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Tag Archives: Eleanor Parker

Never Say Goodbye (1946)

lNeversaygoodbye1946Never Say Goodbye is a lesser known, but charming Christmas movie and I think what is most fun about it is seeing Errol Flynn in a non-typical screwball mode. He even gets to poke a little fun at his swashbuckling image.

Phillip Gayley (Errol Flynn) is an artist mostly known for his paintings of pin-up girls. But though his paintings have brought him fame, it has also lost him his wife, Ellen Gayley (Eleanor Parker). Now their daughter, Flip (Patti Brady), spends six months with each parent and when the film opens, she is about to go to her mother’s house for six months with her.

But Flip wants a baby brother to play with and reasons that the only way she can have one is to get her parents back together. And truly, her parents are more than willing to oblige. It’s clear that after a year of being divorced, they still only have eyes for each other. The only reason they divorced is because Ellen’s mother (Lucile Watson) talked her into it over the issue of Phillip’s pin-up models (and though he claims to be wrongly accused, he does seem to be a bit of a flirt).

Ellen still perks up at the mention of Phillip’s name, completely ignores the new suitor, Rex (Donald Woods), her mother has in mind for her and seems to be all-but encouraging Phillip to convince her that they should still be together. And Phillip does try awfully hard to convince her. Throughout the film he attempts wooing, cajoling, singing their song in her ear (Ellen asks, “You sang like that and I still married you?”), dancing, kissing, sneaking into her house dressed as Santa Claus, but something always comes along to break it up, usually in the shape of his current model, Nancy (Peggy Knudsen), who is trying just as hard to land Phillip.

The scene where Phillip accidentally ends up with two dates at the same restaurant is one of the film’s highlights. Luigi (S.Z. Sakall) – his real name is Schmidt, but when he bought a restaurant called Luigi’s he thought it was cheaper to change his name than buy a new sign – is a scene stealer as the friend who tries to get rid of Nancy so Phillip can devote his evening to Ellen and stop running between two different tables. Luigi tries everything from spilling soup on Nancy’s lap to an “accident” involving glass (“What are you trying to do to the girl? Kill her?” Phillip asks) to luring her away with a phone call, but it all ends in catastrophe (and the soup ends on him) with two very unhappy women. You almost feel sorry for poor Nancy, who seems to have some legitimate expectations from Phillip. As Luigi says, bemoaning with Philip that you “take a girl out two or three hundred times and right away she thinks that you are interested.”

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Errol Flynn is the first Santa on the right

Phillip also shows up at Ellen’s house on Christmas Eve dressed as Santa. It used to be a tradition every evening where he played Santa for Flip, but since Rex is also dressed as Santa, there is much confusion, best summarized at DVD Talk: “complete with Flynn running around the house and slamming doors, kissing an undressing Parker and slapping his ex-mother-in-law on the rump (much to their delight), as he pretends to be the stuffy Woods [Rex]. The scripters even drag up the old Marx Bros.’ “mirroring” bit (which Flynn performs flawlessly), before there’s a funny wrap-up as Flynn-as-Rex hands out gifts (none for the “old bag” Watson, he states) before smashing Woods over the head with a cocktail shaker (Woods does a hilarious crash into the Christmas tree).

Some actors work better with children than others, but Errol Flynn seems to be one of those who relates well. Phillip’s relationship with his daughter is actually just as central to the film as his relationship with his ex-wife and he and child actress Brady have genuinely sweet chemistry together as father and daughter. He plays a super indulgent father who does everything possible to make her life seem magical and she is a unique blend of worldly-wisdom who sees through it and children enthusiasm who embraces his fantasies fully. He likes to pretend to be Robin Hood or Sir Lancelot and calls her his Ziegfeld girl or Guinevere and talks a policeman into letting her ride his horse. He’s like a big kid and the two of them talking about how much they both want to be a family again is touching.

The film is very much Errol Flynn’s film, though it does have good performances from Eleanor Parker, Lucile Watson, S.Z. Sakall (Hattie MacDaniel is under-used) and the rest of the cast. Also in the film is Forrest Tucker as the marine, Fenwick Lonkowski. Flip has been writing to a marine because she heard on the radio that just because the war is over doesn’t mean there aren’t any lonely solders. With the help of Cozy (Hattie McDaniel), she has been penning romantic letters signed “Smoochie.” When she proposes including a pin-up picture of herself, her father argues that it could ruin a soldier’s moral by making him think that women in America are shrinking and instead swaps a picture of his wife in a bathing suit. Of course, when Fenwick comes back, he immediately thinks that Ellen is his “Smoochie” and she is happy to play along in revenge against Phillip.

Errol Flynn and Eleanor Parker

Errol Flynn and Eleanor Parker

Errol Flynn must have been a really good sport for this film, because he completely allows Forrest Tucker to show him up as physically wimpy (Fenwick does calisthenics in Ellen’s kitchen with his shirt off while Phillip wears Fenwick’s too-big pajamas and falls over and hits his head on the refrigerator – his jumping jacks are a hoot, too…so half-hearted and uncoordinated). Flynn also gets to do a pretty good imitation of Humphrey Bogart (the voice for that scene is really provided by Bogart) as he desperately tries to scare Fenwick away from Ellen.

It’s a pity Flynn didn’t get to make more comedies; he’s very effective in them. He has a sometimes goofy charm and yet he’s so handsome, no matter what he’s doing. But he wears his good looks lightly and never takes himself too seriously. The best swashbucklers do approach their work with a light touch, so perhaps it’s not surprising that he should be adept at comedy as well (Douglas Fairbanks did comedy before he started making his famous swashbucklers). It’s not going to replace Miracle on 34th Street as a Christmas classic, but it’s fun, especially if you are a fan of Errol Flynn.

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2015 in Movies

 

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The Voice of the Turtle (1947)

MV5BMjMzMzc4NjE5OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTgzODcxMzE@._V1_SX214_AL_The only reason I even came across this film was because I was looking at Eleanor Parker’s filmography. Eleanor Parker herself is a somewhat forgotten actress today, except for her role as the Baroness in The Sound of Music, and The Voice of the Turtle seems somewhat forgotten even compared to her other films. But it is a sweet, gentle, funny romance that I think would be much better known if it contained bigger stars (Ronald Reagan is certainly well-known, but no so much his movies).

The movie was based on an extremely successful play that ran during the war and was still running when the film was released in 1947. The story, however, is still set during the war. Quirky Sally Middleton (Eleanor Parker) is a young actress who takes love too seriously, or at least so she is told by producer Kenneth Bartlett (Kent Smith). He just wanted them to be able to have a good time together, but she fell in love and he feels in all fairness he must break it off. She, in turn, determines never to take love so seriously again. This has happened to her before.

But Sally has a friend, Olive Lashbrooke (Eve Arden), who knows exactly how not to take things too seriously and has a string of men in quick succession, or sometimes at the same time. She has a date with Sergeant Bill Page (Ronald Reagan), who she knew years ago and is in New York on leave just for the weekend. But when another man Olive knows shows up in town – who has a higher rank – Olive determines to ditch Bill and go with him (Wayne Morris).

Bill comes to Sally’s apartment to pick Olive up, but Olive spins him a rather feeble story about how her estranged husband has suddenly appeared and she simply must have dinner with him, but Bill realizes he’s being dumped. Olive leaves him and Bill asks Sally if he can borrow her phone. He calls every girl he knows in New York. Some are married, some are out on dates and he can’t find a single person to spend his weekend with. In slight desperation, he asks Sally out to dinner.

Ronald Reagan and Eleanor Parker

Ronald Reagan and Eleanor Parker

The rest of the film deals with how these two people discover that they have a lot in common and tentatively fall in love. They’ve both been in love before and were hurt and are now cautious. There’s a housing shortage in New York (The More the Merrier deals with the comic results of a housing shortage in Washington DC – this was a common problem during the war and made its way into several films) and since it’s so late at night and unlikely that Bill will be able to find a hotel, Sally invites him to sleep at her apartment. Meanwhile, Olive has become disenchanted with her date (he’s put on a little weight since she last saw him and shaved his mustache) and keeps calling Sally’s apartment to check up on them. She doesn’t at all appreciate Sally going out with him. She calls it beau-snatching.

You can tell the movie is based on a stage-play. Much of the action occurs in Sally’s apartment, but I didn’t find it too stagy or house-bound. It made it intimate, more closely focused on these two people who found each other in the midst of a big world.

Eleanor Parker is the heart of the film and plays a rather different role for her. I’ve mostly seen her as poised and sophisticated, but in The Voice of the Turtle she is quirky, not exactly flighty or scatter-brained, but definitely quirky is the best word I can come up with. She’s sensitive and hates to have anything alone, like a radio playing with no one to hear it or a coffee pot boiling with no one in the house. It makes them seem to her to be lonely. Her favorite question to ask is if Olive or Bill was in love with someone they mention. She can’t bear to have a phone ring and not answer it. If there are two glasses of milk or champagne or anything, she takes a sip out of one to make sure their are both equally full. One suspects the reason she offered to let Bill stay in her apartment was so she wouldn’t be so alone, not so much because she was looking to kindle a romance.

Eleanor Parker takes all these quirks (and she has more) and makes Sally adorable and sweet. Ronald Reagan is also good here. I haven’t seen him in many movies, but this is my favorite of his by far. Bill’s essentially a really nice guy and he and Parker have a sweet interaction. I keep using the word sweet, but that is the best word for this film. But not in an overly sentimental way. Eve Arden usually played the best friend to leading ladies, offering blunt and caustically funny advice that is usually ignored, but never resented. In this film, she’s more of an acidic flirt, but a welcome character, all the same.

Sally keeping live out of the kitchen while Bill hides behind the door

Sally keeping Olive out of the kitchen while Bill hides behind the door

There’s not a lot of physical comedy or slapstick. There is one very funny scene when Bill and Sally are having breakfast together when Olive comes over and Bill must hide in the kitchen while Sally tries to keep Olive out. Sally does have a lot of eccentricities, but Bill never makes fun of her. Another thing I liked about the film is that there are no artificial obstacles or misunderstandings to create unnecessary tension. The film is simply an exploration of how these two people fall in love and the main obstacle is Sally’s fear of being hurt again. But what’s nice about it is that Bill understands and is willing to address the issue; there’s none of this talking at cross purposes with the man stumping off hurt and leaving me yelling at the screen that if they’d just talk about the issue everything would be fine.

It’s a delightful film and I enjoyed it far beyond my expectations. Incidentally, the title of the film is a reference to a verse in the Bible. It’s quoted, or paraphrased, by Bill and comes from Song of Solomon 2:12: “For behold, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone. The flowers have already appeared in the land; The time has arrived for pruning the vines, And the voice of the turtle has been heard in our land.” The turtle actually refers to Turtledoves.

 
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Posted by on October 2, 2015 in Movies

 

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Above and Beyond (1952) – Robert Taylor, Eleanor Parker

Above_and_beyond_-_movie_posterAbove and Beyond is a blend of genres; part military history of Lt. Colonel Paul Tibbets at Wendover Air Force Base preparing to drop the atomic bomb on Japan and part melodrama about his strained relationship with his wife. Made in 1952, it stars Robert Taylor as Paul Tibbets and Eleanor Parker as his wife, Lucy.

The film is narrated by Eleanor Parker, recounting how their marriage has nearly fallen apart. It begins in 1943, when Tibbets is brought back to America from overseas (where he was flying the B-17 over Africa) to fly test runs of the new Boeing B-29 bomber, which has been having technical problems and even crashed during one test, killing the pilot. Lucy is thrilled to see her husband for the first time in two years – and to introduce him to the son he has never seen – but discovers that he only has thirty minutes to be with her before he reports to Wichita to begin test flying the B-29.

They do manage a few moments together in the coming months and Lucy is soon pregnant again. She comments on how they have been married for five years, are the parents of a child and yet they have really only lived together for about seven weeks. But the war continues and because of Tibbets’ experience with the B-29, he is chosen to head the 509th Composite Group, an Air Force group that was part of the Manhattan Project and the group in charge of actually delivering the bomb, training the crew and modifying the B-29 so that it could carry the bomb.

The 509th Composite Group is located at Wendover Air Force Base in Utah. Initially, there are no women and children, but out of concern that the women would do too much talking and speculating, the decision is made to allow all the wives and children to live on the base….except Lucy. Major Bill Uanna (James Whitmore) is the security officer and strongly advises Tibbets against bringing Lucy. He’s concerned that the pressure on Tibbets will make him of little use as a husband and father and that the stress would be too much for her. But after Lucy has her second child, she can’t understand why she has been excluded when other wives are there and insists on coming.

At first, everything is okay. The house is cramped and dingy, but she’s happy to be with him. But soon she hears some complaints from the wives on the base. Because Tibbets is not even a full Colonel (still a Lieutenant Colonel) and because of the intense secrecy on the base, some of the men don’t believe he is really in charge of anything important and think he’s being strict because he’s angling for promotion.

Eleanor Parker and Robert Taylor

Eleanor Parker and Robert Taylor

She dismisses it, but soon begins to suspect that perhaps they are right and can’t understand why he won’t tell her anything. The only people who know what is going on are Tibbets, the scientists, Major Uanna and General Brent (Larry Keating), who meets with Tibbets periodically. Soon she begins to wonder if he’s hardening before her eyes and if she can even live with him anymore. Tempers are short, words are spoken and she’s contemplating divorce. Meanwhile, he is agonizing over whether or not to announce to General Brent that the bomb is ready to be deployed.

The film is well-acted and absorbing, though at 122 minutes, a bit too long and it does hover uneasily between aviation history and melodrama. I’m not sure how much of the story between Lucy and Tibbets is accurate. On the one hand, it seems like she could have been more understanding about the stress he’s under (though according to Wikipedia – a grain-of-salt source – the film was made to explore the very issue of high divorce rates among flight crews). But in the film no one on the base seems to really believe that what they are doing is vitally important, which is what causes the misunderstandings in the first place.

There are two moments in the film that I know are true: when Lucy gets one of the Manhattan Project scientists to fix her sink (Tibbets had told her, when she asked about the men in white overalls, that they were sanitation men) and when the bomb is armed once the Enola Gay is in air and not before. They were concerned that if the Enola Gay crashed before taking off (still a somewhat common occurrence) the whole base would blow up.

I have not seen many of Eleanor Parker’s films; I still think of her as the Baroness from The Sound of Music, so it was fun to see her in another role. She’s quite good, though she is required to spend most of the movie frustrated and anxious. Robert Taylor is another actor I am not as familiar with, though I was impressed here. He’s playing a man who does not generally express his emotions, but feels deeply and cannot tell anyone what he is thinking or going through at all while he as at Wendover.

Movie-AboveBeyondThe film reflects a definite post-atomic bomb consciousness of the horror of nuclear weapons. It is not apologetic about dropping the bomb, but is nonetheless ambivalent about the existence of such a weapon. The film mentions President Truman soul-searching about whether to use it or not and Tibbets is clearly uneasy (when the scientists are discussing how to maximize the damage of the explosion, he gets a queasy look on his face) as if they were fully aware of what a weighty moment in history it was. But in 1945, I have read of no soul-searching or agonizing over the decision or consideration past the primary objective, which was to end the war as quickly as possible, the atomic bomb being considered one method of several concurrently employed to bring it about.

Interspersed in the film is quite a bit of actual war footage, including of the mushroom cloud billowing upwards (which is eerie), footage of the B-17 and B-29, of dropping bombs, of explosions and damage and it is quite well integrated. The ending of the film is chillingly effective, as the crew looks out of their plane at the cloud and the flattened, burning city of Hiroshima. All Tibbets’ says is “God,” in a hushed tone while his men look on, a bit in shock by what they just unleashed.

It’s not a moral exploration of the use of the bomb (Michael Bess writes a thorough and excellent one in his sobering and deeply thoughtful Choices Under Fire: Moral Dimensions of World War II), but is a look at a historical moment in time, as well as a more timeless account of the pressures on a loving marriage were the husband is frequently gone, in danger and unable to talk about what he does.

 
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Posted by on August 17, 2015 in Movies

 

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