Peter Pan

Talkie of the Week: Disney Series

USA 1953, 76 minutes, Technicolor, Walt Disney Productions, Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures. Based on Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up by J.M. Barrie. Narrated by Tom Conway, Voice Talents: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Paul Collins, Tomy Luske, Hans Conried, Heather Angel, Bill Thompson, Corinne Orr, June Forray, Margaret Kerry, Connie Hilton, Karen Kester and Candy Candido.

Plot summary: Who did not dream of him as a child, Peter Pan, the boy from Neverland who wouldn’t grow up?!

Peter Pan poster 1953Review: I remember it as clearly as if it had happened only yesterday. I lie awake late at night. I cannot sleep and my eyes are fixed on my half-open window. I am waiting for Peter Pan to arrive, but my childhood hero never comes. I am not Wendy. I do not get a chance to catch his shadow and lure him into my life. I do not get to fly away with him into the night. When I was little, stories like Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland or A Little Princess were my world. I read them all, saw them on stage and listened to them on the radio. I loved to dive into the world of make-belief, a world so real to me I could taste it like my grandmother’s unequaled cooking. When I first saw Peter Pan on screen, it was love at first sight. I knew that was the kind of hero I had to meet in order to stay who I enjoyed to be: a happy child who was bubbling over with imagination. Quite naturally, I had to grow up and eventually my interest in Neverland began to fade. I am sure clang to it much longer than the average child, but after all, my fascination with the boy who wouldn’t grow up was gone. The allure of an eternal childhood had lost its appeal. After a while, I was excited to grow up like Wendy Darling and I have not missed being a child since. I do remember the excitement though about a fantastic tale like Peter Pan, beautifully adapted by Walt Disney over the course of almost two decades.

Based on J.M. Barrie’s famous play, as well as on his novel Peter and Wendy, the film was set in early 20th century London. The first scene introduces us to the Darlings, an aristocratic family who is blessed with three imaginative children, Wendy, John and Michael. The boys love to act out stories their sister tells them, stories about a far away place called Neverland. Wendy knows her stories are true because she has caught the shadow of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. When he returns to retrieve it, he finally shows himself in person and invites the Darling children to explore his world. Together, they fight Captain Hook, play with the Lost Boys and learn to fly with Tinkerbell’s help. They live a storybook adventure, meet Indians and mermaids, but also learn what it would mean to remain a child forever like Peter Pan.

Although already considered for production in the 1930s, the film did not make it to theaters as one of the studio’s early films but was put on hold for the duration of WWII. After surviving negotiations, draft revisions and Hollywood’s financial drought of the post-war years, Peter Pan finally premiered as Disney’s 14th animated feature on February 5, 1953. The film received mixed reviews but easily turned into a commercial success. Re-released to theaters five times before its premiere on home video in 1990, Peter Pan became a household name across the globe and a character kids still love today. For adults, the film often comes with a taste of nostalgia for the days when they themselves were little. When summer days were endless, friends precious and ice cream wagons played the sweetest melody. For me, Peter Pan will always be the boy I did not get to meet and Wendy the girl who became my heroine. It is that kind of quality Disney’s adaptation still effuses. A true classic for kids from all decades, states and ages.

Watch the trailer here to refresh your memories. The film is available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Bride of the Gorilla

Talkie of the Week: Bride of the Gorilla

USA 1951, 70 minutes, black & white, Realart Pictures. Director: Curt Siodmak, Written by Curt Siodmak. Cast: Raymond Burr, Barbara Payton, Tom Conway, Lon Chaney Jr., Paul Cavanagh, Gisela Werbisek, Carol Varga, Paul Maxey, Woody Strode, Martin Garralaga, Felippa Rock, Moyna MacGill

Plot summary: Plantation manager Barbey Charvez kills his boss to marry his beautiful wife Dina and gets cursed for it by a native witch.

Review: Bride of the Gorilla – the title may already suggest it – is a B movie from the early 1950s. Blessed with a decent overall cast, the film stands out for its silly but entertaining plot. Raymond Burr leaves a lasting impression with his portrayal of Barney Charvez, a plantation manager who leaves little to the imagination about his intentions towards his employer’s wife, Dina Van Gelder. Married to an older man, Dina feels lonely and neglected in the middle of nowhere, bored in her husband’s large house which is surrounded by miles of South American jungle. Suggestive in her reaction to Barney’s advances, she causes a fight between her sick husband and a young and boisterous Charvez who ultimately gives into a sudden impulse of killing his boss. Observed by a native witch, Barney gets away with murder when the police is unable to convict him but is cursed to turn into the beast he proved to be when he took Klaas Van Gelder’s life. Unaware of what’s really happening to him, he roams the jungle at nighttime and is haunted by the experience of being a gorilla during the day. When he finally craves the jungle more than his newlywed wife, Barney faces his own demise as Dina is trying to stop him from running away.

Although the storyline may not sound worthwhile, the movie is fun to watch. Bride of the Gorilla is not the kind of film that will will leave an emotional imprint on your heart, nor will it blow you away with its surprising plot – but it will divert you and make you laugh. It will relax you despite (or rather thanks to?!) its righteous ending. And truth be told, Bride of the Gorilla is particularly enjoyable for anyone who’s fond of Raymond Burr. Barbara Payton and ex-Falcon Tom Conway also deliver neat performances, it is Burr’s seething aggressiveness, however, that makes this film better than expected. With his introverted emotions and impressive physicality, he easily turns this film into a guilty pleasure – just watch him enter at the end of the second minute and you’ll see what I mean. For his screen presence alone this film is a must-see, at least for anyone who’s ever wanted to savor a very different side of TV’s Perry Mason.

Available on youtube in public domain.

One Touch of Venus

Talkie of the Week: One Touch of Venus

USA 1948, 82 minutes, black & white, Universal Pictures. Director: William A. Seiter, Written by Harry Kurnitz  & Frank Tashlin, Based on the novel The Tinted Venus by F. Anstey. Cast: Ava Gardner, Robert Walker, Dick Haymes, Eve Arden, Tom Conway, Olga San Juan, James Flavin, Sara Allgood

Plot summary: Eddie Hatch locks lips with a Venus statue and thus awakens the real goddess who stirs up his life.

Review: Originally purchased by Mary Pickford to bring the musical version of F. Anstey’s novel The Tinted Venus to the screen in technicolor for United Artists, the project did not come to life until Lester Cowan secured the rights for Universal in 1947. He hired William A. Seiter to direct a black and white version of the story with Robert Walker, Ava Gardner and Dick Haymes as leading actors. The diverting plot worked beautifully without the musical numbers, first and foremost due to its excellent cast. Ava Gardner was a fantastic choice for Venus, the goddess of love, who comes to life through Robert Walker’s kiss. Together, they made for a handsome couple who knew how to tackle the comedic ups and downs of a lightweight story. They were supported by Tom Conway and Eve Arden who added maturity to One Touch of Venus beyond the lines they were given. As a secretary who’s secretly in love with her boss, Eve Arden played an endearing stereotype whose best moments, like Ava Gardner, are saved for the end of the film.

All in all, the movie is a romantic comedy for three couples who give their best at entertaining their audience. Dick Haymes and Olga San Juan are as cute a pair as Ava Gardner and Robert Walker and every bit as hilarious as RKO’s ex-Falcon Tom Conway and Our Miss Brooks‘ Eve Arden. Today, the actress would have turned 104 and One Touch of Venus is a great treat for anyone who’s interested in seeing some of her big screen work. Lighthearted and funny, the comedy will also lift you up and prepare you for warmer weather – it’s every bit as delightful and silly as spring fever season.

Available on DVD.

PS: Review also published on MovieFanFare.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents

TV classics: Alfred Hitchcock Presents

USA 1955-62, 268 episodes, 25 minutes each, CBS and NBC. Presented by Alfred Hitchcock, Cast examples: Julie Adams, Gene Barry, Barbara Bel Geddes, Charles Bronson, Tom Conway, Joseph Cotten, Anne Francis, Rosemary Harris, Patricia Hitchcock, Brian Keith, Werner Klemperer, Wesley Lau, Steve McQueen, Leslie Nielsen, John Qualen, William Shatner, Nita Talbot, Jessica Tandy, Dick York et al.

Plot summary: In this anthology series, Alfred Hitchcock presented new mysteries on a weekly basis, always introduced by a comment from the master of suspense himself.

Review: Alfred Hitchcock Presents was one of the many successful anthology series of the 1950s and 60s, hosted by Alfred Hitchcock who commented on the weekly stories in the beginning and at the end of each episode. Often welcoming his audience with a friendly “Good Evening”, the master of suspense was a pivotal part of the show for which he caricatured his own silhouette to appear in the title credits. Although praised as Hollywood’s best directors, Hitchcock did not direct more than seventeen episodes of the original show and only one of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour which was produced for another three years after the completion of his half-hour original in 1962.

Focusing on murder, mayhem and mysteries, Alfred Hitchcock Presents had a more constricted theme for its episodes than the majority of other anthology programs, something his famous name already suggested. Always relying on suspense, a decent cast and excellent scripts, the show lived up to be one of the 100 most popular shows on TV and was rewarded with several Emmy nominations including two for the renowned director himself. Successfully rerun for many years, a re-imagined show, The New Alfred Hitchcock Presents, brought more crime to American living rooms in 1985, a popular time for revivals of popular black & white franchises.

Today, Alfred Hitchcock Presents is available on DVD and online to be enjoyed by old fans and new ones alike. Still gripping and entertaining, the episodes are a treat for everyone who enjoys great storytelling and ironic or deadpan comments on sometimes gruesome yet never horrific cases. As the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock was celebrated for his skills to seduce his audience into witnessing upsetting circumstances without haunting them with gory images. His approach was reflected in this show and still offers many hours of first class diversion – a true gem to rediscover on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

The Falcon in Hollywood

Talkie of the Week: The Falcon in Hollywood

USA 1944, 67 minutes, black & white, RKO. Director: Gordon Douglas, Written by Gerald Geraghty, Based on the Falcon character created by Michael Arlen. Cast: Tom Conway, Barbara Hale, Veda Ann Borg, John Abbott, Sheldon Leonard, Konstantin Shayne, Emory Parnell, Frank Jenks, Jean Brooks, Rita Corday, Walter Soderling, Useff Ali, Robert Clarke

Plot summary: The Falcon is on vacation in Hollywood and stumbles into murder case on the Sunset studio lot which seems to be linked to a raising starlet and her ties to the local mob.

Review: In his third consecutive adventure from 1944, Tom Conway returns to the silver screen as The Falcon in Hollywood. Officially on vacation, the famous urban detective finds a new case at a horse race where he meets a young lady who has trouble written all over her face. Chased by the police, she uses the Falcon as her cover only to take flight from him as well. Going after his accidental date in a cab, he makes the acquaintance of another young lady who’s as feisty in her pursuit of him as she’s reckless at driving. Together, they reach the lot of Sunrise Pictures where the Falcon stumbles right into a murder scene.

Like in his previous adventures in 1943 and ’44, Tom Conway did a beautiful job playing the charming sleuth who has a way of attracting women to his cases, as helpers or murderesses. He was supported by a hilariously feisty Veda Ann Borg as witty cab driver Billie Atkins whose tongue was sometimes quicker than her mind and a lovely but tough Barbara Hale as Peggy Callahan. The Falcon in Hollywood was Ms. Hale’s second stint on the popular franchise in which she played an actress who got her first shot at the movies. Slowly landing bigger parts for herself as one of RKO’s promising starlets at the time, Barbara Hale showed yet another side of her natural talent as a versatile young woman who’s smart and quick on her feet. She was an entertaining riddle for Tom Conway’s Falcon, her motives, background and ambitions almost as shadowy as her alibi.

Shot primarily on the actual RKO lot, The Falcon in Hollywood combined a suspenseful story with a glimpse into the actual world of the studio with its college campus atmosphere (as Barbara Hale once so sweetly put it) and numerous sound stages. Today, it is a wonderful look back at a place and era that’s long gone. The film is funny, diverting and very L.A. – a true gem for anyone who appreciates the style and humor of the Tinseltown’s Golden Age.

Available on DVD.

The Falcon Out West

Talkie of the Week: The Falcon out West

USA 1944, 64 minutes, black & white, RKO. Director: William Clemens, Written by Billy Jones and Morton Grant, Based on the Falcon character created by Michael Arlen. Cast: Tom Conway, Carole Gallagher, Barbara Hale, Joan Barclay, Cliff Clark, Edward Gargan, Minor Watson, Donald Douglas, Lyle Talbot, Lee Trent, Perc Launders

Plot summary: The unusual murder of a wealthy Texan at a thriving party in New York brings the Falcon out West to solve the case on unfamiliar grounds.

Review: The Falcon was created by Michael Arlen in 1940 and introduced in a short story called Gay Falcon which was first published in Town & Country magazine. In 1941, the character was picked up by RKO in an adaptation loosely based on the original story. The film was called The Gay Falcon and presented an altered lead character who resembled Leslie Charteris’ The Saint, previously adapted by RKO in a series of successful movies starring George Sanders. Sanders was also cast as the first Falcon in a series of movies that were shot in the 1940s. In 1943, he bowed out and passed his part over to his brother Tom Conway who had played the Falcon’s brother one year before.

The Falcon Out West was Conway’s fourth endeavor as the Falcon, a film that took the city sleuth out to the Wild West. The plot was filled with wide array of Western clichĂ©s that tested the character’s usual sophistication, his big city wit and charm. Tom Conway did make it work however and played the fish out of water to a tee. His talents worked beautifully with an ensemble cast of characters who knew how to mix humor with suspense, especially with RKO’s upcoming starlet Barbara Hale. Introduced to movie goers in Higher and Higher in 1943 alongside Frank Sinatra in his first role, The Falcon Out West was Ms. Hale’s second credited part and her first Western. It was also the first out of two Falcon movies she starred in, both shot and released in 1944.

For fans of the Falcon series or Tom Conway, this film is a must-see. The same goes for detective story enthusiasts and classic movie buffs. For Barbara Hale fans The Falcon Out West is one of those early gems that give you a glimpse of her full potential long before her quiet Perry Mason fame. For everybody else, the movie offers a good hour of murder, laughs and mayhem in the black and white world of Hollywood’s Wild West.

Available on DVD. The Falcon Out West intro scene