Tag Archive | Van Heflin

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 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)