Sunday, July 26, 2015

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Too Old for Dolls (1955)

In honor of what would be Natalie Wood's 77th birthday, here's a post about Franchot and Natalie in Too Old For Dolls. A production of Ford Television Theatre, Too Old for Dolls aired on February 24, 1955. Franchot Tone plays Mike Ramsay, father of Natalie Wood's character, Polly. Mike and his wife Marge (Laraine Day) are worried that their daughter does not have a date to her school's formal dance. Although Polly assures them that she has a date named Al, her parents try to set up dates with other eligible neighborhood boys. When Al (who has a fantastic secret background) appears at their doorstep on the night of the dance, Polly's parents are in for a huge surprise!

Too Old for Dolls is a rarely seen, delightful televised play. It is an especially sweet treat for me to watch my favorite actress Natalie Wood, whose star was on the rise at this time, partnered with screen veteran Franchot, my favorite actor.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mickey One (1965)

In 1965, Franchot played a secondary character in a Warren Beatty vehicle called Mickey One. Before I get started, I want to admit that Mickey One is not my favorite film. I found the shots and mood of the film interesting, but the actual story didn't do much for me. However, it is directed by Arthur Penn (who would direct Beatty again in the brilliant Bonnie and Clyde just two years later), and has achieved a cult status among modern viewers.

Warren Beatty is a successful stand-up comedian. His character performs at all the popular nightclubs and always has a beautiful woman on his arm. He appears to have everything in the opening scenes, but we soon learn that the mob has hold of him. Not sure of how he's incurred the wrath of the mafia, Beatty aims to pay his debts and move on with his life. He quickly learns that it isn't that easy. Paranoia follows him as he runs away from the life he knows and takes on the identity of Mickey One. Mickey is eager to experience and seeks out the fame of his comedy career again, all while being terrified that the  mafia will catch up to him and murder him.

How does Franchot factor in all of this? Well, he portrays Ruby Lapp, a club manager and sort of middle man for the mobsters. Mickey One never meets with the mafia itself, but always directly to Ruby, who advises him to play it safe. Ruby hints that Mickey is in trouble because he shared too much information in a Turkish bath. When the comedian runs away, Ruby warns him that he'll never be able to escape, that his debts will follow him for life. Franchot only has a few brief, quiet scenes in the film and his character, like most of the film's characters, is vague and a bit kooky.

Speaking of the film's kookiness, here's an odd little piece of trivia I uncovered while reading the original reviews of the film. (By the way, I felt better when I read that most reviewers were as confused about the plot as me.) In his first scene, there are close-ups of Franchot. I noticed what I thought was a dark scratch, stitch, or scar on the right side of his head (left side to viewer). As you are aware, I am a bit preoccupied with Franchot, so I wondered what was up with that. I found my answer in Dorothy Kilgallen's "The Voice of Broadway" column dated March 19, 1964:

"Franchot Tone will be a little late reporting to Chicago for his role with Warren Beatty in Mickey One. He tripped over his cat, got a black eye and had to have 10 stitches taken in his head."

(I've heard rumors that Franchot didn't have a cat and that the injury was caused by inebriation, but Franchot actually referred to having a cat in another context in another article around the same time.)

My favorite scene is shown in the screen captures below. This is when Franchot gives his big speech, telling Warren Beatty that the mob will control his entire life and that there is no escape or fix for it.

Watch Mickey One for its unique cinematic shots, combination of noir and new wave, and cult status. Don't watch it for a straightforward, cohesive plot.

Mickey One is available on DVD on Amazon.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Great Fan Magazines

I had quite a Franchot day this past Friday. Enjoying a lazy day off work, I managed to squeeze in two films I had never seen before. First up was Mickey One, a 1965 drama starring Warren Beatty with Franchot as a minor, yet memorable character. Second was Here Comes the Groom, a 1951 musical comedy starring Bing Crosby and Franchot Tone, who playfully compete to win the affections of Jane Wyman. I will, of course, feature these two very different films in later, more detailed posts.

Viewing those two films would have made me happy enough, but then came a discovery! I use one room in my house as a library for all my classic film biographies, pictorial histories, encyclopedias, photographs, and memorabilia.As a great fan of coffee table-sized Hollywood compilation books, I pulled out an old one I haven't browsed in years. The title is Hollywood and the Great Fan Magazines and it is a collection of random movie star magazine articles from the 1930s. I purchased it for $2.00 at a used book store close to ten years ago.At the time, I remember skipping around to read the articles on Jean Harlow, Shirley Temple, and Greta Garbo.  It's been in my bookcase all these years, but I've overlooked it for the expansive pictorial histories of Rita Hayworth, Audrey Hepburn, and many other lovely Old Hollywood ladies.
As I flipped through the pages, a familiar face grabbed my attention. I was delighted to discover that there is a lengthy biographical article on Franchot, written very early on in his Hollywood days. The article, "The Intimate Life of a Gentleman Rebel", is written by Walter Ramsey and includes quotes and details about Franchot's early background, college life, and theater experience before his big Hollywood break. In the future, I will definitely be including some of the quotes on this blog. Spanning multiple pages, the article also includes these fascinating photos of a very young Franchot in a variety of early acting performances.

I've owned this book for many years and never realized such a great piece of Franchot history was hidden within its pages!

Images Source: Levin, Martin. Hollywood and the Great Fan Magazines. New York: Arbor House, 1970. Print. 

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Uncle Vanya (1957)

In 1956, Franchot Tone starred as the doctor in the 4th Street production of Anton Chekhov's play Uncle Vanya. After the run of the play, Franchot would produce and star in the film version. An interesting bit of trivia is that a young Franchot had originally played a character in a 1929 production of Uncle Vanya in New York in his early theater days.

Franchot plays Dr. Mikhail Lvovich Astroff, an aging doctor who takes care of all in his rural village. When a wealthy, elderly scholar and his young wife visit their country estate, Astroff's world, along with that of the estate's servants, revolves around the urban couple and their extravagant needs. Astoff and Vanya, former brother-in-law to the professor and uncle to the professor's daughter Sonia, are both immediately attracted to and distracted by the professor's beautiful wife, Elena

The professor's daughter Sonia is secretly in love with Astroff, but he is often drunk on Vodka and does not notice her. Franchot plays his drunken scenes with so much boyish mischief and delight. One thing that I love about Franchot's acting throughout his career is how expressive his face is. I imagine his original training as a stage actor and the need to get his emotions across to an audience in their theater seats is what influenced Franchot to incorporate so much facial acting and expression into his performances. Uncle Vanya is a fine example of Franchot's talents in this area.

Under the guise of helping Sonia tell the doctor about her love, the beautiful wife Elena uses the opportunity to go after Astroff herself. Astroff realizes that this flirtation is merely a game for the lovely Elena, but still falls prey to her charms. Elena is played by Franchot's fourth wife Dolores Dorn. Because they kept their real-life relationship so private, it is nice to see their interplay in Uncle Vanya scenes. The two were already secretly married when this play was filmed, but film audiences at the time had no idea. Franchot and Dolores had met during the play's first run in New York City in 1956.

When the professor and his wife announce that they are selling the country estate and returning to the city, the lives of Vanya, Astroff, and Sonia are thrown into dismay. All of the actors in this intimate drama are skilled stage performers and turn in wonderful performances. What I enjoy most about this film and Franchot's television appearances is that it gives me a chance to experience what it might have been like to see Franchot on stage. Acting on the stage was Franchot's first love and his passion for the theater is evident in this adaptation of Uncle Vanya.


 I highly recommend Uncle Vanya! It is available on DVD on Amazon.