Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Actress Dolores Dorn

Dolores Dorn was born on March 3, 1934 in Chicago, Illinois. The year that Dolores was born, her future husband Franchot Tone starred in Gentleman Are Born, Straight is the Way, The Girl from Missouri, The World Moves On, Sadie McKee, and Moulin Rouge.In 1957, 52-year-old Franchot and 23-year-old Dolores Dorn-Heft starred in a film production of Uncle Vanya together (a favorite film of mine which I will feature on the blog later this week).

Photo of Franchot and Dolores I found on Pinterest. I do not know the origin of this photo.
Dolores was a theater ingenue in the 1950s. She costarred with Franchot in the theater production of Uncle Vanya, before they filmed a movie version.

Apparently, Dolores and Franchot were married for two years before the press found out. In an Associated Press article dated March 21, 1958, Franchot confirmed that he had married Dolores in Canada in 1956. Only a year after admitting they were married, Franchot and Dolores were divorced in Mexico. As with Joan Crawford, Dolores appeared to remain friendly with Franchot after the divorce. According to various news reports at the time, Dolores was even seen on dates with her estranged husband in the weeks following their divorce. Because they were both incredibly private about their relationship, I have not tracked down much in the way of photographs or details about their marriage.

Dolores went on to act in feature films and some television movies until the 1980s. As far as I know, she is alive and well today.

Online Resources for Dolores Dorn:
IMDb profile
Wikipedia entry
Film Reference profile

Here are some screen captures I took of Dolores alone and with Franchot in the 1957 film production of Uncle Vanya.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Hour Before the Dawn (1944)

The Hour Before the Dawn is an interesting little World War II film. Based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham, the 1944 film stars Franchot Tone and Veronica Lake (without her signature peek-a-boo hairstyle). At just 75 minutes long, the film is short, but still packs a punch. Although I feel the plot is not completely developed, the storyline and characterizations that exist are meaningful.

Franchot is Jim Hetherton, an English scholar who disagrees with the war. In a flashback, we see Jim as a young boy. He is learning to hunt, but accidentally shoots his loyal dog instead. It is made clear that this moment has defined his later values. An unapologetic pacifist, Jim is not a well-liked figure in his country. When he asks to be exempt from fighting, townspeople turn their back on Jim. He is called hurtful names and struggles to find a job. Although he understands the resistance, Jim is firm in his convictions.

Jim falls in love with and marries Dora Bruckmann, an Austrian refugee who works for his family. Although he only sees the good in her, it is evident that Dora (played nicely by Veronica Lake) is hiding her true identity. We soon discover that Dora is a Nazi agent, using the idealist Jim as she plots to help Hitler invade the English countryside.

This is one of my favorite characters that Franchot portrayed in his career. As he did in The Three Comrades, Franchot turns in an understated and sympathetic performance. I loved his thoughtfully stated speeches about peace both in his draft hearing and in his daily life. Although it is a rather simple and quiet film, it still holds a lot of suspense.

I have not been able to find his movie on DVD anywhere so far. I discovered it online on Youtube one rainy, lazy day and it was just what I needed. I'm not sure if this movie has ever been available (I couldn't find it on VHS either), so you might have to catch it if it ever pops up on television. Here's the link to the video I found on Youtube. It's not great quality (as you can see in my screencaps), but it works!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Phantom Lady (1944)

In 1944, Franchot took a sinister turn, costarring with Ella Raines and Alan Curtis in the film noir, Phantom Lady.

In Phantom Lady, Scott Henderson (played by Alan Curtis) goes out for a night on the town with a mysterious woman after his wife tells him she doesn't love him anymore. Scott and the unnamed lady have drinks at a bar, go out to a show where the songstress on stage wears the same elegant hat as Scott's guest, and then part ways outside of the bar. When Scott returns to his apartment, he finds detectives in the living room and his wife strangled to death in the bedroom. Because Scott's necktie is identified as the murder weapon, cops immediately zero on him as the main suspect. Scott must track down the mysterious lady who is his alibi, yet no one is cooperating. It is evident that witnesses who saw the two together at the bar and show have been bribed to keep their mouths shut. The only person who believes that Scott Henderson is innocent is his secretary Carol Richman, a woman clearly infatuated with her boss. When a jury convicts Scott of murder, Carol sets out to find the unknown woman and clear his name. Scott's best friend, Jack Marlow, arrives to help Carol. Franchot Tone plays Jack Marlow and doesn't enter the film until about 45 minutes in. Spoilers are coming after this set of screen captures, so if you don't want to know too much, beware!

Spoiler begins now. Before I saw this movie, I was really frustrated, because in all descriptions of the film it was made clear that Franchot portrayed the murderer. Why would they tell me that before I watched? I felt like the film's twist was probably ruined, so I went into watching it a bit deflated. Having seen it, I realize why viewers give it away so easily. The film gives Franchot away as the murderer in his very first scene! Franchot's Jack Marlow immediately strangles a character. I liked Franchot's portrayal. Wringing and knotting his hands and suffering from debilitating headaches, Franchot's Jack Marlow is obviously a conflicted psychopath. It reminds me a bit of Robert Walker's Bruno Antony, although Phantom Lady is not nearly as masterful as Strangers on a Train. I didn't like that the film gave away his identity so quickly in the film. I think the film would have been more suspenseful and exciting if the viewer was not made aware of the murderer's identity until the plot had progressed. It would have been more fun to debate Jack Marlow's guilt or innocence and then it be revealed.

Franchot is, however, ultra creepy in his scenes and it's unnerving to see Carol (Ella Raines) so implicitly trusting the very murderer she's hunting. I enjoyed this film noir, but feel that the plot and build-up was a bit thin. There's no explanation or back story as to why and how Jack Marlow became a murderer. All we know is that Scott Henderson's wife laughed at him and he didn't like it. Phantom Lady is a fun, but flawed film noir. It made me realize how wonderful it would have been if Franchot had been asked to be a leading man or criminal in an Alfred Hitchcock film. He would have been so convincing as a deceiving murderer hiding in plain sight in a tuxedo with all his charm. What a lost gem to Franchot enthusiasts that a Hitchcock film was never made. (Note: If you haven't seen Franchot Tone's roles in episodes of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Alfred Hitchcock Hour television shows, you must!)

If you enjoy 1940s film noirs, you'll want to check out Phantom Lady. It is available on DVD on Amazon and TCMShop.