Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Bride Wore Red (1937)

In celebration of Joan and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood's Joan Crawford Blogathon, I am excited to write about my favorite Crawford-Tone film, The Bride Wore Red. Directed by Dorothy Arzner, the screenplay (written by Tess Slesinger and Bradbury Foote) is based on Molnár's play The Bride from Trieste. The film is a rags-to-riches Cinderella or Pretty Woman-type story that received positive reviews when it was released in 1937. On October 2, 1937, the  Motion Picture Herald wrote:
Joan Crawford in all her lustrous career has never been in a production so glitterful and glamorful. Especially for women it has the S.R.O. brilliance of fashion's fascinations (designer Adrian in his most Parisienne mood). But romance rears its handsome head in the pleasant persons of Franchot Tone who is grand in it and Robert Young (he's flipper than in 'I Met Him in Paris').
Motion Picture Daily, on September 24, 1937, reviewed the film this way:
Generally it attains standards expected of Joan Crawford by her clientele. Although it is fantastic in some phases of its amplification, the story is organically sound. The excessive and prolonged dialogue, however, and consistent lack of action sometimes blunts sustained interest...Naturally, Miss Crawford dominates the picture, but Young, Owen, Miss Burke, Miss Carver and Zucco are adequate and Tone supplies the spark that gives "The Bride Wore Red" its zip...The film is aimed to engage the attention of sophisticates and may prove somewhat boring to ordinary folks.
The film features a top-notch cast of Joan Crawford, Franchot Tone, Robert Young, Billie Burke, Reginald Owen, Lynne Carver, George Zucco, Mary Phillips, and young Dickie Moore. On top of its cast, the romance also boasts a smart story and breathtaking costumes and sets. Most exciting to me, of course, is that Franchot is finally given a substantial role in a Crawford picture that is not a wealthy playboy or second comedic lead! In fact, Robert Young takes on the wealthy gentleman role in this scenario. Franchot shines in the meaningful part of the humble and lovestruck postman. I enjoy all of Joan and Franchot's films together, but The Bride Wore Red presents the best opportunity for the couple to act with each other in dramatic, charged scenes.

Count Armalia (George Zucco) aims to prove that he can turn any common girl into a lady and hopes to humiliate wealthy playboy Rudi Pal (Robert Young), who insists he can tell a lady of good breeding from a peasant, in the process. Anni (Joan Crawford) becomes Armalia's target when he sees her singing in the "lowest dive" in town.  Armalia promises Anni two weeks at a ritzy hotel with clothes and dresses all on his dime. Hungry and downtrodden, Anni jumps at the chance of becoming someone else for a while and takes Armalia up on his offer. He renames her Ann Vivaldi and makes up a family background for her that will help her entire society as a debutante.

In her disguise as a wealthy lady, Ann's first run-in is with the friendly, local postman Guilio (Franchot Tone). In their private ride to the hotel, Ann and Guilio are pleasant and engaged with one another.  A kind postman with quiet assurance, Guilio philosophizes about people’s places in the world, the wonder of nature, the beauty of sadness and joy all as he sorts the day's mail. “You’re the strangest postman I’ve ever met,” Ann says to him before they reach their destination.

Ann tries her best to impersonate a lady of wealth, while being struck by the newness of everything around her. Ann's childlike joy at seeing baby birds in a nest outside her window and stunned first look at her gorgeous room reveal the underprivileged Anni's true experience.

After such a nice exchange on their ride together, Guilio approaches Ann as she dines alone in the restaurant. He is visibly hurt when she puts on airs, flippantly calls him "Postman", and pries into his personal life. Anni apologizes, but is soon distracted by Rudi Pal (Robert Young) and his fiancee Maddelena Monti (Lynne Carver). Rudi has been engaged to Maddelena since they were adolescents, but her presence doesn't stop him from brazenly flirting with Ann.

Having had a taste of the finer things in life, Ann is determined that she will not just be an experiment. She plots to ingratiate herself into Rudi's social circle and never return to her position at the seedy bar. Despite her maid's pleas to find happiness on her own, Anni refuses to look back. (The maid and Anni actually know each other from their past lives when they were both cabaret dancers.)
Although she does her best impression of a debutante, the smitten Rudi sees that Ann is different from other ladies. He says that when they are out in nature, Ann is "like an animal set free. You try to run in all directions at once."

After frolicking together during the day, Ann and Rudi return to get the mail that Guilio, whom Rudi describes as quaint and impertinent, has delivered. Guilio is delighted to present Ann with her first letter in 10 days, but Ann belittles the clearly disappointed Guilio. Ann makes a misstep when she is asked to read her letter from the Count aloud. Knowing that the letter is actually from her employer at the bar, Ann says that Armalia asks about the Contessa. Suspicions arise immediately since the Contessa (Billie Burke) has only once met the Count and disliked him immensely. 

Sensitive to Ann's feelings, Guilio can see that something is wrong and stays behind to comfort her. Ann is immediately cruel to him. Guilin confronts her about her swift personality changes, confiding that he thought she "was the most gracious lady" he'd ever met and had stopped going to the peasants' picnics since he met her. Guilio's sincere affection and proud description of his home bring the real Anni's personality back for a moment before she becomes snobbish to him once more.

Ann sets her sights on becoming Mrs. Rudi Pal and living the life of luxury, but discovers that a telegram from Armalia revealing her true background to the Contessa will be arriving any moment. Eager to buy more time and gain a proposal out of Rudi, Ann knows she must intercept the telegram.

When she reaches his lovely modest home, Guilio has already read the telegram and feels it's his duty to deliver it. But his affection for Anni and eagerness for her to explain herself puts his delivery on hold. Guilio invites Ann in and gently questions her about her early years. Hoping that she will confess her true identity to him, Guilio listens as Anni boldly reimagines her childhood and home. When she breaks down in tears, Guilio embraces Anni, the girl he loves no matter who she was before. Anni snaps back into debutante Ann mode and demands to know what right Guilio has to love her, before running out of the house and falling down the stairs.

Anni and Guilio passionately kiss on his front lawn and he abandons the delivery of the fateful telegram. The festa is coming up and Guilio assumes that Anni will be there waiting for him. As he giddily waits, we see multiple peasant girls chase after Guilio and the edelweiss he carries for his one true love. When he stumbles onto Ann, Rudi, and Maddelena, Guilio sweetly extends the edelweiss to Anni but is coldly rebuffed.

In an affectionate moment between Ann and Rudi, Ann pressures Rudi to leave Maddelena and marry her instead. Guilio witnesses this scene and his face as he witnesses Rudi kiss the woman he loves is so telling. Everytime I see the pain in the lovestruck Guilio's face as he sees his girl go after another man, it completely breaks my heart. Franchot does such a brilliant job of conveying how much love the postman holds for Anni. The viewer can witness Guilio's complete devotion to Anni in every tender glance and soft-spoken statement that Franchot gives in his performance.

When he privately confronts her about her shift of affection yet again, Guilio is stunned to hear Anni say that she is in love with him. Anni says she expects to love Guilio more each day of her life, but that she intends to marry Rudi anyway because "hunger is stronger than love." There is so much passion between Franchot and Joan's characters as they embrace in this scene (and earlier back at his house). It's so obvious that these two belong together, but it is impossible to know whether Anni will realize that love is more important than money and social position.

Guilio refuses to let Anni enter a loveless marriage based on deception and hopes that she will confess her true identity to Rudi the following day. If she does not confess and accepts Rudi's marriage proposal, Guilio says he will deliver the damning telegram.

In the final scenes of the film, Anni must decide whether to confess her secret to Rudi or to elope with him before others find out. Anni decks herself out in a shimmery, bold red gown to face Rudi. Will Anni elope with Rudi under false pretenses? Will she confess before Guilio delivers the telegram to the suspecting Contessa? Will Rudi choose Ann's love if he knows of her true background? Will Ann choose Guilio's love over social prominence? Will any of these characters end up together at all?! With limited time to act, Ann must weigh her options and make a decision...but will it be the right one?

The character of Anni, all ambition and determination on the outside with a sentimental heart and deeply felt emotions on the inside, perfectly showcases Joan's acting strengths and that amazing face of hers. Likewise, Franchot's Guilio, with his laidback approach to life and devotion to life-long love, perfectly complements Anni (and is the most handsome postman I've ever seen). Getting lost in Arzner's The Bride Wore Red, with its well-written script and perfect casting, is a pleasurable way to spend an afternoon. Thankfully, Warner Archive has released it on DVD.
During the making of the film, Film Daily published this candid photo of the cast (minus Joan, unfortunately) having fun at a piano between takes. Lynne Carver is at the piano with Robert Young and Franchot in the chorus.
 If you'd like to read my post on Franchot and Joan's relationship, it can be found here. For all the wonderful posts on Joan in the Joan Crawford Blogathon, check out the roster over at In the Good Old Days of Hollywood.
Motion Picture Daily. September 24, 1937. page 22.
Silver Screen. October 1937.
The Film Daily. March 20, 1939.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Award (1955)

The Award, a Four Star Playhouse production, aired on CBS on June 30, 1955. Written by Leslie Stevens and directed by Roy Kellino, the episode stars Franchot Tone and innovative actress-director Ida Lupino.

Unlike much of Franchot's work that I highlight here, finding a copy of The Award is easy! Because this episode has fallen into the public domain, you can watch it instantly online. The full episode is available to watch on Jimbo Berkey's public domain site here.


I know you'll want to watch it for yourself, so I'll just include a brief summary here. Hollywood star Valerie Banks (Lupino) has just experienced a major flop in a Broadway show and is being ridiculed in newspapers across the country. Full of ego, Valerie cannot understand why audiences do not like her in the play Autumn Joy. She seeks out acting coach Ben Cheney (Tone) for an easy fix to her problem.  Because she is accustomed to being indulged by peers and fans, Valerie is dissatisfied with the solution Ben proposes.

During the episode, Franchot's character imparts the following advice to Valerie:

Well, that does it. You fight like a tiger and then fold when you’re beaten. Are you gonna let that stop you? Sure it’s broken. Is that the end of it? People get broken but they keep on going if they’re any good. You get that and nothing can stop you. Even when you’re all broken up. Pick up the pieces and start over.
These are my favorite lines in the teleplay. Franchot's delivery of these lines is spot on, but more than that, it reminds me of the strength Franchot himself displayed in the 1950's. Normally regarded as an easygoing, kind, and sensitive gentleman, Franchot was mired in scandal in the early 50's. Divorce proceedings and custody hearings with wife Jean Wallace became fodder for gossip columnists. The notoriously private Franchot became the butt of jokes when he was brutally beaten by his fiancé's lover and married her (the lovely, but troubled actress Barbara Payton) a few weeks later. This negative publicity plus pressure placed on him during the blacklist (both of which I'll write about in the near future) certainly affected his career. It is not my intent to paint Franchot as a saint. He certainly was human and made some poor decisions. However, I do find it admirable that Franchot didn't cave to the HUAC and managed to survive the bad publicity by throwing himself into non-stop theater and television performances. I believe his dedication to his work and the incredible performances he continued to give during this period restored his public persona. In the words of his character Ben Cheney, Franchot didn't fold when he was (literally) beaten. He didn't stop. He got broken and kept on going...because he was that good.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Has Marriage Helped Joan Crawford?

In 1936, Film Pictorial featured a loving photograph of Franchot and Joan on its cover and an article about the newlyweds inside.

Source: my collection
The article was written by Jerry Asher, an MGM publicity man and member of Franchot and Joan's inner circle of friends. Asher shared the contents of the telegram he received from Franchot announcing the couple's marriage. Franchot wrote:
You are the very first person we've told. Our happy moment came this morning at ten-fifteen in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Nick Schenck made all the arrangements and the secrecy was complete. The ceremony was performed on the lawn of the residence of ex-Mayor White, overlooking the Hudson River from the Palisades—and Mayor Jenkins of Fort Lee conducted the ceremony. We exchanged rings, Joan's a narrow diamond and platinum, mine a plain platinum circle. Mr. Schenck and his associate, Mr. Friedman, were the witnesses. After they ceremony they toasted us in champagne and we rushed right back to New York to get Joan to a rehearsal of a radio broadcast. We each wore a red carnation. We had visited the place the preceding Wednesday night to sign the application for a license. The moon was shining over the Hudson and outlined the slender sweet of the George Washington Bridge in the background. It really was a heavenly spot.
Asher writes how elated Joan was as they drove to their house (newly decorated by William Haines) and how once situated there, Franchot and Joan would dance around the dining table to the radio.

According to Asher, when the newly married couple entered their home for the first time, the butler asked Franchot where he should put Mrs. Tone's trunks.
For a minute Franchot looked startled. 'Oh-h-h-oh, the trunks,' he repeated hesitatingly, as the full significance of just who Mrs. Tone was swept over him. Then swallowing hard and looking a trifle embarrassed, Franchot replied,'Put my wife's trunks in her room, please.' Turning to me he winked, as he continued, 'I haven't the courage to call her Mrs. Tone yet. Guess I'll try that tomorrow.'
Describing his bride, Franchot said:
I had never hoped to find so much beauty in one person. Besides her physical beauty Joan possesses a beautiful mind and a spiritual quality that is going to carry her to supreme heights. Joan has a talent that hasn't as yet been touched. When I came to Hollywood, I merely wanted to make money. I had no intention of remaining, and little dreamed that such happiness could be in store for me. In Joan I found everything I had ever hoped to find—all in one woman. 
Joan said:
Franchot never ceases to amaze me. He is the most honest person I have ever met and I do admire honesty. He has a wonderful perspective on everything. We are so good for each other because, when I get upset, I think emotionally. Franchot has a reserve that is a godsend. It saves him so much and allows him to handle a situation so much better. His ideas are good and he has such a nice way of carrying them out. He is a highly interesting conversationalist. Besides loving him as a husband, I have great admiration for him as a man.
  • Asher, Jerry. "Has Marriage Helped Joan Crawford? Film Pictorial. June 6, 1936.
  • "Jerry Asher." The Best of Everything: A Joan Crawford Encyclopedia.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

July Update

Franchot on TV:
Sadie McKee will air on TCM on July 25th at 6:15 a.m. Eastern.

On the Blog:
In addition to my regular posts, I'll be writing about The Bride Wore Red for the Joan Crawford Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood at the end of the month. Due to my work schedule, I was unable to update the additional Finding Franchot fansite in June. I plan to devote some time to adding more photos and information there this month.

Fun Stuff:
I just discovered CineMaterial and I'm addicted! It's a database of high resolution film posters contributed by fans. You can purchase download credits to download movie posters for your own personal use. The collection of Franchot movie posters is impressive!

A fan shared this article on Franchot and Joan's split to the Finding Franchot Facebook page. Thanks, Jennifer!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Happy 100th, Olivia de Havilland!

Source: Modern Screen, December 1940-February 1941.
July 1, 2016 marks the 100th birthday of actress Olivia de Havilland. The Oscar-nominated actress moved to France in 1958 and still lives there today.  Possessing a gentle, flawless beauty and a willful attitude toward her career, de Havilland starred in films including The Adventures of Robin Hood, Gone with the Wind (her Melanie is my favorite character), The Heiress, Light in the Piazza (my favorite of her later performances), and Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Olivia married author Marcus Goodrich in 1946 after romances with James Stewart, John Huston, and Franchot Tone, among others. When asked, in 1940, about her dates with Jimmy and Franchot and other high-profile actors, Olivia responded, "They're wonderful, all of them," but stated that none of these dates were too serious and that she had no intentions of getting married within the next two years. Olivia didn't kiss and tell, but it was public knowledge that Jimmy Stewart had been her most steady beau since 1939 and that they were, indeed, quite a serious couple for a while.

I'm uncertain as to how Olivia and Franchot originally came together, but at the time, Franchot was between marriages and splitting his time between Broadway and Hollywood. Franchot may not have been the love of her life, but Olivia certainly seemed to have fun and create quite a buzz in his company. Gossip columnists questioned the seriousness of their relationship and the couple were photographed at various restaurants and night clubs. In October 1940, entertainment reporter Jimmie Fidler asked, "Are Olivia de Havilland and Franchot Tone kidding—or is Jimmy Stewart really due for a red face soon?" During that time, a ticket booth worker at Rex Theater sold show tickets to Franchot and Olivia, along with Brian Aherne and Olivia's sister Joan Fontaine, in Norway, Maine, and the couple were reported to be vacationing at Rudy Vallee's lodge in Lovell, Maine.

Although highly publicized, the romance was brief.  A year later, in October 1941, Franchot would be married to Jean Wallace while Olivia would be busy on the films The Strawberry Blonde and They Died with Their Boots On.

"Blitzkrieg Love Passes Her Up."  Spokane Daily Chronicle. September 11, 1941.
Dayton Beach Morning Journal. November 2, 1940.
Modern Screen. December 1940-February 1941.
Pittsburgh Press. April 22, 1941.
St. Petersburg Times. October 14, 1940.
Sun Journal. September 2, 1992.