- Sorry to hear of the death of Dean Stockwell at the age of 85.
- My tribute to Dean from April this year
Who knew. I didn’t. Douglas Spencer, the breezy reporter from “The Thing from Another World” who warned the world to “watch the skies”, was Ray Milland’s stand-in for many years.
I enjoyed re-watching ALIAS NICK BEAL (1949) on blu-Ray, and later I watched it again with the audio commentary by Eddie Muller. (When Mr. Muller speaks, I listen!) Plus, Eddie has said this will be his last commentary.
The John Farrow film is basically the story of good versus evil, good in the form of Joseph Foster (Thomas Mitchell), a crusading District Attorney who wants to nail a gangster but can’t quite get enough evidence – until the mysterious Nick Beal (Ray Milland) appears and offers Foster exactly what he needs to get a conviction.
Foster is then persuaded to run for Governor and begins to lose some of his values, as Nick Beal provides an easy road to success. Audrey Totter is added to the cauldron mix as encouragement to take the wrong spike in the road.
Foster is well along the path of sacrificing integrity for political gain.
Thomas Mitchell is maybe just a little too old for the part – his character says he is 47 – Mitchell was 57 but looked a decade older. But a great actor.
Eddie Muller is obviously a big fan of Audrey Totter, having met her several times and interviewed her for his book, “Dark City Dames”. He describes her as completely unlike her screen characters – sweet,sensible and down to earth.
In the film there is a too sudden switch from a girl of the streets to a rich lady who donates time and money to Foster’s campaign for Governor. But I’m with Eddie, Audrey Totter can do no wrong.
A great part for Ray Milland who appears and disappears at will. And generally with a lot of fog around. He wants the soul of Foster, it’s almost a game to him.
Eddie made an interesting point that he could see Cary Grant in the role – definitely!
Apparently director John Farrow chose to do this film rather than THE GREAT GATSBY with Alan Ladd.
A surprise to see the suave villain ,George Macready,here playing a man of the cloth. Of course he does it well, but it is not a big part and I don’t know why Maccready would do it – unless he hoped it would stop his typecasting. But he was such a good bad guy!
Audrey begins to wonder who Nick Beal really is.
Audrey gets a good line after Beal offers her a swanky apartment and a wardrobe of furs –
“What do I gotta do, Murder?”
Beal’s reply: “Just the opposite, reform work in a boy’s club.” ( The Foster character helps out in a boy’s club .)
Also in the cast ,Fred Clark as a racketeer who likes to have politicians in his pocket, and Geraldine Wall, very well cast as Thomas Mitchell’s wife who realises Nick Beal is up to no good.
“Alias Nick Beal” became THE CONTACT MAN when released in the U.K. Have no idea why the change was necessary.
Last word about Douglas Spencer.(1910-1960)
As well as stand-in duties, Douglas appeared in several Ray Milland films – The Lost Weekend, Kitty, The Big Clock, It Happens Every Spring and A Man Alone.
He has some scenes with Milland in “Alias Nick Beal”, as a crooked bookkeeper.
He also appeared in many other films – Shane, This Island Earth and of course The Thing From Another World.
He was only 50 when he died from diabetes complications.
It’s no mean feat – winning an an Oscar first time out of the blocks. And an exclusive club in the classic era – six women and one man made such an impression on their film debut ; nobody cared that they’d never appeared before a film camera before.
First up, Gale Sondergaard (1899-1985) Best Supporting Actress for ANTHONY ADVERSE (1936). Gale as the scheming housekeeper who blackmails Claude Rains into marriage.
Tall and angular and generally playing older than she was, Gale was pretty much typecast in character roles ,generally foreign, villainess. But a very good actress (THE LETTER stands out). She made over 30 films in the 30s and 40s and had a contract with Universal from 1941 till 1947.
Her husband, director Herbert J. Biberman was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and Gale suffered too after refusing to testify. A career cut short. She did not film again till the late 60s. What a waste.
Katina Paxinou (1900-1973) made her screen debut in FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS and won the Best Supporting Oscar in 1944. So memorable as the rebel fighter Pilar.
Greek born Katina made a few Hollywood films then returned to her homeland where she was a distinguished stage actress.
Harold Russell (1914-2002) pulled off a unique double, with a Best Supporting Oscar as ‘Homer’, for THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, and a special Honorary Oscar for being an inspiration to all returning veterans. (Harold lost both hands during service in the Pacific.)
For someone who had never acted before, Harold gave a touching and memorable performance as the young sailor trying to adjust to life after the war with his severe handicap.
He chose to go to university after filming and became an advocate for military veterans.
According to IMDB, Harold sold his Best Supporting Oscar in 1992 for $60,000 to pay for his wife’s medical bills.
Another actress whom Hollywood did not serve well was Mercedes McCambridge (1916-2000) who took home a Best Supporting Oscar for ALL THE KING’S MEN in 1950.
A stage and radio actress, Mercedes had a powerful presence on screen, as the woman who is as ruthless as the corrupt politician Willie Stark (Broderick Crawford.)
Mercedes’ film career was short but she received a further Oscar nomination for GIANT. And of course she locked horns with Joan Crawford in JOHNNY GUITAR.
I’d like to see this short lived television series ( only 13 episodes.) Not sure why there is a photo of George Brent with Ann Sheridan.
Shirley Booth (1898-1992) had done COME BACK LITTLE SHEBA on Broadway in 1950 and repeated the role in the film version, winning the Best Actress Oscar.
Shirley and Burt Lancaster play a middle aged couple who take in a young boarder, Terry Moore. ( ‘Sheba’ is their dog who goes missing). Personally I couldn’t take to the characters and Lancaster,at 38, seemed wrong casting – Sidney Blackmer originated the role on stage.)
Shirley only made a handful of films including THE MATCHMAKER ( which was turned into “Hello Dolly). She had a very successful television comedy show called HAZEL (1961-1966) in which she played Don De Fore’s housekeeper .
She did three Broadway roles but lost out on the film versions – ‘Liz Imrie’ in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY; ‘Ruth’ in MY SISTER EILEEN; and THE DESK SET .
And she starred in the musical version of A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN in 1951.
Eva Marie Saint burst onto the film screen, winning the Best Supporting Oscar for ON THE WATERFRONT (1954). Fellow nominees that year were Jan Sterling, Nina Foch, Katy Jurado,Claire Trevor .)
Like some of the other first time winners, Eva’s film career was short – she only made 4 more films in the 50s and 6 in the 1960’s. She had been on television from the 1940s and won several Emmies.
Eva was pregnant when she received her Oscar. Born In 1924, Eva was married for 65 years.
Jo Van Fleet (1915-1996) won her Best Supporting Oscar for EAST OF EDEN(1955). Jo ,as James Dean’s estranged mother, had very little screen time but ,like Mercedes McCambridge, she commanded every scene she was in.
Jo was another Oscar winner who made only a few movies, acting on stage and on television for most of her career. She is remembered too for Gunfight at the O.k.Corral.
George Cukor,Judy Garland, James Mason. A STAR IS BORN.
Marlene Dietrich, script in hand, glasses on, Tyrone Power, Charles Laughton. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION.
(Whoever chose THAT wig?)
Not sure what point director John Cromwell is making to Lizabeth Scott. DEAD RECKONING.
Light moment on the set of MILDRED PIERCE, with Bruce Bennett, Joan Crawford.
My 19 year old soft cover edition of Eddie Muller’s “DARK CITY;THE LOST WORLD OF FILM NOIR” is starting to show signs of wear.
So it has been a pleasure to have the new 2021 hard back edition.
First published in 1998, author Eddie Muller ( the Czar of Noir) has revised and expanded his book. In the afterword, he says: “When I started building Dark City more than 25 years ago, it was a shot in the dark. Imagine my surprise,discovering that films about desperation, deceit, betrayal and paranoia can unite people around the world in a shared passion.”
The new edition has 60 extra pages and new chapters – “The City Desk”, “The Big House”, “The Stage Door”. And some stunning new colour photos. Plus features on Joan Harrison, Belita, Sterling Hayden and Ben Hecht.
THE CITY DESK chapter covers films like Ace in the Hole, Scandal Sheet, The Front Page, While The City Sleeps.
STAGE DOOR looks at A Double Life, In A Lonely Place, The Velvet Touch, Sunset Boulevard .
THE BIG HOUSE talks about Brute Force, Caged, Riot in Cell Block 11.
As Eddie says, “The pairing of Marie Windsor and Charles McGraw in “The Narrow Margin” provided sufficient combustion to fuel a cross country train trip.”
If you are a Noir fan, this is quite simply a must-buy.
On 31st.December,2020, I wrote a post ,”EDDIE MULLER AND FILM NOIR”. And I’ll repeat Mr.Muller’s fantastic turn of phrase to sum up this wonderful history of FILM NOIR.
“..These titles are going to take you on a thrilling tortured journey through dark,mean streets in the company of a group of lost souls seeking salvation….
Remember, once across the Dark City limits, the meter’s double and there is no coming back…….we’ll hit Sinister Heights, Shamus Flats, Blind Alley and maybe Losers Lane…..Dark City was built on fateful coincidence, double dealing and last chances.”
My only gripe – that cover with John Garfield and Lana Turner from “The Postman Always Rings Twice.” Do we need reminding that constant smoking was part of the era.
Marlene is Christine Vole,wife of Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) who is accused of murdering Mrs French (Norma Varden).
Charles Laughton is Vole’s defence barrister,Sir Wilfrid Robarts who, in preparing for his first meeting with Mrs. Vole, tells his junior counsel Brogan -Moore (John Williams):
“Handle her gently, especially when you break the news of the arrest. Bear in mind she’s a foreigner, so be prepared for hysterics or even a fainting spell.
Better have smelling salts ready or even a box of tissues and a nip of brandy.”
Unknown to both lawyers, Mrs. Vole has been standing just outside the room they are in and has overheard Sir Wilfrid’s comments.
She strides in as Sir Wilfrid finishes and takes both of them by surprise by saying cooly and unemotionally:
“I don’t think that will be necessary – I never faint because I’m not sure I will fall gracefully, and I never use smelling salts because they puff up my eyes.
I am Christine Vole.”
The murder plot of WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION is pure Agatha Christie ,but lines like that are pure Wilder ( and co-adaptor of Christie’s stage play, Harry Kurnitz).)
This courtroom drama is not the kind of movie we expect from Billy Wilder. In fact Wilder chose to do it after his friend Marlene Dietrich asked him. He was also influenced by the chance of working with Charles Laughton.
in an interview, Wilder said, “Marlene gave it to me and said she ‘d only do it if I directed it.”……..”and if you have Laughton, you’re onto a winner.”
In the Christie play of 1953, Laughton’s character doesn’t have heart trouble and there is no Nurse Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester). Typical of Wilder, he injected humour into the plot and ended up having Laughton and Lanchester almost stealing the film from Power and Dietrich.
The Laughton/Lancaster exchanges are reminiscent of Monty Woolley and Mary Wickes in “The Man Who Came to Dinner.” Nurse Plimsoll treats Sir Wilfrid like a naughty boy – he hides his cigars in his cane and puts brandy instead of cocoa in his flask.
Una O’Connor was the only member of the Broadway stage production to make into the film, playing the deaf housekeeper, with a suspect Scottish accent.
Norma Varden,always good, as the murder victim.
John Williams and Henry Daniell have quite minor roles – Williams as Laughton’s junior barrister and Daniell as the defence solicitor. And that’s a pity – two very talented actors.
Wonderful character actor Ian Wolfe (1896-1992) plays Sir Wilfrid’s office manager . What a career Ian Wolfe had – in films from 1934 to 1990. Steady work!
Torin Thatcher,as the prosecutor, actually has a bigger role than either John Williams or Henry Daniell.
I’ve always liked Torin Thatcher and his distinctive precise and clipped tones.
Did anyone believe Marlene’s ‘Cockney’ accent. Was it dubbed? The makeup artist deserved an Oscar! (IMDB credit Charles Gemora and Wally Westmore.)
You can hardly believe it’s Marlene!
And what of Tyrone Power. He initially didn’t want to do the film. Did he realise Charles Laughton had the lion’s share of screen time. Were he and Marlene a little too old for their roles. Tyrone was forty three , and heart trouble and heavy smoking had taken their toll . Marlene was over a decade older but still looked great.
Sadly, this would be Tyrone’s last completed film. He suffered a fatal heart attack while filming SOLOMON AND SHEBA a year later.
I’d like to see a 1953 version of the play on CBS Lux Video Theatre, with Edward G. Robinson, Andrea King, Tom Drake. This was a live broadcast which aired before the first stage play in London, and Edward G. Robinson’s first television appearance .
Just a thought . Marlene wears the classic grey suit on her first entrance. I guess Hitchcock liked that look too.
It’s wonderful to see this letter from Agatha Christie to Billy Wilder in which the author makes it clear she is very happy with Wilder’s film. She also indicates most film adaptations of her books don’t please her.
And here are a few more NBNW pictures.
I love these newspaper headlines. Must have been fun writing and printing them.
If you had your choice of props from your favourite films, what would you choose ?
There’s always the Falcon or the Ruby Slippers on many fans’ lists, but what would you love to have.
That cheque signed by ‘Rick’… CASABLANCA.
Or the Letters of Transit?
I’d take the clock or the sheriff’s badge.HIGH NOON.
From THE LETTER, the letter of course. Held by the widow of the murdered man, the wonderful Gale Sondergaard. It incriminates Bette Davis and she attempts to buy it.
From Johnny Guitar, I’d take Johnny’s guitar, or Vienna’s red kerchief .
Eve’s Sarah Siddons award. ALL ABOUT EVE.
And from NOTORIOUS , how about the key to the wine cellar.
First published in 2019, I’ve been reading the 2021 paperback edition of Hitchcock and the Censors by John Billheimer. And what an interesting read it is. How Alfred Hitchcock dealt with the Production Code , circumventing yet placating the censors to whom all screenplays had to be submitted before filming could begin.
The Motion Picture Production Code was an industry set of guidelines for self censorship of content. It lasted from 1934 through to 1968. It was partly begun to avoid government imposed censorship and was preferred by the studios in preference to individual states censoring movies.
Prior to 1934, Will Hays ,president of the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America , had formed a committee of studio heads to collaborate on a list of ‘Dont’s’ and ‘Be Carefuls’ reflecting items typically challenged by local censorship boards.
Among the ‘dont’s’ were white slavery, childbirth, nudity,profanity, ridicule of the clergy, make gambling and drunkenness attractive, ridicule of public officials.
The Production Code administration ( led by Joseph Breen from 1934 ) kept meticulous records which are now held at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Motion Picture Association of America.
The author has been able to access these files and presents a detailed picture of how a Hollywood director like Hitchcock managed to deal with these people who determined what the public would be allowed to see on screen.
From a modern perspective, it is fascinating to see how film censorship worked in the classic era, and the time and effort required to maintain what a writer or director wished to show on the screen and yet comply with the Code.
The banks who lent money to the studios required a letter from the Code administration saying scripts were acceptable before filming could be financed.
The British Board of Film Censors pre-dated the Hollywood code by ten years, so Hitchcock had experience of British censorship before he moved to Hollywood.
In the 1930s, the British censors had political considerations as well as social, so The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes had villains of unspecified (rather than Third Reich) nationalities.
( In 1933, the BBFC refuses to pass any films that might upset the Nazi regime in Berlin.)
Under the Code, Hitchcock made 27 films, from REBECCA in 1940 to TORN CURTAIN in 1966.
It usually took nearly two months to resolve issues and get final script approval. The Code letter of approval would end with : “You understand of course that our final judgement will be based on the finished picture.”
Thanks to the Code office’s record keeping, we can see the demands imposed on each of Hitchcock’s films and his responses.
Here are some examples of the censorship Hitchcock had to contend with:
We know that working with David O. Selznick was not easy for Hitchcock. Selznick was vocal in his dislike for the Code – “this insane, inane and outmoded code.”
Quoting the author, “Hitchcock was more circumspect, avoiding direct confrontation,proceeding by misdirection, and in the end, manipulating the censors as slyly as he manipulated moviegoers.”
With Rebecca, Joe Breen (head of the Production Code office), even before Selznick purchased the right to “Rebecca “, said, “This man murders his wife, covers up the evidence, identifies another body as his wife’s, remarries, and finally gets off Scot-free. It is a story of high lighted, unpunished murder…..and cannot be approved.”
So Hitchcock and the writers were forced to change the story – ‘Rebecca’ now dies as a result of an accident .
Suspicion was another example of a novel (“Before The Fact”) having to be changed to suit the Code. In the book, the Cary Grant character is a philanderer and embezzler as well as a murderer.
Successful murderers were a Production Code no-no, and RKO were also reluctant to portray Cary Grant as a killer.
The shot of the illuminated fatal glass of milk which Cary takes upstairs to Joan remained in the film but it no longer contained poison .
Hitchcock had hoped to get round the censors by having ‘Lina’ ( Joan Fontaine) drink the poison after giving ‘Johnny’ (Cary Grant) a letter to post to her mother explaining he is a killer.
But the objection to having Cary as a murderer won the day , and Hitchcock’s highly dramatic ending to the film was taken away.
Mr. And Mrs. Smith was a surprising change for Hitchcock, a romantic comedy, but still the censors found objections:
“The gag with the plumbing must NOT suggest the flushing of the toilet.”
Other objections included the words stinks, old bat, bedroom slippers and a derogatory reference to the Girl Scouts!
The Production Code office asked that the word cyanide be replaced by the generic word poison – ”to avoid giving specific aid to any would-be poisoners in the audience.”
Cole Porter had written ‘The Laziest Gal in Town’ in 1927. Hitchcock suggested it be used as a showcase for Marlene Dietrich in STAGE FRIGHT.
This song became the primary concern of the censors . “The Breen office, finding both the song and the performance offensive, had the chutzpah to edit the lyrics of one of the most accomplished songwriters of the day.”
The words ‘Let’s Misbehave’ would have to be re-written ,and the word ‘Lord’ ,which occurs twice in the refrain, also needed changing. Cole Porter banished the word ‘Lord’ , so Marlene, instead of singing, ‘And Lord knows, it’s not ‘cause I couldn’t’ , sang ‘And You know, it’s not ‘cause I couldn’t.’
Another example of a script change from the original novel source. In the Patricia Highsmith book, the Granger character does commit the second murder. Hitchcock anticipated production Code objections and made the change.
Following the Code review of the first draft of the script, Joe Breen logged several objections:
Excessive bottom pinching…….The casino scene in which Robie drops a chip down the cleavage of a woman gambler……bikini beachwear and ‘undue breast exposure’….just about everything connected with the fireworks scene including all suggestions of an illicit sex relationship.
The tacked- on ending to VERTIGO can be seen as a bonus feature on the remastered dvd. Fortunately it was scrubbed from the domestic release – but it was the ending seen on foreign screens.
(Hitchcock and writer Samuel Taylor had added a scene to the end of the film to satisfy the censors and show that ‘Gavin Elster’ didn’t get away with his wife’s murder.)
Of course, that ending desecrates the perfect downbeat ending of ‘Scottie’ staring down helplessly from the bell tower.
Incidentally, I have to agree with the following comments of the author about the plot of VERTIGO:
“The idea that a rich man would hire a friend with a fear of heights to follow a double of the man’s wealthy wife so that the double can drop hints of suicidal tendencies and ultimately lead the friend to a location where his fear of heights will cause him to misread the wife’s murder as suicide, is difficult to comprehend, tricky to recount, and painfully high in the implausibility scale…..”
The production Code office had concerns ( of course ):
1. The possible homosexuality of Leonard played by Martin Landau.
2. Roger Thornhill’s status as a twice divorced man. We urge that the dialogue about previous marriages and divorces be eliminated.
3. Any hint that Eve Kendall might be a woman of loose morals…..the girl’s line, “I never Make love on an empty stomach” should be omitted . ( Hitchcock overdubbed the line to , “I never Discuss love on an empty stomach.”
Surprisingly, or maybe because the power of the Production Code was waning, the gruesome murder of ‘Gromek’ in TORN CURTAIN remained intact – he is stabbed, hit with a shovel and asphyxiated – very slowly.
The Production Code was replaced in 1968 with a rating system that classified films as G ( for general audiences), M ( for mature audiences) and R ( restricted) and X ( no one under 16 admitted).
These are just some of the examples in the book of what may appear ludicrous to us today.
As the author says, “the harm done by the Production Code was incalculable. Although the censors’ prodding stimulated the director’s creativity in a few instances, on balance his movies were damaged by their interference.”
Mr. Billheimer also makes a important point about what might have been:
”We know what the censors kept out of Hitchcock’s films, but we’ll never know what an unfettered Hitchcock might have accomplished, or what the missing pieces cost the moviegoing public.”
Some of the Code censorious words and ideas seem crazy to us today. The very idea that a group of people should decide what the public should see or not see – the one that stands out for me is from SHADOW OF A DOUBT – the word ‘ cyanide’ couldn’t be used because “it might give specific aid to would-be poisoners in the audience.”!
If you are a Hitchcock fan, or just interested in Hollywood history, this book is a must-read, with a chapter on each film.
John Billheimer can be seen discussing his book in March, 2020 at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore on You Tube.
But I hope any re-issues of the book will find a better cover illustration. (Psycho shower scene I suppose).
Can I also recommend, for all things Hitchcock, the website The Hitchcock Zone .
Birthday wishes to Henry Silva who was 93 last month.
Born in New York, Henry attended the Actors Studio and started on television in 1950 and was active for the next 50 years, finally retiring after the “Ocean’s 11” remake in 2001.
Totally ruthless as one of the killers in The Tall T.
Having appeared in the Sinatra starrer, “Ocean’s 11”, Henry also had a part in “The Manchurian Candidate” and Sinatra’s “Sergeants 3”.
Henry starred in Johnny Cool in 1963.
Has anyone seen this one?
Henry ( who spoke Italian and Spanish) got starring roles in Europe in the 60s and 70s.
He played Doc Holliday in a “Wagon Train” episode in 1965.
The films of Henry Silva that I particularly like are THE TALL T , THE BRAVADOS ( as the only outlaw to survive Gregory Peck’s vendetta) , and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.
He had a brooding presence and personality and even in small roles, you remembered him.