Category Archives: 1936

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 Charlie Chan Films

 

There are a few movie detective series that are a lot of fun to watch over the years. The Falcon, The Saint, Mr. Moto, Mr. Wong, Bulldog Drummond, The Thin Man, and Philo Vance all come to mind as great series. But the most popular would have to be the Charlie Chan series. Charlie Chan was a Honolulu Detective of Chinese descent, created by author Earl Derr Biggers. He originally conceived of the benevolent and heroic Chan as an alternative to Yellow Peril stereotypes and villains like Dr. Fu Manchu. Interestingly enough, when Hollywood started making movies on the Detective, he never stayed in Honolulu, as his investigations usually took him all over the world, dragging one of his many sons with him.

The films started in the late 1920’s but were not popular at first. Many people think it was because Charlie Chan was played by Asian actors and just didn’t catch with American audiences, but I think it’s a lot more simple than that, I think they weren’t given a proper chance as those Charlie Chan’s were only barely in the first 3 films. They all appeared late in the films, or only in several scenes or just coming in at the very end. So, I think that would be the main reason. Regardless, Charlie Chan didn’t take off until several years later for the first time when Swedish actor Warner Oland played him in Charlie Chan Carries On in 1931. It’s the first movie to include his name in the title and featured him as the main character. He became a huge hit and the studios never went back to casting the proper Asian actor for the role after that, attributing some or all of the success to the fact that the actor was Caucasian. It is however, one of the major contributions to turning OFF modern day audiences to what is otherwise a fantastic and fun series.

There were over 48 Charlie Chan movies in the series, not to mention several made in other languages. Warner Oland started playing Charlie Chan for 16 movies and then he died unexpectedly and Sydney Toler took over the role for 22 movies and then Roland Winters finished the role for 6 movies.

Here are my Top 15 Charlie Chan films:

15.  Charlie Chan at the Circus (1936)Charlie Chan at the Circus

While visiting the circus with his family, Charlie is recruited by the big top’s co-owner to investigate threatening letters that he’s received.

This one has a lot of great elements with Warner Oland playing Chan and Keye Luke (my favorite) playing number 1 son. One of the only times you’ll see the entire Chan family together in the series. This one also features the actor J. Carrol Naish who would appear in other popular mysteries at the time (Mr. Moto and Bulldog Drummond) with Think Fast, Mr. Moto, Bulldog Drummond Comes Back and Bulldog Drummond in Africa. He would also go on to play Charlie Chan himself in the 1957 TV Series, The New Adventures of Charlie Chan, which would go on for 39 episodes. I haven’t seen it, but I hear it’s great.

14.  Charlie Chan in Rio (1941)charlie-chan-i-rio-(1941)

On the trail of a singer who killed the man she loved in Honolulu, Charlie finds her stabbed to death when he ultimately catches up to her in Rio.

With Sydney Toler as Chan and number 2 son played by the excellent, Victor Sen Yung, this one is one of the first ones I ever saw. I became hooked immediately. Interestingly enough, one of the characters mentions Bulldog Drummond two times in this movie. It’s the actress Mary Ann Hughes, who would play a character a couple of times on the Thin Man TV Show years later. Also interesting is that a director early on in the series, Hamilton McFadden, who directed The Black Camel, Charlie Chan Carries On, Charlie Chan’s Greatest Case and co-direct Charlie Chan in Paris, acts as a character in this film.

13.  Dead Men Tell (1941)Dead Men Tell

A treasure map in four pieces, the ghost of a hanged pirate, a talking parrot, and a ship full of red herrings complicate Charlie’s search for a murderer on board a docked ship.

Directed by Harry Lachman, who would direct 5 of the movies from the series and my favorite director, as all 5 of his movies made my list!  The last 3 I just mentioned and 2 more to come. He was a former illustrator, painter, set designer and then director, so his design aesthetic was top notch. His artworks can be seen in such museums as Spain’s Prado and the Luxembourg Museum. George Reeves, who played Superman on TV was also in this film. He was shot to death a few years later, I write about it in a blog here>>>

12.  Charlie Chan in Reno (1939)Charlie Chan in Reno

Mary Whitman, an old friend of Charlie’s in Reno for a divorce, finds herself accused of murdering the woman her husband planned to marry after the decree became final.

Kane Richmond has a nice part in this one, he was an actor/stuntman known for the Spy Smasher series a few years later. I talk about him and the stunts in a blog post here>>> He would do 3 Charlie Chan films, and yes they all just happen to be on my list. When the series does some thing right, they do have a tendency to try and duplicate what makes them so good, hence the reason why several people work on multiples in the series. Ricardo Cortez is of note as well. He was the first one to star as Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon years before Humphrey Bogart made the part his own. He also appeared in Mr. Moto’s Last Warning and 2 Charlie Chan films. Also in this are Morgan Conway (Dick Tracy in two RKO films in the mid-1940’s) and Robert Lowery (Batman in the Columbia serial The Adventures of Batman and Robin in 1948).

11.  Charlie Chan at the Opera (1936)charlie-chan-at-the-opera

A dangerous amnesiac escapes from an asylum, hides in the opera house, and is suspected of getting revenge on those who tried to murder him 13 years ago.

Warner Oland and Keye Luke are at it again, this time with Boris Karloff and William Demarest added in for good measure. Stage manager Maurice Cass vows that the opera will go on “even if Frankenstein walks in!” Audiences were well aware that this in-joke referred to star Boris Karloff, who was in the theater at the time. The unique billing listed Warner Oland vs. Boris Karloff above the title. Karloff had turned down the title role in Werewolf of London (1935), which would have pitted him against his current co-star, Warner Oland, who is also in that movie. The Werewolf part was ultimately played by Henry Hull. Boris Karloff is also unique in that he also played an Asian Detective later, that of Mr Wong in 4 mysteries in 1939-1940 (The Mystery of Mr. Wong, Mr. Wong in Chinatown, The Fatal Hour and Doomed to Die).  All of these are excellent films in their own right.

You’d recognize William Demarest best for his role of Uncle Charley in My Three Sons (1965-1972).

10.  Castle in the Desert (1942)charlie-chan-in-castle-in-the-desert-poster

Charlie Chan investigates apparent poisonings at a mystery mansion in the Mojave Desert.

Back to Toler and Victor Sen Yung for this movie. To talk about Victor Sen Yung for a second, he would come into the series after Warner Oland died and after Keye Luke left as number 1 son…Victor came on board as #2 son and would reprise his role a total of 17 more times.  Goes on to portray the cook Hop SIng on the TV Show Bonanza for 109 episodes. He really was an accomplished Cantonese cook and penned the book “Great Wok Cookbook” in 1974.

9.  Charlie Chan at the Race Track (1936)charlie-chan-at-the-race-track

When a friend of Charlie’s is found kicked to death by his own race horse on board a Honolulu-bound liner, the detective discovers foul play and uncovers an international gambling ring.

Now Keye Luke as Number 1 son was also an accomplished artist. He did several production drawings for the Charlie Chan movie series. Some of his work is still in Hollywood’s Graumann’s Chinese Theater (the garden fairytale setting murals on the interior of Grauman’s Chinese Theater and the Chinese Theater massive auditorium ceiling). He specialized in murals. Examples of his work can also be seen in the films The Shanghai Gesture (1941) and Macao (1952).

The only time that number 1 son Keye Luke and number 2 son Victor Sen Yung would be together on screen was in The Feathered Serpent (Roland Winter as Charlie Chan). Almost 40 years after he played Lee Chan to the Charlie Chans of Warner Oland and Roland Winters, he took a turn at playing Charlie Chan himself, providing his voice in the Hanna-Barbera animated CBS-TV series The Amazing Chan and the Chan Clan (1972). Among those who provided the voices of his children were Jodie Foster and Robert Ito.motogambleluke

Interesting to note that there is another film that is not a Charlie Chan film where Keye Luke plays number 1 son Lee Chan again and that is in 1938’s Mr. Moto’s Gamble (1938) opposite Peter Lorre, which was intended as a Chan picture, before Oland’s absence forced the studio to hurriedly rewrite the script as a Moto feature.

Another interesting note, he had the distinction of being the only Asian actor to play a lead Asian detective in the 1930/1940s era. He played Mr. Wong in Phantom of Chinatown (1940) for Monogram. It was the final film in the Mr. Wong Detective series and he took over the role from none other than Boris Karloff, who I mentioned in Charlie Chan at the Opera.

8.  Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise (1940)Murder cruise

Charlie tries to discover the identity of a strangler who strikes multiple times on a cruise ship bound from Honolulu to California.

This is the last of the Chan films directed by Eugene Forde, and I think his best, even though his others are very good ones in the series as well. Number 2 son Victor Sen Yung and Number 3 son Laynie Tom Jr. (just to clairify, I’m numbering the sons based on their appearances and popularity in the series, their numbers are not official, it just makes it easy to identify them) appear together in this one as well as Charlie Chan in Honolulu (1938), Sydney Toler’s 1st Chan movie.  Lionel Atwill is a standout in this film, and he also appeared in another Chan film, Charlie Chan in Panama (look at number 5 on this list) and he also appeared in Mr Moto Takes a Vacation (1939) and as Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942) and as Dr. Mortimer in The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939).

7.  Charlie Chan Carries On / Eran Trece (1931)Eran-Trece-Opening-Credit

Charlie steps in to solve the murder of a wealthy American found dead in a London hotel. Settings include London, Nice, San Remo, Honolulu and Hong Kong.

I should be up front and mention that Charlie Chan Carries On is considered a LOST FILM, but the screenplay is still out there and Fox filmed a Spanish-language version of this film, using many of the same sets, using a Spanish-speaking cast, and was released under the title Eran Trece (There Were Thirteen). This used many of the same pieces of stock footage as the English-language version and the script was expanded somewhat based on the English-language script. This Spanish-language version is available as a bonus feature on the DVD release of Charlie Chan in Shanghai (1935), which is where I saw the film.  Eran Trece stars Manuel Arbo as Charlie Chan. Interestingly enough, they did the same thing that year with Dracula (1931) and he was in the Spanish version of that film as well.  Both of the Spanish versions of these films are mentioned to be far superior than their English counterparts…Manuel Arbo as Charlie Chan

This is the only Spanish-language film in the entire original Chan series and the only one that doesn’t feature Warner Oland as Charlie Chan. There were no other foreign-language Charlie Chan films made by Hollywood after this one because, shortly after this movie came out, a method of putting sound on the actual film was developed, and so voice dubbing became more practical.

6.  Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940)Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum

An escaped convicted murderer hides out at a New York wax museum where he hopes to get plastic surgery, which will help him revenge himself on Charlie Chan.

John Francis Larkin would probably be my favorite of all the screenwriters that have written a Chan films over the years, as he has written 5 of the films on this list! He has this one, Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum, then Charlie Chan at Treasure Island, Charlie Chan in Panama, Dead Men Tell and Castle in the Desert. He comes up with some of the most unusual plots throughout the series and always has a great locale.

5.  Charlie Chan in Panama (1940)Charlie Chan in Panama

Inspector Chan investigates a group of travelers, one of whom is a saboteur.

Again, this one has a lot of the elements I love; Toler, Luke, Richmond, Atwill– all the people I mentioned before and they throw Jean Rogers into the mix.  She is most immediately known for being Dale Arden in two of the better Flash Gordon serials and had a nice role in Ace Drummond.

4.  Charlie Chan on Broadway (1937)charlie-chan-on-broadway-1937

Returning from European exile where she avoided testifying against her criminal associates, a former singer with a tell-all diary is murdered to ensure her silence.

When photographer Joan Wendell (Joan Marsh) first walks into the newspaper building, a man at a desk says “you just think you can”. That man is horror icon Lon Chaney Jr, in an un-credited cameo. Also, of interest to filmmakers, an early example of product placement, a bottle of Bayer aspirin is shown on a table.harold-huber-Mr-Motos-Gamble

A notable entry in this one is character actor Harold Huber, who pops up in several mystery movie series at the time including 4 Charlie Chan movies; Charlie Chan on Broadway, City in Darkness, Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo and Charlie Chan in Rio.  He also appears in the first The Thin Man movie as well as 2 Mr. Moto films with Mr Moto’s Gamble and The Mysterious Mr. Moto. Although, he never plays the same character twice in any of his movies. He’s great, and he also played Hercule Poirot and Dr. Fun Manchu on the radio!

3.  Charlie Chan at Treasure Island (1939)charlie-chan-at-treasure-island

Charlie’s investigation of a phony psychic during the 1939 World Exposition on San Francisco’s Treasure Island leads him to expose a suicide as murder.

Cesar Romero appears in this one!  He’s a very well known actor, but if you need me to jog your memory just think of The Joker from the Batman TV Show. The Treasure Island referred to in the title is a man-made island in San Francisco Bay that was built in 1936 & 1937 in anticipation of it hosting the Golden Gate International Exposition of 1939 & 1940. After the fair closed the U.S. Navy used the site for many years. Since the 1980’s the site has been used by many film & television production companies with aircraft hangars 2 & 3 converted to sound stages. I love the atmosphere of this entry.

2. Charlie Chan at the Olympics (1937)Charlie-Chan-at-the-Olympics-Laynie Tom Jr

When a strategically important new aerial guidance system is stolen, Charlie traces it to the Berlin Olympics, where he has to battle spies and enemy agents to retrieve it.

The only time that Number 1 son Keye Luke and Number 3 son, Laynie Tom Jr. would appear together, making it so that all 3 of the main sons worked together at least 1 time each throughout the series.

This one is very interesting as the Olympics in the movie is in Germany, during the Nazi reign. The film features actual footage from the 1936 Berlin Olympics. There is also a scene where Charlie crosses the Atlantic in the Hindenburg. Stock footage of the dirigible Hindenburg was retouched, frame by frame, to blot out the swastikas emblazoned on the airship’s tail.

1  Murder Over New York (1940)Murder-Over-New-York-Charlie-Chan

When Charlie’s old friend from Scotland Yard is murdered when they attend a police convention in New York, Chan picks up the case he was working on.

This one is written by Lester Ziffren, who wrote only 4 Charlie Chan movies and yes, as expected, all 4 made it on my list. Like I said, I seem to like certain elements in the series. He also wrote Charlie Chan in Rio, Charlie Chan’s Murder Cruise, and Charlie Chan in Panama.  Before he wrote screenplays, he was reporter for United Press. Was among the first journalists to report the start of the Spanish Civil War. He sent a coded message past Spanish censors to break the news of the Spanish Civil War to the rest of the world; after leaving Spain just ahead of the troops of Francisco Franco, Ziffren went to Hollywood where he got a job writing movie screenplays through the influence of his new bride’s uncle, Sol M. Wurtzel.

Now, you are probably wondering why I left out Mantan Moreland, a very notable character actor who appeared as Birmingham Brown in 15 Charlie Chan films. Just to set some history: Birmingham Brown is a character from the Monogram Pictures entries of the Charlie Chan series of films introduced between 1944 and 1949. He was a combination chauffeur, side-kick, and trusted assistant. Oftentimes jittery, sometimes bug-eyed, and always superstitious, Birmingham Brown was forever warning the members of the Chan clan to stay away from an obviously dangerous case or situation. The character was brilliantly portrayed by the creative, comedic actor Mantan Moreland.charlie-chan-service-secret

Now with that said, none of those 15 movies made my list, so I wasn’t able to talk directly about him, but he’s such a standout in the series, I thought he should at least be mentioned in the blog. He’s very good, but at times, I thought those films just got to be a little too silly for my taste and I prefer the earlier entries. He plays especially well with Victor Sen Yung, although, so they are still fun to watch.

Another great actor from the series that hasn’t gotten a mention yet is the awesome Benson Fong. I’ve loved him as an actor over the years and he appears technically as Number 4 son, even though he would be older than Laynie Tom Jr., but is Number 4 on appearance in the series. He appears in 7 Charlie Chan films, only 6 of them as a Chan clan member, as in Charlie Chan at the Opera, he only appears as an extra in the background. You can see a picture of Benson Fong in the picture I posted from Charlie Chan in the Secret Service.

The Thin Man and Dashiell Hammett

 

The Thin Man” was never meant to be a series of films, let’s get that straight right up front. The title doesn’t make reference to Nick or Nora Charles, the two main characters in the series, it makes reference to the murder victim in the first film.  The successful pairing of Myrna Loy and William Powell and the incredible characters they play are what influenced the creation of a mystery series moving forward, with the Thin Man moniker connecting the films together, even though he never appears in the series again.

The Thin Man was originally the creation of author Dashiell Hammett, one of my all time favorites…so much so that I named one of my dogs after him. It was published first in the magazine Redbook in December 1933 and then came out in book form a month later. Now, he wrote just the one novel for the Thin Man, but submitted script drafts for 2 of the screenplays that followed for After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man and later in 2012 these two screenplays were turned into novellas for the book Return of the Thin Man. I thoroughly enjoyed his original 5 published novels, his screenplays as well as these later works published by his estate.Dashiell Hammett

MGM loved the writing of Dashiell Hammett as well and went instantly into production on the movie as soon as the book was released and hired W.S. Van Dyke to direct and William Powell and Myrna Loy as the married detectives Nick and Nora Charles. Now a lot of the popularity of the series has to do with the pairing of these two actors who went on to do 14 films together with the The Thin Man series being only 6 of them, but I would like to add that it was another real married couple that has a lot to do with the popularity of the series and they never get the credit that is due them.  It is the writers Albert Hackett and wife Francis Goodrich who would write and rewrite the first 3 movies and arguable the best of the series. They were wonderful writers in their own right and would go on to write the classics; It’s A Wonderful Life, the 2 Father Of The Bride movies, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers and of course, won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for Drama for The Diary Of Anne Frank. The Hacketts were one of the most successful screenwriting partnerships in Hollywood history. From the time they got married in 1931, until their retirement in 1962, they turned out in excess of 30 scripts, mostly comedies and musicals.Hackett and Goodrich

Director W. S. Van Dyke (One-Take Woody) was given 3 weeks to shoot the film and he surprised everyone by bringing it in under budget and in only 12 days! It was a major hit at the box office and brought in 6 times it’s budget when it was released originally to theaters. I posted before about the film The Prizefighter and the Lady, which was directed by W.S. Van Dyke and starred Myrna Loy. He also directed Loy and William Powell in Manhattan Melodrama and because of the success of The Thin Man would direct them in 4 of the sequels. William Powell spoke of how much he loved working with Myrna Loy because of her naturalness, her professionalism, and her lack of any kind of “diva” temperament. “When we did a scene together, we forgot about technique, camera angles, and microphones. We weren’t acting. We were just two people in perfect harmony,” he said. “Myrna, unlike some actresses who think only of themselves, has the happy faculty of being able to listen while the other fellow says his lines. She has the give and take of acting that brings out the best.” W.S. Van Dyke paid attention to William Powell and Myrna Loy’s easy banter between takes and their obvious enjoyment of each other’s company and worked it into the movie. The director often encouraged and incorporated improvisation and off-the-cuff details into the picture.Powell, William (After the Thin Man)

Although the “Thin Man” of the title was the murdered man, Clyde Wynant, fans of the picture and the subsequent series began to refer to the Nick Charles character as “The Thin Man,” and all subsequent films included “The Thin Man” in their titles.  After the Thin Man (1936) was the second film in the series and reunited the 2 leads with their director and added James Stewart to the cast. Though William Powell and Myrna Loy were very close friends off-screen, their only romantic moments together occurred on-screen. The public, however, was determined to have them married in private life as well. When the two stars showed up in San Francisco (where most of this film was shot) at the St. Francis, the hotel management proudly showed “Mr. and Mrs. Powell” to their deluxe suite. This was an especially uncomfortable moment as Jean Harlow, who was engaged to Powell, was with them, and the couple had not made a public statement about their relationship. Harlow saved the day by insisting on sharing the suite with Loy: “That mix-up brought me one of my most cherished friendships,” Loy said in “Being and Becoming”, her autobiography. “You would have thought Jean and I were in boarding school we had so much fun. We’d stay up half the night talking and sipping gin, sometimes laughing, sometimes discussing more serious things.” Meanwhile, Powell got the hotel’s one remaining room – a far humbler accommodation downstairs.after-the-thin-man-herald-02-large

The next film was Another Thin Man (1939), and again featured the same writers, director and lead actors Loy and Powell. Two tragedies befell William Powell before the making of this film: the unexpected death of his fiancé Jean Harlow, and a difficult battle with colon cancer that required colon bypass surgery and new radiation treatments. Production of this “Thin Man” movie was delayed as a result, but Powell and Loy were given a standing ovation when he finally returned to join her on the set for filming.  Shadow of the Thin Man (1941) followed a few years later without the writers Hammet, Hackett and Goodrich.   Living up to his nickname, One-Take Woody, W.S. Van Dyke filmed this one in just 2 weeks.shadow-of-the-thin-man-print-ad-03-large

The Thin Man Goes Home (1945) was next and absent was director W.S. Van Dyke.  A lot was changed due to the war, for example the heavy drinking in the film series was curtailed in this entry due to wartime liquor rationing and the film was delayed because Loy went to New York to marry car rental heir John Hertz Jr. and was busy working for the Red Cross war effort. 2 years after that came the last one in the series, The Song of the Thin Man (1947).  This one is fun due to the appearance of incredible character actor Keenan Wynn and little Dean Stockwell as Nick Charles Jr. Ten years later would come a delightful TV Show of The Thin Man (1957), starring Peter Lawford as Nick and Phyllis Kirk as Nora. I miss Powell and Loy to be sure, but the TV show is fun and has a great tone unique all to itself. I think it’s a worthy mention in the series. You also have to wonder if the series was an inspiration to Hart To Hart (1979) with Robert Wagner and Stephanie Powers that came later.  I loved that show as well.the-thin-man-Kirk-Lawford

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

Charlie Chaplin and Modern Times

 

This one is mentioned here because of the sheer physicality of the role of the tramp in this film. With the machine scene and the skating, what he performs here is utterly amazing. This type of stuff would not be done with a live person today as he did it then, but with CGI.

Modern Times StuntsCharlie Chaplin had taken to the roller skates before in 1916’s The Rink, but his crowning moment on the little wheels came in this classic. He and Paulette Goddard don the skates in the fourth floor toy room of a department store and he glides around ever-so-gracefully, blindfolded, right next to a precipice, while gorgeous gamin’ Goddard stumbles around trying to warn him. It’s classic. And still hair-raising! The effect, however, was created using a matte, so there was actually no huge drop and no risk to the actor. His blindfold, meanwhile, was a see-through mesh. But he did all the skating himself — devoting a whopping eight days to the short scene.modern

Modern Times was directed by Charlie Chaplin for Charles Chaplin Productions.

Things to look up (go to IMDB page):

History of film companies as defined by Wikipedia:  Charlie Chaplin Studios is a motion picture studio built in 1917 by silent and sound film star Charlie Chaplin just south of the southeast corner of La Brea and Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California.

After being sold by Chaplin in 1953, the property went through several changes in ownership and has served at various times as Kling Studios, the Red Skelton Studios, the shooting location for the Adventures of Superman and Perry Mason television series, and as the headquarters for A&M Records and Jim Henson Productions. In 1969, it was designated as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument.

Check out our new Book, 100 Years of the Best Movie Stunts!Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 8.23.28 PM