I’m taking a break from my Japan Journal in order to pay tribute to Glenn Ford, who would have turned 100 today, May 1, 2016. He was a movie star who may not have created as lasting a film legacy as many of his contemporaries, but still had a remarkable 54-year career in Hollywood. He died ten years ago, in 2006, at the age of 90. He had a pretty good 20-year run as a top-ranked studio movie star from the late 1940s to the late ’60s before turning to television and character work, which he did steadily up to 1981, working intermittently after that until his final screen and TV work in 1991, closing out a career that had begun in 1937. He’s probably best-remembered by film buffs today for three films: GILDA (1946), in which he played opposite a sultry, satin-clad Rita Hayworth; the film noir cop thriller, THE BIG HEAT (1953), directed by Fritz Lang; and the western 3:10 TO YUMA (1957), directed by Delmer Daves, in which he served as the film’s antagonist, one of the few times he played an outlaw in his career.
Edmond O’Brien (September 10, 1915 – May 9, 1985) would have turned 100 today. I’ve seen him in 39 movies and a handful of TV episodes. He won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954) and was nominated in the same category for SEVEN DAYS IN MAY (1964). He acted in Hollywood for 35 years (1939-1974), becoming one of America’s most distinguished character actors, but also having a nice run as a leading man for close to a decade following World War II. He played in a lot of westerns and crime movies during this period and those are the films of his that interest me the most.
Why is this movie so little-known? Yesterday I was checking the day’s schedule for the Fox Movie Channel and I came across the listing for the THE SECRET OF CONVICT LAKE (1951) at 10:25 AM (EST). The onscreen description sounded really intriguing. I didn’t write it down and it’s no longer available on the Fox Retro website, so I can only tell you it said something about five escaped convicts entering a western town populated entirely by women, with a cast topped by Glenn Ford, Gene Tierney, Ethel Barrymore, Ann Dvorak and Zachary Scott, surely enough to make me sit up and take notice. This premise and that cast are not to be taken lightly. I then looked it up in Maltin’s Movie Guide (the only place I’d ever previously seen a reference for this film) and it said, simply, “Set in 1870s California, escaped prisoners hide out at settlement comprised largely of women; fine cast makes the most of script.” It gave the film a **1/2 rating, which, in Maltin, can often be taken as a *** rating. The director was Michael Gordon, who had a few credits I liked very much, including PILLOW TALK and PORTRAIT IN BLACK. So I made plans to watch it. This is the kind of minor studio film that used to play constantly on local broadcast TV back in the day when local channels ran movies during the day, at night and on weekends, yet I don’t recall this one ever playing.
This entry is part of the 1947 Blogathon sponsored by Shadows and Satin and Speakeasy. I chose two films from 1947 to write about and my original plan was to do separate entries on them, but after watching them back-to-back, I realized that the contrasts between them were so interesting that I thought it best to do a comparison piece. The first is ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY, Akira Kurosawa’s incisive portrait of postwar lovers in Tokyo caught up in a cycle of poverty, and I chose it because it was a Kurosawa film that I’d never seen before and this would be a good opportunity to finally see it.
The second is VIOLENCE, a low-budget melodrama from Monogram Pictures about an organization exploiting war veterans for power and profit, and I chose it because it was the closest thing I could find to a conspiracy thriller from 1947, a year filled with events in the U.S. that fueled so many conspiracy theories for years to come.
One film was made in a country recovering slowly from defeat and the ravages of war, while the other was made in a country flush with the glory of victory and newly emergent on the global stage as the dominant world power, yet the stories they tell offer a reversal of sorts.
Richard Widmark would have turned 100 this coming Friday, December 26, 2014. He died only six years ago on March 24, 2008, at the age of 93, having outlived 95% of his co-stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. (Kirk Douglas, Sidney Poitier, Robert Wagner and Doris Day are among the few who have outlived him and are still with us. Lauren Bacall outlived him by six years.) Widmark had a solid career as a leading man in Hollywood from the late 1940s to the early 1970s before turning to character parts (and the occasional TV movie lead) in the 1970s to early ’90s. His last movie role was in TRUE COLORS (1991) and his last TV role was the male lead in COLD SASSY TREE (1989).
Today, November 2, 2013, is the centennial of Burt Lancaster’s birth. When I was growing up, Burt Lancaster was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. He was capable of making highly entertaining genre pieces, but was also considered a serious actor with Oscar nominations in his resume and one Oscar for Best Actor (ELMER GANTRY). He had his own production company and gave boosts to the careers of certain directors he’d worked with (e.g. Robert Aldrich, John Frankenheimer) and he’d also directed on his own (THE KENTUCKIAN). He co-starred in five films with Kirk Douglas and, indeed, the first film I saw Lancaster in was his fourth co-starring turn with Douglas, John Frankenheimer’s political thriller SEVEN DAYS IN MAY. Lancaster was an imposing presence who played larger-than-life roles—his Wyatt Earp in GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL is a mythical presence on a par with the heroes of ancient Greek tales—and had an athletic background that informed even his non-action roles. As he got older in the 1970s and 1980s, he turned to less showy, more character-oriented roles, with more than a touch of introspection and weariness, such as his grizzled army scout, McIntosh, in Aldrich’s cavalry western, ULZANA’S RAID (1972), and the Mexican-American sheriff, Valdez, who embarks on a quest for justice against a powerful rancher in VALDEZ IS COMING (1972), based on a novel by Elmore Leonard. I was lucky to see a lot of Lancaster movies on the big screen when I was growing up and then a lot of his older movies on television. He’s always been one of my favorite movie stars (second only to Robert Mitchum) and I’d like to recall some of my favorite movies of his.
Today marks the centennial of the birth of Alan Ladd (September 3, 1913 – January 29, 1964). Ladd was in many ways the quintessential movie star of the studio era. Although his stardom was nurtured by Paramount Pictures, the studio to which he was under contract throughout the 1940s, it was the audience that made him a star. Moviegoers clearly loved him and clamored for his movies. He struck such a chord with them in the 1940s and early 1950s that pretty much anything he made satisfied them. Paramount didn’t put a lot of money into his movies nor, with rare exceptions like the 1949 version of THE GREAT GATSBY, did they allow him to take on challenging roles and riskier subject matter. He specialized in a certain kind of medium-budget, mid-range action film in various genres that formed the foundation of the studio system: crime melodramas, westerns, war movies, and globe-trotting adventures. A sampling of titles should convey the type of movie Ladd appeared in: CHINA, CALCUTTA, SAIGON, SANTIAGO, BRANDED, RED MOUNTAIN, DRUM BEAT, SASKATCHEWAN, THE BIG LAND, HELL BELOW ZERO, HELL ON FRISCO BAY, APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER, CHICAGO DEADLINE, THUNDER IN THE EAST, DESERT LEGION, THE IRON MISTRESS. He often played the reluctant hero, a loner out for himself, devoted to his own self interest, who ultimately does the right thing and helps the underdog.