Tag Archive | hollywood

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers

The Strange Love of Martha Ivers – (StarChoice: 28)

Excerpts from: The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS 

 …… In one of her memoirs, beautiful actress Lauren Bacall wrote about how in 1945 she met star-finder/star-maker Hal Brent Wallis in the club car of the train while travelling to East with her husband Humphrey Bogart. Wallis, an independent producer since 1944 was on board the Santa Fe Super Chief train, bound for New York to look for new talents there. One night, over drinks in the lounge, she tipped Wallis to take a gander at the young and talented Kirk Douglas – a sort of a young Spencer Tracy – who was in a stage play in New York.

Lauren ‘Betty’ Bacall knew that Wallis always looked for an off-beat quality in his screen heroes.

A man with astute combination of imagination and executive ability, some of the potential actors Wallis found and expertly built them into stars of the screen included Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Charlton Heston, Dolores Hart, Elvis Presley, Polly Bergen, Anthony Franciosa, Barbara Stanwyck, Robert Cummings, Don Defore, Ann Richards, Kristine Miller, Douglas Dick, Betsy Drake, Marisa Pavan, Shirley MacLaine, …..

People abroad are hungry for film entertainment and share with American audiences a keen interest in new personalities. It is this desire for new faces that has prompted my continued search for talent and the signing of such people as Lizabeth Scott, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas and Wendell Corey,” Wallis was quoted in 1947.

Betty had a similar story. Taking into heart the All-American dream of every girl in the country at that time, she had come to Hollywood to become a star. In 1943, New York socialite and legendary beauty Slim Hawks, wife of director/producer Howard Hawks, saw the 18-year-old model’s picture on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar (March 1943) and prodded Hawks to “get a hold of this girl” with that “down-under” look. This “great find” was cast with Humphrey Bogart in Hawks’ adaptation of the Ernest Hemingway novel, To Have and Have Not (1944). That had opened a whole new life to Betty.

In June 1945, Hollywood’s “Gentleman Producer” Wallis went to the Broadway production and was impressed by Kirk playing the helpful ghost of the Unknown Soldier of World War I on stage in The Wind Is Ninety (Jun 21, 1945 – Sep 22, 1945). Tellingly, Kirk’s performance earned him best notices for its warmth and sincerity.

At that juncture, Wallis’ company had three films lined up on the production board: The Searching Wind (1946, D: William Dieterle), The Strange Love of Martha Ivers and Perfect Marriage (1947 D: Lewis Allen). Kirk was summoned to Wallis’ office in New York and later to the coast…….

…….Kirk netted his debut role in Hal B. Wallis Productions’ gripping noir melodrama, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) as the husband of wealthy Martha Ivers, played by Barbara “Missy” Stanwyck, a trouper of vixen roles.

Effectively directed by Lewis Milestone, this exciting movie, from an unpublished story, “Love Lies Bleeding” by Jack Patrick (screenplay by Robert Rossen), told the grim tale of unbalanced emotions in the small industrial city of Iverstown in 1946 where, wealthy, conniving social climber Martha Ivers held a lifelong criminal secret over her weakling, drunkard husband, Walter O’Neil (Kirk Douglas), a district attorney.

During their adolescence years in 1928, Walter had witnessed Martha commit the murder of her bullying aunt Mrs. Ivers (Judith Anderson) in a fit of blind anger.

At that time, the little boy O‘Neil had affirmed Martha’s lie about a man having burst into the house and killed the aunt. In due course, Martha inherits a large family fortune from her dead aunt whom she loathed.

With murder and blackmail ruling the roost, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers is without a trice of comedy to lighten the tension.

Spectators who have seen this movie would recall Kirk’s introductory scene wherein his first dialogue on screen was the customary salutation of “Hello”.

And, with that one all-time favourite word, Kirk Douglas, at about age 30, took off to a promising start of his phenomenal career.

It was a befitting entry into the movie-stardom for Kirk who proved himself a fine actor who could measure up with such veterans as Van Heflin (back from war and on loan from M-G-M) and Barbara Stanwyck, in a role similar to the alluring double-crosser in the movie classic, Double Indemnity (1944, D: Billy Wilder).

Those who liked the smoky blonde Lizabeth Scott (born Emma Matzo in 1922) in her film debut You Came Along (1945, D: John Farrow), would want to see her don the role of Toni Marachek, the probationer from jail seeking love and companionship.

Cast over protests from female lead Stany, Scott’s Toni is the dynamic love interest of Sam Masterson (Heflin in his Johnny Eager (1941, D: Mervyn LeRoy) -type role), a professional gambler who learns that Martha has one murder to her name.

Perchance the true colours of costumes by master designer Edith Head wither their grandeur in monochrome. Setting pace to Victor Milner’s photography is also the music score by Miklós Rózsa which relate each character, setting, or situation to a musical theme.

This post-war period film was released on July 24, 1946 having completed production during October 2 – December 7, 1945. The Strange Love of Martha Ivers had its world premiere abroad TWA’s transcontinental Constellation trip departing Los Angeles on May 24, 1946.

Reportedly, about five months from the film’s release, the citizens of Kirk’s hometown in Amsterdam, N.Y, launched a pre-election campaign urging Kirk’s nomination for an award for his performance in The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, although the official Academy award nominations has not yet begun.

You probably wouldn’t prefer to meet any of the selfish, grasping characters of The Strange Love of Martha Ivers, but it’s an edge of the seat evil tale to watch unfold – without children.

Until next time, Jo

Notes:

  • Given that the abridged version of my write-up “The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS” has by now exceeded 105 pages, it is deemed only fair that the write-up should come out, if possible, in its entirety in a book format. Therefore, only excerpts (movie reviews) from it are posted here.
  • Some of the DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred to in this article is available with leading dealers.
  • DVD sleeves/posters credits: Wikipedia, amazon, imdb and from my private collection. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

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The Importance of Being Kirk DOUGLAS

I think of my life like a stone thrown into a calm pool.”

                                – Kirk Douglas, The Ragman’s Son

This tribute to Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas is truly accidental than most of my posts, in the sense that this never followed the carefully visualised course I planned at its inception – which was to create a 1,200-word write-up. But as my research evolved over the last many months, I chanced upon a profusion of representational materials about Kirk that my endeavour to piece together the salient landmarks in his life finally brimmed to the expanse of dimension you will come across in the text below.

Kirk Douglas is one of the last remaining great male movie stars of the studio era, even though certain cinematic greats like Clint Eastwood who came close behind Kirk cannot be ignored. Back in the good old days when movies had little competition and the moviegoers were devoted and regular, Kirk emerged from obscurity to turn into an established star on the strength of combining toughness with an acute intelligence in his choice and interpretation of the parts he played. Amongst the many directors he had the privilege to work with are the best of the crop such as Joseph L. Mankiewicz, William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Vincente Minnelli, John Sturges, John Huston, Burt Kennedy, etc.

As with all stars, the glamour and publicity surrounding Kirk is part of his work and charisma. Kirk Douglas once wrote, “When you become a movie star, you create an image for the public.” This perfectly complemented the dialogue Kirk’s character Jonathan Shields spoke to Georgia Lorrison (Lana Turner) in a scene in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), “When you’re on the screen, no matter who you’re with, or what you’re doing, the audience is looking at you. That’s star quality.”

Kirk Douglas came into my life when I first saw a movie during its re-run in a local theatre two decades after its release. I could recall it as Ulysses (1954). Watching it, Kirk had come across to me as a versatile star – vibrant, handsome, virile – all rolled into one. In those teenage days, I was taken by the ease and punch of his portrayal in the title role, and since then, whenever possible, I had tried to follow his career which, over the years, grew in stature gaining brilliant achievements.

Now, how many millions around the world have seen Kirk’s movies? How many were liked or disliked or earned moviegoers to his films owing to Kirk’s acting and/or celebrity factor? What screen or personal stories perpetuated his legend in the public’s mind?

Many years ago, a magazine featured an interview with one of Kirk’s secretaries of the late 1960s. She fondly remembered him as “a very demanding person to work for, and works at a frantic pace himself. He has many businesses apart from films…. He is a very nice person…. I found him very attractive and virile – a real man’s man.”

Think of it. There is a tremendous amount of the past in all our presents. I have not met Kirk personally. Although I would love to, it is most unlikely that I will ever meet him. But I have always nurtured that curiosity to find out specifically how Kirk earned the reputation of a self-made man, a legendary hardworking American stage/screen actor, producer, director, author, millionaire, humanitarian, philanthropist, art collector, winner of awards/honours for achievements both on and off screen, and a family man with a beautiful wife called Anne Buydens sheltered in a solid marriage now nearing its 64th year on May 29th.

My growing film archive of about 6,500 movies gives primacy to films released up to early 1980s – most of which are now historic milestones of the movie industry. Thus far, it contains almost three dozen movies featuring Kirk Douglas. No doubt, that three dozen would be much lesser compared to the numerous hardbound volumes of scripts of all of Kirk’s movies which, according to Kirk’s memoirs, are arranged in chronological order on the top shelf at his house.

Likewise, I feel lucky that I was born during a period when I could enjoy those just-released films on a large theatre screen – maybe with a lesser quality presentation, but enough to be content in those happy days. And at the close of the movie, to walk out into the Lobby amidst the excited, arguing, impressed viewers. It’s no fun if one happens to see those movies now on TV – greatly edited and, like in our part of the world, interrupted by numerous (but necessary) persistent and disparate commercials that pounce on your senses like rapid gunfire from an AK47; or shown either during the work days or too late into the night.

At length, this compilation is derived from a trail of information that lay scattered in innumerable books, magazines, media interviews, movie documentaries or whatever sources I could possibly access – to all of which this write-up is thankfully and humbly indebted. This is neither a scholarly compilation of biographical data nor could it be free of possible errors – mainly whereas the schedule of production of movies is subject to re-takes, fillers, etc. This is just my personal attempt to recapture the great events, and some minor ones, of Kirk’s life – primarily up to the period before early 1980s.

To minimalize the content, some finer details about Kirk and his movies, readily available in numerous books, websites, visual media, etc., are left out. Keeping in par with the good old times Kirk’s films captured, I must honestly add that, the theory I have adopted for this write-up is to overlook any broken fence and admire the flowers in the garden. As you read further on, I hope you will chance upon the many pleasant factors that inspired me to write about – Mister Kirk Douglas.

(The First instalment of this series follows)

Jo

Notes:

  • DVD/Blu-ray of the movies referred above is available with leading dealers.
  • Picture credits: Please refer to “About” of my web page for more details.
  • It would be factual to endorse that the year-long delay in my posts occasioned from a string of turbulence of personal nature that thrashed on the cruising path of my life during the last so many months and yet, the ducks are not in a row. I dedicate this tribute with love and gratitude to: 1) Renate Elisabeth (Carina), my wife and oracle of love for her support, wisdom and unfailing vigilance; and to 2) Carolyn Page, the sweet spot who fondly lit a fire under you-know-where to turn the heat on me to accelerate the publishing of this post.

(© Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

 

Red Sun (Soleil rouge – StarChoice.26)

 

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This second post concludes my preceding article of March 29, 2016: The Galloping Riders of Almería

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By early 1970s, Charles Bronson’s charm had transcended the borders of Europe and invaded far of corners of Asia. Movies such as The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen and Once Upon A Time In The West have all contributed their magic for the popularity of Bronson. No sooner, large billboards of the craggy-faced, toughly built Bronson appeared in strategic locations in Japan where he was elevated as the quintessential ‘Western Man.’

His aura of toughness and animal magnetism even earned him an appearance in the Japanese television commercial for Mandom, proclaiming a new toiletry brand for men. The ad-film was created by none other than the Japanese filmmaker Nobuhiko Obayashi, known for his surreal visual style. As for Bronson’s film career, there was no dearth in films for he was already in talks with filmmakers about a project called Red Sun.

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According to a book on Charles Bronson, the script for Red Sun was already available – having been passed around the major studios since 1966 when, based on an idea outlined on fifteen-pages, veteran producer Ted Richmond (Solomon and Sheba, Villa Rides!, Papillon) obtained the consent of Toshirô Mifune to star in it.

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Owing to unenthusiastic response to get the film off the ground in Hollywood, Richmond associated with producer Robert Dorfmann (Le Cercle Rouge, Cold Sweat, Papillon) in Europe who signed Bronson and Delon. The choice was easier since the two stars had not only starred in their earlier projects, their commercial appeal made it possible to secure financing. The result was a co-production, between Les Films Corona, France; Oceania Produzioni Internazionali Cinematografiche (Oceania Films), Roma/Italy; Producciones Balcázar S.A., Spain, – an arrangement, besides other benefits, assured distribution in three markets.

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They also roped in Terence Young to direct the movie. Young has proven his flair in directorial skills through a wide range of genre including peplum and war films since his directorial debut in 1948.

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International in scope as the stylish action director of three of the first four James Bond films, Dr No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), and Thunderball (1965), Young himself was then ranked a colourful character – consistent to the image of the British secret service agent James Bond’s taste for fine wine, expensive clothes and beautiful women.

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Ever since his departure from the James Bond series, Young was engaged in direction of The Poppy is Also a Flower (Operation Opium, 1966), L’Avventuriero (The Rover, 1967), Wait Until Dark (1967), Mayerling (1968), and Cold Sweat (1970), the first of three movies that Terence Young would make with Charles Bronson.

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Red Sun was shot during the first half of 1971. Chosen as a stand-in for the American Southwest are the atmospheric mountains, virgin grounds, stark terrain and delicious climate of Spanish Almeria’s El Cabo de Gata (Cape Agate), Tabernas and Cortijo de la Sartenilla as well as the area between La Pedriza de Manzanares El Real and La Calahorra, effectively cutting the production cost.

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Some of these places, studded with agave plants and other desert succulents, flat-roofed whitewashed houses and abandoned/renovated farmsteads, were familiar to Bronson for having worked there recently in earlier production of Sergio Leone.

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Set in the 1870s, Red Sun opens with the arrival of prairie rider Link Stuart (Charles Bronson) at a deserted railway station from where he boards a mail train bound for Washington. Besides the civilian passengers and the US soldiers protecting the gold and other valuables on the train, a delegation led by the Japanese ambassador to the United States occupied a private car.

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During the reign of the 121st emperor of Japan, Emperor Kōmei-tennō (July 22, 1831 to January 30, 1867), Japan had begun its transformation into a modern industrial power following the arrival of US Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry and his “Black Ships” on July 8, 1853 on a mission to force the opening of Japanese ports to American trade, through the use of gunboat diplomacy if necessary. Within the next decade, the drive for modernization resulted in the opening of Japan’s doors to the rest of the world.

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Ten years later, as the movie goes, Sakaguchi, Lord of Bizen and the first Japanese ambassador to the United States by authority from the Emperor, had arrived in San Francisco after a long and perilous voyage by sea. Even though his safe arrival to Washington is guaranteed by the US government, anticipating dangers on their way, the entourage rightfully consisted of two samurais to protect their liege lord – one being Kuroda Jubie (Toshirô Mifune) (1) to whom loyalty and death is part of his air and sea and earth.

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Once the train had chugged out of the station, its control was forcefully taken over by the bandit group belonging to Link and co-leader Frenchman Gauche (Alain Delon) who soon set to rob the train of its valuables. Having sent off all civilian passengers by foot, Link and Gauche barge into the private car of the Japanese entourage and steal their money while the two samurai stay meek at the ambassador’s instance.

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It was after Link had left the car with the money when Gauche’s attention was drawn to a precious Mikado katana, a gold embossed sword, the Japanese was carrying for presenting to the 18th U.S. president, Ulysses S. Grant. Gauche forcefully steals it after killing one of the samurai (Hiroshi Tanaka) who aggressively opposed him. With his mission successfully completed, Gauche double-crosses his partner Link (who was promised 1/3rd of the loot) by throwing dynamite at him. Believing Link to be dead, Gauche and his henchmen ride off with the spoils.

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Link was fortunate to survive the attempt on his life and was discovered by Kuroda by the railroad track. Regaining consciousness, Link was compelled by the Japanese ambassador to accompany samurai Kuroda to track down Gauche and retrieve the sword. Kuroda will attain this within seven days maintaining the code of morals and manners of the Bushidō (the way of the warrior) (2) and if he failed, carry out seppuku (belly-cut) or hara-kiri, the Japanese ritual suicide reserved for samurai.

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Although Link reluctantly agreed to this he was troubled by the samurai’s intention to kill Gauche in a bloody reprisal as soon as he retrieved the sword. This would not leave Link enough time to catch Gauche alive, and obtain the loot ($400,000/-, give or take a dollar!) from the train robbery. For purpose of expediency, Link must elude Kuroda and go after Gauche alone. The journey that follows is a concoction of action, humour, nudity, betrayal, revenge and restitution of honour.

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A French/Italian/Spanish production, the film was a hit in Europe and Asia while in the USA the regular critics were unkind to it which the filmgoers mostly discarded. An uncomplicated action director, Terence Young keeps the movie at a semi-brisk pace sprinkled with humour and brings the story to a dramatic climax amidst the reed thickets, shot in Venta Nueva, Adra, Spain.

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Red Sun contains the three situations essential to every western: isolation, violence and law. Kuroda, a man of dignity and honour, but quick and deadly as a rattle snake, is an isolated man in the West in his pursuit to retrieve the stolen sword and protect the honour. He was forced to associate with the outlaw Link into a path of violence, taking the law and justice into his own hands, hardly concerned whether he may die doing it or not.

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Since most of the action takes place while Link and Kuroda are on the trail of the sword, director Young gives more emphasis to the interaction between the always very meticulous Bronson and much-focused Mifune – the events depicted in the movie leading to the point where Kuroda brings respect in Link for the strict bushido code which Kuroda adhered to, whereas Link manages to convince the revenge-minded Japanese to restrain from killing Gauche until Link could learn of the location where Gauche has hidden the loot. The script also briefly offers Kuroda, who generally dominates Link, an opportunity to speak of the disappearing values of the samurai as his countrymen no longer value the customs of old.

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The two foreigners, Kuroda and Gauche, in the western settings of the movie contrasts dramatically: Mifune’s Kuroda representing the good and the gallant, while French actor Alain Delon’s Gotch ‘Gauche‘ Kink epitomises the bad and the ruthless; and within the limited but fairly meaty sequences of Gauche, the story maze clearly defines his debauchery, grounds for Kuroda to exact lethal vengeance. Relevant to Delon’s then public image as a “toughie” off screen, he comes across effectively as crafty and aggressive – and then again, there is always the visually interesting aspect – his pretty-boy good looks.

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Statuesque Swiss-German actress Ursula Andress, who received second billing in the movie credits, is the foul-mouthed prostitute Christine who is the connection with Gauche whilst in love with Link. Red Sun displays her in a parody of scenes: in partial nakedness, as a helpless hostage of outlaws, as a victim of refined Indian torture, etc.

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Although Andress has donned roles in Le Avventure di Giacomo Casanova/Sins of Casanova (1955), What’s New Pussycat? (1965), The Blue Max (1966), Anyone Can Play (1968), etc, it is her smouldering screen appearance as Honey Ryder in Dr. No (1962) that she is much remembered for, although she also appeared as Vesper Lynd in the satirical James Bond spoof Casino Royale (1967), a role turned down by Joan Collins, Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley MacLaine and the patrician French actress Capucine (The Pink Panther, ‘What’s New, Pussycat?).

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As it turned out, Capucine (Kap-u-SEEN), whose original name is Germaine Hélène Irène Lefebvre but changed it in honour of France’s nasturtium, co-starred with Andress in the role of Pepita in Red Sun.

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In the supporting role as Hyatt is Scottish actor Anthony “Tony” Dawson – a regular in Terence Young productions and often cast in a variety of villainous roles in the 1950s and 1960s including movies such as Alfred Hithcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954) and Dr. No.(3)

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Other members of supporting cast: young French actor Luc “Luke” Merenda (Chato), Hungarian dancer/circus artist Bart Barry/ Bernabé Barta Barry (Paco), Lee Brown/Guido Lollobrigida (cousin of actress Gina Lollobrigida) (Mace), John Hamilton/Gianni Medici (Miguel), George W. Lycan (Sheriff Stone), Hiroshi Tanaka (Second samurai), Canada born Satoshi (Tetsu) Nakamura (Japanese Ambassador), Jo “José” Nieto (murdered Mexican farmer), Spanish actor Julio “Jules” Peña (Peppie, train passenger with newspaper), beautiful Spanish rose Mónica Randall/Aurora Julià Sarasa (Maria), John B, Vermont, plus a whole team of stuntmen (4).

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Original Music by French composer/conductor Maurice Jarre (Maurice-Alexis Jarre) is an interesting mixture of Anglo/Japanese themes. The brilliant Eastmancolor cinematography owes to Henri Alekan of Roman Holiday (1953) fame.

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The script adapted by Denne Bart Petitclere/William Roberts/Lawrence Roman is based on the story by American author Laird Koenig, famous for his novel, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1974). Further crew consists of: Gerald Devriès (dialogue); Johnny Dwyre (Film Editing); Enrique “Henry” Alarcón (Set Decoration); Tony Pueo (Costume Design): Alberto de Rossi (Make-up); Karl Baumgartner (Special effects).

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Released in 1971, Red Sun  is also known as: Sole rosso (Italy), Sol rojo (Spain), Rivalen unter roter Sonne (Germany), Sol vermelho (Portugal), Monomahia ston kokkino ilio (Greece), The Magnificient Three (Philippines)

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Red Sun has its moments of fun and rough spots besides providing the opportunity to see Bronson/Andress/Mifune/Delon coming together in a pleasing blend of their American/Swiss/Japanese/French charm, embellished by the direction of Britain’s Terence Young. Until next time. Jo

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Notes:

  • Toshirô Mifune’s character in Hell in the Pacific is called Tsuruhiko Kuroda.
  • The eight virtues typified by the Bushidō code: Righteousness; Courage; Benevolence; Respect; Sincerity, Honour, Loyalty, Self-Control.
  • According to a film trivia, it is Dawson’s hands we see stroking a white cat in the scenes depicting Bond’s arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld in From Russia with Love and Thunderball.
  • One of Hollywood’s top gun coaches and fast-drawing experts, chickasaw Indian Rodd Redwing died on May 29, 1971 following a heart-attack aboard the flight while returning home from Spain after work on Red Sun.
  • Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  • DVD sleeves/posters credits: Wikipedia, amazon, and from my private collection.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to the movie reviewed above. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.
  • In memory of French actress/model Capucine (January 6, 1933 – March 17, 1990)

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

The Galloping Riders of Almería

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International superstardom finally started to cast its glare on American actor Charles Bronson in the late sixties – essentially since his appearance as the half-breed gunslinger l’uomo dell ‘armonica in Sergio Leone’s spaghetti Western “Once Upon a time in the West” (C’era una volt ail west, 1968). In the mind of filmgoers, the gristly face of Bronson with his sleepy eyes and drooping moustache had become distinguished as an image of a ‘tender tough guy’ with an explosive air of elemental violence about him, drawing audiences to his movies shown across Europe over to Asia. The Italians nick-named this stone-faced and powerful personality, their “Il Brutto” – The Ugly One.

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While Bronson’s films never received wide release across America where he remained an unknown actor, his leading parts were confined to European products such as Guns for San Sebastian (1967), Farewell Friend (Adieu I’Ami, 1968), Villa Rides (1968), etc.

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Born to Lithuanian parents settled in the bleak mining town of Ehrenfeld (known locally as Scooptown), Pennsylvania, USA, “Shulty” (nickname of Bronson as a boy) was initially a coal miner who led a life full of deprivation. Charlie served the army from early 1943 to early 1946, following which he went on to do short stints as bricklayer, waiter, baker’s helper, etc before venturing into the theatre where his face and figure could draw only bit-parts of heavies and ethnics.

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Without any film-acting experience other than a year of learning at the Pasadena Playhouse, he had headed for Hollywood where, from his film debut in You’re in the Navy Now (initial title: U.S.S. Teakettle, 1951) till director Robert Aldrich’s Apache (1954), he was known as Charles Buchinsky, his birth name. With Drum Beat (1954) he changed his name to Bronson after the Bronson Gate at Hollywood’s Paramount Studios which derived its name from Bronson Street in Los Angeles.

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Having met actress Jill “Dorothy” Ireland in Bavaria, Germany, in 1962 during the filming of The Great Escape (then married to Welsh actor David McCalum whom she divorced in 1967), Bronson (divorced from his first wife Harriet Tendler in 1965) and Jill married in October 1968, which was few months after Bronson left Hollywood for Europe where he travelled from 1969 to 1973, making various movies.

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He soon fitted himself into a world infested with immigrant western actors such as Steve Reeves, Clint Eastwood, Cameron Mitchell, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, Van Heflin, John Ireland, Ty Hardin, Woody Strode, Rod Steiger, Jack Palance, etc, who had taken trek to Europe to join the European actors (most of them given Western-sounding names) to star in Peplums as well as in Euro-Westerns mostly shot in Almería which provided a perfect match for the deserts of Arizona.

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Impressed by Bronson’s performance in Machine-Gun Kelly (1958), French actor Alain Delon had by then developed an interest to work with him. Conveyed to Bronson through French producer Serge Silberman while Bronson was on location in Spain (at El Casar de Talamanca, Guadalajara, Castilla-La Mancha for director Buzz Kulik’s “Villa Rides”), the outcome was Bronson in the role of Franz Propp in Adieu I’Ami (Farewell Friend/Honor Among Thieves).

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When the film came out, his pairing with Delon earned them lavish praises from the critics, spiralling progress in Bronson’s career through a series of European productions including director Richard Donner’s Twinky (Lola/Statutory Affair, 1970) and French director René Clément’s chilling suspense piece Le Passager de la pluie (Rider on the Rain, 1970), the role in which, according to a book, had come seeking Bronson with a bit of urging of Alain Delon.

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In the late 1960s, with the sensuality of facial features that made Alain Delon a beautiful leading man still intact, Delon retained his physical presence and stylish, enigmatic look in domestic productions such as The Girl on a Motorcycle (1968), La Piscine (1969), Le Clan des Siciliens (The Sicilian Clan, 1969), Borsalino (1970), etc.

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Earlier in 1966, he had acted as a hitman clad in a trenchcoat and sporting a felt-hat in French director Jean-Pierre Melville’s cult classic Le Samouraï (The Samurai, 1967) which had kindled his interest in Japan where he had recently earned a large number of fans and commercial success that extended not only to his iconic status, his screen muscularity and sex appeal, but even to the sunglasses branded with his name. According to IMDB, at that time, Delon even kept a samurai blade hanging on the wall of his bedroom.

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Producing films since the 1970s under the name of his own production company, Adel Productions, and in a position to attract investment from across Europe and USA, Delon was then very active in filmdom and given the scale of his popularity as a global style icon, no doubt he would have gladly welcomed any interesting story angles of diverse genre to revamp his image, including a proper role where elements of Japanese culture are interestingly featured.

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The box-office success in Japan of more than a dozen films that director Akira Kurosawa made between 1950 and 1965 and other elements of Japanese film culture were already fanning their influence on the American filmdom. Kurosawa’s “Rashomon” (1950) came out as “The Outrage” (1964), “The Magnificent Seven” (1960) was based on “Seven Samurai”, while “A Fistful of Dollars” (1964) which invented the spaghetti Western was inspired by “Yojimbo” (1961) (1).

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Simultaneously, “You Only Live Twice” (1967), the fourth James Bond starring Sean Connery, predominantly set in Japan, featured prominent roles for Japanese actors Tetsurô Tanba, Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama. Director Richard Fleischer’s “Tora, Tora, Tora” (1970) about the Pearl Harbour attack featured a fusion of West-Orient actors and crew and Kurosawa was originally slated to direct the Japanese half of the film which did not materialised due to technical issues.

The West had also taken note of Toshirô “The Wolf/The Shogun” Mifune’s strong, monolithic screen presence. Mifune had built his career on several wonderful classics of Kurosawa which included Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Throne of Blood (1957), Yojimbo (1961), Red Beard (1965), and The Hidden Fortress (1958), which was Kurosawa’s personal favourite.

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The power of Mifune’s screen presence engendered the strength of character through silence, together with quick and deadly dynamism in action sequences. In “Something Like An Autobiography” Kurosawa wrote that, in Mifune he had come across “a kind of talent he had never encountered before in the Japanese film world.”

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Toshirô Mifune, himself a producer on several samurai films, was no stranger to roles in Hollywood products. Referred to as Japan’s John Wayne, he had appeared in Grand Prix (1966) and later with Lee Marvin in director John Boorman’s Hell in the Pacific (1968), a World War II drama of two adversaries, an American pilot and a marooned Japanese navy captain Tsuruhiko Kuroda, on a small uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. The film offered good contrast in acting styles of Marvin and Mifune (both actually served in the Pacific during World War II) as the two men of opposing countries who cease their animalistic confrontation and come to terms with peace and cooperation in order to survive.

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It was during this period that the American producer Ted Richmond decided to create a Shogun-type Western, with a fusion of Japanese folk legends. Jo                 (To be continued)

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Notes:

  • According to A New Guide to Italian Cinema, Leon has insisted that the source of A Fistful of Dollars is a play by Carlo Goldoni Arleccchino il servitor di due parroni/The Servant with Two Masters (1745)
  • Books, DVD/Blu-ray of the books/movies referred to in this article are available with amazon.com, amazon.co.uk and other leading dealers.
  • DVD sleeves credits: Wikipedia, amazon.co.uk, and from my private collection.
  • This illustrated article is an affectionate nosegay to movies of the past. Please refer to “About” of my webpage for more details.

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(©Joseph Sébastine/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 17: Anne of the Indies

(Aka: La Mujer Pirata – La Regina dei Pirati – A Raínha dos Piratas – Die Piraten Königin – Technicolor – 1951)

1

Ahoy, landlubbers! Come abroad the good ship “Sheba Queen” and lend an ear to Anne of the Indies

So much has been written about the buccaneers of the high seas. Even though the deplorable activities of pirates are rightly condemned by the humanity, world literature has nonetheless romanticised them with stories depicting the daredevil deeds of pirates such as Sir Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, etc and correspondingly lionised them in many movies produced in the Americas and Continental Europe.

The West Indian buccaneers were initially hunters of pigs and cattle on the islands of Hispaniola and Tortuga until they became pirates after being driven off by the Spaniards. Long before Johnny Depp flashed on screen as Captain John Sparrow doing his rounds with the “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, swashbucklers in the kinds of Elliott Dexter, Douglas Fairbank, Errol Flynn, Burt Lancaster, Gregory Peck, Louis Hayward, etc. ruled the high seas. This doesn’t mean that the period was devoid of dashing females wielding deadly swords and thrived in the sunshine. Historians tell us that a significant minority of historical pirates have been female, who were acclimatized to the wild ways and conquered the seas.

2

The 1945 film, “The Spanish Main” by director Frank Borzage (The Big Fisherman) featured the fictionalized account of the real-life cross-dressing buccaneer Anne Bonny (1698-1782), a daring Caribbean femme fatale who joined the crew of pirate John “Calico Jack” Rackman after having an affair with him. Reputed to be the first film of RKO Radio in the Technicolor, starring Paul Henried, Maureen O’Hara and Binnie Barnes in the role of Anne Bonny, it told the story of Dutch sea Captain Laurent “The Barracuda” Van Horn. Shipwrecked on the coast of Spanish-governed Cartagena, he escapes from the hangman’s noose and takes up piracy for revenge against Spain. The film registered impressive profit in the box-office and won George Barnes an Academy Award nomination for Best Colour Cinematography.

3

In 1946, a short story by Herbert Ravenel Sass titled “Queen Anne of The Indies”, appeared in the Saturday Evening Post which generated enough excitement amongst the New York publishers and Hollywood studios prompting Sass to draw up a movie treatment of the story in 1948. Originally slated to be a Walter Wanger (Walter Feuchtwanger – 1894-1968) project starring the indestructible redhead Susan Hayward, this fictionalised treatment failed to generate necessary enthusiasm in independent producer Wanger due to its larger budget that he sold the story rights to 20th Century-Fox. (Some confusion prevails here regarding the different treatments of the story prepared for Wanger). At that time, Wanger was also busy with a grand project for the comeback of Greta Garbo who was on long retirement. But when “Anne of the Indies” was finally released in 1951, Wanger was in the “cooler” for having shot and wounded his wife Joan Bennett’s agent Jennings Lang when he found them together in the MCA (Music Corporation of America) parking lot.

4

In early 1950, at Fox’s instance, a new script was prepared by Romanian born screenwriter/playwright Arthur Caesar incorporating unused footage shot for “The Black Swan” (1942) starring Tyrone Power. The studio assigned George Jessel to produce while tests were done with Patricia Neal and Valentina Cortese for the title role.

However, Darryl F. Zanuck, Vice-president in charge of production for 20th Century Fox was still unsatisfied with the script that a revision was done on it by Philip Dunne, a contract writer at Fox since 1936, sprucing up the character of Anne. When the film would finally appear on screen, Philip Dunne and Arthur Caesar are given credit for the screenplay.

5

Naïve, darkly sensual actress Linda Darnell was also considered for the role of Anne before it finally went to American actress Jean Peters (Oct 15, 1926 – Oct 13, 2000). Hailing from East Canton in Ohio, Elizabeth Jean Peters grew up on a small farm, majored in literature and won a screen test with 20th Century-Fox as prize for winning the Miss Ohio State Pageant title in the fall of 1945. Owing to a contract with Fox, Jean moved to Los Angeles and later acquired a small part in “I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now” (1947). However, it would be her role as Catana Perez (replacing Linda Darnell) in director Henry King’s “Captain from Castile” (1947) that will bring her star treatment and public attention though the film grossed net loss because the studio spent more for it than the market could afford.

6

After a brief slump in her popularity, the 5’ 5” (166cm) Jean had pursued the studio and convinced them to cast her as “Anne of the Indies”. It was a down to earth, unglamorous role– exactly what she preferred since sometime earlier the studio had put her on her first suspension owing to her refusal to don sexy roles. However, being the current romantic interest of the legendary billionaire Howard Hughes, beautiful Peters with brown hair and green eyes must have found it easy to step over that suspension. Even though she had a celebrated romance with Hughes in 1947, their marriage will take place only in 1957 after living with him off and on for a decade.

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Jacques Tourneur was given the director’s hat for the project in January 1951. Essentially a small-budget director with a penchant for the macabre, Tourneur had a reputation to direct movies on various genres since he always accepted all the scripts offered to him.

37mHaving finished directing “The Flame and the Arrow” (1950) starring Burt Lancaster and Virginia Mayo, Tourneur was in the right mood for yet another swashbuckler. With a secured contract with Fox and devoid of interference from producer George Jessel, the film went into production at the 20th Century-Fox Studios in Los Angeles.

Synopsis: Once the credits flashed over the screen, an establishing note on the state of affairs of the 17th century Indies is shown: “Less than two hundred and fifty years ago, the last of the great pirates wrote their names in blood and fire across the pages of maritime history. This is the story of a buccaneer Captain whose name for one short year struck terror in the hearts of seafarers and merchants, from the ports of the Caribbean to the great trading houses of London….”

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As the movie begins, we are shown the names of two English ships, Royal Charles and Sea Lady are being stricken off a register of ships for having been destroyed or sunk by the notorious Captain Providence. We then cut to: the deep ocean off Antigua where the English vessel Gemini is preparing to repel the attack of Anne’s flagship Sheba Queen. As the two ships draw nearer and the canons started firing, Anne suddenly appears on the deck of her ship while her men valiantly fought the English, their swords flashing in fierce combat. Even Anne joined her men in the fight. Before long, the English Captain had surrendered.

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Inside her cabin, Anne threw the enemy’s flag on top of the wooden desk and was pleased to learn from Dr. Jameson that he had attended to all the wounded. At this time he wanted to tend to Anne’s wound which he was sure would leave a scar on her beauty. Anne was not unfamiliar to scars most of which she had received from the English. But she is not a wench to brood over her scars, has chosen not to show her pain, even now, at her moment of glory though the fact remained that she had lost her sailing master in this assault.

She invited the doctor, her confident, to the deck where her crew were making the prisoners walk the plank – a sight, she was certain, would put some iron in the alcoholic doctor’s soul. The Captain of Gemini was grumbling that he had struck his flag hoping to receive some water. He protested to Anne about the merciless treatment meted out to the prisoners by her men. Anne retorted that she had learned such mercy from the English. Did they show mercy to her brother? They had hanged him in chains in the wharf of Port Royal with all the English just spitting on his face – she snapped at him.

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The hatred towards the English that had grown in her heart for the death of her brother, was one of the many scars Anne accumulated in her life that made her reject her femininity. The Captain was given the opportunity to express his last words. All he had to say was that, her brother was a pirate and he deserves the end that he got as Anne will deserve hers. But Anne knew that she had chosen to live with that. “By the veins of your nose you have drunk your king often in wine, now drink him in salt water” With that reply, she ordered the Captain to walk the plank.

12

It was then she noticed the handsome man in irons being led to the plank, the upper part of his body exposed. They have found him imprisoned in the English vessel which meant he is not a friend of the English. Questioning him, she learned that he is a Frenchman named Pierre François. When she introduced herself to him, it was a revelation to him. Caught in the propaganda that surrounded Captain Providence, Pierre had never expected the buccaneer Captain to be a woman. Furthermore, he had least expected it when her palm cracked on his face for having disrespectfully addressed her as “mademoiselle” rather than in her proper title of “Captain” which displayed the forcefulness of the identity she had chosen.

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It was revealed that Pierre was the owner/master of the Bordeaux registered Irish privateer, Molly O’Brien, captured by the English. He is being sent to England to stand trial for having captured too many English ships. Anne had allowed her men the pleasure to make their prisoners walk the plank except for Pierre. Being sea-smart, Anne knew that Pierre, a sea artist, would make a suitable replacement for the navigator she had lost and that was what she did to the displeasure of her Scottish first mate Red Dougal, who had been delegated by Blackbeard to protect her. As for Pierre, who is fond of life, it was not a hard choice to make when his choice was between joining the buccaneers or walk the plank.

When the booty from the Gemini was shared with her crew, Pierre was permitted to choose something for himself. While Pierre decided a woman’s dress, Anne laid her claim on a sword with a long blade, the virility of which reflected on her authority. However, Pierre’s choice had kindled her curiosity to make her enquire if he has a wench somewhere. Pierre would only reply that he is a Frenchman. Anyhow, she let him know that the sword was selected for Captain Teach, Blackbeard, a great sea-rover of a soul whom she is certain she would find in Nassau where they plan to get the supplies. The Sheba Queen headed for Nassau.

14

Anne is a protégée of the notorious English pirate Captain Edward Teach (aka. Blackbeard ca. 1680–1718). Since childhood, he was father, mother and schoolteacher to her and her half-brother. Although she knew that her father was English, his name never passed the lips of her mother who succumbed to death when Anne was young. She was called Anne Providence owing to her birth on New Providence Isle, a night to Nassau town.

15

The Black Anchor Tavern in Nassau looked a beehive of boisterous merriment. Apparently, the tavern was taken over by Blackbeard and his men and their women for partying and their idea of fun appeared to be to laugh, shout, fight, bear-wrestle, break things, get drunk, etc in the dreadful manner possible. The enormous figure of Blackbeard sat at the head of a wooden table with a woman on his lap, drinking heavily and having a great time.

16

It was during the bear-wrestling that Anne and her entourage walked in. At the sight of Blackbeard, Pierre had tried to excuse himself to go off for some business in Nassau, but reluctantly stayed when Anne assured him of her protection. So excited was Blackbeard to see her there, that he said she’s like a Northeaster after a calm.

17

Although Blackbeard had doubts about Pierre which was also intensified later by Dougal, his main interest was focused on Anne and the sword she presented him. When all of his men shied away from being a willing partner to the impulsive Blackbeard to help try the new sword, Anne was ready to let him try to carve her. A fierce but friendly duel of swords broke out between Anne and Blackbeard in which Anne displayed some playful but competent skills of swordsmanship but it was pretty obvious that he could have won over Anne easily. However, when Blackbeard was momentarily distracted, Anne grabbed the chance to win; a trickery which Blackbeard merely laughed off in a fatherly manner. Then again, Anne’s glory was short-lived when she learned from Dougal that Pierre had slipped out of the Tavern while the duel was on. The confidence she had placed in him has been displaced.

18

Later, confronted by Anne in her cabin, Pierre didn’t provide her with a proper explanation about his absence, to satisfy her doubt about his loyalty. He had neither gone to see a wench, nor is he a spy because he knows nothing of her plans. All Nassau knows that she’s in the port. Suspicious that he is hiding a secret, she ordered Dougal to put him in irons. Subsequently, he was tied up on the deck and mercilessly flogged until Dr. Jameson convinced her to stop.

19

Dr. Jameson was evidently dismayed for having been ordered by Anne to search Pierre’s cabin where he had found half of a map tucked inside his mattress. Though Anne cannot read, she can read from patterns. Assisted by Dr. Jameson, she finally figures out that the map is a link to Captain Henry Morgan’s treasure. When Morgan (ca. 1635-1688) captured Panama City, he had taken a king’s ransom which has not been accounted for.

20

Having matched the piece of map with her main map, she questioned Pierre, now lying on the wooden floor of her cabin, drained from “the taste of the cat”. Pierre had no qualms in telling her that he had bought it five years ago from an inn-keeper on the Bordeaux waterfront who found it in the body of a lodger of his. Once Anne assured him to make him equal partner with her, Pierre opened up further and related to her that his men in Porto Bello had told him of a Portuguese in Nassau trusted by Henry Morgan, In fact Pierre had been taken prisoner by the English while he was heading to Nassau to meet the Portuguese. At Nassau, Pierre had learned from the Portuguese man that a man called Pedro Mendoza living in Port Royal in Jamaica possessed the other half of the map.

21

It was then Dr. Jameson remarked to her that since she now knows what Pierre knows, she could very well kill him and go after the treasure on her own. But Anne would have none of that, for she had given Pierre her word. And that counts.

22

Port Royal was the lion’s den – the Headquarters of England’s Caribbean Squadron. That’s where they will go once they careen the hulk of Sheba Queen encrusted with hardened barnacles, to restore the ship to its proper speed. Dr. Jameson confirmed that the parchment and the ink of the map looked authentic to him.

23

As Blackbeard had taught her, Anne had carefully docked her ship in a secret cove, known only to Blackbeard and Anne, ideally positioned to cannon and command the passage through the reef while her ship lay inoperable.

24

Later, while she was walking along the beach with Pierre, she was surprised to learn that he was born in Paris. Anne advocated that he can take her there as a partner after they have lifted the treasure. But overriding this subject was her curiosity to know for whom he had chosen that yellow dress.

25

He had obviously noted the anxiety in her question and told her that it is for no one in particular – perhaps for a woman he hoped someday to meet. Having caught with her guard down, she quickly pulled herself up to her rank, but her sudden change in manner essentially gave away the tell-tale sign of affection for him that was growing in her heart.

26

The following day, Pierre walked into his make-shift cabin and found Anne trying on the yellow corseted dress he had chosen from the booty. This is the moment for which that dress was made for. She looked like a breath of spring. Even though her face looked unaffected from his sudden intrusion, the thoughtful Frenchman knew that he had awakened the feminine side of this ruthless pirate queen.

27

Well, she can’t underestimate his ability to get through to her heart and to melt away her defences. But he would use his power responsibly. Pierre helped her tie the back ribbons of the dress, an act which acted as the precursor to a conversation that stirred the woman inside her, exposed her inner feelings she was silently weaving around Pierre. She dared him to tell her “how a Frenchman, a gentleman, made love?” knowing that it would draw him to her. Soon, they merged into a passionate kiss.

28

It seems all good things in life are not meant to last. The expression of their “burning” desire turned out to be short-lived and frustrating as Dougal suddenly walked in and caught them in the act.

29

On hearing the news about an approaching ship, Anne’s spyglass confirmed the arrival of Blackbeard’s flagship “(Queen Anne’s) Revenge”. How happy she appeared in welcoming Blackbeard with Jamaican rum. She listened to him saying that he had looked for her in Tortuga and had realised that she’s docked here to careen.

30

Without losing much time, Blackbeard accused that Pierre is a traitor. He is Lieutenant Pierre François La Rochelle of the French Navy. He had seen Pierre at Martinique when the French hanged his colleague Sam Austine from a yardarm. Confronted once again by Anne, Pierre explained that everything which Blackbeard told was true. He merely neglected to mention about the commission because the memory of that chapter was painful to him. He was cashiered from the navy in disgrace. He had witnessed the hanging only because the entire officers were ordered to be present. Anne is in command here, and he is not on Blackbeard’s deck. She can be assured that he will serve her loyally.

31

Disregarding her support for Pierre, Blackbeard’s sword struck out at Pierre. Abruptly, Anne’s sword lashed out at Blackbeard with dynamic forcefulness. During the angered spat of words that followed, Anne slapped his face- in front of his men. She ordered him and his men off the island. The line has been crossed. Blackbeard never forgets an insult. Now there will be war between them.

32

As Blackbeard and his men left the island, Anne ordered Dr. Jameson to care for Pierre lying unconscious on the ground. Before she moved off from Pierre, she couldn’t resist planting a kiss on his forehead.

The Sheba Queen was safely anchored off the coast of Jamaica. Given that Anne was denied from going to the island in his place to obtain the other half of map from Petro Mendoza, she arranged with Dougal to take Pierre on a row boat to leave him ashore at the Portland Point and wait for him on the beach. She gave Pierre some English Guineas to pay the man and advised him to offer Mendoza a share of the treasure if he insists for more.

33

At Port Royal, Pierre went straight to “The Governor’s Tavern” where the English Aristocrats were engaged in smoking, drinking, playing table games or other things such men usually do in such places. Pierre was recognised as “Captain La Rochelle” by the Maitre d’ and promised to arrange the people whom Pierre wanted to meet urgently.

34

In a dark room upstairs, he met a pretty woman we soon discover to be his wife Molly La Rochelle. He confirmed to her that their plan has succeeded and that the legendary Captain Providence is a woman. They seal their reunion with a kiss before he was called downstairs to meet up with the English Naval officers who have engaged him to entrap the pirates.

35

The English were rejoiced at the news that the Sheba Queen was anchored off Portland Point and will remain there till daybreak. And, of course, they appreciate that Captain Providence suspects nothing though they were rather surprised to learn that the notorious pirate is a female. With this information in hand, the English attack Anne of the Indies …..

36

As Darryl Zanuck once said, “Success in movies boil down to three things: story, story, story.” The final climax of the film was subject of deliberations since Zanuck was not satisfied by the motive provided for Anne. The result was that Dunne suggested shooting the climax in different ways. However, after the shooting was completed, having found that the present ending was unsatisfactory to the audience, the ending was again modified with further retakes. According to Tourneur’s contract which stipulated that the production was to be completed within fifteen weeks, the production of “Anne of the Indies” must have been wound up before May, 1951 since by then Tourneur was supposed to be in Argentina for the production of “Way of a Gaucho”.

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Adventure movies call for a directorial and an acting style which is well known to adventure directors such as Raoul Welsh, Howard Hawks, John Huston, Richard Fleischer, Henry Hathaway, Michael Curtiz, and Jacques Tourneur. Shot in Technicolor by Cinematographer Harry Jackson and ably edited by Robert Fritch, director Jacques Tourneur’s film features restraint and admirable performances of his stars in well made up sets, lighting and studio locations.

39

The film truthfully portrays Anne as a ruthless pirate who has denied her femininity and doesn’t know what it means to be a woman, or to be loved. In order to illustrate Anne’s crisis of identity, Tourneur used a scene in the beginning of the film to establish Anne’s strong heart and the softness of her bosom when Dr. Jameson tends to her wound. Despite Jean Peters’ cute and pretty looks which occasionally subdue her efforts to make Anne look dangerous and ruthless, her performance with an athletic agility is flawless though, couple of times, her cheerful countenance has appeared rather teasing.

40

Louis Jourdan’s performance in the role of Frenchie merited critical acclaim. Ever since Zanuck had that terrible polo ball accident in late December 1941, he had switched his interest in sport to croquet which he used to arrange on the lawn of his house in Palm Springs. Frequented by a cross-section of Hollywood society, international celebrities, etc, his lawns became the croquet capital of California. Jourdan who was a contract star of Fox and best of the regulars to Zanuck’s house, was found to be perfect fit for the role of Pierre.

41

Louis Jourdan’s movies conjure up an image of him as a suave, dashing, romantic charmer. In spite of this, the Marseilles born Jourdan (aka Louis Gendre) had also managed to appear in villainous roles. Beginning his acting career in the French film “Le Corsaire” (1932), Jourdan became a star after producer David O. Selznick cast him in Alfred Hitchcock’s court room drama “The Paradine Case” (1947) for which Franz Waxman was the music director. But his finest performance before he acted in “Anne of the Indies” was in Max Ophuls’ “Letter from an Unknown Woman”.

42

British actor Herbert Marshall (1890-1966) with considerable stage experience acts as the alcoholic Dr. Jameson who helplessly hovers around watching Anne trapped in her crisis of identity. The mannerism of the wise and philosophical Dr. Jameson in the scenes where Anne displays her determination to acquire the respect she deserves; when she is in conflict with her human emotions; is well portrayed by Marshall.

43

In the role of the boisterous Blackbeard, the heavyset, stage character actor Thomas Gomez (Sabino Tomas Gomez – 1905-1971) made use of the opportunity to drink, laugh, turn tables, and swash his sword to realistically portray the larger-than-life of the renowned pirate.

44

Gomez was a member of the Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne theatre group before he ventured into movies. An aficionado of gourmet dining and a close friend of Jean Peters, he had co-starred with her in “Captain from Castile

45

Tall and hefty, England born actor James Robertson Justice (James Norval Harald Robertson Justice – 1907-1975) with whiskers and booming voice had completed a series of films, viz. “The Black Rose” and “The Magnet” (1950), “Blackmailed”, “Pool of London”, “Captain Horatio Hornblower” and “David and Bathsheba” (1951) prior to his role as Red Dougal.

46

The mannerism of Dougal when Anne chose Pierre as her sea artist when she knew nothing of him; his confidential talks with Blackbeard and Dr. Jameson; his ever watchful eyes on Anne; the suppressed outrage on his face when he caught Anne and Pierre kissing – have all been perfectly portrayed by Justice.

47

Hailing from a show biz family, the 5’ 2” (157cm) Debra Paget (Debralee Griffin) obtained an acting contract from 20th Century-Fox at the age of 14, debuting in “Cry of the City” (1948). Having earned proficiency in speaking from Helena Sorrell, the dramatic coach of 20th Century-Fox, and fairly active in movies at that time, she co-starred with Louis Jourdan and Jeff Chandler in director Delmer Daves’ “Birds of Paradise” which also hit the screens in 1951.

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Although Paget’s role in “Anne of the Indies” is confined to few dark scenes, her effervescent beauty lights up the darker scenes which are rampant in many of Tourneur’s films. Appearing pale and innocent, Paget has nothing much to do except look distressed and wear a few moments of brave face when she antagonizes Anne over Molly’s rights over her husband.

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Other members of cast are Francis Pierlot (Herkimer), Sean McClory (Hackett), Holmes Herbert (British sea captain), Byron Nelson (Bear handler), Douglas Bennett (Bear wrestler), Mario Siletti (Auctioneer), etc.

50

Notwithstanding the lesser budget, the film features sets and props with truthful authenticity, there are Naval cannons, antique swords, males’ earrings and some of the guns used by the pirates and the English are even Flintlock pistols.

51

The artistic and talented art directors Lyle Wheeler (1905-1990) and Albert Hogsett have faithfully created the set pieces, though standard and familiar, with the expertise of set decorators Thomas Little and Claude Carpenter.

52

Lynn had started his career at M.G.M when David Selznick hired him to work under production designer William Cameron Menzies on “Gone with the Wind” following which he ran the art department of Twentieth Century-Fox from 1944 to 1960. Lynn won five Academy Awards for Best Art Direction after having been nominated twenty-nine times, four of which in 1951.

53

While the makeup is by Ben (Benjamin Emmet) Nye, the film’s wardrobe is directed by American Costume designer Charles Le Maire (1897-1985) who ran the Wardrobe department of 20th Century-Fox from the early 1940s. For this film he had collaborated with Costumes designer Edward Stevenson (1906-1968) who himself started in Hollywood from 1922 and became the chief designer at RKO from 1936-49.

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Although most of the costumes are standard pirate and navy gear which kept up the atmosphere, the feminine costumes for Jean Peters and Debra Paget and for some extras are very minimal. Apart from the yellow dress Anne wears inside the make-shift cabin, the other one is a white nightgown shown in very dim lighting as she gazed at the glittering sea.

55

German composer Franz Waxman (Franz Wachsmann – 1906-1967) with orchestration by Edward Powell have provided a rousing score that blend well with the romantic nature of the story. Other than montage, music is one of the two most “invisible” contributing arts to cinema and Waxman is renowned for his very close understanding of when music should appear in the narrative.

56

Arriving in America in 1934, Waxman provided his first original score for “Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) after which he worked for two years with Universal Studios, before moving to M.G.M and later onto Warner Bros until he won the Academy Award for “Sunset Boulevard” (1950) and “A Place in the Sun” (1951).

57

Years and years later, this routine swashbuckler evoked some deliberations in seminars and conferences because of the identity crisis of the lead character. There were also some writings including an essay titled “Femininity and the masquerade: Anne of the Indies”.

58

Considering the lack of depth in the psychological density of the main characters and also in the thinly plotted story, I would think this movie was just another job for Tourneur.

59

I would also like to think that Tourneur made this film without any alternative agenda other than to make a simple pirate tale – some 81 minutes of entertainment which has all the virtues of the genre: sea-battles, swashbuckling, adventure and drama with a twist showcasing the protagonist as a female dressed in male attire to suit the environment of the buccaneers of the story; and also, to differentiate this film from a series of swashbuckler films featuring male leads various studios were chucking out during 1940s and 50s.

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Anne of the Indies cannot be compared to a lively, colourful period film featuring a protagonist with the lighter-than-air agility of Douglas Fairbanks or an extrovert, acrobatic hero portrayed by Burt Lancaster. Nevertheless, this old-fashioned harmless family movie has an underlining story of Anne going through her identity crises, searching for love which is quite unfamiliar to her.

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Anne’s love is her weakness and to us it has made her human, even though she is riddled with faults. By making Anne endearing to us, lovely Jean Peters leaves a memory of a breed of heroines long gone from our screens. Until next time, Ciao, Jo.

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(This review is dedicated to the memory of lovely Jean Peters)

(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 15: Adventures of Don Juan

 

(Aka: “The New Adventures of Don Juan”, “El Burlador de Castilla”, “La Avventure di Don Giovanni”, “Die Liebesabenteuer des Don Juan”, “Les Aventures de Don Juan” – Technicolor – December 24, 1948)

Back in 1944, Samuel Goldwyn productions released a romantic comedy titled “The Princess and the Pirate”, starring Bob Hope and Virginia Mayo which told the story of a distressed princess who travelled incognito on the high seas and was rescued by the most unlikely of the knights. The production of this swashbuckler was made with utmost secrecy to protect its ending which naturally caught the curiosity of certain studio heads in Hollywood.

 

At that time, the situation was ripe for a diversion from war movies which the audiences were getting tired of since the middle of 1943. Taking into account the major interest of the audience in the glitz and glamour of the movies of historical-romantic fiction set during 17th & 18th century, Jack (Jacob) Warner, the president of Warner Brothers Studios, decided to bring in some power of his own to such movies by casting Errol Flynn in a big-budget swashbuckler film he had kept in the wings for some time.

 

Back in 1926, Warner Brothers had made a silent version of Don Juan with legendry actor John Barrymore in the lead. Jack Warner had noted the parallels that connected the character of Don Juan de Maraña with John Barrymore and his fellow-drunk Errol Flynn whom Warner Brothers had initially employed at their Teddington studio. Warner draw up an action-filled script centered on the romantic exploits of Don Juan with Flynn as the title character. However, this version does not in anyway correlate to the drama, literature, poetry, or music of the Don Juan legend portrayed in earlier presentations. As an alternative to the youthful, morally righteous hero, the new Don Juan will be a distinct ladies’ man who would cut a dash on a horse and wield a sword even though he would be a tad more jaded and fickle.

The studio immediately swung into action and roped in director Raoul Walsh to start shooting in May, 1945, nearly four months prior to the end of World War II on September 2. The shooting dates were set up since few sets were already prepared. Then everything went topsy-turvy. An industry-wide strike of studio set designers that broke out in March, 1945 paved way to a bloody riot in front of the main gates of Warner Brothers studios in California on October 5, 1945 (known as Hollywood Black Friday). Although the strike came to an end one month later, it soon brewed up into another strike which lasted some 13 months before matters were somewhat sorted out. Several attempts by the studio to reorganize the cancelled dates of the project (initially with non-strikers/replacement workers) in the next two and a half years were met with failure.

Being the period following the end of the war when the box office receipts were slumped, in order to make the production economical, producer Jerry Wald (1911-1962) started taking steps to revise and embellish the script (based on the original story by Herbert (Addison) Dalmas (1902-1989)), with the help of a series of writers, including “Max Brand” (aka: Frederick Faust) and William Faulkner. Aside from the use of props and scenes from “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex”, a sequence relating to a great ball was definitely removed from the final screenplay that would be at last credited to screenwriters George Oppenheimer (1900-1977) and Harry Kurnitz (1907-1968). Some people in the field of film-making have an innate ability to turn screenplays into star-studded blockbusters.

Director Vincent Sherman and George Oppenheimer were two of them. Oppenheimer who was the co-founder of the Viking Press, was often used to improve the scripts of others.

In 1948, “Adventures of Casanova” produced by Bryan Foy who had long association with Warner Brothers came out to good reviews. Starring Mexican actor Arturo de Cordova, this swashbuckler devoid of historical accuracy, was packed with first-rate swordplay about an 18th-century Casanova returning to Palermo, Sicily to help overthrow the tyrannical rule of the king of Naples. This is the first movie that was shown on WCBS-TV’s Channel 2 which would become the legendry late-night movie channel “The Late Show” in 1951. The film would act as a suitable precursor for Warner Brothers-First National Picture’s new Errol Flynn vehicle.

Adventures of Don Juan”, does not follow the basic storyline of a great lover’s entanglements with the Italian Borgia family, as featured in John Barrymore’s version. On the contrary, Flynn’s Don Juan de Maraña, living in 17th century Spain, is concerned with spoiling the dastardly schemes of the lovely Queen Margaret’s first minister, Duke of Lorca and wooing her.

Synopsis: Outskirts of London. The night had fallen now. We see a dark figure stealthily climbing a tree which was leaning towards the balcony of a villa. We can see a beautiful young lady anxiously looking down at the figure lifting himself up through the branches to keep up the secret rendezvous with her. The narrator had already started to explain the state of affairs of the period:

In Europe, as the 17th century dawned, mankind was lifting itself from ignorance and superstition. The old frontiers of the mind were rolling back. New books, new methods were aiding man in his time taught knowledge and wisdom. In the laboratory, in the arts, in every field of endeavour, man was lifting himself, hand over hand, climbing onward, ever upward. And on the outskirts of London, on a summer night, another man was lifting himself, hand over hand, climbing upward, ever onward toward his objective” – Count d’Orsini’s wife, Catherine.

Having climbed onto the balcony and into the arms of robust, rosy-cheeked Catherine, she demands to know what took him so long. Don Juan explained that no power on earth would have kept him away from her. In this entire world there has been only one image in his heart, one vision for his eyes. He had loved her since the beginning of time. Now Catherine was confused: She had only met him yesterday! Don Juan was ready for that: Yes, yesterday was when time began. After they surfaced from a kiss rooted in flowering passion, he tenderly assured her that he is hers alone – 101%. Yet Catherine could not believe him – he has made love to countless women. Once again his smile flashed. “Catherine, an artist may paint a thousand canvases before achieving one work of art. Would you deny your love the same practice?” He had apparently developed some wonderful poetic skills. When Catherine implored him to let her know how long he will love her, he decided to release her from her emotional chains. “Sweet lady, love is not measured in terms of time, but only in ecstasy.”

Don Juan found some ground for solace when she told him that even though she is married, she is unattached to her husband, Cecil, who is now on a hunting trip to satisfy his extreme fondness for grouse. Inside the privacy of her bedroom, their amorous exploits were abruptly cut short by the arrival of Catherine’s elderly husband. Vanity is fair in love and hate. Her wrathful husband promptly challenged Don Juan to a valiant duel of swords which Cecil was inevitably set to loose. Disappointments have taught Don Juan to be realistic. Don Juan de Maraña took the trouble to advise Cecil that he should be ashamed of himself to leave a beautiful young woman alone neglected while he indulged in his selfish pleasures – grouse hunting! When did he last tell her that she is beautiful? The man appeared to have a mental block when it comes to admitting he is wrong. Cecil should remind her of her beauty every day of her life. Write poetry, send her flowers (to which Catherine added: “and jewelry”) When he put her back into her lovely mood, she is such an exquisite delight. No argument there.

Though Don Juan departed from the balcony with a carefree smile, he and his faithful servant Leporello, were given chase by the guards of Count d’Orsini. On the road, they came across a cavalry of Queen Elizabeth of England who were waiting for the Duke of Cordoba to arrive by dawn to escort him along the road to London. Having been taken for the Duke of Cordoba, Don Juan and Leporello were accorded royal escort to London and to his bride.

 

They were led in a pageant parade through the streets of London town teeming with its populous. Though Lady Diana was reluctant to her betrothal to the Duke of Cordoba which ensured a new cycle of prosperity for England, having found the imposter to be Don Juan, she was over the moon that he had found her again.

 

She edgily poked his mind to remember of their secret tryst four months ago at the garden of a Countess in Paris. How could he forget those pleasantries and pleasures? As she bolted the door, a thin smile flickered on her lips, and there was a malicious glitter in her eyes. This time she will not let him forget her. It didn’t take much longer for the paramours to drift into a kiss which was broken by the arrival of the real Duke of Cordoba. Though Don Juan and Leporello were immediately imprisoned, they were soon paroled to the custody of His Excellency Count de Polan, the Ambassador of Spain.

 

With his release from the English jail, Don Juan seemed headed for the Spanish prison since having returned to Madrid, the Duke of Cordoba had complained to the weak and feckless King Felipe III and Queen Margaret of Spain about the series of amatory escapades of Don Juan de Maraña who had damaged the prestige of Spain and messed up the marriage of convenience shaped expressly for the purpose of peace between Spain and England. There is a fair chance of hanging. Count de Polan, who is a friend of Don Juan’s father, told him to leave London and return to Madrid to present himself before the Spanish Court for Her Majesty’s judgment.

 

The Count had written to the Queen urging that she deal gently with Don Juan. Though Don Juan claimed he knew nothing of matters such as court intrigue, the ambassador had maintained that he devote his time to help the heartbroken Queen to attain peace in her country ruled by the subservient sovereign King Felipe III under the influence of his first minister, who has been plaguing her of late. His loyalty to the Queen would help her to face the cunning Duke of Lorca who is hatching a ruthless plot to elevate himself as a power behind the throne. Don Juan and Leporello rode across the midlands into the city of Madrid….and so the future began….

 

The shooting of ”Adventures of Don Juan” started in October, 1947 under Vincent (Vince) Sherman (born Abram Orovitz – 1906-2006), a former American stage actor who joined with Warner Brothers in 1938 where he was assigned to their B-picture unit. Sherman who had associated with chubby dynamo Jerry Wald since “All Through the Night” (1941), had launched his directorial career with the horror movie “The Return of Doctor X” (1939). Owing to his experience in numerous Theatre Guild productions on Broadway, reworking of scripts and finally directing movies, Vince Sherman became an expert in film making: in its continuity and cutting and progression. He made films relishing in the love and devotion of his wife Hedda Comorau who turned a blind eye to, according to IMDB, his occasional romantic flings with actresses Bette Davis, Joan Crawford and later with Rita Hayworth. Being a good friend of Errol Flynn who was the big white hope of Warner Brothers, Sherman had no qualms when Flynn asked to direct him in ”Adventures of Don Juan” which he did with his customary efficiency.

1944 was a period when the Tasmania born Errol Leslie Thomson Flynn was spawning lot of publicity from his off-screen feats, especially the foul smell derived from his rape trial of 1943. Flynn had been an English repertory theatre actor before obtaining a contract with Warner Brothers and would become rated as the best swashbuckler of the sound cinema – an image created with the help of director Michael Curtiz with whom he finally quarreled and split.

Keeping up with the image of the daringly gallant and dashing swashbuckler, Errol Flynn maintained an appetite for a delightful and hard life. He had his own dedicated group of drinkers and keeping him within the production schedule was one heck of a job for director Sherman and unit manager Frank Mattison. The “Singing Cowboy” Gene Autry once said, “(Flynn) spent more time on a bar stool, or in court, or in the headlines, or in bed, than anyone I knew.” He was once described by David Niven as “a magnificent specimen of the rampant male.” The frivolous, sardonic, and rather witty initial scenes of Don Juan wooing an enamoured Catherine and the inevitable encounter with her enraged husband is a spoof of the personality of Don Juan and of star Flynn himself.

While the burden to carry the film focused on the title character is loaded on the star performer; few weeks into the production, Flynn disappeared out of town for a few weeks, possibly for one of his major binges, leaving the artistic collaborators in the enterprise to shut the unit down and wait it out until he returned. When he finally positioned himself before the camera, he appeared sodden with alcohol which was consumed from mid-afternoon onwards, forbidding him from going on with a scene for long. This is despite Flynn’s famous trick of spending half hour in the steam room to get the booze off him. However, all this resulted in a good deal of additional set ups, retakes, editing rhythms and extra time though Sherman once said that this happened only once.

 

Despite the studio’s endeavor to wink at Flynn’s age, there was some concern about the roughened state of his face from his hard living.  In spite that Flynn sometimes failed to generate the excitement of the performance of Douglas Fairbanks or Burt Lancaster, I think he had great personal style and that the flamboyant Flynn’s physic was tailor-made for the swashbuckling roles. Being a great natural athlete, it was Flynn’s lighter-than-air agility, light-hearted seriousness, a degree of grace and style, and pure English-speaking voice which turned out “Adventures of Don Juan” to be a good film.

The role of Spanish Queen Margaret was portrayed by the Uppsala born 28-year old Swedish actress Viveca Lindfors (Elsa Viveca Torstensdotter Lindfors – 1920-95). Before she was imported to Hollywood by Warner Brothers in 1946, she was appearing on stage and in films having been trained at The Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm like her fellow Swedish actresses Greta Garbo, Signe Hasso, Mai Zetterling and Ingrid Bergman.

Queen Margaret would be Lindfors’ first appearance in a Warner/Hollywood movie. I have a strong feeling that the appearance and mannerism of Lindfors in the role of Queen Margaret had influenced in formulating Sophia Loren’s character of Doña Jimena in “El Cid

The role of the subservient King Felipe III is played by Romney Brent (1902-76), the dapper Mexican actor/director also known as Romulo Larralde.

Buckinghamshire born stage actor Robert Douglas (Robert Douglas Finlayson – 1909-99) was a student of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and appeared on British stages before he moved to Hollywood after the war and specialized in roles of suave and arrogant villains. Douglas stars as the king’s illusory minister, the Duke de Lorca who had his heels on the king’s neck. This role was originally meant for Claude Rains and later for George Coulouris. Well versed in swordplay, Douglas had studio experience in having dueled with the likes of Stewart Granger, Robert Taylor, Burt Lancaster, etc. Douglas’ stylish daredevil duel with Flynn on the grand staircase in the king’s palace, though at times not totally fair, has by now attained cult status.

Burly Alan Hale Sr. (Rufus Edward MacKahan – 1892-1950) was a cheerful actor who played heroes in silent action films and similar to his role of Leporello, was often cast as a jovial sidekick of Errol Flynn. Having acted in period films such as “The Last Days of Pompeii”, “The Man in the Iron Mask”, “The Sea Hawk”, his career would see him acting as Little John in three movies, viz., “Robin Hood”, “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and in “Rogues of Sherwood Forest”. Interestingly, innovations such as the folding theatre-seats and hand fire extinguisher are credited to him.

The lady in the coach at the end of the movie is played by none other than  Nora Eddington (1924-2001), the second wife of Errol Flynn whom the nineteen year old Nora had met in 1943 while working at the courthouse where Flynn was undergoing trial for statutory rape from which he was acquitted. Unfortunately the couple who married in 1944 at Mexico will be divorced in 1949.

The former child stage star/leading lady Ann Rutherford (Donna Elena), character actor Robert Warwick (aka: Robert Taylor Bien – Count de Polan), British actor Aubrey Mather  

    

(Lord Chalmers), former child actress Helen Westcott (aka: Myrthas Helen Hickman – Lady Diana), dwarf actor Jerry Austin (Don Sebastian), Douglas Kennedy (aka: Keith Douglas – Don Rodrigo), Jeanne Shepard (Donna Carlotta), Mary Stuart (Catherine), G.P. Huntley, Jr. (Count d’Orsini), Spanish Opera singer Fortunio Bonanova (Don Serafino), Irish character actress Una O’Connor (Duenna), heavily-built Canadian actor Raymond Burr (Captain Alvarez), etc rounded off the supporting cast.

 

The film features impressive photography by English Cinematographer/actor Elwood (Bailey) Bredell Sr. (1902-1969), a former lab technician who would, while working with Universal Studios during the period 1937-46, reveal his cinematographic skills in films of genre: thrillers and film noir. Bredell’s chance to picture big-budget movies came after his shift to Warner Brothers in 1947, when his sumptuous visual style attained a new dimension in filming that resulted in richly textured images which embellished movies such as “Adventures of Don Juan”, “Female Jungle”, and “Journey into Light”, the latter of which also offered him occasion to work with Viveca Lindfors once again. For “Adventures of Don Juan”, Bredell and his team not only took care of the artistically and dramatically expressive angles, but generated a mixture of shadows and diffused lighting that would provide a memorable atmosphere of sinister visions to the frames.

The film is edited by Alan Crosland, Jr. (1918-2001), the son of Alan Crosland who directed “Don Juan”, the 1926 silent film of Warner Brothers starring John Barrymore. Crosland. Jr’s expert editing patterns can be noted in the brisk pace as the duel heightens, as well as in the smooth flow of scenes he had put together from the asymmetrical frames occasioned by disruptive filming.

Though the location filming was done in West Hills, Providencia Ranch (Hollywood Hills) and Warner Ranch (Calabasas), the interiors were mostly shot in semi-Expressionist sets at Stages in Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, California, under the direction of Art Director Edward Carrere and Set Decorator Lyle B. Reifsnider.

 

The specially constructed magnificent sets of the king’s palace and the grand staircase adds colour and dynamism to the expertly choreographed duel between the heroic Flynn and scoundrel Douglas which takes place to the splendour of Max Steiner’s rousing score. The initial scene at the balcony gives a richly coloured texture, the streets of 17th century London and Madrid, the entire palace including the dungeon were all arranged to provide a picture-book-look by providing due consideration to the minute details. Edward Carrere justly received an Academy Award for the Art Direction for this movie.

 

The characters were dressed up beautifully by Costume designers Leah Rhodes, Marjorie Best (uncredited) and William (Billy) Travilla. The costumes that express authenticity, especially of delectable Viveca Lindfors, are befittingly designed, the influence of which is evident in the costumes worn by Sophia Loren in “El Cid” and “The Fall of the Roman Empire”. The black band around Flynn’s head during the final scenes conjures up the flair and grace of Douglas Fairbanks. The film would win the Academy Award for Costume Design. Dress designer Billy Travilla (1920-90) was an employ of Columbia Pictures from 1941 to 43 before he was brought to Warner Brothers by actress Ann Sheridan, where his first work is for this movie. He would later become famous for his dresses designed for Marilyn Monroe one of which is the snow white ivory halterneck cocktail dress blowing in the breeze in Monroe’s “The Seven Year Itch”.

 

Perc Westmore who handled the make-up for this movie is the son of George Westmore, the head of the famous family of Hollywood make-up artists who had earned their reputation during a period when none of today’s popular creams like Diors’ “Capture Totale”, or Lancôme’s “Génifique” to name a few, were available.

The enthralling dueling sequences were staged with a tongue-in-cheek approach by the team of Assistant Director Richard Mayberry, Fencing Master Fred Cavens and special-effects men William McGann and John Crouse blended together by maestro Sherman by casting doubles. The duel scenes in the dungeon, in the halls of the palace and on the grand staircase were aptly staged, even though Don Juan’s spectacular leap from the stairs during the duel was performed by Jock Mahoney (1919-89), the only stuntman who was willing to do that dangerous stunt and was paid S1,000 for it.

 

The film is laced with the romantic and richly melodious score of Austrian composer Max Steiner (Maximilian Raoul Walter Steiner – 1888-1971) with orchestrations by Murray Cutter. One of Hollywood’s most prolific film score writers, Steiner had provided music for “Gone With the Wind”, “Casablanca”, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, “The Jazz Singer”, to name a few. It was Max Steiner who first came up with the potentiality of scoring films with original compositions, convincing the producers about the important role music can play in conveying the mood, character and pace of a film. Originally, fellow Austrian Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was assigned to score for “Adventures of Don Juan” but was reassigned to Steiner since Korngold had left Warner Brothers by the time the filming was wrapped up.

To provide score for an action film like this is a complicated art requiring tremendous skill in precision timing which Steiner has fulfilled by providing the most enjoyable accompaniment to the pageantry and stylish scenes of the movie.

 

To promote the movie, Warner Brothers even reissued “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “The Sea Hawk” in America which performed very well in spite that they lacked Technicolor photography. Though “Adventures of Don Juan” did thriving business in Europe, it put up only a reasonable success in the U.S box office – a clear indication that Flynn’s golden days were not going to have resurgence and this expensive, but generally entertaining swashbuckler would be Flynn’s last big-budget extravaganza.

Every movie leaves something to the imagination. “Adventures of Don Juan” has a safe corner in the memory as a film created with the involvement of great talents who had impeccably crafted wonderful sets, high-end action scenes, colorful period costumes, a harmony of melodious, rousing score dominated by violins, trumpets, and drums – all that and more…

Take your pleasures where you can. The curious are urged not to miss it. Ciao, Jo.

(PS: The DVD of this movie is available with main dealers such as amazon.com, TCM Shop, etc)

(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)

StarChoice 14: The Million Pound Note

(Aka: “Man with A Million”, “Big Money”, “L’homme aux million”, “El millonario”, “Il forestiero”, “Sein größter Bluff – Colour – 1954) 

A true Englishman doesn’t joke when he is talking about so serious a thing as a wager”, wrote Jules Verne in “Around the World in Eighty Days”. This brings to my mind the high-profile bet the Virgin boss, British billionaire Sir Richard Branson made with Tony Fernandes, the group chief executive of Air Asia. By way of passing, I also remember a wager struck up between a couple of my friends during their recent shopping spree at an upper-class boutique in Madrid, when they came across a middle-aged Indian lady admiring the bridal gowns par excellence by prestigious wedding dresses designers displayed there. As for the subject of their bet, one maintained that the lady is looking for a wedding gown for her daughter while the other one heldthat it is for herself. Mind you, as it turned out, none of them were right. The salesman known to them from previous visits later told them that while seeing her off at the door, he had courteously complemented her that he is sure the bridal gown she just purchased would be lovely for her daughter.  Right away, she had given him a baffled look and retorted: “For my daughter?! This is for me to wear at a high society party back in Bombay!” That said, she walked out in a huff.

It is not hard to make a decision when you are firm in your belief as to its objective. Apparently, it is Victoria Beckham’s belief in her sense of style that earned her the Womenswear Designer of the Year award at the 2012 WGSN Global Fashion Awards. Quite similarly, the success in a wager is related to the belief in the standpoint of the bettor. However, to play safe from gamble, a better way to triple the money is to fold it thrice and stash it inside the wallet.

Today I am writing about a wager set by two Englishmen which is the theme of British director Ronald Neame’s “The Million Pound Note”, a film which is rated in a guide as “Witty, intelligent and charming”. Assessing the four main elements of movie making – script, acting, cinematography and editing, I have no reason at all to disagree to this rating.

The Million Pound Note” was released in the United Kingdom in January 1954. This Ronald Neame and John Bryan production was produced at Pinewood Studios in England in 1953 when the film industry and exhibitors were striving to curb the menace and progress of television against box office. It was during this year that 20th Century Fox released their initial CinemaScope film, “The Robe” and also when drive-in theatres sprang up across America. The year saw the release of “Bwana Devil”, the first film on Polaroid’s dual projector 3D system, the precursor to 3-D or three dimensional films. A string of high quality movies hit the screen during 1953: “Julius Caesar”, “Stalag 17”, “From Here to Eternity”, “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”, and William Wyler’s “Roman Holiday”, catapulting its leading star Gregory Peck to greater heights.

The tall, principled and handsome Gregory Peck was 37 years old when he was cast in the role of Henry Adam which was perfected for him. It is a jolly good treat to watch Peck’s unpretentious seaman going through the experiences goaded by a million pound note as he gained wisdom from the fascination it created in the London society. Born Eldred Gregory Peck, he had attended Sanford Meisner’s Neighborhood Playhouse School of Theater in New York where performers like Grace Kelly, Geraldine Page, Steve McQueen, et al had attended, following which Peck performed on stage till the early 1940s. Actor Eli Wallach remembers him as “tall, slim, almost regal and very shy”, while his contemporary Karl Malden in his memoirs sums up Peck’s days as a stage actor as: “I knew right away that he was going to be a big star. He had a resonant voice and a winning, relaxed manner on stage.”

Peck’s opportunity came when Hollywood was experiencing the absence of romantic leading men due to the war, debuting with 1944’s “Days of Glory”. Having become an instant star with “The Keys of the Kingdom”, Peck was rated as a downright decent leading man. He had worked with Hollywood legends such as Alfred Hitchcock, John Huston, William Wyler, Elia Kazan, etc, though some of his best films were under the direction of Henry King. His considerable charm had been put to effective use in comedies such as Stanley Donan’s “Arabesque” or Vincente Minelli’s “Designing Woman”, but Peck is least interesting when he is portraying straightforward integrity. Ever the gentleman, Peck was a “straight arrow, who took the job of acting seriously and analytically.” While acting, he maintained that anyone standing around in his eye line had to be moved off out of the way.

Esteemed as one of the great screen actors with a string of outstanding performances in movies, Peck went on to win five Academy Award nominations and won the Best actor Oscar in 1963 for his performance as the courageous small-town lawyer Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mocking Bird”. He was also awarded with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

He would become the first actor-president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for three years from 1967 to 1970, a period known for his efforts to rejuvenate the organization and its image by trying to bring in younger stars into its membership.

In 1953 when the pre-production work on “The Million Pound Note” was about to begin, Gregory Peck was in Italy acting in “Roman Holiday”. He was also going through a patch of despair due to separation from his Finnish wife Greta Kukkonen (née Eine Matilda Kukkonen), which was soon reversed when he fell in love with Paris-born journalist Veronique Passani, whom he met when she interviewed him for the French daily newspaper France Soir. Peck would marry her soon after his divorce from Kukkonen in 1955.

The Million Pound Note” starts with a display of the company logo of J Arthur Rank Organisation of a golden gong being struck by the gong man’s familiar slow-motion swing of arms. The man you see there is the English heavyweight boxer, Bombardier William “Billy” Thomas Wells, the first of Rank’s gong men. The credits are shown with melodious classical music with stirring effectiveness and snippets from instrumental version of the patriotic British song “Rule Britannia”.

According to the narration at the beginning of the movie, the story starts at a time when Britain was very rich, and deep in the vaults of England there was more gold than anywhere else in the world. Safe, people used to say, safe as the Bank of England. In this time, there lived two elderly and superbly wealthy brothers named Oliver and Roderick Montpelier at their grand mansion at Belgrave Square. Being a bit oddball in nature, they entertained different opinions regarding people’s attitudes to the symbol of wealth. Having decided to play a wager to prove this, the brothers acquired a single currency note for a million pounds issued on June 20, 1903 by the Bank ofEngland.

Oliver Montpelier thought that the note felt good and maintained that such is people’s attitudes to the symbol of wealth that by merely possessing this scrap of paper, without ever cashing it, you could have everything you wanted. On the contrary, Roderick found the note quite unique, an exquisite thing of beauty and believed that it would be quite useless if you were denied the right to cash it.

For now, we are introduced to the leading character of the movie, a penniless and friendless young seaman named Henry Adams from New England who was stranded in London. He was at his wit’s end for having failed in his efforts to find a job. As a last resort, he had even approached the Consulate of the United States of America where he encountered a display board which discouraged American citizens from approaching the Consulate for monetary help:

“This Consulate is not provided with funds by the U.S Government

for the assistance of needy Americans in London”

 

It was when he was trying to pick up a discarded pear from the pavement that he was invited by the two brothers to their mansion. Though Adam was expecting to find work from them, he was given a letter in a sealed envelope informing him that everything will be explained once he opened the envelope at two o’clock, exactly one hour and ten minutes from then.

 

On the strength of the assumed fortune in the envelope, Adam went into a decent restaurant and ordered a wonderful, long over due meal which explains the bill:

“Ham, eggs, steak, potatoes, beans, carrots, twice.

Trifle, cheese, coffee, two quarts of ale. Three and ten pence.”

On the threshold of being thrown out of the restaurant for non-payment of the bill, the envelope was opened to discover the note of the enormous value of One Million Pounds! The instant transformation in the attitude of all those around him owing to the gargantuan value of the note was evidently amusing.

 

Taken for an eccentric millionaire, the red carpet was rolled out for him. He is most welcome to come in anytime he wanted, and to have whatever he wanted. As for his present bill, he doesn’t need to pay it – just forget it, it’s of no consequence at all.

Upon rushing back to the mansion of the brothers to return the note, Adam learned from James, the butler that the brothers were unavailable, having gone abroad for a month. At this point, sitting on the stairs to collect his thoughts, he learned from the letter in the envelope that:

As his mind brooded over the contents of the letter, the note accidently flew off his fingers, the retrieval of which creates a series of funny sequences. In a while, the note again does the grand-work for him at the tailoring shop of Jonathan Reid who, upon seeing the note, takes it as their pride and glory to see His Eminence properly attired for the season.

 

From here, Adam is referred to as an admiral of the seas to the prestigious Hotel Bumbles, the very place to stay – quiet, modest and discretion itself. Having gone through further complications on arrival at the hotel, and after a good deal of Yes-my-lord-ing and Very-good-my-lord-ing, Adam was elegantly accommodated in the Bridal Suite after the current occupant, the Duke of Frognal, was instantly chucked out.

 

With his social status realigned, Adam started to move in exclusive social circles of the British aristocracy aided by the American Ambassador. This provided him with the opportunity to meet lovely Portia Lansdowne, niece of the toothy Duchess of Cromarty to whose reception at her Hampshire House he was invited to attend.

 

Some people will tell the world anything they know about everything. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. Given that the sugar-coated rumour mills started to roll about his mere acquaintance with Lord Lloyd Hastings, the shares of Hasting’s company shoot up – a rather happy moment at the Stock Exchange.

Whilst Adam was all set to soar and score, things unfortunately started to look pretty foul when the Duke of Frognal pulls a prank and hides the note with the help of Renie, the hotel chambermaid. It was a wake up call for Adam. As Adam started to scale down the heights he had climbed, it began to dawn on him that he would have to actually spend the money if he wishes to live like a Lord….

 

Produced by Ronald Neame and British production designer turned producer John Bryan, the film features an array of British crew and technicians though a good number of the casts are not credited. The screenplay founded on an updated version of a short story by Mark Twain called “The Million Pound Bank Note” is by expert British documentary director and writer (Noreen) Jill Craigie.

The characters of the two brothers being integral to the structure of the film are joyously portrayed by two brilliant British actors. Trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, jovial Ronald Squire from the Liverpool Repertory Theatre had acted in many light comedy roles before he appeared in the role of Oliver Montpelier. Wilfrid Hyde-White’s role as Roderick Montpelier, marks one of the various comedies he made before shifting to America in the 1960s. An impeccable character actor of stage and screen who had often acted opposite Sir Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and is best remembered for his role as Col. Hugh Pickering in George Cukor’s “My Fair Lady” (1964) in which he sets up a wager with Prof. Henry Higgins (Rex Harrison) challenging him to transform flower girl Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn) into a lady.

Joyce Grenfell (born Joyce Irene Phipps) who portrays the Duchess of Cromarty was initially a radio critic columnist who went on to debut on the London stage before she made entertaining the troops her principal work during World War II, a period which she described as “The Time of My Life*. After the war Joyce, along with Viola Tunnard, her accompanist who was a gifted musician and able pianist, went for one more tour to “Re-Joyce” the troops, starting at Benghazi in December 1952 and finishing off in Malta by January 1953. Following this, she acted in a movie called “Genevieve” before her appearance in “The Million Pound Note”, which her mother approved since she was appalled of the number of unattractive characters her daughter played in films.

A.E. (Matty) Matthews in the role of the hard hit Duke of Frognal who repeats his title as a form of bragging about his “wealth” but is a lot poorer is perfectly cast. Matthews is popular for a crack he once made, “I always wait for “The Times” each morning. I look at the obituary column, and if I’m not in it, I go to work”. The film also stars Wilbur Evans (American Ambassador), Jane (Mary) Griffiths (Portia Lansdowne), bald-headed American actor Hartley Power (Lord Lloyd Hastings), Maurice Denham (Jonathan Reid), Reginald Beckwith (Rock), Brian Oulton (Lloyd), John Slater (Parsons), Hugh Wakefield (in his last role, Duke of Cromarty), Bryan Forbes (Todd), George Devine (Chop house/Restaurant proprietor), Hugh Griffith (Potter), etc.

 

The music is provided by prolific post-Romantic English composer William Alwyn and conducted by the Scottish conductor/composer (James) Muir Mathieson. Once a professor (from 1926 to 1955) at the Royal Academy of Music in London, Alwyn had progressed from scores for World War II documentary films  for the British Ministry of Information to scores for feature movies such as “Svengali”, “Zarak”, “Swiss Family Robinson”, etc. He has decorated the movie with classic symphonies; music that is both melodic and eminently accessible. At times, his tunes are both subtle and profound, dominated by violin notes, atmospheric waltzes, snippets from popular British music and he even used bits from the Yankee Doodle.

 

One of the greatest of British cinematographers, Geoffrey Unsworth is a recipient of an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire), and winner of two Oscars, among others. Unsworth has done a wonderful workmanlike job here, assisted by camera operator Jim Bawden. With a long string of superb films behind him, among them “A Night to Remember” (1958), “Cabaret” (1972), “Superman” (1978), etc, he died of a heart attack at the age of 64 on the set of Roman Polanski’s “Tess” (1979).

Production designer Jack Maxsted (“The Adventurers”, “Diamonds are Forever”, etc) together with John (Allan Hyatt) Box did the Art Direction for the film. Though Box’s career got an upshot with David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962), he was known for recreating exotic locations in unlikely places. He had effectively constructed Chinese city walls in Wales for “The Inn of the Sixth Happiness” (1958) when the unit was denied permission to shoot in China. When a Russian country house in snowy landscape had to be replicated in Spain for “Doctor Zhivago” (1965), he would accomplish that by using white plastic sheets and marble dust. (For references on John Box and William Alwyn, you may read my review of August 23: “StarChoice 9: Zarak”)

The Costume design is by Margaret Furse, the Academy Award Winner for Best Costume for “Anne of the Thousand Days” who also did costumes for “Oliver Twist”, “The Crimson Pirate”, “Mary, Queen of Scots”, etc. If one looks closely at Furse’s costumes in the movie, we can find out how the small details which would normally go unnoticed make an impact on the overall effect in the frames.

Make up and Hair styles are done by George Blackler and Biddy Chrystal respectively. Blackler had headed the make-up department for “Black Narcissus”, “Operation Crossbow”, “Dracula A.D. 1972”, “The Satanic Rites of Dracula”, etc; while the renowned hairstylist Chrystal (aka. Eileen Chrystal) has enough feathers to line her nest for having worked on movies such as “The Sword and the Rose”, “Sword of Lancelot”, “The Fearless Vampire Killers”, “11 Harrowhouse”, etc. While the set dressing is by Dario Simoni, editor Clive (Stanley) Donner cuts it all together.

As for director Ronald Neame, he was born in 1911 in London to beautiful silent film actress Ivy Close, Neame was the producer of British filmmaker David Lean’s (1908-1991) early British films “Great Expectations” (1946), and “Oliver Twist” (1948). Like director George Stevens, Victor Fleming, Phil Rosen, he was an outstanding cinematographer, before becoming an expert director at light, frothy comedies. Although Neame was uncredited, he was an assistant cameraman on Alfred Hitchcock’s “Blackmail” (1929), the first sound-on-film British talkie.

As in every movie, there is a price dictated by the subject matter, the content and the showmanship values. “The Million Pound Note” is a fairly pleasing comedy which aptly displays the Edwardian atmosphere, flavour and local colour of England. You could see the muffin seller walking down the street, the family picnic on the green grass, uniformed school children lined up for outing, etc.

 

With a witty, well-written screenplay by expert writer Jill Craigie, Neame didn’t have to run to the hull every other minute to check for leaks. The meal at the restaurant leading to the discovery of the note is beautifully staged and ably photographed by Geoffrey Unsworth while Alwyn’s pleasant music flutters all around it. Another amusing scene is the incident at Jonathan Reid’s tailor shop.

 

The scenes of Portia Lansdowne which ends with a pop at matrimony, provides the emotional quotient. In all fairness, the movie is nicely ornamented and acted under the graceful direction of Ronald Neame. Being a comedy, everything works out happily though the movie will set us thinking about the extraordinary way some people’s attitudes change by the symbol of wealth and also why some regard the rich as superior to the poor. “The Million Pound Note” is a classic comedy which can be watched by the whole family.

 

(Text: © JS/Manningtree Archive)