Thursday, 30 March 2017

The 2nd Annual Bette Davis Blogathon: «Dark Victory» (1939)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Edmund Goulding, Dark Victory (1939) tells the story of Judith Traherne (Bette Davis), a carefree heiress with a passion for horses and fast cars. When she begins suffering from chronic headaches, her family physician, Dr. Parsons (Henry Travers), insists that she see Dr. Frederick Steele (George Brent), a brilliant brain surgeon. Judith arrives at Steele's office on the day that he is to retire from surgery due to the death of his patients. Intrigued by Judith's symptoms and charmed by her spirits, however, he postpones his retirement and takes her case. After performing a delicate brain surgery on Judith, Steele discovers that she has a malignant tumor which will inevitably kill her within less than a year.

In order to allow her a few more months of happiness, Steele lies to Judith and assures her that the surgery was a success. However, he cannot hide the truth from her best friend, Ann King (Geraldine Fitzgerald), who agrees to continue the lie. Meanwhile, Judith and Steele became romantically involved and eventually engaged. While packing for their move to Vermont, Judith accidentally comes across her case history file and learns of her hopeless prognosis. Assuming that Steele is marrying her out of pity, she breaks off the engagement and reverts to her old lifestyle. Her conversation with her stablemaster, Michael O'Leary (Humphrey Bogart), ultimately convinces her that she should spend her final months happy and with the man she loves. Judith apologizes to Steele and the two get married, before moving to Vermont. A few months later, while planting bulbs in the garden with Ann, Judith realizes that she is losing her vision, which means that she is approaching the end. She does not tell anyone what is happening and even encourages Steele to leave without her for a medical conference in New York. She then goes to her room and lies down on the bed, feeling that she has won her own brief dark victory over death.

Judith Traherne: Nothing can hurt us now. What we have can't be destroyed. That's our victory our victory over the dark. It is a victory because we're not afraid.

Dark Victory began as a Broadway play written by George Emerson Brewer Jr. and Bertram Bloch for Tallulah Bankhead, who starred as an hedonistic socialite who succumbs to a brain tumor. Although critically acclaimed, the production was financially unsuccessful and ran for only 51 performances between November and December 1934. Variety atributed Dark Victory's commercial failure to the fact that Depression-era audiences «prefer to be amused instead of going through an ordeal.» Still, David O. Selznick found enough potential in the play to buy it as a vehicle for Greta Garbo and Fredric March. At the time, the two were scheduled to make Anna Karenina (1935) with George Cukor, but Selznick felt that the picture was too similar to Garbo's other costume dramas and suggested she consider Dark Victory instead. However, Garbo turned down the project and, in 1936, Selznick offered it to Merle Oberon, who had recently received an Academy Award nomination for her performance in The Black Angel (1935). Oberon was interested, but contractual problems prevented her from accepting the role.

In 1938, two-time Oscar winner Bette Davis discovered Dark Victory and begged Warners Bros.' studio chief Jack Warner to buy it especifically for her. He promptly refused, arguing, «Who's going to want to see a picture about a girl who dies?» When producer David Lewis and director Edmund Goulding expressed interest in the project, however, production head Hal B. Wallis agreed to buy the play to keep Davis happy. Warners subsequently purchased the property from Selznick for $50,000, engaging Casey Robinson, who had previously written Davis's It's Love I'm After (1937), to pen the script. Working closely with Goulding, Robinson made some changes to the original story. The most extreme of these, suggested by the director, was the invention of Ann King, social secretary and best friend to the protagonist, Judith Traherne. Goulding believed that it was the absence of such a character in the original version that forced Judith into too much suffering and caused the play to fail. As such, he created Ann so that Judith would never have to complain about her tragedy.

Bette Davis and George Brent
Robinson wanted Judith's doctor to be played by Spencer Tracy, who had appeared with Davis in 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932), but he proved unavailable, so George Brent was cast instead. Born in Ireland, Brent signed with Warners in 1932 and quickly reached the top ranks of Hollywood stardom as Davis' leading man. By the time they signed on to make Dark Victory, the duo had already co-starred in seven pictures, including Front Page Woman (1935) and, most notably, Jezebel (1938).

To play Ann King, the studio selected Irish-born Geraldine Fitzgerald, whom Wallis had brought to Warner Bros. after seeing her in on Broadway in George Bernard Shaw's play Heartbreak House. Dark Victory marked Fitzgerald's American debut, in the same year that she received an Academy Award nomination for Wuthering Heights (1939). The cast of Dark Victory also included future Oscar-winner Humphrey Bogart as Judith's stablemaster, Michael O'Leary; and future President of the United States Ronald Reagan, who appeared in a small role as Alec Hamm, Judith's friend.

Dark Victory was shot between early October and late November 1938. After filming started, the production was almost shut down because of Davis. She had just gone through a particularly messy divorce from her first husband, Harmon Oscar Nelson, and was full of guilty and anguish. She felt that her nerves were on the verge of breakdown and that she could not devise the performance that she thought the role demanded. «Dark Victory really affected me,» Davis later said. «I was personally so upset about being so upset, that after the first week, I went to Hal Wallis as asked if I could give up the part. Hal said to me, 'Stay upset.'» To reassure her, Goulding enlisted the help of Brent, who had recently divorced his second wife, Australian actress Constance Worth, to whom he was married for only a few months. Before long, Davis and Brent were involved in a romantic affair, which lasted for about a year. She called him «one of the few men who gave me something besides himself,» adding, «People think actors and actresses have affairs with all their co-stars. I wasn't so lucky — or perhaps so unlucky. But George Brent and I did have something going. He helped me through Dark Victory, and we fell in love.» In later years, Davis admitted that she wanted to marry Brent, but thought that it would not work out. Still, she said, «of the men I didn't marry, the dearest was George Brent.»

Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Geraldine Fitzgerald
After a sneak preview at the Warner Hollywood Theatre on March 5, Dark Victory premiered at Radio City Music Hall in New York in April 20, 1939. Critical reception was generally positive. Frank S. Nugent of The New York Times observed, «A completely cynical appraisal would dismiss it all as emotional flim-flam, a heartless play upon tender hearts by a playwright and company well versed in the dramatic uses of going blind and improvising on Camille [1936]. But it is impossible to be that cynical about it. The mood is too poignant, the performances too honest, the craftsmanship too expert.« The reviewer for Variety agreed with this assessment, calling the film an «intense drama» and «a nicely produced offering [with] Bette Davis in a powerful and impressive role.» In a year considered as the best in Hollywood, Dark Victory was named one of the 10 films of 1939 by The New York Times.

At the 12th Academy Awards ceremony, held at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on February 29, 1940, Dark Victory received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (Bette Davis) and Best Original Score (Max Steiner). Davis lost to Vivien Leigh for Gone with the Wind (1939), which was also named Best Picture that night, while Steiner lost to Herbert Stothart for The Wizard of Oz (1939). Although she did not win the Oscar, Davis always regarded Judith Traherne as her favorite role, saying, «I hope there won't be a remake of Dark Victory. I've always felt it belonged to me.»

This is my contribution to The 2nd Annual Bette Davis Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. To view all entries, click HERE.

Bette Davis: The Performances That Made Her Great by Peter McNally (McFarland & Company Inc., 2008)
Edmund Goulding's Dark Victory: Hollywood's Genius Bad Boy by Matthew Kennedy (The University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)
The Girl Who Walked Home Alone: Bette Davis, A Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler (Simon & Schuster, 2006)
TCM's article on Dark Victory by Margarita Landazuri 
TCM's notes on Dark Victory 
Variety review by the Variety staff

Happy 80th Birthday, Warren Beatty!

WARREN BEATTY (March 30, 1937)
You've achieved success in your field when you don't know whether what you're doing is work or play.

More Warren Beatty-related articles HERE.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Classic Movie Fact of the Week #3

Did you know that...
The first sequel in motion picture history was The Fall of a Nation (1916), which is a follow-up to D. W. Griffith's epic drama The Birth of a Nation (1915).

Based on Thomas Dixon Jr.'s novel and play The Clansman, The Birth of a Nation changed the history of American cinema. With a stellar cast that included Lillian Gish and future Academy Award-winner Donald Crisp, the three-hour film chronicled the relationship of two families during the American Civil War and Reconstruction era over the course of several years. The film was a great financial success, although it created a wave of controversy for its portrayal of black men as unintelligent and agressive towards white women and the portrayal of the Klu Klux Klan as an heroic force.

Two of the few surviving frames from The Fall of the Nation

Hoping to capitalize on the massive success of The Birth of a Nation, Dixon decided to adapt his novel The Fall of a Nation into a feature film, which he also directed. Starring Lorraine Huling, Percy Standing and Arthur Shirley, The Fall of a Nation followed the same ideology of white supremacy as its predecessor, but within the context of a «call-to-arms» tale in the mid-War period. However, while The Birth of a Nation dramatized real-life events that occured during the Civil War and Reconstruction era, the sequel focused instead on a hypothetical future where the United States' pacifism nearly leads to its downfall. Set roughly between 1916 and 1919, The Fall of a Nation also touched on the issues of American invasion, woman suffrage and female emancipation.

Unlike its predecessor, The Fall of a Nation was neither a critical or commercial success and it was the only film produced by Dixon Studios before the company collapsed in 1921. As such, the picture was not widely preserved and no copies are known to exist. All that remains today is a small number of stills and Victor Herbert's musical score, the latter of which is held in possession of the Library of Congress. 

American Racist: The Life and Films of Thomas Dixon by Anthony Slide (The University Press of Kentucky, 2004)
D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation: A History of the Most Controversial Motion Picture of All Time by Melvyn Stokes (2008)
Film Sequels: Theory and Practice from Hollywood to Bollywood by Carolyn Jess-Cooke (Edinburgh University Press, 2009)

Happy Birthday, Gloria Swanson!

GLORIA SWANSON (March 27, 1899 April 4, 1983)
I have decided that when I am a star, I will be every inch and every moment a star.

More Gloria Swanson-related articles HERE.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Picture of the Week

Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and Stockard Channing on the set of The Fortune (1975)

Friday, 24 March 2017

Film Friday: «Bonnie and Clyde» (1967)

This week on «Film Friday» I am celebrating Warren Beatty's 80th birthday, which is next Thursday, by telling you a little bit about the film that made him a star. Incidentally, 2017 also marks the 50th anniversary of this film's original release.

Theatrical release poster by Bill Gold
Directed by Arthur Penn, Bonnie and Clyde (1967) begins in the middle of the Depression with a meeting between Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty) and Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway), whose car he tries to steal. Bonnie, who is bored by her job as a waitress, is deeply intrigued by Clyde and decides to take up with him by becoming his partner in crime. At first, the duo's amateur efforts are not very lucrative, but their crime spree shifts into high gear once they partner up with a dim-witted gas station attendant named C.W. Moss (Michael J. Pollard), then with Clyde's older brother Buck (Gene Hackman) and his shrill wife Blanche (Estelle Parsons), a preacher's daughter.

Soon, Bonnie and Clyde turn from pulling small-time heists to robbing banks, in a series of exploits that become increasingly violent. When C.W. botches a bank robbery by parallel parking the getaway car, Clyde shoots the manager after he jumps onto the vehicle. The gang is immediately pursued by law enforcement, including Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Denver Pyle), whom they capture and humiliate before setting him free. Later, a raid catches the gang off guard, mortally wounding Buck with a gruesome shot to his head and injuring Blanche. Bonnie, Clyde and C.W. manage to escape, but a sightless Blanche is taken into police custody. With her help, Hamer locates the remaider of the gang hiding at the house of C.W.'s father, Ivan Moss (Dub Taylor), who believes Bonnie and Clyde have corrupted his son. Mr. Moss secretly strikes a bargain with Hamer: in exchange for leniency for C.W., he helps the police set a trap for Bonnie and Clyde. When the couple stop on the side of the road to supposedly help Mr. Moss fix a flat tire, the police in the bushes open fire and riddle them with bullets. Hamer and his posse then come out of hiding, looking pensively at the couple's bodies.

Bonnie Parker: I'm Miss Bonnie Parker and this is Mr. Clyde Barrow. We rob banks.

While working together for Esquire magazine in 1963, Robert Benton and David Newman came across John Toland's The Dillinger Days, an account of one of the most iconic outlaws of the Great Depression, John Dillinger. In its footnotes, the book touched on the escapades of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, whom Benton had heard about as a child growing up in Texas. Barrow entered a life of crime at the age of 16, cracking safes, robbing stores and stealing cars. In early 1930, he met Parker at a friend's house and the two were immediately smitten with each other. Out of love for Barrow, Parker became his partner in crime and remained a loyal companion to him as they raided the central United States with their gang, robbing people and killing when cornered or confronted. On the morning of May 23, 1934, the legendary couple was ambushed and killed by a posse of four officers outside a rural town in Louisiana. The shooting was incredibly violent, as the lawmen emptied all of their arms at the car, in a combined total of about 130 rounds of gunfire. Apparently, the firing was so loud that the posse suffered temporary deafness all afternoon.

Fascinated by what they had read in Toland's footnotes, Benton and Newman began writing a film script based on the story of Bonnie and Clyde. Between August and November 1963, inspired by the work of French New Wave directors François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godardm, the duo produced a 75-page treatment, marked by graphic violence and straightfowardness in its handling of sexuality. For instance, Benton and Newman originally wrote Clyde as bisexual and featured a controversial sequence in which he and Bonnie engaged in a three-way sexual relationship with their male getaway driver, C.W. Moss. «The French Wave allowed us to write with a more complex morality, more ambiguous characters, more sophisticated relationships,» Benton said. In early 1964, the writers sent their treatment to Truffaut, their first choice to direct. He was interested, but eventually turned the project down to make Fahrenheit 451 (1966). At Truffaut's suggestion, Benton and Newman then approached Godard, who refused the offer because of his mistrust of Hollywood.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty
Meanwhile, Warren Beatty had lunch with Truffaut in Paris, in an effort to convince the director to choose him over Oskar Werner to play the male lead opposite Julie Christie in Fahrenheit 451. Truffaut refused to do so, but he did recommend Bonnie and Clyde as a vehicle for Beatty, whom he apparently disliked. «Truffaut was utterly bored by me,» the actor recalled. «I think he did not like for some reason of principle.» Returning to Hollywood, Beatty contacted Benton and Newman, expressing his interest both in producing and starring in Bonnie and Clyde, which had yet to be picked up by a studio. In November 1965, he optioned the script for $7,500, paying Benton and Newman a writing fee of $75,000. «I wanted to do it,» Beatty later said, «because it was a truly American subject, partly because it had a genuine social-economic background, but mainly in the end because it showed interesting people.»

Once he signed on as star and producer of Bonnie and Clyde, Beatty made with a deal with Warner Bros. to finance the film. Initially, Jack L. Warner was hostile towards the project, considering its subject matter a throwback to the studio's early period when gangster films were common product. Warner only agreed to back the production after Beatty offered to make it for a small salary and 40 percent of the gross.

Bonnie and Clyde premiered on August 13, 1967 and caused a major wave of controversy for its supposed glorification of murderers and for its level of graphic violence, which was unprecedented at the time. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times was so appalled that he began to campaign against the increasing brutality of American films. Dave Kaufman of Variety criticized the film for uneven direction and for portraying Bonnie and Clyde as «bumbling fools.» Joe Morgenstern for Newsweek initially panned the film as a «squalid shoot-'em-up for the moron trade.» After seeing the film a second time and noticing the enthusiastic audience, he wrote a second article saying he had misjudged it and praised the film. Roger Ebert also gave Bonnie and Clyde a largely positive review, called it «a milestone in the history of American movies, a work of truth and brilliance.» It performed well at the box office, and by year's end had grossed $23,000,000 in US theatrical rentals, becoming the studio's second highest-grossing film of all time, right behind My Fair Lady (1964).

Bonnie and Clyde won Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress (Estelle Parsons) and Best Cinematography, receiving additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Beatty), Best Actress (Faye Dunaway), Best Supporting Actor (Gene Hackman and Michael J. Pollard) and Best Costume Design.

Star: How Warren Beatty Seduced America by Peter Biskind (2010)

Warren Beatty: A Private Man by Suzanne Finstad (2005)

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Happy Birthday, Joan Crawford!

JOAN CRAWFORD (March 23 1904 May 10, 1977)
You have to be self-reliant and strong to survive in this town. Otherwise you will be destroyed.

More Joan Crawford-related articles HERE.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Classic Movie Fact of the Week #2

Did you know that...
A total of 31 actresses were screen-tested for the coveted role of the indomitable «Southern Belle» Scarlett O'Hara in Victor Fleming's Civil War epic Gone with the Wind (1939).

When David O. Selznick purchased the screen rights to Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone with the Wind in July 1936, he began a complex, two-year search for the role of Scarlett. He mounted a nationwide casting call that interviewed 1,400 unknowns, 400 of which were asked to do readings. This was eventually useless for the film, but it created «priceless» publicity exactly what Selznick wanted. A number of established actresses were also considered, including Miriam Hopkins (the author's preference), Norma Shearer, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Irene Dunne, Joan Crawford and Carole Lombard. However, only 31 of these names made the final cut.

Paulette Goddard and Vivien Leigh were the last two finalists in the search for Scarlett O'Hara

Below is a list of the 31 women who were tested for the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. I also provided the dates on which their test(s) took place.

Louise Platt (September 1936) | Talullah Bankhead (December 1936) | Elizabeth Whitney (April 1937) | Lynn Merrill (May 1937) | Linda Watkins (June 1937) | Susan Fox (June 1937) | Adele Longmire (August 1937) | Haila Stoddard (November 1937) | Diana Forrest (November 1937) | Susan Hayward (December 1937) | Linda Lee (December 1937) | Dorothy Matthews (December 1937) | Brenda Marshall (February 1938) | Paulette Goddard (February-December 1938) | Ellen Drew (February 1938) | Anita Louise (February-March 1938) | Em Bowles Locker (February 1938) | Margaret Tallichet (March 1938) | Frances Dee (March 1938) | Nancy Coleman (September-October 1938) | Shirley Logan (September-October 1938) | Doris Jordan (October 1938) | Marcella Martin (October-December 1938) | Fleurette DeBussy (October 1938) | Austine McDonnel (October 1938) | Mary Ray (November 1938) | Lana Turner (November 1938) | Diana Barrymore (November 1938) | Jean Arthur (December 1938) | Joan Bennett (December 1938) | Vivien Leigh (December 1938) 

A shot from Vivien Leigh's Technicolor screen test for Gone with the Wind

In December 1938, the 31 actresses who auditioned for the role of Scarlett O'Hara had been downsized to two finalists: Paulette Goddard, known for her role in Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936); and English newcomer Vivien Leigh. On December 21, they were both tested in Technicolor and Leigh finally won the role. This casting choice was controversial, leading to protests that someone other than a Southern woman had been chosen. Hoping to persuade the public that the young actress was right for the part, Selznick's publicity department composed a biography of Leigh and distributed it to magazines and newspapers in justification of the casting decision. Among other things, the document informed audiences that «Vivien Leigh, whose father is French and mother Irish, will play Scarlett O'Hara, whose father was Irish and mother French. [...] In her physical characteristics as well as her ancestry, Miss Leigh resembles the heroine of Miss Mitchell's book. She is five feet three, weighs 103 pounds, has green eyes, brown hair with a touch of red, and even possesses Scarlett's pointed chin.»

The Complete Gone with the Wind Trivia Book: The Movie and More, 2nd Edition by Pauline Bartel (Taylor Trade Publishing, 2014)
«The Search for Scarlett: Women Who Tested for the Role of Scarlett»
«The Search for Scarlett: Vivien Leigh»

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Picture of the Week

Joan Crawford and John Garfield during the making of Humoresque (1946)

Friday, 17 March 2017

Film Friday: "Life With Father" (1947)

In Portugal (where I am from), Father's Day is celebrated on March 19. So, for this week's "Film Friday" I thought I would bring you a film that features a father as its main character.

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz, Life With Father (1947) follows stockbroker Clarence Day (William Powell), who strives to make his 1890s New York City household run as efficiently as his business. He and his wife Vinnie (Irene Dunne) have four sons.The eldest, Clarence, Jr. (Jimmy Lydon), is headed for Yale. John (Martin Milner), the next eldest, likes to invent things, while brother Whitney (Johnny Calkins) struggles to learn his catechism, and Harlan (Derek Scott), the youngest, is most interested in his dog. Knowing how much Clarence dislikes it when visitors stay in the house, Vinnie neglects to tell her husband that their cousin, Cora Cartwright (ZaSu Pitts), and her young companion, Mary Skinner (Elizabeth Taylor), will spend a week with them.

During the course of a religious discussion, it is revealed that Clarence has never been baptized. Vinnie is very upset and insists that her husbabd rectify the oversight to ensure that they will be reunited after death, but he refuses, certain that God would never be so imprudent as to deny him entry into heaven. In the meantime, Clarence Jr. becomes convinced that wearing his father's made-over suit forces him to behave like his old man. When his stern reaction to Mary's innocent flirtation sends her away in tears, Clarence Jr. becomes determined to earn enough money to buy his own suit. He and John get a job selling patent medicine and try it on Vinnie without her knowledge. The medicine makes Vinnie so ill that Clarence, believing her to be near death, promises that he will be baptized if she gets well. When Vinnie recovers, however, Clarence reneges on his promise. Unknown to Clarence, Vinnie then arranges for him to be baptized at a church where he will not be embarrassed in front of his acquaintances, but he remains adamantly opposed. Vinnie's opportunity arrives when Clarence is repulsed by a ceramic pug dog that she recently purchased and refuses to be baptized as long as it remains in the house. Vinnie quickly dispatches Clarence Jr. to return the dog to the store and authorizes him to spend the money on a new suit, which just happens to cost exactly the same amount as the piece of pottery. The next morning, Cora and Mary return for another visit and, wearing his own suit, Clarence Jr. makes up with Mary. Taking advantage of the confusion, Vinnie arranges for an expensive cab to drive Clarence to the church. Although Clarence protests the expense and denies that he agreed to be baptized if the pug was returned, Vinnie uses her own subtle persuasion to round up the entire family to witness Clarence's long-postponed baptism.  

The son of a Wall Street businessman, Clarence Day began writing while attending Yale University, where he also edited the campus humor magazine, The Yale Record. His penchant for comedy eventually led him to pen a series of autobiographical stories affectionately recalling his family life in 1890s New York with an autocratic father and a sweetly wily mother. Originally published in The New Yorker, these essays were later compiled in book form and published as Life with Father shortly before Day's death in 1935. Four years later, Howard Lindsay and Russell Crouse adapted Life with Father into a stage play, which premiered at the Empire Theatre on Broadway on November 8, 1939. It starred Lindsay, his wife Dorothy Stickney and Teresa Wright. The play was a massive critical and commercial success, running for a total of 3,244 performances until it closed at the Alvin Theatre on July 12, 1947. With a run of almost eight years, Life with Father became the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway, a record that still holds today.

In 1940, Samuel Goldwyn offered $200,000 for screen rights to Life with Father to producer Oscar Serlin, but the purchase did not take place because Serlin demanded a three-year clearance clause before the exhibition of the film. In July 1944, Mary Pickford negotiated with Serlin for rights, planning to star in the film with William Powell. Warner Bros. eventually acquired the screen rights to the play in November 1944 for a reputed down payment of $500,000 plus a percentage of the net proceeds. As part of the agreement, the film was not to be released before 1947 and the property was to revert back to Serlin after a period of seven years. The agreement also stipulated that Warners.could make only one picture based on the play; the script could use only that part of Day's life which was included in the Broadway play; and that the owners were to have editorial rights over matters of good taste in the film version. To protect the integrity of the material, Howard, Lindsay and Day's widow, Katherine Dodge, were brought to Hollywood to serve as technical advisers.

William Powell and Elizabeth Taylor
Dodge suggested that Donald Ogden Stewart, a close friend of her late husband, write the screenplay of Life with Father. According to Stewart, he "leapt happily at the chance" to rework the material for the screen. "Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse had written such a successful play that there wasn't much need - or indeed much allowance - for any screen writing." After a "couple of understanding consultations with Mrs. Day," he finished the job within a few weeks. Stewart diplomatically avoided reworking the dialogue but, whenever possible, moved the action from the stage confines of the Days's dining and parlor room to other parts of the family house, its garden and the street. To the approval of the trio of overseers, he dramatized scenes that were only referred to in the play, setting them in a church, a restaurant and a department store.

Lindsay, as well as Fredric March and Ronald Colman, were considered for the role of Clarence Day Sr., but Warner Bros. eventually borrowed two-time Academy Award nominated actor William Powell from MGM to play the character. Stickney, Bette Davis, Rosemary DeCamp and Mary Pickford tested for the role of Vinnie Day, but the studio ultimately Irene Dunne instead. Shirley Temple and Ann Todd tested for the role of Cora, but the part was assigned to 15-year-old Elizabeth Taylor, also working on loan-out from MGM. Jimmy Lydon was chosen in favor of Freddie Bartholomew to play Clarence Jr.

Directed by Michael Curtiz and filmed in Technicolor, Life with Father opened on August 14, 1947 to positive reviews from critics and solid box-office results, grossing $5.9 million in domestic rentals. The film received four Academy Award nominations: Best Actor for William Powell; Best Art Director (Color); Best Cinematography (Color); and Best Original Musical Score. Powell lost to Ronald Colman for A Double Life (1947), which also won Best Original Musical Score, while the other two awards were both given Black Narcissus (1947).

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Happy Birthday, George Brent!

GEORGE BRENT (March 15, 1904 May 26, 1979)
No woman will ever own me, I own myself.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Classic Movie Fact of the Week #1

To celebrate the second anniversary of Back to Golden Days, I have decided to introduce a new feature in the blog. In addition to the «Picture of the Week,» which I post every Sunday, I will be sharing a «Classic Movie Fact of the Week» every Monday. This is the first one in the series.


Did you know that...
In 1947, an FBI analyst investigating Communist infiltration of the motion picture industry submitted a memo to his director, J. Edgar Hoover, claiming that Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life (1946), now a Christmas classic, promoted Communism by discrediting bankers.

The greatest family film of all time Communist propaganda? Sure...

 According to the memo, written by a certain D. M. Ladd and dated May 26, 1947, the film «represented rather obvious attempts do discredit bankers by casting Lionel Barrymore as a 'scrooge-type' so that he would be the most hated man in the picture. This [...] is a common trick used by Communists.» The report goes on to add that It's a Wonderful Life «deliberately maligned the upper-class, attempting to show the people who had money were mean and despicable characters.»

An informant interviewed by the FBI spoke of the scene in which Mr. Potter (played by Barrymore) refuses to give George Bailey (portrayed by James Stewart) a loan. This person, whose name was redacted for security purposes, considered that «the scene wouldn't have 'suffered at all' in  portraying the banker as a man who was protecting funds put in his care by private individuals and adhering to the rules governing the loan of that money rather than portraying the part as it was shown.»

How can It's a Wonderful Life discredit bankers when the film's hero is a banker?

It is, indeed, a fact that the majority of writers who worked on the script of It's a Wonderful Life found their loyalty questioned during the Hollywood inquisition that began in 1947. Dorothy Parker and Michael Wilson were prominent Hollywood radicals who were later blacklisted after being named Communists by the publication Red Channels in 1950. Donald Trumbo was blacklisted after the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings in October 1947 as one of the «Hollywood Ten» and sent to prison in 1950 for contempt of Congress. Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich, who received on-screen credit for writing the film, were accused by the American Legion in 1952 of being Communist sympathizers. Although he was not called to testify before the HUAC, Capra was himself a prime target of the committee due to his prolific associations with many blacklisted screenwriters.

But this, of course, does not mean that It's a Wonderful Life promotes Communism. Anyone who has seen the film knows that George Bailey is also a banker and it was his actions that ultimately saved his family's business from financial ruin. Borrowing the words of film critic John Charles Moffitt, «I think Mr. Capra’s picture, though it had a banker as villain, could not be properly called a Communist picture. It showed that the power of money can be used oppressively, and it can be used benevolently.»

Frank Capra: The Catastrophe of Success by Joseph McBride (University Press of Mississippi, 2011)

«Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry» (FBI document, 1947, pages 13-14)
«The FBI considered It's a Wonderful Life to be Communist propaganda» by Zachary M. Seward for The Atlantic (December 24, 2013)