The Millionaire

TV classics: aka If You had a Million

USA 1955-60, six seasons, 206 episodes, approximately 30 minutes each, CBS, black & white. Produced by Don Fedderson, Fred Henry. Cast: Marvin Miller, Paul Frees. Guest stars: Phyllis Avery, Carl Betz, Whitney Blake, Angie Dickinson, Barbara Eden, Beverly Garland, Ray Gordon, Barbara Hale, DeForest Kelly, Del Moore, Mary Tyler Moore, Agnes Moorehead, Maudie Prickett, Gloria Talbott, Robert Vaughn, Betty White, Bill Williams, Dick York and many others.

Plot summary: Millionaires are happy people or are they?

millionaireReview: In 1955, anthology programs were as popular on TV as procedurals are today. While most of them featured a different genre on a weekly basis, The Millionaire had a steady concept. John Beresford Tipton, Jr., a man as wealthy as he was generous, made out a check to complete strangers and asked his secretary to deliver them. He gave away one million dollars without any strings attached. Surprised by their sudden fortune, the recipients signed a legal contract to guarantee the anonymity of their unknown sponsor and were then abandoned to their fate. A blessing for some, a curse for others, Tipton’s gift always deeply affected the lives of people who had never dreamed of ever owning so much money.

Popular enough to be parodied on The Jack Benny Program and by Mad Magazine, The Millionaire attracted many guest stars who contributed to the show’s appeal. Although based on a simple idea, the program turned a similar situation into a new story every week and thus kept the original concept interesting for six seasons. Blessed with good scripts and the talents of Marvin Miller as Tipton’s bearer of glad tidings, the show created dramatic, funny and generally entertaining moments with actors such as Dick York, Betty White, Barbara Hale and Bill Williams. Successful for five years on CBS, the show was frequently rerun from 1960 to 1980 and temporarily revived on TV Land in the late 1990s. It is a pity that, today, the program has not yet been made available on DVD. It is a real gem for anyone who loves the Golden Age of television and a cordial invitation to dream of opening the door to Marvin Miller as Michael Anthony.

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All That Heaven Allows

Talkie of the Week: All That Heaven Allows

USA 1955, 89 minutes, color, Universal Pictures. Director: Douglas Sirk, Written by Peg Fenwick, Based on a story by Edna L. Lee and Harry Lee. Cast: Rock Hudson, Jane Wyman, Agnes Moorehead, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Grey, Gloria Talbott, William Reynolds, Charles Drake, Hayden Rorke, Jacqueline de Wit, Leigh Snowden, Donald Curtis, Alex Gerry, Nestor Paiva, Forrest Lewis, Merry Anders.

Plot summary: Cary is a widowed mother of two grown children. Ron is a young gardener who shows her a life outside of her perfectly conformed life. When they fall in love they are soon confronted with scrutiny and judgment from a society that doesn’t like people to be different.

Review: Originally set up as a reunion movie for Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson after their great success with Magnificent Obsession in 1954, All That Heaven Allows used their chemistry and fame to build up an equally romantic story about two people who are falling in love despite their differences in age and status. Confronted with harsh criticism and rejection from family and friends, Cary Scott (Wyman) and Ron Kirby (Hudson) are forced to realize the impact society has on them and their decisions, turning their lives into misery after trying to adapt to what’s expected of them.

Created as a melodrama, the film may now seem to offer criticism on the restrictions and rules of the 1950s. Douglas Sirk, often overlooked by film critics of his time for making uninteresting, trivial movies, managed to turn a richly dramatic story into a feast for the eye. Artistically referred to in Todd Hayne’s Far From Heaven in 2002, All That Heaven Allows is one of those classics that may surprise you once you get around to savoring them. Although leaning towards the sentimental, the film is touching and entertaining, the kind of film Hollywood has unlearned to make these days.

Blessed with two talented and attractive leads, the film has been available in reruns, on VHS and DVD for many years. Added to the National Film Registry in 1995, All That Heaven Allows will be preserved for generations to come to offer a glimpse into the aesthetics, style and culture of a time people seem to either glorify or condemn.

All That Heaven Allows trailer.

Sorry, Wrong Number

Talkie of the Week: Sorry, Wrong Number

USA 1948, 89 minutes, black & white, Paramount Pictures. Director: Anatole Litvak, Written by Lucille Fletcher, Based on the radio play “Sorry, Wrong Number” by Lucille Fletcher, Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Ann Richards, Wendell Corey, Harold Vermilyea, Ed Begley, Leif Erickson, William Conrad, John Bromfield, Jimmy Hunt, Dorothy Neumann, Paul Fierro

Plot summary: Leona Stevenson overhears two men plotting a murder of a woman who turns out to be herself.

Review: Today, the lovely Barbara Stanwyck would have celebrated her 105th birthday. In dear memory of an unforgettable leading lady, I have thus decided to present Sorry, Wrong Number, a film noir for which she received her fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role in 1949.

Originally a radio play that featured Agnes Moorehead in a solo performance in 1943, Sorry, Wrong Number was turned into a screenplay by Lucille Fletcher, the playwright herself, and conquered the silver screen in the fall of 1948. Starring Barbara Stanwyck as invalid Leona Stevenson who overhears two men plotting a murder on the phone, the story is dark and suspenseful in writing, as well as in effect. Told in real time with the use of explanatory flashbacks, Leona’s desperate attempt to inform the authorities are as futile as her effort to reach her husband. The phone, as her only medium of communication with the outside world, turns into a beacon of hope and sorrow when she finally realizes
that the victim is going to be herself. Haunting in her desperation, Barbara Stanwyck’s performance is never quiet but rather striking in its fierceness and color. Supported by an excellent co-star, Burt Lancaster, as Henry Stevenson and an overall convincing cast, Ms. Stanwyck’s fear and constriction reaches an almost tangible level with every phone call she places, every secret she learns. Her face reflects the horrid situation she finds herself trapped in, the mere panic she begins to absorb. It is the music by Franz Waxman and the expert use of shadows and light which does the rest, affecting the audience with a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat.

Reclaiming her role as Leona on CBS’ Lux Radio Theater in 1950, Barbara Stanwyck showed her full range of emotions in a part that was the last to get her the attention from the Motion Picture Academy until she finally received an Honorary Oscar in 1981. As one of her many films that left a mark until today, Sorry, Last Number is a classic that never gets old but has the potential to attract an entire new generation of fans. With its enthralling style and Ms. Stanwyck’s powerhouse performance, the film is perfect to bring sunshine to an autumn-like July and a beautiful way to honor her today.

Available on DVD, CD and as radio podcast.

Magnificent Obsession

Talkie of the Week: Magnificent Obsession

USA 1954, 104 minutes, color, Universal International Pictures. Director: Douglas Sirk, Written by Robert Blees and Wells Root, Based on the book by Lloyd C. Douglas. Cast: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush, Agnes  Moorehead, Otto Kruger

Plot summary: When Bob Merrick learns that he survived an unnecessary accident that indirectly took the life of celebrated humanitarian Dr. Phillips, the millionaire decides to change his life and follow the doctor’s example of taking care of others and their struggles. Rejected by Dr. Phillips’ family for his attempt to help them in times of hardship, Bob ultimately manages to prove his sincerity and falls in love with Helen, the late doctor’s widow, despite her initial rejection.

Review: Based on the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas, Magnificent Obsessions had already been adapted for the silver screen in 1935 when Douglas Sirk decided to pick up the story for his technicolor remake. Originally starring Irene Dunne and Robert Taylor, Sirk’s version from 1954 presented Jane Wyman and and a practically unknown Rock Hudson in the leading roles. Commercially successful in theaters, the film received mixed reaction from critics for the emotional story and the director’s choice of material. While Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson conquered the screen with a chemistry that resulted in another collaboration of the two stars in Sirk’s All That Heaven Allows one year later, reviews often stressed the sappy quality of the motion picture, a fact that didn’t stop the Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences to nominate Jane Wyman for an Academy Award for her performance.

Recorded for radio several times before Magnificent Obsession re-entered with stars such as Irene Dunne, Claudette Colbert and Myrna Loy, the story itself grew into a classic story about loss, love, grace and altruism. Rock Hudson’s first significant movie role brought him well-deserved recognition and kicked off a career as one of Hollywood’s most charming leading men. It was the fourth Oscar nomination Jane Wyman received for her portrayal of Helen Phillips, an honor Grace Kelly in The Country Girl ended up winning that year.

Magnificent Obsession is a film that works the emotional scale of its audience by merging drama with romance in a way that is now a lost art. Be prepared to stock up your supply of tissues before you watch it, the score and moving performances will make you sob if your heart beats for this kind of gem.

Available on DVD. Magnificent Obsession trailer

Bewitched

TV classics: Bewitched

USA 1964-72, 8 seasons,  254 episodes, 25 minutes each, ABC, black & white (1964-66), then color. Created by: Sol Saks. Cast: Elizabeth Montgomery, Dick York, Dick Sargent, Agnes Moorehead, David White, Erin Murphy, Also starring: George Tobias, Kasey Rogers, Alice Pearce, Sandra Gould, Marion Lorne, Bernard Fox, Diane Murphy, Irene Vernon, Maurice Evans, Paul Lynde, David Lawrence

Plot summary: When young witch Samantha marries mortal Darrin Stephens, she swears to abandon her powers and be a normal suburban housewife instead – very much to the dismay of her overbearing mother Endora who constantly frowns upon her daughter’s mortal ambitions and thus interferes with her life whenever she can.

Review: There are shows that are a pleasure to grow up with. Bewitched is one of those: funny, entertaining and lovely – from its main cast right down to every single recurring guest star. Elizabeth Montgomery (as leading lady Samantha Stephens) is a joy to watch mastering her weekly endeavors, always caught somewhere between her husband’s wish to keep their quiet little life as simple as possible and the scheming of her eccentric mother Endora, a witch to the core.

Samantha‘s struggle to please both parties and make the best of both worlds guarantees colorful adventures with characters from another world: warlocks, mythical creatures, kings and queens. Some of the most memorable ones sure are Samantha’s aunt Clara, Doctor Bombay, Samantha‘s father Maurice and uncle Arthur – all of which were beautifully cast, written and costumed. Dick York, equally well cast and convincing as Samantha’s husband Darrin Stephens (later replaced by Dick Sargent who did a fantastic job stepping into his predecessor’s big shoes in 1969) brings a genuine mixture of goofiness and earthiness to the table. His turf wars with mother-in-law Endora are a real treat, also due to the magnificently haunting talents of Agnes Moorehead, her sense for timing and her always dramatic exits.

The show lived off its cast and many creative storylines. Darrin’s boss Larry Tate, Samantha’s in-laws, quirky neighbor Gladys Kravitz and last but not least the Stephens’ children Tabitha and Adam – they all added to an atmosphere of gaiety and make-believe. They have tickled risible muscles of children and adults alike, and have created loving on-screen memories for everybody who is still in touch with her or his childhood heart.

Available on DVD. Bewitched theme song / intro

Side note: Bewitched has been referred to on many TV programs throughout TV history, e.g. on Roseanne, The Nanny and Charmed. The show itself used I Love Lucy storyline mimicry in a couple of episodes and was made into a feature film in 2005, starring Nicole Kidman, Will Ferrell and Shirley MacLaine. A 1977 spin-off series called Tabitha was short-lived.