Thursday, February 2, 2012

Double Indemnity

In June of 2011 I wrote about Tom Powers (1890 - 1955) and his role in Double Indemnity (1944), but I didn't touch on the rest of the Bit Parts in that wonderful film noir classic. The only thing I didn't like about the film is Barbara Stanwyck as a blonde, and I don't think I'm alone.

I won't discuss the stars here. Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray and Edward G. Robinson don't need any of my words. But who else was part of making this film so good?

Porter Hall (1888 - 1953) played the witness, Mr. Jackson, who saw Neff on the train. It is interesting that Hall was in Going My Way the same year as Double Indemnity. Going won seven Oscars and Double didn't win any. Check out my last post about Porter from October 2010, where I outlined his fabulous career.

Jean Heather (1921 - 1995) played Phyllis' step-daughter Lola, who was much more loved by her father than by Phyllis. Jean only made eight films, and her next role was in, you guessed it, Going My Way. The rest of her pictures weren't much to write about, but she did get to act with some great stars including Dorothy Gish, Beulah Bondi, Charles Ruggles, Marjorie Main, Olivia DeHaviland, Gene Autry and others, all in a five year acting career.

Byron Barr (1917 - 1966) played Nino, Lola's boy friend.  He didn't play much else, with only 19 titles listed to his credit.

Richard Gaines (1904 - 1975) played Edward Norton, Jr. He is the father of Virginia Holden, who was later adopted by William Holden. With almost 70 titles on TV and in movies, Richard always seemed to appear in less than top notch films. Again, in the era of the large production studios controlling their stars, he was able to work with some great actors and actresses. In the 1960s he frequently appeared as a judge on "Perry Mason."

Another Going and Double alumnus is Fortunio Bonanova (1895 - 1969). He has over 90 titles listed and did appear as a vocal coach to Dorothy Comingore in Citizen Kane (1941). In 1957 he appears in An Affair to Remember, but his is a name you probably won't.

Don't forget to look for Raymond Chandler (1888 - 1959) sitting in the hallway at the insurance office as Neff walks past. It was the only cameo filmed for Chandler, who is renowned as a novelist and wrote the screen play for Double Indemnity. He's the one reading a paperback.

And finally, there is the Dictaphone. It plays a key role in this movie, and as our younger generation starts watching film noir, we can only hope they learn something about history and how things worked in the early half of the 20th Century. Neff uses multiple cylinders to record his story, and these can be seen in the final few shots when Keyes confronts him in his office. If some youngster asks what that thing is, please fill them in. A Dictaphone is way cooler than an iPhone.

I have spoken before about how Bit Parts help to make great movies. In the case of Double Indemnity, it appears that the Bit Actors played second fiddle to the incredible story. I just watched the film a few weeks ago, and I was struggling to remember who played which part. This movie belongs in the 100 Best Movies list, and I am glad it was selected by Library of Congress to be in the National Film Registry.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Me and The Sons of the Desert

It has been a rather busy week for me. As a card-carrying member of the Sons of the Desert, I was increasingly disturbed by the lack of a web site for my own local Tent. I spend a fair amount of time on the Internet researching Bit Actors, and I expect many other people do as well. We need a presence.

A word of explanation may be in order, if you are unfamiliar with the Sons. In 1933, Laurel and Hardy released what was probably their very best feature film, Sons of the Desert. It was about a fraternal organization The Boys belonged to, and they were having a convention in Chicago. All of the California members took a solemn oath to attend...without consulting their wives! You can imaging what they went through to make the trip (without their better halves) and the consequences they reaped upon their return.

Fast forward a few years to the 1960s. Writer and historian John McCabe was working on his biography Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, and in speaking with Stan Laurel at his home, McCabe suggested creating a group of Laurel and Hardy admirers who would celebrate their films. The Sons of the Desert was born. Other founding members included Al Kilgore, Orson Bean and Chuck McCann.

The first meeting took place in New York City in 1965, a short time after Stan passed away. The SotD grew and each new city was to start what is called a Tent, and they would name it after one of the L&H films. I am in the Philadelphia, PA area and ours is the Two Tars Tent, named after a silent film from 1928.

Our Tent is now in its 41st year. We had a web site a few years ago, but since this is a completely volunteer organization (based on Laurel and Hardy!) the web site was not looked after properly. It was nobody's fault because people get busy. Then, I opened my BIIIG MOUTH (sorry for stealing your line, Jackie Gleason) and got the job! The important thing is that The Two Tars Tent now has a functioning web site, thanks to the ease of Google Sites. I was helped by two of our board members, Roger Gordon and Bob Rooney. Thanks, guys!

The address is a bit unwieldy, but Google Sites is free, so I won't complain.
Google Sites has a number of nifty features and it should be easy to maintain.

On the site you will find a calendar that I hope will fill with important events regarding old movies, especially in the Southeastern PA area. I am also adding the birthdays of many old stars. I am still posting photos from past events, and there are some links to other movie related web sites on the links page.

I hope you will stop by the new web site and let me know what you think. If you love to laugh, you may want to look for a Sons of the Desert Tent in your area and get to some meetings. You will find a welcoming atmosphere and a great bar where you can park your camel and have "one for the desert."