Friday, February 4, 2011

My Fair Lady

My Fair Lady (1964) is a classic musical, and one of the best.  I was lucky enough to see it at Radio City Music Hall in New York when it was released, on 70mm film with six track RCA sound.  That is the way to see a movie!

As everyone knows, the play My Fair Lady (1956) was made into the movie, and they are the musical remake of Pygmalion (1938, the film starring Leslie Howard), which is adapted from the 1912 George Bernard Shaw (1856 - 1950) play by the same name.  In fact, Shaw worked on the screenplay for the 1938 film.

Music is by Lerner and Loewe, and it doesn't get much better than that.  A great many of the songs went on to become hits by artists like Nat King Cole and others.  And as everyone knows, Marni Nixon (b. 1930) dubbed the signing voice of Eliza Doolittle due to the good, but untrained voice of Hepburn.  It is curious that Nixon did not receive screen credit, but I am sure she was well paid.

I don't need to go into the stars of My Fair LadyAudrey Hepburn, Rex Harrison, Wilfred Hyde-White and Stanley Holloway are easy to remember.  Enough has been said of the movie and their parts in it. 

Let's just take a quick look at a few of the smaller parts.  This was a big movie with a big cast, many of whom are just extras.  I just noticed that Grady Sutton (1906 - 1995) was one of those extras.  Grady has a huge filmography with 230 titles, including W. C. FieldsThe Bank Dick (1940) where he played Og Oggilby.  Fields said it sounded like a bubble in a bathtub.

Alan Napier (1903 - 1988) was a gentleman who escorted Eliza to the queen at the ball.  Napier is most famous as the television butler, Alfred, to Adam West's "Batman."  Napier's career of 145 titles spans more than 50 years.

Some other wonderful names include stunt man Clyde Howdy (1919 - 1969) and Queenie Leonard (1905 - 2002).  I know nothing about those two, but they had great names. 

Betty Blythe (1893 - 1972) is also an extra.  Her career of 158 titles started in 1916, and My Fair Lady was her last film.  You can see Blythe in such great movies at Anna Karenina (1935) and Topper (1937). 

Lastly I want to mention Theodore Bikel (b. 1924) who played Zoltan Karpathy, the Count who tried to figure out where Eliza came from and got it all wrong.  Bikel is a wonderful character actor with 152 titles on IMDb, starting in 1949.  His third film was The African Queen in 1951.  You can also see him in The Enemy Below (1957) and he did a lot of TV work starting in the 1960s.  His versatile voice and command of dialects is impressive.

My Fair Lady, directed by George Cukor (1899 - 1983), is a classic and should be in every collection.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

J. Farrell MacDonald

Here's a name that you may not know, but most likely you have seen him in several classic films.  J. Farrell MacDonald (1875 - 1952) worked in 327 movies from 1911 to 1951, and he also directed 43 silent films.

MacDonald was a favorite of John Ford and also Frank Capra.  Good company to be in.  He made about 25 films with Ford as director or writer, including some 18 silents when he was still being billed as Jack Ford.  He worked in three Capra films.

In his silent films, he worked with some of the greats such as Mary Pickford, Tom Mix and Harold Lloyd.  MacDonald successfully made the transition to talkies through the evolutionary period of 1927 to 1928.  The early sound films had music and sound effects played on a record during the movie, with hit or miss synchronization. 

Just a few years after sound was invented, or at least added to film with some success, he was cast as a detective in The Maltese Falcon (1931).  This is, of course, the earlier, pre-Hayes Code version, long before Humphrey Bogart played Sam Spade in 1941.  Ricardo Cortex (1900 - 1977) had that honor, and we also see film greats Una Merkel (1903 - 1986) and Thelma Todd (1906 - 1935) in it.

MacDonald also worked in three Spencer Tracy films in the 1930s.  Me and My Gal (1932), The Power and the Glory (1933) and Riffraff (1936).  He is in two of the Shirley Temple films in her earlier years and one of her last films, The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer in 1947.

I hesitate to say any of his films were better than others.  Back in the 1930s and 1940s, movies were turned out at a phenomenal rate because it was inexpensive entertainment and the demand was so high.  Character actors like J. Farrell MacDonald were in needed, hence the reason he made so many films.  They can't be all great, and the certainly aren't all bad.

In 1940 he is in Dark Command with another great cast.  John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Walter Pidgeon and Marjorie Main.  Over the years he made seven films with William 'Hopalong Cassidy' Boyd, and four with The Duke.

Meet John Doe (1941) and It's a Wonderful Life (1946) were two of his Capra films.  He played the man whose grandfather planted the tree in Wonderful Life.  It was a role that you didn't think about twice, but he played it well, and I bet you remember it.

The last movie he made where he received screen credit was Superman and the Mole People in 1951, starring George Reeves (1914 - 1959).  I suppose there were a few films where MacDonald had top billing, but he mostly used his talent to make the stars look good.  That's what a Bit Actor does best.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Three on a Match

Three on a Match (1932) was another of the Forbidden Hollywood movies of the pre-code era.  It was the twelfth movie for a very blond Bette Davis (1908 - 1989) in what was a pretty small part, but her future is evident even back then.  The stars of this film were Ann Dvorak (1912 - 1979), Warren William (1894 - 1948), and Joan Blondell (1906 - 1979). 

Back in the early days of talkies, you turned out a lot of films if you wanted a decent income.  This was before residuals and advertising, and also before an actor could negotiate for a portion of the profits of a film in lieu of a salary.  The big studios controlled everything.

Ann Dvorak made a total of 86 titles including a few TV shows in the early 1950s.  I must admit that I am unfamiliar with her work and most of the movies she made.  In fact, I have never heard of the TV shows she made, including "Gruen Guild Theater" and "The Bigelow Theatre."

Warren William is a bit better known, at least to me.  He was a big star and has 65 movies in his filmography.  In Gold Diggers of 1933 he played Dick Powell's brother who eventually falls in love with Joan Blondell.  I think everybody in Hollywood knew everybody else in those days.  Look for him as Julius Caesar in the Claudette Colbert version of Cleopatra (1934).  In 1941 he appears in The Wolf Man with Lon Chaney, Jr., Claude Rains, and Bela Lugosi

What can I say about Joan Blondell?  A former Ziegfeld Girl, Joan also worked in five of Busby Berkeley's best musicals of the era.  She appeared in the movies and on TV 156 times.  At 72 years old she appeared in Grease (1978).  Blondell is one of my favorites, perhaps because she was usually portrayed as an honest working girl, but she also had an angle!  And she's not bad looking!

The Bit Actors included Humphrey Bogart (1899 - 1957) in a small role.  This was his ninth feature and was two years before The Petrified Forest, one of his defining roles.  I like looking at the early careers of famous stars, just to see where they came from.

We also see Lyle Talbot (1902 - 1996) in one of his many roles.  This was also his ninth film, and his list goes to 309 titles from 1930 to 1987.  Trying to list his highlights would take more time than I have today.  He was famous in B-movies and worked for Ed Wood.  Toward the end of his career he did a lot of television work, including everything from "The Lone Ranger" to "Who's the Boss?" and "Newhart."

See the movie!  Three on a Match touches on some tough topics of the day, and deals with them in a frank manner.  It doesn't glamorize the prohibition era drinking and drug use, and it comes to a tragic end, but somehow you are gratified by it because you know everything will be OK.