July 28, 2016

The Joan Crawford Blogathon - Sudden Fear (1952)

Thanks to Crystal for hosting the blogathon and inviting me to participate. I have always enjoyed the work of Joan Crawford and am anxious to read everyone's contributions to the blogathon. Please visit Crystal's fine blog, In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.

Watch the Trailer for Sudden Fear

Sudden Fear (1952) is a beautifully crafted film noir thriller. Joan Crawford turns in one of the most emotionally charged performances of her career as a playwright who must use her plotting skills to save her own life. The film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Actress (Joan Crawford), Best Supporting Actor (Jack Palance), Best Cinematography (b/w) (Charles Lang), and Best Costume Design (b/w) (Sheila O'Brien). Sudden Fear is an unbeatable combination of lush melodrama and drop-dead suspense.

Production Company: Joseph Kaufman Productions, Inc. and RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Producer: Joseph Kaufman
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Director: David Miller
Writers: Lenore Coffee and Robert Smith - Based on the novel Sudden Fear by Edna Sherry (New York, 1948).
Cinematographer: Charles B. Lang, Jr.
Art Director: Boris Leven
Film Editor: Leon Barsha
Costumes:  Sheila O'Brien (Miss Crawford's gowns designed by), Al Teitelbaum (Miss Crawford's furs designed by), Tula (Miss Crawford's lingerie and hostess gowns by), Rex, Inc. (Miss Crawford's hats by), Ruser (Miss Crawford's jewels by)
Music: Elmer Bernstein
Makeup: Edwin Allen (Makeup for Miss Crawford)
Release Date: August 7, 1952
Production Dates: Late January to late March 1952 at Republic Studios
Duration (in minutes): 110
Color: Black and white
Sound: Mono (RCA Sound System)

David Miller was an American film director who directed such varied films as Billy the Kid (1941) with Robert Taylor and Brian Donlevy, Flying Tigers (1943) with John Wayne, Love Happy (1949) with the Marx Brothers, Sudden Fear (1952) with Joan Crawford, Midnight Lace (1960) with Doris Day, Back Street (1961) with Susan Hayward, Lonely Are the Brave (1962) with Kirk Douglas, and the psychodrama Captain Newman, M.D. (1963) with Gregory Peck. Extraordinarily adaptable, he had an easygoing temperament and an ability to get along with anyone he was working with.

Lenore Coffee was an American screenwriter, playwright and novelist. She was twice nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Street of Chance (1930) and Four Daughters (1938)
Of the studio system she is quoted as saying:

"They pick your brains, break your heart, ruin your digestion—and what do you get for it? Nothing but a lousy fortune."

Charles B. Lang, Jr. was an American cinematographer. He received a total of 18 Oscar nominations, tying with Leon Shamroy for the most Academy Award for Best Cinematography nominations ever. Lang won for A Farewell to Arms (1932). He was nominated for Sudden Fear (1952). Actress Katherine Kelly Lang is his granddaughter.

Boris Leven was a Moscow-born Academy Award-winning art director and production designer whose Hollywood career spanned fifty-three years. He was nominated for an Oscar nine times. He won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Color for West Side Story (1961). For Giant (1956), he constructed the Victorian home that sits isolated in a wide expanse of open field, which became an iconic image for the film.

Sheila O'Brien was an American costume designer. She began her career as a seamstress for Paramount Pictures but transferred to the costume department of MGM, coming into her own as a Hollywood costume designer in the 1950s. She was a favorite of Joan Crawford’s, dressing her in 1952's Sudden Fear, (for which O’Brien received an Oscar nomination), Johnny Guitar (1954), and Female on the Beach (1955).

Elmer Bernstein was an American composer and conductor best known for his many film scores. In a career which spanned fifty years, he composed music for hundreds of film and television productions. Bernstein's work was Oscar-nominated 14 times. He won the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score for Thoroughly Modern Millie. His scores for The Magnificent Seven and To Kill a Mockingbird were ranked by the American Film Institute as the eighth and seventeenth greatest American film scores of all time.

Edwin Allen was a favorite makeup artist of Joan Crawford. They worked together on Mildred Pierce (1945), Humoresque (1946), Flamingo Road (1949), Sudden Fear (1952), General Electric Theater (1953 TV Series) - Episode: "The Road to Edinburgh" (1954), and Della (1964).

Joan Crawford (born Lucille Fay LeSueur) was an American film and television actress who started as a dancer and stage chorine. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Crawford tenth on their list of the greatest female stars of Hollywood's Golden Age. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Mildred Pierce (1945). She was Oscar-nominated in the same category for Possessed (1947) and Sudden Fear (1952). Crawford was nominated for the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Drama for Sudden Fear (1952).

Jack Palance (born Volodymyr Palahniuk) was an American actor and singer. During half a century of film and television appearances, he was nominated for three Academy Awards, all for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, winning in 1992 for his role in City Slickers (1991). His first two nominations were for 1952's Sudden Fear and 1953's Shane. He famously performed one-handed push-ups (at age 73) at the March 30, 1992 Oscars. I've always thought his razor-sharp cheekbones could cut a Kevlar cable.

Gloria Grahame (born Gloria Grahame Hallward) was an American stage, film and television actress. Often cast in film noir projects, Grahame received a nomination for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Crossfire (1947), and she won this award for her work in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952). Her second husband was Nicholas Ray. Her fourth husband was her former stepson. Anthony "Tony" Ray was the son of Nicholas Ray and his first wife Jean Evans.

Bruce Bennett was an American actor and Olympic silver medalist in the shot put. Born as Harold Herman Brix, he went by the name Herman Brix in the 1930s. In 1939, Brix changed his name to "Bruce Bennett" and became a member of Columbia Pictures' stock company.

Virginia Huston (born Virginia Houston) was a film actress. Signing with RKO in 1945, her first film was opposite George Raft in Nocturne. She played Robert Mitchum's girlfriend in Out of the Past (1947) and Joan Crawford's assistant in Sudden Fear (1952).

Mike "Touch" Connors (born Kreker Ohanian) is an American actor best known for playing television detective Joe Mannix in Mannix (1967-1975 on CBS). Connors' acting career spans six decades; in addition to his work on television, he has appeared in numerous films.

Sudden Fear is one of those noir gems about a love-hate relationship between a husband and wife that's doomed from the very beginning. Joan Crawford plays Myra Hudson, a successful playwright and heiress who insists that actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) be fired from the Broadway production of her new play because he doesn't look properly romantic. But when she takes a train back home to San Francisco, they meet again, and this time she falls head over heels in love. Before long they're married. A wedding photo in the New York City newspapers brings Blaine's old girlfriend, Irene Neves (the criminally underappreciated Gloria Grahame) back into his life and he falls under her dark spell. When Blaine and Neves plot to get Hudson's fortune, the evil scheme backfires with ironically twisted results. Blaine has no idea how much his wife truly loves him, and she has no idea how sinister he truly is. Sudden Fear is a fascinating film, with wonderful nuances and sensitive performances by the three leads. The direction is taut and heavily influenced (but successfully so) by Alfred Hitchcock; the use of sound is particularly skillful. The thriller earned Oscar nominations for Crawford and Palance as well as for its gorgeous black-and-white cinematography and natty costumes. And whether it's because she's playing opposite Palance or not, this is definitely one of Crawford's most sympathetic performances.

Did You Know?

Legend has it that Joan Crawford fought against having Jack Palance as her leading man, protesting that he was the ugliest man in Hollywood. Her producer finally prevailed by convincing her that her character had to be sympathetic—and Palance was the only actor in town who was scarier than she was.

Sudden Fear marked the first film in which Jack Palance's first name is listed as "Jack" instead of "Walter Jack." Lester Blaine was his first major film role.

According to a July 1952 Variety item, Joan Crawford and director David Miller worked on a participation basis. Modern sources note that Crawford, who had script and casting approval, chose to receive a forty percent interest in the $720,000 picture in lieu of a $200,000 salary.

Crawford originally requested Clark Gable as her co-star, according to modern sources. Miller, who thought Gable too old and well-known for the role, screened the 1950 Twentieth Century-Fox film Panic in the Streets, in which Jack Palance had a small but pivotal part, three times for Crawford, and she eventually agreed to cast him.

As the film's executive producer, Joan Crawford was heavily involved in all aspects of the production. She personally hired Lenore Coffee as the film's screenwriter, David Miller as director and suggested Elmer Bernstein as composer. She insisted on Charles Lang being hired as the film's cinematographer.

According to Jack Palance, Joan Crawford and Gloria Grahame did not get along and got into a physical altercation at one point during the filming. The fight started after Grahame sat on the edge of the set during one of Crawford's close-ups and very loudly sucked a lollipop in an attempt to anger Crawford. It worked, and Palance noted that the all-male crew watched the fight for a few moments rather curiously before stepping in to break it up.

Sudden Fear was Mike "Touch" Connors' first film.

Virginia Huston also appeared with Joan Crawford in Flamingo Road (1949).

Elmer Bernstein reused portions of his musical score the following year in Robot Monster (1953).

Watch Sudden Fear (1952)

July 08, 2016

Hot & Bothered: The Films of 1932 Blogathon - Back Street (1932)

Thanks to Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and Theresa of CineMaven's Essays from the Couch for hosting the blogathon. Please visit their fine blogs. You'll be glad you did.

If you think the life of a kept woman is easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, you're wrong, wrong, wrong, peeps. Fannie Hurst made it clear in 1931.

Fannie Hurst was born in Hamilton, Ohio, grew up in St. Louis and spent her adult life in New York City. She was the author of 17 novels and more than 250 short stories, as well as plays, screenplays, memoirs, essays and articles. Her best-remembered works are those turned into films, including: The Younger GenerationBack StreetImitation of LifeHumoresque, and Young at Heart. She was active in a variety of progressive Jewish, social justice, labor, peace and women's organizations. A lifelong philanthropist, Hurst willed her considerable estate to her alma mater Washington University and to Brandeis University.

Back Street (1931), Hurst's seventh novel, was hailed as her "magnum opus" and has been called her "best loved" work. Originally called Grand Passion, it was first published as a monthly serial in Cosmopolitan magazine. When the installments were compiled into a novel, the title changed to Back Street. Soon Hollywood came calling, and Universal Studios bought the book rights for $30,000 in 1931. Its main character, a confident, independent young Gentile woman, falls in love with a married Jewish banker and becomes his secret mistress, sacrificing her own life in the process and ultimately meeting a tragic end.

Back Street was the basis for three films of the same name in 1932, 1941, directed by Robert Stevenson and starring Margaret Sullavan and Charles Boyer, and 1961, directed by David Miller and starring Susan Hayward, John Gavin, and Vera Miles. In addition, there's a fourth film written by Frank Capra, Forbidden (1932), which liberally borrowed elements from Hurst's novel without crediting her.

Since this is a blogathon featuring the films of 1932, I'll be focusing on the first movie version of Back Street. It was directed by John M. Stahl and stars John Boles and Irene Dunne.

Watch the Opening Credits of Back Street (1932)

Production and Distribution Company: Universal Pictures Corp.
Production Text: Carl Laemmle, President; A John M. Stahl Production
Director: John M. Stahl
Producers: Carl Laemmle, Jr. (producer), E. M. Asher (associate producer)
Writers: Gladys Lehman (screenplay), Gene Fowler (screenplay), Ben Hecht (screenplay), and Lynn Starling (dialogue) - Based on the novel Back Street by Fannie Hurst (New York, 1931).
Cinematographer: Karl Freund
Art Director: Charles D. Hall
Editor: Milton Carruth
Music: James Dietrich
Premiere: September 1, 1932
Release Date: December 30, 1932
Duration (in minutes): 93
Color: Black and white
Sound: Mono (Western Electric Noiseless Recording Sound System)

Carl Laemmle (born Karl Lämmle) was a pioneer in American film making and a founder of one of the original major Hollywood movie studios—Universal. Laemmle produced or was otherwise involved in over four hundred films.

Carl Laemmle, Jr. (born Julius Laemmle) was an American businessman and heir of Carl Laemmle, who had founded Universal Studios. He was head of production at the studio from 1928 to 1936.

E. M. Asher (born Ephriam Milton Asher) was the associate producer of a number of famous films, including: 1931's Dracula and Frankenstein, Back Street (1932), and Magnificent Obsession (1935). He was the father of director/producer/writer William Asher, and Betty Asher, publicist for Judy Garland and Lana Turner at M-G-M.

John Malcolm Stahl (born Jacob Morris Strelitsky) was an American film director and producer. Stahl was one of the thirty-six founding members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. He famously directed Back Street (1932), Imitation of Life (1934), Magnificent Obsession (1935), The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), and Leave Her to Heaven (1945).

Gladys Lehman (born Gladys Collins) was an American screenwriter. Lehman was one of the founders of the Screen Writers Guild in 1933. She was also one of the founding members of the Motion Picture Relief Fund. As a screenwriter she shared an Oscar nomination with Richard Connell for Best Original Screenplay for Two Girls and a Sailor (1944).

Gene Fowler (born Eugene Devlan) was an American journalist, author and dramatist. He was a close friend of John Barrymore and W.C. Fields. A great quote by Gene Fowler: "Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead."

Ben Hecht was an American screenwriter, director, producer, playwright, journalist and novelist. Film historian Richard Corliss called him "the Hollywood screenwriter," someone who "personified Hollywood itself." Movie columnist Pauline Kael added that "between them, Hecht and Jules Furthman wrote most of the best American talkies." Six of his movie screenplays were nominated for Academy Awards, with two winning: Underworld (1927) and The Scoundrel (1935).

Karl W. Freund was a cinematographer and film director best known for photographing Metropolis (1927), Dracula (1931),  The Good Earth (1937), Key Largo (1948), and television's I Love Lucy (1951-1957).

Charles D. Hall was a British-American art director and production designer. He was art director for many of Universal Pictures's most famous productions: The Phantom of the Opera (1925), All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Magnificent Obsession (1935), and the 1936 film version of Show Boat. Hall also worked on the 1929 part-talkie film version of Show Boat.

Irene Dunne (born Irene Marie Dunn) was an American film actress and singer. Dunne was nominated five times for the Academy Award for Best Actress, for her performances in Cimarron (1931), Theodora Goes Wild (1936), The Awful Truth (1937), Love Affair (1939) and I Remember Mama (1948). According to Francis Ford Coppola's audio commentary on Bram Stoker's Dracula, Columbia used Dunne's image on the familiar logo.

John Boles was an American film actor and singer. His big break came when Radio Pictures selected him to play the leading man in their extravagant production of Rio Rita, opposite Bebe Daniels.  In 1937, Boles starred alongside Barbara Stanwyck in the King Vidor classic Stella Dallas. During World War I, Boles was a U.S. spy in Germany, Bulgaria, and Turkey.

George Meeker was an American character movie and Broadway actor. Tall, handsome, wavy-haired Meeker was never in the upper echelons of Hollywood stardom; off-camera, however, he was highly regarded and much sought after—as an expert polo player.

ZaSu Pitts (born Eliza Susan Pitts) was an American actress who starred in many silent dramas and comedies, transitioning successfully to mostly comedy films with the advent of sound films. The names of her father's sisters, Eliza and Susan, were purportedly the basis for the nickname "ZaSu." She later adopted the nickname professionally and legally. Pitts gave the correct pronunciation as "Zay Soo."

June Clyde (born Ina Parton) was an American actress, singer and dancer. While she had a pleasing personality and above-average dancing and singing skills, she was seldom seen to best advantage in her Hollywood films, usually playing second (or even third) fiddle.

William Bakewell, also known as Billy Bakewell, was an American actor, who achieved his greatest fame as one of the premiere juvenile performers of the late 1920s and early 1930s. In 1933, he contributed to the founding of the Screen Actors Guild, and was member 44 of the original 50. For four decades, Bakewell served on the board of Motion Picture and Television Fund.

Arletta Duncan was an American actress. She appeared in 11 films between 1931 and 1937.

Shirley Grey was an American actress. She appeared in 46 films between 1930 and 1935.

Doris Lloyd (born Hessy Doris Lloyd) was an English stage and screen actress. She appeared in over 150 films between 1925 and 1967. Her roles ranged from the sinister Russian spy Mrs. Travers in the biopic Disraeli (1929) to the meek housekeeper Mrs. Watchett in The Time Machine (1960).

Paul Weigel was a German-American actor. He appeared in 114 films between 1916 and 1945.

Jane Darwell (born Patti Woodard) was an American actress of stage, film, and television. She appeared in more than 100 motion pictures over a 50-year span. Darwell is perhaps best-remembered for her portrayal of the matriarch and leader of the Joad family in the film adaptation of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1940), for which she received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, and her role as the Bird Woman in Disney's Mary Poppins (1964).

James Donlan was an American actor. He appeared in 107 films between 1929 and 1939. His daughter was actress Yolande Donlan.

Walter Catlett was an American actor. He made a career of playing excitable, officious blowhards. Three of his most remembered roles are Morrow the Poet in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Constable Slocum in Bringing Up Baby (1938), and the Theatre Manager in Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942).

Robert McWade was an American stage and film actor. From 1903 to 1927, he appeared in at least 38 Broadway productions. McWade also appeared in 83 films between 1924 and 1938. His father was notable stage actor Robert McWade, Sr. and his older brother was character actor Edward McWade.

Maude Turner Gordon was an American stage and film actress. She appeared in 81 films between 1914 and 1938.

In the first film version of Back Street, which was the most faithful to the novel, the heroine was a Cincinnati minx named Ray Schmidt, whose father sold dry goods at the turn of the century. A good sport but never a bad girl, Ray kept company with traveling salesmen until one day she fell deeply in love with ambitious Walter Saxel. Walter loved her, too. But, after an agonizing mixup, he married a rich girl.

From then on it was a dog's life for Ray, who had a wonderful capacity for loyalty and love, but threw it all away on Walter. As he grew in international prominence, Ray followed him discreetly from New York to Paris. She accepted his $50 a week, lived in obscure little hotels, amused herself with china painting and brewing hot chocolate for him whenever he had time to pay her a furtive visit. Then Walter died of a stroke, and Ray was left alone, paying the ultimate price for her folly.

Back Street was considered a tad racy way back in 1932. What got everyone hot and bothered:
  • The main male and female characters were illicit lovers. Walter Saxel was a married man with two children and a mistress on the side. Ray Schmidt was his kept woman.
  • Ray asks Walter to give her a child. Obviously, their child would have been illegitimate.
  • When Ray is prevented from meeting Walter's mother, Ray's sister Freda is revealed to be pregnant out of wedlock.
  • Walter (gasp!) uses his own key to enter Ray's apartment.
  • The portrayal of Walter's wife as a "narrow, smug person"; and the portrayal of Walter's son as a "snob," which served to "[throw] sympathy violently to Ray's point of view."
  • Walter Saxel was Jewish and Ray Schmidt was not.

I ask WHY would Irene Dunne stay with John Boles? Other than good looks, he had nothing going for him. He was self-centered to the nth degree, mind-numbingly boring, and incredibly cheap. She needed to give him the gate. Gotta love this dialogue from the clip below:
Ray: "You don't know how empty my life is."
Walter: Rae, darling. Empty? When you have me?"

Also in the clip, Walter about has a kitten when Ray suggests they have a love child. It's no-go. Guess what? The reasons for not having a child all revolve around him. Check out Mr. Selfish.

In the 1941 version, I can understand why Margaret Sullavan would stay with Charles Boyer. There was a definite attraction there. Who wouldn't stay with Charles Boyer? It's the best adaptation of the three.

I can't be objective about Back Street '61 because watching John Gavin is one of my guilty pleasures. (Now that's a hunk of man! Makes me all hot and bothered.) The flick is worth watching for the Ross Hunter glitz alone. The clothes are great, too. Susan Hayward wearing Jean Louis.

Back Street on the Radio

"Back Street" on The Screen Guild Theater - June 21, 1943 - Charles Boyer, Martha Scott

"Back Street" on Screen Directors Playhouse - May 24, 1951 - Stars: Charles Boyer, Mercedes McCambridge - Director Robert Stevenson

Watch Back Street (1932)