Category Archives: 1935

Top 15 William Powell Movies

 

One of my all-time favorite actors…even though he’s not as flashy as Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Clark Gable or Spencer Tracy…who are all in my top 5 as well. William Powell seems to sneak in there on the sheer strength of his whole film library. Arguably, he’s the most consistent. He put out some of the finest work ever seen on film, and most, if not all of his movies, stand up today as some of the greatest ever made. Judge for yourself, here are my 15 favorites:

15  The Ex-Mrs. Bradford (1936)

This one is special because of the pairing of William Powell and Jean Arthur. Powell would make a career out of teaming with some of the strongest actresses of the time and then competing with them as equals. He manages to hold each of his female partners in such high esteem, while all along joyfully and playfully sparing with them with wonderful wordplay. This becomes his signature, and not only did the audience enjoy the sparks, but his on screen partners adored him in real life as well. So much so that he fell in love and married 2 of them. He would have married Jean Harlow as well, they were engaged, but she fell ill and died before they married. Back to this film, the script is a little light, but Powell and Arthur are fun. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Arthur look better than she does in this movie. She just shines.

14  One Way Passage (1932)

This one was the 6th pairing of William Powell with Kay Francis. The story is far fetched, as Powell plays a prisoner- a murderer being sent to prison for his hanging and Francis is on her last cruise as she has a terminal illness. They fall in love and spend their last trip together.  It has a mix of drama and comedy, which seems a bit weird due to the material.

13  The Philo Vance Mysteries (1929-1933)

William Powell starred in 4 of the Philo Vance mysteries, I’ll include them all together in one entry: The Canary Murder Case, The Greene Murder Case, The Benson Murder Case, and The Kennel Murder Case. Because of these movies and the Thin Man series, Powell becomes very well known as a Detective. It’s what puts him on the map initially, I would say, even though it’s his pairings with outstanding female partners that really makes him shine. William Powell is the first to star as Vance and arguably the most successful. These films are fun and I can see why Powell would become very popular as a detective over the next 20 years.

12  For The Defense (1930)

Another movie starring Powell and Kay Francis, this time Powell plays an attorney defending the man that Francis is two-timing him for murder. This was a surprise hit for Paramount. A quickie, it was shot in a mere 15 days and its success immeasurably helped director John Cromwell‘s career, who would go on to direct Tom Sawyer, Of Human Bondage, Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Prisoner of Zenda, Algiers, Made For Each Other, Abe Lincoln in Illinois, and Dead Reckoning after this one.

11  Jewel Robbery (1932)

The last one on the list that also stars Kay Francis, this one is my favorite of all the ones they did together. Powell plays a gentleman thief…which reminds me that he would have been the perfect Arsene Lupin over the years if he had ever decided to take that character on.  This began as a stage play, and then turned into a movie, and you can really tell with the great dialogue.

10  Double Wedding (1937)

The first one on the list that features Powell with his best collaborator, Myrna Loy! They are most famous together in the Thin Man movies but they performed so much together over the years that most people thought they were really married, which caused a lot of trouble for the couple whenever they went on location as often the hotels would book them accidentally in the same room! They would eventually star in 14 films together.  When I mentioned earlier that he was engaged to Jean Harlow, but she died…it was during the filming of this movie. They had to shut down production for a few weeks and I think you can tell in Powell’s performance that he was distraught. Also, can I just mention that I hate his artist costume in this movie.

9  Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948)

Fun little movie, seems like it would have been perfect for Don Knotts in the title role, but he was decades away from doing movies…Powell is still fun as always. Ann Blyth plays the mermaid in a very effective costume…at times she seems like a very real mermaid!  In an article in “Look” magazine that came out at the time the film was released Ann Blyth said that the hardest part of making the movie was trying to learn to swim while wearing the mermaid tail. She said that she practiced for more than a week before she felt comfortable with not being able to kick her legs to help her swim. During the film Ann Blyth has no dialogue. She laughs, sings (without words) and cries but does’t talk.

8  Libeled Lady (1936)

Great cast with Powell and Loy as usual, but with the additions of Jean Harlow and Spencer Tracy!  Reportedly, while shooting the movie, the four stars had become close friends, and William Powell even gave up his old habit of hiding out in his dressing room between scenes so he could join in the fun with the rest of the cast. One of the biggest jokes was a running gag Spencer Tracy played on Myrna Loy, claiming that she had broken his heart with her recent marriage to producer Arthur Hornblow Jr. He even set up an “I Hate Hornblow” table in the studio commissary, reserved for men who claimed to have been jilted by Loy. Myrna Loy recalled in her 1987 autobiography that a good time was had by all during the shoot – “Libeled Lady was one of the best of the so-called screwball comedies, with a great cast, and Jack Conway directing us at breakneck speed.” She praised her co-stars and also expressed her love for working with Walter Connolly, whom she described as “darling.” Some of the cast and crew travelled to the California mountains during production in order to shoot exteriors of the bucolic scenes. They spent nearly a week living cosily in small cabins, according to Myrna Loy, and enjoying the rustic scenery far from the bright lights of Hollywood. This was where William Powell filmed his bit of slapstick in which he must pretend to be an expert angler in order to impress Connie’s father. “It’s a hysterical piece of work,” praised Loy, “but then Bill was a very gifted man, able to do great comedy and tragedy, everything.”

7  The Great Ziegfeld (1936)

William Powell plays the great showman Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. in this biography of his life. He would go on to play Ziegfeld again later for a showcase of some of Ziegfeld’s finest work in Ziegfeld Follies.  Billie Burke, the wife of the real Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., never really rated the film much despite taking a personal interest in the writing of the script. She went to great lengths to make sure that writer William Anthony McGuire never besmirched the good name of Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., hence the playing down of his infidelities.  The Great Ziegfeld would become the first biopic to win an Academy Award for “Best Picture”. Powell himself would be nominated for My Man Godfrey, that same year.

6  I Love You Again (1940)

This one is quite fun, Powell plays a man who is a normal boring businessman that bumps his head a second time, which makes him recover from amnesia, only to remember his life as a con man before he had amnesia! In the process, he comes to learn that he’s deeply in love with the woman that is soon to be his ex-wife, Myrna Loy.  The fun part of this movie is the total change in Powell’s personality and then the wooing of his wife (coo-ing?). It does have a lengthy Boy Scout sequence, which is delightful, but to me, takes it away from the fun parts that are Powell-Loy laden.

5  Life With Father (1947)

I love Irene Dunne and she is really in fine form in this great family film.  In later years, Irene Dunne admitted that she hated playing the part of Vinnie, the wife, as she considered the part to be “rattle-brained”.  The original play, “Life With Father” is the longest-running Broadway non-musical play ever. It played on Broadway for nearly eight years (3224 performances), from 1939 to 1947 and held the record for 25 years until “Fiddler on the Roof” surpassed it. In the play, author Howard Lindsay played Father, Dorothy Stickney was Vinnie and Teresa Wright was Mary. The film version was released in 1947, the year that the Broadway run ended. William Powell had his 3rd Academy Award nomination for this role.

4  Manhattan Melodrama (1934)

Clark Gable adds to the fun in Manhattan Melodrama. Interesting thing about this is that both William Powell and Clark Gable were married to Carole Lombard, at different times, of course, neither during this movie.  This was also the first movie to feature Powell and Loy together. Interesting to note, this movie is probably most famous for being the movie that bank robber John Dillinger had just seen before he was gunned down in front of Chicago’s Biograph Theater on July 22, 1934. He had been set up by Anna Sage, the madam of a brothel, who knew Dillinger’s girlfriend, Polly Hamilton. Sage was facing deportation and thought the tip might get her off. She told FBI agent Melvin Purvis that she would be wearing orange which appeared red, leading her to be dubbed “The Woman in Red”. Dillinger was shot three times when he tried to escape, and Sage wound up being sent back to Romania.

3  Mister Roberts (1955)

William Powell’s last movie, based on the play which also starred Henry Fonda as Mister Roberts. The supporting cast in this film is incredible with great parts for James Cagney and Jack Lemmon, who won an Oscar for his role of Ensign Pulver. Initially directed by John Ford, one of the few non-westerns he did.  On this movie, he was apparently mean and abusive.  When John Ford met James Cagney at the airport, the director warned that they would “tangle asses,” which caught Cagney by surprise. Cagney later said: “I would have kicked his brains out. He was so goddamned mean to everybody. He was truly a nasty old man.” The next day, Cagney was slightly late on set, and Ford became incensed. Cagney cut short the imminent tirade, saying: “When I started this picture, you said that we would tangle asses before this was over. I’m ready now – are you?” Ford backed down and walked away and he and Cagney had no further conflicts on the set.  Later on, there was a disagreement between John Ford and Henry Fonda that led to Ford punching Fonda in the mouth, ending their 16-year personal friendship and eight-film professional relationship, even though Ford apologized to Fonda afterward. Fonda only appeared in one more Ford film after that. Ford was eventually dismissed from the film and Mervyn LeRoy took over.  John Ford’s dismissal from the film pushed him over the edge. He began drinking heavily, and was hospitalized in Hawaii for alcohol poisoning.

2  The Thin Man Mysteries (1934-1947)

To this day, these are the films that William Powell and Myrna Loy are most famous for, with good reason, they are awesome.  I don’t need to go into much detail, as I do that here in another blog post.  Now after you’ve read that go see the series, it’s great.

1  My Man Godfrey (1936)

My favorite movie featuring Powell is also the one that really features his ex-wife Carole Lombard most effectively.  It’s about a scatterbrained socialite, who hires a vagrant as a family butler…but there’s more to Godfrey than meets the eye.  William Powell suggested his ex-wife Carole Lombard for the leading role with the explanation that his real life romance with Lombard had been much the same as it was for the characters of Godfrey and Irene. Although stars William Powell and Carole Lombard had been divorced for three years by the time they made this, when offered the part Powell declared that the only actress right for the part of Irene was Lombard.  This is the only film to receive Oscar nominations for writing, directing and all four acting awards without being nominated for Best Picture. It was also the only film to receive those six nominations without winning in any of the categories until American Hustle (2013).

Top 15 Katharine Hepburn Movies

 

Finding just 15 movies to highlight from someone with a career like Katharine Hepburns is just literally insane…as she has well over 15 movies worth highlighting. She’s amazing, and quite possibly my favorite actress.  So I’ve narrowed the list down the only which way I could…I simply list my favorites. All of her films are worth watching, but if you’ve never seen any of them yet, here’s a good start:

15 – Summertime (1955)summertime

David Lean is famous for his grand epics, but it’s fun to highlight an intimate film like this for both Katharine Hepburn and David Lean. Katharine Hepburn was more than impressed with her experience working with David Lean. She even asked to sit in on the editing sessions with him to watch him at work. In her autobiography, she wrote, “[Summertime] was told with great simplicity in the streets, in the Piazza San Marco. We would shoot in tiny streets only a few feet wide. The sun would come and go in a matter of minutes. It was a very emotional part, and I tell you I had to be on my toes to give David enough of what he wanted practically on call. But it was thrilling… He seemed to me to simply absorb Venice. It was his. He had a real photographic gift. He thought in a descriptive way. His shots tell the story. He was capable of a sort of super concentration. It made a very deep and definite impression on me, and he was one of the most interesting directors I ever worked with. Wasn’t I lucky to work with him?”

This material is well within Hepburn’s wheelhouse but is very different for Lean. What I find to be of great interest with the material is that Hepburn had a great eye for stage plays and especially ones that would make fine transitions over to the big screen. Many of her success came from turning great plays into marvelous movies. The writer is Arthur Laurents who wrote the plays Home of the Brave, Gypsy and West Side Story.

14 – Stage Door (1937)stage-door

Another play (you’ll find that most of this list started out as plays), but this one is even more interesting, as it’s about the behind-the-scenes drama of actresses trying to make it big on Broadway. Originally, the writer of the stage play, George S. Kaufman, upset and bemused by the way the screenwriters had substantially changed the play, suggested that the title also be changed, to “Screen Door”. The screenplay was considerably altered from the hit stage play. Director Gregory La Cava was particularly gifted working with actresses. For two weeks prior to filming, he had his cast improvise in the boarding house set as if they were actually rooming together, and had a script girl take down all their interchanges. Most of the dialog you hear in the boarding house is extemporaneous ad-libs by the actresses during rehearsals. Just as an example of how much the play had been rewritten, Adolphe Menjou’s character was not in the original stage play at all.

Katharine Hepburn was in discussions to star in the original Broadway stage production of “Stage Door”, but Broadway producer Leland Hayward, reportedly jealous of her deepening friendship with noted film director John Ford, cast his then-girlfriend Margaret Sullavan in the leading role. Hayward and Sullavan married one month after the stage play opened. Margaret Sullavan was considered for the film version but became pregnant with their first child, and the part went to Katharine Hepburn.

13 – Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967)hepburn_tracy_guess_whos_coming_to_dinner

Worth mentioning in this film is one of three of the finest speeches I’ve ever seen written for Spencer Tracy at the end of a film. The others being in State of the Union and Judgment at Nuremberg. Now particularly, in this film during this scene, Katharine Hepburn doesn’t have a single line and yet she speaks VOLUMES. The brilliant decision to have Tracy stand up and then move back to where Hepburn is sitting so that the camera has her in view as he gives the speech about their love, is simply a work of genius. I get choked up every time I see it, as the emotion erupting from both of them is palpable. It’s also important to note that this is their last film together and Tracy’s final film before he died. He would die a few weeks later, and I can’t help but think he was expressing how he really felt about her for all of us to see.

Hepburn would win one of her four Academy Awards from her performance in this movie and it’s not hard to see why, from a single scene where she doesn’t even speak. She’s that good. Ironically, Tracy and Hepburn would do a total of nine movies together but this film was the only one where they were both nominated for Academy Awards, but Tracy would lose out to Rod Steiger, for Heat of the Night, a film also starring Sydney Poitier. Both Tracy and Poitier had won Oscars previously, for other films.

12 – The African Queen (1951)katharine-hepburn-african-queen

There are two movies on this list where Hepburn is stuck on a raft or a boat going downstream with a gruff character, this one with Humphrey Bogart and Rooster Cogburn with John Wayne. The movie was directed by Bogart favorite, Walter Huston. In both movies, she plays a christian, a missionary in one and the minister’s daughter in the other. She took her part quite seriously in African Queen, according to Katharine Hepburn’s autobiography, John Huston initially found her performance to be too serious-minded. One day, he visited her hut and suggested that she model her performance on Eleanor Roosevelt; putting on her “society smile” in the face of all adversity. After Huston left, Hepburn sat for a moment before deciding, “That is the best piece of direction I have ever heard.” Lauren Bacall famously ventured along for the filming in Africa to be with husband Humphrey Bogart. She played den mother during the trip, making camp and cooking. This also marked the beginning of her life-long friendship with Katharine Hepburn.

11 – State of the Union (1948)katherine-state-of-the-union

What I love about Katharine Hepburn’s performances most is that she plays some incredibly strong women characters but in vulnerable ways. She lets little cracks come through, we see her characters doubt at times, even as she tries to keep her chin up and fight through. This one is directed by my favorite director, Frank Capra. This was a political film, and pride runs strong with Capra and most of it’s cast, but the country was going through some turmoil over what would be known as the Hollywood Blacklist. There was tension on the set between the strongly conservative Adolphe Menjou and liberal thinking Katharine Hepburn, who had recently made a public speech against America’s anticommunist hysteria and was facing a backlash as a result. Adolphe Menjou was a hard-line political conservative who had willingly co-operated with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and named names. Katharine Hepburn was decidedly more liberal and had been an outspoken critic of the blacklist. When Hepburn learned Menjou had worked with HUAC, she refused to speak to or have anything to do with him unless they were filming a scene. Once the cameras were off, she kept her distance. They had previously worked together in two other films (Stage Door and Morning Glory) and had no problems those times. Perhaps the familiarity between the two had caused some deep disappointment in each other’s hard stand.

10 – Holiday (1938)hepburn-holiday

This is the first of three films on this list with her other frequent collaborator, Cary Grant. They are magic together. I love all the movies she does with Tracy, they seem like the perfect pair, but quite possibly what I love about Hepburn matched up with Grant is that they seemed like the perfect foes. They’re completely at odds with each other but Grant is not quite her equal, she’s a queen he keeps trying to knock off of her pedestal, whereas with Tracy they seem to be equals. This one was written by one of Katharine Hepburn’s favorite writers, Donald Ogden Stewart, who also wrote her other films, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper of the Flame, and uncredited work on Summertime. He was uncredited in many of his later screenplays as he was one of the writers that were eventually blacklisted by the (HUAC) House Un-American Activities Committee.

9 – Rooster Cogburn (1975)katherine-hepburn-and-rooster-cogburn

This is the latest movie on the list, and even though I liked her work in On Golden Pond in 1981, it didn’t quite make the list. This one was a follow-up to John Wayne’s Academy Award winning turn as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. She enjoyed working with the Duke very much because they were both spitfires! Katharine Hepburn was bemused by co-star John Wayne’s tendency to argue with everybody, especially the director, during filming. At the party to celebrate the last day of filming she told him, “I’m glad I didn’t know you when you had two lungs, you must have been a real bastard. Losing a hip has mellowed me, but you!” The film received terrible reviews on release. Many critics felt that it was too obviously derived from The African Queen, and that both John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn were too old for their parts, but I really love seeing these two veteran actors going head-to-head. John Wayne and Katharine Hepburn were born a mere two weeks apart (Wayne being the eldest), and their careers paralleled each other, yet this film marked the only time the Hollywood veterans appeared together onscreen.

8 – Bringing Up Baby (1938)Bringing Up baby Lobby Card

Holiday, Bringing Up Baby and The Philadelphia Story all make my list as well for the Top 15 Cary Grant Movies, you can see the blog post here to see where they wind up on that list. I also talk about this movie in a blog post about What’s Up, Doc?, you can read that one here if you’re interested. Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant frequently socialized off the set, double-dating with their respective steadies at the time, Howard Hughes and Phyllis Brooks. They loved working on the film so much that they frequently arrived early. Since Howard Hawks was usually late, they spent their time working out new bits of comic business. Hawks and Hepburn started out a little rough at the beginning of shooting.  After the bad start, Hawks grew to respect Hepburn tremendously for her comic timing, ad-libbing skills and physical control. He would tell the press, “She has an amazing body – like a boxer. It’s hard for her to make a wrong turn. She’s always in perfect balance. She has that beautiful coordination that allows you to stop and make a turn and never fall off balance. This gives her an amazing sense of timing. I’ve never seen a girl that had that odd rhythm and control.” I talk a little more about this film in a blog post about the Top 15 Films Directed By Howard Hawks.

7 – Desk Set (1957)katharine-hepburn-desk-set

This one was written by Phoebe Ephron and Henry Ephron, the mother and father of Nora Ephron! Great writing runs in the family! I love this movie as an older couple meet and fall in love.  It’s also got some very interesting research details and a fun computer bit. The computer dates the film however because it’s so big and blinky.

6 – Alice Adams (1935)

ALICE ADAMS, Fred MacMurray, Katharine Hepburn, 1935

George Stevens directed Hepburn in Alice Adams and Woman of the Year. Both films make my list but her character is so starkly different! The first one is about a young woman trying to break through certain social circles, very unsure of herself and naive and the second is a very strong reporter trying to make it in a man’s world, very secure and confident.  She enjoyed working with him but he really pushed her to be a better version of herself. She was having problems with her public persona, which was of a cold woman. She credits Stevens for her change in the public’s perception, by helping her, in “Alice Adams”, portray more warmth and vulnerability than she had ever shown previously. For example, there was a disagreement among Hepburn and Stevens about the post-party scene. The script called for Hepburn to fall onto the bed and break into sobs, but Stevens wanted her to walk to the window and cry, with the rain falling outside. Hepburn could not produce the tears required, so she asked Stevens if she could do the scene as scripted. Stevens yelled furiously at Hepburn, which did the trick and the scene was filmed Stevens’ way, and Hepburn’s tears are real. I think this scene is dead right the way Stevens has created and set the mood.

5 – Lion in Winter (1968)katharine-and-lion-in-winter

Katharine thought very highly of Peter O’Toole. She thought he could do anything, strong but kind, funny but dramatic…she really admired him. Although Hepburn was a great admirer of his work, she had no intention of putting up with the rather bad habits he often exhibited on his productions. “You’re known to be late,” she told him on the first day of work. “I intend for you to be on time. I hear you stay out at night. You’d better be rested in the morning if you’re going to work with me!” O’Toole meekly obliged when she told him “Peter, stop towering over me. Come and sit down and try to look respectable.” O’Toole readily admitted in her presence that she reduced him “to a shadow of my former gay-dog self.” “She is terrifying. It is sheer masochism working with her. She has been sent by some dark fate to nag and torment me.” Her reply: “Don’t be so silly. We are going to get on very well. You are Irish and you make me laugh. In any case, I am on to you and you to me.” In spite of her stern warnings, she enjoyed O’Toole tremendously. She said his vigour and energy helped restore her own vitality at a time when she really needed it.

This film is also the first film for Timothy Dalton and Anthony Hopkins. Timothy Dalton was hugely impressed by Katharine Hepburn, particularly when she came in to shoot reverse shots with him on her day off from filming.

4 – Little Women (1933)little-women-katharine-hepburn

She got the coveted iconic role in this one and runs away with the film. It helped to cement a long relationship with director George Cukor, who would go on to direct her in Sylvia Scarlett, Holiday, The Philadelphia Story, Keeper of the Flame, Pat and Mike, and Adam’s Rib. Katharine Hepburn wrote in her autobiography, “This picture was heaven to do – George Cukor perfect. He really caught the atmosphere. It was to me my youth!”  The third screen adaptation of the novel, following silent versions in 1917 and 1918. Little Women would be filmed a total of 8 times for film and several more times as TV shows and a couple mini-series!

3 – Woman of the Year (1942)woman-of-the-year-katharine-hepburn

This is the first of nine films Hepburn and Tracy would do together. She was unaware of how they would do together onscreen for the first time and wondered if they had the right chemistry.  The first scene shot was the characters’ first date, in a bar. Hepburn was so nervous she spilled her drink, but Tracy just handed her a handkerchief and kept going. Hepburn proceeded to clean up the spill as they played the scene. When the drink dripped through to the floor, she tried to throw Tracy off by going under the table, but he stayed in character, with the cameras rolling the entire time. After this she knew the two of them would be golden as they became so comfortable together, she knew it was magic. As Hepburn’s close friend and frequent director, George Cukor was a natural choice to direct, but for her first film with Tracy, Hepburn wanted Tracy to be as comfortable as possible, so as a quasi-producer, she hired George Stevens, who had directed her in Alice Adams. As Hepburn said, “I just thought he (Tracy) should have a big, manly man on his team – someone who could talk about baseball.” Cukor (who was openly gay and known for his friendships with actresses) would later become a good friend of Tracy and would direct both actors in 3 more movies.

2 – The Philadelphia Story (1940)philadelphia-story

Grant trying to knock Queen Hepburn off her pedestal is never more evident than in this movie. He even calls her a Queen and mocks he high and mightiness, in a marvelous duel of words between exes that were never more in love than when they were fighting. To get back at him she falls off the pedestal for short time and lands in Jimmy Stewart’s arms. James Stewart never felt he deserved the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in this film, especially since he had initially felt miscast. He always maintained that Henry Fonda should have won instead for The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and that the award was probably “deferred payment for my work on Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)”, but I thought he was great in this one as well.

1 – Adam’s Rib (1949)adams-rib

I wrote about how gracious Hepburn was with co-star Judy Holliday in this film, in a blog post you can read here. What I didn’t talk about in that post was how great she is in the movie, on her own right. Written by husband and wife Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin, they would become lifelong friends of Hepburn and Tracy and Kanin would also go on to write an intimate biography on Hepburn and Tracy.

Interesting bit of trivia, in the memorable Tracy-Hepburn massage scene, a radio plays Frank Sinatra singing Cole Porter’s “Farewell, Amanda,” a gift to Amanda Bonner (played by Hepburn) from her songwriter-neighbor, Kip Lurie (played by David Wayne) who, earlier in the picture, had crooned the ditty, accompanying himself on the Bonners’ piano. While Adam Bonner (played by Tracy) is massaging his wife, he abruptly shuts off the radio. Sinatra is again heard when a record is accidentally started in a later scene. This prerecording of “Farewell, Amanda” is lost.

Jim Dale Has an Amazing Voice

 

There are some fantastic underrated actors out there. One of my all time favorites would be an British actor by the name of Jim Dale. He’s been nominated for many awards including an Oscar and a Golden Globe, but the biggest ones he won are 2 Grammies and a Tony. He’s most recognizable for his voice, but Adam and I just loved him in a series of Disney films in the late 1970’s.jim-dale-Petes Dragon

The first film was Pete’s Dragon in 1977. An orphan boy and his magical dragon come to town with his abusive adoptive parents in pursuit. Seems fitting because a non-musical remake of the film is coming out this month. But the original is a musical and we just love this film. Jim Dale plays the bad guy and con-artist Dr. Terminus, and does a great job singing, so it’s no surprise that he has been nominated for five Tony Awards, winning one for Barnum (1980) for which the New York Times described him as “The Toast of Broadway”, also winning the second of four Drama Desk Awards.hot-lead-and-cold-feet

The next film was the hilarious Hot Lead and Cold Feet in 1978. This saga of the old west involves twin brothers who compete for possession of a rickety cow town founded by their father while a crooked mayor tries to put an end to the competitors so he can inherit the town himself. He plays 3 separate roles in in the film, before it was popular to do this. Eddie Murphy made that popular later on in his films. He plays the two twins, Eli and Wild Billy as well as their father, Jasper. Fourth-billed and in a supporting role playing the Denver Kid was actor-comedian Don Knotts who had starred in a number of comic-westerns. Promotional materials for the movie more prominently promoted him as if he were in a lead major role. The film’s main movie poster for example featured an image of Knotts feature prominently in the optical center of the artwork. So I think it really hurt the film overall, as no one knew who this British actor was and every one I knew was waiting for Knotts to appear. Regardless, Jim Dale is still the stand-out in the film and does a fantastic job.Unidentified Flying Oddball

His last film for Disney again has him playing a villain in the Unidentified Flying Oddball in 1979. An astronaut and his android double travel back to the time of King Arthur. Dennis Dugan played the astronaut, as went on to a very success film career as a director for a lot of Adam Sandler movies. The film’s English “Unidentified Flying Oddball” title makes the picture one of few English language filmed adaptations of Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court not to be named with this title or something similar. Others include Black Knight (2001) and A Knight in Camelot (1998). The movie is commonly known in English language speaking territories by three titles: “The Spaceman and King Arthur”, “Unidentified Flying Oddball” and “A Spaceman in King Arthur’s Court”. About sixteen years after this picture in 1995, the Walt Disney Pictures studio would adapt again Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”, this time titling the film A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995). Ron Moody would also reprise his role as Merlin in this movie.Jim Dale and Harry Potter

Now after a lot of work in music, TV and movies, he really became well known for his voice work on the Harry Potter Series. He has recorded all seven books in the series as audiobooks, and as a narrator he has won two Grammy Awards in 2008 and 2001, and has seven Grammy nominations.  He also narrates the Harry Potter video games and many of the interactive “extras” on the Harry Potter DVD releases. So if you recognize him, it’s surely by that amazing voice of his. He held a Guinness World Record for creating and recording 134 different character voices for one audiobook, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Kenneth Mars, Brilliant Comedic Mind

 

Most people would probably recognize Kenneth Mars as the voice of King Triton in Disney’s The Little Mermaid. My brother and I loved him in What’s Up, Doc? as the Croatian Musicologist Hugh Simon. He was a brilliant comedic mind and had a flair for strange foreign accents. He was very versatile and had great parts in the movies, on TV, on Broadway and as a voice-over actor. He racked up over 200 credits before cancer took him in 2011.

To list his “must-see” films, I would definitely go to his big 3; The Producers (1967), What’s Up, Doc? (1972) and Young Frankenstein (1974) . In the Producers, the role of Franz Liebkind was originally given to Dustin Hoffman, but he eventually declined when he got the part of Benjamin in The Graduate (1967). Brooks only allowed Hoffman the chance to go off to the audition for the film because his wife (Anne Bancroft) was in it, and Brooks was familiar enough with the role of Benjamin to know Hoffman was utterly wrong for it (as written) and would never be cast. Great bit of luck for Kenneth Mars who inherited the role and even better luck for us, who got to watch him be utterly brilliant in it.  He was so good, Gene Wilder wondered if Kenneth Mars really was crazy throughout filming and not just acting because of some of his antics.Kenneth Mars the producers

I think it takes a special director comfortable with letting the performers loose during comedy that can bring out the best in some people.  Mel Brooks definitely had that ability. Another is Peter Bogdanovich, who directed Kenneth in What’s Up, Doc?. He was given the freedom on that film to completely make up a fake foreign language.  Much of Hugh Simon’s “foreign” language was Mars’ made-up interpretation of Serbo-Croatian, director Peter Bogdanovich’s native language. He was also a brilliant improviser. According to Peter Bogdanovich on the dvd commentary, the line ” I would like to say I love your hair”, spoken by Mars was improvised.Kenneth mars and Whats up doc

He would work again with Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein as the German Inspector Kemp. The movie has so many good actors (like Cloris Leachman, Gene Hackman, Madeline Kahn, Teri Garr, Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle) that nearly steal the scenes they are in, and Kenneth was no different. He’s fantastic. Interesting to note that he had strange accents in all of these movies, and after this third one, was known as the actor who could do foreign dialects, even though he made up most of the foreign languages and accents he did.kenneth mars and young frankenstein

Kenneth would go on to do over 30 years on TV and doing voices for a ton of cartoons.  In my opinion he was under-utilized over the years, even with over 200 credits. He was that good.

Babe Ruth, Actor

 

George Herman “Babe” Ruth acted in a few films over his lifetime, but a majority of these films could and should be considered propaganda films as they were “fictional” films about his life. It’s an interesting footnote in history that these films starred him, playing himself, but actually had no basis in real fact.

The first film was “Heading Home” (1920) and was spearheaded by the Yankees Organization as a PR stunt to present Babe Ruth as their upcoming “Star” player. The Yankees and Jacob Rupert purchased Babe from the Red Sox in 1919 and instantly went into production on the film and the publicity stunt worked.  The Babe is the main contributing factor for the success of the Yankee’s popularity and winning streak in the 20’s and 30’s.  The Yankee ownership and management really knew how to take full advantage of their “Star’s” image and presented a story that was complete hogwash.babe ruth heading home

The real story of his early upbringing is that he was raised on the Baltimore docks where his father ran a waterfront bar where young George was constantly exposed to the rowdy behavior and practices of merchant seamen and dockwallopers.  Inevitably, George became incorrigible as a result and his father was forced to turn him over to St Mary’s Industrial School for Boys there in Baltimore at the age of only 7.  He stayed there till he was 19 when local baseball scouts discovered him. In the film, “Heading Home”, the story is of a country boy who can’t get the hang of playing baseball and is the butt of jokes in his small town. But one day he gets mad and knocks a towering home run. Suddenly he is off and running to fame in the big leagues. When he returns to his home town, everyone sees that he is the same loveable fellow he was before. Hogwash.baberuth

Interesting to note that he had the single season home run record in 1919 at 29 home runs, when he was sold and broke that record the very next year when he hit an amazing 54 home runs the same season his first movie was released.  His next film would come 7 years later called, “Babe Comes Home” (1927) and would be produced after Babe has become a true sports star but before his legend status. It’s a real shame, but there are apparently no surviving copies of this film anywhere and would certainly be worth a mint if one was found, as it was released during his incredible 60 home run year.  No other player before had ever hit 60 home runs in one season, and many people thought it to be impossible. He actually was the only player in history to do so in the original 154 game season because when Roger Maris broke the record in 1961 the baseball season had changed to 162 games so he had 8 more games in which to score 1 more hit than Ruth.babe ruth 60th

As the Babe’s career was winding down in 1932, he managed to perform in a series of 5 short films about himself, again fictional, but very playful and fun.  Most of these featured kids as well.  This was also the year of his most famous hit, the “Called Shot” in the World Series where after 2 strikes he raised his bat to the center field wall and then at the very next pitch proceeded to hit a home run over the very same wall.  No one could say he didn’t know how to entertain a crowd!babe ruth lou gehrig

He retired from baseball in 1935 but goes on to his most famous cameo in “The Pride of the Yankees” (1942), with Gary Cooper staring as Lou Gehrig on a biography of his life. This film was released just 17 days after Lou Gehrig died of ALS.  Babe Ruth missed several days of shooting and filming during the production, because of his own illness. He would die of cancer 6 years later. It’s interesting to note, of course that Gary Cooper does fantastic, but In reality, Gary Cooper was decidedly not a fan of baseball and required extensive coaching in order to look even passable on a baseball diamond. In fact, he had never played the game before, even as a youth, and had never even seen a baseball game in person until he was hired for this film.  It was another Babe that helped him through the film, scenes requiring Cooper to throw a ball as a Yankee were filmed using his stand-in, Babe Herman. Babe Herman also was a technical advisor on the film and consulted with Cooper daily to get him prepared for the film.babe ruth pride of the yankees

Best Stunts of the Year List 1930-1939

 

The best movie stunts for the decade listed for 1930-1939 as talked about in the book 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts:

1930:  Canyon Hawks

Yakima Canutt shows off his guts in this one with a buckboard ride with horses straight down the side of a hill.  Crazy, but I bet it was a whole lot scarier in person.Canyon Hawks stunt

1931:  The Phantom

The prison break at the beginning of this movie is just fantastic and ends with a really great train to plane transfer.  The frustrating aspect is that back then they didn’t record who the stunt man was or who the stunt pilot was.  Many stunts in the movies were uncredited during this time of studio filmmaking.The Phantom Stunt

1932:  Air Mail

John Ford directed two films on this list during this decade, this film and Stagecoach.  He was a supporter of good stunts and usually filmed them himself.  Paul Mantz does some nifty flying in this picture, specifically he flies a Stearman plane through an airplane hanger.air-mail

1933:  The Fighter and the Lady

Before they fought for the actual title fight for the Heavyweight belt, they fought in this feature film.  Max Baer and Primo Carnera mix it up on screen here, and Max later said he beat Primo in the real fight by studying his moves for the movie.The Prizefighter and the Lady Stunt

1934:  Murder in the Clouds

This decade is ripe with plane stunts and this film has them in droves.  This one has some fancy aerial tricks and the stunt photographers should get just as much credit for these fantastic shots as the stunt pilots themselves.Murder in the Clouds Stunts

1935:  The Crusades

Cecil B. DeMille is famous for his grand epics, and this film started that process for him.  It has stuntmen and actors fighting in full armor for a huge war on several fronts.demille crusade

1936:  Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin was a very talented skater, and shows off his chops in this movie in a nifty little bit of tension added to the fact that he was doing it right next to a missing railing.  The danger was not real, but the skating sure is.  He’s also got a few nifty bits with a great big machine and a little one attached to the front of his chest.  Fun Stuff.modern

1937:  Wells Fargo

Ray Bunten and Richard Farnsworth, along with a slew of other uncredited stuntmen did a lot of work on this film.  It has a lot of cowboys falling off horses, wagons, rocks and just about anything that moves.  The scene at the end where the Wells Fargo wagon fights Indians have at least two dozens stunts in a ten minute period.Wells Fargo stunts

1938:  The Adventures of Robin Hood

Howard Hill was a world class Archer.  It’s him doing all the fancy bow and arrow stuff in this movie.  A nod also goes out to all the stuntmen that lined up to be shot in the chest by Howard!robinhowardhill2

1939:  Stagecoach

This one is a classic in the stunt world.  Yakima Canutt has a great stunt that he was perfecting in several movies at this time.  This one actually shows the first half of the stunt and was perfected in Zorro’s Fighting Legion the same year.  The nod goes to Stagecoach because it was first but really should be co-presented with the later picture.Yakima Stagecoach

 

To learn more about these films, please read about them and the great trivia behind the scenes in our book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM

Stunt Performers and the Crusades

 

Cecil B. DeMille was known for his grande spectacles. Along with the lavish sets and the grandeur of the cinematography comes these massive action scenes, with big armies fighting each other. On the movie poster, Cecil B. DeMille even says, “Cast of 10,000”. Just looking at all the stunt performers needed to make these scenes work as well as they do is mind boggling. That is why I honor these stunt performers here by acknowledging them here for the Best Movie Stunts for 1935.demille crusade

DeMille had a reputation for tyrannical behavior on the set, and he despised actors who were unwilling to take physical risks. Such was the case with Victor Mature in Samson and Delilah, when Mature refused to wrestle the lion, though the lion was tame and toothless. (DeMille remarked that Mature was “100% yellow”). Paulette Goddard’s refusal to risk personal injury in a scene involving fire in Unconquered cost her DeMille’s favor and probably a role in The Greatest Show on Earth. DeMille was, however, adept at directing “thousands of extras”, and many of his pictures included spectacular set pieces, such as the parting of the Red Sea in both versions of The Ten Commandments, the toppling of the pagan temple in Samson and Delilah, train wrecks in The Road to Yesterday, Union Pacific and The Greatest Show on Earth, and the destruction of a zeppelin in Madame Satan.Crusades Storyboard

Stuntman Jack Montgomery, who played a Christian cavalryman in the film, recalled in an interview the tension that existed between director Cecil B. DeMille and the dozens of stuntmen hired to do the battle scenes. The stuntmen resented what they saw as DeMille’s cavalier attitude about safety, especially as several stuntmen had been injured, because of what the stuntmen perceived as DeMille’s indifference. At one point DeMille was standing on the parapets of the castle, yelling through his megaphone at the “combatants” gathered below. One of them, who had been hired for his expertise at archery, finally tired of DeMille’s screaming at them, notched an arrow into his bow and fired it at DeMille’s megaphone, the arrow embedding itself into the megaphone just inches from DeMille’s head. DeMille quickly left the set and didn’t come back for the rest of the day. For the rest of the picture, he never yelled at the stuntmen again.The Crusades Stunts

The Crusades was directed by Cecil B. De Mille for Paramount Pictures.

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB page):

Cecil B. DeMille

Stunt Performers Listed on IMDB:

Harold Goodwin
Chuck Hamilton
Jack Montgomery
Spike Spackman
The Crusades

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!

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