7th Cavalry

Talkie of the Week: 7th Cavalry

USA 1956, 75 minutes, technicolor, Columbia Pictures. Director: Joseph H. Lewis, Written by Peter Packer, Based on the story “A Horse for Mrs. Custer” by Glendon Swarthout. Cast: Randolph Scott, Barbara Hale, Jay C. Flippen, Frank Faylen, Jeanette Nolan, Leo Gordon, Denver Pyle, Harry Carey Jr., Michael Pate, Donald Curtis, Frank Wilcox, Pat Hogan, Russell Hicks, Peter Ortiz.

Plot summary: After Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn, Captain Benson returns to Indian territory to bring back the bodies and atone for his absence from the doomed battle.

7th Cavalry posterReview: When Tom Benson returns to Fort Lincoln, he learns about General Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn. The Captain himself was absent from the crucial battle in Indian territory. With Custer’s permission, he accompanied his young bride Martha Kellogg on her journey to their new home. Accused of cowardice and misguided loyalty to his mentor Custer now fallen from grace, Captain Benson volunteers to retrieve the bodies of his fellow men. With a group of unlikely heroes, he returns to what the victorious Sioux consider sacred ground to execute the President’s orders to give the fallen soldiers a decent burial.

7th Cavalry, like many Westerns, is a story based on historical facts but not faithfully so. Adapted from a story by Glendon Swarthout, the film depicts the aftermath of the Battle of Little Big Horn without focusing on General Custer. Although an absentee main character, Custer only serves as a background figure to introduce the film’s actual hero, Captain Tom Benson. Played by Randolph Scott, Benson is the outcast survivor of a battle he didn’t attend but cannot escape. As a soldier, he doesn’t only have to cope with the the loss of his company but also with the downfall of his fallen superior, a man whom he has admired for his decency and expertise. Confronted with mistrust and criticism by a military Board of Inquiry led by the father of his wife-to-be, Benson masters the art of walking the fine line of duty and allegiance, convincingly stressed in Scott’s performance. Supported by a gracefully devoted Barbara Hale as Martha Kellogg, the actor led a decent ensemble in a film that captivates with words rather than action. Calm and slow paced, 7th Cavalry is not a John Wayne Western, nor a movie for an impatient crowd. It is a movie with a charm of its own, made for an audience who doesn’t mind following a wide array of dialog until the hero finally takes off to follow his destiny.

Beautifully cast and shot in Mexico, the film offers a look back at a time when films were not yet dominated by special effects and CGI. Although lengthy and verbose for some, 7th Cavalry has its definite perks for anyone who’s fond of a quieter performance style and demure storyline. Blessed with the talents of Western veteran Randolph Scott, as well as Barbara Hale’s often underestimated naturalness and warmth, the film deserves to be preserved for an audience who appreciates uncelebrated classics and their place in film history.

Get a glimpse of 7th Cavalry here.

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Talkie of the Week: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

USA 1967, 108 minutes, color, Columbia Pictures. Director: Stanley Kramer, Written by William Rose. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katherine Hepburn, Katherine Houghton, Cecil Kellaway, Beah Richards, Roy E. Glenn, Isabel Sanford, Virginia Christine, Alexandra Hay, Barbara Randolph, D’Urville Martin, Tom Heaton, Grace Gaynor and Skip Martin.

Plot summary: When Joey returns from Hawai’i, she surprises her parents with a fiancé who tests their liberal convictions.

Guess Who's Coming to DinnerReview: When Joanna Drayton (Katherine Houghton) returns to San Francisco to see her parents, she also brings a big surprise: vacationing in Hawai’i, she has fallen in love with a young doctor, John Prentice (Sidney Poitier), whom she wants to marry within a few short months. As if her whirlwind romance wasn’t enough to take in for her liberal parents, a newspaper publisher (Spencer Tracy) and an art gallery owner (Katherine Hepburn), Joanna’s fiancé is colored. Confronted with the boundaries of their own values, Matt and Christina Dayton have trouble adapting to their daughter’s open mind and fear for her future in a biased society. When John’s parents join them all for dinner, equally struggling with the situation, the moment has come for all sides to remind themselves of what they really want for their loved ones.

Set and produced in 1967, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner addressed a difficult topic in riotous times, winning praise from critics and movie goers alike. Rewarded with two Academy Awards and eight additional nominations, the film ripped into the heart of public turmoil by aiming at liberal hypocrisy and black on black racism. Fiercely honest about the obstacles of Joanna’s and John’s young love, the film was blessed with a cast that turned an already excellent script into a memorable motion picture. Starring Spencer Tracy in his last film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner turned out be a tribute to a beloved actor who died a few short weeks after production was completed. Posthumously nominated for his strong performance, Tracy led a cast of stellar actors including his longtime partner Katherine Hepburn. Strong as always in her performances, Hepburn created a genuine chemistry with Tracy despite his grave illness but also left room for the ensemble cast to shine. Sidney Poitier, soft-spoken and impressive at the same time, built a believable sparkle with Katherine Houghton, Hepburn’s niece, who was the only one who didn’t get an opportunity to give her character real depth.

Although some people may look at the topic and deem it outdated, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is a classic that still resonates. Available on DVD, the film is touching on more levels than the plot may suggest and thus has the potential to remain popular for generations. Poitier’s rage, expressed in an emtional speech addressed at his father, reflects the frustration of many adult children, as well as the ingratitude of youth. It also gives us a glimpse into that sense of entitlement born in the late 60s, a social phenomenon still seething in Western culture today.

Last of the Comanches

Talkie of the Week: aka The Sabre and the Arrow

USA 1953, 85 minutes, color, Columbia Pictures. Director: André de Toth, Written by Kenneth Gamet. Cast: Broderick Crawford, Barbara Hale, Johnny Stewart, Lloyd Bridges, Mickey Shaughnessy, George Mathews, Hugh Sanders, Ric Roman, Chubby Johnson, Martin Milner, Milton Parsons, Jack Woody, John War Eagle

Plot summary: Stuck in the desert without water and food, six soldiers and a handful of civilians are fighting for survival against Black Cloud and his Comanches.

Review: Shot in color as a diverting yet exhausting Western, Last of the Comanches tells the tale of six surviving soldiers from wiped out Dry Buttes who are struggling to escape Black Cloud. Together with a small group of civilians, they are trying to survive in the desert, desperately looking for water until they meet an Indian boy who has escaped Comanche captivity. With his help, they find the last resources his own people used to rely on in the dry season, giving them strength to make a last stand against an overpowering number of Comanche warriors.

Starring Broderick Crawford as Sergeant Matt Trainor, the film is dominated by a group of weathered, hardened men who are fighting for their lives. Barbara Hale supports the cast as Julia Lanning, a young woman whose quiet resilience leaves a lasting impression on the commanding officer without resulting in a romance. The film focuses on the hopelessness of the situation, the fears and frustrations of a group of strangers who are forced to work together in order to preserve a glimpse of hope about their own survival. The images are hot, dry and dusty, leaving the audience thirsty and hungry along with the protagonists. It is the unobtrusive performance of Barbara Hale and her undeniable talent to be the perfect supporting actress that doesn’t turn this film into a draining experience. She is subtle about her character’s fears and growth, and manages to create a believable bond between Julia Lanning and the Sergeant without including too much tenderness.

All in all, the film was blessed with a convincing cast and a quiet, adventurous script that still works its magic on an audience who is fond of classic Westerns. Once available on VHS, the film has not yet been released on DVD but can be seen in occasional reruns on TV. It is one of those gems that grows on you the more often you see it, so be on the lookout and enjoy this rather atypical Western of the 1950s.

Last of the Comanches sample scene

For Your Commercial Interruption…

I don’t know about you, but I’m easily annoyed by commercials. These days I should probably add because I have fond memories of re-enacting the most popular commercials for my family when I was little, giving them all a good laugh at the dinner table. It must’ve looked positively silly though, when I repeated all those slogans I barely understood at five or six. After all, my family has always been utterly unimpressed by all things Hollywood. I, however, have always loved it, for as long as I can remember, and when I grew up I didn’t only practice smoking by buying chewing gum cigarettes and filling my toothpaste cap with ice-cold water to resemble booze and learn how to chug-a-lug (which TV had taught me was something you just had to have down to a tee to become an adult), no, I also loved to watch commercials and learned the slogans and jingles by heart without the use of a VCR.

Today, my fascination is but a mere memory of that time long gone, of an era when classic stars were still regulars on a vast variety of TV programs. Looking further back, I now find great joy in looking at ads and commercials from the 1940s and 50s, when car companies, soap manufacturers and cigarette labels sponsored entire programs: Ford Television Theatre, Lux Radio Theater or General Electric, just to name a popular few. Apart from those anthology series, other shows were also endorsed by companies and products; Date With the Angels, for example, was presented by a single sponsor, the Plymouth Dealers of America, following in the footsteps of many others while Perry Mason was supported by a variety of sponsors in its almost ten production years. Depending on the target audience, brands like Procter & Gamble’s Tide, Palmolive and Lux soap often sponsored afternoon programs on the radio, directly aiming at America’s housewives and their interest in beauty and their homes. Yes, also in the golden days of Hollywood, marketing companies ruled our world of entertainment.

It may be shallow to admit that those classic ads don’t bother but rather appeal to me – on Radio Vintage or Old Time Radio, it doesn’t matter: I love the jingles and the time they used to take to sell their products, time that has gotten more and more expensive over the years. I also like to look at my favorite stars in many ads – their pictures always beautiful in that way commercial art worked back in my favorite era. Just have a look at Barbara Hale (and her husband Bill Williams) below. In her fifty year career, she was not only the video spokesperson for Amana Radar Range in the 70s, she already plugged for Chesterfield cigarettes, Lux, Max Factor, Sunnybank Margarine and Matson back in her RKO, Columbia and Perry Mason years. Aren’t those pictures just darling, the colors vibrant and delicate, the smiles warm and inviting?

I may be in the minority, but apart from being tired of looking at undernourished teenage models these days, those airbrushed faces with their blank expressions also make me feel depressed. I prefer to see happy faces and not someone who is starving herself to look smaller than Twiggy in the 60s. So yes, I admit vintage commercials are my guilty pleasure and this link is meant for anyone who’s with me on this topic. Have fun listening to those jingles or tune in to listen to Radio Vintage like I often do, always getting giddy about those commercial interruptions which bring me back to “the good old days”.

Emergency Wedding

Talkie of the Week: Emergency Wedding

USA 1950, 78 minutes, black & white, Columbia Pictures. Director: Edward Buzzell, Written by Dalton Trumbo, Nat Perrin and Claude Binyon. Cast: Larry Parks, Barbara Hale, Willard Parker, Una Merkel, Alan Reed, Eduard Franz, Irving Bacon, Don Beddoe, Jim Backus

Plot summary: Rich heir Peter Kirk Jr. marries a young lady doctor who puts her career first and thus makes her husband think about the value of his own life.

Review: In this remake of You Belong to Me from 1941, starring Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda, young millionaire Peter Kirk has an accident with his car and thus meets Helen Hunt, a lady doctor whom he falls in love with at first sight. Insisting on having her as his physician in the ER, as well as his company for the rest of the road trip back to California, Peter charms Helen into marrying him, despite her initial reservations. After all, she is a doctor and worked hard to start her own practice, she doesn’t want to see her efforts wasted, something Peter agrees to without realizing what it means to be married to a doctor. Despite his best intentions, Peter soon gets irritated, bored and jealous watching his wife leave at odd hours and having a life outside their home. Coping with his wish to control her life at first, Helen finally decides to leave her husband if he doesn’t find himself an occupation other than distrusting her with her male patients. Awakened by his wife’s plea for a divorce, Peter ultimately tries to make a difference in his life and the life others, an endeavor that ultimately makes him fight for the love of his soon-to-be ex-wife.

With its slightly altered plot, Emergency Wedding is one of those remakes that is worth watching without regret. Apart from the diverting storyline and funny dialog, it is the chemistry of its main cast that makes this film worthwhile. Reunited on screen after their first Columbia success, Jolson Sings Again, Larry Parks and Barbara Hale did a wonderful job creating two characters who love each other although they come from two different worlds. With his boyish yet mature charm, Larry Parks presented an heir who is funny and handsome even when he starts meddling with his wife’s professional life. Barbara Hale, mostly hearty and sweet on screen, got to show a tougher side of herself as she played an educated woman who knows how to stand her ground in court against her own husband. Supported by an entertaining Willard Parker, the two lead actors took the story of Peter Kirk and Helen Hunt and made it their own, delivering genuine performances. It is unfortunate that the film wasn’t more successful and thus hasn’t made it onto the Columbia DVD release list so far. It is a gem fans of romantic comedies shouldn’t miss and a real treat for anyone who enjoys the warmth and universalism of Barbara Hale, as well as the buried talents of Larry Parks.

And Baby Makes Three

Talkie of the Week: And Baby Makes Three

USA 1949, 84 minutes, black & white, Columbia Pictures. Director: Henry Levin, Written by Lou Breslow and Joseph Hoffman. Cast: Robert Young, Barbara Hale, Robert Hutton, Janis Carter, Billie Burke, Nicholas Joy, Lloyd Corrigan, Howland Chamberlain, Melville Cooper

Plot summary: Vern and Jackie are recently divorced and not exactly on speaking terms until Jackie wants to get married again and learns that she is pregnant with Vern’s baby.

Review: Reuniting Barbara Hale and Robert Young in yet another romantic comedy after their decent success with Lady Luck at RKO in 1947, Columbia Pictures presented And Baby Makes Three on December 2, 1949 to movie theaters across the country. Diverting and hilarious in best screwball tradition, the film told the story of Jackie and Verne, two recent divorcées who are brought back together on Jackie’s wedding day. Engaged to Herbie Fletcher, a man of considerable wealth, she is walking down the aisle as his bride when she suddenly swoons and has to lie down to get examined by her uncle, Dr. Bill Parnell. Overwhelming her with the news of being pregnant with her ex-husband’s child, Jackie is forced to deal with an excited Verne, a dumbfounded Herbie and his unamused family. As the story progresses, Jackie and Verne find it easy to fall back into their old patterns and fight, laugh and love as much as they used to before they ended their marriage.

Using well-proven twists and turns, And Baby Makes Three managed to tell a silly story in a fast-paced, amusing way. Blessed with the talents of two charming leads, the film benefited from the chemistry between Barbara Hale and Robert Young, as well as from the often witty dialog. Although predictable like most other written romances, the movie is a delightful eighty-four minutes of good-natured drama, absurdity and laughter. It may not have reached other top notch comedies of its time in quality, but And Baby Makes Three continues to be one of those films you may all too easily fall in love with and it is unfortunate that it hasn’t yet been released on DVD*. I am hopeful, however, that the film will get a second chance – after all, “Barb” Hale and “Bob” Young worked so well together as a team, in Lady Luck (1946), And Baby Makes Three (1949), on Marcus Welby M.D. (1974) or at the Emmy’s in 1959 when Robert Young presented the award for Best Actress to his dear colleague Barbara Hale.

And Baby Makes Three theatrical trailer

*Edit: The film will be released on DVD on September 4, 2012.

His Girl Friday

Talkie of the Week: His Girl Friday

USA 1940, 92 minutes, black & white, Columbia Pictures. Director: Howard Hawks, Written by Charles Lederer, Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, Based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Cast: Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, Porter Hall, Ernest Truex, Cliff Edwards, Clarence Kolb, Roscoe Karns, Frank Jenks, Regis Toomey, Abner Biberman, Frank Orth, John Qualen and Helen Mack

Plot summary: Editor-in-chief Walter is used to getting his way until his ex-wife Hildy returns to New York to get married to an insurance man from Albany who will take her away from the newspaper business.

Review: His Girl Friday is a fast paced screwball comedy directed and produced by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, the 1940 adaptation was altered by the playwrights themselves and additional screenwriter Charles Lederer. Russell’s Hildy Johnson, originally male on stage, was turned into a quick-witted female reporter who is trying to get away from her ex-husband and editor-in-chief Walter Burns, played by Cary Grant.

Living on smart and funny dialog, His Girl Friday paints the breathless world of newspaper journalism in a time that’s long gone. It creates the myth of the ruthless editor-in-chief and his go-get-it attitude who would do anything to keep his star reporter from quitting her job. Cary Grant was an ingenious casting choice for the slick Morning Post chief who’s always cooking up a new idea to delay his ex-wife’s departure and wedding plans – Grant’s undying energy has the potential to leave the audience out of breath they get so caught up following his schemes. Rosalind Russell did an equally impressive job, slowly falling for her ex’ cabals although she smelled the rat behind his motives right from the start. Matching wit with her former husband and employer, she also easily outshines her new desired prey: fiancé Bruce Baldwin, a simple-minded insurance agent from upstate New York, brilliantly played by Ralph Bellamy. The restaurant banter between ex-wife, her husband-to-be and former spouse is one of the best scenes in the entire movie. But there are many more memorable and over-the-top moments a good screwball movie needs.

If you enjoy these kinds of comedies, this classic is a definite must-see for you. You’ll rarely stop chuckling about Grant’s and Russell’s entertaining repartee and the story itself has the quality to make you come back to this movie again and again.

Available on DVD, youtube and Hulu.