“Born to Be Bad” (1950) starring Joan Fontaine, Robert Ryan, Zachary Scott, Joan Leslie, & Mel Ferrer

Baby-faced Savage in a jungle of intrigue! -A tagline for the movie (featured on the poster)

Donna Foster (Joan Leslie), assistant to publisher John Caine, has agreed that his niece/small-town gal, Christabel Caine (Joan Fontaine), can stay in her apt while she attends business school in San Fran. Donna won’t need the place much longer; she and her philanthropist fiance, Curtis Carey (Randolph Scott), will soon be married. Also, Mr. Caine is preparing Christabel for Donna’s current job. While living w/ Donna, Christabel befriends NOT only Donna and Curtis, but two of her artist pals- struggling painter, Gabriel “Gobby” Broome (Mel Ferrer), and aspiring writer, Nick Bradley (Robert Ryan), who lives next door.

Christabel: You don’t care very much for women, do you?

Gobby: My dear girl, apart from painting my major occupation is convincing women’s husbands that I’m harmless.

RKO had originally scheduled this film to be made 2x previously. This film (directed by Nicholas Ray) was shot in 1949, BUT released a year later. Now, I’m NOT a fan of Fontaine (though my mom likes her in certain roles); I prefer her sister (Olivia de Havilland). I decided to watch this b/c it had Ryan (an actor I’ve admired from several fine noir films). Jeff Bridges said that Ryan was his fave actor- wow! Fontaine isn’t a femme fatale, BUT a conniver who projects the persona of a humble, soft-spoken, guile-less woman. As one astute viewer commented: “she’s reminiscent in her way of a non-show biz Eve Harrington” (All About Eve). Unlike Donna (the hard-working career gal), Christabel has zero interest in work; she quits business school (much to her uncle’s disappointment). Just how bad is she though!?

Nick: [to Gobby, as they both look at Gobby’s painting of Christabel] Looks like a cross between Lucrezia Borgia and Peg o’ My Heart. Even with two heads you couldn’t look like this – or do you know something I don’t?

What does this (above) comment mean? I looked up the references. Lucrezia Borgia (1480–1519) was a Spanish-Italian noblewoman of the House of Borgia who was the daughter of Pope Alexander VI and Vannozza dei Cattanei. According to Mandell Creighton in History of the Papacy, “Lucrezia… was personally popular through her beauty and her affability. Her long golden hair, her sweet childish face, her pleasant expression and her graceful ways, seem to have struck all who saw her.” Lucrezia was known for her was a cunning and became notorious for suspicious deaths and political intrigue in 16th c. Italy. Peg o’ My Heart was a 1933 Pre-Code film adaptation (there are earlier versions also) of a play by J. Hartley Manners. Marion Davies plays a poor/orphan/Irish girl who stands to inherit a fortune from her wealthy English relatives, if she satisfies certain conditions.

Donna: [to Christabel] I can just hear you, being so helpful – and so helpless. Helping to mess up people’s lives for your own selfish purposes. And just about as “helpless” as a wildcat. Somebody should have told the birds and bees about YOU!

The other reason to see this film (aside from Ryan) is the terrific dialogue; the best (and sometimes biting) lines are given to Gobby (the observer) and Nick. This movie was considered controversial; Gobby is (subtly) characterized as gay and there are (obvious) hints at extramarital sex. Ann Parrish wrote the source novel, All Kneeling, which was adapted by Charles Schnee. The screenplay was by Edith Sommar w/ additional dialogue contributed by Robert Soderberg and George Oppenheimer (who had a prolific writing career in movies/TV shows).

Robert Ryan was an actor first, a star second. He could play the good guy. He could play the bad guy. You name it, he could play it. That’s what good acting is all about. -Ernest Borgnine, co-star of Ryan in 3 movies (in a TCM tribute segment)

Nick: [to Christabel] You little fake. Don’t you know what you really want? Make up your mind, and make it up now, because I’m a restless guy.

I liked ALL scenes between Fontaine (about 5’3″ tall w/ slight build) and Ryan (6’4″/former collegiate boxer), though physically they make an unlikely couple. In the “meet cute” in Donna’s kitchen, Nick jokes w/ Christabel, BUT she’s a little intimidated. At Donna’s party later that night, he’s eager to get to know her and puts on the charm, BUT she doesn’t stay by his side too long. Notice how Ryan’s hand totally swallows up Fontaine’s? Some time passes and Christabel (finally) goes to have dinner at Nick’s place. Ryan’s chest is heaving as they talk just before their 1st kiss. As the romance begins to sour, we see the undercurrent of danger emerge from Ryan (perhaps his trademark). Nick is the one man that Christabel can’t fool!

There is nothing exceptional re: the directing, though Ray went to work on some big movies. Though it is set in San Fran, we don’t get many exterior shots of the city or its landmarks (too bad). I liked most of dresses worn by Fontaine and Leslie. One viewer commented: “Ray must’ve had a sense of humor,” as BOTH Nick and Curtis tightly hold and kiss Christabel in the same way- LOL! Much is done w/ sly/knowing looks, though a few viewers commented that they found Fontaine “campy.” The story moved along at a good pace. I got a big kick out of seeing Ryan in domestic settings, being a friend, and esp. – a love interest. Though he gets to play romance in Clash by Night (1952), Nick here is a more fun/intelligent/sophisticated character. However, the romance (w/ Stanwyck) is darker/hotter in the other film. There was another ending shot by Ray for this movie, but the studio rejected it based on moral grounds. You can rent this movie on Amazon Prime.

“Daughters Courageous” (1939) starring John Garfield & Claude Rains

As they have done for many summers, San Fran-based fashion designer, Nan Masters (Fay Bainter), her 4 single/young adult daughters, Cora (Gale Page), Tinka (Rosemary Lane), Linda (Lola Lane), and Buff (Priscilla Lane), and their long-time/sassy/elderly housekeeper, Penny (May Robson), are spending time in Carmel, renting the house of a local businessman, Sam Sloane (Donald Crisp). ALL the daughters are at various stages of courtship w/ a local man. The highlight of this summer is Buff’s aspiring playwright bf, Johnny Heming (Jeffrey Lynn), mounting a community play, w/ a small role for Cora (an aspiring actress). Suddenly, Nan makes the announcement that she plans imminently to marry Sam- ONLY w/ her daughters’ blessing, which they provide! Sam is the opposite of the girls’ father, the charming/outgoing Jim Masters (Claude Rains), who abandoned the family 20 yrs ago. On this same day that the Masters welcome Sam into their family, telling him to sit at the head of the table for dinner, Jim returns! He is wanting to resume his place in the family after traveling the world. Buff becomes interested in Gabriel, a young con, the son of Manuel Lopez (George Humbert), an immigrant/fisherman.

Penny: [as Tinka, who along with her sisters is giving Sam a shave, dips a towel into the kitchen sink filled with hot water] Hey, hey, hey! That hot water’s for my dishes.

Tinka: This towel is for Sam’s face.

Penny: These dishes have been in the family much longer than Sam’s face!

After Garfield made a FAB debut in Four Daughters the previous year, there was a LOT of demand for a sequel; sadly, his character (Mickey) had died at the end. Jack Warner (studio head) remedied that w/ acquiring a play by Dorothy Bennett that ran 247 performances during the 1935 season on Broadway- Fly Away Home. It’s the story of a family on the eve of the matriarch’s (2nd) marriage to a businessman. Out of the blue, her 1st husband shows up, and wants to be part of the family. This film is often (mistakenly) considered a sequel to Four Daughters (1938), as it has the same primary cast (in somewhat similar roles), most specifically Page and the Lanes portraying 4 sisters to Raines’ father) and the same director, Michael Curtiz. However, the actors play different characters in this film than in the earlier film. Four Wives (1939) and Four Mothers (1941) are 2 sequels to Four Daughters.

Nan: [after the Judge and Nan have dealt with the problem that is Gabriel Lopez] I’m very sorry, Henry. Could you come to dinner tomorrow night?

Judge Hornsby: I’m afraid not. I’m contemplating having a stroke.

Does the fact that Gabriel is Hispanic have an impact here? I’d have to say NOT too much, aside from adding to his “outsider” status. His father acts humble, is V hard-working, so seems to have gained respect in the community. Gabriel acts sassy to Judge Hornsby, though he’s NOT wrong- LOL! Afterwards, Manual exclaims to his son: “I try to make you a gentleman and this is how you repay me?” He is echoing the frustration of immigrants who want better for their (American-born) children than they had themselves. Since Garfield was playing a Mexican general in Juarez (1939) when Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein were writing the screenplay to this movie, they made his character Hispanic (as a joke). Manuel (when V upset) speaks in Italian; Humbert is an immigrant from Sicily. The vendor (down the road from the courthouse) chastises Gabriel (also in Italian) when he grabs 2 bags of peanuts from the cart w/o paying.

Penny: [sternly] When are you going to stop sliding down the banister?

Buff: [excitedly] When they stop making ’em.

This is a much more interesting story than Four Daughters; there are serious themes underneath. Though the cast is quite large, each character gets a chance to add to the story. Priscilla Lane and Garfield continue to have good romantic chemistry; it’s a case of opposites attracting (yet again). He convinces her to hang out w/ him; she ends up paying for beer and food. Some viewers felt that Gabriel was TOO cynical; they preferred Mickey (Four Daughters) instead. Though he tries to make an easy buck, Gabriel is NOT really a bad guy; he’s restless to see the world (beyond his small town experience). The scenes between Garfield and Rains are standouts; Gabriel and Jim have great (potential friend) chemistry. When they first meet, the young man strolls into the house, playing the accordion, and looking for a girl (NOT recalling Buff’s name- oops)! If you’re a fan of these actors or just want something relaxing to watch (like a Hallmark movie), then check this out.

[1] Garfield, just as he did in the earlier film, jumps off the screen with a charisma and sexuality the other performers just can’t match. He and Claude Rains, whose character from the first film undergoes the greatest change, strike up a good rapport as two wandering spirits.

[2] As the Bainter character herself comments, the dialogue does tend to be flip, – it is often amusing, but it is hard to take it seriously. The superlative photography, especially the location scenes (between the trees overlooking the water) which have a real lyrical quality, and the music score are major assets, as is the skilled film editing. The direction is not especially striking, but has confidence and assured craftsmanship.

[3] This is a an enjoyable, though somewhat dated film, enlivened by the masterful presence of Claude Rains. He completely steals the film, even when surrounded by a solid supporting cast… But the production code of the era demanded that any character who was “morally tainted” would be made to pay for it, eventually, in the movie. Warner Bros. made no exception here, even though the ending is plausible and frankly, ludicrous.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

John Garfield’s 1st Movie: “Four Daughters” (1938)

Adam Lemp (Claude Rains), the Dean of the Briarwood Music Foundation in upstate NY, has passed on his love of music to his 4 young adult daughters – Thea (Lola Lane), Emma (Gale Page), Kay (Rosemary Lane) and Ann (Priscilla Lane)- who live w/ him and his maiden sister, Aunt Etta (May Robson), in their loving/cozy family home. Thea plays the piano, Emma plays the harp, and Ann plays the violin. It’s Kay who shows the greatest promise- she’s the singer. The girls exasperate their father w/ their love of popular music, since he loves classics (esp. Beethoven). The sisters support each other and share clothes. Each girl is an individual w/ her own distinct personality and wants, incl. the type of man each wants as a husband. Emma (practical, but secretly romantic) has been courted by their next door neighbor/shy florist- Ernest Talbot (Dick Foran). Thea (who calls herself “the clever one”) wants to marry Ben Crowley (Frank McHugh), a middle-aged/upwardly-mobile banker. The youngest sister, Ann, thinks she doesn’t want to get married. Their lives change when 2 new men come into their lives. The first is Adam’s old friend’s son, popular music composer, Felix Deitz (Jeffrey Lynn), quickly gets a job at the foundation using his natural charm/enthusiasm. The second is a scruffy/cynical musician from NYC, Mickey Borden (25 y.o. John Garfield in his big screen debut/1st Oscar nom), who Felix hires to orchestrate a new composition.

It took me some time, BUT I realized that I’d seen a version of this story before! My parents used to re-watch the 1954 musical remake (Young at Heart); Mickey was played by Frank Sinatra and Ann was played by Doris Day. Four Daughters was to be a big-budget production starring Errol Flynn (fresh from his success on The Adventures of Robin Hood), BUT was re-worked into a modest domestic drama. It was designed as a vehicle for Priscilla Lane, which also happened to have roles for her sisters- Lola and Rosemary. Warner Bros. gave this movie to director Michael Curtiz as a small assignment to tide him over as Angels with Dirty Faces (1938) was coming together. Surprisingly, Curtiz delivered a film that was critically acclaimed and a box office success, earning 5 Academy Award noms!

Mickey [telling his life story to Ann]: They’ve been at me now nearly a quarter of a century. No let-up. First they said, “Let him do without parents. He’ll get along.” Then they decided, “He doesn’t need any education. That’s for sissies.” Then right at the beginning, they tossed a coin. “Heads he’s poor, tails he’s rich.” So they tossed a coin… with two heads. Then, for a finale, they got together on talent. “Sure,” they said, “let him have talent. Not enough to let him do anything on his own, anything good or great. Just enough to let him help other people. It’s all he deserves.” Well, you put all this together and you get Michael Bolgar.

Mickey was originally written w/ actor Van Heflin in mind; he could’ve done a good job. Garfield (who’d been studying the craft of acting since HS) based Mickey on his friend/musician- Oscar Levant; to see them together, check out Humoresque (1946). When Lynn did his screen test to play Felix, he was also shown Garfield’s screen test; he predicted that the newcomer would steal the show. Looking at this film w/ our (modern) sensibilities, it doesn’t take long to realize who is the real star. In any other case, the (tall/slim/conventionally handsome) Lynn would be the draw. Next to the (naturalistic, yet dynamic) performance of Garfield, he doesn’t stand a chance! As one astute viewer commented: “Mickey shows up loaded with bruised charisma to burn and pulling the focus of the story to him without even trying.” Check this movie out- you may enjoy it!

[1] The role was superbly played by John Garfield, and it brought him not only stardom but also, and perhaps more important, won for him his place in cinema history as the screen’s first rebel hero.

[2] Unlike some actors who appear in several films before their screen image gels, Garfield established his immediately, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and talk of the fates being against him.

[3] How opposites attract is part of the ploy for touching the quick of the viewer’s imagination. Ann is the eternal optimist, even when she and Mickey are down and out. She always looks on the bright side and like so many caught in the pliers of the Great Depression in those days, she saw prosperity just around the corner. Mickey recites an entire list of bad things that have happened to him seeking company in his misery from Ann, which Ann refuses to do. Mickey expects to go out with a bolt of lightning striking him dead as he rounds the corner of life. Mickey has meager talent as a composer; Ann has talent to spare as a singer and musician. Ann is big on beauty; Mickey is big on personality in a warped sense of a way.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“Ophelia” (2018) starring Daisy Ridley, Naomi Watts, Clive Owen, & George MacKay

As a rebellious/motherless child, Ophelia, is taken into Elsinore Castle by Queen Gertrude (Naomi Watts) as one of her ladies-in-waiting. Years later, a grown-up Ophelia (Daisy Ridley- who had her breakout role in the recent Star Wars sequel trilogy) captures the affections of Prince Hamlet (George MacKay). A romance kindles between the two in secret, as the kingdom is on the brink of war, amidst internal intrigue and betrayal. When Hamlet’s father (Nathaniel Parker- who has no lines) is murdered and the prince sets his mind on revenge against the new king/his uncle, Claudius (Clive Owen- wearing a terrible wig), Ophelia must choose between love and survival.

What happens when “the message” (feminism- in this case) and style (locations/sets, hair, costumes, etc.) are made more important than substance (good writing)? Well, we get movies like this (available on Netflix) from Aussie director Claire McCarthy. The cinematographer (or D.P.) is McCarthy’s husband, Denson Baker; I think he did a fine job. This movie was shot on location is the Czech Republic on a mere $12M budget- wow! I learned that it’s based on a young adult (YA) novel by Lisa Klein, NOT the tragic play Hamlet by Shakespeare. The chanting (repeated in several scenes) comes from Hamlet’s letter in Act 2, scene 2: “Doubt that the stars are fire. Doubt that the sun doth move. Doubt truth to be a liar. But never doubt I love.”

Things just don’t make sense here- which is frustrating! Young Ophelia is running around the castle dressed in raggedy clothes w/ a dirty face, though her father is the king’s main advisor. As a young adult, the other ladies-in-waiting belittle Ophelia as she wears flowers, NOT jewels (b/c Polonius can’t afford them). WTH!? As one astute reviewer noted, lines and scenes from other Shakespeare plays (Much Ado About Nothing; Romeo and Juliet) are used here. In the play, Hamlet hates the wild/drunken parties thrown by Claudius; here he wears a mask and dances w/ those at court. Of course, Ophelia (being NOT like other girls- eyeroll), is self-conscious b/c she “dances like a goat.” Whatever… There is V little development of the love story; I also didn’t see any chemistry btwn Ridley and MacKay. I’ve heard that MANY young actors want to tackle the role of Hamlet, BUT I felt kinda sorry for him here. Emasculating men or casting them ONLY as baddies is NOT going to improve stories of women. Just don’t waste your time!

[1] The all-star cast were OK in their roles, but nothing earth-shattering. The love story needed loads of developing and loads more could have been made of Clive Owen’s character being a threat to Hamlet’s family, crown and future. Naomi Watt’s duel roles was super confusing and brought nothing to either characters. (Which pains me to say as I love her as an actress). I really feel this film is style over substance.

[2] Hamlet is a non starter, some angry little boy. and the men of course are evil: deny education, don’t take care of their wife, kill other men, try to rape and so on.

[3] Preachy, not empowered. Lose the agenda and the attitude. Too bad, this could have been something interesting.

[4] I’m an ultra-lefty feminist and even I eyerolled. Why couldn’t it be a genuine dramatic tragedy? It didn’t need this type of girl power remake.

-Excerpts from IMDb reviews

“TRON” (1982) starring Jeff Bridges, Bruce Boxleitner, David Warner, & Cindy Morgan

Hacker/arcade owner Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) is digitally broken down into a data stream by a villainous software pirate, Master Control, and reconstituted into the internal, 3-D graphical world of computers. In this colorful/geometric landscape of cyberspace, Flynn joins forces w/ Tron, who looks just like his pal Alan (Bruce Boxleitner- perhaps best known for the sci-fi TV show Babylon 5), to outmaneuver the Master Control program that holds them captive in the equivalent of a big/dangerous computer game. Though V basic by our (modern) standards, this was an innovative/labor-intensive movie in its day! There is a BTS (behind-the-scenes) documentary re: the movie (free on YouTube: see link below).

Many Disney animators refused to work on this movie because they feared that computers would put them out of business. In fact, 22 years later Disney closed its hand-drawn animation studio in favor of CGI animation. Hand-drawn animation was resumed at Disney after creative director, John Lasseter, also head of Pixar (a computer animation company). TRON was disqualified from receiving an Academy Award nomination for special effects, because the Academy felt at the time that using computer generated effects was “cheating” – wow!

Y’all, I gotta keep it real w/ you; I ONLY watched this for Bridges! He’s adorable w/ a fringe haircut (like the one Kurt Russell had in his day), quirky physicality, and a nerdy personality. ALL the actors (when inside the computer) wore skintight outfits; IRL these were white w/ black markings (where the graphics would be added in later). Bridges had TOO much of a bulge in the crotch area in his costume (hey, this was released by Disney); he had to wear a dance belt to conceal it. To inspire the actors, arcade games were placed on the sets and played during downtime. Bridges found it hard to tear himself away from a game to shoot a scene- LOL! Boxleitner (who lived on a ranch at that time) said he was reluctant to take on this role, BUT ended up having a good time. When asked about his co-star, Boxleitner recalled: “He WAS Kevin Flynn!”

In the 1st act of this movie, we meet 3 young computer programmers- Kevin, Alan, and Lora (Cindy Morgan- I’d never seen her acting before). They’re still close friends, even though Kevin no longer works w/ them at Encom. Kevin and Lora used to be a couple, BUT now she is dating Alan. The main baddie roles are played here by British character actor David Warner; he recently passed away after a long life/prolific career. Warner was a working class kid (from Manchester, England) who came out of the theater world (studied at RADA). Trekkies remembered him fondly on social media; he acted in several notable roles: Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (St. John Talbot), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (Chancellor Gorkon), and Star Trek: TNG (Gul Madred). He was also on an ep on S1 of Babylon 5; I watched that recently. Warner was the cold/gun-toting Lovejoy in the hit movie, Titanic (2002), who chased Jack and Rose.