I Was a Male War Bride

Marian Marshall, Cary Grant, Ann Sherida in I Was a Male War Bride

I Was a Male War Bride, 1949, 20th Century Fox. Starring Cary Grant, Ann Sheridan. Directed by Howard Hawks. B&W, 105 minutes.

In post-WWII Germany, French Army Captain Henri Rochard (Cary Grant) is given the assignment of tracking down a German lens maker in nearby Bad Nauheim. Assisting him in his travels is American Army Lieutenant Catherine Gates (Ann Sheridan), whom Henri has met before under apparently less than desirable circumstances. Despite protests from both Henri and Catherine, their assignments stand, and they head off together to the German town.

The two encounter one obstacle after another, until, to their surprise, a bond develops. They arrive back from their journey engaged to be married, but new complications arise. Catherine is now assigned stateside, and for Henri to follow her back, he must qualify as a war bride — or rather, the “Alien Spouse of Female Military Personnel Enroute to the United States Under Public Law 271 of the Congress.”

Ann Sheridan, Cary Grant in I Was a Male War Bride
Ann Sheridan, Cary Grant

This is a slower paced comedy than many of director Howard Hawks’ earlier works, such as His Girl Friday or Bringing Up Baby, but it works. Hawks said in later interviews he wasn’t interested in “female impersonation” as a comedy tool, but he found Grant’s portrayal of a war bride acceptable because “he was so masculine.” Indeed, the most comic element of Henri dressed as a woman is the ludicrous nature of trying to turn Cary Grant into someone ladylike.

While he may not have looked to female impersonation for comedy, role reversal was a common element in many of Hawks’ films. In His Girl Friday, he changed the entire tone of the film by making the lead character a woman, instead of a man as originally written, and introducing romance to the plot. In To Have and Have Not, he presented Lauren Bacall as the more powerful of the two lead characters, although arguably it is difficult to see Humphrey Bogart as weak in any way.

Hawks also spoke to the challenge of bringing out the humor in some of the scenes. “We had a scene where Cary had to answer all kinds of ridiculous questions, such as “you ever had female trouble? We looked forward to making that scene, but when we did, it wasn’t funny at all. We got the idea that maybe a man like that would be amused at the sergeant having to ask him these silly questions. ‘Female trouble? Nothing but.'” With that switch in attitude, the scene worked.

Ann Sheridan Cary Grant in I Was a Male War Bride
Ann Sheridan, Cary Grant

Ann Sheridan, an often underrated actress, is thoroughly delightful as the “military personnel” who, in addition to the difficulty of getting her new husband home, is frustrated by the difficulty of spending so much as a single night alone with him. The sexual tension in this film is played for all it’s worth right from the beginning, despite the Production Code restrictions in place. It is indicative of the loosening of Code standards, which was starting to unravel at this time.

Like Cary Grant, this film is charming and disarming, and the humor holds up today. It is based on one man’s true life story of being a “male war bride,” and for the most part, the situations don’t bend the limits of reality too far beyond belief. Grant as a woman may be the notable exception, but that’s also one of the funniest parts of the movie, so it’s easy to overlook.

 

As of July 24, 2017, “I Was a Male War Bride” is scheduled to air on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on Sunday, August 20, at 4:00 p.m. ET/3:00 p.m. CT. Scheduling is subject to change; check TCM’s schedule for the latest information.

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The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946)

Lana Turner, John Garfield in The Postman Always Rings Twice

The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Starring Lana Turner, John Garfield, Cecil Kellaway, Hume Cronyn. Directed by Tay Garnett. B&W, 113 minutes.

Frank Chambers (John Garfield) is a drifter who chances on a rural diner, owned by Nick Smith (Cecil Kellaway) and his seductive young wife, Cora (Lana Turner). Before Frank can even sit down for his first meal at their diner, Nick has offered him a job.

Nick is blissfully unaware of the sparks between his wife and hired hand, and has no idea the two are having an affair and planning to kill him. Their first attempt fails, but eventually, they try again, and this time they succeed.

It’s up to attorney Arthur Keats (Hume Cronyn), with his less-than-honorable methods, to keep Cora out of jail. Frank somehow is never suspected, but his worries aren’t over. It’s a troubled road Cora and Frank must continue to travel.

John Garfield Lana Turner The Postman Always Rings Twice
John Garfield, Lana Turner

This was considered one of Lana Turner’s best roles, which admittedly is not saying much, as most of her career was marked by so-called “blonde bombshell” parts, requiring less of her than the challenge playing Cora presented. She proved herself capable of a strong dramatic role, however, and gave a genuine performance as the conflicted woman seeking more.

Garfield’s understated presence is a precursor to the method acting that became so popular only a short time after this film was made. There’s no doubt what Frank is thinking at any moment, yet that understanding doesn’t come through words. It is in his expressions and subtle movements that Garfield communicates Frank’s story.

As a member of The Group Theater, a theater collective whose founding members included Lee Strasberg, it’s not surprising Garfield developed the skill to communicate emotion, vulnerability and strength together in the same glance or quiet move. His own rebellious nature comes through in this film as well, adding to the layers of depth for the character of Frank Chambers.

Hume Cronyn, Lana Turner in The Postman Always Rings Twice
Hume Cronyn, Lana Turner

The film was well received by both critics and audiences. The critic for The New York Times wrote, “In its surface aspects, “The Postman” appears no more than a melodramatic tale, another involved demonstration (two hours in length) that crime does not pay. But the artistry of writers and actors have made it much more than that; it is, indeed, a sincere comprehension of an American tragedy. For the yearning of weak and clumsy people for something better than the stagnant lives they live is revealed as the core of the dilemma, and sin is shown to be no way to happiness.”

This is not a perfect movie; it starts out a bit slowly and ends on a melodramatic note somewhat out of tempo with the rest of the film. The courtroom scenes, however, particularly the part of the calculating, suitably amoral attorney played by Hume Cronyn, are gripping.

For fans of film noir, this is a must see, and for fans of classic films in general, this one is worth the watch if for no other reason than the strong performances of the entire cast, as well as the twist in the tale of crime and punishment, a borderline unacceptable plot element for movies of that time.

Wife vs. Secretary

myrna-loy-clark-gable-jean-harlow-star-in-wife-vs-secretary

Wife vs. Secretary, 1936, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Starring Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow. Directed by Clarence Brown. B&W, 87 minutes.

It’s the Stanhope’s third anniversary, and husband Jake (Clark Gable), known to his colleagues as Van, has given his loving wife Linda (Myrna Loy) a diamond bracelet. Jake has just returned from vacation, and everyone in his life, it seems, is glad to see him again.

It’s quite clear the saucy Linda is the happiest, especially after a night of romance with her loving husband.

Other women in his life are glad to see him as well, including his secretary, Helen (Jean Harlow), who goes by Whitey. The two seemingly have a chaste, professional relationship, and Whitey has a serious boyfriend, Dave, (James Stewart), who works hard to keep her happy. Despite the clear lack of any danger signals, Linda’s mother Mimi (May Robson) sees trouble — and the experience and instincts of age may be working in her favor.

When Jake is faced with a sensitive business dealing, he’s forced to keep everyone except Whitey in the dark about his plans. The stage is set for one misunderstanding after another, and of course, that’s exactly what happens.

clark-gable-myrna-loy-in-wife-vs-secretary
Clark Gable, Myrna Loy

Myrna Loy had a great deal of affection for her female co-star, Jean Harlow, who was looking to change her image. “She wanted to darken her hair a shade, in hopes of toning down that brash image. It worked. She’s really wonderful in that picture and her popularity wasn’t diminished one bit. We did kind of a reversal in that picture. Jean stayed very proper, while I had one foot in bed throughout.”

Loy also spoke to Clark Gable’s sex symbol status. “Clark suffered so much from the macho thing that love scenes were difficult. He kept very reserved, afraid to be sensitive for fear it would counteract his image.”

jean-harlow-james-stewart
Jean Harlow, James Stewart

The New York Times critic generally praised the film, with some hand-slapping about placing Loy against Harlow in a battle for a man, saying Loy “enters the ring with glazed eyes, a crutch and one hand strapped behind her back—metaphorically of course.” As brazenly sexy as Harlow was, that imagery may not hold up today, when Loy’s appeal is perhaps more fully appreciated. Overall, the Times critic wrote,”the film has been richly produced, directed competently by Clarence Brown and is well played—within the handicaps of their roles—by Miss Harlow, Miss Loy and by Mr. Gable.”

This pre-code film showcases some of the top talent of the day in a pleasant comedy filled with innuendo and yes, a predictable ending, but one that’s entertaining in the path to that end. The value is in the cast and their strength on the screen, as well as a decent script and solid direction.

 

The Letter (1940)

Gale Sondergaard, Bette Davis in The Letter

The Letter, 1940, Warner Bros. Starring Bette Davis, Herbert Marshall, James Stephenson. Directed by William Wyler. B&W, 95 minutes.

On a Singapore rubber plantation, shots ring out on a languid moonlit night. Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis) has coolly shot a man dead, dropped the gun and related a story of attempted rape to her husband Robert (Herbert Marshall), his attorney Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) and the local British constable.

While she is sent to the Singapore prison to await trial, there seems to be little doubt of the outcome. No one expects Leslie to pay a high price for killing this man she claims she barely knew. The dead man’s imposing and exotic widow, however, is in possession of a letter that could turn the tide.

In attempting to obtain that letter, Howard Joyce is first torn between honor and saving his client, then must face his client’s husband with the compromise, a half-truth that comes back to haunt him after the trial is over. Leslie, too, must face the repercussions of of her decisions, past and present.

Bette Davis, James Stephenson star in The Letter
Bette Davis, James Stephenson

Davis once again shows her ability to fully communicate to her audience with only nuanced movements and shades of expression, and Stephenson is compelling as the conflicted attorney. This tale of calculated malevolence received seven Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress (Davis), Best Supporting Actor (Stephenson), Best Original Music Score, Best Film Editing and Best Cinematography, Black and White. It won none, but was critically acclaimed and immensely popular with audiences.

In fact, the film critic for The New York Times commended William Wyler for his superb direction and further wrote, “It is an evil tale, plotted with an eye to its torturing effects. And Mr. Wyler has directed the film along those lines. With infinite care, he has created the dark, humid atmosphere of the rubber country. At a slow, inexorable pace, he has accumulated the details. His camera generally speaks more eloquently than any one in the picture.”

Not everyone was in complete agreement with all of Wyler’s direction, however. Davis famously walked off the set in disagreement over his decision about how to shoot the final scene between Leslie and her husband. Years later, when Davis was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, Wyler joked at the ceremony that if she had the chance she would “drop everything at that very moment to redo a scene in The Letter.” She nodded an enthusiastic “yes.”

Herbert Marshall, Bette Davis in The Letter
Herbert Marshall, Bette Davis

The dead man’s Eurasian widow was played brilliantly by Gale Sondergaard, with barely a word spoken and a mask-like visage looking out over each scene laid before her. The Asian character actors played their subservient parts with nominal caricature, somewhat surprising given the era and the film industry’s tendency at the time to rely on such techniques.

Based on the play by W. Somerset Maugham, The Letter had been made into a movie once before, in 1929. The play itself had been inspired by the real-life story of Ethel Proudlock, a Eurasian woman married to the British headmaster of a private school in Kuala Lampur who shot a man when he paid her a visit. She claimed self-defense, and was first sentenced to death, then pardoned.

This is a gripping melodrama, with fine performances and the moody backdrop of an exotic locale.  It is a story that would have been more powerful without some of the code restrictions of the day, however, Wyler made it work. Some DVD versions provide an alternate ending that is said to be truer to Davis’ vision of those final scenes; watch it and cast your vote for the better choice.

The Feminine Touch (1941)

Van Heflin, Kay Francis, Rosalind Russell, Don Ameche in The Feminine Touch

The Feminine Touch, 1941, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Starring Don Ameche, Rosalind Russell, Kay Francis, Van Heflin. Directed by W. S. Van Dyke, B&W, 97 minutes.

Professor John Hathaway (Don Ameche) is exasperated by his students, in particular the star football player, who would rather flirt with the professor’s wife, Julie (Rosalind Russell), than study. Julie doesn’t take the young man’s advances too seriously, but she is bothered by her husband’s lack of concern about the attention she gets from men.

The professor isn’t likely to get jealous, however. As his book will tell you, jealousy has no place in a healthy marriage.

He’s working to get that book published, and visits publisher Elliott Morgan (Van Heflin) to show him the manuscript. Morgan’s assistant, Nellie Woods (Kay Francis) is in love with her boss, but that doesn’t stop her from pursuing the professor. For his part, Hathaway, either unaware or unconcerned about Morgan’s evident interest in wife, has suggested those two spend time together.

Morgan more than takes him at his word. When Hathaway is mistakenly arrested for lascivious behavior on the subway, Morgan leaps on the opportunity to move in on Julie.

Don Ameche, Rosalind Russell in The Feminine Touch
Don Ameche, Rosalind Russell

Critics at the time noted the film ran a little long, with The New York Times critic writing, “the film has many too many lines, but they do have a sort of dizzy spin to them, and Miss Russell knows how to deliver them mischievously.”

The “dizzy spin” could be attributed in part to Ogden Nash’s part in writing the script. The author and poet was known for his dry wit and deadpan humor, and fans of the understated will particularly appreciate this movie.

Van Heflin, Kay Francis in The Feminine Touch
Van Heflin, Kay Francis

This was Van Heflin’s first role for MGM after a mediocre career at RKO Studios and a run on Broadway in The Philadelphia Story, where he played the role of Macauley Connor. That accolade was used by MGM to promote The Feminine Touch, despite Heflin’s distinctly “un-Macauley-like” demeanor in the film.

This is a lightweight comedy, with a top-notch cast, particularly Rosalind Russell and Kay Francis, who ultimately engage in a classic cat fight over their men.  They’re far more adept at the battle then the men prove to be moments later. While this is film isn’t the finest work for any of its stars, it is a decent showcase of their talents, and a pleasant film to watch when you need an escape.

As of June 27, 2017, “The Feminine Touch” is scheduled to air on Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on Friday, August 18, 2017 at 2:00 a.m. ET/1:00 a.m. CT. Scheduling is subject to change. Check TCM’s schedule for the latest information.

A Place in the Sun

Montgomery Clift Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun

A Place in the Sun, 1951, Paramount Pictures. Starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, Shelley Winters. Directed by George Stevens. B&W, 122 minutes.

The poor relation of one of the town’s wealthiest families, George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) is put to work in his uncle’s factory with the strict admonition not to date any of his co-workers. Eastman is in the odd position of being a working class member of local society, while at the same time, the boss’s nephew.

With no regard for company rules, he takes up with one of the women from the factory, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters). Alice is naïve about men and the ways of high society, not believing it’s possible for George to be an Eastman without sharing in the privileges that come with the name.

During a brief visit with his uncle at the palatial Eastman estate, George meets the stunning and vivacious Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor), and is drawn to this young woman from the upper echelons of society. Yet he knows his own humble standing forces him to stay virtually hidden from sight. 

Months later, his work at the factory impresses his uncle, who, as a reward,  invites him to a prestigious party with the wealthy and stylish members of local society. There, George meets up with Angela once again, and this time, she takes charge and leads them into romance.

Alice is jealous, even though she doesn’t yet know the full truth about George and Angela. What’s more, she’s pregnant. While she expects George to marry her, he is reluctant. He is torn between his obligations to a young woman he is nominally interested in, and the passion he feels for another.

Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun.png
Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor

Based on the novel An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser, the story was inspired by the real-life 1906 trial of Chester Gillette, who was convicted of the murder of a co-worker, Grace Brown. The two had been sexually involved, but when Brown became pregnant, Gillette left her for a wealthy socialite.

Reviews at the time of the release of A Place in the Sun were effusive with their praise. Life magazine’s film critic wrote: “Directed by George Stevens for Paramount, it gives three young actors the chance to give the most natural performances of their careers. Montgomery Clift as the confused, likable, rather stupid social climber; Shelley Winters as the dowdy working girl; Elizabeth Taylor as the dazzling rich girl.”

During filming, Taylor, a mere 17 years old, was said to be infatuated with the then 30-year-old Clift. While romance was not in the cards for them (Clift was gay, although he did become involved with at least one woman), the two began a friendship that lasted a lifetime. Director Stevens played on their intense emotions, resulting in powerful scenes of smouldering sexuality.

Shelley Winters, Montgomery Clift in A Place in the Sun
Shelley Winters, Montgomery Clift

Shelley Winters worked hard for her role as Alice, changing her appearance from her signature “blonde bombshell” look to that of a dowdy, lonely girl. Her work in the film won her a nomination for Best Actress, which she lost to Vivien Leigh for her performance in A Streetcar Named Desire.

The film won six Academy Awards: Best Director; Best Cinematography, Black &White; Best Costume Design, Black & White; Best Film Editing; Best Original Score; and Best Writing, Screenplay. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor for Montgomery Clift, and, as mentioned above, Best Actress for Shelley Winters.

The late Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies and noted film historian, called A Place in the Sun “the quintessential drama,” one of the best films of the era. While some of the dramatic elements are weakened with time, the story holds up as a gripping tale of the power of greed, passion and perilous young love.

Theodora Goes Wild

Melvyn Douglas, Irene Dunne in Theodora Goes Wild

Theodora Goes Wild, 1936, Columbia Pictures. Starring Irene Dunne, Melvyn Douglas. Directed by Richard Boleslawski. B&W, 94 minutes.

Raised by maiden aunts in a small New England town, Theodora Lynn (Irene Dunne) is, by all appearances, a proper, modest young woman, leading the virtuous life expected of her. Unknown to the residents of Lynnfield (the town named for her family) and for that matter, the rest of the world, Theodora is writing explicit romantic novels under the pseudonym Caroline Adams.

While visiting her publisher, Arthur Stevenson (Thurston Hall), her secret is revealed to his wife, Ethel (Nana Bryant), as well as Michael Grant (Melvyn Douglas), the artist who created the risqué picture that graces the cover of her book. Against Theodora’s better judgment, the four go out to dinner that evening, where the nervous young woman drinks far too much and ends up alone with a clearly amorous Michael in his apartment.

Irene Dunne in Theodora Goes Wild
Irene Dunne

She flees back to Lynnfield, but Michael has learned where she lives — as well as her secret — and follows her home. With some light blackmail, he ends up serving as the gardener for the Lynn family — and falling in love with Theodora. The prim author of racy novels has found the man she only imagined existed, and she, too, has lost her heart to love.

But Michael has secrets of his own, and ends up with more than he bargained for with his prank, forcing him to end any hope of a future with his new-found love. Theodora, it turns out, has a “wild” side, and she brings that out to get him back.

This film had a number of plot elements that had been smoothed over to meet Code standards, such as a clearly unwed mother (whom we’re told has a husband, but the rest of the story belies that fact) and Theodora’s move into Michael’s apartment.

Irene Dunne stars in Theodora Goes Wild
Irene Dunne

A wild Theodora is mild by today’s standards, but a lot of fun. This was the first comedy role for Irene Dunne, and she proved her comedic skills were sharp and innate. It was a career-defining role for Melvyn Douglas as well, who went on to refine the edgy, sardonic character he created with Michael Grant.

The movie was nominated for two Academy Awards: Best Actress for Dunne, as well as Best Film Editing.

Irene Dunne, Melvyn Douglas in Theodora Goes Wild
Irene Dunne, Melvyn Douglas

Years later in an interview, Dunne recalled initially being reluctant to make the movie, but warming up to it because “the front office was behind it, which made the whole thing a lot of fun.” She also said that for many of her friends, it was a favorite of her roles, because they felt it was the one that was “most like me.”

This is a much-overlooked but delightful romantic comedy, with an original take on a standard story line and a walk to the edge of what movie makers could and could not explicitly say in films of that day. It draws you in from the start and never slows down to the exuberant end.

 

To Have and Have Not

Humphrey Bogart Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not

To Have and Have Not, 1944, Warner Bros. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall. Directed by Howard Hawks. B&W, 100 minutes.

Harry Morgan (Humphrey Bogart) is an American expatriate making a humble living in Martinique, not long after the fall of France to Nazi Germany. He owns a small fishing boat and wryly caters to tourists looking to catch “the big one,” all the while doing his best to stay out of any political intrigue. For the most part, he’s left alone, even ignored, by locals.

Not much gets past him, and when he sees the sultry new girl in town (Lauren Bacall), artfully lift the wallet of the bombastic man who has been sidestepping his way out of paying the substantial sum he owes Harry, he steps in to control the situation. But this isn’t a woman who’s easily controlled.

Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not
Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart

This was the film that launched the romance between Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, and in later interviews Howard Hawks frequently told how he’d warned Bogart he’d found a woman who could match his insolence — and thereby match his power — on the screen. Bogart affably laughed at the idea, and any tension that might have come from playing opposite a strong woman was no doubt helped when he found himself falling in love with his co-star.

In her autobiography, By Myself, Bacall tells of the subtle yet powerful start to her romance with Bogart. Initially helpful primarily on a professional level with the young actress, after a few weeks Bogart made the first quiet move, and gradually the two began a discreet, then increasingly open, romance. Hawks was opposed to any sort of relationship between them, although he didn’t hesitate to use the intense emotions in his movie.

Bacall also recalled that when shooting scenes with Bogart, she began to shake with nervousness, well aware of her novice standing with the on-camera and behind-the-scenes movie greats who were creating the film. She learned to calm her nerves by tucking her chin down and peering up at Bogart during her scenes with him, a move that soon became known as “The Look.”

Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not
Dan Seymour, Humphrey Bogar

Hawks also told about a bet he’d made with his friend Ernest Hemingway, claiming he could make a movie out of any of the author’s books, even the worst, which he without reservation said was undoubtedly To Have and Have Not. From there Hawks worked with Hemingway to create a rough draft of a script, focusing on how the main characters met, but using little of else from the book. Screenwriters Jules Furthman and William Faulkner wrote the final screenplay.

Despite her character’s sophistication, it is easy to see the girl in 19-year-old Bacall. To Have and Have Not introduced her as an actress, and was also the first major role for Dolores Moran, who was 20 at the time. Moran’s career was short-lived; she appeared in several more films over the next few years, but retired as an actress in 1954.

Lauren Bacall Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not
Lauren Bacall, Humphrey Bogart

The film had elements of Casablanca in its supporting characters and secondary story lines, with the trusted piano player, the difficult political situation, and the characters bearing a strong resemblance to those played by Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. It also shares a moodiness with that film, but To Have and Have Not is not a cheap imitation of other great movies. It is a classic for its own reasons.

 

 

 

Out of the Past

Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer in Out of the Past

Out of the Past, 1947, RKO Radio Pictures.  Starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, Kirk Douglas. Directed by Jacques Tourneur. B&W, 97 minutes.

Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) has chosen a simple life in a small town, making his living from his gas station and dating the local sweetheart, Ann Miller (Virginia Huston). He is content and at ease, until a dark shadow from his past appears in the memory of Kathie Moffatt (Jane Greer).

Years before, Moffatt had shot and wounded her boyfriend, the less-than-honorable Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas). She fled to parts unknown, and Sterling hired a private investigator, Jeff Markham, to find her and bring her back. Markham, of course, is none other than the man now known as Jeff Bailey. His search leads him to find Moffatt hiding in plain site in Mexico, but he doesn’t let Sterling know about his discovery. He’s fallen for Kathie, and the two run off together.

They are living quietly until Markham’s partner, Jack Fisher (Steve Brodie), finds them and threatens to take Moffatt back to Sterling. Markham and Fisher get into a brawl, and Moffatt, now sharper in her aim, shoots Fisher dead. After Markham buries the body, he starts a new life, but without Kathie Moffatt.

Robert Mitchum and Jane Greer in Out of the Past
Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer

Destiny steps in, and Jeff finds himself first back in Sterling’s palatial home, then in San Francisco, where he meets up once again with Kathie. The three have a few issues to resolve.

Before Mitchum was cast in the lead, the part allegedly was offered to Humphrey Bogart, John Garfield and Dick Powell, three of the most popular actors of the time. It was said to first have been offered to Bogart because the story on which the film is based, Build the Gallows High, and the movie itself, both strongly echo elements of The Maltese Falcon.

It is brooding, classic film noir, with tension that builds and a resolution that leaves its own questions. As the femme fatale, Jane Greer does a fine job, but her acting doesn’t match the quality performances by Mitchum and Douglas, nor is the interaction between her and either of those men half as interesting as the interplay between the male lead characters.

Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past
Kirk Douglas, Robert Mitchum

Filming took place primarily in a small town in northern California, with most of the cast and crew arriving a week or so before Mitchum appeared. He almost didn’t make it at all when the brakes failed on the four-seat plane he arrived in. The pilot was able to avert disaster, and while the two passengers in the back were unconscious after the emergency landing, Mitchum is rumored to have crawled out and hitched a ride to the set.

It was only Kirk Douglas’ third film role, the first being The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, and he is sharp, cunning and unlikable as the unscrupulous Whit Sterling. Mitchum, also a rising star at the time, shines with his typical low-key style in one of his finest roles.

In 1984, Out of the Past was remade, with a significantly different script, as the film Against All Odds. The remake starred Jeff Bridges in the Mitchum role, Rachel Ward in Greer’s role and James Woods in Douglas’ part. Jane Greer played Ward’s mother, and Paul Valentine, who had a small part in the original film, played a councilman.

Virginia Huston, Robert Mitchum in Out of the Past
Virginia Huston, Robert Mitchum

For fans of film noir, Out of the Past is a must-see, with most of the classic elements of that style seen in this movie. The snappy dialogue, the moody lighting, the sharp contrast between good and evil, all play a role. Mitchum, with his laconic style and brooding appearance, is the quintessential film noir star. And for classic film fans in general, this is one to add to your list of movies worth watching.

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford

William Powell, Jean Arthur The Ex-Mrs. Bradford

The Ex-Mrs. Bradford, 1936, RKO Radio Pictures. Starring Jean Arthur, William Powell. Directed by Stephen Roberts. B&W, 81 minutes.

Paula Bradford (Jean Arthur) and Dr. Lawrence “Brad” Bradford (William Powell) are divorced, yet enjoy a cordial relationship — perhaps enjoyed a bit more by Paula than Brad. The ex-Mrs. Bradford believes the two should re-marry, and to that end, she’s moved back into his roomy apartment.

But that isn’t the only conflict in their relationship. Paula is convinced the recent death of a jockey, who mysteriously fell off his horse during a race, is murder. Brad sees no reason to think this, until someone close to the situation confirms it is, indeed, suspicious.

The two are drawn into the case, with their relationship evolving just as the clues do. But Paula’s meddling truly gets Brad involved when her “work” on the case leads authorities to make him their number one suspect.

William Powell, Jean Arthur star in The Ex-Mrs. Bradford
William Powell, Jean Arthur

Clearly playing on the popularity of The Thin Man (none of the sequels had been made at this point), this film holds its own and was one of the most popular comedies of the year. It was the last film for director Stephen Roberts, who died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 40 two months after the movie’s release. Roberts had directed more than 100 films in his 14 year career, including Star of Midnight just one year before, with Powell and Ginger Rogers.

Powell and Arthur had both worked for Paramount studios several years earlier, where each got his or her film career start in silent movies. While the transition to “talkies” was easier for Powell, in part because of his smooth voice, both were a hit in Arthur’s first major talking film, The Canary Murder Case (1929). That was also one of Powell’s first detective roles, a type of character he went on to play in numerous films, including The Ex-Mrs. Bradford.

William Powell in The Ex-Mrs. Bradford
William Powell

The film also features Eric Blore, the character actor who appeared in more than 80 films throughout his career, including such Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers films as Swing Time and Top Hat.

This is a charming, albeit lesser-known mystery-comedy with an outstanding cast, a plot that, while not of the calibre of Dashiell Hammett, is nonetheless clever, and a number of the elements of popular comedies of the day, including a divorced couple whose reunion we eagerly anticipate right from the start, a scatterbrained yet ultimately clever female lead and a convoluted, improbable path to resolution and reconciliation. Fans of screwball comedies of this era will thoroughly enjoy this film.