Coming up in November

This is what’s coming up:

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Recommended films vol. 6..I will kick the month off with a few recommendations.

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Actresses that married soldiers..just in time for Veterans’ Day– several Hollywood ladies who said ‘I do’ to a man in uniform.

Movie trailers..no coming attractions for this one; I don’t want to spoil the fun.

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Southern Bette..Bette Davis tried her hand at a few southern belles. But Bette was from Massachusetts.

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Movie pilgrims..around Thanksgiving, I will present a column about classic pilgrimages.

Grandmother and her movies..honoring my grandmother—and grandmothers everywhere who encourage an appreciation for classic film.

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Back from the dead

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Recently while watching what appeared to be a routine 1950s western, I realized the story seemed quite familiar. The film was FRONTIER GAMBLER, with Coleen Gray cast as a saloon owner whose murder is investigated by a new marshal (John Bromfield). But just as the marshal begins to close in on a suspect, it turns out the madame in question is not actually dead at all. In a stunning turn of events, she shows up very much alive, and her death appears to have been misunderstood.

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“Wait a second,” I said aloud. “This is just like LAURA.” I quickly checked the credits to see if the writer was the same person who had scripted 20th Century Fox’s classic film noir. I discovered it was not the same writer, but the story was awfully similar. Later, I read user reviews on the IMDb and came across comments from others who remarked on how much FRONTIER GAMBLER resembled LAURA. One person went so far as to suggest FRONTIER GAMBLER’s screenwriter was a plagiarist and that credit should be given where it’s due– to Vera Caspary, the original author of LAURA.

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However, in all fairness we should point out that FRONTIER GAMBLER does have enough new material mixed in with the plot of the earlier motion picture to ensure that it is not a total rip-off. It is told in another genre, even though the basic structure of the narrative– including the heart-pounding climax– is definitely inspired by LAURA.

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As FRONTIER GAMBLER concluded, I wondered if something that borrows heavily from an earlier hit is automatically disqualified as an authentic motion picture. Maybe it can be regarded as a sincere form of cinematic flattery– with enough new elements to make it just as good. I guess I will leave it up to you to watch FRONTIER GAMBLER and decide for yourself. Or maybe Laura Hunt can come back from the dead once again and tell us what she thinks.

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Costars that were life-long friends

George Sanders had already made some motion pictures in his native England, when he came to Hollywood to make LLOYDS OF LONDON for 20th Century Fox in 1936. It was a costume drama, and it cast him with one of Hitchcock’s favorite leading ladies, Madeleine Carroll. But just as importantly, it provided George Sanders with a chance to costar alongside Tyrone Power, who was also new at Fox. According to many accounts, the two men hit it off well, and they would remain life-long friends.

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Altogether Sanders and Power would work on five movies together. These included the already mentioned LLOYDS OF LONDON; LOVE IS NEWS (with Loretta Young); SON OF FURY (with Gene Tierney); THE BLACK SWAN (with Maureen O’Hara); and SOLOMON AND SHEBA (with Gina Lollobrigida) which Power was unable to finish when he suffered a fatal heart attack after a fencing scene. Sanders wrote a moving eulogy to honor his pal, and an excerpt of it appears in a biography written by Richard Van Der Beet.

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Tyrone Power and George Sanders had an innate understanding of one another, not only as actors but as human beings. This is what carried them through failed movies, failed marriages and failing health. From the first picture to the very last one, they maintained a strong bond of friendship. Their BLACK SWAN costar Maureen O’Hara knew the value of such friendship. She enjoyed a similar relationship with her frequent leading man John Wayne.

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It all started with the post-Civil War western RIO GRANDE, which first paired O’Hara and Wayne in 1950 for John Ford at Republic Studios. Since both stars had worked with the director before, it is surprising that it took so long for them to be cast together. But after this, there was no stopping them. Two years later it was THE QUIET MAN, Ford’s love letter to Ireland, which became a runaway hit. Then, in 1957, they went to work with Ford again for the war biography THE WINGS OF EAGLES. In 1963 O’Hara and Wayne reunited for a western version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew called MCCLINTOCK!, and eight years after that, it was BIG JAKE in 1971.

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When John Wayne was dying from cancer in the late 1970s, Maureen O’Hara was still in touch with him. She would visit him near the end of his life when he did not have much time left. Years later, she spoke to Robert Osborne at a TCM Classic Film Festival, regaling the audience with her stories about Duke. It was obvious that the affection they shared as costars and life-long friends could never be diminished.

John Payne directed by Phil Karlson

Phil Karlson directed his first film in 1944, and over the course of the next few years he enjoyed moderate success in several genres, usually at poverty row studios. By the time the 1950s began, he was entering a new phase of his career, working for larger studios and dividing time between swashbucklers and film noir. His noir output during this period is exceptional, thanks in part to his collaboration with star John Payne, with whom he made several pictures.

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Payne was known as a leading man in 40s musicals and westerns that made him a favorite with audiences. No longer one of Hollywood’s young pretty boys in 1950, the actor was transitioning and looking for edgier material to play. So he signed a deal to make action-adventure yarns for the Pine-Thomas production unit at Paramount, as well as a series of modestly budgeted crime dramas for independent producer Edward Small to be released through United Artists. In this column, I will look at three of the angry noir roles Payne did with Karlson (two of them for Small, and one for Pine-Thomas).

KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952)

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This was the first collaboration. Payne plays a down-on-his-luck ex-con who becomes implicated in a heist that is masterminded by Preston Foster and involves Lee Van Cleef and Neville Brand. The gritty drama takes several exciting twists and turns, and viewers get drawn into the predicament faced by Payne’s character. Though the action begins in Kansas City, it eventually moves to Borados, Mexico, as Payne tries to clear himself and unmask the culprits. Karlson shot the exterior scenes set in Mexico on Catalina Island. The film is bolstered by the presence of Coleen Gray as Payne’s love interest, a young woman determined to help him.

99 RIVER STREET (1953)

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In the second outing, Payne is a boxer-turned-cabbie married to Peggie Castle but falling in love with Evelyn Keyes. Castle plays the unfaithful wife who has hooked up with crook Brad Dexter; and Keyes is an aspiring actress who gets Payne involved in a murder plot. The two stories gradually become intertwined, and once more we have Payne trying to clear himself of wrong-doing. This film features several standout performances from character actors in supporting roles. In addition to Dexter, we have Jay Adler playing a clever crime boss, and Frank Faylen as Payne’s boss at the local cab company. The action culminates in a tense standoff along a pier located at a dangerous address referenced in the title.

HELL’S ISLAND (1955)

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The third Karlson-Payne project was a color noir shot in widescreen. This time the director and star were not working for Edward Small, but instead for Pine-Thomas at Paramount. The somewhat larger budget given this production allowed it to be made in Technicolor and VistaVision. The story has Payne in pursuit of a stolen ruby down in the Caribbean, which causes him to cross paths with an ex-girlfriend who deals in deception. Mary Murphy plays the femme fatale; and Paul Picerni is her imprisoned husband that Payne may or may not help break out of jail. Karlson’s hard-hitting direction was praised, and so were the colorful characters, and Payne’s tough performance.

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In addition to the three films mentioned above, Karlson and Payne would collaborate again on television. They both worked on the Studio 57 episode ‘Deadline’ broadcast on February 26, 1956.