CMBA Spring Blogathon, “Big Stars on the Small Screen,” Vincent Price in “The Brady Bunch”

In support of National Classic Movie Day on May 16th, the members of the Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA) were asked to write on the topic of “big stars on the small screen.” I decided to write about one of my favorite big stars who appeared on many small screens over his impressive 60+ year career–Vincent Price. Price is best known for his horror films, such as The House on Haunted Hill (1959), Theatre of Blood (1973), and The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) to name just a few. He was also a known “foodie” and gourmet cook as well as a major art collector. Price’s love of acting and celebrity as an icon of horror films coincided nicely with his hobbies. Since obviously, he could pay for fancy food and artwork with the money earned from his acting.

Vincent Price shows Johnny Carson how to cook dinner in the dishwasher.

Vincent Price appeared on every type of television show under the sun. His voice made a very early television appearance in 1949 when he narrated a version of “The Christmas Carol.” In the 1950s, he appeared in numerous episodes of dramatic series, such as Robert Montgomery Presents and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Price’s great voice and presence definitely lent itself well to drama, however, he was also adept at comedy. He had a great sense of camp and the absurd, I never got the sense that he took himself too seriously. In 1966, Price appeared in seven episodes of the cult classic television series, Batman, as the villain, Dr. Egghead. He also appeared in multiple episodes of Laugh-In as a guest performer. In 1975, Vincent Price made a memorable appearance on Johnny Carson where he taught Johnny how to cook an entire dinner in the dishwasher. I recommend watching this clip on You Tube, you won’t regret it.

::Cue the Tiki music::

However, it was in 1972 when Vincent Price made his greatest television appearance–Professor Whitehead in the second and third episodes of the classic 3-part Hawaii episodes in The Brady Bunch. In the first episode of the fourth season, “Hawaii Bound,” Mike is sent by his architecture firm to check on the status of a construction project. And because Mike’s boss, Mr. Phillips, is apparently the greatest boss ever, he allows Mike to take all six of his kids, his wife, and his housekeeper with him to Hawaii for vacation. When the Bradys arrive in Hawaii, it doesn’t take long for hijinks to ensue. While accompanying Mike to the construction site, Bobby finds a cursed Tiki idol. ::cue Tiki music:: (You know you hear it). Bobby, Peter and Greg later take the Tiki ::cue Tiki music:: to a local man, Mr. Hanalei, who tells the boys that the idol is cursed and brings bad luck to whomever has it in their possession.

The boys are skeptical about the superstition but begin to believe the legend when multiple members of the family have bad luck wearing the tiki ::cue Tiki music:: . Bobby sits on his ukulele and crushes it. Later, a heavy wall decoration almost crushes Bobby when Greg accidentally hits it when throwing a pillow. The next day, Alice is wearing the idol and throws her back out during a hula lesson. Then, Bobby inexplicably gives the tiki ::cue Tiki music:: to Greg to wear during the surfing contest he’s entered. During the contest, Greg is doing well, until he’s not. He wipes out and is nowhere to be seen.

Greg will regret surfing with the tiki idol ::Cue Tiki music::

Oh no! Is Greg dead? No of course not, this is The Brady Bunch! In the second episode of the arc, “Pass the Tabu,” Mike finds Greg and helps him to shore. He recovers, though presumably lost the surfing contest. The tiki ::cue Tiki music:: has fallen off Greg during his wipe-out. But never fear, it washes up on shore and Jan finds it. She places it into her bag. Later, while out sightseeing, a giant spider crawls into Jan’s bag. Jan returns the tiki ::cue Tiki music:: to Bobby. The spider also ends up in the boys’ room. At this point, Bobby is completely creeped out by the idol, convinced of its unluckiness. Peter puts the idol on and says “bad luck come and get me.” Right at that point, the giant spider has made its way out of Jan’s bag and onto Peter’s chest.

Deciding that they’ve had enough, the boys decide they need to return the tiki ::cue Tiki music::. The boys return to Mr. Hanalei to find out how to dispose of the idol and absolve themselves of its curse. Mr. Hanalei tells them that they’ll need to return it to the ancient burial ground where the idol was originally found. Greg, Peter and Bobby confide in Marcia, Jan, and Cindy about the idol and where they need to go. The next morning, they board a bus and head to the other side of Oahu. At this point, one has to wonder how much free reign the kids have on this vacation that they can literally get up and get on a bus and not expect their parents to wonder where they are, but I digress. That is not important, because it is at this point where we meet the Special Guest Star–Vincent Price!

Professor Whitehead (Vincent Price) interrogates the Brady boys about the idol.

Price is only featured briefly at the end of the second episode, but is fully featured in the third and final part of the Hawaii trilogy, “The Tiki Caves.” Price plays Professor Whitehead, a disgruntled archaeologist who was cheated out of recognition a few years prior after finding a major treasure in Egypt. When he happened upon this ancient burial cave in Hawaii, he was determined to not let that happen again. However, his paranoia has led to him becoming a bit eccentric, as well as lonely. His only companion is an oversized tiki statue whom he has named “Oliver.” When the Professor first hears the boys walking about, he stalks them and tries to scare them out of the cave, but to no avail. There’s a funny scene where the Professor puts on some feathers and a mask and pops out of a casket in front of the boys, which startles them and they take off running. However, they run further into the cave, not out.

Eventually the Professor catches up with Greg, Peter and Bobby and captures them. He ties them to tikis to try and force them into explaining why they’re in the ancient burial ground. The boys explain that they were only in the cave to return the tiki idol ::cue Tiki music:: . Professor Whitehead accuses them of finding a find he didn’t find. Throughout all of this discussion, he continues to confide in Oliver who seemingly offers him advice and consolation. Greg finally manages to wriggle free; but their escape is thwarted by Professor Whitehead and his spear.

Professor Whitehead and Oliver.

At this point, Mike and Carol have finally realized that their children are missing and have managed to coax the truth out of the girls. While they close in on the cave, Greg, Peter and Bobby have managed to convince Professor Whitehead to free them, so that they can show him where they found the idol. Obviously this is just a ruse, and the Professor figures it out when the boys obviously do not know their way around. He finally believes their story and says that he will tie them back up and escape with all the treasure he can, so that his claim isn’t usurped. Being the nice guy that he is, the Professor says he’ll send someone back for them. Before he can finish tying up the boys, Mike and Carol walk in, understandably upset that their children were kidnapped and held hostage. The tiki idol ::cue Tiki music:: is returned to the cave and all is well again.

Despite Professor Whitehead kidnapping their children, the Bradys proudly attend a luau held in Whitehead’s honor.

THEN. Mike tells Professor Whitehead that not only does he forgive Professor Whitehead for kidnapping and holding his children hostage, but all five of them will serve as witnesses and corroborate the Professor’s claim on all the treasure. And if that wasn’t enough, ALL the Bradys attend a luau being held in Professor Whitehead’s honor. Unbelievable. Mike really lives by his advice, “a wise man forgets his anger before he lies down to sleep.”

Vincent Price warns Greg that his apartment is haunted in The Brady Bunch Variety Hour.

However, this wasn’t the end for Vincent Price and the Bradys. In 1977, Price would make an appearance on what might be simultaneously the worst show and the greatest show I’ve ever seen–The Brady Bunch Variety Hour. In this episode, Greg (who has got to be in his early 20s at this point) decides that he needs to move out of the family home. The Brady Bunch’s house by the way is not their iconic home, it is this random house set constructed for the show. It is explained that Mike moved them closer to the beach after the family accepted the variety show offer. Yes. Anyway, Greg is trying to write a new song (unfortunately, it was not a reprise of his “clowns never laughed before, beanstalks never grew” song) and keeps being interrupted. He dramatically announces his intention to move and with the help of the Bradys’ neighbor, realtor Rip Taylor, Greg has a new pad.

Finally, I have an opportunity to post this image of Vincent Price from Theatre of Blood.

Unfortunately for Greg, his new apartment is really tacky and rundown. However, FORTUNATELY for Greg, one of his neighbors is none other than Vincent Price. It’s unclear whether Price is playing himself or playing a character named “Vincent Price,” but nonetheless he warns Greg about his apartment being haunted by the spirit of Kitty Sheehan. Despite the absurdity of The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, Vincent Price is awesome per usual. This only proves how great an actor and personality Vincent Price was. It doesn’t matter what the project is, whether it’s Shelby Carpenter in Laura, The Brady Bunch Variety Hour, providing the voiceover in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” playing Dr. Egghead in Batman, acting as The Inventor in Edward Scissorhands, Edward Lionheart in Theatre of Blood, or cooking fish in the dishwasher, Vincent Price is always worth watching.

Even Vincent Price can’t believe that he’s on this show.

The Master of Suspense Blogathon- “Rebecca” (1940)

“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Joan Fontaine as “Mrs. DeWinter” in Rebecca (1940)

Rebecca, based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novel of the same title, is the devastating gothic thriller that served as Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film. At the beginning of the film, a young woman (Joan Fontaine) whose first name is never learned, stops the wealthy Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier) from jumping off a cliff. de Winter is a widower whose wife Rebecca perished some time earlier. Later, the young woman and Maxim meet again in the lobby of a hotel. It turns out that the young woman is a companion to an acquaintance of Maxim’s, Mrs. Van Hopper (Florence Bates). While Mrs. Van Hopper chastises the young woman for not being more grateful of her surroundings, she and Maxim steal glances at one another. Eventually the young woman and Maxim enter a courtship and marry. Maxim brings his new bride, the new Mrs. de Winter, to his estate titled, Manderley.

Shots like this epitomize the creepy, dreamlike quality of the film.

Throughout the film, the new Mrs. de Winter never seems to be able to live up to the standard set by her predecessor. Rebecca de Winter was a prominent member of society, always the perfect hostess, giving the perfect party in her immaculate, ornate home. Despite having just married and presumably still in the throes of newlywed bliss, Maxim is cold to his new wife. He is condescending, such as when he tells her to “eat up, like a good girl” at dinner (ick) and makes a point of telling her what they’re doing, versus asking her if she’d like to do whatever. Mrs. de Winter always seems like a wide-eyed fish out of water in this story, never seeming confident as to what her place is in the household.

Joan Fontaine as “Mrs. de Winter” and Judith Anderson as “Mrs. Danvers.”

Another person in the Manderley estate who makes things difficult for Mrs. de Winter is Mrs. Danvers (Judith Anderson), the housekeeper who took care of the home when Rebecca lived there. Mrs. Danvers almost has a fanatical obsession with Rebecca. It makes you wonder if she was actually in love with Rebecca, versus highly devoted. Mrs. Danvers is terrifying in this film. During filming, Alfred Hitchcock instructed Judith Anderson to refrain from blinking during her scenes. Her continual eye contact, combined with her black Victorian high-necked gown makes Mrs. Danvers an intimidating and frightening villain in the film.

Mrs. de Winter is portrayed as mousy and somewhat plain–a far cry from the glamorous and elegant Rebecca de Winter. Mrs. Danvers makes a point of telling her new boss about Rebecca and how she could not possibly compare. Rebecca de Winter was beautiful, accomplished in everything, popular, intelligent, basically everything that anyone could want in a person. Mrs. Danvers doesn’t hide the fact that she doesn’t think much of the new Mrs. de Winter. At one point in the film, she convinces Mrs. de Winter to dress in a replica of the last dress Rebecca wore at the last costume party she attended before her untimely death. Maxim is absolutely horrified. Oof.

Eventually, we learn the truth about Rebecca and Maxim’s relationship and it makes it even more confusing as to why Maxim is so devoted to this woman. I have to assume that part of his devotion is a response to trauma and sheer heartbreak. That’s the only explanation.

Laurence Olivier as “Maxim de Winter” and Joan Fontaine as “Mrs. de Winter.”

The set decoration of Manderley is fantastic. The set is a massive, cavernous, empty house. As Mrs. de Winter ambles about inside, she looks small and lost. The large set lends to her feelings of isolation and loneliness as she moves room to room and sees no one. The fireplace is larger than she is. The breakfast table looks like it’ll seat 50 people and Mrs. de Winter sits there alone. Many of the exterior shots were just models and many of the unused, but seen portions of the home are matte paintings. The cinematography and use of the matte paintings gives Manderley an eerie, yet ethereal quality. As if Mrs. de Winter is forever in a dream state.

Rebecca was Joan Fontaine’s first starring role and she is excellent. When I first saw her for the first time in The Women, I wasn’t impressed. I thought she was just this namby pampy simpering woman. Then I saw her in Rebecca where her meekness and mousy quality worked to their advantage. Mrs. de Winter is terrified of her new life. She used to be a commoner, working as an assistant to the rich, and suddenly she’s thrust into high society, expected to fill the shoes of a woman who was beloved by her society peers and who seemed to do everything perfectly. Mrs. De Winter is constantly seen with a wide-eyed look of terror, sitting with hunched shoulders, as she tries to absorb her surroundings and her new life. Her feelings of self-consciousness and anxiety leap off the screen. I feel uncomfortable on Mrs. de Winter’s behalf when she has to deal with Maxim and Mrs. Danvers. After seeing Fontaine in Rebecca, she’s now one of my favorites, especially when she plays against type in films like Ivy (1947) and Born to be Bad (1950).

Joan Fontaine as “Mrs. de Winter.”

During the making of Rebecca, Alfred Hitchcock wanted his heroine, Mrs. de Winter, to exhibit those same uneasy qualities described above. Prior to filming, Laurence Olivier campaigned hard for his wife, Vivien Leigh, to receive the co-starring role. However, David O. Selznick didn’t think that Leigh was right for the part and refused to give her the role, instead offering it to Joan Fontaine. Olivier, apparently not above throwing a passive aggressive hissy fit, making it very clear to Fontaine that he preferred his wife for the role. Fontaine was very nervous throughout filming, partially because of Olivier’s cold treatment of her throughout filming. Hitchcock, always one to sense an opportunity, opted to use Olivier’s treatment to make Fontaine even more insecure. Hitchcock made sure to remind her of her inexperience, how much less she was being paid than the other actors, and told her that nobody liked her. Despite this treatment (or maybe because of this treatment), Fontaine ended up turning in an Oscar-nominated performance.

Rebecca has an eeriness about it. The entire film feels like a bad, yet beautiful dream. The set is exquisite as are the performances. I’ve always enjoyed the Gothic thrillers. There is something about the ornate, yet ghostly setting of Manderley, the creepy Mrs. Danvers, and the omnipresent spirit of Rebecca that gives the film a spooky, yet beautiful quality. The black and white cinematography is gorgeous and lends to the creepiness of the film.

The beautiful Manderley estate is its own character in the film.

The Futurethon Blogathon–“Barbarella” (1968)

In the 2018 documentary, Jane Fonda in Five Acts, Fonda discusses her experience filming the 1968 cult classic, Barbarella. She has gone on record previously, stating that she disliked how Barbarella shamelessly used her body and sexuality to advance her own needs, and also didn’t like how her character or the film itself, completely ignored the social and political realities of the time. In ‘Five Acts,’ Fonda also talks about how at the time, she was 30 years old, bulimic and very insecure about her body. The famous opening scene where Barbarella floats in space and strips off every piece of her space suit, was excruciating for Fonda to film. She said that she drank a bunch of vodka before filming, so that she’d work up enough liquid courage to get completely nude in front of the crew and in front of the camera. Looking back on the sequence and the film fifty years later, in ‘Five Acts,’ Fonda says now that she likes the film and how she looks, saying it is a lot of fun.

The iconic “Barbarella” title sequence featuring Barbarella undressing in zero gravity.

“A lot of fun” is really all one can say about Barbarella. This is not a masterpiece. This is not groundbreaking cinema. But it is a spectacle and it is a blast to watch–especially in a packed house at the Hollywood Theatre in Portland, which is what my husband and I experienced this past January. Seeing Barbarella in the theater was one of the best theater experiences I’ve ever had. This movie is peak camp cinema and the audience was into it. The vibe was awesome. One audience member even cosplayed as Barbarella, despite it being a January evening in Oregon. She must have been freezing; but she looked great, and I appreciated her commitment.

Barbarella is based on Jean-Claude Forest’s 1962 French comic book of the same name. Barbarella originally appeared as a small comic strip in the French periodical, V Magazine. In 1964, these comic strips were published as a standalone comic, which caused a major scandal. Barbarella officially became the first erotic comic book, published exclusively for adults. One of the major social and cultural issues to come out of the 1960s was the sexual revolution. Despite Jane Fonda’s claims that Barbarella did not reflect the social and political realities of the time, the comic book heroine was intended to embody the modern, sexually liberated woman. After watching Barbarella, there is no doubt that Barbarella is sexually liberated. Though I suppose to Fonda’s point, it could be that Barbarella feels that she has nothing else to offer except for her body and sex. That is a whole other topic that could be researched and argued further, but that is not my intent for my entry into this blogathon.

Director Roger Vadim, Fonda’s husband at the time, was hired by producer Dino De Laurentiis after having expressed interest in comic books and science fiction. How convenient for him that De Laurentiis had just purchased the rights to the French sci-fi comic, Barbarella. Vadim’s first choices for the titular role were Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren, before finally choosing his wife, Jane Fonda. Vadim was quoted by Fonda as saying “I want to do this film as though I had arrived on a strange planet with my camera directly on my shoulder–as though I was a reporter doing a newsreel.”

Barbarella would strip out of this number during the opening title sequences of the film.

Strange planet indeed. Barbarella takes place in the year 40,000. At the beginning of the film, “space adventurer” Barbarella is returning to her pink spaceship, the Alpha 7. The Alpha 7 is its own character in the film. It seems to have a single room, completely covered (literal wall-to-wall) in caramel-colored shag carpeting. In one part of the room is Alphy, Barbarella’s computer that she can use via voice activation. To the right of Alphy is her video phone. The cockpit of the ship features a lot of buttons and gizmos, but Barbarella, a 5-star double-rated Astro Navigatrix, handles the flying of the ship with ease. The Alpha 7 unfortunately sustains a large amount of damage during the film, which eventually will be repaired by Professor Ping.

Barbarella receives a phone transmission from the President of Earth. He informs her that scientist Durand Durand has gone missing during a mission to the North Star and is believed to to have landed somewhere in the Tau Ceti star system. Because not much is known about this region of space, the President is concerned that Durand Durand’s invention, the positronic ray, might fall into the wrong hands. It is inferred that the positronic ray is powerful and has the potential to start an intergalactic war, should the wrong people obtain possession of it. Earth no longer has a military nor does it have police, as it has been free from conflict for centuries. It falls to Barbarella to find Durand Durand. In a funny sequence, the President electronically transmits various weapons and a device that will light-up if Durand Durand is nearby. This device also conveniently has a “tongue box” which will also translate any language so that Barbarella can communicate.

Barbarella’s shag-covered spaceship.

After crash landing on Tau Ceti’s 16th planet, Barbarella is knocked unconscious by two children. The children load Barbarella up onto a sled, that is pulled by a giant manta ray that glides across the ice. When she awakens, Barbarella finds herself surrounded by multiple sets of twins and blue bunnies. These children are very creepy. Making the scene even creepier, is when the children tie Barbarella up and unleash a bunch of mechanical dolls with sharp teeth and hinged jaws to attack her. The children take sadistic glee in hurting Barbarella. As she looks around her settings, Barbarella realizes she’s inside the wreckage of the Alpha 1, Durand Durand’s old ship.

These creepy dolls attack Barbarella.

Before the scary dolls can inflict any further damage on Barbarella, a man named Mark Hand appears and saves her. He unties her from her bindings and carries her off to safety. This is where a common motif is introduced into Barbarella. Men who encounter Barbarella often want to have sex with her in the form of a payment of sorts for helping her out. Barbarella will nonchalantly agree and proceed, as if this is just a normal thing for her. However, this scene is very funny when Barbarella starts to take out her “transference pills.” She explains to Mark that on Earth, people have sex by each taking a transference pill and putting their palms against one another. Obviously overwhelmed by such a hot sounding suggestion, Mark suggests that he and Barbarella have sex on his bed the old-fashioned way. Barbarella is skeptical about engaging in such archaic traditions but agrees. Of course she agrees and the two appear to have a very satisfactory encounter underneath the sheets. Mark repairs the Alpha 7, and Barbarella is on her way.

Barbarella is trapped inside a bubble full of adorable budgies.

Barbarella eventually ends up in the Labyrinth, and meets a blind angel named Pygar (John Phillip Law). He takes her to see Professor Ping (Marcel Marceau). The Professor explains that Pygar, despite having wings, does not fly. He can fly, but lacks the morale to do so. All the inhabitants of the Labyrinth are prisoners, being held there on the orders of the Great Tyrant. They apparently are not evil enough to live in Sogo, the City of Night. Wanting to restore his will to fly, Barbarella and Pygar have sex in his nest. Because their romp was a success, Pygar is more than willing to fly Barbarella to Sogo, a den of iniquity. They are captured by the Black Queen (Anita Pallenberg).

Pygar is forced to endure a mock crucifixion, while Barbarella is placed in a cage full of adorable budgies. Despite being adorable, the birds attack Barbarella, slowly pecking at her and drawing blood. She ends up being saved by Dildrano (David Hemmings), the leader of the underground, who is willing to join her pursuit to find Durand Durand. He gives Barbarella an invisible key to the Black Queen’s “Chamber of Dreams.” The plan is to sneak in while she’s asleep. The scenes of Dildrano passing the invisible key to Barbarella is pretty funny. Also, to thank Dildrano, Barbarella offers to have sex with him. At this point, Barbarella is completely into old-fashioned sex, but Dildrano is not into that at all. He prefers the new method with the transference pills. Finally, the audience gets to see what the pill and the palms method is all about. Despite not yet having exchanged psychocardiograms, Barbarella agrees. The scene of Dildrano and Barbarella having sex via their palms, is one of the funniest parts of the movie.

Barbarella inside the Excessive Machine.

After sneaking out of the headquarters, via a chute that deposits her somewhere else, Barbarella is found and re-captured. In what is probably the funniest part of the movie, she is placed inside the Concierge’s (Milo O’Shea) torture device, “The Excessive Machine” which is supposed to murder its victim by giving them more sexual pleasure than the victim can handle. However, this machine is no match for Barbarella. The Concierge cannot believe his eyes when his precious machine bites the dust, and Barbarella is still alive, experiencing intense afterglow.

Eventually, Barbarella finds Durand Durand and discovers his true intentions with the positronic ray. She and the Black Queen join forces and Barbarella and Pygar eventually fly to safety.

There is surprisingly a lot of plot in Barbarella and not a lot of plot at the same time. This entire film is about the spectacle and I will say that the art director, prop, and costume departments worked overtime creating the sets for this film. The sets are absolutely insane as are the costumes. One of the highlights of Barbarella are the amount of costume changes that its heroine has throughout the film. Sometimes the costume changes make sense, such as when Barberella has no clothes and has to wear something else. Other times, her clothes are destroyed and she needs another outfit. And other times, it’s just that Barbarella decided to do a costume change. Barbarella’s costumes are amazing at one point, she wears a short costume with see-through plastic cups covering her breasts. Unlike many film productions, Barbarella utilized the skills of an actual fashion designer, versus a studio costume department. Barbarella’s costumes were designed by Jacques Fonteray. He did an extraordinary job!

I absolutely love this movie, and I’ve even seen it in the theater in 35mm no less. This film doesn’t make any sense, but it’s a great late night movie to watch when you just want to watch something frivolous. This is not a film that will make you think, unless it’s to think about either what is happening in the film or wondering what you just watched. Despite her criticisms of the film, I think Jane Fonda did a great job as Barbarella and was very believable as a “five-star double-rated Astronavigatrix.”

A tribute to Barbarella’s Costumes:

Barbarella throws this green number on after destroying “The Excessive Machine.”
Barbarella would later be attacked by dozens of adorable parakeets in this outfit.
Barbarella sports this one-piece black ensemble with see-thru breast plate.
Barbarella dons this fur number after having sex with Mark Hand
After Barbarella is attacked by the dolls with sharp teeth.
Barbarella’s costumes incorporated a lot of capes which I appreciate.
She sports this jazzy outfit in the Labyrinth.

Shades of Shane Blogathon- “The Glass Key” (1942)

It’s the 70th anniversary of Shane, a western widely considered one of the best of all time–it’s even one of the movies on my scratch-off poster, “100 Essential Films.” However, I’ve never seen it. It’s definitely on my list though. I recently discovered Alan Ladd over the past year or so and I love Jean Arthur. Shane is her last film. Anyway, when I saw this blogathon, and saw that the objective was to discuss anyone associated with Shane, a la Alan Ladd, I thought it would be a good opportunity to talk about my favorite Ladd collaboration with frequent co-star, Veronica Lake–The Glass Key.

Veronica Lake and Alan Ladd in The Glass Key.

The Glass Key is based on the 1931 Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name. I haven’t read Hammett’s novel, so I am not going to attempt to compare and contrast the film and book. In the film, Alan Ladd plays Ed Beaumont, the right-hand man for the corrupt politician, Paul Madvig (Brian Donlevy). Madvig is presented as being arrogant and full of bravado, when he really doesn’t have room to do so. He also fancies himself as a ladies’ man and has his eye on Janet Henry (Lake), the daughter of gubernatorial candidate, Ralph Henry (Moroni Olsen). Janet finds Paul repulsive and crass, but she puts up with him for the sake of her father’s political campaign. Paul is very influential and is working tirelessly to get Ralph elected, no matter how sketchy the tactics.

One evening at the Henry estate, Paul is having dinner with Janet, Ralph and her brother Taylor (Richard Denning). Paul and Janet are engaged, despite Janet’s distaste of Paul’s crude manner. Ed shows up at the home because he distrusts Janet and Ralph, thinking that they’re using Paul, and he wants to protect his boss. Janet is instantly attracted to Ed (because duh, Alan Ladd is hot). Ed is also attracted to Janet, but keeps the relationship platonic out of loyalty to his boss. Meanwhile, Paul’s sister, Opal (Bonita Granville), is dating Taylor, despite his constant gambling and drunkenness. Paul is against his sister’s involvement with this ne’er do well and Ralph is exasperated by his son’s behavior as it could negatively impact his political campaign.

Veronica wears a couple different hats with fabric that covers her hair in this film.

Finally, if all this plot weren’t enough, Paul has also angered the local mob, led by Nick Varna (Joseph Calleia) and his henchman, Jeff (William Bendix). Paul informs Nick that he’s trying to clean up the city and will no longer help protect Nick from the police. When Ed overhears Paul’s threat, he is concerned about what type of revenge Nick and his boys will seek against Paul. Meanwhile, Paul catches Opal with Taylor and is incensed. He leaves his and Opal’s apartment in a rage. Later, Taylor’s body is found lying on the side of the road and Paul is the main suspect. Ed then takes it upon himself to investigate Taylor’s death and help exonerate his boss.

William Bendix beat the crap out of Alan Ladd in The Glass Key. It’s not often you see the attractive lead look so horrible.

I think The Glass Key is a great movie–full of twists and turns. The story definitely didn’t resolve in the way that I thought it would and the answer to the murder mystery isn’t clear at first. There is a shocking brutal scene where Nick Varna has his boys rough up Ed after he refuses to join their gang. William Bendix beats the pulp out of Alan Ladd and the makeup artists did not mess around when it came to making Ladd look like he had his face beaten in. Normally in these movies, the director/studio doesn’t want their attractive lead to look bad, so they’ll have them be beat up and then be seen later with a tiny band-aid above one of their eyes. Not in this movie. Alan Ladd’s face is swollen, bruised and bloodied.

I loved the scene when Ed shows up to the newspaper editor’s home and crashes a party that the local newspaper editor is holding. Ed swiftly reveals that the editor is about to be ruined when news gets out that he has accepted bribes from the mob. With just a few words, Ed deftly ruins a marriage and the man’s wife, Eloise, moves on instantly…with Ed. In a rather bold scene, it is implied that Ed and Eloise have sex on the couch. They are then seen drinking and making out on the couch, all while Eloise’s now-estranged husband watches from the top landing on the stairs. The first time I saw this film, I was actually pretty shocked how salacious and straight-forward this scene is, what with the production code and all. We don’t see Ed and Eloise have sex, but it’s pretty obvious–much more obvious than some other implied sex scenes I’ve seen.

Eloise gives Alan Ladd the come hither look and I don’t blame her for a second.

Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake are often held up as one of film noir’s great romantic couples. I’m always surprised in their films how long it takes for them to actually be romantic. The Glass Key has a bit of a “will-they or won’t-they?” type vibe, but ultimately the film resolves in the way that you would want, after so much brutality. Poor Alan Ladd really runs the gamut in this film, from having the snot beat out of him by William Bendix, to having sex with a stranger on the couch. However, I absolutely love this movie. The story is compelling and the cinematography is excellent. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see a great film noir or great movie in general!

I love the use of shadow in this scene with Brian Donlevy and Alan Ladd.

Seen On Screen Blogathon–“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)

I am a little late with this post; but I have a good excuse. I was at my first ever TCM Film Festival!! More on that in a future post. Anyway, I wanted to complete my blog entry because I did watch the movie prior to leaving for LA to attend the festival.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is based on Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel of the same title. It tells the story of Randle McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) who is admitted to an Oregon mental institution in 1963. It is established that McMurphy is a repeat offender whose recent crime has him doing hard labor on a work farm for having sex with a 15-year old girl. Despite being the protagonist of the story, McMurphy is not a good person. To avoid further hard labor, McMurphy feigns insanity so he will be transferred to the mental institution. The ploy works and he feels pretty slick for his deception. He instantly gets on the wrong side of the head nurse, Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher).

The Oregon State Hospital in Salem, OR as I remember it

Having lived in Salem, OR since the age of 5 (though I have since moved to a Portland, OR suburb), I grew up driving past the Oregon State Hospital where One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was filmed. The dirty cream colored, derelict building covered in rust stains, was the eyesore we drove past every time we took NE Center Street to go to the other side of town. While it was still a functioning mental institution, the building always looked dark and abandoned. Frankly, it looked scary. This section of Center Street is not the greatest, besides sitting in an area known as “Felony Flats,” it was also near the Dome Building which served as the administrative offices of the Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC). This is where the director of the ODOC, Michael Francke, was stabbed to death in 1989. There was a 1991 episode of Unsolved Mysteries where Robert Stack introduces the segment from the site of Francke’s murder. The Oregon State Hospital section of Center Street also houses the jail for juvenile offenders and is close to the Oregon State Penitentiary. And if that wasn’t enough, famous Oregon serial killer, Jerry Brudos lived on Center Street. His home was where he took his victims, murdered them, and mutilated their bodies. Suffice it to say, this was not a great area of town.

Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched. Ratched wears her hair in 40s Victory Rolls, which I thought was an interesting choice.

In One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I was amazed to see that the hospital that I knew looked exactly the same twenty years prior when it was filmed. The same dirty cream colored paint, the same bars on the windows, the same circular driveway. Having read that they actually filmed inside the hospital, this film gave me a chance to see what it looked like on the inside. The hospital looked exactly how I thought it would. Dirty, sparsely furnished and decorated, colorless, and frankly depressing. Unfortunately, all throughout my life growing up in Oregon, I have heard about the conditions of Oregon mental health facilities. Oregon is not known for good treatment of mental health patients (see articles about Fairview Training Center. There is also an OPB (PBS) documentary called “In the Shadow of Fairview” that covers all the problems with the Fairview Training Center in Salem). Though the action in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest does not specifically state which hospital is depicted, the conditions shown in the film live up to Oregon’s reputation in regard to mental health treatment.

Jack Nicholson as Randle McMurphy and Will Sampson as the Chief.

After Randle McMurphy arrives at the hospital, he quickly meets some of the patients. There’s “Chief” Bromden (Will Sampson), a tall Native American man who is seemingly deaf and mute. The other patients think that Chief is dumb as well as deaf and mute. However, McMurphy learns that there is more to the Chief and the two men become allies as well as friends. Another patient is Dale Harding (William Redfield) who is desperate and always philosophizing about life and experiencing existential crises. Martini (Danny DeVito) is childlike and in denial about his mental health. Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif) stutters and is depressed and anxious after his mother ruined his relationship with the love of his life. It seems that Billy’s mother has some sexual hang-ups that she takes out on his son. Other patients also include the violent, mean and profane Max Taber (Christopher Lloyd) and epileptic Bruce Fredrickson (Vincent Schiavelli).

McMurphy driving the wrong way down Court Street in downtown Salem. The furniture store is now a bookstore.

McMurphy begins to exert his influence on the other men seeing that they’re capable of more than Nurse Ratched is allowing them to show. He convinces them to play basketball during the daily exercise session and even convinces the men to participate in a vote to be allowed to watch the World Series on television before their daily chores session. Despite a majority of the men voting watching the baseball game, Nurse Ratched finds a way to not allow it to happen. She seems to relish the control she has over the men. Upset, McMurphy stages a breakout and he and the men take the hospital bus to the beach for a fishing trip. I did notice that McMurphy was driving on Court Street in downtown Salem, which doesn’t really make sense as a route you’d take from the Oregon State Hospital as it runs parallel with Center Street where the hospital is located. It’s also not a route that one would take to get to Highway 22 which takes you to the beach. I also noticed that McMurphy is driving the wrong way down Court Street, which is a one-way (though maybe in ’75 it was a one-way in the other direction). He’s also driving in the opposite direction of the highway that goes to the beach. However, it is Hollywood, so it doesn’t need to make sense, they just need to be seen driving. They probably had that block closed for the shoot–it was just something fun that I noticed.

While not mentioned explicitly in the film, the men’s fishing trip takes place in Depoe Bay, OR, which is a little more than an hour west of Salem. I recognized the charter boat company in the background of the scene and the bridge and stairs they walk down to get to the Depoe Bay Harbor, which is known as “The World’s Smallest Harbor.” The harbor is off Highway 101 heading south. Underneath the bridge are stairs that pedestrians take to cross under the highway to get to the harbor. Dockside Charters on the east side of Highway 101 is where McMurphy charters the boat. This is still there today. Across the highway is the Oregon State Parks Whale Watching Center, which is not seen in the film; but this is an awesome place to visit should you find yourself on the Central Oregon Coast.

The men charter a boat in Depoe Bay, OR

Eventually as one can expect, McMurphy finally has it out with Nurse Ratched in the film. Having never seen One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest prior to watching it for this blog entry, I was expecting her to be more explicitly evil. However, Nurse Ratched’s evilness comes in her manipulation of her mentally ill patients. She knows exactly what to say and what to do to set off her patients and get them to bend to her will. This is definitely true in the case of young Billy, who at one point actually overcomes his stuttering. However that lasts all of five minutes as Nurse Ratched knows exactly what to say to ruin his confidence and make his stuttering even worse than it was previously. It’s clear that Nurse Ratched thrives on controlling her patients. She doesn’t want them to get better or even to learn how to effectively manage their illness so they can live fulfilling lives. I was surprised how violent the final confrontation between Nurse Ratched and McMurphy was.

I thought this was an excellent film though it isn’t something that I’d want to watch again and again. The ending scenes with the water fountain I had seen on an episode of The Simpsons. I found the performance of the Chief particularly touching and am hoping that he had a good life after the events depicted in this film. It was also interesting seeing a part of Salem that I’d seen all my life, but in 1975.

The Oregon State Hospital has since been repainted and refurbished. Part of it is still a working mental institution, but they’ve also converted part of it into a museum.

The newly refurbished Oregon State Hospital in Salem, OR

Favorite Stars in ‘B’ Movies Blogathon- Lucille Ball, “Queen of the Bs”

Today Lucille Ball is widely regarded as a legend and the Queen of Comedy. Prior to her legend-making role as Lucy Ricardo in the pioneering sitcom I Love Lucy, Lucy was considered royalty in a less esteemed field–Queen of the ‘B’ movies. A ‘B’ movie does not necessarily mean that it is bad or lesser, it is just a film not given the prestige of A-list above the title type stars, the big directors, and the big budgets. During the studio era, films were often shown on a double bill. A newsreel, cartoon, and short film or serial would be shown first, followed by the B movie, and ending with the headliner, or an A film. B movies were also known as “programmers.”

Lucille Ball, Queen of the Bs

Lucille Ball toiled away for a few years in uncredited and small bit roles at RKO before she was finally given a small supporting role in the A-list production, Stage Door (1937), starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. This film put Ball on the map and RKO started giving her leading roles in their B-list productions. Her first starring role was as Annabel Allison in The Affairs of Annabel (1938), co-starring Jack Oakie. In the film, Oakie plays Annabel’s agent who keeps getting her involved in one zany publicity scheme after another to promote her latest acting project. ‘Affairs’ was followed up by the sequel, Annabel Takes a Tour (1938). RKO originally intended to turn the Annabel films into a serial, but the project was aborted when Jack Oakie wanted more money.

After Annabel, Lucy starred in one B film after another, Go Chase Yourself (1938). In this film, Lucy plays the wife of a man who is mistaken for a bank robber and ends up in a high-speed police pursuit. In another film, The Next Time I Marry (1938), Lucy plays a woman who is set to inherit $20 million if she marries an American. She is in love however, with a Count from another country. Lucy meets an American man and convinces him to marry her. Eventually she ends up trapped in a trailer a la The Long Long Trailer (1954). In an excellent B film, Beauty for the Asking (1939), Lucy plays an entrepreneur who ends up inventing a new face cream after being dumped by her boyfriend, Patric Knowles. Lucy also appeared in another fantastic B-movie, Five Came Back. In this film, she plays a loose woman who ends up being a passenger on a plane that crashes in the jungle. After the plane is fixed, it is revealed that only 5/9 passengers can return home.

Lucille Ball in another B movie, Look Who’s Laughing (1941)

Lucy continued to appear in B films at RKO through the early 1940s. In fact, by the early 1940s, she had appeared in so many B movies, she earned the nickname, “Queen of the Bs.” One of the most pivotal B movies that she appeared in was Too Many Girls (1940), co-starring a young 23-year old Cuban named Desi Arnaz. Lucy and Desi met on set and it was love at first sight. She would later appear in the very charming A Girl, A Guy and A Gob (1941), co-starring a young and adorable (!) Edmond O’Brien, and George Murphy who plays a character named Coffee Cup. This is a great movie and I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, despite how awesome A Girl, A Guy and A Gob is, it was not a film that was going to elevate Lucy to A-list star status.

Despite appearing in dozens of starring roles by the early 1940s, Lucy had yet to get that one part that would change her career. There was no Morning Glory (1933; Katharine Hepburn’s first Oscar-winning role), or Of Human Bondage (1934; Bette Davis’ breakthrough part), or Captain Blood (1935; Errol Flynn’s breakthrough, star-making role) in her future. Lucy had proven herself a capable comedienne. She also had demonstrated excellent dramatic skills in films such as Dance Girl Dance (1940). This woman had “it.” She was gorgeous. She was talented. She had everything that any of her contemporaries had. So why couldn’t RKO make her a real star?

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in Too Many Girls (1940). Lucy and Desi would marry and buy RKO in 1957.

In 1943, Lucy left RKO and moved to MGM. Despite the move, she continued to appear in one film after another that really didn’t do much for her career. The biggest impact MGM made was dying her hair its signature shade of red. Later, she worked at a variety of different studios and made a lot of great films: Lured (1947), The Dark Corner (1946), Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949); but nothing made her a star. It would take her CBS radio show, My Favorite Husband, where she portrayed the first incarnation of Lucy Ricardo (albeit with a different name, Liz Cooper) to finally give her the break she needed. The success of My Favorite Husband led to being offered a television show. And thanks to Lucy and Desi’s tenacity, that television show ended up being I Love Lucy–which finally gave her the break she wanted and deserved.

Fast forward to 1957, Lucy and Desi, now the owners of the highly successful Desilu Studios television production company, were able to purchase the failing RKO Studios–the very studio that couldn’t make Lucille Ball into a movie star. Thanks to the new medium of television, Lucille Ball, the former “Queen of the Bs” was now “The First Lady of Television” and the “Queen of Comedy.”

TV Show Episode Blogathon- The Golden Girls, “Grab That Dough”

I love The Golden Girls. It’s one of my favorite shows. I’ve seen the entire run of the show many times. While I have the entire series on DVD, I watch it constantly on Hulu. I’ve watched it so many times in fact, my parrot loves the show and will fly to his perch closest to the TV to watch. For the record, his favorite character is Sophia. He makes a kissing noise when Estelle Getty’s credit comes on the screen.

“The Golden Girls” left to right: Rue McClanahan (Blanche), Bea Arthur (Dorothy), Estelle Getty (Sophia), and Betty White (Rose)

For those who inexplicably do not know the basic plot of The Golden Girls, it’s simple. Four women live together in Miami. The women are all in their “Golden Years” so to speak, and deal with issues related to romance, age, sex, employment, family, etc. Blanche Devereaux (Rue McClanahan) owns a huge mid-century modern style home in Miami, and because this is the 80s, it is packed to the gills with wicker furniture. Blanche is a widow, having lost her husband George a few years prior. Blanche places an ad for roommates on the bulletin board at the local supermarket. While at the market, she meets Rose Nylund (Betty White), a widow who is looking for somewhere to live. Soon enough, Rose is renting a room at Blanche’s home. Later, divorcee Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) answers the ad, and nabs the remaining two bedrooms at Blanche’s home, one for herself and one for her mother, Sophia Petrillo (Estelle Getty).

Part of the humor of The Golden Girls are the differences and dynamics between the women. Blanche is a sex-crazed, vain, sometimes selfish Southern Belle. She works at the local art museum, which allows Blanche to pretend she’s a woman of culture, despite her membership in an unauthorized Elvis Presley Fan Club. Another member of the unauthorized Elvis Presley Fan Club is the dim, but good natured Rose. She is very naive, but very kind and a good friend. She hails from the small town of St. Olaf, Minnesota. Dorothy and her mother Sophia are from Brooklyn. Dorothy is a former member of the unauthorized Elvis Presley Fan Club, but was thrown out for making a joke about a half-eaten porkchop obviously being a fake. Sophia loves to regale everyone with stories of her hometown in Sicily, often starting her stories with “Picture It…”

The Grab That Dough stage
The real Angie Dickinson

Many of the best episodes of The Golden Girls are ones that take the girls out of the confines of their home. In the Season 3 episode, “Grab That Dough,” the girls take a red-eye flight to Hollywood after Sophia announces she’s gotten them a spot as contestants on a game show. The game show is called “Grab That Dough,” which despite how absurd it is, is apparently Dorothy’s favorite game show. The airline loses their luggage, causing the girls arrive at their hotel late and discover that their room has been given away. Blanche tries the “do you know who I am?” method, but it fails.

BLANCHE: “It so happens that I am Miss Angie Dickinson.”
NANCY: “You don’t look like Angie Dickinson to me.”
BLANCHE: “I know. I have altered my appearance for a very important movie role.”

Rue McClanahan as “Blanche Devereaux,” and Lucy Lee Flippin as “Nancy” the Front Desk Clerk.

Avid TV fans may recognize Nancy the Front Desk Clerk as Almanzo “Manly” Wilder’s sister, Eliza Jane in Little House on the Prairie. Anyway, after the girls pay Nancy $75 ($190 in 2023) for the pleasure of sleeping on the furniture in the lobby, they end having their purses stolen overnight. Fortunately, Sophia had the “Grab That Dough” tickets in her brassiere.

SOPHIA: “Dorothy, I’m in the ladies room, I look in my brassiere. What do you think I find?”
DOROTHY: “Hopefully what we all find when we look in our brassiere.”

Estelle Getty as “Sophia Petrillo” and Bea Arthur as “Dorothy Zbornak.”

The girls end up hoofing it dozens of blocks to the TV studio. They are star struck over host Guy Corbin and his assistant, Tiffany. Guy Corbin and Tiffany are very much in the same vein as Bob Barker and his “Barker’s Beauties” on The Price is Right. Anyway, right before they go on the air, Blanche comes up with a scheme. She decides that the girls would have better luck if they split up and joined forces with the other two contestants–The Kaplan Brothers. She suggests that she and Dorothy ditch “deadweight” Sophia and Rose. Blanche, Dorothy and one of the Kaplans will form one team, and Rose, Sophia and the other Kaplan will form the other.

Blanche beams as Guy Corbin reads her bio

“Grab That Dough” is soon rolling and it is instantly hilarious, starting with the introductions:

GUY CORBIN: “Our second contestant is an artist with an incredible body! She runs her own museum, speaks Chinese, and hopes to sail around the world before she turns 40. ::looks at front and back of note card:: Wow! That must be a typo! Welcome, Blanche Devereaux!

James MacKrell as “Guy Corbin.”

The questions are so mundane. I can’t believe that Dorothy, usually presented as an intellectual, would be so into this show. But who knows, maybe it’s a guilty pleasure of hers. Anyway, Blanche’s scheme backfires, and it turns out that the Kaplan brother on their team is a complete moron. At one point, Dorothy bans him from touching his buzzer. However, Blanche rescues the question segment of the show.

GUY CORBIN: “Complete this famous saying: ‘Better late than…’ Blanche?”
BLANCHE: “…pregnant!”
GUY CORBIN: “That is incorrect, but certainly not untrue!”

James MacKrell as “Guy Corbin” and Rue McClanahan as “Blanche Devereaux.”
Dorothy tries to “Grab That Dough”

Blanche and Dorothy are losing to Rose and Sophia miserably, until things turn around and Dorothy is given the opportunity to “grab that dough.” She is then given an apron and placed inside of a big tube which will blow money around. Dorothy is supposed to use her “meat hooks” (per Guy Corbin) to grab as much “dough” as she can. Personally, I would have just scooped up the money that fell on the bottom of the tube, but maybe that is against the rules–though “Grab That Dough” seems like a pretty fast and loose game. Dorothy easily grabs enough dough to propel her and Blanche into the lead.

GUY CORBIN: “Blue team. We don’t want you to go away empty handed. You have $400, that’s $100 a piece. And you have the home version of ‘Grab That Dough,’ which attaches to any vacuum cleaner.”

James MacKrell as “Guy Corbin.”

Blanche and Dorothy do not fare as well. Blanche gambles away their $900 cash for what’s in Window 3. After losing the new living room furniture in Window 1, and the new car in Window 2, they win an electric skillet from the Fry Quick Corporation. After some choice comments from Dorothy causes Guy Corbin to offer apologies to the Fry Quick Corporation, the girls end up winning a lifetime supply of soup to go with their electric skillet. The girls return home, happy that their trip is over.

This episode is very funny–the highlight of course being the game show. The best episodes of The Golden Girls also pit the girls against one another, which always seems to bring out the worst sides of their personalities. Blanche and Dorothy ditching Rose and Sophia would play out in another episode where the girls take part in a bowling competition. Between all the different sports they play/coach (bowling, baseball, football), the tutoring, charity work, etc. etc. is there anything the girls can’t do?

Buster Keaton Blogathon- Buster Keaton’s Influence on Lucille Ball

Lucy’s new red hair, given to her in the early 1940s at MGM.

By the late 1940s, Lucille Ball’s movie career was going nowhere. After a few years as “Queen of the Bs” at RKO, she moved to MGM. Despite being at the more glamorous studio known for “having more stars than there are in heaven,” Lucy wasn’t one of them. The biggest impact MGM had on Lucy’s career was setting Sydney Guilaroff up to do her hair for DuBarry Was a Lady (1943). He dyed her hair its signature shade of red. The red hair eventually became her trademark and she would wear it for the rest of her life. However, despite her new vivacious hair color, MGM was not giving her any roles that would catapult her into super stardom. Lucy was also in her late 30s, not old obviously, but definitely not the age of ingenue. After fifteen years in the business, it was looking like Lucy wasn’t going to make it as a movie star.

“The Great Stone Face.”

Also toiling away at MGM was silent comedy legend Buster Keaton. Buster had been a superstar back in the 1920s with his groundbreaking silent film classics such as The General (1926), Steamboat Bill Jr (1928), and Sherlock, Jr. (1924). He was known for his expert stunt work, impeccable timing, hilarious gags using props, and of course, being “The Great Stone Face.” In the late 1920s, MGM offered Buster a contract with their studio, which he signed despite the protests of colleagues such as Harold Lloyd and Charles Chaplin. Both men warned Buster that he’d be signing away all creative control if he were to sign a studio contract. Unfortunately for Buster, Lloyd and Chaplin were correct. Buster’s career was effectively ruined after signing on with MGM. The Cameraman (1928) is arguably his last, great film.

Buster ended up being tasked with making some truly terrible films in the 1930s. The direction of his career, along with pain emanating from a previously undiagnosed broken neck (broken during Sherlock, Jr.), and the breakup of his marriage to Natalie Talmadge led to him becoming an alcoholic. He languished for a while, but thankfully pulled it together by the 1940s. MGM also gave him a gig as a gag writer. He would write gags for the Marx Brothers’ last three films: At the Circus, Go West, and The Big Store. He also wrote gags for In the Good Old Summertime (1949) and Easy to Wed (1946) co-starring Lucille Ball.

Lucille Ball as “The Professor,” a comedy bit that got her “I Love Lucy” and a well-earned spot as a television legend.

It was during the 1940s when Buster, seeing Lucy’s potential for physical comedy, began coaching her on how to use props and how to do pratfalls without getting injured. Buster was an expert on the latter, having been literally thrown around the stage as a child during his parents’ vaudeville act. It was during one of these throws where Buster acquired his nickname, “Buster.” Buster also coached Lucy on how to keep a straight face during her comedic bits, a quality that suited her well as a key part of her “Lucy” character’s comedy is that she fully believes in any stunt she cooks up. Whether it’s Lucy Ricardo deciding to “soak up local color” in a wine vat in Rome, or pretending to be Ricky’s hillbilly date, one thing is for certain, when Lucy wants something, that woman does not screw around. She gives 110% percent each and every time.

Buster was known for his impeccable timing and he recognized this quality in Lucy as well. In the late 1940s, Buster was working at Columbia Studios starring in a series of comedic short films, and he recommended Lucy for a contract. She was given a three picture deal. Her first film under her new contract was Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1948) co-starring a then up-and-coming William Holden. He was two years away from his breakthrough, star-making role in Sunset Boulevard (1950). In ‘Richmond,’ Lucy was given the opportunity to show her physical comedy chops, including a scene where she deals with a typewriter ribbon that comes unspooled, and later a scene on a jackhammer. Her next film, The Fuller Brush Girl (1950), teamed Lucy with Eddie Albert. This film features a funny scene where Lucy and Eddie get drunk on wine while hiding in a wine barrel. Lucy’s last film in her picture deal was The Magic Carpet (1951), and the story behind that movie is stuff of legend and worth discussing in another blog entry.

Desi Arnaz, Buster Keaton, and Lucille Ball on the set of “I Love Lucy.”

At the same time Lucy was making films for Columbia, she was also appearing on CBS’ radio show, “My Favorite Husband.” This show had the same writing staff as I Love Lucy, and as a result, many of the season one I Love Lucy plots are re-hashed versions of some “My Favorite Husband” plotlines. Lucy’s radio show was very popular and successful. CBS, recognizing the potential in the new burgeoning medium of television, wanted to bring “My Favorite Husband” to the small screen, with Lucy and her radio show husband, Richard Denning, reprising their roles. However, Lucy wanted her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz to co-star with her. Desi was a bandleader with his Desi Arnaz Orchestra and as a result, was always on the road. Lucy wanted him closer to home and thought that a television show would be the perfect vehicle for both of them. However, CBS didn’t want the Cuban Arnaz playing All American Lucy’s husband, thinking that the audience wouldn’t “buy” it–despite them actually being married in real life.

To prove to CBS that the American public would accept them as a couple, Lucy and Desi decided to put together a vaudeville act and tour the country. The success of the tour would dictate whether Americans wanted to see Lucy and Desi together as a couple. Lucy and Desi enlisted the writers from “My Favorite Husband,” Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr., and Jess Oppenheimer, to put together a couple comedy bits. In one of the bits, Lucy plays “The Professor,” a cellist who wants a job in Desi’s orchestra. Not seeing her potential, Desi insists that she audition. This act would later find its way into the sixth episode of I Love Lucy, titled “The Audition.”

The cello that Lucy used in her “Professor” bit. For more information about the cello, I highly recommend this link:

While Lucy rehearsed the comedic cello bit, Buster coached her on how to use the cello prop to get as many jokes out of it as possible. The cello itself was over 90% of the comedy of the sketch. He worked with Lucy on how to handle the props, the timing, everything. Part of Buster’s advice to Lucy was that she needed to treat the cello as if it were a Stradivarius and guard it with her life when she’s not using it. She couldn’t risk anyone messing around with it, since the entire act is built around the cello. A friend of Desi’s, Pepito Perez, had customized the particular cello that Lucy was using. Lucy borrowed for it the vaudeville act, the eventual pilot episode, and for the aforementioned episode of I Love Lucy. The cello had a compartment in the back which held a stool, a plunger, and other props needed for the act. Without one of these props the act would have been ruined.

Buster’s coaching paid off, the vaudeville tour and subsequent pilot were a massive success and CBS bought I Love Lucy which went on to make megastars out the entire cast, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley, but especially Lucille Ball. Lucille Ball became a superstar. She took her stardom and built an entire 30+ year career on playing her “Lucy” character. Buster Keaton’s mentorship was a big factor in Lucy’s success and it’s not hard to see his influence. He would appear with Lucy on various television programs throughout the rest of his life. There is no doubt that Lucy and Buster had great mutual respect for one another. I Love Lucy was reported to be one of Buster’s favorite television programs.

Lucy and Buster in a sketch featured in a 1965 televised tribute to Stan Laurel.

The Danny Kaye Blogathon- “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (1947)

Once again, it’s down to the wire. I was planning on working on this earlier in the day, but we finally received the last information we needed for our insurance claim–so I worked on that instead. However, I am a big fan of Danny Kaye and I wanted to get this blog entry completed before the deadline. Kaye’s movies must not be easy to lease, as they seem to rarely air on TCM. As of this writing, it appears that many of Kaye’s films are streaming on Amazon Prime, so now’s my chance.

For this blogathon, I am discussing 1947’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It was remade in 2013 with Ben Stiller and Kristen Wiig in Kaye and Virginia Mayo’s roles, respectively. I have not seen the remake, so I refrain from commenting on it. My entry will focus solely on the original adaptation of James Thurber’s 1939 short story, titled “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

“To the Walter Mittys of the world [Errol Flynn] was all the heroes in one magnificent, sexy, animal package.”

Jack L. Warner, My First Hundred Years in Hollywood (1965)

I just wanted to use the above quote because it was funny. So here’s my segue—While Danny Kaye isn’t Errol Flynn, it doesn’t matter because Kaye is perfect in the role of the titular Walter Mitty, an editor working at Pierce Publishing Company in New York City. Day after day, he reads pulp fiction magazines as part of his job. He also lives at home with his overbearing, bossy mother Eunice (Fay Bainter). Eunice controls every facet of poor Walter’s life, including what he wears, who he dates, what he eats, when he goes to bed, how he drives, etc. The man can’t even breathe without his mother having an opinion on it. And if that wasn’t enough, every day Eunice gives Walter a laundry list of tasks to complete, all of which he writes down in a little black book. His notes end up getting him into further trouble, since he is prone to writing down the wrong items, because he’s only half listening and daydreaming instead. One evening, instead of bringing home a cake, he brings home a rake.

Poor Walter trapped between his overbearing mother and incredibly irritating fiancée with her equally annoying dog, “Queenie.”

At work, his boss constantly micromanages him and steals his ideas. Walter also has to deal with his dingy fiancée, Gertrude (Ann Rutherford) and her mother (Florence Bates). With all the constant nagging, it is no wonder that Walter is nervous and prone to daydreaming. Walter descends into his dream world when feeling overwhelmed with his current life. Usually his dreams are triggered by a setting or someone’s talking. At the beginning of the film, while listening to Eunice drone on and on about his driving, Walter imagines himself at the helm of a sinking ship. Next, while at a meeting listening to his boss talk about a hospital themed story idea, Walter is a doctor performing a life saving operation. Later, while tending to the furnace, he’s a daring British fighter pilot during WWII. In Walter’s dreams, he is always the hero saving a beautiful blonde damsel in distress, each time portrayed by Virginia Mayo.

Danny Kaye just can’t stop dreaming

One morning while taking his usual train into New York (and probably the only peace and quiet this man has all day), Walter spots a woman that looks a lot like the woman from his fantasies. To escape a creepy man, the woman named Rosalind (Mayo) cuddles up next to Walter and pretends that he’s her beau. They get off the train and Walter realizes he is running late for work. He tries to catch a cab, but there are none available. Walter ends up spotting Rosalind in a cab and he is able to get a ride. While in the cab, Rosalind asks Walter to accompany her to meet someone at the down at the docks. He agrees, but asks to stop by his office so he can drop off some proofs.

Virginia Mayo sidles up next to Danny Kaye on the train

While at the docks, a man hides a little black book in Walter’s briefcase. The man ends up being killed. Later that evening, Rosalind invites Walter to meet her uncle Peter, who is looking for the Dutch crown jewels that were hidden during World War II. Peter explains that he used to work as a curator for a Dutch museum and that he was the one who hid the jewels and had written down the locations in a little black book. It is this little black book that a criminal, named “The Boot” is trying to locate and steal. Later that evening, Walter goes to a department store and ends up finding the little black book. Scared, Walter hides it in a corset inside the modeling department.

As the film continues, the lines between Walter’s fantasy life and his real life continue to blur. Dr. Hugo Hollingshead (Boris Karloff) is introduced as a possible villain, then seems to be a legitimate doctor. As Walter is continually questioned about his actions and statements, the people in his life begin to question his sanity–thinking that he’s losing his mind. Even the facts surrounding Rosalind, Peter, the crown jewels, Dr. Hollingshead, The Boot, all start to become unclear. Walter then starts to wonder if he’s fit to be a hero.

I could have done without this entire fantasy.

I thought that this was a very interesting film. I’d tried watching this movie at least two or three times prior but kept falling asleep. That is definitely not the fault of the film however, I just kept falling asleep. But this time I made it all the way through. I am a fan of Danny Kaye, though I can see how he might be divisive figure. He has a very specific type of humor and seemed to perform in very specific roles. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was the perfect role for Kaye. I cannot think of a performer that would be this adept at playing roles that require broad humor and slapstick. However, I could have done without at least half of the runtime of “Symphony for the Unstrung Tongue,” written by Kaye’s wife, Sylvia Fine. This number was interminable and got annoying really quickly.

Danny Kaye imagines himself as a Mississippi gambler winning the big poker match.

I loved Virginia Mayo in this film. She definitely deserves to be more well known. I’m used to seeing her as James Cagney’s girlfriend in White Heat or as Gordon MacRae’s girlfriend in the film noir, Backfire. I’ve also seen her in comedic parts like in Out of the Blue where she plays a woman who agrees to model for Turhan Bay in exchange for him letting her dog breed with his prize dog. The two end up getting involved in a crazy scheme to get back at Bay’s neighbors, George Brent and Carole Landis, using the oft-fainted body of Ann Dvorak. Mayo was paired often with Danny Kaye and I would love to see more of their collaborations.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty must have had an enormous costume and set budget, which is probably why there is some very obvious rear projection used in other non-fantasy scenes. Each of Walter’s fantasies contain different set pieces and costumes. One of Walter’s best fantasies comes on the heels of one of my favorite classic movie tropes– the random fashion show. While this fashion show is short, it is still fun. We watch as a designer unveils his latest collection of hats, each one more ornate than the last. There is a hideous black hat that looks like it was made from human hair. After the real fashion show, Walter lapses into a fantasy sequence where he unveils his latest collection of ridiculous hats, one resembling the Tower of Pisa.

I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys fantasy-type films and/or is a fan of Danny Kaye, Virginia Mayo, Boris Karloff, and/or Fay Bainter.

WALTER MITTY: Your small minds are musclebound with suspicion. That’s because the only exercise you ever get is jumping to conclusions. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, every one of you!

Walter Mitty finally grows a backbone and tells off his mother, fiancée and boss!

Kim Novak Blogathon- “Boys’ Night Out” (1962)

On February 13, Kim Novak turned 90! I love Kim, I am happy that she was able to celebrate this milestone birthday. She also lives in Oregon, like me, so I feel a kinship with her. When this blogathon was announced, I thought I would cover one of her films that you don’t hear mentioned as often. Boys’ Night Out is a film very much of its time (1962) and may contain some ideas that definitely wouldn’t fly today (they didn’t even fly in 1962), but it is entertaining and Kim is wonderful in her role.

Boys’ Night Out tells the story of a group of men who all commute from Greenwich, CT to New York City together on the same train. They often have drinks together at a bar prior to getting on the train. One evening while partaking in their daily bar ritual, the men spot Fred Williams’ (James Garner) boss carrying on with his mistress (Zsa Zsa Gabor). The men decide that Fred’s boss is living the dream and fantasize about setting up a love nest in the city so each man can have his own mistress in the city. These men definitely sound like sleazeballs (and in some ways they are), but an insight into their respective lives at home demonstrates why they might feel inclined to have an extra-martial affair.

Kim Novak makes the acquaintance of Howard Duff, Howard Morris, and Tony Randall.

George Drayton (Tony Randall) feels ignored and steamrolled by his wife, Marge (Janet Blair), who constantly cuts him off and finishes his sentences. Doug Jackson (Howard Duff) wants to just fix things around his own house, but his wife Toni (Anne Jeffreys) doesn’t trust him as a handyman and keeps hiring other people. Then there’s Howard McIllenny (Howard Morris) whose wife, Joanne (Patti Page), is always dieting and keeps her husband on a diet as well. Joanne also makes sure to make it known that she’s been permanently dieting for Howard’s sake, not hers. Fred is the only un-attached man who isn’t experiencing martial issues. His mother, Ethel (Jessie Royce Landis) is there to make it known that she wishes she had grandchildren and wants Fred to marry.

One afternoon, the men are discussing their fantasy to establish a love nest in New York. They hypothetically divvy out the days of the week where each man can use the love nest for his respective mistress. Thinking that this is merely just fantasy, they give Fred the joke assignment to find a cheap apartment and a blonde to go with it. Fred, however doesn’t realize that his friends aren’t serious and starts looking for an apartment.

He ends up finding a ridiculously cheap luxury apartment in New York. The realtor, Peter Bowers (Jim Backus), is desperate to rent out the apartment and prices it to sell. It seems that the apartment was the location of a highly publicized murder. Unsurprisingly, nobody wants to live there. At the same time, a young woman, Cathy (Kim Novak), arrives wanting to look at the apartment. Mr. Bowers explains that it has been rented. Fred, sensing an opportunity to set up the “young blonde” in the apartment, tells her that while he is the one who rented the apartment, he is looking for a young housekeeper. He also tells her that he and his friends are the ones renting the apartment. Cathy accepts the position. After Fred tells the men that he’s gotten the apartment and the blonde, they come up with the same story to tell their wives. They will each be attending “The New School for Social Research” which requires them to spend the evening in New York.

Kim Novak and James Garner

What Fred and his friends don’t realize is that Cathy is not just simply a young woman looking for an apartment. She is a sociology graduate student whose thesis is about “the adolescent fantasies of the adult suburban male.” While the men are meeting with Cathy on their assigned evening, they think that they are carrying on an affair, when in reality, Cathy is using them for research. Each man also makes the other think that he’s carrying on a sexual affair with Cathy. Eventually, as all these films go, the relationship between the men starts to go awry and the wives catch wind of the real reason their husbands are spending one night a week in New York. There’s a very funny scene where the wives go out to lunch to commiserate about their husbands’ infidelity and end up getting schnockered.

Boys’ Night Out is very much of its time and feels very 1960s. This film could only exist in the 1960s. This is the era when wives stayed at home in their suburban homes while their husbands traveled into the city for work. The 1960s also feels like the only time that a sociology student would be studying sex and would take advantage of a situation for research purposes. The three married men are all hilarious and henpecked. James Garner, being the only single man, is the only one who is presented as someone who would be moderately interesting to Kim Novak. Perhaps because the studio system is still in effect, or perhaps because Garner and Novak are the stars of the film, they are the characters who are depicted as needing to be together. If this film were made today, or even in the 1980s or 1990s, it is possible that Novak’s character would fall in love with one of the married men and break up his marriage.

“The Wives” (Anne Jeffreys, Janet Blair, and Patti Page) and Fred’s mother (Jessie Royce Landis) are ready to scratch Kim Novak’s eyes out.

While the idea that a husband could set up a love nest for weekly rendezvouses is very dated today, it is a common plot point in 1960s films. Perhaps that is due to the shift in American life where more families lived in the suburbs while the jobs remained in the city. The husband traveled into the city daily for work, while their wives stayed at home. It’d be relatively simple to carry on an affair without the wife being the wiser. In the film, Any Wednesday, Jason Robards is a businessman who has been lying to his wife about traveling out of town each Wednesday of the week. Despite telling his wife that he was out of town, in reality, he’s hooking up with Jane Fonda, his mistress. Both Boys’ Night Out and Any Wednesday seem horrible now, but it would be interesting to know how many suburban men had mistresses in the city.

Regardless, I would recommend Boys’ Night Out to anyone who is a fan of the cast and/or fans of 1960s sex comedies. It is very entertaining and has a stellar cast.