Out west with Dan Duryea

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Some time ago, I caught MGM’s THE MARAUDERS which aired on the Encore Westerns channel. As I watched Dan Duryea play Mr. Avery, in all his infinite badness, I couldn’t help but think he certainly had the market cornered on these types of characters.

The possible exception might be Richard Widmark. But Widmark did vary his portrayals and would occasionally be seen as a sympathetic or hard-working man, such as him playing a heroic police officer in PANIC IN THE STREETS. But Duryea seldom played on the right side of the law.

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Perhaps Duryea is just carrying on in the old tradition of other classic stars known for their bad guy roles. Guys like James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. But the movies changed in the twenty-four year period from THE PUBLIC ENEMY to THE MARAUDERS. You might say the evolution of movie badmen is such that if Duryea pulled a woman around by the hair or shoved a grapefruit in her kisser like Cagney did, it would have been much more brutal and a lot more twisted.

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One thing that disappointed me about THE MARAUDERS– I was hoping for once Duryea might turn out to be the good guy. Or that there would be some grey areas for him to play. But it soon became quite clear he was the villain, especially when another character called him crazy. And from that point forward, he was all over the place crazy! It then degenerated into a cartoonish role, complete with bug eyes and over-the-top menacing.

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I also caught Duryea on installments of Wagon Train– two episodes where he does two different roles. In one of them, he is hunting down an old woman trying to kill her in a ghost town. And in the other one, he is a lunatic father whose fire-and-brimstone puts his daughter’s life in jeopardy. Obviously, audiences of the 1950s needed to know without a doubt who the bad guy was, which meant there would be no room for any other type of interpretation.

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What exists in film?

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The evolution of technology. From kitchen appliances to space age gadgets, it’s all there. Oh, and don’t forget the many changing modes of transportation that appear on screen.

The presence of cool. In REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, one thing stands out, and that is the complete coolness of its main character. We are captivated by the hair, the eyes, the smile, and the walk. James Dean.

Historical and political movements. We look at war, its causes and its effects, more profoundly in films by directors like Lewis Milestone, Roberto Rossellini and Oliver Stone.

Fluctuating ideas about gender. Views of masculinity and femininity seem to fluctuate in the movies, especially with certain directors. Watch a Nicholas Ray film from the 1950s and compare it with a John Wayne film from the 1970s and a John Waters film from the 1980s.

Artistic trends. Notice things like performance, direction, cinematography, special effects, and the lasting influence of the theatre in our movies. You can’t escape it.

The influence of foreign films on Hollywood movie-making. This is especially relevant when American companies remake stories that were hits in other parts of the world. Or when international stars and directors become involved with Hollywood projects.

Important business relationships. Hollywood movies, past and present, are based on contracts that usually favor the studio. Of course, there are still collaborative partnerships and creative teams.

Mortality rates. When watching classic films, we start realizing that some of these people did not live very long. We may even see evidence on screen related to the eventual causes of death.

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Looking ahead in April

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4.01        What exists in film?

A somewhat philosophical examination of the classics.

4.02        Out west with Dan Duryea

Dan Duryea made a lasting impression playing characters on the wrong side of the law– especially in westerns.

4.03        The National Enquirer

Some of the more outrageous headlines they come up with about movie stars…

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4.04        Irene Dunne to perfection

Looking at three classic movies starring Irene Dunne which show her range as a performer.

4.05        Imaginary characters

It’s Easter, so I figured why not have my old pal Harvey help me write the next column.

4.06        Steinbeck stories filmed by Lewis Milestone

The director helmed two adaptations of John Steinbeck’s work– OF MICE AND MEN and THE RED PONY.

4.07        Garbo impersonators

Appreciating Garbo send-ups by Marion Davies and Carole Lombard.

4.08        Written by Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith’s knack for unique crime stories is evident in STRANGERS ON A TRAIN and PURPLE NOON.

4.09        Old time video store

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Tales of teens who frequented a video store in the 1980s.

4.10        Animal trainer Rudd Weatherwax

A column about the man who made sure Lassie and other critters were camera ready.

4.11         Recommended films vol. 3

More classic films you really must see.

4.12         Box office poison

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Some movie stars have a streak of flops. It happens to the best of them.

4.13         Before and after the code

Movies before and after the code are not the same. Why not?

4.14         Hollywood love child

Some of Hollywood’s greatest affairs produced secret children.

4.15         TV stars that aren’t movie stars

Jackie Gleason had trouble parlaying his television success to motion pictures, and he wasn’t the only one.

4.16         James Stewart in the clouds

A look at aviation movies starring Jimmy Stewart.

4.17         Myrna Loy & William Powell movies

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In addition to the Thin Man series, Loy & Powell made a memorable team in many great motion pictures.

4.16         Overused plot: lookalike leaders

It’s a plot often seen in the movies– there’s a government emergency; but luckily, the king, queen or president has a twin or bumbling lookalike who can save the day. Why does this story work?

4.19         Frankie Laine over the opening credits

Though not a country and western singer, Frankie Laine performed the theme song for several western films in the 1950s.

4.20         Myron Selznick, agent to the stars

A look at one of classic Hollywood’s most influential agents and his top clients.

4.21         Hot babes in cold war films

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As Our Man Flint will tell you, these women did their part to help thaw out U.S.-Soviet relations.

4.22         Environmentally conscious movies

On Earth Day, I am going to look at films where the environment is the main theme.

4.23         What their parents did part 1

Some stars came from very humble beginnings.

4.24         What their parents did part 2

Some stars had well-known parents.

4.25         Giant fifties sci-fi

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Overgrown bugs and other freaks of nature on screen in the 1950s.

4.26         Shakespeare by Kenneth Branagh

I have looked at Shakespearean roles played by Laurence Olivier and Orson Welles on screen. The trilogy would not be complete without mentioning Branagh.

4.27         On-set birthdays

A photo essay of Hollywood folks celebrating their special day on the set.

4.28         Rat pack classics

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Sinatra and his buddies are coming to a screen near you.

4.29         Stars on soaps

Usually, stars appear on soap operas on the way up or the way down. But some do them when they don’t have to.

4.30        Looking ahead in May

What’s coming up next month.

 

The British are coming out west

I figured this would not be the easiest topic to write about, but because there are a few movies that fit this theme so perfectly, I had to try. First, I have to tell you, I love fish-out-of-water stories. Stories where we have characters experiencing a form of culture shock, going from one environment of familiarity and comfort to another environment that is completely foreign and sometimes a bit awkward for them. But it is always fun to watch, because it means a new adventure for the character.

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That’s what happens to Charles Laughton’s stuffy valet in RUGGLES OF RED GAP. His services are lost (or won, depending on the perspective) in a high-stakes card game. As a result, he is forced to leave merry old England and travel to the western frontier of America where he begins a new life, doing some of the same things he did before, but with a different set of people, a different set of circumstances and certainly a different set of rules. It makes for a jolly good film, because the premise is rich with comic possibilities, which the script and a group of gifted actors take full advantage of.

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Another one in this vein I enjoy quite a lot is THE SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW, which has Kenneth More as the title character, mixing it up with saloon gal Jayne Mansfield. Again, we have a western comedy, in this case produced by 20th Century Fox and presented in Technicolor. But unlike RUGGLES, More’s character is much more assertive and in control of his destiny, or at least in control as much as he can be around Mansfield and her charms.

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And then there is A MAN CALLED HORSE– not a comedy, though it is set in the west. This time Richard Harris is the star, and he’s a big game hunter from England who finds himself on the frontier captured and enslaved by the Sioux. Two sequels were made. Harris would play another Englishman out west in Clint Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN, though in a different type of role.

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Prints in cement

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The name of the theatre has changed several times but the main attraction does not. Of course, I am referring to those well-regarded movie star prints along a certain sidewalk in Hollywood. Originally, in the spring of 1927, that section facing Hollywood Boulevard was known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. By 1973, it had been renamed Mann’s Chinese Theatre; and since 2013, TCL Chinese Theatre. For those who don’t know, TCL is a Chinese owned corporation, and the acronym stands for ‘The Creative Life.’

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When it was still known as Grauman’s. there was an episode of television’s I Love Lucy, where our main characters wind up destroying, and then having to replace, John Wayne’s prints. For many viewers who have never visited Southern California, watching the classic sitcom episode may be the first and main exposure to this unique tourist spot.

The very first time I visited it, I was interested in seeing the Hardy Family prints. Perhaps it was because in the photos I had seen, it seemed interesting that fictional characters were being given a type of immortality usually reserved for gods and goddesses. I never considered Judge Hardy and his brood to be cinema icons worthy of deification. But apparently Louis B. Mayer did, though my guess is the goal was related to publicity for the movie series. Yet there those prints are, and there they remain.

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It’s also interesting to compare the oldest set of prints with the most recent. Not surprisingly, Mary Pickford was among the first to put her handprints, footprints and signature into the sidewalk in 1927. Currently, Vince Vaughn is the most recent star to have added his prints, back on March 5th of 2015.

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There’s one name I want to mention– Jean Harlow. Apparently, she made prints twice in front of the Chinese theatre, a few days apart in 1933. When I lived in West Hollywood, there was a block of concrete a few blocks from my apartment that had her signature on it. I resided on North Harper, by Sunset Boulevard; and if memory serves correctly, her signature was down on North Harper, closer to Santa Monica Boulevard.

At any rate, I remember always stopping and looking at her name, long before I had ever seen any Jean Harlow movies. At first, I thought the signature was recently scrawled on the pavement. Like someone had added it when the sidewalk was repaired. But then I realized it must have been there since the late 1920s, when Jean was a young hopeful. I am sure that when she was working at MGM and living with William Powell, she didn’t have time to play on the sidewalk, unless it was in front of adoring fans over at the Chinese theatre.

Contract perks part 2

Yesterday, I covered some of the perks that were included in movie star contracts. Here are a few more:

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First, Susan Hayward had it spelled out in her contract that the Fox hair stylists were prohibited from cutting or even slightly trimming her hair. Gene Tierney had a similar clause. No hair cutting and no hair coloring. She also went a step further and had it put in writing that Zanuck and his team were not allowed to alter her slightly crooked teeth.

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In his early days at Paramount, William Powell had a severe dislike of director Josef Von Sternberg. He had it worded in his contract that under no circumstances would he work on a Von Sternberg picture. And indeed, he never did. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Powell never made any films with Marlene Dietrich, or maybe that was the reason for the clause– because Powell did not want to be a prop in one of her pictures.

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Powell’s ex-wife Carole Lombard had an interesting clause at Paramount. She specified that only her favorite cameraman, Ted Tetzlaff, could shoot her movies. In addition to Tetzlaff, there were other technicians that she insisted work on all her pictures. This group had to go with her on any loan-outs.

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At RKO, Ginger Rogers had the best perks. She had her own self-contained complex. It came with a kitchen, bedroom, sitting room, hairdressing salon and a make-up room. For several years, Ginger was the queen bee at RKO. Marion Davies was a queen bee, too. When she and Hearst left MGM and went to Warners, it was agreed that Warners would find enough space on the lot to house her 14-room Mediterranean style bungalow.

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Hearst had it taken in sections from Culver City to Burbank. But L.B. Mayer missed the bungalow so much, that four years later, when Davies finished at Warners, the bungalow was put on some private land and Mayer used it as one of his own personal residences.

And speaking of studio moguls, several directors at Columbia had volatile relations with boss Harry Cohn. The only way they would agree to keep working for him? If it was written into their contracts that Cohn was not to directly address them, send a note or call them by telephone, ever. A female director also had it clearly understood that she was never to be asked to attend a conference on Cohn’s yacht.

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Contract perks part 1

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Did you know Clark Gable’s contract stipulated that his hours were strictly from 9 to 5? Reportedly, Burt Lancaster was furious when Gable walked off the set at 5 o’clock during the middle of an important take on RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP.

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Wallace Beery gave MGM a little more for its money. His agreements with the studio said that he would work till 5:30 p.m. each day. Of course, we do not know what time he usually showed up. He may not have started working till noon.

On the other hand, Thomas Mitchell didn’t mind working long hours. But he did have a fear of horses. All his contracts stated that if was appearing in a western, the director could not require him to mount up.

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In this photo, it looks like Joan is on the phone with her agent. Before she will even agree to re-sign her contract, Crawford insists all sets she works on must be maintained at a temperature of 68 degrees. She reserves the right to go down to 65 when menopausal hot flashes kick in.

Mae West generated heat of another kind. But none of the smoldering passion she experienced with earlier costars was shared with W.C. Fields while filming MY LITTLE CHICKADEE. In fact, West did not particularly like Fields, mostly because of his frequent intoxication. Before she signed on to do this picture with Universal, one thing had to be perfectly understood: it had to be written into both their contracts that he was not allowed to drink during working hours.

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And speaking of W.C. Fields, he demanded that his weekly salary be divided in two installments. He was to get the first half of his pay on Monday, right up front. Then, he would get the second lump on Wednesday. I have a feeling he did not work very hard on Thursday or Friday.

One guy who did work hard was Paul Muni. Muni was the ultimate perfectionist. During his days at Warner Brothers in the 1930s, boss Jack Warner was beginning to lose patience with the temperamental star. It was eventually written into Muni’s contract that the actor could only reject three scripts for any given project and if he did reject three scripts, then Muni had to find an acceptable alternative that Warners would agree to produce.

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Later, in the 1940s when Muni was freelancing at Columbia, Harry Cohn was increasingly aware that not only was Muni a perfectionist, but his wife Bella was even worse. In fact, a director and crew members were complaining that Mrs. Muni was constantly interfering with production on A SONG TO REMEMBER due to her very controlling nature. Muni’s contract had to be renegotiated (presumably at more pay to Muni) with the provision that Bella was banned from the set till production was completed.