Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Showing posts with label backstage. Show all posts
Showing posts with label backstage. Show all posts

Thursday, July 10, 2014


Sydney Greenstreet and Rosalind Russell
THE VELVET TOUCH (1948). Director: John Gage (Jack Gage).

"You've produced so many bad plays you're beginning to believe them."

Broadway actress Valerie Stanton (Rosalind Russell) wants to break away from her usual producer, Gordon Dunning (Leon Ames) and the treacle he has her appear in, and try "Hedda Gabler," but he only laughs at her. Dunning, who refuses to let her go and is carrying a torch for her as well,  threatens her, and during a struggle Valerie bops him on the head and kills him. This is followed by a long flashback during which Valerie meets new love Michael Morrell (Leo Genn of Personal Affair), who is not only unimpressed by her status but is positively condescending -- and unattractive to boot; nevertheless Valerie falls for him. The third part of the film brings in Sydney Greenstreet as the corpulent Captain Danbury, who is a fan of Val's and is investigating the murder. The front runner in suspects is not Val but Marian Webster (Claire Trevor), who has been pining for Dunning for years, hates Val, and is incredibly bitter. Will Valerie come clean about what happened, or let Marian take the rap? The Velvet Touch is no All About Eve -- made two years later -- but it is a very entertaining backstage drama with an outstanding performance by Russell and fine support from Trevor [The High and the Mighty], Ames, and Greenstreet. Irving Bacon scores as a chatty waiter at Sardi's, and Lex Barker is also in the cast as a young actor.

Verdict: Strangely compelling. ***.

Thursday, January 23, 2014


JEANNE EAGELS (1957). Director: George Sidney.

This lamentable biopic purports to be the life story of famous stage and screen actress Jeanne Eagels, but it comes off more like a travesty, almost a parody, of movie star biographies. Part of the problem is the casting and atrocious performance of Kim Novak, who has been seen to much better advantage in such movies as Vertigo and Middle of the Night. Apparently given no help at all in shaping her role by director George Sidney, Novak -- who does have a (very) few good moments -- portrays Eagels by lowering her voice an octave and developing an imperious manner and never seeming remotely human -- in fact at times she's more grotesque than anything else. She confuses over-acting with "Great Acting" and even has trouble with simple line readings. Although there was certainly enough drama in the real  Eagels's life, with two marriages, a drug problem, and death at 39, Jeanne Eagels needs to make up even more slanderous stuff [her family filed a law suit, but you can't libel the dead in the U.S.]. In the movie an invented alcoholic actress named Elsie Desmond (a creditable Virginia Grey) brings Eagels the script for the play "Rain," hoping the latter will interest a producer in mounting the play as a comeback for her. Instead, Eagels steals the play away from Desmond, who then commits suicide. Eagels is seen as being similarly ruthless in other sequences as well. The two men in her life, one of whom she briefly marries, are portrayed by Jeff Chandler [who basically gives a good accounting of himself] and Charles Drake, who is okay as her husband. As Eagels' stern if loving acting coach, Agnes Moorehead gives a competent performance but at times seems affected by the movie's sheer badness. Murray Hamilton does his typical sleazy, oily, repulsive shtick as a vaudeville performer who tries to rape Jeanne. The movie mixes facts with fantasy, such as when Eagels is suspended from the stage for several months by Actors Equity [true] and has her running to vaudeville when she actually went to Hollywood to make (mostly silent) movies [one of which is inexplicably shown at the end of Jeanne Eagels, only it's a musical!]. In actuality, Eagels had a triumph in the first sound version of The Letter, and was posthumously nominated for an Oscar, but this, incredibly, is never mentioned, even though it would have added up to an effective and bittersweet conclusion. Drake and Grey played a married couple in All That Heaven Allows and George Sidney also directed Bye Bye Birdie, for which he was more suited.

Verdict: Eagels certainly deserved better than this miserable schlock. *1/2.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Ida Lupino and Monty Woolley
LIFE BEGINS AT EIGHT-THIRTY (1942). Director: Irving Pichel.

"On the stage you're still a god. Off, you're still a hairy monster." 

Kathy Thomas is a lame young lady who lives and cares for her actor father, Madden Thomas (Monty Woolley), an irascible chap who is rather too fond of his liquor. Madden figures that he's all washed up in the theater, but he's offered a job by a neighbor, composer Robert Carter (Cornel Wilde), and then has a chance to star in a new production of "King Lear." But will he muff his chances for success with his usual self-destructiveness, and will his selfless daughter wind up an unloved spinster caring for her father for the rest of his life? Life Begins at Eight-Thirty doesn't dodge the tough questions about being a caregiver, especially for someone you love but find exasperating, and also ponders how much of a person's life they should give up for another's. [Of course, Madden is not exactly ready for a nursing home.]  The worst dialogue is given to Wilde, who's quite stiff as Robert and offers one of the least romantic proposals ever seen on film. Lupino and Woolley are excellent, but the picture is nearly stolen by Sara Allgood, perennial supporting player, who has one of her best and longest roles as Robert's wealthy aunt, who has been carrying a torch for Madden for many years.

Verdict: Entertaining comedy-drama with equal parts cliche and insight. ***.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


THE SAXON CHARM (1948). Writer/director: Claude Binyon.

"Yes, my flatulent Florence Nightingale, and close the door on your way out!" -- Charming Matt Saxon to nurse.

Janet (Susan Hayward), the wife of a successful novelist-turned-playwright, Eric Busch (John Payne), is warned by the unfortunately-named  entertainer Alma Wragg (Audrey Totter) that she may well regret it if her husband allows producer Matt Saxon (Robert Montgomery), Alma's boyfriend, to produce his play. For Saxon doesn't seem to know or especially care that other people have personal lives and may not want to be at his constant beck and call like a bunch of babies. Saxon even tries to order for everyone in a restaurant and throws a fit when things are not to his liking. However, Saxon not only has charm, but he isn't stupid: "Nothing that's good and has a purpose is old-fashioned," he says. Still he's almost responsible for wrecking the Busch marriage and his need for control goes a little too far when it comes to Alma and her career. While The Saxon Charm hasn't quite got the bite and strong plot of the later backstage drama All About Eve, and the marital difficulties of the Busch's seem a bit contrived, it is nevertheless well-acted by all of the principles and quite entertaining as well. A nice score by Walter Scharf  is a bonus. Harry Morgan, Harry Von Zell, Heather Angel, Chill Wills and Kathleen Freeman all score in smaller roles. Binyon also directed Dreamboat with Clifton Webb and many other movies.

Verdict: It's worth spending some time with this "charm boy," who is all too typical of many theatrical types and others. ***.