Thursday, March 31, 2016

Exclusive Story (1936)

Exclusive Story is a 1936 drama directed by George B. Seitz (who directed the Andy Hardy series as well as another Franchot film, Between Two Women). The film stars Franchot Tone, Madge Evans, Stuart Erwin, J. Farrell MacDonald, Joseph Calleia, and Robert Barrat. This is a film that I always forget about when I'm in the mood for a Franchot movie night until I stumble on it again and am impressed by the plot and the work of the extremely gifted actors. It's just a "little program picture", but has a powerful story and a nail-biting ship rescue scene.
(Side Note: I recently read Edward J. Funk's book Eavesdropping: Loretta Young Talks About Her Movie Years and Loretta referred to one of my favorite films The Unguarded Hour as "just a little program picture" and now I seem to be working that phrase into all of my personal film reviews. I tend to love "little program pictures" and I also highly recommend the book if you're a LY fan!)
The film revolves around racketeering and a newspaperman's efforts to expose it. Gangsters first take over Harlem and then move on to small-time grocers and other shop owners. With threats of violence, the gangsters intimidate these local businessmen into selling tickets for a big lottery scam. Of course, the merchants are never able to sell enough to please the racketeers, so their businesses, families, and own lives are constantly placed in more danger.

Reporter Timothy Higgins (played wittily by Stuart Erwin) knows that there is something fishy going on, but cannot expose the scam without more cooperation. Dick Barton (Franchot Tone) is a wealthy society lawyer who would rather keep his nose out of scandal and his focus on his equally wealthy fiancee and a carefree lifestyle. His disinterest is clearly visible in this photo:

Franchot is unimpressed.

Franchot is slightly more impressed.
One day, Ann Devlin (Madge Evans) provides Higgins with the scoop he's been after. Ann shares the story of how the gangsters took control of her father Michael Devlin's store. J. Farrell MacDonald, an effective character actor who has over 300 acting credits listed in his IMDb filmography, gives my favorite performance in the film as the kind, hard-working merchant up against the tough, powerful mob of racketeers.

J. Farrell MacDonald as Michael Devlin

Shortly after Ann teams up with reporter Higgins (Erwin) and slowly wins over attorney Barton (Tone, whose character has been appointed special prosecutor on the case), a man is murdered on her doorstep after her father Michael attempts to sell the store. Michael then escapes to an ocean liner where he will be allowed to do honest work.

When a disastrous fire breaks out on the ship, Higgins and Barton volunteer to capture photos and the story from the air. Barton transforms from a bystander to a hero when he ends up parachuting from the plane to the water. Quick to react, he gets on the burning ship to help the victims escape. Michael Devlin is one of the survivors thanks to Barton risking his own life to pull him out of the wreckage. It is exciting to watch Franchot's character (someone who did not want to get involved in any way at the start of the film) jump into action and take on this heroic role.

Realizing that the ship fire is no accident but an involved criminal plot, Barton dedicates himself to exposing the local crime ring. A love affair and heartbreaking death involving some of the characters occur before the film ends. The bad guys in the film are played brilliantly by Joseph Calleia and Robert Barrat.

Thankfully, this film that flies under the radar but packs a lot of punch is available on DVD through Warner Archive.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Age of Innocence (1929)

Although he appeared in several plays before it, The Age of Innocence is often reported as Franchot's New York stage debut.  The successful play ran for 207 performances between November 1928 and May 1929 at the Empire Theatre. Located at 1430 Broadway, the Empire Theatre was built in 1893 and demolished in 1953.
Setting from Age of Innocence. Source: Billy Rose Theatre Division,
     The New York Public Library. "Stage and the hall."
         The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1928.
Based on Edith Wharton's novel, the play was written by Margaret Ayer Barnes and produced by Gilbert Miller. Katharine Cornell, dubbed the "First Lady of Theatre", starred as Ellen Olenska. Highly respected for her dedication to the theatre and starring roles in compelling stage dramas, Cornell was also a successful writer and producer.
Katharine Cornell. Source: Billy Rose Theatre Division,
     The New York Public Library. "Katharine Cornell as Countess Ellen
Olenska in The Age of Innocence. N.Y., Empire Theatre."
         The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1928.

Indicating that many years have passed, Franchot enters at the end of the play as Newland Archer, Jr., the product of a marriage between Newland Archer and May Van Der Luyden. Although married to his mother, Jr.'s father has always been in love with Countess Olenska and made many an attempt to leave May to be with Ellen. Earlier in the play, it is May's announcement that she is pregnant (with Newland Archer Jr.) that seals the separation between Archer and Countess Olenska permanently.

At twenty-three years old when the play first began, Franchot was called a "disciple of the new emancipation" and a "member of our chucking generation" by the New York Times (the chucking comment is based on his line, "My generation chucks that." in the play). The Age of Innocence cast was praised for its acting being "eloquent even when it was hushed".

Original playbill from my collection
Original playbill from my collection
Original playbill from my collection


More or Less in the Times Square Spotlight: Miss Vale of "Let Us Be ... New York Times (1923-Current file); Mar 31, 1929; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 104

The Play by J. Brooks Atkinson. New York Times (1923-Current file); Nov 28, 1928; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. 33

Monday, March 14, 2016

Horton Foote Centennial

Today marks what would've been the 100th birthday of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Academy Award-winning screenwriter Horton Foote. Foote wrote the teleplay for The Shape of the River, in which Franchot Tone played Mark Twain in 1960.

On page 208 of his memoir titled Beginnings, Foote talked about how his feelings for Franchot evolved from an initial disliking to a lasting friendship:

Franchot Tone I avoided like the plague, because he seemed moody and imperious. Many, many years later Franchot played Mark Twain in The Shape of the River, a television play I wrote for Playhouse 90. I had seen his brilliant work as Astroff in Stark Young's translation of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya and I knew Stark Young regarded him as one of our finest actors. I was impressed at how hard he worked during rehearsals of The Shape of the River and how anxious he was to get it all right, and splendid he was, too. During rehearsals we became fast friends and unlike so many friendships developed in rehearsals ours contininued until his death.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Gentlemen are Born (1934)

After several years of endless searching, wishing, and hoping, I was finally able to see the 1934 film Gentlemen are Born! Turner Classic Movies aired the film in January. I don't have cable television at the moment, but I was able to subscribe to SlingTV so that I could watch it on-demand before it disappeared...and I did, 5 times in one week! Gentlemen are Born immediately shot up to a top spot in my favorite films list and I hope it will be released on DVD in the near future. (Pretty please, Warner Archive!)

Franchot Tone and Ross Alexander

Four optimistic college graduates go out into the world expecting their hard work, excellent grades, and good behavior to pay off. Bob Bailey (Franchot Tone) is an aspiring newspaper reporter who has fallen for his friend's sister Joan (Margaret Lindsay), a girl who is accustomed to the finer things in life. Architect Tom Martin (Ross Alexander) makes ends meet to support his new bride Trudy (Jean Muir) and their quickly expanding family. Smudge Johnson (Dick Foran) is eager to be a school athletic coach, but is turned down over and over. To pay the bills and provide for his new bride Susan (Ann Dvorak), Smudge succumbs to petty crime. Fred Harper (Robert Light) is the only one of the four friends who exits college to instantly find a well-paying job in his father's successful firm...but there are secrets within the firm that Fred will sadly discover.

Franchot Tone and Margaret Lindsay

Franchot's character Bob is the glue in this group. He's the one who is always there when happiness (Tom's engagement) and tragedy (a suicide) strikes. The three other men all confide in Bob when life gets tough. This is now one of my favorite of Franchot's early performances. As usual, he is able to deftly play the part with sincerity and sensitivity, while displaying a knack for comedy in the right spots.

All of the cast members work really well together and the story truly draws you in and tugs on your heartstrings.  I especially enjoyed seeing Franchot work with Ross Alexander and Ann Dvorak in their scenes together. This is a story that is as timely today as it was in 1934. You'll identify with these characters, see yourself or someone you know in their storylines. It's a beautifully written, well executed film about the struggle of entering the "real world" after college. Like I've mentioned, Gentlemen Are Born is a pretty tough movie to track down and watch, but I sincerely hope you are able to catch it sometime or better yet, that it is released on DVD ASAP.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

March Update

TV Listings for March:
The Girl From Missouri: Thursday, March 3 @ 05:15 PM (ET) on TCM
Sadie McKee: Wednesday, March 9 @ 06:00 AM (ET) on TCM
Stage Mother: Tuesday, March 29 @ 02:15 PM (ET) on TCM

On the blog:
I'm working on upcoming posts about the films Gentlemen Are Born, Dark Waters, and Exclusive Story and about the play The Age of Innocence. I've also found some more memoirs that mention Franchot and plan to share some quotes from those.

Happy March!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Franchot Fan Questionnaire

My birthday falls just a few days after Franchot's, so here's a little personal Franchot-related info about me.
  • First FT movie I ever watched: Either Bombshell or The Girl From Missouri. I can't remember which one, but it was definitely a Harlow film when I was younger.
  • First FT movie that made me stand up and take notice: Three Loves Has Nancy. Although I saw many of the Harlow/Crawford movies when I was younger, I didn't really pay attention to Franchot until I saw Three Loves Has Nancy and fell in love with his performance. (I can't believe I was so clueless about Franchot for so long!)
  • Last FT movie that I watched: The King Steps Out
  • Favorite FT movies: There's no way I can pick just one or even a couple. Here are my favorites broken down by years...
    • 1933-1935: Midnight Mary, The Girl From Missouri, Gentlemen Are Born, Lives of a Bengal Lancer, Dangerous
    • 1936-1939: The Unguarded Hour, They Gave Him A Gun, Man-Proof, Between Two Women, The Bride Wore Red, Three Loves Has Nancy, Fast and Furious
    • 1940-1949: His Butler's Sister, Dark Waters, Honeymoon
    • 1950-1968: Uncle Vanya, Advise & Consent
  • Least favorite FT movie: Without Honor
  • Number of FT movies I've seen: 59
  • Number of FT movies I've not seen: 7
  • FT-related items I'm constantly in search of: candid and/or color photos, interviews and quotes, theater memorabilia.
  • Favorite FT film speeches: 
    • Defending his name in the final scenes of Mutiny on the Bounty
    • Defending Loretta Young in court in Midnight Mary
    • Asking to be released from a war he doesn't agree with in The Hour Before Dawn
    • Confronting Ben Cartwright in the final scene of the "Denver McKee" episode of Bonanza
    • Discussing the effects of aging in Uncle Vanya
  • Favorite FT Quote:
"If I ever had an image, it was the playboy, the white tie and tails, the elegant fellow with the good tailor. That was my image for the mass movie audience. But not for the theater audience. They saw me as an actor. Now my television image is the character actor. And then they see my old movies on the late show and I'm the rich playboy again." (TV Guide, 1966)
  • Favorite FT photos at the moment: