16 February, 2016

Scaramouche

            Commedia dell'arte. 

“The comedy of craft;”  the birth of improvisation. 
           
Its first record is from Rome in 1551.  A traveling troupe played outside on temporary stages, relying on props and costumes, usually masked.  The characters were devious servants, harlequins and foolish old men playing themes of sex and jealousy, often dangerously parodying current events.  When troupes began to unite as a guild, they adopted as their symbol the two-faced Roman god Janus;  championing their comings and goings as travelers, and the dual nature of Actor as Character.

                    Someone else underneath.

One of the crowd-favorites was a scheming rogue buffoon.  Literally “The Little Skirmisher,” Scaramuccia -- or, in France, Scaramouche -- could be clever or stupid, pious or egotistical, however the actor chose to portray him;  and he often went back-and-forth within a performance to escape those dangerous parodies (again championing the beloved Janus).

A number of famous works have versions of the character including Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Moliere’s Les Fourberies de Scapin, Mozart’s The Magic Flute (and The Marriage Of Figaro and his seminal Don Giovanni), Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Stravinski’s Pulcinella.  Scaramouche was an iconic figure in the Punch And Judy puppet shows, and you’ve probably sung the famous line in Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, “… will you do the fandango?”

We touched on the author of today’s story -- Rafael Sabatini -- in the Tyrone Power Black Swan write-up;  that movie also based on a Sabatini novel.  Scaramouche was first published in 1921 and, simply put, tells of Andre Moreau who seeks to avenge the death of his friend, murdered by The Marquis, at the onset of The French Revolution.  To hide from The Marquis as he trains with the sword, Moreau joins a troupe of travelling actors, taking on the role of our eponymous scheming rogue.  In wonderful Romantic Adventure fashion -- even foreshadowing the likes of Rick Blaine -- Moreau transforms from cynic to idealist … not without falling in love.

It was Sabatini’s first really big success.  It didn’t hurt that Captain Blood was next (1922) therefore his earlier works were rushed into print.  [Interestingly this included The Sea Hawk (1915) which, while not a success in its original run, would become Sabatini’s biggest.]  Scaramouche was such a success that, all but immediately, the first film version was produced in 1923.  But it’s our version today that cements the legend;  and wait until we get to its -- to this day -- record-holding climactic swordfight.

Of all that’s been written about the character, Sabatini himself handled him best.  This line opens the novel and today’s film, so there’s no better way to jump in: 

“He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad.” 
           
Scaramouche (1952)
w Ronald Millar and George Froeschel from the novel by Rafael Sabatini
d George Sidney

                  There are a few movies that still surprise me when I realize they’re not as popular as they should be.  Ghost Breakers isn’t in your Top 10?  I get it.  I’m talking about today’s movie;  a perfect example.  I often mention Scaramouche to someone and they’ve never heard of it.  And it does surprise me.  It’s not just a matter of it being sixty-plus years old.  It was a huge hit, both critically and commercially.  A hit sixty-plus years ago?  Sure, okay, but I saw it again recently and man does it hold up.  No, it doesn’t “hold up.”  Scaramouche is a great movie.

Our old friend Bosley Crowther at The New York Times wrote in 1952, in part:

The shades of another era, both of history and of movie romance, are being revived with extraordinary richness … A cheekier attitude toward romance and a great deal more play with the swords are in this latter-day whip-up, and these are the things that make it fun … Now they have a spirited hero enlisted in the cause of liberté, égalité et fraternité, not to mention love, lined up against a highhanded Bourbon who is 120 proof with the sword … With blades ringing in the crowded theatre and blood spurting red from time to time, it makes a mighty pretty picture.  Doggone exciting too … Mr. Granger appears to sense completely that he is not playing history.  Mr. Ferrer, too … And in the low-gowns-and-powdered-wigs department, Janet Leigh looks mighty good as the Bourbon doll and Nina Foch is exceedingly flattering to Marie Antoinette.  But it is really Eleanor Parker who wins the female prize as the red-headed fire-brand of the theatre who keeps our hero on the go … And certainly no less would be worthy of MGM.

                    Scaramouche is an Action Film, a Political Drama and a Love Story (actually three Love Stories, wonderfully interwoven);  all of it told as a Swashbuckler.  Truth be told, it’s not unlike an Opera, because there’s indeed a theatricality at play.  Not just in how the story’s told, but Theatre is the running theme.  That’s where Moreau hides from The Marquis, where he finds sanctuary and the foundation of his idealist evolve.  Throughout the story he’s rarely not “on stage,” including the training of the sword, and addressing The National Assembly.  And it had to be in a theatre that Moreau and The Marquis finally face each other in their climactic swordfight.

It’s a Swashbuckler to be sure.  But where it stands apart from, say, The Black Swan is, while it borders High Adventure, it never trips on that tightrope.  [Incidentally our Director today, George Sidney, had done the same with the Gene Kelly-starrer The Three Musketeers (1948).  Gene Kelly and Stewart Granger were both trained as fencers by Jean Hermans, and Hermans would go on to do Prince Valiant (1954), that movie next in our Top 5.  But I digress.]  “The shades of another era,” as Mr. Crowther wrote.  Remember, we’re twelve years after Errol Flynn’s heyday;  ten after Ty in The Black Swan.  So of course The Swashbuckler would mature.  Sure, Granger is our “hero,” Parker is “sexy,” Leigh “vigilant,” Ferrer “evil,” Foch “melodramatic” (and Scaramouche himself “slapstick funny”) but they aren't caricatures.  We accept, understand, even empathize-with their relationships;  including Moreau’s and de Maynes’ which -- by the climax -- could trip into trite yet doesn’t.  This is big, broad, wonderful Opera.  As much fun as today’s movie is -- and it is -- because the characters remain grounded, so do we.

                And here we’ll focus a moment on our leading lady, Miss Janet Leigh.  I didn’t go into this in Holiday Affair because (while it’s in that film too) I think it’s better highlighted in today’s.  I think it prevails in all her work, and why she was a success:  simply, few actresses showed such a wholesome strength as Miss Leigh.  I use “wholesome” specifically, without treading into the likes of Doris Day or Julie Andrews;  and “strength” doesn’t have to mean Bette Davis or Katherine Hepburn.  If anyone is similar it’s Olivia de Havilland but indeed Miss Leigh had a unique way of blending the two.  In Holiday Affair, we accept her as both a single mother and a woman who wants to fall in love.  And in Scaramouche we see her as quiet and humble but still coolly strong;  a mirror, of course, to Eleanor Parker’s fiery-red street-smarts without diminishing either character.  No doubt The Shower Movie will pop up as we talk about Miss Leigh, and this is a perfect example:  we buy Marion Crane’s stealing the money and making a run for it but -- just as important to that character -- it’s her wholesomeness that guts us when Norman walks into the bathroom.  (Another perfect example?  Look at her walk head-held-high after what the gang does to her in the Touch Of Evil motel room.  But more on that later.)  In all her roles -- I just think it shines in Scaramouche because it’s Period where a woman could be clichéd “less” -- Miss Leigh exudes wholesome strength, making her a very Modern Woman.  Beautiful, kind, smart, even sexy in Aline’s own way -- and, sure, vulnerable (aren’t we all) -- but never anything less.

                    Now, let’s take a look at our Writers today.  Sir Ronald Millar was an English writer who led an atypically Hollywood life.  While he started as an Actor and wrote Plays, he served in The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during World War II and eventually became the Speech Writer for three consecutive Prime Ministers:  Edward Heath, Margaret Thatcher and John Major.  For Miss Thatcher -- who Knighted him -- he wrote her famous line, “The lady's not for turning.”  His political mind helped him well with his screenplays such as ours today and Never Let Me Go (1953) and Betrayed (1954);  those two with Clark Gable.  He wrote often with his co-writer today, George Froeschel, an Austrian, whose first job in The U.S. was in the editorial section of a Chicago magazine.  A novelist by trade, Froeschel was signed by MGM in 1939 where he worked for the next seventeen years on such big dramas as Mrs. Miniver (1942) for which he won The Academy Award, The Story Of Three Loves and Command Decision (1953), the latter also with Clark Gable.  It’s interesting to see these two Writers on Scaramouche.  Certainly the “heaviness" of "The Political Opera" is theirs.  But what about "The Comedic Swashbuckler?"

                  That could very well be because of our Director today, George Sidney, who was best known for his Musicals from Anchors Aweigh (1945) through Viva Las Vegas (1964).  His father was a Broadway Producer, his mother a Stage Performer;  and he himself a child in Vaudeville before starting at MGM as a messenger.  He got his start behind the camera shooting Our Gang Shorts in the late 30s and would go on to a truly stunning career (including Judy Garland in The Harvey Girls).  In 1946 he was the first to photograph Red Skelton’s famous “Guzzler’s Gin” sketch (for Ziegfeld’s Follies).  And in his off-time?  He was President of The DGA from ’51-’56 and co-founded Hanna-Barbera in 1957, and was that company’s President for ten years. 

(A quick digression, if I may.  Hanna-Barbera had created Tom & Jerry for MGM in 1940 which was the beginning of the Hanna-Barbera-Sidney relationship.  When Disney turned MGM down for Gene Kelly to dance with Mickey Mouse in Anchors Aweigh, Jerry The Mouse got the job.  Sidney would later feature Hanna-Barbera's Fred Flintstone, Huckleberry Hound and Yogi Bear in his Bye Bye Birdie, that film also starring Janet Leigh.)

                 (Sorry, one more digression;  quickly, I promise.  Only mentioning the great Supporting Cast hardly does them justice, but that's Nina Foch as Marie Antoinette.  She pops up in so many fun things, from Boston Blackie's Rendezvous to Spartacus, but I always think of her as Milo in An American In Paris.  And that's John Litel as Dubuque in The National Assembly;  one of my favorite character actors.  We talked about him in They Died With Their Boots On and San Antonio.  And then there's Lewis Stone;  de Valmorin Sr. in our film today.  Not only did he have a truly amazing career in his own right -- and not just as Judge Hardy in that famous series -- but he was also in the 1923 Scaramouche where her played, wait for it, The Marquis.)  
 
                 Now, finally, a word from Jimmy Stewart.  Sort of.  Remember, our hero today was born James Lablanche Stewart but there was already a Jimmy Stewart in Hollywood so our guy took his grandmother’s maiden name, tacked it on, and Stewart Granger was born.  He made his film debut in England as an extra in 1933, then followed it up with years of Theatre work.  In World War II, he enlisted in The Gordon Highlanders, transferring to The Black Watch with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.  Invalided out of service, he returned to acting and, in 1943, became a star in The Man In Grey.  Through the rest of the 40s he topped England’s box office … finally attracting Hollywood’s attention. 

In 1949 he made Adam And Evelyne co-starring Jean Simmons.  The story, about an older man and a teenager whom he gradually realizes is no longer a child, had obvious parallels to their real lives.  They married the following year in a ceremony “produced” by Howard Hughes.  And it was in 1949 that he got his break, in MGM’s King Solomon’s Mines (a role offered-to but turned-down-by Errol Flynn;  and you remember how highly Mr. Granger thought of Mr. Flynn from our Robin Hood write-up).  It’s a famous -- and true -- story that Granger personally requested a remake of Scaramouche as part of his contract.  MGM acquiesced, though -- Gene Kelly’s The Three Musketeers being such a hit three years before -- after having conversations with Kelly, Ava Gardner and Elizabeth Taylor for our film today (but that really would be a digression, so …)  The one-two-punch success of King Solomon’s Mines and Scaramouche launched a decade wave of stardom for Mr. Granger who took over the mantle as Hollywood’s Swashbuckler. 

By the early 60s -- losing A Star Is Born (1954) to James Mason and turning down Messala in Ben-Hur (1959) -- Granger became a successful cattle rancher, and left Hollywood in the wake of divorcing Miss Simmons (his second of three marriages).  He then had a very successful German film career before returning to Hollywood in the early 70s on Television, including playing Sherlock Holmes in The Hound Of The Baskervilles (1972) with William Shatner as Stapleton.  Mr. Granger’s last great role returned him to The Theatre in the ’89-’90 Broadway production of Somerset Maugham’s The Circle opposite Rex Harrison and Glynis Johns (who you remember from The Court Jester).

                 Of course, it’s a small miracle he made it through today’s movie.  I’ll explain.

                 A lot of stars say they do their own stunts -- their publicists certainly do -- but Granger did more than most.  The one famous story during Scaramouche is the falling chandelier.  You remember it, right?  de Maynes discovers Doutreval has been training Moreau in the sword, and de Maynes and Moreau have their first duel.  de Maynes cuts the rope and the chandelier drops, Moreau rolling out to continue fighting.  An elaborate rig was built to stop the chandelier a foot from the floor.  Granger, no fool, asked to see it work before laying underneath.  George Sidney assured him it was fine;  besides, it would take an hour to reset.  Granger remained adamant.  Sidney complied, launched it, and the chandelier embedded itself two inches into the stage.  Sidney (a good man) threw up.  Granger had a drink. 

                And this is as good a time as any to wrap this up … by touching on the incredible end swordfight.  Moreau could barely hold a sword when he and de Maynes first met, but when he saw his best friend murdered, he promised to kill de Maynes the same way:  by the sword.  de Maynes can’t help but smile at the preposterousness.  But then it’s Scaramouche on stage who spots de Maynes in the audience, stops the show, removes his mask, and challenges him then and there.  And is it a duel.  Perhaps the movie duel as they fight all over the theatre for six and a half minutes;  to this day the longest swordfight ever filmed (and, incidentally, without music).  There are great swordfights, from Fairbanks to Flynn, Kelly in The Three Musketeers (1948), all the way to Seven Samurai and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon … and, yes, even The Princess Bride, The Mask Of Zorro (1998), Kill Bill and beyond.  But this is it.  There are a few times I tell you how much I love one of these movies, or laugh at one of the jokes, but this goes back to my genuinely being surprised Scaramouche isn’t as big a hit today as it was then.  ‘Cause this climax?

                  Nope, not overselling it at all.

                  Remember how the Sabatini novel and our movie today opens?  “He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad.”  A great line for a Story, sure, but it would also become the author’s epitaph, appearing on Rafael Sabatini's gravestone in Adelboden, Switzerland.

                  Up next?  Miss Leigh travels to King Arthur’s Court in the famed Comic come to life, Prince Valiant!



20 December, 2015

Holiday Affair


She once said, “My family was poor, and we moved so many times because my father had to find work, but movies took me everywhere in the world, to all these incredible places.  I was Ginger Rogers.  I was Norma Shearer.  I was Joan Crawford.  I could dance, I could sing.  I knew I wanted to be in this business more than anything else in the world.”

Thank you again, dear readers, for joining me as I present another of my “Top 5 Retrospectives;”  the five movies I’ve chosen to showcase a given Actor.  So far we’ve talked about Bob Hope, Errol Flynn, Danny Kaye and Tyrone Power.  And rounding out the first five of these Top 5s is the first lady of the group … who may incite the biggest upset so far. 

First, why is this our first lady?  Well, after Flynn, I wanted to write about Paulette Goddard -- ‘cause of her work with De Mille and (of course) work and life with Chaplin -- but I realized I’d already touched on at least two of my favorites of hers with Bob Hope.  Ah!  I’ll write about Olivia de Havilland -- love her, fascinating life, and she’s still with us -- and realized I’d just touched on a couple of hers with Flynn.  So I picked Virginia Mayo -- who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and I’ve always loved The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty -- which led me to write about Danny Kaye (though I think she’s next;  ‘cause, come on, there are The Best Years Of Our Lives and White Heat to talk about, not to mention that pirate movie with Old Ski Nose).  Then it was what would have been Tyrone Power’s 100th Birthday and who could pass that up?

Well, not too long ago, Diana and I were talking about White Christmas (which, like Mitty, you can read about in my Danny Kaye Top 5) and Diana said, “You know, I really enjoy Holiday Affair more.”  And I thought, “A ha!  I’ll write about Robert Mitchum!  I had the pleasure of meeting him too, great movies to pick from, hell of a life.  And I’ll definitely include Holiday Affair which is great and most people have never heard of it;  perfect for these write-ups.  Diana, you’ve done it again!”  So I start fiddling with Mitch and guess who keeps poking her nose out at me (no, not Diana this time):  Mitch’s co-star in Holiday Affair.  And when I was writing up Flynn I quoted Stewart Granger and have always loved Scaramouche.  And for Christmas last year Diana got me the new Blu Ray of Touch Of Evil.  All the while genius me is still fiddling with Mitch.  Well, a couple months ago, Diana and I sat down to watch Prince Valiant and there she was again, poking her nose out at me;  and I gave in.  “Are you going to pick Psycho?” Diana asked (quite intuitively, knowing these are my picks and not always the obvious ones).  And here’s what I meant about the biggest upset so far.  Perhaps even more surprising than my not including Hans Christian Anderson for Kaye, I’m not including The Shower Movie here.  Aghast?  Perhaps. 

But hopefully that’s not the only surprise.

Here are the films we’ll be talking about this round;  as always, simply in the order of when they were released:

Scaramouche (1952)
Prince Valiant (1954)
Touch Of Evil (1958)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)

And beginning today with a real Christmas treasure (after all, ‘tis the season):

Holiday Affair (1949)
w Isobel Lennart from a Story by John D. Weaver
d Don Hartman

Janet Leigh was born Jeanette Helen Morrison on 6 July, 1927 in Merced, California.  In 1945 -- not yet pursuing an acting career -- she was living in Sugar Bowl, CA -- the ski resort where her father was working at the time -- and Norma Shearer saw a photograph of her.  She showed it to her husband (Irving Thalberg) and a friend (Lew Wasserman) who got Miss Morrison a contract at MGM;  and the rest, as they say, is history.  Shearer herself:  “Her smile made it the most fascinating face I’d seen in years.”

Miss Morrison made her film debut in The Romance Of Rosy Ridge opposite Van Johnson (she got the role by reciting Phyllis Thaxter’s looooong speech in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo;  you know Miss Thaxter as Martha Kent in the Christopher Reeve Superman).  During shooting of Rosy Ridge, Morrison's name was first changed to “Jeanette Reames” then “Janet Leigh” then back to “Jeanette Morrison” because “Janet Leigh” sounded too close to Vivien Leigh.  Well, Van Johnson didn’t like that;  he loved Janet Leigh.  He said, “You know there’s Van Heflin.  Two Vans and it hasn't hurt either of us.”  And so our starlet was born.

Her third of four marriages, Leigh married actor Tony Curtis in 1951 and they had two daughters, Kelly and -- you probably know this one -- Jamie Lee.  During their high-profile marriage, Leigh and Curtis starred in five films together.  Adept in Period, Comedy -- even Westerns -- Leigh’s probably best known for her Dramas, most famously Touch Of Evil … and, sure, The Shower Movie.  She’d continue well into the nineties (her seventies), mostly on Television where, on both Fantasy Island and Love Boat, she guest-starred twice as different characters;  and as a sadistic Thrush Agent in a two-part The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (released in Europe as the feature The Spy In The Green Hat);  and -- my favorite of her TV work -- as a retired song-and-dance star in the Columbo “Forgotten Lady” which utilizes footage from her own Walking My Baby Back Home.  Rounding out a genuinely varied and impressive career, she appeared in two films with her daughter, “Scream Queen” Jamie Lee:  The Fog (1980) and Halloween H20.

Or maybe you remember her as the writer?  Indeed, Miss Leigh is the author of four books (and not ghost-written, they’re hers).  Her first, the memoir There Really Was A Hollywood became a New York Times bestseller, followed by Psycho: Behind The Scenes Of The Classic Thriller.  But it wouldn’t just be Non Fiction, she also wrote two Novels (set in Hollywood), House of Destiny and The Dream Factory.

She served on the board of directors of the Motion Picture and Television Foundation, and was a staunch Democrat, appearing alongside Tony Curtis at the 1960 Democratic National Convention.  She graced 86 projects, won The Golden Globe for The Shower Movie (nominated for its Oscar, lost to Shirley Jones in Elmer Gantry), and as late as 1995 was chosen by Empire as one of the 100 Sexiest Stars in Film History.  She said, “I don't know what it is I exude.  But whatever it is, it's whatever I am!”  Must be all right;  Scarlett Johansson played her in 2012’s Hitchcock.

 For today, let’s get back to Christmas, 1949 and that bright twenty-two year old Comparison Shopper with a son and a fiancee who’s about to meet Robert Mitchum in the toy department of a store in New York City …

Holiday Affair is, more than anything else, charming.  I’d been thinking about how to dive into this write-up and I thought, simply, “Why do I like it?”  And the reason I can watch this over and over again is, simply, because of how indisputably charming it is.  (While I’m thinking of it, I feel the same way about the other Christmas movie we’ve chatted about.  Not to compare this to White Christmas -- they’re quite different -- but while both are simple stories -- bordering on whimsy -- they’re both just endearingly charming.  And I mentioned in the White Christmas write-up how much I love this movie.  Okay, moving on.)  So Holiday Affair is a simple story.  But I think that helps.  There’s no pretense about who anyone is, or their relationships;  including Connie’s and Carl’s, and more on him in a bit.  Steve is Steve, Timmy is Timmy, Mr. Crowley is Mr. Crowley, The Seal is The Seal.  Even Connie’s in-laws aren’t particularly noteworthy other than it’s nice they still treat Connie as their family (and it’s never a forced point).  That and the toast Mr. Ennis gives Mrs. Ennis.  Sure, it taunts Connie of what she might have had with her deceased husband.  She sees a genuine Mr. Ennis and Mrs. Ennis;  what she could still have if she'd let herself be happy;  not just how she pushes her son into those roles.  And, sure, it’s one more push toward Steve.  But it’s all such obvious subtext that even the toast about a wife hiding her husband’s glasses so he needs her is endearing because of its schmaltz.  Nor do any of the characters have great arcs -- even good ones -- including Connie and Carl.  Theirs is the only one and it’s 40s slight.  But this is one of the rare times when not only doesn't it matter, it works in its favor.  You aren’t worried about how this affair is going to end, nor are you in the slightest bit upset about it, because you’re enjoying the getting-there.  Why?  The charm.  Including Mitch who -- while it might seem like miscasting here -- is half the reason it works;  and more on him in a bit too.

 One thing to say, briefly, about Christmas movies in general is, if you think about it:  they’re all kinda dark, aren’t they?  At least at their start.  Let’s poke-at a few of the classics.  Any version of A Christmas Carol (natch).  It’s A Wonderful Life?  George Bailey wants to kill himself.  Miracle On 34th Street takes Santa Claus to court.  Even a few of the moderns such as Home Alone and A Nightmare Before Christmas (and I like them both), well, it’s there in their titles.  Even kids’ fare -- A Charlie Brown Christmas -- man is it there.  Our charmer today?  Connie is a widow raising her son, dating a good guy but she’s not in love with him, trudging through a job ‘cause it pays the bills, treating her son like the man of the house ‘cause she can’t let go of the past, the son returning the greatest gift he’s ever received ‘cause he knows they’re broke, and who’s the knight in shining armor?  A loafer who lunches with a seal.  But what all Christmas movies have in common is what we love about them:  grabbing someone -- not tapping them on the shoulder, grabbing them -- pulling them up, shaking them off;  shoving them into the part of their world still worth living for.  Often with a little magic?  Okay but I’ll stand by this:  more than a little charm. 

 (Incidentally -- like It's A Wonderful Life -- Holiday Affair was a box-office flop that found fandom yeeeeears after its release with viewings on Television.  Granted, our movie today isn’t nearly the classic Life has become but, again, that’s why I’m here sharing these.  To showcase the “unknowns” I think you’ll enjoy.  Okay, moving on again.)

 Let’s talk a little bit about Connie and Carl and Timmy, ‘cause they’re the heart of the thing (Steve notwithstanding but you know what I mean).  And I want to touch on Carl because, for me, he showcases a lot of why this movie works.  Again, his and Connie’s is the only arc in the piece, and what I’ve always loved about their relationship is that Carl is a good guy.  He has no agenda, he simply loves her.  And he never strikes out against Steve.  Even when they’re sizing each other up -- standing in front of the fireplace, Carl with tree lights around his neck, their talking about the weather -- it’s casual.  When Steve has his run-in with the law (and a great “bit” with Harry Morgan), Carl’s the one to stand up for him.  And -- while everyone else sees it -- it’s Carl who finally makes Connie see who she really loves.  Where Carl could have been a clichéd “other," he’s wonderfully anything but.

 And Timmy?  One of the best written youngsters.  And best portrayed, thanks to Gordon Gebert, who you might recognize as a young Audie Murphy in To Hell And Back (1955).  Here he more than holds his own against Mitch and Miss Leigh;  and eventually in his career Burt Lancaster, Virginia Mayo, Charles McGraw … and John Wayne.  He’s adorable without being cute, spunky without being pompous, and far wiser than even his own mother as he goes along as “Mr. Ennis.”  (Interestingly, Miss Leigh is only fourteen years older than young Gebert in this.)  A lot of appreciation for characters is in how others respond to them.  Out of the mouths of babes, when Timmy likes Steve, well, that’s that.

 Now.  Fiddling with Mitch.  He does seem an odd choice for this kind of movie, and he certainly was in its day.  While he’d had popularity with The Big Steal (1949), reuniting him with his Out Of The Past (1947) co-star Jane Greer, the tabloids were still full of his arrest and prison sentence for possession of marijuana.  But RKO’s owner at the time, Howard Hughes, had faith in him and refused to drop him from his contract.  No small amount of faith, just before filming on Holiday Affair began, Hughes paid $400,000 to acquire sole ownership of Mitchum from David O. Selznick.  And I do think Mitch is good casting here.  The character of Steve isn't Cary Grant or James Stewart or Gary Cooper.  If anyone else, he’s Bogart [and Mr. Bogart felt like miscasting in Sabrina (1954) yet he’s perfect in it].  Steve’s is a hardened sweetness and therefore Mitch is a great mirror to Wendell Corey’s Carl.   

I won’t go into Mr. Mitchum’s career suffice to say if you haven’t seen His Kind Of Woman please do, it’s his unknown gem … and that I had the pleasure of meeting him at his home near Santa Barbara.  This was 1994 and my dad arranged Charles Champlin -- The Los Angeles Times’ Art Editor Emeritus -- to interview Mitch for The Lone Pine Film Festival;  Lone Pine’s Alabama Hills being where Mitch made his first starring feature, Nevada (1944).  Me?  I was just lucky to tag along.  Riding up in the car with dad and Mr. Champlin -- listening to them talk Movies -- was lucky enough, but to knock on a door and have Robert Mitchum open it with a “Hi fellas, come on in,” well, there it is.  He was a true gentleman, and I found him surprisingly passionate -- in his own soft-spoken way -- about his work.  He genuinely appreciated his career and being able to "play for a living."  As they wrapped the interview, Mr. Mitchum signed a drawing Dad did for me and when I said, “Thanks, Mr. Mitchum,” he smiled and said, “Call me Mitch.”   

 Like many who worked with him, Miss Leigh discovered he was indeed a dedicated actor.  Which is not to say he didn’t enjoy himself, including practical jokes, but she found they always had purpose.  Miss Leigh told TCM, “During the Christmas dinner scene, he and Wendell Corey both slipped a hand onto my knee under the table.  I started fidgeting in response, which turned out to be the perfect reaction for the scene.”  And, “Later, when Mitch and I shared our first kiss, he really kissed me, again getting just the right reaction.”

To wrap up, I’ll re-touch-on today’s Producer-Director, Don Hartman.  We talked about him in Nothing But The Truth and, while he was a great Writer, Holiday Affair is one of only five films he Directed.  Why?  Well, in 1951 he headed Production at Paramount;  and in 1956 formed his own Production Company.  But I think he is a good Director, not getting in the way of good Story -- that comes from being a Writer first -- but also knowing when to have fun with the thing.  Clearly Holiday Affair revolves around the train, our fantasy bookended by it, so he starts and ends on the toy (in, dare I say, a foreshadow to Tim Burton who -- at his peak -- beautifully used models in the same manner).  And if you aren’t warmed by the time Steve gets the telegram and he and Connie are running to each other through the compartments -- you must be by the time they pick up Timmy -- well, you deserve to take the train back to Mr. Crowley.

Up next, we go back to The French Revolution with Janet Leigh as Aline de Gavrillac who falls in love with the dashing and mysterious Scaramouche.