Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942)

(or That Movie in Which Roddy McDowall Turns Into Tyrone Power And Becomes an Irredeemable Cad)

Hear me out. This is a film  about a man regaining the honor, dignity and inheritance that was mercilessly stripped away from him in his childhood. The guy has suffered a lot. However, (and this is something that the movie doesn't seem to address and why I have my own case of fury) blinded with rage, he often doesn't stop to think about anyone else once he becomes an adult.

Fury is based on the Edison Marshall novel about Benjamin Blake (Power) whose uncle, Sir Arthur Blake (George Sanders), has usurped his nephew's place as lord of Breetham, and, according to The Siren, dominates his nephew in more ways than are expressly articulated. It's Ben's quest to have his rightful place.
  Young Ben (McDowall) yoked to drudgery

Ben also wants to marry Isabel (Frances Farmer), his uncle's fiercely mercenary daughter (what does he see in her?), whom he has admired from the stables for awhile. They even become secretly engaged, sort of. Lady has preconditions. The wind from the horse's quarters disturbs her delicate nose, so Isabel won't marry him at all unless he becomes master of the estate, and move from being her stable boy flunky to being her husband flunky. Thinking this is the deal of the century, Ben agrees. 

 Isabel: "You're only as tasty as the lettuce in your wallet."
Ben: "I can live with that."

To bankroll his plan for revenge (and love), the young man goes off to sea to harvest precious pearls. There he promptly forgets about the woman he's engaged to and can't resist Gene Tierney's overbite. He marries an island lady named Eve and becomes a sort of councilman/mayor/handyman of the island in his spare time. Apparently Eve is just a convenient something to have around, like cough drops, because when a ship comes along, he eagerly hops aboard without her.

Eve: "We're having so much fun, nothing can destroy our relationship."
Ben: "I hear the ships coming, honey. Gotta go."
Eve:"But you haven't finished your jelly fish."
Ben: " Keep it to remember me."

It's understood that he will not return, because, you know, he has way too much stuff to do back home - a villain to beat up, an estate to regain, another lady to marry - all of which is more important than the woman who has been "servicing" him during his years on the island.

"I wonder if he'll write."
Ben goes back home, and he does regain his estate and give the bad guy what for . However, he overhears Isabel gloating about her control over him and instantly breaks ties. (Whew! That was close. Missed being a bigamist by that much.)

Our "hero" returns to the island where he knows that Eve, the enabling type, will be waiting in the same spot where he left her.

Eve: "I have you on the rebound. We're such a  functioning couple."

Because the movie does not allow Ben to acknowledge that playing this marital revolving door game is at best, not nice, the power of Power doesn't move me this time around. And it's a shame because I like the film, in general.

Helen Rose's Autobio: A Brief Review [At]

It's great what you can find in the least expected places. Sometimes you run across great biographies at yard sales, thrift stores and the like.
 Costume Designer Helen Rose
The author of the blog "Seraphic Secret" found costume designer Helen Rose's valuable, out-of-print autobiography, Just Make Them Beautiful, in a library book sale for a dollar.

He briefly recounts the life of this prolific designer and a story about one of her boyfriends. Have a look.

The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938)

The Big Broadcast of 1938 (1938) is another Paramount Studios ensemble comedy with some of the biggest names of the day. The plot is merely a vehicle to bring you hilarious one-liners and sight gags, along with some mushy romance and a sprinkling of songs.

Two ocean liners race across the Atlantic because… they can. On board the S.S. Gigantic are various interwoven soap operas.

Bob Hope looking handsome.

Buzz (Bob Hope) has three ex-wives and is working on his 4th . He's the radio broadcast host onboard, and his wives follow to collect alimony.

Dorothy (Dorothy Lamour) is engaged to Buzz , but climbs aboard the ship and instantly has the hots for some other guy, who doesn‘t seem to do anything but sit at Lamour’s feet and listen to her sing.

Shirley Ross looks cool and collected next to Bob Hope, while the other two squabble over money.

Shirley Ross plays Buzz’s 1st wife who’s still pining for him. They have that His Girl Friday, I'm-still-in-love-but-I'll-hide-behind-wise-cracks type of relationship.

The other two exes are filler and just fall off the face of the earth.

Buzz and Sucker #1 relax together and sing what would become Hope’s signature tune, “Thanks for the Memory.”

Steering with his feet.

Meanwhile, S.B. Bellows (W.C. Fields) is sent by his brother, the owner of one ship, to make the other ship lose. He doesn’t succeed, but causes general havoc while he’s there. He also makes time with one of Buzz’s castoff wives, but Buzz doesn‘t notice.

Martha: “Oh, won’t you be my Romeo?”
Scoop: “ Yes. We will rehearse the death scene.”

Bellows has a daughter, Martha (Martha Raye), who doesn’t really drive the plot, she’s just there to make us laugh (and she succeeds). Gotta love watching her belt out “That Moon‘s Here Again” to an unwilling potential mate.

Of course, Buzz is reunited with wife #1 and all is well.

In between the storylines are a few numbers from famous musicians and singers, set up as entertainment for the passengers. So you have to sit through a plethora of random songs that have nothing to do with the narrative, except that they are all aboard the same ship.

One of my favorites of these plot-stopping acts is Tito Guizar singing “Don‘t Tell a Secret to a Rose.” The lyrics are corny but Guizar makes them tender, heartfelt and romantic.

Broadcast is perfect for a fun-filled afternoon.
Lileks has a nice review of it here.

Rose Marie Mentions Deanna Durbin

I'm reading Hold the Roses, the autobio of Rose Marie (who is probably best known for her role as Sally on "The Dick Van Dyke Show"). Haven't finished it yet but I was pleasantly surprised by this brief account of Deanna Durbin's influence in Rose Marie's early stage life.
" Kids in those days [late 1930s] had a rough time going from twelve to sixteen years old. There were no 'in-between' clothes or shoes like kids have today. It was Mary Jane flats, Red Cross shoes or high heels. The dresses were either too young-looking or too old-looking. . . .
I couldn't find the right clothes for the stage that would be appropriate for me at my age. Thank God for Deanna Durbin. She was fifteen or sixteen and in the movies. The studio made some beautiful, youthful evening gowns for her. Lord and Taylor in New York had copies of those dresses. I opened a charge account there and got three of them.... So I was able to get clothes that were right for me."

It's a small nod to Universal's singing star, but I find it fascinating. If I were to search for a fairly recent equivalent I'd say the Olsen twins' line of apparel would be similar - selling stylish 'tween clothes. I doubt, though, that Ms. Durbin received any revenue for the clothes that she made popular. Who knows?

Everywhere I turn, it seems, I'm learning a lot about Deanna Durbin's huge influence in the world. Fascinating stuff.

Quote of the Day: Frank Sinatra

[On Elvis Presley's music in 1957]
"Sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons; and by means of its almost imbecilic reiterations and sly, lewd - in plain fact, dirty - lyrics it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the Earth. This rancid-smelling aphrodisiac I deplore. . . . [I]t fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people."
Frank Sinatra, singer, actor, etc.

Tell us how you really feel, Frank. :)

Just Launched! Search Engine for Classic Movies

Cliff Aliperti, the author of a Classic Movies website called Immortal Ephemera on Things and Other, has launched a Classic Movies search engine.
"Basically it’s Google with all of the non-Classic Movie stuff filtered out." --Things and Other Stuff
This search engine would have come in handy the other month when someone on the blogosphere was looking up Disney's classic Fantasia (1940) and instead kept getting information on an American Idol singer.
"As of now there’s 113 sites indexed in our Classic Movie Search Engine. They include this site, my Warren William site and 111 others comprised of blogs and sites you’ll find in my blogroll on this page plus others suggested by Raquelle from Out of the Past, who gets a big assist for letting me bounce ideas of her as well as for her own contributions. The idea is to grow it from these 113 (awesome) sites though...." --Things and Other Stuff
Mr. Aliperti wants you to recommend some classic movie sites and blogs, even if they've been abandoned. Head on over there.

Thanks to Raquelle from Out of the Past for mentioning this.

Les Miserables (1935)

There have been countless movie versions of Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables about a compassionate fugitive who is for years pursued by a stern policeman.

TCM aired a version of Les Miserables the other week that I had not previously seen: the1935 Darryl Zanuck production starring Fredric March as the fugitive, Jean Valjean, and Charles Laughton as the relentless officer, Javert.

March and Laughton as the fugitive and the inspector, respectively

Valjean, a woodcutter stricken by poverty in 18th century France, is sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister's children. He becomes a rather cynical man during his sentence and upon release begins to prey on others in order to survive. After he steals from a very forgiving bishop, Valjean begins a life of kindness and self-sacrifice that we see throughout the rest of the film.

Another man who is shaped by the prison system is Javert, who is rising in the ranks of the constabulary and seems to want to rid himself of the shame of having had law-breakers for parents. His interest in capturing Valjean, who has broken parole, goes beyond restoring order. He's intrigued by this man who consistently shows mercy.

In general, Valjean is such an understanding character, he can easily be portrayed in movies as a guy who rarely makes a wrong a move [see the 1978 version]. Because you know he's not going to do anything wrong, the wily Javert tends to be more interesting.

In this version, however, we see Valjean struggling several times with what he should do and what he'd rather do. For instance, after the bishop is kind to him and does not turn him in for stealing silver, the movie lets Valjean take a walk in the hills to think over the compassion he's just been shown. He himself then chooses to become a kind man in cruel world.

Because of the time shortage in most movies, Valjean usually makes this decision instantly, which always seems rushed to me. This version takes its time with Valjean's epiphany, which is a wise choice since his total change of mind and heart is the hinge upon which the rest of the story swings.

Laughton's Javert has been lauded, as it should be. This is a sympathetic villain, a man, much like the prisoners he guards, who is trapped by his own sense of hopelessness. Still, I find Laughton is winking at the camera too much - the quivering lip when discussing his humble origins, the resolute stance as he contemplates suicide. It's as though he's reaching out to the audience for sympathy for this character, when Hugo (as well as W.P. Liscomb, the screenwriter) already has that built in. Laughton is not as subtle as he should be [ I can't believe I'm giving acting tips to the great Charles Laughton!].

The rest of the story tracks Valjean through his many years on the run from Javert, his many changes of place and name, and the many people he has helped (often to his own detriment). One such person is an orphaned girl named Cosette, whom Valjean has promised to raise.

When the adult Cosette falls for a young man named Marius, we are treated to another of Valjean's struggles with his own selfishness. Some film versions make Cosette's marriage inevitable from Valjean's point of view and he just kind of goes with the flow. In this version, he chastises his daughter for wanting to leave him and indicates that he himself wants to marry Cosette. I couldn't believe it!

Overprotective parent?

From what I remember of the novel, Valjean is a protective father figure who simply has a case of Empty Nest Syndrome. I do not remember any sexual tension between this man and his adopted daughter in the book. It's really kind of creepy and unexpected, which makes this version intriguing. Still, this turn of events makes the otherwise nice Valjean seem like a total perv and makes his kindness towards the child suspect. Perhaps they shouldn't have ruined the protagonist's credibility so close to the end of the film.

However, this blip in their relationship makes Cosette a tad more interesting than she usually is in films. Instead of being just a charming candy floss of a woman oblivious to danger, she is given some heavy drama to play. Rochelle Hudson's portrayl of Cosette in these scenes clearly shows how tortured the lady is in having to choose between the two men in her life.

Zanuck's Les Miserables seeks to give Valjean the layers he has in the novel, and in some cases the movie succeeds. This is especially remarkable since it's a story with two complicated leads, a scene-chewing villain and comes in at just over 90 minutes.

Quote of the Day: The Nicholas Brothers

"One day at the Standard Theater in Philadelphia, I looked onstage and I thought, 'They're having fun up there; I'd like to do something like that.' We worked up an act called 'The Nicholas Kids,' and did it in the living room."-- Fayard Nicholas, dancer/actor

"We were tap-dancers, but we put more style into it, more bodywork, instead of just footwork." - Harold Nicholas, dancer/actor

Watch Classic Movies for Free This Summer With Screen On The Green

It seems that Washington, D.C. has an annual free screening of classic films called Screen On The Green. The outdoor cineplex is on the Mall and shows the classics on four consecutive Mondays, beginning June 12th.

Their schedule includes 12 Angry Men, this year. That should be awesome to see on the big screen.

Katharine Hepburn Graces a Stamp

Katharine Hepburn fans, movie mavens and stamp collectors,

The United States Postal Service has issued a Katharine Hepburn commemorative stamp. The USPS began selling it on May 12th. Said Postmaster General John E. Potter:
"Katharine Hepburn will be remembered for generations, for both her
unparalleled acting ability and being a role model for women who chose to live life on their own terms.”

Here's a list of over a dozen stars in their Legends of Hollywood Series :
  1. Marilyn Monroe (1995)
  2. James Dean(1996)
  3. Humphrey Bogart (1997)
  4. Alfred Hitchcock (1998)
  5. James Cagney(1999)
  6. Edward G Robinson (2000)
  7. Lucille Ball (2001)
  8. Cary Grant (2002)
  9. Audrey Hepburn (2003)
  10. John Wayne (2004)
  11. Henry Fonda (2005)
  12. Judy Garland(2006)
  13. James Stewart (2007)
  14. Bette Davis (2008) 
  15. Gary Cooper (2009)
  16. Katharine Hepburn (2010)
  17. Gregory Peck (2011)
  18. Charlton Heston (2014)


Update March 2014:
  • Charleton Heston will be added to the series in April 2014 at the TCM Film Festival.
  • USPS notice is here:
  • TCM announcement is here:

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