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Everybody Does It (1949) – A James M. Cain Comedy about Opera

Everybody_Does_It_FilmPosterJames M. Cain may be best known for hard-boiled tales of lust and murder, but he also liked opera (which, if you think about it, are pretty much hard-boiled tales of lust and murder) and wrote several comedic stories. One of them is Career in C Major adapted for the screen twice (well, once – the second film is a remake of the first): Wife, Husband and Friend (1939) and Everybody Does It (1949).

Leonard Borland (Paul Douglas) co-owns a wrecking company with Mike Craig (Millard Mitchell). Business is not so good, but he’s married to a very wealthy socialite and doesn’t want to live off of her family wealth. Doris Borland (Celeste Holm) has always dreamed of becoming a professional singer. The trouble is that she’s not all that good and no one’s ever told her this. According to her father, Major Blair (Charles Coburn), Doris comes from a long line of “frustrated sopranos.” Doris tried to become a singer five years previously, without outstanding success, but it seems to have caused marital difficulties and she gave it up. But after attending an opera, her ambitions seize her again and she starts vocal training and plans to give a concert.

Leonard flat-out says she won’t do it and is a “lousy singer” and she responds that if it hadn’t been for him making her give up her career before, she could have been a star already. Doris is encouraged by her fawning teacher, her friends and her mother (Lucile Watson). Utterly defeated, Leonard makes plans to rent a hall and he and Mike Craig beg, bribe and blackmail all his costumers and friends into attending.

Everybody Does It (1949) Directed by Edmund Goulding Shown: Linda Darnell, Paul Douglas

Everybody Does It (1949)
Directed by Edmund Goulding
Shown: Linda Darnell, Paul Douglas

But also attending is a real opera star, Cecil Carver (Linda Darnell), who is on the hunt for a tall baritone (she complains that all the baritones seem to be shrinking) and when she sees Leonard – definitely a hulk of a man – she likes what she sees. Leonard is anxious to hear a professional’s opinion about his wife’s chance of success and Cecil offers to give him one, in her apartment, in a slinky gown. She admits that his wife has a perfectly fine voice, but not the kind that will amount to much. But just before he leaves she discovers, quite by accident, that he is the one who has a perfectly splendid voice, though he never knew it and he takes quite a but of convincing. His singing tends to cause glass to break and her mirror does not survive the evening.

She convinces him that she could teach him how to sing with the argument that it would be the best lesson in the world for his wife to learn that it is actually her husband who has the great voice and could have the career. He goes along with it out of desperation, but his plan is, to say the least, pretty hapless and guaranteed to cause mayhem.

It’s not a bad comedy at all, but the best part of the film is by far the ending, with laugh-out-loud slapstick meeting opera as Leonard makes his operatic debut. He’s got a bad case of stage fright and everyone – Cecil, the acerbic conductor who always is making snide comments, the stage-manager – separately give him pills and various forms of calming medicine until he’s as high as a kite. His entrance on stage is, to say the least, unforgettable.

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Paul Douglas and Celeste Holm

The cast is fun. Celeste Holm plays more of a bubble-brain than usual, a socialite in need of a dose of reality. Douglas is her well-meaning, but hapless husband who looks like a mug and sings like a Greek god. Linda Darnell vamps it up in a remarkably persistent attempt to woo Douglas. And Charles Coburn is a somewhat desperate crank, hiding in the pantry to get away from his wife and daughter’s music talk and issuing dire warnings to Douglas about letting women have their way.

Celeste Holm is the only actor who does her own singing. Douglas and Darnell are dubbed, but they do a creditable job of lip syncing. This film actually offers an excellent example of something I think modern movie musicals could learn from: the difference between a pretty voice and a spectacular one. All you have to do is listen to Holm and the opera singer dubbing for Darnell (Helen Spann) to hear the difference…though one wonders if Holm had to do anything to keep herself from sounding too good or if she just knew that her voice would not be up to operatic standards.

At the beginning of the film, I did have some reservations about the fact that Leonard is apparently trying to keep Doris from having a career, but ultimately it’s not about that. It’s about delusion. But, of course, if Leonard had just supported his wife and kept quiet, she would have found it out for herself and all would have been well much earlier. At the beginning of the film, they are a couple at cross purposes who both end up letting their singing get in the way of their marriage.

When Leonard sees himself in costume, he complains that he looks like a goat

When Leonard sees himself in costume, he complains that he looks like a goat

Everybody Does It was made to capitalize on the spectacular success of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s A Letter to Three Wives in 1949, which starred Linda Darnell and Paul Douglas are one of three married couples. Celeste Holm, ironically enough, provided the voice for the never-seen Addie Ross, who tries to steal Douglas away from Darnell.

Trivia

The opera that Leonard and Cecil star in is called “L’Amoure di Fatima,” which is actually a fake opera with key songs and one scene composed by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, best known for his music for classic guitar.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2015 in Movies

 

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Fallen Angel (1945)

Fallen_Angel_1945_posterIf anyone ever offers you the role of the good girl in a film noir, say no. It is one of the most unforgiving roles I have ever seen in the movies – like playing “the other woman,” a third wheel – and femme fatales were made to run away with movies. Unfortunately for Alice Faye, she said yes in 1945. An extremely popular star at 20th Century Fox, she was previously known for her musicals (I love her voice) and wanted to move on to more dramatic films; as Dick Powell managed to do in 1944, transitioning from singing tenor to playing hard-boiled detectives. But Dick Powell’s first foray into noir was with Murder, My Sweet and Alice Faye chose Fallen Angel.

It’s not that Fallen Angel is a bad film; it’s definitely worth a look and is fairly enjoyable, despite some plotting issues. And Alice Faye wasn’t even that bad in the role; it was just a role not even Bette Davis could turn to much account and it did not further her career. In fact, it was the last film she made for sixteen years. It did, however, further the career of Linda Darnell, who played the femme fatale.

Dana Andrews is Eric Stanton, a drifter and a con artist who drifts into Walton, a small town between Los Angeles and San Francisco. He stops at a tiny diner and meets Stella (Linda Darnell), who seems to have all the men obsessed with her. There is Pop (Percy Killbride), who owns the bar and is nuts about Stella. There is also Mark Judd (Charles Bickford), a married man and a retired cop who always comes into the diner just to gaze at Stella and who plays the same song on the jukebox that Stella likes called “Slowly.” There is also another guy who services jukeboxes named Atkins (Bruce Cabot). Stella does not seem noticeably impressed by all this attention.

Dana Andrews and Stella

Dana Andrews and Linda Darnell

Inevitably, Stanton falls for Stella, but though she likes him she is rather dismissive of him, too, since all he seems to be offering is the same line that all the men have offered through the years and she has decided that she’s done with that. She wants a home and a husband with a little money and she’s no longer giving anything unless there’s a ring. Stanton says he’ll marry her and promises that he’ll get some money, somehow.

Stanton’s plan to get money is to fleece June Mills (Alice Faye), daughter of a much respected former mayor, who plays the organ, likes books and lives with her protective older sister, Clara (Anne Revere). June falls in love with him quickly, but he soon realizes that he can’t get her money without getting married, which they do, despite Clara’s warnings that he’s no good.

When Stanton tells Stella what he’s done she’s even less impressed and they argue (I would be nonplussed, too, if a man told me he was crazy to marry me and then arrived to say that he’d married another woman, all for me).That night Stella is murdered. Judd is asked by the police to help with the investigation and there are no shortage of suspects: Judd himself, Pop, Atkins, Stanton and even Clara, who found out about Stella and seems just protective enough of her sister to be capable of it. Stanton, however, is afraid that Judd will pin the murder on him and flees Walton, with June coming along with him.

Alice Faye and Dana Andrews

Alice Faye and Dana Andrews

The rest of the film is part mystery and part romance, with the con artist redeemed through the unalterable love and faith of a good woman. June is probably the first person who ever believed in him. The trouble is that her faith seems a trifle willful. There’s nothing in his behavior to indicate that he might have a good heart, hidden, somewhere and her faith seems less based on anything we see in him and more on her apparent determination to have him. She loves him, she wants him, so she has faith. The result is that she gets stuck with some rather weak dialogue and not much motivation. Her role is to be patient and sympathetic. Alice Faye plays her gracefully, but there’s just not much to do with it and nobody can look good in a film when they are obliged to to be seduced and then stand by their man.

Linda Darnell, however, is a more interesting character. She’s more siren than femme fatale and one you can sympathize with. Stella is world-weary, a bit sulky, and has seen it all (except a ring) and been given promises by a lot of men. She’s a femme fatale who would rather be somebody like June (whereas June wants to be more of a Stella, which I assume is why she marries Stanton despite the fact that he’s obviously on the make). If Judd, Stanton and Pop are any sample of the kind of men Stella’s met through life, you can understand her attitude and I couldn’t help rooting for her to find what she is looking for.

Murder suspects - the landlady looks on as Charles Bickford, Bruce Cabot and Dana Andrews warily check each other out

Murder suspects – the landlady looks on while Charles Bickford, Bruce Cabot and Dana Andrews warily check each other out

Fallen Angel is kind of like a sequel to Laura. It has the same director (Otto Preminger), same leading man (Dana Andrews), same composer, (David Raksin), same cinematographer (Joseph LaShelle) and even same set designer and so forth. And a similar theme of obsession and ownership over a woman. The result is that it looks very good. It is the plot that falters. It’s a bit incredible and a trifle choppy and uneven. The acting is universally fine, however – even Alice Faye is not bad.

It’s too bad that Fallen Angel was Alice Faye’s last movie. Supposedly her role was cut down by producer Darryl Zanuck and Linda Darnell’s role was built up (Darnell went on to play many more sirens). Also, Faye was supposed to sing the song “Slowly,” which was removed from the film. When she saw the finished product, she wrote an angry note to Zanuck and left the studio. It wasn’t a decision completely out of the blue, however. She had recently given birth to her second child with husband and bandleader Phil Harris and when she finished making movies, she devoted more time to her family, also working in radio with her husband. She later said she was perfectly comfortable leaving her movie career behind, despite many of her fans’ and even Darryl Zanuck’s attempts to get her back into movies.

I think the moral of the story is, however: never play the good girl in a film noir.

 
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Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Film Noir

 

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No Way Out (1950) – Sidney Poitier’s Movie Debut

Poster - No Way Out (1950)_01Part social commentary and part film noir, No Way Out‘s main theme is racism and it has really aged well, partially because the film manages to never allow its message to slow down the film with long, implausible speeches or sententious dialogue. It definitely has its moments of making a point, but overall doesn’t need to bash us over the head because the story and the acting is strong enough without it. The film marks the debut of Sidney Poitier and was both directed and written by Joseph Mankiewicz, a man interested in exploring social concerns in his films.

Dr. Luther Brooks (Sidney Poitier) is an intern working in the prison ward of the county hospital. He’s still a little unsure of himself and though he’s passed the state board examination and has a license to practice, he asks for another year there before going out on his own. He is the first black doctor at this ward and has the complete support of his superior, Dr. Wharton (Stephen McNally), though he occasionally meets a policeman who seems surprised to see a black doctor.

After a failed attempt at robbing a gas station, the two Biddle brothers are brought into the hospital, both shot in the leg. They’re from Beaver Canal, the white slum section of the city. Dr. Brooks notices that though Johnny Biddle was only shot in the leg, he seems to be exhibiting other symptoms, like confusion, lack of sense in his fingers. He suspects a brain tumor and wants to do a spinal tap, but Ray Biddle (Richard Widmark) is furious to have a black doctor tending them. He begs the police not to leave him and his brother alone with Dr. Brooks, uses every racial epitaph in the book and tries to prevent and distract Dr. Brooks from examining his brother.

But while Dr. Brooks is administering the spinal tap, Johnny Biddle dies. Ray is convinced that Dr. Brooks murdered him. Dr. Wharton trusts Dr. Brooks judgement, but Dr. Brooks wants an autopsy done to prove that his diagnosis was right and that there was nothing that could have been done to save Johnny. Ray, of course, refuses. Dr. Wharton and Dr. Brooks go to see Johnny’s ex-wife, Edie Johnson (Linda Darnell) to ask her to ask Ray to allow the autopsy. She is at first extremely surprised to see a black doctor. You can see it in her eyes. It’s almost as if she’s never stood that close to a black person before or held any conversation with them and you can see that it throws her off balance how he talks and acts just like any other person. Her expression is almost what it would be if she were standing face to face with a Martian who turns out to be just like her.

Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, Sidney Poitier

Richard Widmark, Linda Darnell, Sidney Poitier

But when Edie does go to see Ray, he pulls out all the stops. He appeals to the fact that she grew up next door to Johnny and Ray (their parents used to get drunk together), old loyalties to Beaver Canal, an ‘us vs. them’ mentality regarding both blacks and whites, policemen and establishment people like doctors. He then piteously pleads that he saw Dr. Brooks kill Johnny and that people are trying to cover it up. Edie is swayed, reverts to old habits of thought, and agrees to tell Ray’s other brother, George (Harry Bellaver), and the other members of Beaver Canal what Ray told her. The whole incident, they know, will start a riot.

But the black community near Beaver Canal hears about the impending attack on their neighborhood and decide to preemptively attack Beaver Canal, despite Dr. Brooks pleas not to. He feels that such attacks never do any good and only inflame hatred. But the riot still occurs, with Beaver Canal getting the worst of it.

Edie is disgusted with herself and with the violent, almost animal (her word) hatred and brutality displayed by the members of Beaver Canal. Meanwhile Dr. Brooks feels the entire riot occurred because of him and confesses to the murder of Johnny to force an autopsy of Johnny that will prove him right. When they find the tumor that proves his diagnosis, Ray escapes and sets out to murder Dr. Brooks.

No Way Out was Sidney Poitier’s film debut. He was only twenty-two years old, though he said he was twenty-seven, but he is already a powerful actor. Dr. Brooks is portrayed as a good, though flawed, human being and not just a cardboard cutout saint. He’s had to deal with hatred all his life and has grown used to it, but there’s something about the intensity and single-minded focus of Ray that shakes him up. He wants to prove himself in the eyes of others and can’t just let it go, despite Dr. Wharton’s assertion that there is no need, and he has a slight crisis of confidence. His reactions are complicated: determination, nobility, anger, frustration, patience, impatience. He wants to deal rationally with the situation, but keeps encountering the irrationality of Ray.

1083_019851.jpgRichard Widmark is superb and plays truly one of the most hateful characters I have seen in film. Even other members of the hospital acknowledge that his racism is almost a pathology. He unleashes an incredible volley of racial slurs, using the N-word multiple times. He represents a mentality of Beaver Canal, something Edie wants to leave behind, that is almost like arrested-development.

Edie seems to bring out more of the noir elements of the film in her struggles to extricate herself from Beaver Canal and is played very convincingly by Linda Darnell. It is fascinating to watch her character change and see her ideas transformed. She begins by referring to Dr. Brooks as “that colored doctor” or “negro doctor.” By the middle of the film, you can see her consciously stopping and choosing to say “Dr. Brooks.” She goes out of her way to acknowledge Dr. Brooks’ wife by greeting her. By the end, she calls him Luther, and not in a condescending context. Every time she meets a black person, you can see her curiosity and as she talks to Dr. Wharton’s black housekeeper, Gladys, she begins to come to that realization that Gladys is not “other,” but that they actually have much in common.

No Way Out is a film that reflects its time. Dr. Wharton is a good example of this. He says he believes in good doctors, not white doctors or black doctors, and he is a good friend to Dr. Brooks. However, you can still see the racial bias of the system at work, through no fault of his own. He is in the position of patron, not just friend. And when Mrs. Brooks holds back her tears until after he has left and cries on Gladys’ shoulders, you can see that there is still lurking an ‘us vs. them’ mindset. You don’t cry in front of the patron.

In real life, Richard Widmark and Sidney Poitier were good friends. In fact, Widmark felt so bad about how he treated Poitier’s character in the film, that he frequently apologized during filming. It’s a well-acted, intense, and compelling drama, that holds up well as a movie and not just as social commentary.

 
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Posted by on April 27, 2015 in Drama, Film Noir

 

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