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Tag Archives: Dame May Whitty

Slightly Dangerous (1943)

220px-SlightlyDangerousPosterStarring Lana Turner and Robert Young, what actually makes Slightly Dangerous a fun film is the supporting cast, which is impressive: Walter Brennan, Dame May Whitty, Eugene Pallette, Ward Bond, Alan Mowbray, Millard Mitchell, Ray Collins. My only complaint is that most of these people only show up for a scene or two. Not that Lana Turner and Robert Young are bad…I just haven’t yet seen Lana Turner in a film where she carried it on her own. She needs supporting cast.

Peggy Evans (Lana Turner) works at a soda fountain and is having a quarter life crisis. She has arrived at work on time one thousand consecutive days (earning a gift of $2.50 of merchandise from the management) and is afraid that she’s going to waste the best part of her life behind a counter. Her job is so mindless, she says, she could do it blindfolded. Her friend doesn’t believe her, but Peggy proceeds to demonstrate by making a banana split with a towel tied over her eyes, until the new manager, Bob Stuart (Robert Young) catches her at it.

At this point, Peggy’s crisis is causing her to become a bit hysterical and she talks wildly about doing away with Peggy Evans. Stuart assumes she is talking about suicide, while she is merely talking about running away and starting a new life (under a new name). When she leaves a note and skips out of town, everyone is convinced that Stuart drove her to suicide.

Meanwhile, Peggy starts her new life by buying a new wardrobe and having her hair down. While still trying to decide on the perfect name for herself, she unfortunately gets knocked on the head by a falling bucket of paint in front of the office of a prominent newspaper. The owner, Durstin (Eugene Pallette), is afraid she might sue (it was his company’s bucket of paint) and when she exhibits fuzziness about her name (because she hasn’t come up with one yet and doesn’t want to give her real one) he believes she has amnesia and promises to take care of her while he puts her picture in the paper so her family can identify her. She can hardly believe her luck.

But while Stuart sees her picture in the paper and is determined to save his job and his sanity by locating her (he’s having trouble sleeping at night because of the guilt over her “death” and the owner plans to fire him because the employees refuse to work for Stuart anymore), Peggy has the idea of masquerading as a missing heiress. She picks the case of the missing Carol Burden, kidnapped as a child, who would be just about the right age for Peggy. She goes to work, with Durstin unwittingly helping because he senses a good story for his paper. But she doesn’t just have to convince Cornelius Burden (Walter Brennan) that she’s his daughter, she has to convince Baba, the missing child’s nurse (Dame May Whitty). And they’ve seen a lot of impostors. Meanwhile, Stuart is following her everywhere, trying to get a chance to speak to her.

3452The title of the film is actually rather appropriate. She is, indeed, slightly dangerous. Not willfully so, but she has a knack for getting Robert Young into all sorts of trouble and upending people’s lives. Because of him, she just can’t quite leave her life behind. She keeps hearing someone say “Peggy Evans” everywhere she goes. In some ways, her role is that of a soft femme fatale. She cons people, then actually comes to like them. It’s a problem (most femme fatales don’t have these qualms). She adopts all her victims as family – or they adopt her.

The last third does sag a little, mostly because the supporting cast is absent and it mostly follows the romance between her and Robert Young, which is amusing enough, but I kept wishing some of the other characters would come back. Peggy is certainly an emotional girl. She cries more than anyone I’ve seen, but one suspects that Baba will soon cure her of that.

Walter Brennan actually gets a fairly interesting role as the irascible softy who tragically lost his daughter seventeen years before. I’m trying to think if I’ve seen Brennan play such a wealthy character before. Dame May Whitty is always good, this time as the nurse who clearly is the one who rules the roost in the house. Ward Bond is the muscle who protects Mr. Burden. He never says much and usually just points to communicate anything.

My favorite scene in the film is at the concert hall, where Stuart is trying to speak to Peggy, now officially recognized as Carol Burden. She keeps hearing her name spoken, as if from nowhere and various mishaps occur, including Stuart almost falling over the side of the balcony. After the incident, he meets Alan Mowbray, a bored society man (he says he hates music, prefers acrobats) who is determined to stick with Stuart all evening to see what he will do or say next. He’s especially curious to know what it felt like to hang over the side of the balcony. I particularly wished we saw more of him.

Not a classic, but very cute. It’s fun mostly because of the cast.

Supposedly, the idea for this scene came from Buster Keaton.

Walter Brennan reacts to negative references to his face.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2016 in Movies

 

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My Name Is Julia Ross (1945)

my-name-is-julia-ross-movie-poster-1945-1020493690I’d read of the movie My Name Is Julia Ross described as the ultimate example of what a good B movie is. Only 65 minutes long and made on a small budget, the film has an excellent cast and crew and is quite a chilling little film. It was a breakthrough film for both the director, Joseph H. Lewis (who went on to more high profile film noirs like Gun Crazy and The Big Combo) and Nina Foch (best remembered from An American in Paris, as Milo Roberts).

Described as a “gothic thriller,” My Name Is Julia Ross has a relatively simple plot. Julia Ross (Nina Foch) is out of work, alone, and apparently friendless in London. She answers an advertisement and is quickly hired to be secretary to Mrs. Hughes (Dame May Whitty – about as harmless and aristocratic as a person can appear to be). Mrs. Hughes has a son, Ralph (George Mcready), who looks quite respectable…though he likes to play with knives. Julia doesn’t know that, however.

I don’t really want to spoil the entire plot, but the movie is so short that to discuss anything is to give something away. But it’s not really a mystery. The audience has a pretty good idea what’s going on ten minutes into the film. What is excellent is the suspense and overhanging claustrophobia of Julia’s situation, beautifully, and creepily, shot by Lewis and cinematographer Burnett Guffrey.

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Nina Foch as Julia stands at the estate gates while Ralph and a gardener look on

Julia is supposed to be a live-in secretary, but when she goes to their home in London she is drugged and wakes up in a home in Cornwall, by the ocean. There is a ring on her finger, all her papers proving her previous identity have been destroyed and Mrs. Hughes and her son insist that her name is Marion, that she’s Ralph’s wife and that she’s been ill. She’s practically a prisoner in their home. Even the servants believe that she is really Marion Hughes, despite Julia’s frequent insistence on her identity.

The movie has been compared to Gaslight. It is a bit of a gaslight scenario, though different in that Julia never really doubts her sanity. She staunchly maintains her identity, never ceasing in her efforts to contrive a way out of the house, no matter how much people insist that she is Marion.

But her attempts at escape are frustrated by the fact that even the people in the village believe that she is suffering from a nervous breakdown. It is an interesting scheme that Mrs. Hughes has concocted. Very improbably, but brilliant, in a way. It hinges on the fact that people’s natural impulse is not to get involved in other people’s affairs. When Mrs. Hughes say that Marion is ill, they believe her, no matter how much Julia insists that she is really Julia Ross and begs them to remember her name and get help. They believe Mrs. Hughes because she is rich and respectable, because she told them her story before Julia had a chance to, and because she looks sane. Dame May Whitty does not project malevolent scheming.

Dame May Whitty - would you trust that woman?

Dame May Whitty – would you trust that woman?

Despite our general insistence that we have suspicious minds, most people do generally believe what they are told (what we don’t believe stands out to us, because it’s relatively uncommon). It’s an interesting idea. If someone told me that their daughter-in-law was ill and I met that daughter-in-law and she told me that she was being held against her will and that she was really another person, would I believe her? Probably not. And even if I did, would I know what to do, who to go to, or be afraid people would laugh at me? It’s a brilliant psychological calculation on the part of Mrs. Hughes, thinking that she can get away with such an extraordinary masquerade.

It’s quite well-acted, especially by Nina Foch as the desperate, though resolute, Julia, a normal working girl caught in a mind-boggling and frightening situation. And Dame May Whitty as Mrs. Hughes, never overplaying her villainy, though definitely able to project menace when she needs to. George Macready is also excellent, in contrast, as her psychotic son, Ralph. The script is the apotheosis of taut script writing, with every scene and every bit of dialogue important and weighted with meaning. Highly atmospheric, quite tense, it is definitely worth seeing.

My Name Is Julia Ross can be viewed here on youtube.

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Movies

 

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