WILMER COOK: Keep on riding me and they’re gonna be picking iron out of your liver.
SAM SPADE: The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.
Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer Cook and Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon.”
HELEN: I must warn you though, liquor makes me nosy. I’ve been known to ask all sorts of personal questions after four cocktails.
MARTY: ‘s alright. I’ve been known to tell people to mind their own business. Cold sober too.
Claire Trevor as Helen and Elisha Cook Jr. as Marty in “Born to Kill.”
GEORGE PEATTY: This couple, sittin’ in front of me, oh, they weren’t young, exactly. I guess the woman was about your age.
SHERRY PEATTY: A little senile, you mean? With one foot and a big toe in the grave?
GEORGE PEATTY: You want to hear this or not? Do you or not, Sherry?
SHERRY PEATTY: I can’t wait. Go ahead and thrill me George.
Elisha Cook Jr. as George Peatty and Marie Windsor as Sherry Peatty in “The Killing.”
Elisha Cook Jr. carved out a very unique niche for himself in Hollywood. He often played a villain, but never a outwardly scary villain. He was no Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in Kiss of Death or Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) in Cape Fear. Cook Jr.’s portrayal was much different. He was mild-mannered, timid even, but was still able to make the action of the film seem uncomfortable. To me, he comes across as someone who seems like they could crack any time now. In The Maltese Falcon, he trails Sam Spade all over San Francisco and makes threats along the way, but Spade never takes him seriously. Even at the end of the film, Cook Jr.’s boss, Kasper Gutman, sells him out and makes him the fall guy. Kasper does this to save his own neck.
When I first learned about Elisha Cook Jr., I did what I always do for every new film and new actor I discover: I looked up his Imdb and Wikipedia pages. I was astonished to learn that Cook Jr. was born in 1903! 1903! In ‘Falcon,’ he looks like a kid compared to Bogart and company. However, he was only four years younger than Bogart! Save for Sydney Greenstreet, Cook Jr., was older than the other members of his gang: Mary Astor and Peter Lorre. This was insane to me. He had such a baby face that it was astonishing that he was almost 40 when he appeared in ‘Falcon.’
It is partially Cook Jr.’s baby face that lends to his ability to play these meek, timid characters who provide a duplicitous nature to his characters. He didn’t always play the villain, but he often played someone who was pretty much on the up-and-up, but got in over his head due to his naiveté and inability to stand up against a stronger personality. In The Killing, Cook Jr., works at a large horse track as a cashier. He is married to the very domineering (physically and personality-wise) Marie Windsor, who treats him like garbage because he hasn’t provided her with the lifestyle to which she feels accustomed. To make his wife like him better, Cook Jr., gets involved with criminal Sterling Hayden who wants to pull off one last heist. Cook Jr., offers to use his position as an employee of the horse track to help Hayden pull off the heist. In exchange, he is supposed to receive a large sum of money. Unfortunately, Cook Jr. ends up paying for his involvement with his life.
In contrast to his wimpy weaklings, Elisha Cook Jr., did turn in a very uncharacteristic (yet entirely typical) performance in Phantom Lady. In this film, Ella Raines is trying to prove the innocence of her boss who is sitting on death row for murdering his wife. He has an alibi, but the alibi cannot be located. Raines is trying to follow the clues to find the alibi and exonerate her boss before it’s too late. Nightclub drummer Cook Jr., is one of the people who can help lead her to the alibi. To convince him to give her the details, Raines tries to emulate the type of woman that a musician would be interested in. Donning fishnet stockings, a slinky dress, and stilettos, hepcat Raines’ ruse works. Cook Jr., invites her to this seedy private club away from the nightclub.
Here’s where Cook Jr.’s uncharacteristic performance comes in. Obviously wanting to seduce Raines and “make it” (as they say in old movies back then) with her, he presents the most erotic, sexually charged drum solo ever committed to celluloid. This is as close as filmmakers could get in having characters have sex on screen in 1944. Cook Jr.’s drumsticks hit the drumheads with such an intense, rhythmic beat. Close-ups of his sweaty face, eyes widening, smile tightening are juxtaposed with shots of the drumsticks. As the beat intensifies, so does the intensity in Cook Jr.’s face until the scene climaxes, and he and Raines slink out the door when she offers a come hither look. Like in most of his films, Cook Jr., doesn’t survive Phantom Lady, but at least he had some fun before his murder.
Elisha Cook Jr. is one of my favorite character actors. He brings such a unique presence to screen and you never know what you’re going to get, while knowing exactly what you’re going to get when he’s on screen.
My favorite Elisha Cook Jr. performances:
The Maltese Falcon
Born to Kill
House on Haunted Hill
The Big Sleep
Don’t Bother to Knock
I Wake Up Screaming
Ball of Fire
WATSON PRITCHARD: They’re coming for me now… and then they’ll come for you.
Elisha Cook Jr. as Watson Pritchard in House on Haunted Hill
Claudette Colbert made a series of romantic comedies throughout her storied career. She is most well known for her Oscar-winning role in It Happened One Night (1934). She also made a series of romantic comedies with frequent co-star Fred MacMurray. However, my favorite film of Claudette’s is The Palm Beach Story, co-starring Joel McCrea and directed by Preston Sturges.
The Palm Beach Story starts off with a series of manic images showing a bride and groom racing to get to the church and random objects crashing around them. From the beginning scenes, we really have no idea what’s happening, only that Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea marry at the end of the sequence and that the year of the marriage was 1937. Fast forward five years, 1942, and we meet Geraldine “Gerry” Jeffers (Colbert) who is dealing with back bills and possibly losing her apartment. I am unsure exactly what Tom Jeffers’ (McCrea) occupation is, but when we meet him in 1942, he is meeting with an investor about funding is idea to build an airport that is suspended over a city.
Meanwhile, back at the Jeffers’ apartment, Gerry is watching “The Wienie King” (aka the greatest character in the film) touring the apartment. The Jeffers owe back rent and their landlord is thisclose to evicting them. The Wienie King is hard of hearing, which makes his two scenes even funnier. He also makes sure everyone knows that he’s The Wienie King and that’s how he made his wealth:
THE WIENIE KING: I’m The Wienie King! Invented the Texas wienie. Lay off ’em, you’ll live longer
The Wienie King, “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)
Gerry ends up sharing her’s and Tom’s financial troubles and how they’re about to lose their home. The Wienie King, not interested in her apartment anyway, pulls a thick roll of bills out of his pocket and hands Gerry $700 ($11,560 in 2021 dollars). She accepts it and uses the money to pay their back bills and buy herself a new outfit. When Tom arrives home, Gerry lets him know that their financial troubles are alleviated for now. Tom is suspicious of The Wienie King’s financial gift and also his pride is wounded that another man had to pay his bills. Gerry then admits that she fully used her womanly wiles to get money from The Wienie King.
TOM: Oh, is that so? He just–seven hundred dollars? Just like that?
GERRY: Just like that.
TOM: I mean, sex didn’t even enter into it?
GERRY: Oh, but of course it did, darling. I don’t think he’d have given it to me if I had hair like excelsior and little short legs like an alligator. Sex always has something to do with it, dear…you have no idea what a long-legged woman can do without doing anything.
Joel McCrea (Tom) and Claudette Colbert (Gerry) in “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)
The next day, Gerry packs her bags and leaves Tom. She believes that she and Tom are better off separately and they’re just holding each other back. She plans to take a train from New York to Palm Beach, FL. She ends up getting onto a train with the craziest passengers I’ve seen in a movie. Gerry ends up onboard with “The Ale and Quail Club,” a boisterous hunting (and drinking) club led by William Demarest (aka Uncle Charlie in “My Three Sons” and Ann-Margret’s father in “Viva Las Vegas”). The Ale and Quail Club is absolutely insane. Every member is drunk and partying heavily. They are even having a shooting contest IN THE TRAIN. When the members meet Gerry, they declare her their mascot. Eventually, the noise gets to be too much for Gerry. She borrows a pair of pajamas from one of the members and tries to sleep. The party then gets really out of hand, and Gerry leaves, not wanting to get caught in the crossfire.
The Ale and Quail Club traincar, now riddled with bullets and missing all of its windows, is disconnected from the rest of the train and abandoned. Gerry finds an empty upper berth and crawls in, while standing on millionaire John D. Hackensacker III’s (Rudy Vallee) face, breaking his glasses in his eyes (yikes). But Hackensacker doesn’t mind and quickly takes a shine to Gerry. The next day, Gerry fashions herself the greatest dress made from men’s pajamas and a Pullman blanket. She and Hackensacker order two .75 ($12.39 in 2021) breakfasts.
When Gerry and Hackensacker finally arrive in Palm Beach, Hackensacker offers to buy Gerry some clothing due to Gerry’s suitcase disappearing. Gerry accepts, thinking that he’ll buy her an outfit. Hackensacker has other ideas. We are next treated to a Pretty Woman-esque (once she goes to the store with Richard Gere’s credit card) montage with Claudette modeling one fancy dress after another. Close-ups of Hackensacker painstakingly marking each and every purchase in his small notebook are also amazing. Who knows what the final bill ends up being, but I’m sure it’s in the tens of thousands. Gerry and Hackensacker then go out on his yacht.
Meanwhile, Tom has arrived in Palm Beach and somehow knows that Gerry is at the yacht club. He’s waiting for her on the dock. Also arriving on a yacht is Hackensacker’s sister, Princess Maud Centimillia (Mary Astor). Her companion is her latest protegee, Toto, who barely speaks English and really has no idea what is going on. However, once the Princess spots Tom, she drops Toto–who unfortunately doesn’t understand that the Princess has no interest in him. He keeps showing up and the Princess sends him away. When Gerry introduces Tom to Hackensacker, she introduces him as her brother, “Captain McGlue,” much to Tom’s chagrin.
PRINCESS CENTIMILLIA: Who is McGlue?
GERRY: There is no McGlue.
PRINCESS CENTIMILLIA: Well thank heavens for something. That name!
Mary Astor (Princess Centimillia) and Claudette Colbert (Gerry) in “The Palm Beach Story.”
Soon, Hackensacker falls in love with Gerry. The Princess falls in love with “Captain McGlue” (Tom). And Tom and Gerry wonder if their marriage is worth saving.
This movie is absolutely hilarious especially “Captain McGlue” and Princess Centimillia. Joel McCrea is such an underrated star in Hollywood. He was adept at delivering lines with a dry, sarcastic humor. Such as in The More the Merrier when Charles Coburn asks McCrea what he does for a living. McCrea asks Coburn what his occupation is. Coburn says: “retired millionaire.” McCrea then answers Coburn’s occupation question by saying, “Same.” I love the scene of Rudy Vallee serenading Claudette Colbert with “Goodnight Sweetheart.” Every scene with the Princess’ protegee, Toto, is hilarious.
I know that Sullivan’s Travels and The Lady Eve are more revered as director Preston Sturges’ best film; but for me, The Palm Beach Story is his best. This film is perfect from start to finish.
My “Noirvember” picks will be continually updated as the month wears on and I make my next choice!
Noirvember is upon us. I love film noir, so every month is “Noirvember” for me, but I thought I’d try to actively participate in the event this year. Previously, I lurked in conversations and posts and read about it, but didn’t actually contribute.
For those who are unfamiliar with “Noirvember,” it is simply a portmanteau of the words “Noir” and “November.” It is a term used to describe what is essentially a month-long celebration of film noir. Noirvember was invented by a poster (@oldfilmsflicker on Twitter) who just wanted an excuse to catch-up on film noir. It has since evolved and become a full-fledged event.
I have seen a lot of film noir and have a lot of favorite films and performers. While I definitely want to revisit some old favorites, I also want to watch some “new to me” film noir. I don’t have a particular list of 30 film noir to watch, as I wanted my list to flow organically. However, so that I had some semblance of organization and didn’t spend my entire evening trying to decide what to watch, I’ve decided to play a game with my selections. Each successive film will feature a performer from the previous film. E.g. “The Big Heat” features Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. “Sudden Fear” features Grahame and Joan Crawford.
It is my hope that my final film of the month will link back to the first.
“…Meet me in St. Louis, Louis. Meet me at the fair. Don’t tell me the lights are shining any place but there…
This lyric is heard multiple times in Meet Me in St. Louis and it perfectly sums up the 1944 MGM classic, Meet Me in St. Louis. In a nutshell, the film is about the Smith family and the love they have for each other and their hometown of St. Louis, Missouri. Their hometown also happens to be the future home of that year’s World’s Fair. However, Meet Me in St. Louis is so much more. It rightfully deserves to be remembered as one of the great musicals of not only the Golden Age of Hollywood, but of all time.
Meet Me in St. Louis opens in the summer of 1903. The Smith family is seen conducting their day-to-day business. Matriarch Anna Smith (Mary Astor) and maid Katie (Marjorie Main) are making ketchup. Younger daughter Agnes (Joan Carroll) comes in from swimming, crooning “Meet me in St. Louis.” Grandpa Smith (Harry Davenport) is taking a bath. High school aged siblings Esther (Judy Garland) and Rose (Lucille Bremer) come in from a trip downtown. It seems that a new attractive young neighbor, John Truett (Tom Drake) has moved in next door. Esther immediately has a crush on John. I don’t blame Esther for crushing on John, he’s cute, even if he’s kind of a dork. Rose on the other hand, is dating Warren Sheffield (Robert Sully), who has moved to New York (for school perhaps? Or maybe he’s on vacation? It’s not clear why he’s there). Rose is expecting a phone call from Warren. A phone call in 1903 is a BIG deal.
Rose’s phone call is such a big deal that the family is planning their dinner around Warren’s call. It is assumed by Esther and Rose that Warren is calling to propose marriage to Rose. After all, Rose is 18, and in 1903, if you’re not engaged by 18, you might as well be dead. The regular Smith dinner time is 6:30 pm. However, Warren is planning to call at the same time. Dinner has been moved up to 5:30 pm. Patriarch Alonzo Smith (Leon Ames) is not too keen on the change in dinner times and Rose ends up taking the call with the entire gang in the room. Warren finally calls and he and Rose end up having a hilarious conversation with a lot of “WHAT?! I CAN’T HEAR YOU!” The phone call ends with nary a proposal from Warren. Rose may as well become a nun now.
Eldest sibling and brother Lon (Henry Daniels, Jr.) Rose and Esther plan a party for all their friends and to celebrate Lon’s admission to Princeton University. The siblings plan a wild party, complete with roast rabbit, and a rousing song and dance to “Skip to My Lou.” Esther also has ulterior motives at this party. She and Rose have invited neighbor John to the festivities and Esther plans to make her move.
ESTHER: “I’m going to let John Truett kiss me tonight.” ROSE: “Esther Smith!” ESTHER: “Well, if we’re going to get married, I may as well start it.” ROSE: “Nice girls don’t let men kiss them until after they’re engaged. Men don’t want the bloom rubbed off.” ESTHER: “Personally, I think I have too much bloom. Maybe that’s the trouble with me.”
Esther gives it everything she’s got. She tries hiding his hat in the breadbox to keep him from leaving, she wears her special perfume and she invites him to turn off the lights with her. All she ends up with is returning John’s hat complete with raisins inside and John complimenting her on her strong grip and her perfume that reminds him of his grandmother.
The next day, Esther takes a trolley ride and hopes to see John. The trolley is taking guests on an excursion to the construction site of the World’s Fair that is taking place in the coming year. John misses the trolley, but after a rousing rendition of “The Trolley Song,” Esther is overjoyed to see that John has managed to catch a ride after all. Later that evening, youngest sister Tootie (Margaret O’Brien) and Agnes go out for Halloween.
Halloween in 1903 is a very strange affair. The neighborhood kids dress up (which is fine) and spend the evening burning furniture and stealing things from the neighbor’s homes. It seems that the stealing is condoned, as it is mentioned that the neighbors specifically set things out to be stolen, on the condition that it is returned. The children also go around playing tricks on the neighbors. Tootie ends up having to confront and throw flour at the “scariest” neighbor, Mr. Burkhoff. She does so to prove herself to the older children.
TOOTIE (after throwing the flour at Mr. Burkhoff): “I killed him!”
TOOTIE (after the kids celebrate her “murder” of Mr. Burkhoff): “I’m the most horrible!”
On the way home from Halloween, Tootie and Agnes tie a dummy to the trolley tracks as a joke. The trolley nearly derails and John helps the kids hide from the angry conductor. Tootie ends up sustaining a split lip and a broken tooth during the affair. When she returns home, she concocts a story about being assaulted by John.
Esther is furious that John would supposedly beat up children and goes over to his home to confront him. She ends up attacking him. John is caught completely off-guard and thinks Esther has just gone off the deep end. Tootie then admits that she made up the entire story and Esther is angry and petrified that she just beat up the guy she likes. This is the least of her problems however when Alonzo comes home with a big announcement.
It seems that Alonzo’s law firm is planning to transfer him (and consequently his family) to New York City. The family is devastated at the idea of leaving their home. Rose and Esther are especially upset, because they are still in high school and will have to leave their respective romances, friends, school, etc. Esther and Rose are also upset when they realize that they will miss the World’s Fair that they’ve been looking forward to for a long time.
Christmas Eve rolls around and the three eldest children are looking forward to attending the annual Christmas Ball. Esther plans to attend with John. It seems that Rose’s paramour, Warren is attending the dance with Lucille Ballard (June Lockhart), a girl he met in New York. Out of revenge, Esther and Rose plan to take the liberty of filling out Lucille’s dance card for her. They plan on filling in all the names of all the losers and bad dancers at the dance. By the time the Smiths get to the dance and meet up with Warren and Lucille, it seems that the plans have changed. At Lucille’s urging, Warren and Rose pair up and Lucille pairs up with Lon. At Grandpa’s behest, Esther ends up taking the bad dance card.
Esther’s dance card perks up however when John manages to get his tuxedo and come to the dance afterall. He and Esther dance their last dance at the ball. The Smiths are planning on leaving St. Louis after Christmas. John proposes marriage to Esther that evening and she is overjoyed and accepts. Later that evening, Tootie is realizing how moving to New York is going to affect her. Esther tries to help Tootie by singing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” but all this does is drive Tootie to a near nervous breakdown about the thought of leaving everything behind.
Alonzo, seeing first hand how moving is going to affect his family, changes his mind and announces that the family will remain in St. Louis. The family is overjoyed. Warren, apparently overcome by emotion at the Christmas Ball, bursts in:
WARREN: “Rose Smith, we can’t go on like this any longer. I’ve positively decided we’re going to get married at the earliest opportunity and I don’t want to hear any arguments. That’s final. I LOVE YOU! Merry Christmas.”
ROSE: “Merry Christmas.”
ALONZO: “Anna, who is that boy?”
ANNA: “Now Lonny, he’s a very fine young man. We’ll talk about it later.”
GRANDPA: “That young man is so excited he’s liable to leave on his honeymoon without Rose.”
The films concludes with the entire family, boyfriends and girlfriends included, attending the 1904 St. Louis World’s fair, or the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. The family looks on at awe at the fountain that was also used in An American in Paris. I feel like this fountain is also in Gigi and Clueless, but I am not sure. For sure it’s in An American in Paris, however. The film ends on a corny, but appropriate note.
ESTHER: “Isn’t it breathtaking John!? I never dreamed anything could be so beautiful.”
ANNA: “There’s never been anything like it in the whole world.”
ROSE: “We don’t have to come here on a train or stay in a hotel. It’s right in our own home town.”
TOOTIE: “Grandpa? They’ll never tear it down, will they?”
GRANDPA: “Well, they’d better not.”
ESTHER: “I can’t believe it. Right here where we live. Right here in St. Louis.”
Meet Me in St. Louis is memorable not only for the memorable songs in the film, but for the effect it had on Judy Garland and her career. By 1944, 21/22 year old Garland was tired of playing the cute teenage girl. She was eager to take on adult roles. Initially, when offered the role of “Esther Smith” in Meet Me in St. Louis, Garland was not happy. Esther was yet another teenage girl. However, director Vincente Minnelli managed to convince Garland to do the film. One of the big things Minnelli did was to hire makeup artist Dorothy Ponedel to do Garland’s makeup. With Ponedel, Garland was given an entirely new, glamorous image. Garland was so happy with how she appeared on screen, that she had her contracts written so that Ponedel was her makeup artist on each film. Minnelli made Garland feel beautiful in Meet Me in St. Louis. Perhaps it was this reason why Garland fell in love and married him.
There are multiple reasons why I love Meet Me in St. Louis. One of the main reasons are the costumes. I love many of the costumes that Rose and Esther wear. Anna wears an amazing multi-colored striped robe toward the end of the film. It is so over the top and gaudy, I love it. I also love the Smith Victorian home. It’s gorgeous. All the rich woodwork and detailed wallpapers are so ornate, but beautiful. One of the best rooms in the entire house is the bathroom. It has a beautiful stained glass feature. I love that the set department paid so much attention to the details in the home.
Another reason I love Meet Me in St. Louis is for Garland herself. Her personal problems are well known and it is well known that they affected her professionalism on this film as well. However, in typical Garland fashion, the audience would have never known of Garland’s personal problems, they do not affect her performance at all. I read somewhere that Garland never showed up to rehearsals to “The Trolley Song.” The day came for the number to be filmed. Everyone was nervous that Garland wouldn’t be prepared and the shoot wouldn’t go off as planned. Garland showed up and boom! nailed the song on the first take.
Meet Me in St. Louis is such a joy to watch. I’ve probably seen it over twenty times and I never tire of it. I love Judy. I love Tom Drake. I love the costumes. I love the songs. I love the Smith home. I love how Tom Drake describes everything as “peachy.” I love Tootie and how morbid she is. I love everything about this film.