Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1937, 83 minutes, technicolor, A Walt Disney FEATURE Production, Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on the Brothers Grimm fairytale of the same name.

Plot summary: When Snow White’s beauty outshines her stepmother’s, she is supposed to perish at the hands of the queen’s hunter. But instead of doing away with her, he allows her to escape to the woods where she soon finds shelter with the Seven Dwarfs.

Snow WhiteReview: There are few animated characters who have a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Snow White does. She was Disney’s first princess and seventy-six years after her debut, she’s still every bit as sweet, innocent and charming as she always has been. Created by Hamilton Luske and vocally brought to life by Adriana Caselotti, she remains a Disney favorite. A princess whose beauty is more than captivating; it comes from the heart.

Based on a fairytale by the German Brothers Grimm, Walt Disney’s Snow White may have disgruntled her stepmother, the queen. Her charm, however, bewitches everyone else she meets. Designed as a perfect 1930s belle, her skin is fair, her hair is dark and her eyes are sparkling with kindness. When she is sent to the woods in the company of the queen’s hunter, she is jolly and trusting. In her wildest dreams the young girl does not suspect her stepmother’s evil plan to dispose of her. But when the hunter fails to execute his orders, her heart breaks. Scared for her life she runs deeper into the woods, losing her sense of direction but never her heart. She finds a new home with the Seven Dwarfs and spoils them with motherly love and affection. Despite her simple life and seclusion in the forest, the queen still envies Snow White for her beauty and takes it into her own hands to put her stepdaughter to everlasting sleep.

For everyone who still remembers growing up with bedtime stories and family film Saturday nights, the end of this classic is still as fresh and vivid in memory as it ever was. And that’s the true beauty of Walt Disney’s first animated feature film. Like the hearts of his audience, Snow White never grows old. She may have changed voices over the years and seems a whole lot quieter than her quirky sister princesses from the 1990s through 2000s. But in general, she’s every bit as appealing as she was when she first bewitched moviegoers, critics and filmmakers alike. Her grace has outlasted even the loudest Hollywood image and she’s still a popular star in Disneyland, as well as on Blu-ray and DVD. How many other beauties can say that of themselves?

Watch the original trailer here.

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.

Desk Set

Talkie of the Week: Desk Set

USA 1957, 103 minutes, color, 20th Century Fox. Director: Walter Lang, Written by Phoebe and Henry Ephron, Based on the play by William Marchant. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, Gig Young, Joan Blondell, Dina Merrill, Sue Randall, Neva Patterson, Harry Ellerbe, Nicholas Joy, Diane Jergens, Merry Anders, Ida Moore and Rachel Stephens.

Plot summary: When the Federal Broadcasting Network hires Richard Sumner to install an “electronic brain”, the head of the reference library fears for the relevance of her department and her very own job.

Desk_Set_1957Review: There are different reasons to pick a movie. The plot may delight you, the director or cast. You may have read the book a film is based on or you simply stumble upon a film on TCM or in the film department of a store. In my case, two reasons apply. First of all, I love Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn as individual performers but as soon as they’re on screen together, my heart skips a beat. And then, so I gladly admit, I scan every store for classic film offers. The second my eyes fell on the sales sticker on Desk Set, a decision had been made to buy this film and enjoy it with a dear old friend. Now although said friend shares my enthusiasm for Miss Hepburn, she isn’t as enamored with Hollywood’s Golden Age as yours truly. So you can imagine her reaction when the film started to address computers and the pros and cons of upgrading the workplace a good 55 years ago. In her defense, she gave the movie a chance and ended up enjoying it despite her initial reservations. I was in love with it the moment I realized this was an adaptation of William Marchant’s play, written by Phoebe and Henry Ehpron who also penned one of my favorite comedies, The Jackpot (starring James Stewart and Barbara Hale). So yes, call me biased when I recommend this film to you but for anyone who’s fond of witty dialog, delicious acting and some depth in comedy, Desk Set is a true gem. To give away the storyline would be a crime, so I’ll refrain from saying more about the plot but this: not everything is what it seems, but you can always count on the Hepburn-Tracy chemistry now shrouded in legend. The film is available on DVD and as instant video. Here’s the trailer for you to judge for yourselves.

Spellbound

Talkie of the Week: Spellbound

USA 1945, 111 minutes, black & white, United Artists. Director: Alfred Hitchcock, Written by Angus MacPhail and Ben Hecht, Based on the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes by Hilary Saint George Saunders and Francis Beeding. Cast: Ingrid Berman, Gregory Peck, Michael Chekhov, Leo G. Carroll, Rhonda Fleming, John Emery, Steven Geray, Paul Harvey, Donald Curtis, Norman Lloyd, Bill Goodwin, Wallace Ford, Art Baker, Regis Toomey.

Plot summary: When Dr. Edwardes arrives at Green Manors, levelheaded Dr. Petersen is spellbound by the new hospital director who has a secret she is determined to uncover.

spellbound_b&wReview: Dr. Constance Petersen (Ingrid Bergman) is the sole female doctor at Green Manors, a mental hospital in Vermont. Among her colleagues, she is known as efficient and detached, an image she sheds upon arrival of new hospital director Dr. Edwardes (Gregory Peck). Edwardes is charming but also struggles with a phobia his esteemed colleague finds conspicuous: he gets upset whenever he spots dark, parallel lines on a white background. Despite her ulterior instincts, Dr. Petersen is attracted to the handsome doctor who has a secret she is determined to uncover and thus solve the mystery of his phobia.

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Spellbound was produced by David Selznick, a collaboration that didn’t turn out as fruitful as initially intended. For their third common production, Selznick brought in his own psychoanalyst to turn the plot into a puff piece on therapy and celebrate his own positive experiences. Hitchcock, however, known for his independent streak, frequently butted heads with the interfering analyst and hired Salvador Dali to add an intriguing touch of surrealism to his now famous dream sequence. Originally almost twenty minutes long, the scene was eventually cut down by Selznick and has only been available in its edited form since the release of the film in 1945.

Shot as a mystical thriller with a captivating storyline about mental illness, Spellbound was successful upon release. Rewarded with an Academy Ward for Best Score and five additional nominations, the film was popular with movie goers and critics alike, and is still entertaining on DVD and Blu-ray today. Blessed with a suspenseful plot and two haunting leads, the film has what it takes to keep its audience on the edge of their seats and continues to be one of Hitchcock’s mid-career treats.

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.

The Far Horizons

Talkie of the Week: The Far Horizons

USA 1955, 108 minutes, color, Paramount Pictures. Director: Rudolph Maté, Written by Winston Miller, Based on the novel Sacajawea of the Shoshones by Della Gould Emmons. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Charlton Heston, Donna Reed, Barbara Hale, William Demarest, Alan Reed, Eduardo Noriega, Larry Pennell, Julia Montoya, Ralph Moody, Herbert Heyes, Lester Matthews, Helen Wallace, Walter Reed.

Plot summary: After purchasing the Louisiana Territory in the early 1800s, President Jefferson sends Meriwether Lewis and William Clark out West to explore the new territory and claim the adjacent land leading to the Pacific Ocean for the United States.

The_Far_Horizons_1955Review: There are a lot of things one could say about Paramount Pictures’ The Far Horizons, historically correct is not one of them. As one of the few features (if not the only) ever made about the Lewis and Clark expedition (1803-06), the film is a piece of fiction rather than a serious rendition of actual events. Dominated by a dramatic love story, the film borrowed an exciting setting to weave a colorful story around an adventure that in itself bears enough material for two feature-length adaptations. Based on Sacajawea of the Shoshones though, a novel by Della Gould Emmons, The Far Horizons falls sadly short of paying tribute to a now famous team of brave explorers.

Sacajawea, although praised as a key figure of the successful expedition, is but a mere shadow of the actual historic figure. Donna Reed – refurbished with a wig, her skin a deep made-up brown – did a decent job transforming herself into a native teenager who, as fiction would have it, falls in love with Charlton Heston’s philandering Lieutenant Clark. But the spark is strangely missing. Reduced to an unfortunate loser in love, Fred MacMurray did his best to flesh out his version of Meriwether Lewis, a man who (in real life) presumably committed suicide a few short years after completing his expedition but was on friendly terms with his fellow explorers. Barbara Hale played Julia Hancock, a young woman who choses Clark over Lewis in the beginning of the movie and has to deal with her fiancé’s change of heart when he returns to Washington in the end. Although none of the heartache ever happened, Barbara Hale’s scenes with the main characters are heartbreaking and one of the reasons to give this picture an honest chance. It’s also a plus to see this film released in widescreen format on DVD. Produced in Technicolor and VistaVision, the nature shots are beautiful and even breathtaking at times, the quality genuinely mid-1950s.

In general, The Far Horizons is not the kind of film you may turn to more than once (unless you are a fan of one of the above mentioned actors). Rated by Time Magazine as one of top ten historically most misleading films in 2011, the plot definitely leaves a lot to be desired. It is still a film, however, that – despite its many controversies – also has acting highlights towards the end and even offers discreet comments about society, including the status of the female sex.

Watch the original trailer here.

Lifeboat

Talkie of the Week: Lifeboat

USA 1944, 96 minutes, black & white, 20th Century Fox. Director: Alfred Hitchcock, Written by Jo Swerling, Based on a novella by John Steinbeck. Cast: Tullalah Bankhead, William Bendix, Walter Slezak, Mary Anderson, John Hodiak, Henry Hull, Heather Angel, Hume Cronyn, Canada Lee and William Yetter Jr.

Plot summary: After a nearly fatal attack in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, a disparate group of survivors has to decide whether or not to trust the enemy whose offer to help may or may not reflect disputable intent.

Lifeboat_posterReview: There are film enthusiasts who worship directors for their ability to bring stories to live on screen and make them memorable beyond their own lifetime and momentum. Welles, Wilder, Capra, Sirk, Lang, Houston, Wyler, Cukor, Ford, Mankiewicz, Minnelli to just name a few, each name standing for his own precept of quality, his own formula to narrative veracity. Alfred Hitchcock, no doubt, belongs to that eclectic league of masterminds whose style outlived its time and entered the halls of classic fame. With success stories such as The 39 Steps, Rear Window and Vertigo under his belt, Hitchcock is still remembered by film fans around the globe and frequently paid homage to by contemporary filmmakers. Although not peaking until the 1950s, his career was multifaceted and long-lived, spanning from the mid 1920s to the mid 70s.

In 1943, he took on a project called Lifeboat, a story originally based on an unpublished novella by John Steinbeck. Set in the midst of WWII, the tale brought up the blurry lines between decency and necessity for survival in times of war. Shot with only ten actors in a limited setting, Hitchcock turned the already dramatic plot into a claustrophobic parable about the complexities of human behavior under extreme circumstances. Unafraid of addressing cruelties and moral ambiguities, Lifeboat was released on January 28, 1944 and won instant disapproval by a number of critics who frowned on the supposedly favorable depiction of German characters. Despite this controversy, however, the film was nominated for three Academy Awards and brought Tallulah Bankhead a well-deserved New York Film Critics Circle Award for her memorable performance as pert journalist Connie Porter. In 1950, Screen Director’s Playhouse turned Lifeboat into a successful radio play with and introduction by Alfred Hitchcock and Tallulah Bankhead as his acclaimed leading lady. You can listen to the adaptation here.

For Hitchcock fans and classic movie buffs, the film does not only offer a brilliant ensemble cast but also a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat through the whole ninety-six minutes. Designed as an intimate play, Lifeboat is a real gem for anyone who likes to savor topnotch acting and tangent dialog. Praised by critics today, Lifeboat is now available on DVD with a delicious two-parter interview with the master of suspense himself.

The Lone Hand

Talkie of the Week: The Lone Hand

USA 1953, 80 minutes, color, Universal International Pictures. Director: George Sherman, Written by Joseph Hoffman and Irving Ravetch. Cast: Joel McCrea, Barbara Hale, Alex Nicol, Charles Drake, Jimmy Hunt, James Arness, Ray Roberts, Frank Ferguson, Wesley Morgan.

Plot summary: In order to secure the survival of his family, Zachary Hallock gets involved with the wrong side of the law and thus puts the trust of his son and newlywed wife to the ultimate test.

The Lone Hand 1953Review: As a widowed father who is trying to start a new life with his son (Jimmy Hunt), Zachary Hallock (Joel McCrea) works hard on a little farm he only recently purchased and soon occupies with his new wife. In order to overcome the sudden loss of his harvest, he gets involved with a local gang of outlaws who are notorious for their robberies. His son, raised to be inquisitive and righteous, gets suspicious of his father’s new source of income and soon starts asking questions like his stepmother Sarah Jane (Barbara Hale). Unable to tell them the truth behind his actions, Zachary loses his son’s respect and his wife’s trust. It takes an unexpected turn of events to win them both back and make them understand the situation.

Shot in Colorado in 1953, The Lone Hand would be the first out of two movies starring Joel McCrea and Barbara Hale. As a reliably gifted Western star, McCrea governed the movie from the start, supported by Jimmy Hunt’s touching performance and Barbara Hale’s always hearty and wholesome presence. Together, they turned this little film into a memorable experience for anyone who is fond of family Westerns with a dash of suspense. Unavailable on DVD so far, the film is a gem that can be seen in occasional reruns on TV and deserves to be passed on from one generation to the next.

Watch a teaser here.

The Case of the Stuttering Bishop

Talkie of the Week: The Case of the Stuttering Bishop

USA 1937, 70 minutes, black & white, Warner Bros. Director: William Clemens, Written by Kenneth Gamet and Don Ryan, Based on The Case of the Stuttering Bishop by Erle Stanley Gardner. Cast: Donald Woods, Ann Dvorak, Anne Nagel, Linda Perry, Craig Reynolds, Gordon Oliver, Joseph Crehan, Helen MacKellar, Edward McWade, Tom Kennedy, Mira McKinney, Frank Faylen, Douglas Wood, Veda Ann Borg, George Lloyd, Selmer Jackson and Charles Wilson.

Plot summary: Perry Mason gets involved in a case of identity theft and ends up defending the possible heir to a murder victim’s fortune.

TCOT Stuttering Bisop 1937Review: As the sixth and last adaptation of Erle Stanley Gardner’s popular whodunits, Warner Brothers released The Case of the Stuttering Bishop in 1937 with Donald Woods as famed lawyer Perry Mason and Ann Dvorak as his faithful girl Friday Della Street. Based on Gardner’s ninth book, the film tried to turn a difficult plot into seventy minutes of entertaining noir, unfortunately another failed attempt at the box office. For Mason fans, the film may now be a gem to complete their collection, for a general audience, however, the film did not manage to live up to Gardner’s original story.

Although blessed with Donald Woods as yet another Mason, the film, once again, lacked the enticing chemistry between Perry and and his savvy secretary, an element the radio and TV show would get down to a T in the 1940s through 60s. Ann Dvorak, despite her decent lines, brief (book-inspired) action scene and physical presence, did not manage to shine as Della Street and Joseph Crehan did not get enough screen time to actually flesh out another pivotal character from the original books, private detective Paul Drake. Charles Wilson, though, as district attorney Hamilton Burger, met the rather unlikeable persona from Gardner’s novels and Edward McWade was a charming stuttering bishop Mallory. Together, they made the film an enjoyable hour of entertainment without living up to the story’s full potential.

Despite my bias for Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale and their smash hit show from the 50s and 60s, I must admit, however, that Donald Woods did a fine job at breathing life into his very own Perry Mason. Of all the adaptations from the 1930s, The Case of the Stuttering Bishop may even qualify as my favorite, although each of the six films had its beauty and strengths. As a Mason fan, I’m grateful either way for Warner’s decision to release all of the first Mason films in one boxset on DVD – it sure made the best early Christmas gift I gave myself this year.

The Case of the Black Cat

Talkie of the Week: The Case of the Black Cat

USA 1936, 66 minutes, black & white, Warner Bros. Director: William C. McGann, Written by F. Hugh Herbert, Based on The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat by Erle Stanley Gardner. Cast: Ricardo Cortez, June Travis, Jane Bryan, Craig Reynolds, Carlyle Moore Jr., Gordon Elliot, Nedda Harrigan, Garry Owen, Harry Davenport, George Rosener, Gordon Hart, Clarence Wilson, Guy Usher, Lottie Williams and Harry Hayden.

Plot summary: When Peter Laxter calls Perry Mason to change his will in order to test the loyalty of his granddaughter’s fiancé, his actions result in a series of sudden deaths the prosecution investigates as murders.

Review: Following four silver screenTCOT Black Catadaptations with Warren William starring as Perry Mason, Warner Brothers took another shot at success in 1936 by releasing The Case of the Black Cat based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s seventh whodunit, The Case of the Caretaker’s Cat. Introducing Ricardo Cortez as the famous attorney-at-law and June Travis as his irreplaceable Della Street, that new production did not follow up on previously disappointing attempts of turning Mason into a Nick Charles but rather tried to soak up the essence of Gardner’s original novel. Featuring Garry Owen as private eye Paul Drake, an important asset to Mason’s law practice, and Guy Usher as district attorney Hamilton Burger, The Case of the Black Cat was suspenseful and noir right from the start. What the film lacked, however, was that kind of enticing chemistry between the story’s main characters, an ingredient Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, Bill Hopper (as well as William Talman and Ray Collins) would so easily create on the small screen two decades later.

Although hard to compare to the smashing TV show of the 1950s and 60s, this adaptation from 1936 already took a step into the right direction. Regardless of his excellent performance skills and gentlemanly quality, Warren William did not get to leave a lasting mark as Perry Mason and unfortunately, nor did Ricardo Cortez with his one-time chance at proving himself. June Travis, as the fourth actress to breathe life into Mason’s skillful girl Friday, also didn’t make a big enough difference to win the hearts of Gardner’s fans. Just like her predecessors, she was pretty and useful but never as distinctive as the character in the original books.

In general, The Case of the Black Cat offered a calmer version of Gardner’s crafty lawyer, especially when compared to the screwball-induced The Case of the Lucky Legs and The Velvet Claws, the improved take on the novels still did not stand out enough, however, to attract a larger audience. Today, The Case of the Black Cat is a great little film for anyone who loves Perry Mason. Although for most, Raymond Burr will always be the perfect Perry and Barbara Hale his unrivaled Della, this film is a great example of how Hollywood has always tried to tell stories the audience has already embraced. It is also a treat for anyone who is enamored with the 1930s, the slang, movies and fashion of those troubled days.

Available on the Perry Mason Mysteries DVD boxset.