blake is a young boy struggling with his dead mother's absence. He is essentially being raised by the family maid, played by Etta McDaniel, sister of Hattie McDaniel. His father (Dan Dailey) is always on the road for work, and while he loves his son, he clearly does not understand him, or really how to be a parent at all.

One day he brings home a new wife (Donna Reed), who is agreeable, but young and inexperienced as both a homemaker and mother. Contrary to most movies where a child is presented with a new step parent, Mokey is delighted to welcome his new mother and gives her a warm welcome. The problem is that he keeps causing her trouble and she cannot see how desperately he wants to please her.

The two embark on an uneasy relationship, with Mokey even finding himself on a year of probation for his mischief. In over her head, Reed reacts with anger and shame over the reputation she and her stepson are getting among the townspeople.
Mokey (Blake) driving on his Father's (Dailey) lap. Ah 1942.

It doesn't help that Dailey is never around, though clearly often enough, as he and Reed soon have a new baby daughter. When Mokey unintentionally endangers the girl, his stepmother slaps him and asks that he be sent away. This after calling him a dummy several times and basically being impatient and inattentive to the boy on a regular basis. It's a hideously unsympathetic role, but you do feel some of Reed's pain.

Unusually for a film of the time, the black characters come off much better than the white. There's the usual uncomfortable sprinkling of dialect, but Mokey's maid and his African American pals are the most loyal, loving and happy people in the film. They even take the boy in when he runs away from home. It's particularly nice to see Blake's Our Gang costar Billie "Buckwheat" Thomas in a more substantial role.

Overall, I found this to be an uncomfortable film to watch. I wanted so much for Mokey to be given a break, and the way he was abandoned and dismissed by the adults around him was frustrating. Those elements had a rougher edge than in a typical flick of the era with a misunderstood kid plot. It didn't ever feel like the poor kid was truly loved. Even when he ran away from home, his father seemed more inconvenienced than concerned.

I played the film for family movie night, and while it wasn't a hit, my girls did enjoy Blake. He is the best part of the film, a natural, appealing actor and so darn cute with his big, round eyes and sweet demeanor. While I can't quite recommend the film, I did enjoy watching him and the way he interacted with his friends.

As far as whether this film is appropriate for children, it depends on how much you want or need to explain. It is very much of its time, with many now taboo elements such as blackface and spankings, and a very different view of parenting. My kids have seen many older films and have some understanding of these things. Young ones who are not as familiar with the classics may need more guidance.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

Birthdays

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Clifton Webb (1899-1966)
Nancy Carroll (1903-1965)
Anton Walbrook (1896-1967)
Ned Sparks (1883-1957)

Birthdays

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Jocelyn Brando (1919-2005)
Pedro Infante (1917-1957)

New from Warner Archive: Albert Finney Goes Psycho in Night Must Fall (1964)


Coming as it did after Albert Finney's lively turn in Tom Jones (1963), it's not shocking that the actor's darker role in the bleak Night Must Fall (1964) did not make a big splash upon its original release. In fact, the contrast must have been quite startling for audiences. Finney was a bit too good at demonstrating his versatility, but as can been seen on a new DVD release from Warner Archive, this is not a film to be dismissed.

The psychological thriller, about a murderous psychopath who descends upon a country estate, began life in 1935 as a stage play by Emlyn Williams. It was then filmed twice by MGM, first with Robert Montgomery in 1937, which reflects its stage roots much more than the 1964 Brit version.

Finney is Danny, a Welsh bellboy with overpowering charisma who in various ways seduces three women living in a magnificent home. When he enters the scene, he has already impregnated the maid (Sheila Hancock), and will not commit to marrying her. He quickly charms the wealthy widow (Mona Washbourne) who owns the house and she insists on hiring him as her companion. Though her niece Olivia (Susan Hampshire) is more skeptical of the man frolicking in the yard with her aunt, he eventually wins her over as well.

Each of the women notices that there is something off about Danny, though Olivia is the only one to be deeply disturbed at first. The others attempt to ignore what frightens them about him, too enamored of his flirtation to reject him. His rude, aggressive behavior is often misinterpreted as charm, but he has a manic energy that threatens to run him off the rails. There's always the feeling that he'll explode and rip someone's head off.

The audience fears this because in the first scene he actually is enthusiastically chopping a woman's head off. We're spared the sight of that, but as he trots through a grassy field carrying a headless corpse, there's no mystery as to what happened.

Perhaps the thing that was most repulsive to audiences who saw this horrifying opening after Tom Jones is that Finney bounces around with an enthusiasm similar to that character, but with all the warmth drained away. It was as if Jones had turned on them, all his happy wrinkles pressed into cold, emotionless flesh.

Finney has Danny speak like a deranged ventriloquist's dummy, using his familiar staccato delivery to horrifying effect. He seems possessed, and the scary thing about it is that just about everyone around him thinks it's hilarious. The performance is over-the-top, and the music has an unfortunate way of needlessly punctuating Finney's flailing with sensational blasts of sound, but in a film that can drag in spots, sometimes that punch of energy is welcome.

The cast is good, but definitely stuck in the backseat. Washbourne is especially adept at tapping into the widow's vulnerability, but Finney is what makes this film remarkable. His take on the character is not quite as finely tuned as Robert Montgomery's in the more sedate 1937 version, but it is very much of its time and for that reason entirely appropriate.

The Warner disc shows off the strangely dreamy photography to great effect and the production is smoothly executed by Finney's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960) director Karel Reisz. This film deserves a wide audience. If it had been released at a different time, it might have even been a minor classic.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. This is a Manufacture on Demand (MOD) DVD. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.


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