Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

A little car, a big park, and a man carrying colorful balloons ( boy, how I'd like one of those! ). You know you've seen this scene before...and do you see those two tiny figures in the backseat of the car? You know both of them, too. Now just write the title of the film below and you'll win a prize! Unfortunately, the prize isn't a jumbo-sized balloon. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Naughty Marietta ( 1935 )

Jeanette MacDonald knew how to flaunt spunk like no other woman in her time and, incredibly, she reigned during an era of ultra-spunky women. Jeanette knew how to be feisty and flirty without losing any of her natural refinement which made her ideal to play roles of princesses in the guise of commoners, a recurring theme in her films and one which began with Naughty Marietta ( 1935 ), the first picture to feature the magical pairing of MacDonald with Nelson Eddy. 

Now, who would have predicted that an old Victor Herbert operetta ( 1910 ) starring two relatively unknown film personalities would become the smash hit of 1935? Ah, sweet mystery of showbiz! Producer Hunt Stromberg evidently recognized the wealth to be found in this gem of a pairing. MacDonald and Eddy were such an engaging duo and audiences immediately loved the unique quality of their onscreen comradery; their playful banter, scrumptious singing voices, and their fetching good looks. 

Naughty Marietta was hugely successful and established MacDonald and Eddy as the "Singing Sweethearts". Their first film together featured all of the special ingredients that would be included in each subsequent MacDonald/Eddy musical: adventure, romance, witty dialogue, humor, and beautiful music. 

"For 'tis love, and love alone, the world is seeking"
Jeanette MacDonald stars as Princess Marie of France, who is being pressured by her evil uncle ( Douglas Dumbrille ) to wed the foppish Don Carlos of Spain. To escape from this fate she swaps places with her maid, Marietta, and joins a shipload of casquette girls bound for America. Casquette girls were French women that were sent to the French colonies of Louisiana to be the wives of colonists. 

Just as they approach Louisiana they are captured by a band of pirates and dragged to their lair in the swamps. Who comes to their rescue but the dashing Captain Warrington ( Nelson Eddy ), leader of a troop of mercenaries. Hoorah for Captain Warrington! He quickly recognizes the regal quality of Marietta's bearing but has no inkling that she is a princess in disguise. Instead, smitten with her charms, he begins to woo her, and within thirty minutes ( of film time ) she falls for his winsome does the audience. 

Naughty Marietta is pure entertainment from start to finish and justly deserved its Best Picture Oscar nomination that year. If the script seems to have that added sparkle it is because it was penned by the husband-and-wife team of Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, whose work included the Thin Man series and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. 

Victor Herbert's beautiful musical numbers included "Ah, Sweet Mystery of Life" ( which became MacDonald's signature song ), "Italian Street Song", "Chansonette", "Tramp Tramp Tramp" and the lovely "I'm Falling in Love with Someone". 
MacDonald and Eddy were not only talented singers but adroit comedians as well. The "'Neath the Southern Moon" sequence and the marionette number are particularly amusing. To add to the merriment, MGM assembled a top-notch supporting cast which included Frank Morgan as Governor d'Annard, Elsa Lanchester as the Governor's wife, Cecilia Parker ( in her pre-Andy Hardy days ) as Marietta's friend Julie, and Akim Tamiroff as Rudolpho, the gypsy king. 

The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society is hosting The Singing Sweethearts Blogathon celebrating the dynamic twosome of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. They fittingly scheduled it for Valentine's Day. Be sure to check out the complete roster here for more reviews and articles about this lovely couple. Happy Valentine's Day! 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Student Prince ( 1939 )

This Valentine's Day, the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society is hosting The Singing Sweethearts Blogathon to celebrate one of the most delightful romantic couples to ever grace the silver screen - Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. I will be reviewing Naughty Marietta tomorrow but first, a look at one of the best musicals this twosome never made, MGM's adaptation of the operetta The Student Prince ( 1939 ).

Sigmund Romberg penned the score to this delightful operetta in 1924, musicalizing the 1902 Wilhelm Meyer-Förster play "Old Heidelberg". The story centers around the young Prince Karl Franz of Karlsberg, who is encouraged by his tutor, the kindly Doctor Engel, to attend the University of Heidelberg prior to capping the crown on his head. In this charming old German town, Prince Karl falls in love with Kathie, the barmaid at the local beerhall where all the students congregate after school. He wishes to marry Kathie but he is pledged to betroth Princess Margaret, and so his heart is divided between his personal desire and duty for his country.

This simple but engaging plot was interwoven with over 15 glorious Romberg songs, including "Drink, Drink, Drink!", "Golden Days", "Serenade", and "Deep in My Heart".
"The Student Prince" was an immediate success upon its Broadway debut in 1924, becoming the most popular musical of the 1920s, running even longer than "Show Boat". Hollywood brought it to the screen in 1927 as a silent film (!) starring Ramon Navarro and Norma Shearer and then remade it as a musical with Edmund Purdom and Ann Blyth in 1954, but between those years no screen version was made. I'd like to argue that Louis B. Mayer, head of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, was blind to not see the potential box-office success of casting two of their biggest drawing stars - Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy - in a musical version of this story. 

The Student Prince ( 1954 )

1939 would have been the ideal release year for this film since MacDonald and Eddy would have just completed The Girl of the Golden West and Sweethearts but had no major release planned for the "golden year". MacDonald would have been marvelous as Kathie, the sweet and saucy barmaid whom all the college-men adored, while Nelson Eddy had the perfect royal bearing to portray Prince Karl. When Karl first arrives in Heidelberg he is stiff and overly curt, but as he gets to know Kathie and the other students his supreme-air fades away and he becomes beloved by all....a part that Eddy could have easily pulled off. 

The musical numbers were well-suited to both MacDonald and Eddy's voices and the rousing "Drink, Drink, Drink!" ensemble number would have been splendid with Eddy leading the chorus. 

Henry Stephenson could have been cast as Karl's father, the King ( a role that Louis Calhern played in the 1954 version ), Frank Morgan could have been the gentle Professor, Reginald Owen could have played Lutz, Karl's valet, and Elissa Landi would have made a charming Princess Margaret with her aristocratic stature. Herman Bing could have also provided comedic relief as the studdering prime minister. 

The Student Prince would have been a film that did not conclude with Eddy and MacDonald joining hands and singing into the sunset, but at least, it would have a happier ending than the tear-inducing Maytime ( 1937 ). 

Alas, Louis B. Mayer had too much on his plate to consider the project and The Student Prince was not filmed until nearly 25 years later....a version which is very entertaining but lacks the sparkle that MacDonald and Eddy would have given to the characters and the film as a whole. 

Click here to read some fabulous reviews of Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy films from The Singing Sweethearts Blogathon being hosted by The Pure Entertainment Preservation Society.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Wild North ( 1952 )

"There's no wilderness wide enough to hide a sin"

When a man is separated from civilization and must contend with the forces of Mother Nature way up in the wild, wild north woods of Canada, he may discover savage instincts laying deep within him begin to emerge in his efforts to survive. 

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's The Wild North tells the tale of a man who is placed in such circumstances. Jules Vincent, portrayed by Stewart Granger, is a French Canadian fur-trader who comes into a riverside town in Northwest Canada twice a year to purchase supplies, trade his goods, and drink a few beers. On a recent visit to town, he befriends a curvacious Chippewa Indian woman ( Cyd Charisse ) who is working as a singer at the local bar. She would rather return to her tribe then receive the not-too-flattering attention of drunken traders. Gallantly, Jules offers to take her back to her people in his canoe before returning to his cabin in the remote village of McQuarrie. 

Joining them on the river excursion is Max Brody, another fur trader; but by the time they reach McQuarrie we find that Max is strangely missing from the canoe and Jules is now shielding his face from the local priest. Soon, the Northwest Mounted Police, in the form of Constable Pedley ( Wendell Corey ) is hot on the trail....a trail that leads straight into the heart of the wild north, where an avalanche, marauding wolf pack, and below freezing temperatures await them both. 

The Wild North is a brawny adventure film that deftly blends drama with action into a frosty macho milkshake. It is a tale straight out of "Man's Life" magazine - only it's better because it is filmed in glorious Ansco Color! The movie boasts some stunning location scenery with the mountainous landscapes of Wyoming and Idaho admirably filling in for Northwest Canada. Frank Fenton penned the story for the screen, basing his tale upon an incident that befell an NWMP officer named Albert Pedley in 1904. During a particularly harsh winter in Canada, Pedley bore months of loneliness, cruel weather, and "white madness" to bring his prisoner to justice. 

Andrew Morton, who had co-directed Granger in MGM's King Solomon's Mines two years earlier, does a great job at helming the action, not leaving any room in the film for boredom to brew. The wolf attack is particularly harrowing and brutally realistic. 

The character of Jules is a bit of an anomaly for Stewart Granger, who is often given the role of the white-armored hero. Jules' nature, like most humans, isn't clearly defined as good or evil. He is a kind-hearted man who leads the simple and lonely life of a backwoods trapper but in a situation where his life is in jeopardy, he is prepared to murder....and, as Ellen Creed so aptly put it in Ladies in Retirement ( 1941 ) "Once you sell your soul to the Devil, it is easy to kill again." The thought of murdering Pedley on the journey back to McQuarrie becomes very tempting to Jules, until he recognizes the beast within him beginning to emerge. 

The normally wooden-faced Wendell Corey does a first-rate job of portraying the Dudley-Doright-like Mountie. "Man against Man - and Man Against Nature" was the tagline for The Wild North but Corey and Granger each made their characters so likable that you want to see both survive in their fight against the cruel elements in the "Wild North". 

Cyd Charisse is lovely as the Indian girl who falls in love with Jules, and rounding out the rather small cast is Morgan Farley, Howard Petrie, Ray Teal, and J.M. Kerrigan. 

This post is our contribution to the annual O Canada Blogathon being hosted by Speakeasy and Silver Screenings. Be sure to check out all the great entries profiling famous Canadians and films made in or about Canada. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Five Weeks in a Balloon ( 1962 )

Producer Irwin Allen, best known for his "disaster films" of the 1970s ( The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure ) also made a number of entertaining sci-fi and adventure films in the early 1960s, including The Lost World and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. One of his lesser-known films of this period is Five Weeks in a Balloon ( 1962 ), a fluffy juvenile adaptation of the Jules Verne classic, which he also directed.

Cedric Hardwicke stars in the film as Professor Furgusson, a stiff-lipped Englishman who has invented a balloon named The Jupiter which he intends to explore East Africa with. Joining him on this journey is his assistant Jacques ( Fabian ), and American playboy Donald O'Shea ( Red Buttons ). On the day that they are prepared to depart, the British prime minister interferes, commissioning the Jupiter to venture to West Africa to claim uncharted land before a band of slave traders stake the territory as their own. Before they know it, their five-week aerial journey becomes fraught with hazards as they attempt to fulfill their mission for the glory of the British Empire. 

"Cinq Semaines en Balloon", published in 1863, was the novel that launched Jules Verne to international stardom as an author and it included all of the magic ingredients that went into his later works. Irwin Allen's version of Five Weeks in a Balloon departs from Verne's original plot considerably, with the Professor attempting to beat the claims of a slave trading expedition instead of merely racing against other explorers to make a name for himself. The film also added the presence of two females ( Barbara Eden and Barbara Luna ) both of whom are rescued en route by the balloonists from these slave traders.
During much of the production, Allen was involved in a race against the Woolner Brothers, other producers, to be the first to release a film adaptation of "Five Weeks in a Balloon". The Woolner Brothers won this race, releasing Flight of the Lost Balloon ( starring Marshall Thompson ) in 1961, but Allen - with the force of 20th Century Fox behind him - managed to block the team from using the name of Jules Verne in their title or any of their publicity material. 

Perhaps it was due to this rushed production, but Five Weeks in a Balloon never really lifts off and soars to the heights it could have reached had it been filmed with care. 20th Century Fox had scored a hit with another Verne novel adaptation, Journey to the Center of the Earth, in 1958. That film had the perfect combination of adventure, comedy, thrills, and romance. It featured great special effects, a highly-entertaining script, and most importantly, a powerful lead actor - James Mason. An engaging actor such as Mason is sadly missing from Five Weeks in a Balloon. Sir Cedric Hardwicke simply doesn't cut the mustard. 

What Five Weeks in a Balloon does possess is an impressive array of supporting players which include Richard Haydn ( always a delight ), Peter Lorre, Billy Gilbert, Henry Daniell, Herbert Marshall, Reginald Owen, and Raymond Bailey. It also features colorful settings, a catchy theme song, spunky title credits, and some clever special effects. The scenes that utilize the balloon are quite good, especially the opening sequence. 

The box-office sales were so disappointing for Five Weeks in a Balloon that Irwin Allen decided to quit the motion picture business for a while and turn his attention to television, where he scored a hit with Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, Land of the Giants and, his most famous series, Lost in Space...which featured another "Jupiter", the Jupiter II spacecraft. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Land that Time Forgot ( 1975 )

The year is 1916. Somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, a German U-boat torpedoes a supply ship and captures its survivors. Among these survivors is Bowen Tyler ( Doug McClure ) who, with a few other surviving crew members, manages to take command of the vessel. However, he soon becomes allies with the U-boat's commander, Captain von Schoenvorts ( John McEnery ),  when the ship's compass is sabotaged and they find themselves off course and heading towards Antarctica. A narrow underwater passage leads them into an uncharted subcontinent known as Caprona where they work together to search for fuel for the return journey while battling dinosaurs and dangerous tribes of primitive men. 

The Land that Time Forgot is a campy adventure film with rubber dinosaurs and hoards of hairy cavemen, and it probably has the most appeal to those who grew up with the film from childhood, but even a first-time viewer will discover some exciting moments in it....such as this man-eating prehistoric Loch Ness monster. 
Edgar Rice Burroughs, the man whose imagination gave birth to Tarzan, penned "The Land that Time Forgot" in 1924. The novel's premise is a clever blend of adventure, sci-fi, and World War I drama and director Kevin Connor did a fair job of transferring that to the screen. But overall, it lacks the spit and polish ( and the pinch of humor ) that could have made it a really memorable classic. While McClure was a talented actor, he didn't exude the heroic charm of an Errol Flynn or Stewart Granger, which the lead character deserved to have. 
Nevertheless, the box-office receipts were so good for The Land that Time Forgot upon its release that Connor turned out two more Edgar Rice Burroughs-based films for American International Pictures: At the Earth's Core ( 1975 ) also starring Doug McClure, and The People that Time Forgot ( 1977 ) with Patrick Wayne, which was the most entertaining of the three. 

Susan Penhaligon also stars as the requisite love-interest, with Keith Barron, Anthony Ainley, Godfrey James and Roy Holder rounding out the cast.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie Game

Hoorah! Someone deserves a good applause... but who? and just what did they do? If you've seen this film then you know what this mystery person accomplished. Put on your ski caps - I mean your thinking caps - and see if you can name this movie.

As always, if you are not familiar with the rules to the Impossibly Difficult Name that Movie game or the prize, click here!
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