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Canadian Pacific (1949)
Randy finds a rail pass through the Rockies, then helps defeat anti-rail building interests, while robbing the cradle.
It must have seemed a bit of deja vu for Randolph Scott, in starring in this yarn about some major problems encountered on the western prairies and in the Rockies, in building the Canadian transcontinental railway(CPR). A decade earlier, he had costarred with Shirley Temple, in "Suzanna of the Mounties". He played a Mountie, in a screenplay that featured problems surrounding the building of the CPR across the western prairies, including hostilities with the Blackfoot. The present film deals with the same basic historical subject, including Native American hostilities, but focuses much more on the rail-building aspect, and is a longer film. Thus, this film much more reminds us of the earlier de Mille-produced "Union Pacific" : another flag-waving epic, centered around obstacles, real and imagined, in the earlier building of a US transcontinental railway. The aspect of trapper-trader Rourke trying to sabotage rail constructions reminds us of the de Mille film "Unconquered", released a few years earlier. Yet another de Mille film: "Northwest Mounted Police" also shows some similarities to the plot. The dramatized resistance of the mixed race frontiersmen Metis, as well as the Native Americans , to the building of the railway, may also be interpreted as an unhistoric reason for the approximately contemporary and disjointed uprising of the Metis, Cree, and Assiniboine in Saskatchewan against the Canadian government, in which the nearly completed railway played an important role in quickly transporting troops to quell the uprisings.
Randy plays Tom Andrews, who, in the first portion of the film, finds the pass through the Rockies that will be used by the railway. He is shown alone, scrambling over dangerously slippery steep rocky riversides. The historic Rogers, who was given this assignment, certainly was no lone wolf in this endeavor. In the screenplay, this makes him more vulnerable to being shot by Rourke and Cagle, who are leading the anti-railroad verbal and physical campaign in this region. Before this, we are treated to a brief debate in the Canadian parliament about the practicalities and urgency of building such a railway. The historical person of Cornelius Van Horne, as head of this enterprise, is included. We will meet him again periodically at the railhead. His finishing rallying cry is "If Hannibal crossed the Alps, we can cross the Rockies".
After finishing his job of finding the pass, Tom declines Van Horne's expectation to continue on as troubleshooter, something he is renowned for in past rail-building projects. Tom goes to see his young French-derived Metis girlfriend, who is greatly impressed with his qualities, giving a warm reception. But when he later changes his mind, and goes back to the unsettled and dangerous job of rail building troubleshooter, she says their relationship is finished. Rourke is also interested in her, providing a second reason to want to be rid of Tom. For most of the rest of the film, Tom deals with various chronic problems that threaten to end completion of the track. The Metis, some of whom are working in building the track, continue sabotage operations, including blowing up track with dynamite stolen from the worker camp(actually unnecessary in this prairie section!), and payroll delays. Rourke finally convinces the Native Americans(who look real) to join in the fight against the railway. This causes Cecille to change sides again, running to the worker camp to warn of a planned 'Indian'-Metis attack.
Meanwhile, Tom has developed a relationship with another woman: Dr. Edith Cabot(Jane Wyatt). She is also a pacifist, who advocates trying to solve personal and political problems by diplomacy, rather than by Tom's shooting and knock them down style of dealing with troublemakers. Tom is overly impressed by Edith's saving of his like with a personal blood transfusion, after he is nearly killed in a dynamite explosion. This sparks a romance during the winter layoff. Come spring, he agrees to try her diplomacy method of dealing with troublemakers. But, is not working. So, he puts his guns back on to back up his demands, to her displeasure. We get the impression that their romance is finished. In the finale, we have a standard happy ending: the workers get paid, Rourke and Cagle are dead, the Native Americans apologize for their brief hostility, sabotage stops, and Tom feels he can finally retire from his dangerous job. He just has to decide whether to accompany the middle-aged Edith on a train east, or start a settled life with his vivacious 'barefoot' Metis girl.
It's not a bad screenplay, for interest. However, the cheap Cinecolor filming has some obvious drawbacks, As usual, Randy makes a charismatic, likable, hero, who should have died in that dynamite explosion. Wyatt's Edith is basically a cold fish, behind her doctoring. Cecille(Nancy Olson) makes a winsome passionate 'native' girl for Scott's character, their very different cultural backgrounds providing some tension in their relationship. However, they look more like a romantic father-daughter pair, with Scott 50, and Nancy only 21. I'm surprised the strict censorship board didn't nix such relationships....J. Carrol Naish often served as Scott's colorful sidekick.. Partly filmed on an 'Indian' reservation near Banff.
China Sky (1945)
Japanese bombers and paratroopers harass Chinese village and American hospital.
Filmed as WWII in the Pacific was coming to a conclusion, this adaptation of the Pearl buck novel of the same name deals with the Japanese invasion of China some years before WWII began. The reviews here thus far have been pretty negative, sometimes scathing. My review will be more positive.
I haven't read the novel. However, I did consult a summary. The film follows the novel in most respects , until the last part, when the Japanese paratrooper invasion is added, and the ending is changed to more conform to the expectations of a morality play. Buck's traitorous Chinese Dr. Chung is transformed into the traitorous Korean-Japanese Dr. Kim, apparently for political reasons. His equally traitorous brother is deleted, as is Ya-ching: a nurse having an affair with Dr. Chung, while he is courting the more desirable intern Siu-mei, as dramatized. Siu-mei's father, who doesn't like Dr. Chung, and approves her infatuation with guerrilla leader Chen-ta, is also deleted. The Englishman in a nearby town, who develops an affair with Louise: the bored socialite wife of missionary Dr. Thompson, is also deleted. Thus, the several romantic triangles in the film are actually more complicated in the novel, with deleted characters also involved.
The screenplay takes place exclusively in and around a fictional Chinese village, in a region with many caves, which come in handy as safe havens when bombs are dropped on the village(a frequent occurrence). They also serve as hideouts of the local guerrilla forces, and for making and storing their munitions and other necessities.
Dr. Gray Thompson(Scott), from a wealthy family, chose to spearhead the building of a mission hospital in this village, which the Japanese consider rather important, but their ground troops haven't yet reached it. However, he's back in the US, securing additional funding and equipment. Meanwhile, American doctor Sara Durand is in charge of the hospital, with supposedly full Korean Dr. Kim in charge of the men's section. Kim is disgruntled that he is under the authority of a woman: something unheard of in Korea. Sara clearly is upset when she receives a telegram that Gray will arrive, with his(new ) wife, Louise . It doesn't take Louise long to imagine that Sara was hoping to eventually become Gray's wife, although gray had shown no signs of thinking of her in a romantic way. Louise becomes increasingly paranoid about a denied romantic relationship between the 2, as they spend most of their waking hours in the hospital. Also, she much fears (with good reason) the frequent bombings, and feels no connection with the Chinese or her surroundings. Gray tries to reassure her of his love, and balks at her demand to quit this life and return to the US.
Meanwhile, Dr. Kim feels alienated by the evidence that his girlfriend , intern Siu-mei, actually more likes guerilla chief Chen-ta. Thus, he finally gives in to the requests of captured hospitalized Japanese Colonel Yasuda that he make him seem more sick than he is, to delay a public trial as a war criminal, and to arrange for a telegram to be sent to the Japanese military. Louise unknowingly becomes involved in this plot when Kim claims he can arrange for a plane to take her and Gray safely out of China. Kim thinks Yasuda's idea is that he will also be on this plane., But actually, the coded telegram that Yasuda has written asks for a paratrooper drop. After house boy 'Little Goat' reveals what he has seen, Gray gets very suspicious of some dealing between Kim and Yasuda, and confronts them. Yasuda pulls out a stolen pistol and shoots at them, killing Kim, escaping to meet the paratroopers. Gray quickly organizes a village defense against the Japs, and Chen Ta rallies his cavalry to ride to the village. A battle ensures, with the Japanese presumably eventually being vanquished, although this is not shown. During the battle, Louise, in the hospital, becomes hysterical, partly from her indirect role in summoning the paratroopers. She rushes outside, into the line of fire, presumably trying to reach Gray, and is shot dead by the Japs, thus ending Gray's romantic dilemma. Siu-Mei's romantic dilemma is also solved by Kim's death.(In the novel, Louise returns to the U.S. without Gray.
Most reviewers here decry the casting of Mexican Anthony Quinn as Chen-Ta, as an intolerable phoniness. Well, in his career, Quinn was cast as many types of ethnics, including a Berber chieftain, and even the Prophet Muhammad. But, he always looked basically Mexican. At least, he was made up to look more oriental than was Peter Lorre, in "They Met in Bombay", and later in "Around the World in 80 Days". Caucasian Carol Thurston, who also commonly was cast as various ethnics, was acceptably made up to look Chinese. Young Ducky Louie, as houseboy 'Little Goat', provided some reprieve from the tense drama, with his charm and rapport with Scott. I thought Scott, Ruth Warwick, as Sarah, and Ellen Drew, as Louise, played their roles well. Richard Loo overdoes his characterization of a despicable Japanese, but consider the mindset of most Americans and Chinese at this time.
Some complain there's not enough action. How many times do you want the Japs to bomb his village? What about the battle near the end, not to mention the frequent battles between the main characters before. With a little more care in the screenplay and production, this could have been a first rate drama, with an exotic setting, to add interest.
Rhythm on the Range (1936)
Enjoyable musical "It Happened One Night", with Bob Burns and Martha Raye playing a second spurious romantic couple.
Comes across as a musical screwball comedy follow up on the wildly popular "It Happened One Night", of two years earlier. To me, if not everyone, it's as least as interesting. Bing Crosby is the star, posing as a cowhand on an Arizona ranch, whose boss, Penelope, played by the forceful Lucile Gleason, has brought her top cowhands to Madison Square Garden, to compete in a rodeo. Bing(as Jeff) is her best hope(actually, Bing's stunt doubles). Stout rustic comedian Bob Burns(Buck) is Bing's best buddy, but seems totally out of his tree as a rodeo contestant. Serendipitously, Penelope's niece, Doris(Francis Farmer) is participating in the rehearsal for her next day wedding. It's essentially a marriage arranged by her very wealthy father(played by Sam Hinds) to a Wall Street executive, designed to further increase the wealth of the family. The previously married groom didn't bother to show up for the rehearsal, and Penelope discovers that Doris isn't very excited about her perspective husband. Thus, while watching the rodeo, Penelope suggests to her brother that they cancel the wedding and allow Doris to spend some time on her ranch to acquire some earthy character. He doesn't agree, but Doris likes the idea and runs off to the train station to hide in one of the ranch box cars. Bing herds his prize bull Cuddles into this boxcar, then later discovers Doris asleep under some hay. He's not pleased at her presence, and orders her off at the next stop, unaware of who she is. But, it's pouring rain and the station is 10 miles away, so he allows her back in for the next stop. While Bing leaves for a short while, Cuddles chases Doris out of the car into a meadow, and Bing has to rescue her. Meanwhile, the train leaves, and they split ways temporarily. But Doris soon steals a car with wagon attached, and finally convinces an objecting Bing to join her, with Cuddles in the wagon. They camp in a woods that night, and get a little better acquainted. The next night, they try to spend the night in a random barn, but they are locked in by the 3 hobos trailing them, hoping to collect a reward for the safe return of Doris. Cuddles gets mad and knocks the door down, after the 3 conveniently leave for the night They continue on until their car gets stuck during a violent nighttime rainstorm. Bing discovers that they are in front of his ranch house, he shares with Buck! Inside, he finds Buck, with a woman(Martha Raye, as Emma) he met on the train, who is also headed for Penelope's ranch, where her brother works. They travel on to Penelope's ranch, with talk of possible marriages beginning to surface, further developed at the ranch. Meanwhile, the 3 hobos have somehow managed to stay on their trail, not knowing that Doris's father will soon arrive at the ranch with Penelope. During a ranch party, they empty the gas tanks of all vehicles except their chosen get away car. Penelope accuses Bing of being a gold digger, so he rides his horse to his ranch, upset. Doris bribes the 3 hobos to take her in 'their' car after Bing. At his ranch, after a hesitant moment, Cuddles pushes Bing into Doris, and they kiss to end the film(Something you might expect in a John Wayne western!).
Currently, there are only 8 IMDb user reviews for this film, vs. more than 200 for "It Happened One Night"! Why? I can't offer a full explanation. Although Frances was well cast as a sheltered NYC debutante, she lacked the charm and cute face of Claudette Colbert, who took her role in the earlier film. Bing lacked the masculine sex appeal of Gable, and his romantic conversion was much more tenuous, even at the end. Their supposed journey from NYC to AZ is way too truncated to be believable, among many unbelievable coincidences in the plot. How did the hobos manage to keep up with them, with no apparent means of transport away from the box car?
Long time vaudevillian and sometimes band singer Martha Raye is in her feature film debut, where she demonstrates both talents. We first meet her at a train station, where she runs up and kisses Burns as a supposed lost lover. She would often portray herself as homely and clumsy, thus necessitating aggressiveness in man pursuit. Drunk scenes were another favorite of hers, as all too graphically demonstrated in her embarrassing last scene, when she is falling down drunk, trying to flirt with Doris's gray-haired father! In between these scenes, she livens things up with her frequent hysterical antics, in marked contrast to her laconic costars. She would rise quickly to star billing for a few films, then fade from films during and after WWII.....Bob Burns somewhat reminds us of Will Rogers, with his down home comments and humor. Only in the '30s could he get away with making a name with his very crude, very limited utility, musical instrument, dubbed the bazooka.
In the music department, Bing wins the rodeo singing contest with "Empty Saddles", then sings the traditional"Roundup Lullaby" in the box car, to hopefully calm Cuddles and Doris. Around the camp fire, he sings the appropriate "I Can't Escape From You". At the ranch party, all participate in Johnny Mercer's "I'm an Old Cowhand", and Martha does her signature "Mr. Paganini" song and dance with great idiosyncratic gusto. In all, a much better musical program than usually given credit for, with several composed for this film. Ella Fitzgerald also recorded "Mr. Paganini" that year.
Clearly, some of the outdoors scenes were shot in the unique Alabama Hills region, with the Sierras in the background, as seen in many a western.
Easy to Wed (1946)
Entertaining musical romance Technicolor remake of classic '30s nonmusical screwball romantic comedy: Libeled Lady.
Unlike many reviewers, I haven't seen the '36 "Libeled Lady", except for a preview, to which the present film is commonly unfavorably compared. Movie studios of the late '40s and '50s chose to redo some popular films of the late '20s and '30s, usually in color, contrasting with the B&W of the original, sometimes converting a pure comedy or drama into a musical, or completely redoing the music, and often making substantial alterations of the screenplay. In the present case, apparently, relatively few alterations of the screenplay were made. However, duck shooting, rather than fishing, is scripted as the hobby of the debutante's father, and thus the skill that Bill Chandler(Van Johnson) feels he must pretend he knows about and quickly learn the basics about, in order to facilitate getting his foot in the door of presenting himself as a desirable romantic partner for his debutante daughter(Esther Williams). I won't bother reviewing the screenplay in much detail, as this has been done enough. I will note that, with the exception of the Lucy-Jean Harlow comparison, the main character actors in this film are all approximately 5 years younger than their counterparts in the '36 film, and thus they seem like a younger bunch, more appropriately single. Even Lucy seems younger than Jean, although she was considerably older.
Van and Esther were very popular, separately or together, with film audiences during the mid-'40s to mid-'50s period. Van had the vaudevillian skills of light comedy, song and dance, as well as being suitable for serious roles, such as in "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo". Esther came across as an ideal 'all-American' girl, most famous for her water ballets, but also with decent talent as an actress, sometimes singing a song or two. Too often, she was portrayed by others as being a poor actress, only of interest to audiences in swimming pools. Here, her performance is commonly very unfavorably compared to that of her costar: Lucille Ball, and predecessor, Myna Loy. Well, Lucy, long time costar of mostly 'B' films , for various studies, was rightly cast as a dizzy showgirl, who is swept up into the complicated romantic plot of a temporary shotgun marriage-of-convenience to a man she initially labels as a baboon or ape(hardly an apt description of handsome, mild-mannered, blond, Van!). She gets to lead a chorus in the stage song and dance number "The Continental Polka", which serves as Van's chance to initially evaluate her, as a prospective temporary 'wife', in order to create a scandal when he hopefully attracts the amorous attention of socialite Connie(Esther), in order to induce her father to drop a libel charge against the newspaper his friend Warren(Keenan Wynn) works for. Lucy is given a rare opportunity during her Hollywood period to display repeated scenes of zaniness, rather like those characteristic of Betty Hutton or Martha Raye, for example, and she well succeeds in them. In contrast, Esther's character is supposed to be snobbish man bait, who routinely turns down proposals. Initially, she sees Van as just another wannabe gold digger. But, she's eventually impressed with his persistence, imagination, and winning boyish personality, and lowers her guard. Her humor is more subtle than Lucy's, but appropriate for her character. Van displays his gift for parlor dialogue, comedy(especially relating to duck shooting),and a couple of musical numbers with Esther, as part of a stage production in one case.
Columbian singing sensation, Carlos Ramirez, contracted to MGM during the mid-40s, solos one song, as part of a Mexican floor show, later privately reprised by Esther and Van. Near the end, is an impressive dance production, again with Latin American costumes and music, and including Esther and Van, in a portion. Ethel Smith is also on hand to entertain with her famous jazzy organ music, during the two Latin-themed productions. Both she and Carlos had been included, more prominently, in Esther's first water-themed film: "Bathing Beauty".
I don't understand why Van's character has the parson sign the marriage certificate, instead of the agreed upon detail that he doesn't sign it, thus rendering Van's marriage -of-convenience to Lucy's character not legally binding. Thus, in the ending, when Van's and Esther's characters want to get married, they have to dig up the detail that Lucy's supposed divorce from her previous husband wasn't legal, thus also was her unconsummated marriage to Van's character. But Lucy spoils the apparently happy ending by revealing that she subsequently obtained a legal divorce, not included in the records Van checked, thus apparently invalidating the just legalized marriage of Van's and Esther's characters. Lucy gives quite an impressive speech about her feelings about the matrimonial mess. The film ends with this marriage-go-round still unresolved, unclear whether Lucy's character can be induced to cooperate, even with possible monetary reward, in dissolving her sham marriage to Van's character, and perhaps agreeing to a marriage with Keenan Wynn's character, as the others wish, and was her original intention.
Van had costarred with Esther the previous year in the very popular "Thrill of a Romance", and would later costar with her in "Duchess of Idaho", and "Easy to Love", by which time noted baritone Howard Keel was also a frequent costar. Most of her films we would classify as minor musicals, in which very few of the songs were intended to become standards. Although many of Esther's films included a water ballet or two, in place of dance productions, some, including this one didn't(It had a dance production, instead). However, she does manage an impressive underwater clinch and kiss with Van!
Show Boat (1951)
Splashy remake of Kern's classic play, but with too many unsympathetic characters.
Longtime MGM-contracted actress and singer Kathryn Grayson finally was given a leading man she liked, in Howard Keel, after several films each with headliner singers Mario Lanza and Frank Sinatra, with whom she felt no genuine romantic chemistry. The duo would be reunited for 2 more films, in "Lovely to Look At" : another adaptation of a classic Kern play, and "Kiss Me Kate". "Showboat" and "Lovely to Look At" were remakes of '30s films, this time shot in color. inevitably, some will prefer at least some aspects of the original. This was Keel's third starring role in a musical, the first being "Annie Get your Gun", which is clearly my favorite of the films he starred in, having much more of a comical element. Keel's character: Gaylord, is basically a dandy phony, and thus unlikable: a flashy riverboat gambler with no other apparent skills, who had a lucky streak, and thus is dressed as a leisured gentleman, which, along with his physique and singing skills, enables him to attract and marry the beautiful, but gullible, Magnolia(Kathryn). When his gambling luck runs out, he abandons her, after she claims he's more interested in gambling than in her. They remain separated for some years until he learns that she has a child by him., which induces him to return to the 'showboat', to which she has retreated, with the possibility of resuming a life with her and their daughter. Ava Gardner's character, Julie; initially the star of the boat show, along with her husband(played by Rod Sterling), are forced to leave the show when it is revealed that she is a mulatto, thus can't be married to a full Caucasian in that state(even in 1887). Eventually, her husband abandons her. instead of looking for a replacement, she eventually becomes an alcoholic sometimes nightclub singer in Chicago. Magnolia too doesn't seem to look for a replacement husband to help raise her girl that Gaylord doesn't know about. Eventually Magnolia and Julie meet again when they are competing for the same nightclub singing job. Both appropriately sing "Can't help Loving That Man of Mine".
As in the case of "Lovely to Look At", there are too many coincidences of the main characters parting ways and eventually accidentally rediscovering each other. We are left wondering if Gaylord and Magnolia will reestablish a meaningful relationship, and whether Gaylord will finally get off his lazy gambling butt and do something useful to justify Magnolia's love(I doubt it). The parting scene , which features Julie silently wishing Magnolia and Gaylord well, as they disappear from sight, leaves us depressed about Julie, who seems no further along in getting her private life back on track.
Although Keel is the main male singer of solos and duets, in many minds, African American William Warfield got the plum solo, in "Ole Man River". Beats me why this song is so revered. Sure, it's good, but not that good. I prefer the romantic back and forth upbeat duet "Make Believe", done by Keel and Kathryn. I checked out the '36 film version. Allan Jones was nearly as good as Keel, but Kathryn's spirited rendition clearly was more convincing than Irene Dunn's anemic rendition, and she was easier on the eyes. Incidentally, Kathryn had already sung this song in the Kern biop tribute "Till the Clouds Roll By", a few years earlier. Actually, I prefer that version, with Tony Martin taking Keel's place. Still doe-eyed then, Kathryn looked much more believable as a supposed 18 year old than in this film, when she was nearly 30. I probably would have opted for the 22 y.o. Jane Powell in her place in this film.
Marge and Gower Champion, as characters not present in the original play, serve as the primary featured dancing couple, in their first of several films for MGM in the early '50s. They are featured in 3 energetic vaudeville-styled dances. Nothing exceptional in the origination of the choreography, but their renditions are excellent. They would return the following year, in "Lovely to Look At", for 3 more dances, each more distinctive than those in this film. They would then also participate much more in the screenplay. Here, they seem the perfectly matched stable romantic couple that Magnolia and Julie didn't achieve with their husbands.
Apparently, partly due to dictate from producer Arthur Freed, and partly due to the personalities of the lead actors, humor is kept to a minimum, while romantic melodrama is emphasized. Thus, the tone of the screen play is quite different from the approximately contemporary MGM musicals that Keel starred in: "Anne Get Your Gun" and "Calamity Jane", in which his costars were the bubbly comedic blonds Betty Hutton or Doris Day: quite different from the statuesque flirty-eyed Kathryn or smoldering Ava.
Ava Gardner has never much interested me as an actress or supposed great beauty. The studio balked at casting a real mulatto actress and singer in the role of Julie. Thus, Ava was chosen, although lacking recognized musical talent. In truth, she doesn't come across as a believable mulatto much better than did Esther Williams, as a supposed Polynesian, in Keel's prior musical "Pagan Love Song". In "Till the Cloud's Roll By", her singing roles were done by Virginia O'Brien, looking very much like her, in a similar outfit, and by Lena Horne, who probably should have been given her role in the present film...."Ole Man River" was then sung by both Caleb Peterson(of the '36 film), and again by Sinatra, at the end.
Poor Little Rich Girl (1936)
Shirley's fun primer for "The Wizard of Oz"
Like Dorothy, in the later MGM film version of "The Wizard of Oz", Shirley fortuitously escapes her confined, all too familiar, world, as a lonely spoiled child, with minimal contact with other children, to wander into the lives of several incognito, but interesting, families, again with minimal contact with other children. Along the way, her character's name and identity are changed from Barbara Barry: daughter of wealthy soap manufacturer Richard Barry, to Betsy Wier: runaway orphan, for the benefit of organ grinder Tony and his family, to Bonnie Dolan, member of the Dolan song and dance family. But, like Dorothy, she seems glad to be reunited with her father, who recognized her singing voice on the radio. One of the most important people she meets and stays with during her odyssey is Jack Haley(Jimmy Dolan), who later played The Tin Man, in "the Wizard of Oz". Here, he gets to sing and dance, as well, not being encumbered by his stiff and uncomfortable Tin Man costume. Haley is paired with Alice Faye, emerging as Fox's most important female musical star, and who might be though of as the equivalent of The Good Witch, in the latter film. Both she and Haley exhibit unrecognized tap dancing talent, along with Shirley's, in the long finale "Military March" production, dressed as soldiers. ...In place of Frank Morgan's Wizard, we have cranky old Claude Gillingwater, playing Simon Peck, owner of the main local rival soap company to Shirley's father's Barry soap company. She has to charm him into hiring the Dolans to sing the Peck commercials and sing on his sponsored radio show. Gillingwater was yet another of a lineup of cranky old men or women Shirley had to charm in most of her films into being more forgiving of their standard sour attitudes. Like most of the others, he was quite a good actor, and often comical in his behavior....In place of the evil witches, we have the nameless pickpocket and stalker of Shirley, who initially steals the purse of Shirley's governess, then periodically is seen stalking Shirley, with the presumed purpose of kidnapping her, then extracting a handsome ransom from her father. Eventually, he has a brawl with Haley, when caught abducting Shirley......I don't mean to overplay the basic plot similarities between this film and "The Wizard of Oz", as many of these plot elements were included in other S.T. films. Of course, Shirley was the initial choice to play Dorothy in that MGM production, but Fox wouldn't give her up. As it turned out, the much older teen, Judy Garland, was the optimal girl for that role, all things considered.
Shirley's little girl singing voice and enunciation wasn't the greatest. Thus, one of the pluses of this film is that several adult singers were included, who sometimes alternated with Shirley in singing a song, sometimes with appropriately altered lyrics. The uncredited Tony Martin lent his great singing voice to the initial singing of "When I'm With You", while Shirley cuddled in the lap of her father(Michael Whalen). Soon, she sang her version to her father. Much later, Alice soloed it. She would soon marry Martin. This song is heard a final time when Shirley sings it on the radio, her father recognizing her voice, leading to their reunion. Aside from the finale "Military Man" tap dance routine, the other two main songs, done by all 3 leads, are "But Definitively", and "You've Got to Eat Your Spinach". Shirley's dislike of spinach, shared by many kids(including me), is a running gag, that crops up several times. Mack Gordon and Harry Revel did the score. They also contributed some key songs to the later S.T. films "Stowaway" and "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms". Gordon then teamed with Harry Warren to score most of the songs for Shirley's last Fox film: "Young People".
I thought Alice's make up and hair styling were unbecoming, still trying to make her look like a Jean Harlow copy. She exhibited more of her emerging new look in the subsequent S.T. film "Stowaway"...I'm sure I heard her quip "orphan asylum, your ass!"
Jack Haley would return for the later S.T. film "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm". He would then participate in one song , dominated by his love interest, played by Phyllis Brooks. It is perhaps more memorable than those in the present film. His comedic talent is also more emphasized in that film.
Gloria Stuart plays the bland, but wholesome, presumed future stepmother of Shirley: a role she reprised in "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm". She is the one, in the final dramatic scene,who suggests that the warring soap manufacturers(Barry and Peck) bury their hatchets and form a united company. That presumably would solve the problem of her romance with Barry, while being an important person in Peck's company, as well as the conflict between Peck and Barry over Shirley working for Peck.
Whether or not governess Collins died in the hospital following her collision with a vehicle is left undetermined, irrelevant to the story in the screenwriter's mind. In the 1933 S.T.film "Bright Eyes", Shirley's mother dies after being hit by a vehicle, thus rendering her an orphan. Through most of this film, Shirley claims to be an orphan, after Collins inexplicably vanished.
Along the Great Divide (1951)
Douglas saves Brennan from both an illegal, then a legal hanging, in this complicated, superior , western
One of my favorite westerns, dominated by the complicated relationships between Kirk Douglas, in his first western, crusty old Walter Brennan, as an accused cattle rustler and murder, and Brennan's wildcat, sharpshooting, daughter Ann, played by beautiful Virginia Mayo, in her tomboy mode, with close-cropped hair. However, as with so many westerns, the title seems to make no sense in the context of the screenplay. The latter plays much like several later Randolph Scott westerns of the '50s and '60s, with a small group of men and one beautiful woman forming an ad hoc group, on a sojourn to some rather distant destination. Within this group, there are either overt(as in the present film) or covert strong antagonisms, which provide the potential for shifting alliances and murder. In addition, there is an external danger or two. In the present film, there are two. A gang headed by cattle baron Ned Roden, having been thwarted by US Marshall Merrick(Douglas) and his 2 deputies in lynching Brennan, follows this group, intent on killing Brennan, as the presumed murderer of Ned's favorite son. Merrick is just as intent in insuring that they don't kill Brennan: that he will get a fair jury trial at the distant Texan town of Santa Loma. Both Brennan and Ann are grateful that Merrick saved Brennan from a lynching, but assume that a jury will still convict him of murder, based on circumstantial evidence, since there apparently were no witnesses to the murder. Hence, throughout the journey, they try to convince Merrick that Brennan is innocent, hence should be let go, to hopefully make it to the Mexican border before Roden gets him.
The second external danger is the desert Merrick chose to cross to get to Santa Loma. Unfortunately, during a gun battle with Roden's bunch, their horse with all their water was spooked and ran off. Thus, they are banking on a small water hole that Brennan claims exists. When this is found, when all are nearly dead from heat exhaustion and dehydration, they discover it's been poisoned(salt?), judging from the taste. They blame Roden, who has ridden ahead to be at the trial. To add insult to injury, a sandstorm shows up and their remaining horses run off, presumably looking for water. This part of the film is reminiscent of the trek by Wayne and companions across a waterless desert, in the prior "3 Godfathers". In that story, their water supply was also lost due to pursuit.
Can they somehow hold out until they reach the spring at Santa Loma? Their desperate situation heightens the antagonisms within the group, which now includes Roden's surviving son, Dan, who was captured during the battle with Roden's bunch. Dan is also being taken by Merrick to Santa Loma for the murder of his deputy Billy during that gun battle. Dan tries to work out a deal with surviving deputy Gray or an alliance with Brennan, when the survival of any looks bleak. A crisis occurs when grossly sleep-deprived Merrick is temporarily knocked out when his horse falls. There's a scramble for firearms and the various members have to quickly decide who, if anyone, to shoot. Merrick's surviving deputy turns out to be the unexpected victim of this crisis.
Well, the rest of the bunch somehow survive to reach Santa Loma, and a trial for Brennan is held immediately. I will not divulge the details of the complex suspenseful finale, except to say that, for the second time, Merrick removes a hangman's noose from Brennan's neck. Also, the simmering love/hate relationship between Merrick and Ann is resolved for the better.
So, why did Brennan steal a few cows from his neighbor, instigating all this trouble? This is never explored. However, while the group is resting up at his home, before the long journey, we learn that there has been bad blood between them and the Rodens ever since they showed up, a few years ago: they being homesteaders, instead of ranchers. The Rodens burned their crops the last 2 years. Hence they are very poor and probably hungry. ..At Brennan's trial, the matter of his rustling is forgotten, in favor of the charge of murder.. Roden did say that he wasn't that concerned about loosing a few cows.
John Agar: Shirley Temple's recently divorced husband, plays Deputy Billy. Ray Teal, who plays the older Deputy Gray, is a familiar-looking character actor, as is Norris Ankrum, who plays Ed Roden.
There isn't a lot of humor. That's OK. The complicated drama and personas of the 3 leads is enough to carry the film.
Merrick's extreme sense of duty is a primer for Burt Lancaster's equally persistent and costly pursuit of murder suspects, in "Lawman", released 20 years later. Merrick's unpopular decisions on the route to take, at two points, reminds us of "Red River".
The shootout between the Rodens and Merrick bunch was shot in the unique Alabama hills, at the foot of the High Sierras: perfect terrain for a hide and seek confrontation. The desert scenes were shot in the Mojave Desert.
Brennan accidentally discovers that singing "Down in the Valley", during the trip, causes notable anxiety in Merrick. It's somehow related to the lynching death of his father, who used to be Marshall here. Brennan hopes this will induce Merrick to release him.
Shot in B&W: probably a better choice than color, given the bleak nature of the terrains.
Baby Take a Bow (1934)
Shirley's ex-con father is hounded by a sadistic detective and former crook associate
Released in mid '34, just after the Hays film censor code went into full effect. As usual during her Fox years, Shirley was cast as younger than her actual age(presumably 5, rather than 6). This is one of her earliest feature-length films, in which she is given top billing. Actually nearly all her films were on the short side of feature length, this one a mere 76 min.. She seems noticeably younger than in "Bright Eyes", released at the end of that year, being treated more like a young child than a little girl with grown up ambitions. Of course, it was released in B&W, although I watched the colorized version. The screenplay is based on the '27 play and '28 silent film titled "Square Crooks", which lacked Shirley's character. This title may seem self-contradictory, but the point is that 2 men(Eddie Ellison and Larry Scott), who spent time in prison for some undisclosed crimes are trying to go straight after their release. We know that, in real life, this is often difficult, partly due to employer's prejudice against ex-cons. In this film, these two have some things going for them as well as against them. Ellison earns a recommendation from the prison superintendent, and has a beautiful girl(Claire Trevor, as Kay) waiting to marry him upon his release. They spend a romantic honeymoon at Niagara Falls, and make plans for the future.
However, Eddie and Scott have two important nemeses in the context of the plot. Cigar-chomping detective Welch(played by 'heavy' Alan Dinehart) has a fixation on trying to catch or frame Eddie relating to some crime, so that he can send him back to prison. His motto is "Once a crook, always a crook". He tries to make it impossible for Eddie to land or keep a job, by revealing to the employer his ex-con status. The same goes for Scott. Although not much emphasized, one scene early in the film suggests that Welch is particularly keen to make normal life for Eddie impossible because he has long lusted for his wife Kay, beginning with his involvement in Eddie's conviction. But, Kay hates Welch....Their second nemesis is 'Trigger' Stone(Ralf Harolde), an acquaintance of Eddie, who was sent to Sing Sing the same day that Eddie was released. In contrast to Eddie and Scott, who got out early for good behavior, Trigger brags about what mischief he will do when he gets out. When he gets out, just before Shirley's birthday, he heads back to NYC, steals a valuable necklace from the employer of Eddie and Scott (the Carsons), then looks for Eddie and Scott to help him 'dispose' of the necklace. But they refuse.
Before Trigger's release, we've spent some time getting acquainted with Shirley: the adorable young daughter of Eddie and Kay, seeing the love between her and her parents and between her parents. Welch now tells Carson about the ex-con status of Eddie and Scott, and that he suspects them of stealing the necklace. Carson fires them, in response. Nonetheless, a big birthday party for Shirley goes ahead. She puts on a demonstration of some of the dancing skills she has learned. She sings the catchy "On Account'a I Love You" , with Eddie participating in the singing and dancing later in the act. At the end, 'baby takes a bow'. Next morning, Trigger again comes looking for Eddie and Scott, but spies a familiar detective on the street, causing him to sneak the necklace to Shirley, as a 'birthday present', then disappears. Shirley slips it into Eddie's jacket pocket, and tries to play hide and seek with the preoccupied Eddie. Just then, Welch shows up looking for the necklace. Of course, Eddie and Scott are sure he won't find it there, until Eddie checks his jacket pocket. It's then hidden in the coffee pot, and they sweat it out when Welch wants a cup of coffee. Shirley latter pulls it out of the coffee pot, and gives it to Eddie when Welch is searching another room. It's now hidden in the carpet sweeper, which is borrowed by a neighbor, who then empties the contents into the outside trash can. All, including Welch, have quite a time trying to find the necklace in the retrieved sweeper. Fortuitously, Shirley later finds it in the trash. Trigger comes looking for the necklace, but is knocked unconscious by Eddie and tied up, before Eddie runs for the police. Shirley then encounters Trigger, who convincers her to cut his ropes. He takes the necklace from her and grabs her as a shield against capture. In the following chase, wounded Eddie finally knocks Trigger out with a head blow from behind. Detectives arrive, and Shirley pulls the necklace out of Trigger's pocket. Welch arrives and claims that Eddie and Scott had the necklace all the time. But, the detectives don't buy that, and announce that Shirley will get the reward for recovering the necklace. The still arguing Welch is backed up until he falls through a skylight onto the Ellison's bed, causing the pillows to burst their feathers, which cover him, for a happy ending.
Despite all the contrived coincidences. this was a fun film. Shirley is cute, cuddly, and, for once, in a stable family relationship from start to finish. Obviously, she had great rapport with James Dunn, as again shown in "Bright Eyes", as well as with Claire Trevor, as her mother. Alan Dinehart was as much fun, as the butt of verbal and physical humor, as he was sinister. ..It's true that Dunn and Ray Walker, as Scott, seem far too nice to have been crooks, in contrast to Trigger's sinister demeanor.
King of the Khyber Rifles (1953)
Dull historical nonsense, in this cavalry 'eastern'
In an era when Hollywood was trying to compete with TV by offering lavish exotic spectaculars, filmed in widescreen Cinemascope, with stereophonic sound, this film comes across as one of the dullest ones, with minimal historical relevancy, to boot. The High Sierras in the background provide spectacular mountain scenery, perhaps reminiscent of that in the relevant Afghanistan-present Pakistan border region. Otherwise, there is little to recommend in the film. Tyrone Power, as the supposed half -caste hero Alan King, sleepwalks his way through his role, and looks as half-cast as did Esther Williams as a supposed half-caste Polynesian. Guy Rolfe, as the fictional Afghan rebel chieftain nemesis, Karran Khan, with ambitions to conquer all of India, as a would-be latter day Akbar the Great, had zero charisma, despite his defiant posturing.
Terry Moore, much criticized as the choice for the love interest of King, came across as an OK spirited ingénue, bored with life within the frontier garrison, taking to forbidden horse and carriage rides in the surrounding stark countryside, as one means of relieving her boredom. She's immediately smitten by the handsome King, upon his arrival at the garrison, and wastes no time letting King know, practically throwing herself at him. Unlike most of the officers in the garrison, she has no qualms about King being of half caste parentage, and looks forward to a marriage with him, against her father's approval. Unlike Power's comedic tempestuous relationships with Betty Grable, in "Yank in the RAF", or with Maureen O'Hara, in "The Black Swan", all is sweetness, if a tad dull, in their courtship. In their tense last meeting, King agrees with her father that marriage with him wouldn't likely work out socially, and that it is wise to send her back to England, for safety. However, in the last scene, when the victorious Khyber Rifles are parading by, she reappears as a spectator, providing no clue about the current status of her relationship with King, nor whether she still is about to leave for England.
This story supposedly takes place in 1857: the year of the Indian Rebellion and frequent mutiny or unrest of native troopers(sepoys) in the Indian Army. Toward the end, news of the rebellion in some other parts of India is received at the garrison, and it's predicted that the people in the surrounding area will soon be in rebellion, probably led by Karram Khan, unless he is first killed. However, historically , the neighboring Punjab, along with the Northwest Frontier Territories, where this garrison is located, was one of the least affected by this rebellion. The concern by the sepoys that the paper cartridges for the newly arrived Enfield rifles reportedly are greased with pig and beef fat is historically correct. In the film, despite assurances by King that this is untrue, the sepoys refuse to use the Enfields when faced with storming the Khan's stronghold at Khyber Pass. Instead, they choose to rely on their short traditional Afghan daggers, against the muskets of the Khan's troops. This whole sequence of storming the Khan's stronghold, along with the prior solitary visit of King, claiming to be deserter from the British army, looks quite implausible. It's highly unlikely that the Khyber Rifles could sneak up in broad daylight on KK's stronghold without being seen by at least one sentry! Also, they were at a distinct disadvantage in fighting with only their daggers, against muskets plus daggers. Yet, they won. King's obligatory grapple with KK is brief and shot under dark interior conditions. Anticlimactically, KK is killed during the grapple, not by King, but by a sepoy who has a special reason for revenge.
Incidentally, the historic Khyber Rifles, composed of Afghans, plus a British commander, as shown, didn't begin until the 1880s, several decades after this story supposedly takes place! The screenplay could have, instead, included the important political consequences of the ultimate defeat of the '57 rebellion: the dissolution of the East India Company and last vestiges of the former Moghal empire, and their replacement with the British Raj government.
Several previous films had dealt with essentially the same subject. I would recommend John Ford's "Wee Willie Winkie" as being a more interesting version. Instead of a climactic fight to the finish, little Shirley Temple charms the rebellious Khan into giving up his plundering tradition, thus saving many lives.
A Yank in the R.A.F. (1941)
Tyrone Power's and Betty Grable's characters resume a 'can't live with or without 'em' affair when both migrate to early WWII England.
A love triangle develops between womanizing American volunteer for the RAF Tim Baker(Tyrone Power), his bomber squadron leader, British aristocrat John Morley(John Sutton), and American nightclub entertainer Carol Brown(Betty Grable). Each of the two suitors have their pluses and minuses, as afar as Carol is concerned. Tim is footloose and impossibly handsome, meaning he has no problem attracting all the women he wants. Carol is his female counterpart in this respect, but acts more restrained when it comes to admitting new men into her life(unexpected for a nightclub entertainer). Morely is a classic gentlemanly British aristocrat, seemingly a tad dull on the surface, with a huge ancient mansion just waiting to be occupied by the right girl. Realistically, a show girl, however beautiful and sexy, would be an unlikely choice for a wife for a man in his position. She would much more likely as a mistress. Given the short mean life expectancy of RAF pilots then(Baker's plane was shot down twice within a short time), unless they quit the service at the end of the film, there was a high probability that neither Baker nor Morley would be alive for very long, especially since the 'Battle of Britain' would soon begin, with high casualty rates for pilots on both sides. Against expected plot formula, originally, the ending had Baker die a hero in the historic Dunkirk evacuation. However, a test screening elicited a strong negative reaction in the audience. Also, since Fox chief Zanuck hoped this film would promote popular sentiment toward a formal entry of the US into the war, it was feared that Baker's death might prove a war morale damper, rather than booster.
The Lockheed-built Hudson light bomber is portrayed as the RAF bomber of the times. Superficially, with its dual tail fins, it looks rather like the then current RAF 2-engine Hampden bomber, as well as the later, much improved, 4- engine Lancaster bomber. However, it was used by the RAF primarily for training, submarine and coastal patrol and reconnaissance. It wouldn't be making bombing raids over Germany, as depicted(Where were the expected German defense fighters?). Also, it wouldn't be flying across the Atlantic, as depicted. Rather, when they reached the Canadian border, they were dissembled(believe it or not), and packed in crates, to be loading on a ship and reassembled in the UK. Brash former mail pilot Baker decided to ignore this neutrality rule and flew his Hudson across Lake Ontario to Trenton.
As some others have noted, the often clearly faked aerial maneuvers and battles make the film look cheesy.. Fortunately, some shots supplied by the RAF of real British warplanes and battles lend some credibility to the limited aerial segments.
Although clearly very popular with film audiences of the time, I seldom find the characters played by Tyrone Power appealing or especially interesting. In the film, clearly, he had an advantage in his persistent pursuit of the resisting Carol, in past experiences of having her breakdown her defenses periodically. Clearly, she was going to have to accept the fact that Baker wasn't a 'one woman' man, if she was going to accept him back into her life...In contrast, I found Carol(Betty) very appealing, as obviously did many men in those times. Betty did a great acting job and the camera close-ups of her head were great. Also, she was the leader of a couple of brief song and dance performances at the nightclub the fliers frequented. Marriage between the two, as suggested in the final scene? It wouldn't have lasted a month, even if Tim was still alive. If you think Baker's treatment of Carol was chauvinistic, wait until you see his treatment of Maureen O'Hara's character, as a pirate, in the following year's "The Black Swan"!
Britisher John Sutton play's Power's chief rival for capturing Carol's heart, apparently ending as runner up: a fate he graciously accepts, knowing that he would be fighting an uphill battle all the way, considering that Baker and Carol had a long history of romantic involvement. For some reason, Fox generally chose to cast the gentlemanly, athletic, rather good looking Sutton as 'the other man', often comparatively stuffy. For example, he suffered a similar fate in competition with Victor Mature over Rita Hayworth, the following year, in "My Gal Sal". However, earlier in '41, he was the romantic lead to Gene Tierney, in "Hudson's Bay": my favorite of his roles that I've seen.