Talkie of the Week: Seminole

USA 1953, 87 minutes, color, Universal Pictures. Director: Budd Boetticher, Written by Charles K. Peck Jr., Cast: Rock Hudson, Barbara Hale, Anthony Quinn, Richard Carlson, Hugh O’Brian, Russell Johnson, Lee Marvin, Ralph Moody, Fay Roope, James Best, John Dahaim.

Plot summary: When Lt. Caldwell returns to his Florida home to serve at Fort King, he is faced with a strict commander who endangers the peaceful co-existence with the Seminole Indians.

Review: Set in 1835, Seminole tells the story of Lt. Caldwell who is accused of murder of a sentry at Fort King near the Everglades where the Seminole Indians lived in peace with the white settlers until Major Degan took command. Played by Rock Hudson, Caldwell is an honest soldier who grew up in the area and thus knows the Everglades as more than just hostile land. Familiar with the territory, he is a helpful asset to Fort King, but it is his love for Revere Muldoon (Barbara Hale) that actually made him return to his childhood home. Originally a peaceful tribe in the region, the Seminole Indians are now fighting the soldiers at Fort King, first and foremost by their leader Osceola (Anthony Quinn). Seeking a way to negotiate with Osceola, Lt. Caldwell finds his plans thwarted by Major Degan (Richard Carlson) whose misguided ambition poses a threat not only to the settlers and Seminoles, but also to his own men. With the help of Revere, Caldwell tries to avoid a conflict before it gets out of hand, only to find himself charged with murder at the end of a gory battle in the midst of the swampy Everglades.

Blessed with a convincing cast, Seminole was primarily shot in the Everglades National Park in Florida, a place that added to the sweltry atmosphere of this unusual Western. Led by Rock Hudson as handsome and righteous Lt. Caldwell, the actors did a wonderful job breathing life into characters whose destiny is connected and tied to the swamps, especially Osceola’s. Anthony Quinn, always strong as a “noble savage”, shined particularly in the presence of Barbara Hale whose Revere Muldoon is a heroine on her own merit, alluring and strong.

Available on DVD, the film is the perfect treat for anyone who enjoys an ensemble of good actors whose leading stars created a sizzling chemistry on screen. The story itself is suspenseful and dramatic, turning this classic into a perfect gem, especially for those of us who prefer some romance over a blanket to keep ourselves warm in this cold October season.

Seminole trailer

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.

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.

Imitation of Life

Talkie of the Week: Imitation of Life

USA 1959, 119 minutes, color, Universal Pictures. Director: Douglas Sirk, Producer: Ross Hunter, Written by: Eleanore Griffin and Allan Scott, Based on the novel by Fannie Hurst. Cast: Lana Turner, John Gavin, Juanita Moore, Robert Alda, Dan o’Herlihy, Sandra Dee, Susan Kohner and Mahalia Jackson

Plot summary: Lora and Annie master their lives with their daughters, living through the ups and downs of success and love. Annie struggles with her daughter Sarah Jane whose skin color is the main source of trouble between her and her mother while Lora neglects her daughter Susie for a career that guarantees her a childhood Lora herself never had.

Review: Imitation of Life is an adaptation of Fannie Hurst’s novel and a remake of its namesake film from 1934 with Claudette Colbert as Lora. Reduced to a soap opera by a number of critics in 1959, the film was a great success in movie theaters and earned Juanita Moore and Susan Kohner Academy Award nominations in the Best Supporting Actress category that year. And rightly so. The film, although a perfect vehicle for Lana Turner’s dramatic acting style, allows its entire cast to shine and leaves the audience gasping for air emotionally.

Starting off in 1947, the film follows Lora Meredith’s path, a young widow and mother of six-year-old Susie, who has a strong dream to make it big on Broadway. Although she is barely scraping by, she takes in Annie Johnson and her eight-year-old daughter Sarah Jane as they meet on Coney Island. Both women seem to be equally lost and out of place in the overcrowded jolly place and soon become employer and maid, as well as friends.

Early on, both women struggle with the challenge to do the best for their daughters. Together, they try everything to give them the lives they always aspired for. It is Sarah Jane who fights her mother most ferociously – with her white skin color she cannot stand the way her mother tries to humble and prepare her for a world that will degrade her for being black. Susie faces her own sorrows with an absentee mother whose career seems to come first no matter what.

Imitation of Life¬†is a drama in its purest form, dulcified with a strong musical performance by the powerful Mahalia Jackson and eye candy fashion in best 1950s style. It is a rich mother-daughter tale, poignant and a fabulous mix of modern and traditional. Douglas Sirk’s great masterpiece, a beautiful composition of moving performances, top notch writing and juicy colors.

In essence, the morale of the film may be to honor your mother for she only wants your best. Or to respect your daughter as her own person, however far away she needs to get away from you. The coin of every decision always has two sides, and mothers are humans, too. That’s what it comes down to in this film, at least for me. And I highly recommend it!

Available on VHS and DVD.