Films that never were

Believe it or not, these ideas were once considered:

GUYS AND DAHLS

American actor Guy Madison and British actor Guy Rolfe were originally cast in this film, where they would fight over a woman and her twin sister, both played by Arlene Dahl.

THE FLASK OF THE MOHICANS

After the success of THE LOST WEEKEND, Billy Wilder wanted to make an updated version of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic story. The bosses at Paramount said no, and they made Billy buy the next round.

JOHNNY GUIZAR

When Tito Guizar had a scheduling conflict, the role was given to Sterling Hayden and the concept was slightly modified.

12 HUNGRY MEN

In this version, a dozen men in a courthouse building are debating what to order for lunch.

BUONA SERA SIGNORA CAMPBELLINA

Hollywood execs worried that only Italian audiences would go see it, so they americanized the Signora and the Campbellina.

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BEAUTIFUL BETTE?

Miss Davis threatened to sue, so they had to revert back to the original title. Good thing she wasn’t around when someone decided to make a show called Ugly Betty.

Essential: SCARLET STREET (1945)

In SCARLET STREET, Edward G. Robinson is cast as a would-be artist who meets and “saves” a streetwalker played by Joan Bennett. The two stars previously worked together a year earlier in THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW; and this time, they’re remaking a 1931 French film called LA CHIENNE by Jean Renoir.

The action gets underway as they meet on a rain-soaked city street one night. It doesn’t take long before Robinson is in over his head. He quickly falls into a depraved whirlpool of lust and deception, with Bennett the object of his affections. She’s young, attractive and the complete opposite of his henpecking wife. But she and her boyfriend (Dan Duryea) see an easy target, and they work to mislead Robinson and finagle money out of him at every turn.

By day Robinson is a cashier; and by night, he’s a Greenwich Village painter. When Bennett finds out he paints, she volunteers to pose for him. They agree to a cozy set-up in an apartment that doubles as his studio and her living quarters. Of course, Robinson’s wife has no idea any of this is going on; and he becomes increasingly attracted to his new subject despite being twice her age. As he takes leave of his senses, Bennett continues to manipulate and take advantage of him. It’s worth pointing out the French title means “The Bitch,” and Bennett plays her to the hilt.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t figure out what’s happening until it’s too late; and by the time the story reaches its inevitable conclusion, their clandestine relationship has led to his complete self-destruction. A desperate man who had it all suddenly ends up with nothing because of a muse with a bewitching power. But she has strangely inspired his greatest and most lasting work of art.

SCARLET STREET was directed by Fritz Lang and can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

Coming up in September

Films that never were…Six motion pictures that almost happened.

Would you trust this woman to save your country?…thanks to President Lincoln, homeland security is now in the hands of Marion Davies.

Women out west…Robert Taylor leads a wagon train of mail-order brides.

Another look at Barbara Stanwyck…sometimes the way we see an actress changes.

The production code and profanity…regarding the use of language on screen.

Recommended classics vol. 10…movies with Kay Francis, Grace Moore and Jean Arthur.

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Join me in September!

 

 

Summer star Van Johnson

TCM is honoring Van Johnson as part of Summer Under the Stars. Many of his best-loved films are airing today, which happens to be the day he was born 100 years ago.

The tribute kicks off with two movies featuring Van and frequent costar June Allyson. They were a popular team at MGM, and the studio liked to cast them in romantic stories. TCM will air a wartime romance they did called HIGH BARBAREE as well as a romantic comedy, THE BRIDE GOES WILD. Even if the characters they play are star-crossed, we know they will be reunited before the final fadeout.

Another one of Van’s leading ladies at MGM was aquatic star Esther Williams. When Van worked with Esther, he appeared in Technicolor. TCM will be airing the breezy romance DUCHESS OF IDAHO on the 25th. The story is set in Sun Valley, and the supporting cast includes Paula Raymond and  John Lund. Plus Eleanor Powell makes a guest appearance in what was her last motion picture appearance.

During his time at Metro, Van had the opportunity to costar with young Elizabeth Taylor in two films. The second one is the more well-known picture, THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS. It is based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Other cast members include Walter Pidgeon, Donna Reed and Eva Gabor.

Sometimes MGM handed more serious roles to Van Johnson. In 1949 he turned up in the war drama BATTLEGROUND. Directed by William Wellman, the film is notable for depicting soldiers as human and vulnerable. Van did an excellent job, and he shows what a capable dramatic actor he could be.

Essential: THE HOUSE ACROSS THE BAY (1940)

When Joan Bennett was still a blonde, she costarred with George Raft in a 1935 picture for Columbia called SHE COULDN’T TAKE IT. It was a modest hit, and they enjoyed working together. Five years later, they jumped at the chance to do another film, this time for Bennett’s husband, producer Walter Wanger.

When they teamed up again for Wanger’s THE HOUSE ACROSS THE BAY, they picked up right where they had left off. The opening scenes show Raft in control as the owner of a casino. But his cool is quickly shattered by a sassy dame, who’s making trouble in his joint. It’s the kind of trouble that only Bennett can play in the greatest Jean Harlow style. Soon she makes a play for him, and he makes a play for her. The dialogue crackles, and in no time at all, it turns into “I do.”

Of course, there are complications galore. He’s muscling out competitors, but his racket is under scrutiny by the feds. It all escalates, and in a dramatic turn of events, he’s arrested, found guilty of tax evasion and given ten years in the slammer. Keep in mind this is just the end of the first act, and we haven’t gotten to the house in the title yet, or the bay.

The bay is in San Francisco, and Bennett goes there to live while Raft serves out his sentence at Alcatraz. It’s not made clear if the house is hers on one side of the troubled waters that separate them, or the big house on the rock where he’s incarcerated. While they’re apart, she makes two friends– one is a tough cookie played by Gladys George, and the other a well-meaning man (Walter Pidgeon) who is the antithesis of Raft’s hoodlum character.

At this point, Raft recedes slightly into the background. A relationship, at first platonic, grows between Bennett and Pidgeon. The middle stretch of the film still retains the charm established in the first part. But we’re doing time like Raft waiting for the explosive finale. And what a finale it is. Obviously Raft has to feel betrayed by his wife (when in reality the traitor is a lawyer played by Lloyd Nolan). He busts out to try and reclaim everything he had before. Wanger and the director stage a dramatic sequence where Raft dodges bullets, swimming across the bay. He makes it to the shore and goes to a club where his wife is working. This is the first time the three main characters come together.

It’s clear that Raft is a doomed man, and he will not ever be able to have the kind of marriage he should have had all along. The cops are closing in; he flees and is shot and killed. The film’s dual structure (the two romances Bennett experiences) leave us with a woman broken in half. One half is a woman who lived, and the other half is a woman who still has yet to live.

THE HOUSE ACROSS THE BAY was directed by Archie Mayo. It can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

Summer star Ruby Keeler

Ruby Keeler was a beautiful and talented dancer; and audiences responded to her warm personality as much as they did to her fancy footwork. She had begun performing professionally as a young teenager, and by the time she was 20, she had worked on Broadway and married Al Jolson. She landed a contract to make movies at Warner Brothers, where she stayed busy during the 1930s. All of Ruby’s best pictures will be broadcast on TCM August 19th, including the one she and her husband made together.

42ND STREET (1933) is one of Ruby Keeler’s most beloved films. She plays a naive newcomer who wins a part in a stage show and turns the heads of several men. She sings and dances the classic tune ‘Shuffle Off to Buffalo’ as well as the title song. Busby Berkeley choreographed the spectacular musical numbers.

In DAMES (1934), Ruby was paired with Dick Powell, who became her most frequent leading man. Again, she collaborated with Busby Berkeley on the main numbers. The plot is fairly basic– Ruby plays a dancer who falls for a struggling songwriter (Powell). The supporting cast includes other popular Warner Brothers players like Joan Blondell and Guy Kibbee.

In 1935, Ruby and husband Al Jolson headlined the musical GO INTO YOUR DANCE. They were joined by Glenda Farrell and Patsy Kelly. In the story, Jolson is a washed-up Broadway star whose career makes a comeback when he is teamed with a rising hopeful played by Ruby. There is a subplot involving gangsters. Jolson sings ‘About a Quarter to Nine.’

Ruby had a rare non-musical role in 1938, when she was loaned out by Warner Brothers to play one of the leads in RKO’s comedy-drama MOTHER CAREY’S CHICKENS. She was cast as one of Fay Bainter’s daughters and shared scenes with Anne Shirley as her sister. It would be Ruby’s last film for three years, until she returned to the screen in Columbia’s musical SWEETHEART OF THE CAMPUS. And indeed, in all her motion pictures, Ruby Keeler is always a real sweetheart.

 

Summer star Anne Baxter

On Tuesday August 16th, TCM is honoring Oscar-winning actress Anne Baxter during its Summer Under the Stars programming. Anne was born in 1923 and by the age of ten, she had decided to become an actress like her role model, Helen Hayes. A short time later, she had a role on Broadway; and in 1940, at the age of 16, she appeared in her first motion picture.

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She would become a mainstay at 20th Century Fox during the 1940s, and in the following decade, she would move on to independent assignments at a variety of studios, before branching out into television. Several of her Fox pictures are airing on TCM during Anne’s special tribute:

SWAMP WATER (1941). This film was directed by Jean Renoir. Anne is cast as a waif living on the edge of the Okefenokee swamp. Walter Brennan costars as her father, and Dana Andrews plays Anne’s love interest. She appeared with Andrews in other films, but this is their most memorable pairing. Brennan would reprise his role in the Technicolor remake, LURE OF THE SWAMP.

THE FIGHTING SULLIVANS (1944). In this wartime melodrama, Anne plays the wife of a man who serves in Guadalcanal with his brothers. All of the Sullivans are killed when their ship is torpedoed, and their real-life tragedy becomes a rallying point for Americans. Anne was just twenty when the picture was made, but it is certainly one of her most impressive early dramatic performances.

THE RAZOR’S EDGE (1946). A survey of Anne Baxter’s films cannot be complete without mentioning THE RAZOR’S EDGE. Anne gives a shocking performance as an opium addict in this adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s story. For her efforts, she took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. This was the second time she had costarred with Tyrone Power and with John Payne.

ALL ABOUT EVE (1950). Anne is spectacular in Joseph Mankiewicz’s drama about Broadway and backstage backstabbing. She plays the title role, a mixed-up woman who mixes it up with Bette Davis, Celeste Holm and George Sanders. The film earned the Best Picture Oscar for 1950 and is an undeniable classic.

 

Essential: VOGUES OF 1938 (1937)

Walter Wanger’s VOGUES OF 1938 was made before TRADE WINDS, so the leading lady of this picture, Joan Bennett, still has blonde hair. And unlike most of the other films these two made together, this production is in Technicolor. So Joan is quite a sight here, and so are the other lovely ladies who model the many gowns and outfits that are on display.

Joan plays a different type of character– she’s a debutante who is being married to a snob (Alan Mowbray) to ensure her family stays financially well-off. But of course, she doesn’t like the man they’ve chosen to be her husband, and when she goes to Warner Baxter’s design house to try on her wedding gown, she gets an idea. If Baxter agrees not to send her dress to the house, then the nuptials will have to be postponed. Of course, he doesn’t go along with her idea, and when the dress arrives on time, she lets out a scream. In the next scene, we learn she called off the wedding. She returns to his place of business, followed by reporters, to toss the gown in his face. He realizes there is great publicity value in maintaining an association with her, so he offers her a job modeling clothes for him. She says yes, because without a wedding to prepare for, what else is a fashionista to do?

The story is off and running, and other characters are quickly added. There is Sophie, one of the lead designers who functions as a den mother to Joan and the other girls. And we also have Baxter’s shrewish wife (Helen Vinson) who leaves him in a huff and then comes back. Rounding out the supporting cast are Jerome Cowan as the wife’s confidante and Mischa Auer who plays a rival designer. In fact, Auer has some very good comedy scenes with Mowbray; and they provide a lot of fun during breaks from the action involving the leads.

In addition to the clothes and the comic relief, some spectacular musical numbers are included. It’s obvious Wanger is pulling out all the stops to make a very lavish piece of entertainment. On that level, it certainly succeeds. Everyone who appears in the story is fabulously in style from head to toe. Indeed, the opening credits acknowledge several real-life designers who have provided the fashions (vogues) that are seen on screen.

But the thing that really helps make this production fun and slightly kitschy is the early Technicolor photography Wanger and United Artists opt to use. (The art design was Oscar-nominated and deservedly so.) Also, the picture has the distinction of having been filmed entirely in New York City. So there’s a real sense of urban east coast ambience here– in the fashion house scenes, the club scenes and especially in the outdoor scenes filmed on location.

Walter Wanger’s VOGUES OF 1938 was directed by Irving Cummings. It can be streamed on Amazon Prime.

 

Summer star Tim Holt

TCM is featuring a day of Tim Holt movies on Tuesday August 9th.  The daytime portion of the schedule consists of B-westerns the actor made during his lengthy career at RKO. In the evening, some of Tim’s pictures in other genres will be broadcast.

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Tim was born in Beverly Hills in 1919, the son of film star Jack Holt. He made his motion picture debut in a 1928 silent western starring his father. He played juvenile roles for producer Walter Wanger, then quickly moved on to more challenging material when he was signed by RKO. He is remembered for appearing in nearly four dozen B westerns for the studio from 1938 until 1952.

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THE LAW WEST OF TOMBSTONE (1938). This was the first B western Tim made at RKO, and it’s the first one TCM is airing on August 9th. Harry Carey Sr. has lead billing, and Tim plays a young gunman who helps fight outlaws. Tim’s performance impressed the studio bosses and he was quickly cast in similar films.

SIX-GUN GOLD (1941). Tim was a full-fledged B western star at this point. He learns a criminal is posing as a U.S. Marshal and decides to do something to help the townsfolk. Comic relief is provided by Lee Lasses White, and singer Ray Whitley adds music to the proceedings. TCM will rebroadcast SIX-GUN GOLD in September.

SAGEBRUSH LAW (1943). This title and several others were filmed quickly in the summer of 1942 (about two weeks’ time for each production), because the actor was going into the military. RKO stockpiled enough Tim Holt westerns to keep him in movie theaters for a year. But he would remain in the military until the last day of World War II.

THE ARIZONA RANGER (1948). One of the B westerns Tim appeared in after completing his wartime service.  Tim’s father Jack plays a key supporting role. Also on hand is Richard Martin, who takes over comic relief as a character named Chito Rafferty. Martin first played Chito in RKO’s war film BOMBARDIER.  He and Tim made 29 films together.

THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948). In 1948, Tim appeared in six westerns. In between assignments at RKO, he was loaned to Warners to costar alongside Humphrey Bogart in John Huston’s latest film. Tim’s father Jack also turns up, in the uncredited role of a flophouse bum. Only in the movies does a bum go home to Beverly Hills when the director yells ‘Cut!’

 

Essential: TRADE WINDS (1938)

This month I will be reviewing four films starring Joan Bennett that were produced by her husband Walter Wanger. Wanger joined United Artists in 1936. He had previously worked as a producer at Paramount, where he met his future wife. By the late 1930s, they had left Paramount and were making a series of independent features together that Wanger was able to distribute through UA. The films were tailor-made to showcase the actress’s talents across a variety of genres.

The first one I will discuss is TRADE WINDS, a breezy romantic escapade that casts the actress as a wanted woman. This is the film where Joan Bennett last appears as a blonde. Her character dyes her hair brown when a disguise is needed; and Bennett decided to stay a brunette for the rest of her life.

The action gets underway almost immediately, when she is informed her sister is dead, and then goes to confront the man she feels is responsible for it. She shoots at him, and goes on the lam, ditching her car and anything else that can be linked to her. When a police detective (Ralph Bellamy) thinks she committed suicide, she is able to assume a different identity with her new hair color and a new name. In the next part, Bellamy and his boss (Thomas Mitchell) learn she’s still alive and in Hawaii. So they decide to bring in a bounty hunter (Fredric March). Bellamy will tag along, and so will March’s wacky girl Friday– superbly played by scene-stealing Ann Sothern.

The film quickly hops from one international setting to the next. It starts in San Francisco, and goes to Hawaii, then to Japan followed by Singapore and Bombay. There are many rear projection shots, with the actors working on a studio sound stage. But Wanger did send a crew on location to photograph exteriors for the various overseas locales we see in the background. I’m sure this must have been a pleasurable travelogue of sorts for audiences of the time, and in that regard, it still holds up quite nicely. Wanger reused these filmed backgrounds for a Loretta Young picture he made a year later called ETERNALLY YOURS.

The plot is all over the map, literally– but TRADE WINDS has considerable charm and abounds in energy. Misunderstandings occur March and Bennett meet and get tangled up situations that involve Sothern and Bellamy. But we know that while both couples are on the run, they are also headed for romance and marriage. Eventually, they all forget where they’ve been and where they thought they were headed.

TRADE WINDS was directed by Tay Garnett and can be streamed on Amazon Prime.