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.

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.

The Oklahoman

Talkie of the Week: The Oklahoman

USA 1957, 80 minutes, color, Warner Bros.. Director: Francis D. Lyon, Written by Daniel B. Ullman. Cast: Joel McCrea, Barbara Hale, Brad Dexter, Gloria Talbott, Michael Pate, Verna Felton, Douglas Dick, Anthony Caruso, Esther Dale, Adam Williams, Ray Teal, Peter J. Votrian, John Pickard, Mimi Gibson

Plot summary: Dr. John Brighton is on his way to California with his wife and friends when a stroke of fate urges him to stay were it him hardest, in a small town in the Oklahoma Territory that needs a doctor as much as he needs a new home.

Review: The Oklahoman is a Western. The picture above may already have told you as much. Or the summary which basically only sums up where it all starts. If you don’t like the genre, you will probably not be eager to watch this film – which would be a pity, a real one – because The Oklahoman is a classic gem.

Starring Joel McCrea as Doc Brighton, the film is beautifully shot, cast and edited. It’s not artsy, nor dark. It’s entertainment. It’s drama. It’s romance, unpretentiously provided by the leading actor himself and the woman who would enter the supporting actresses’ hall of fame on TV, Barbara Hale. Westerns are as much her homeland as his, and they make their audience feel it. Not only do they create a chemistry that sizzles, they also make you want to grab your boots and saddle a horse to ride along with them. They build up that longing for nature and for something that is hard to describe. It is a feeling of nostalgia for something that’s long gone. A different life. A different time. Be it the 1870s of the plot or the 1950s of the production, take your pick. Watching The Oklahoman today, these two stars make you long for both.

Of course there is more to the film than “only” the congeniality of two performers, their believability and charm. There is also Doc’s friend Charlie Smith (Michael Pate) who gets in trouble when he defends his land against a crooked trio of brothers. And his young daughter Maria who combines innocence and trouble for Doc Brighton, convincingly portrayed by Gloria Talbott. And then there are Ann Barnes’ (Barbara Hale) mother and Doc’s own landlady, both hilariously brought to life by Verna Felton and Esther Dale. To cut it short, the entire ensemble is a joy to watch and the story gripping from beginning to end. It would be a shame to give too much of the plot away, to spoil the surprises and explain how the characters interact. So go get yourself a copy and watch The Oklahoman. (Re)Discover it and embrace what you see: a good movie with a decent cast and two shining leads, Joel McCrea and Barbara Hale.

Available on DVD.