Tag Archives: John Wayne

In Old California (1942)

in-old-california-1942I tend to think of John Wayne as a man of action, either in war movies or westerns. A somewhat rugged man, a man who is better at socking the bad guy than making a speech. In Old California is certainly a western, but Wayne plays a slightly different kind of character than usual. He is a pharmacist. An educated, gentlemanly man from Boston who takes on the rough and tumble men from Sacramento. Though he can also bend a coin with his thumb and is a remarkably good shot…which makes one wonder what he was doing in Boston when he wasn’t learning to be a druggist.

John Wayne is Tom Craig, a druggist looking to open a pharmacy in Sacramento. On his way there, he incurs the animus of Britt Dawson (Albert Dekker), the local bully/would-be-land-owner who is bullying his way into wealth with a gun and a posse. Britt does have one redeeming feature, however. He is completely and sincerely nuts about saloon singer Lacey Miller (Binnie Barnes). She is engaged to Britt, but is much taken with the more refined strength of Tom Craig.

When Dawson warns the inhabitants of Sacramento not to rent a building to Craig to set up shop, Lacey rents Craig her shack, with the promise of 50% of the profits. She then falls completely in love, though it takes Craig a while to realize it.

There are a number of subplots and plot twists in the film. There is the triangle between Britt, Lacey, and Craig. Another triangle between Craig, Lacey, and the pretty (but spoiled) debutante from San Francisco who catches Craig’s eye. There is Craig’s sidekick, Kegs McKeever (Edgar Kennedy), who becomes Craig’s sidekick after Craig uses some of his fancy pain killer to ease a raging toothache. Kegs himself has a (sort of) romance with Lacey’s gun-toting, sharpshooting maid (Patsy Kelly). And then there is Craig’s power struggle with Britt and his brother Joe Dawson (Dick Purcell).

There is even a gold strike, a fever epidemic, a gunfight on the plains of California, a barroom brawl, a murder by poison, several moments of slapstick comedy, and an attempted lynching. I was also pleased to note that Binnie Barnes’ slightly common saloon singer was able to rout her ingenue competition with aplomb. Very satisfying

Everyone is taken aback by John Wayne with a bag full of drugs

Everyone is taken aback by John Wayne with his bag full of drugs

I think I would describe this film as broadly comic and agreeable. At times it made me think of Destry Rides Again. The local bully engaged in a land grab, his saloon singer girlfriend, the outsider who is more gentlemanly, but still tough. But there is far more comedy than drama in In Old California and it has an easy-going, unpretentious charm. The cast is good (I am always happy to see Binnie Barnes in a film), but part of the fun is watching John Wayne in a different kind of role.

Apparently, John Wayne’s father really was a pharmacist and in the movie Wayne seems to be having a lot of fun with the role. He is quite believable as the educated, well-spoken and polite pharmacist. He never takes offense, he never overreacts, he’s never threatened when people assume he is not as tough as they are (he seems to have an inner assurance that he is, in fact, much tougher).

I confess I was not initially much of a John Wayne fan, but the more I see his films over the years, the more impressive he becomes. I guess I never appreciated how he was able to draw all the attention to himself without even trying. He sort of inhabits a scene, without having to come across as aggressive or in-your-face. Even in In Old California, he is distinctly non-aggressive compared to Dawson, but your eye still watches him.

It’s interesting, because earlier this year I watched a movie called The Life of Jimmy Dolan, made in 1933 with Douglas Fairbanks Jr.. John Wayne makes a brief appearance in the film and he’s so young and callow and had none of the effortless presence he developed later. I guess he just needed time. My sister and I sometimes joke that an actor (or actress) doesn’t truly become interesting until they’re 30.

Not exactly one of John Wayne’s best films, but there is something winning about In Old California. It has a unique charm, as does John Wayne.

Thanks so much to Hamlette’s Soliloquy and The Midnite Drive-In for hosting The John Wayne Blogathon! For all the other posts, click here.



Posted by on December 10, 2016 in Movies


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The First Movie You Saw in Theaters and Reap the Wild Wind (1942)

download (1)Do you remember the first movie you saw in theaters? Mine was The Secret Garden in 1993. I had already seen the 1949 version with Margaret O’Brien and that was my preferred version, so I recall discussing the new film with my sister and deciding that we didn’t like the new version as much. Unfortunately, I recall this discussion more than I recall the movie. My brother’s first movie was The Jungle Book. It was re-released in theaters in 1990 at the same time that it was released on VHS. Supposedly, I was there, too, but I have no memory of it. My cousin tells me his first memory is when he was two years old, which is very impressive. He saw Toy Story 2 and ate Smartie and we were wondering if they still sale Smarties in theaters. I can’t recall seeing any.

When I asked my Nana what movie she first remembers, she said Lassie Come Home in 1944. However, she’s also told me the story of another movie that she didn’t remember the name of. She thought it was a Cecil B. DeMille film and starred Paulette Goddard. But that was more of a side-memory. What she always remembered was one specific scene, that stood out like technicolor. There was a ship with sails and a woman stows aboard it and hides in a trunk, but her scarf partially hangs out. There’s a storm or a wreck and the ship goes down and she remembered seeing the trunk underwater with the scarf floating in the water and thinking “Oh!” and realizing that the woman was dead. She never forgot that moment. She also recalled a squid.

downloadSo I thought it would be really fun if I could find out what the name of the movie was so we could watch it together. I looked up Paulette Goddard’s filmography and found that she made three movies with Cecil B. DeMille, but only one had ships in it: Reap the Wild Wind, released in 1942. In watching the trailer, there also appeared to be a squid attack.

The cast is impressive, as all DeMille’s cast are impressive: Paulette Goddard, John Wayne, Ray Milland, Raymond Massey, Lynn Overman, Robert Preston, Charles Bickford, Susan Hayward. When I read the cast list to Nana, she was quite impressed at how many names were in there, because as far as her memory of the movie goes, the men were quite negligible. It was all about Paulette Goddard, the squid and the lady drowning in the trunk.

And when we watched the movie together, we agreed with her early assessment. It is Paulette Goddard, the squid and the lady in the trunk that you recall. And the moment when Milland tries to spank Goddard. Golden Age Hollywood had the unfortunate quirk of thinking that it is amusing for a man to spank a women, but in this case it kind of was. I’d never seen anyone try to spank somebody in a hoop skirt before and it’s quite the visual. The skirt poofs out and I couldn’t help thinking he must be hitting more hoop than her. I also couldn’t help thinking that with a little imagination, a woman could really make a hoop skirt excellent protection, or even a weapon against men: perhaps with a few well-placed pins or some spiky whale-bone. If a man gets too close, you could always skewer him.


John Wayne, Paulette Goddard, Ray Milland

The plot occurs in the 1840s in the Key West area and concerns Paulette Goddard as Loxi Clairborne. She runs a salvaging business. When ships get stuck on a reef, salvagers come out in their boats and rescue them, getting paid for their efforts. But in competition with her is King Cutler (Raymond Massey), more pirate than salvager. He helps to arrange wrecks, as well as rescue people, and takes an exorbitant sum for his efforts. Fighting for Loxi’s affections are two men, rugged sea captain Jack Stuart (John Wayne) and dandy lawyer Steven Tolliver (Ray Milland), though Tolliver does turn out to be tougher and more wily than he initially appears. The lady of the trunk is Susan Hayward. She plays Goddard’s cousin and is in love with Cutler’s brother, played by Robert Preston.

Reap the Wild Wind is not a movie to be watched seriously, though it was made seriously. Perhaps that is why it was entertaining. Nana and I enjoyed ourselves immensely. All the stuff that Nana recalls occurs in the last twenty minutes of the film, which must speak volumes for DeMille’s capacity to craft an unforgettable finale. We’ve now determined that as a 1942 movie, it is indeed the earliest film that Nana saw.


Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Movie Thoughts


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Revisiting The Quiet Man (1952) – Six Random Observations

4366009_origEven people who don’t usually watch old movies know of The Quiet Man, one of those classics of the classics and it was one of the classic films I grew up with. But as seems to happen with all the movies that I grew up watching, I didn’t watch it for years and years and since 2015 seems to be the year for revisiting old favorites, I recently watched it again. But since it had been so long, it almost felt like a new movie, which is always fun to see an old favorite with fresh eyes. It was a complete delight and I was reminded of why the movie has a special charm.

Here are six things I noticed for the first time – or perhaps I should say – actually thought about when I saw them.

1) No men go to Mass! When Sean Thornton (John Wayne) returns to Ireland and runs into Father Lonergan (Ward Bond), the priest asks him if he will see him at Mass. This puts Sean Thornton on the spot, but he does go. But Mass is by no means packed and the only other people in attendance are women and one old man. Michealeen Oge Flynn (Barry Fitzgerald) sits outside the church and smokes his pipe and the rest of the men are at the pub. Of course, one good thing comes of Sean Thornton’s attending Mass. He is able to see Mary Kate Danaher (Maureen O’Hara), who appears to be one of the devout women who presumably attend regularly, and “play patty fingers with the Holy Water” (in the words of Michaeleen Oge Flynn).

Father Lonergan and Michaeleen Oge FLynn

Father Lonergan and Michaeleen Oge Flynn

2) The British are entirely negligible, isolated and out of touch. There’re not exactly a lot of English people running around in The Quiet Man – this is purely an Irish tale, with some talk of “treason” and the IRA, mostly talked by men in the pub to their fellow inebriates. However, during the big fight scene at the end when all the patrons rush out to watch Sean Thornton and Squire Danaher (Victor McLaglen) duke it out, there is one man still sitting in the pub. He’s called General and he looks rather like your stereotypical English officer. I can’t think of anything more funny or ironic than in how this man (I’m assuming he is an Englishman) continues sitting, unaware, unmoved, uninterested and isolated from the entire Irish community.

3) When Mary Kate and Sean Thornton go out courting together and give the matchmaker, Michaelean Oge Flynn, the slip they run into a field and she takes off her stockings so that she can run through a stream. While Sean Thornton tosses his hat and gloves away into the field, I was amused to note that despite running through fields and streams, getting soaked and rained on and making out with Thornton, there she is at the end of the day, still hanging on tightly to those stockings. Of course, they’re probably her best, and probably her only, pair of silk stockings, so this makes sense.

4) Mary Kate Danaher was a spinster. That little nuance totally missed me as a child. A spinster is someone who is an established old maid, with no prospects or expectation of ever marrying. She’s called a spinster several times by Michaeleen Oge Flynn and no one seems to think of her as a marriageable women. It seems rather incredible, considering how absolutely gorgeous she is, but Mary Kate is taken for granted in Inisfree. Michaeleen Oge says it’s because of her temper and lack of fortune. Apparently, people can’t see beyond that and, truly, there appears to be no man worthy of her anyway (they’re all in the pub, drinking), until Sean Thornton arrives. He sees her and it is love at first sight and seems to be for her, as well.

Mary Kate Danaher, Squire Danaher, Sean Thornton and Michaeleen Oge Flynn

Mary Kate Danaher, Squire Danaher, Sean Thornton and Michaeleen Oge Flynn

But as a spinster, it meant that she was destined to live with her brother her whole life and cook and clean and serve him and his hired hands, with no home or possessions of her own.

5) And this brings me to my fifth observation. I finally understood Mary Kate’s perspective. As a child, I didn’t quite get the fuss about her dowry. I recognized that it was Ireland and they did things differently, but it still didn’t make sense to me. So what about the dowry; all you need is love, right?

But I think her being a spinster is important. After her brother denies them her dowry, she says she’s not truly married to Thornton and refuses to let him into the bedroom. She says she’ll wash and cook for him, just like she did for her brother all those years, but she’s still a servant just like she always was.

This is illuminating. It’s more than just the money and her furniture, as Mary Kate says several times, and even more than just the fact that she’s afraid that she married a coward. It’s partially a matter of pride and independence. She wants to come to the marriage with something of her own – her own furniture and her own money. She doesn’t want to play the beggar maid. As long as her brother is withholding money, he’s got something on them and she’s still not quite independent of him. She’s not quite her own woman and, in her view, Sean Thornton’s not quite his own man.

the-quiet-man-john-wayne-maureen-o-hara-1952He doesn’t get this, though.This is a classic example of people talking over each other’s head. He speaks and she speaks and they do not understand each other. This is partially his fault, though. She might have understood if he’d told her about his boxing past and how he’d killed a man in the ring and that after that money never mattered to him. But he can’t blame her for not understanding something she knows nothing about. He says to the Reverend Mr. Playfair, “maybe she doesn’t love me enough.” But love is not just blindly assuming that someone’s private reasons for something are good ones. Perhaps I’m being too modern in this critique. I don’t know if they ever do fully understand each other’s perspectives, though.

6) I always wanted to know what Mary Kate was saying in Irish to Father Lonergan. She’s obviously talking about how she made her husband sleep in a sleeping bag instead of his own bed. I read on IMDB of someone who says they know Gaelic and that she’s asking Father Lonergan if it’s a sin. I suspect Father Longergan said it was a sin. Anyway, later she and Thornton are sitting by the fire looking forlorn. But the next morning, Sean Thornton is walking out of his bedroom looking extremely happy with the world at large, only to discover that she’s left him. This is what finally gets him angry enough to fight. It’s not just because she left him; he thought everything was finally all right and for her it wasn’t. In a way, by finally living as man and wife, she fulfills her part of the marriage contract and goads him into fulfilling his part (as she sees it) of getting her dowry. And by the end of the movie they are truly married.


Posted by on February 23, 2015 in Drama, Romance


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