Thursday, May 26, 2016

Without Honor (1949)

Well, here it is...the ONLY Franchot film I actually dislike. Out of the 63 FT movies I've watched, I love or really like all but this one.  Whenever anyone asks what my favorite Tone film is, I typically list about 20 titles before I realize I'm going too far. Sadly, Without Honor will never make it on that list.

Laraine Day (whose performances I typically enjoy) is totally crazy in this movie! Despite the poster's promise of three passionate love affairs and loads of drama, the film's plot was mostly thin and boring to me. Franchot makes the best out of a too small part, but isn't given much to work with dialogue or action-wise.

Jane Bandle (Laraine Day) is an unfulfilled housewife who has been involved in an affair with married man Dennis Williams (Franchot Tone). She is surprised (and in her unglamorous housedress and unstyled hair, a bit embarrassed by her appearance) when Dennis parks his car outside the home she shares with her husband Fred (Bruce Bennett) and knocks on her door. Jane abandons the dinner she is preparing to talk with her lover and is blindsided when he ends their relationship.

Dennis believes Jane's husband has discovered their affair and wants to end it immediately to avoid scandal and his family's shame. When Jane calls him out on how detached he was from his family before, Dennis calmly admits (in that wonderful rich, restrained voice of Franchot's) that he knows it is "shabby" of him to break his promises to her.

Jane is devastated by his turn of affection and threatens to kill herself with the kabob skewer on the counter. (I've watched this scene a few times and I always wonder why she picks up the skewer when there's a knife right beside it?) A concerned Dennis tries to grab the skewer from her, but Jane wrestles with him until Dennis falls...and is pierced by the skewer. He stumbles into the pantry and collapses. Horrified that she's murdered him, Jane doesn't attempt to help Dennis, just closes the pantry door.

And that's Franchot's performance. Over and done in the first 10 minutes. I assumed that since he was immediately killed, Dennis would come back in the form of flashbacks. I waited through long scenes of Laraine Day and Dane Clark overacting (at least, to me) with overdramatic music in the background. You see, once Dennis is tucked away in the closet, Dane Clark appears as Laraine Day's brother-in-law. As Bill Bandle, Dane Clark is a conniving, manipulative, and apparently sexually frustrated man who wants to ruin Jane (who once snubbed him), her marriage, and her reputation. We find out that it is Bill who has set up this entire day. Jane's husband Fred knows nothing of her indiscretions, but Bill does. Bill's intervened and set up a meeting to humiliate Jane in front of her husband and Dennis and his wife.

It's an interesting premise with interesting actors (Agnes Moorehead is Dennis's wife), but failed to excite me. There is some suspense to the film, too. We know that Dennis is in the pantry while everyone in the film is waiting for him to arrive. We do not know, however, whether he has truly been fatally injured or not. If I had been allowed a view into Dennis and Jane's romance or Fred and Jane's marriage, I could've been more invested in the story.

My dislike for Without Honor is not based on Franchot's lack of screentime. There are quite a few other films in which Franchot's roles are brief. Stage Mother, The Gorgeous Hussy, and No More Ladies come to mind and I enjoy those films! And I do, believe it or not, watch films that Franchot is not featured in at all! :) With or without Franchot, this movie was just a flop for me.  I feel like so many opportunities were lost. Why didn't the fabulous Agnes Moorehead and Franchot share any scenes together? Why was the usually likeable Laraine Day so irritating and her hair so unflattering? Why did we not get enough backstory to form bonds with these characters?

Without Honor is available on DVD.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Honeymoon (1947)

As part of Movies Silently's Classic Movie Ice Cream Social, I am happy to share my go-to movie when I need some instant cheer. The film is 1947's Honeymoon and the stars are none other than Franchot Tone and a grown-up Shirley Temple (does a more cheerful actress even exist?).

Honeymoon has a sunny plot with lots of hilarious mishaps, but it's also a sentimental watch for me because it combines the classic actor who lifts my spirits as an adult and the classic actress who brightened my days as a child. I think most classic film fans have a handful of stars (or more) that they connect with on a deeper level than others. I know that there are some film stars that I enjoy watching and can leave it at that...then there are some that compel me to keep digging. I watch one performance and suddenly, I must watch every performance, read every book, and see every photo on that person. There's a connection there that you feel for some actors and like many, I first felt it for Shirley.

When I was in elementary school, my teacher read us a juvenile novel set in the 1930's. The book referenced Shirley Temple and what an important symbol of hope and happiness she was for down-on-their-luck audiences of the Depression. Shirley intrigued me and I was gifted a VHS copy of Curly Top for Christmas. I remember my mom saying, "It's okay if you don't like it. It might be boring...too old. It won't hurt my feelings if you don't like it." Now, I had watched classic movies before. I loved Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Miracle on 34th Street, Wizard of Oz, Gone with the Wind, and all of the live-action Disney movies from the 1960's as a kid. But Curly Top was different...I watched it over and over and was mesmerized by the tiny little girl with a mop of curls and dimples for miles. I was not a sad child, but I was a loner and a bit anxious. Shirley felt like a friend. She was the first classic film star I collected. Curly Top alone was not enough. I saved all my money for more Shirley movies and requested them at every holiday. I neatly filed all my Shirley VHS tapes on my shelf and in each case, proudly inserted handwritten index cards full of trivia I'd learned. When I was 11, I did my school book report on Shirley's 500+ paged autobiography, Child Star (it didn't gain me any popularity, ha!). Hers was the first Hollywood book I pored over, her life story the first that interested me, and her films the first I treasured. I know I've wandered a bit off topic from Honeymoon here, but I felt it necessary to say that the cheerful Shirley was my gateway into classic film appreciation and collecting. Thanks, Shirley!

12 years after my beloved Curly Top was released, a 19-year-old and newly married Shirley Temple was cast in the RKO comedy Honeymoon. The film revolves around Barbara, an innocent but pesky teenage girl who has traveled to Mexico City to marry equally innocent Phil (Guy Madison). When "Philsy Love" as she refers to him doesn't arrive, Barbara seeks help from the American consul David Flanner (Franchot Tone). Planning a wedding of his own, the older Mr. Flanner assures Barbara that her fiancee will turn up and sends her away...just before Phil does show up—at his office! In trying to reunite the meddlesome lovers, keep them together, and get them out of his hair, David is alternately amused and annoyed by their antics.  Each time he bids them farewell, Barbara and Phil return to him with a new problem: required blood tests, marriage license woes, age requirements, break-ups, make-ups. David Flanner begins to spend so much time alone helping the sweet and youthful Barbara that his own fiancee and her family grow suspicious. And with good reason! Barbara begins to see Phil as immature compared to David.

Although it's obvious that he thinks Barbara is lovely, David never returns her affection and realizes that all Barbara needs is a good bump on the head (it'll make sense when you watch it!) to redirect her attention back to Phil and get his own life back.

David Flanner (Franchot) seeing Barbara (Shirley Temple) in a swimsuit at the pool.
When she is teaching him the latest dance moves, Barbara compares David to actor Walter Pidgeon (Franchot's costar in Man-Proof and Advise & Consent) due to his handsomeness and dignity. She likens David to the leading man you watch from the audience, the man who sweeps you off your feet. Barbara describes Phil as the real man in your life, the one who drives you to the theater and takes you home after you've finished swooning for the Walter Pidgeons of the world. Later in a favorite scene of mine, David uses Barbara's comparison when he is trying to convince Barbara to return to Phil. As David, Franchot says:

To you, I'm a sort of Walter Pidgeon, I suppose. I'm that glamorous thing called maturity that you're so eager to grow into. And to me, you're that glamorous thing called youth that I'm so sorry to have grown out of, see?

Variety reported that the film lost the studio money and Bosley Crowthers negatively reviewed Honeymoon for the New York Times, calling it a "frivolous item, for which frivolous is really a flattering word." The plot may be a bit on the frivolous side, but you'll have so much fun watching it that you won't notice.  Shirley, Guy, and Franchot are all perfectly suited for their parts and master scenes that require both physical and verbal comedy. However, Shirley originally saw a different actor as the "Walter Pidgeon-type":

To my disappointment, actor Joseph Cotten had gone on suspension rather than get paired with me in Honeymoon. Far too young, he had complained. Maybe he had underestimated youth or just hadn't read the whole story. At one point the script called for me to apply jujitsu, fling him to the floor, and pounce on him for a kiss. The role went to Franchot Tone, who suffered from no such misapprehension.

Although not her first choice for David Flanner, Franchot and Shirley seemed to get along well with each other during filming, as evidenced in these candids taken on set.
Shirley and Franchot on set. Originally uploaded to Photobucket by CyndisDolls

Shirley and Franchot on set. Originally uploaded to Photobucket by CyndisDolls

Shirley and Franchot on set. Originally uploaded to Photobucket by CyndisDolls

As the grounded, concerned David Flanner, Franchot, in a mature performance sprinkled with playful slapstick, prevents the film from losing its footing and being too flighty. Honeymoon is a certain winner for those days when you're blue. The antics of Shirley's gorgeous goofball, Guy's inexperienced hero, and Franchot's stable gentleman will cheer you up, trust me. The DVD is available through Warner Archive and you can watch a scene preview from Warner on Youtube.
Shirley teaching Franchot the latest steps. Photo from my collection.

Shirley and Guy. Source:
Once you fall in love with Honeymoon, continue your "happy movie marathon" with Shirley in The Bachelor and the Bobby-soxer or Franchot in Three Loves Has Nancy or check out these suggestions from other Classic Movie Ice Cream Social bloggers!

Temple, Shirley. Child Star: An Autobiography. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1988. Print.

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Actor's Angle

In February 1939, Franchot delivered a speech, in a series called "The Making of a Motion Picture," for the National Board of Review Conference. Others making speeches in the series included Screen Writer's Guild president Dudley Nichols, MGM costume designer Ladislaus Czettel,  Capitol Theatre musical director David Mendoza, RKO Eastern talent scout Marion Robertson, and sound director Reeve O. Strock.

In May, the National Board of Review Magazine featured Franchot's speech in full. The entire speech is really interesting and can be read online (link at bottom of this post). At the end of his speech, Franchot took questions from the audience. Here are his responses to those questions:

Q: Can you tell me whether you feel more relaxed on the legitimate stage than you do before the camera?
A: I feel more relaxed on the legitimate stage because, after all, on the legitimate stage the actor carries all the burden of creation at the time of performance. He need have no fears of what may happen to his performance, because it is right there. It is much easier to relax with the results immediate, than when they are quite a way off, and in the hands of so many other people.

Q: If an actor has a strong feeling about the emotion of a picture, is he allowed to express that when it is contrary to the director's idea? Suppose you were asked to do a performance in a way that you did not feel was the right one, would you be allowed to suggest a change?
A: Yes, of course. Often scenes are shot two or three different ways. If a director feels very strongly that the scene should be shot as one emotion, and the actor feels strongly that it should not be, it depends on the bargaining power of the actor. However, the directors that I have met are generally very willing to take suggestions from actors as to their feeling about their parts. If there is a disagreement the director will very often shoot the scene two different ways. One or the other will be junked in the cutting room.

Q: Could you tell us something of the difference between stage acting and screen acting?
A: Well, I do not think there is much difference, except in the question of continuity and the contact with an audience. The latter is a great stimulation, and may often cause a variety in performance which one would not get away from an audience. The stage has much more of a feeling of spontaneity about it because of the audience, because of peculiar factors, of which I know nothing, but which make themselves apparent in a difference in audiences. For instance, on the stage, a Thursday matinee audience is an entirely different entity from a Saturday night audience. This makes you act differently. You get a feeling from the audience. You begin to feel what particular angles of the character they like, what particular angles of the play they like. It is sometimes impossible to change your performance, to do it minutely, but still importantly. As for technique I believe the same problems apply on both stage and screen.

Q: How much ad libbing are you allowed when you are appearing before the cameras and on the stage?
A: I would say not. Perhaps there is more ad libbing for the camera. Very often in the heat of a performance and as a result of quick preparation, the actor will come out with better lines than were intended, but very often you will find that the lines, as given, are much better than anything anybody can ad lib.

Q: Do you like acting in New York better than in Hollywood?
A: I cannot say that I do, no. I would hate to be cut off from any part of the entertainment business. In fact, what I am looking for is a little bit of variety.

Q: Is there any role that you played that you like particularly well, and why?
A: Well, I was in Hollywood six years, and made 36 pictures, and it would be awfully hard to choose one out of those. I had three or four parts that I liked very much. I liked Mutiny on the Bounty, Bengal Lancer, and a little number called Love on the Run. That was really my favorite picture.

Source: Tone, Franchot. "The Actor's Work." National Board of Review Magazine. May 1939. p. 4-8. Available in the Media History Digital Library.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

May Update

On television:
Dangerous (1935) starring Franchot and Bette Davis will be airing on TCM on Tuesday, May 17 @ 12:00 AM (ET)

On the blog:
In addition to my regular posts, I'm participating in Movies Silently's Classic Movie Ice Cream Social blogathon at the end of the month. The blogathon is focusing on sunny, cheerful movies, so I'll be writing a post on the 1947 comedy Honeymoon starring Franchot, Shirley Temple, and Guy Madison. It's a delight to watch and a go-to movie when I need some cheering up.

I've been updating the other pages on this blog (displayed in the blog header). I consolidated the Print Resources and Online Resources pages into just one page called Additional Resources. The Additional Resources page includes book citations and online links for further Franchot research. It also includes a list of some of my favorite classic Hollywood websites and blogs.

Don't forget that I label each of my posts with relevant tags, so if you want to read up on a certain movie or person in Franchot's life or just want to read what Franchot said (tag: quotes by FT) or what others have said about Franchot (tag: quotes about FT), go to the tags on the left sidebar.

As always, thanks for reading!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Dark Waters (1944)

Franchot as Dr. George Grover in Dark Waters
Dark Waters is a 1944 gothic noir starring Merle Oberon, Franchot, Thomas Mitchell, Elisha Cook Jr., and Fay Bainter. The film was directed by Andre de Toth, who also directed Slattery's Hurricane and House of Wax. Although the video and sound quality is not great on the DVD, I think it's the best available version at the moment. I would love to see this film restored!

Despite the lackluster visual definition, the story, characters, and mood of Dark Waters is top notch.  It is a well-written thriller, with dark turns, creepy characters, and a heartfelt romance. In my film summaries, I make every attempt not to spoil a film for new viewers. Although I won't spoil the ending, I do need to warn you of a spoiler alert ahead. There's one scene in the film that I feel compelled to talk about, because it is one of my favorite moments in a romantic suspense film. Doing so might spoil this scene/the following scenes for you. Now that that's out of the way, let's get to the movie!

On a leisurely European tour, Leslie Calvin (Merle Oberon) survives a World War II ship sinking by the Germans. The attack (which viewers do not see) is harrowing and violent for the gentle Leslie. We first see Leslie in a hospital receiving care for her post-traumatic stress and fragile state. Her attending physician suggests Leslie go recuperate with the support of her family. Since she has no parents or siblings, Leslie sends a telegram to her Uncle Norbert (John Qualen) and Aunt Emily (Fay Bainter). She takes a train to the town in which they live and is surprised when no one is there to pick her up at the station. Although the townspeople have not heard of Norbert and Emily, they all know the large plantation they own. Overwhelmed by her transition into the real world, Leslie faints in the station. Kind country doctor George Grover (Franchot Tone) is there to revive her and delivers her to the remote plantation.

Aunt Emily and Uncle Norbert are surprised to see their niece and act very strangely upon her arrival. There are even some unexpected characters living in the house, a menacing Mr. Sidney (Thomas Mitchell) and his right-hand man Cleeve (Elisha Cook, Jr.) Everyone seems a bit suspicious, even Leslie. When I first watched the film about six months ago, I wondered who onscreen was lying. I knew something was up, but was not sure who to blame. Is Leslie who she says she is? Is this all a hallucination in the psych ward? Are Aunt Emily and Uncle Norbert who they say they are? Are they being controlled by Mr. Sidney and Cleeve? Is Doctor Grover a part of a bigger scheme or does he genuinely care? Is the whole family crazy? A good suspense will force you to ponder these questions and Dark Waters is wonderfully suspenseful. Each time I decided to trust one character, the dialogue and eerie set-up made me question my choice.

Dr. George Grover and Leslie fall in love and it's an appealing match.  As the overwrought out-of-towner and the humble country doctor, Merle and Franchot are superb together. George brings Leslie out of her anxiety when he takes her to visit his patients and to an outdoor dance, but when he asks her to marry him, Leslie loses her composure.

Back on the plantation, Mr. Sidney, Cleeve, and Aunt Emily are all behaving abnormally. When she believes her life is in danger (and the viewer is convinced as well), Leslie calls George to come over.

Warning: Spoiler coming up after these screenshots!

Leslie meets George outside and pleads with him to help her. She tells him that she's certain that her family members are duplicitous and plotting her demise. Leslie's panic is real and Merle is brilliant in this scene. George, however, doesn't believe her! He calmly tells her it's all in her head and writes her a prescription. A prescription! Let me tell you I absolutely yelled, "Franchot, listen to HER! Rescue her!" the first time I watched. George sees that the woman he loves is in total distress and pretty much tells her to is excruciating! Franchot plays this scene with a helpless look, but his character can absolutely help. You begin to feel that perhaps George isn't the romantic hero he seemed earlier. Leslie, feeling as hopeless as I did at this point, walks back to her room, dejected and in despair. George walks into the house and greets Mr. Sidney. George warns him that Leslie is having delusional thoughts and needs total rest.

Franchot and Thomas Mitchell
Leslie is crying in her room when she unfurls the prescription note in her hand. The note reads, "Believe You. S. listening inside. Too dangerous to go now—Stay in your room—back with help right away. I love you—"

I have never been so relieved by a twist in a Tone movie before! "Oh, my God! He knew! He knew! Yes!" is exactly what I exclaimed as I gaped at the screen like a crazy lady. In all seriousness though, this romantic moment simply captured in Leslie's reading of a note and her perfect emotional response to it could not have been written or performed better. It reminds me of the satisfaction I feel when watching (possible spoilers for a couple non-Franchot films here) Cary Grant climb the stairs and rescue the poisoned Ingrid Bergman in Notorious or Mr. Grant realize that Deborah Kerr is indeed the woman who bought the painting in An Affair to Remember. Those Grant moments have always stuck in my memory as being distinctly tender and impassioned at the same time—Franchot's dedication to Merle, revealed in the "prescription", is no less striking and memorable. I could rewatch this scene over and over. 
The prescription!

Stunned Merle
Elated Merle

George redeems his romantic hero status and we know that help is on the way. Wary of the doctor's intentions,  Mr. Sidney sends his lackey Cleeve to rough George up. George plants doubt and suspicion into Cleeve's mind. George suggests that Sidney is using Cleeve and sending him to do his dirty work because he doesn't believe Cleeve is smart enough or strong enough to handle anything more. 

Elisha Cook, Jr.

In the end, Sidney and Cleeve force Leslie and George onto a boat in the dark recesses of swamp country. How are Leslie's aunt and uncle involved? Is sinking survivor Leslie emotionally strong enough to survive being on the boat at all? Is this all a fantasy in the fragile heroine's head? Track down the DVD, find out for yourself, and enjoy this often overlooked gothic noir!