July 25, 2015

Edna Ferber: Bio and Works Adapted to Film


Edna Ferber was a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, playwright and short story writer. She was quite popular in her day and many of her novels and plays were made into films.

She made the Publishers Weekly Top 10 list of bestselling novels in the United States by year seven times.
  • 1924 - So Big was the #1 novel of the year.
  • 1926 - Show Boat was the #8 novel of the year.
  • 1930 - Cimarron was the #1 novel of the year.
  • 1935 - Come and Get It was the #9 novel of the year.
  • 1941 - Saratoga Trunk was the #9 novel of the year.
  • 1952 - Giant was the #6 novel of the year.
  • 1958 - Ice Palace was the #7 novel of the year.
Edna Ferber was born on August 15, 1885, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her father, Jacob, was a Hungarian immigrant and shopkeeper, and her mother, Julia (Neumann) Ferber, was a native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Both were of Jewish descent. Edna's early childhood was spent in Kalamazoo, but successive failures of the family business forced a series of moves to other cities, including Ottumwa, Iowa, where the anti-Semitism they endured was so strong that after several years they left for a fresh start in Appleton, Wisconsin.

In Appleton, Ferber developed an interest in acting, appearing in several high school productions. However, after graduating, Edna was forced to set aside her dreams of becoming a professional actor when her father became ill. Her mother took charge of the family business, and 17-year-old Edna found work as a reporter for the local paper, the Appleton Daily Crescent. After a year, Edna landed her next job at the larger Milwaukee Journal, where over the next four years she worked so hard that she suffered an exhaustive breakdown.

Written during her subsequent convalescence, Ferber’s 1910 short story, “The Homely Heroine,” was published in Everybody’s Magazine. In 1911 she published her first novel, Dawn O’Hara, as well as the initial installment in a long series of stories featuring a traveling saleswoman named Emma McChesney. The stories became quite popular and won Ferber national attention, ultimately convincing her to move to New York in 1912 and fully embrace her career.

Ferber would become one of the most influential women writers of the era. Her novels generally featured strong female protagonists, along with a rich and diverse collection of supporting characters. She usually highlighted at least one strong secondary character who faced discrimination ethnically or for other reasons; through this technique, Ferber demonstrated her belief that people are people and that the not-so-pretty people have the best character. Her writing also exhibited Ferber’s strong love of and belief in America. Though her work has been criticized both then and now as sentimental and shallow, it remains popular into the next century.

Ferber was a member of the legendary Algonquin Round Table, a celebrated group of New York City writers, critics, actors and wits. Charter members of the Round Table included:
  • Franklin Pierce Adams, columnist
  • Robert Benchley, humorist and actor
  • Heywood Broun, columnist and sportswriter (married to Ruth Hale)
  • Marc Connelly, playwright
  • Ruth Hale, freelance writer who worked for women's rights
  • George S. Kaufman, playwright and director
  • Dorothy Parker, critic, poet, short-story writer, and screenwriter
  • Brock Pemberton, Broadway producer
  • Harold Ross, The New Yorker editor
  • Robert E. Sherwood, author and playwright
  • John Peter Toohey, Broadway publicist
  • Alexander Woollcott, critic and journalist
Membership was not official or fixed for so many others who moved in and out of the Circle. Some of these included:
  • Tallulah Bankhead, actress
  • Edna Ferber, author and playwright
  • Margalo Gillmore, actress
  • Jane Grant, journalist and feminist (married to Ross)
  • Beatrice Kaufman, editor and playwright (married to George S. Kaufman)
  • Margaret Leech, writer and historian
  • Neysa McMein, magazine illustrator
  • Harpo Marx, comedian and film star
  • Alice Duer Miller, writer
  • Donald Ogden Stewart, playwright and screenwriter
  • Frank Sullivan, journalist and humorist
  • Deems Taylor, composer
  • Peggy Wood, actress
Edna Ferber died of stomach cancer on April 16, 1968, in New York City. She was 82 years old.

In 2002 the United States Postal Service issued a Distinguished Americans postage stamp of Ferber to honor her achievements.


I'll be focusing on Edna Ferber's novels and plays with classic film ties.

Our Mrs. McChesney is a lost 1918 silent film produced and distributed by Metro Pictures, directed by Ralph Ince, and based on the 1915 play by Edna Ferber and George Hobart which starred Ethel Barrymore.

Barrymore reprised her role from the popular play, as did her fellow cast members Huntley Gordon and William H. St. James.

So Big is a 1924 novel written by Edna Ferber. The book was inspired by the life of Antje Paarlberg in the Dutch community of South Holland, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. It won the Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1925.

A number of film adaptations of the novel have been made. The first adaptation, directed by Charles Brabin, was released in 1924, with Colleen Moore in her first significant dramatic role. It was produced by independent producer Earl Hudson and was distributed through Associated First National. Unseen for decades, it is considered a lost film. Only a trailer survives at the Library of Congress.

Colleen Moore as Selina Peake DeJong

The 1932 adaptation, titled So Big!, was directed by William A. Wellman, produced by Jack L. Warner and distributed by Warner Brothers. It featured an ensemble cast led by Barbara Stanwyck, George Brent and Bette Davis. It is often shown on TCM.

Davis considered her casting in a prestigious Barbara Stanwyck project a sign Jack L. Warner was acknowledging her value to the studio. In her 1962 autobiography A Lonely Life, she recalled, "It was a source of tremendous satisfaction, and encouraged me to unheard-of dreams of glory."

The 1953 adaptation dropped the exclamation point from the title, going back to So Big like the novel and first film version. It was directed by Robert Wise, produced by Henry Blanke and distributed by Warner Brothers, starred Jane Wyman, Sterling Hayden, Steve Forrest and Nancy Olson. You can catch this version on TCM.

Two of the little boys who portray young Dirk, Jon Provost and Tommy Rettig, were the television masters of Lassie.

So Big was adapted as an hour-long radio play on Studio One's December 29, 1947 broadcast with Joan Blondell and Everett Sloane.

So Big was also adapted as an hour-long radio play on Lux Radio Theatre's September 21, 1954 broadcast with Ida Lupino and Robert Stack.

Show Boat is a 1926 novel by Edna Ferber. It chronicles the lives of three generations of performers on the Cotton Blossom, a floating theater that travels between small towns on the banks of the Mississippi, from the 1880s to the 1920s. Show Boat was adapted as a Broadway musical in 1927 by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. Three films followed: a 1929 version that depended partly on the musical, and two full adaptations of the musical in 1936 and 1951.

The Broadway Musical

Show Boat is a 1927 musical in two acts, with music by Jerome Kern and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical follows the lives of the performers, stagehands, and dock workers on the Cotton Blossom, a Mississippi River show boat, over forty years, from 1887 to 1927. Its themes include racial prejudice and tragic, enduring love. The musical contributed such classic songs as "Ol' Man River", "Make Believe", and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man."

The premiere of Show Boat on Broadway was a watershed moment in the history of American musicals. Compared to the trivial and unrealistic operettas, light musical comedies, and "Follies"-type musical revues that defined Broadway in the 1890s and early 20th century, Show Boat "was a radical departure in musical storytelling, marrying spectacle with seriousness."

1927 Broadway
1928 West End
1932 Broadway revival
1946 Broadway revival
1966 Lincoln Center revival
1971 West End revival
1983 Broadway revival
1994 Broadway revival
1998 West End revival

Show Boat (1929 film)

Show Boat is a 1929 American romantic drama film based on the novel Show Boat by Edna Ferber. It is not, as has been often claimed, based on the Kern-Hammerstein stage musical, although the film does have songs. This version was released by Universal in two editions, one a silent film for movie theaters still not equipped for sound, and one a part-talkie with a sound prologue.

It was directed by Harry A. Pollard, produced by Carl Laemmle and distributed by Universal Pictures. The film starred Laura La Plante as Magnolia Hawks, Joseph Schildkraut as Gaylord Ravenal and Stepin Fetchit as Joe. The film was long believed to be lost, but most of it has been found and released on laser disc and shown on Turner Classic Movies.

Show Boat (1936 film)

Show Boat is a 1936 film. Directed by James Whale, produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr. and distributed by Universal Pictures, it is based on the musical Show Boat by Jerome Kern (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (script and lyrics), which the team adapted from the novel Show Boat by Edna Ferber.

This film version of Show Boat stars Irene Dunne as Magnolia and Allan Jones as Ravenal, with Charles Winninger, Paul Robeson, Helen Morgan, Helen Westley, Queenie Smith, Sammy White, Donald Cook, Hattie McDaniel, Charles Middleton, and Arthur Hohl. Director James Whale tried to bring as many people from the stage production as he could to work on the film. (Florenz Ziegfeld, who died in 1932, had originally produced Show Boat onstage.) Winninger, Morgan and White had all previously played their roles in both the original 1927 stage production and the 1932 stage revival of the musical. Paul Robeson, for whom the role of Joe was actually written, had appeared in the show onstage in London in 1928 and in the Broadway revival of 1932. Dunne had been brought in to replace Norma Terris, the original Magnolia, in the touring version of the show, and had toured the U.S. in the role beginning in 1929.

This film is considered by some critics to be one of the classic film musicals of all time, and one of the best stage-to-film adaptations ever made. Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times called it "one of the finest musical films we have seen."

Although the film was critically acclaimed and successful at the box office, it was withdrawn from circulation in the 1940s, after MGM, who was anxious to add a version of Show Boat to their growing list of movie musicals, bought the rights (and all prints) from Universal. Initially, they hoped to star Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy in a remake, but those plans fell through. MGM's 1951 film Show Boat did not begin filming until late 1950, and was released in the summer of 1951 with Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel in the leading roles.

The fact that Paul Robeson, who had played Joe in the 1936 version, was blacklisted in 1950 further assured that the 1936 film would not be seen for a long time, and it was not widely seen again until after Robeson's death in 1976. In 1983 it made its debut on cable television, and a few years later, on PBS. It was subsequently shown on TNT and now turns up from time to time on TCM.

Show Boat (1951 film)

Show Boat is a 1951 American musical romantic drama film based on the stage musical of the same name by Jerome Kern (music) and Oscar Hammerstein II (script and lyrics), and the 1926 novel by Edna Ferber. This 1951 film version, by MGM, was adapted for the screen by John Lee Mahin, and was produced by Arthur Freed and directed by George Sidney.

This third adaptation of Show Boat was shot in Technicolor in the typical MGM lavish style. The film stars Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, and Howard Keel, with Joe E. Brown, Marge Champion, Gower Champion, William Warfield, Robert Sterling, Agnes Moorehead and Leif Erickson. Unlike the 1936 film, none of the members of the original Broadway cast of the show appeared in this version.

The 1951 Show Boat was the most financially successful of the film adaptations of the show: one of MGM's most popular musicals, it was the third most profitable film of that year.

Virtually all of the Kern-Hammerstein songs are retained for this version of Show Boat (though none of the songs specially written for the 1936 film version are heard). These cannot be faulted, nor can MGM's sumptuous production values. Still, the 1951 Show Boat leaves one a bit cold. Perhaps it was the removal of the racial themes that gave the original so much substance (as black stevedore Joe, William Warfield exists only to sing a toned-down version "Ol' Man River" while Joe's wife Queenie is virtually written out of the film). Also, MGM reneged on its original decision to cast Lena Horne as Julie; the role was recast with Ava Gardner and rewritten with an excess of sentiment). Or perhaps it was the production's factory-like slickness; typical of the film's smoothing out of the original property's rough edges was the casting of Marge and Gower Champion, who are just too good to be convincing as the doggedly mediocre entertainers Frank and Ellie. Even so, Show Boat does have Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson at their peak.


"Show Boat" on The Campbell Playhouse: March 31, 1939

Cast: Orson Welles (Captain Andy Hawks), Edna Ferber (Parthy Ann Hawks), Margaret Sullavan (Magnolia), Helen Morgan (Julie), William Johnstone (Gaylord Ravenal), Ray Collins (Windy), Grace Cotten (Kim), Everett Sloane (Schultzy) - Interview with Edna Ferber.

"Show Boat" on Lux Radio Theatre: June 24, 1940

Cast: Irene Dunne, Allan Jones, Charles Winninger.

"Show Boat" on Radio Hall of Fame: December 31, 1944

Cast: Kathryn Grayson, Allan Jones, Charles Winninger (also narrator), Helen Forrest, Elvia Allman, Ernie Whitman. Author: Edna Ferber. Live from the Earl Carroll Theatre. Could not locate .mp3.

"Show Boat" on The Railroad Hour: October 30, 1950

Cast: Gordon MacRae, Dorothy Kirsten, Lucille Norman.

"Show Boat" on Lux Radio Theatre: February 11, 1952

Cast: Kathryn Grayson, Ava Gardner, Howard Keel, Marge and Gower Champion, William Warfield and Jay C. Flippen.

The Royal Family is a play written by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Its premiere on Broadway was at the Selwyn Theatre on December 28, 1927, where it ran for 345 performances to close in October 1928.

The story is a parody of the Barrymore family of actors, with particular aim taken at John Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore. The character Tony Cavendish, a heavy-drinking womanizer, represents John Barrymore. Julie Cavendish is the prima donna Broadway star Ethel Barrymore. Ethel Barrymore was offended and her critical comments were quoted by the press.

A revival of the comedy was one of the highlights of the 1975-76 season on Broadway. Directed by Ellis Rabb, it starred Rosemary Harris as Julie Cavendish, George Grizzard as Tony, and Eva Le Gallienne as the theatrical matriarch, Fanny. It won Rabb the 1976 Tony Award for best director. The production was later telecast on PBS, with Rabb replacing Grizzard as Tony, and this version is now on DVD.

The play was adapted in 1930 by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Gertrude Purcell for the film The Royal Family of Broadway released by Paramount Pictures. The film was directed by George Cukor and Cyril Gardner and stars Ina Claire and Fredric March. March was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.


"The Royal Family" on Theatre Guild on the Air: December 16, 1945

Cast: Fredric March, Margalo Gillmore, Estelle Winwood, Peggy Conklin, Edwin Jerome, Everett Sloane, Paula Lawrence and Lee Penman.

Cimarron is a novel by Edna Ferber, published in 1929 and based on development in Oklahoma after the Land Rush. The book was adapted into a critically acclaimed film of the same name in 1931. In 1960, the story was again adapted for the screen by MGM, to meager success.

Cimarron derives its name from the Cimarron Territory. The Cimarron Territory was an unrecognized name for the No Man's Land, an unsettled area of the West and Midwest, especially lands once inhabited by Native American tribes such as the Cherokee and Sioux. In 1886 the government declared such lands open to settlement. Oklahoma at the time of the novel's opening is one such "Cimarron Territory."

Upon its publication, Cimarron was a sensation in America and came to epitomize an era in American history. This novel became Ferber's third successful novel and paved the way for many more Ferber-penned historical epics.

The character of Yancey Cravat is based on Temple Lea Houston, last child of Texas icon Sam Houston. Temple Houston was a brilliant trial lawyer known for his flamboyant courtroom theatrics. He was also a competent gunfighter who killed at least one man in a stand-up shootout.

Cimarron (1931 film)

Cimarron is a 1931 Pre-Code Western film directed by Wesley Ruggles, produced by William LeBaron, starring Richard Dix and Irene Dunne. The Oscar winning script was written by Howard Estabrook based on the Edna Ferber novel. It would be RKO's most expensive production up to that date, and its winning of the top Oscar for Best Production would be only one of two ever won by that studio (The Best Years of Our Lives was the other). It is also one of the few Westerns to ever win the top honor at the Academy Awards. Epic in scope, spanning forty years from 1889 to 1929, it was a critical success, although it did not recoup its production costs during its initial run.

Despite being in the depths of the Great Depression, RKO Radio Pictures invested more than $1.5 million into their production of Ferber's novel. Filming began in the summer of 1930 at Jasmin Quinn Ranch outside of Los Angeles, California, where the land rush scenes were shot. More than twenty-eight cameramen, and numerous camera assistants and photographers, were used to capture scenes of more than 5,000 costumed extras, covered wagons, buckboards, surreys, and bicyclist as they raced across grassy hills and prairie to stake their claim. Cinematographer Edward Cronjager planned out every take in accordance with Ferber's descriptions. In order to film key scenes for this production, RKO purchased 89 acres in Encino where construction of Art Director Max Ree's Oscar winning design of a complete western town and a three block modern main street were built to represent the fictional Oklahoma boomtown of Osage. These award winning sets eventually formed the nucleus for RKO's expansive movie ranch, in Encino, where other RKO (and non-RKO) films were later filmed.

At the 1931 Academy Awards ceremony at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, Cimarron was the first film to receive more than six Academy Awards nominations. It was nominated for the Big Five awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and Best Writing). Additionally, it is one of only two films (the other being Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) to receive nominations in every eligible category. It won three Oscars: Best Picture, Best Writing, Adaptation and Best Art Direction. It was the first Western to win the Best Picture award, and it would not be until 1990 when Dances with Wolves won, that another Western would garner that honor.

Cimarron (1960 film)

Cimarron is a 1960 western film based on the Edna Ferber novel of the same name, featuring Glenn Ford and Maria Schell. It was directed by Anthony Mann, known for his westerns and film noirs. It was produced by Edmund Grainger, written by Arnold Schulman, with music by Franz Waxman, cinematography by Robert Surtees and distributed by MGM.

Despite high production costs and an experienced cast of western veterans, stage actors, and future stars, the film was released with little fanfare.

MGM bought the remake rights from RKO in 1941 for $100,000. The movie was not remade until nearly 20 years later.

According to MGM records the film earned $2,325,000 in the US and Canada and $2,500,000 overseas, resulting in an overall loss of $3,618,000.

In 1961 the film was nominated for Best Art Direction (George W. Davis, Addison Hehr, Henry Grace, Hugh Hunt, and Otto Siegel) and Best Sound (Franklin Milton), but failed to win either. While the 1931 adaptation is arguably the better and more successful of the two, the 1960 remake receives more attention and is still broadcast on television.

Dinner at Eight is a play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. It opened October 22, 1932, at the Music Box Theatre, and closed after 232 performances in May 1933. The play was produced by Sam H. Harris, staged by George S. Kaufman; Assistant Director: Robert B. Sinclair.

The 1966 revival opened September 27, 1966, at the Alvin Theatre. Closed January 14, 1967, after 127 performances. It was produced by Elliot Martin, Lester Osterman, Jr., Alan King and Walter A. Hyman, Ltd.; Associate Producer: Leonid Kipnis and Fred J. Antkies. Directed by Tyrone Guthrie.

The 2002 revival opened December 19, 2002 (after 28 previews), closed January 26, 2003 after 45 performances. It was produced by Lincoln Center Theater, André Bishop: Artistic Director; Bernard Gersten: Executive Producer. Directed by Gerald Gutierrez.

Dinner at Eight (1933 film)

Dinner at Eight is a 1933 American Pre-Code comedy, starring Marie Dressler, John Barrymore, Wallace Beery, Jean Harlow, Lionel Barrymore, Lee Tracy, Edmund Lowe, and Billie Burke, and produced by MGM Studios. The film was adapted to the screen by Frances Marion and Herman J. Mankiewicz from the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, with additional dialogue supplied by Donald Ogden Stewart. Produced by David O. Selznick, the picture was directed by George Cukor.

Based on the Broadway hit by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, Dinner at Eight is a near-flawless comedy/drama with an all-star cast at the peak of their talents. The script by Herman Mankiewicz, Frances Marion, and Donald Ogden Stewart is a virtual encyclopedia of witty lines and scenes, right down to the unforgettable closing gag.

Kitty Packard (Jean Harlow): I was reading a book the other day.
Carlotta Vance (Marie Dressler): Reading a book?
Kitty Packard: Yes. It's all about civilization or something. A nutty kind of a book. Do you know that the guy says that machinery is going to take the place of every profession?
Carlotta Vance: Oh, my dear, that's something you need never worry about.

Kitty Packard: [wearing a backless gown] My skin is terribly delicate. I don't dare expose it.


"Dinner at Eight" on The Campbell Playhouse: February 18, 1940

Cast: Marjorie Rambeau, Hedda Hopper, Lucille Ball, the Mercury Players.

Come and Get It is a 1935 novel by Edna Ferber. It's a lusty, sprawling novel of Wisconsin's logging days, when fortunes and families were made and broken over king lumber. It is the classic saga of Barney Glasgow and his family.

Come and Get It (1936 film)

A film version with the same title was produced in 1936 by Samuel Goldwyn Productions and distributed by United Artists. It was directed by Howard Hawks and William Wyler with a screenplay by Jane Murfin and Jules Furthman. It starred Edward Arnold, Joel McCrea, Frances Farmer and Walter Brennan. The film featured music by Alfred Newman and cinematography by Gregg Toland and Rudolph Maté.

Samuel Goldwyn paid $150,000 for the screen rights to the Edna Ferber novel, who sold it to him confident he understood she had intended it to be "primarily a story of the rape of America by the wholesale robber barons of that day." Goldwyn was attracted to the melodramatic Barbary Coast-like aspects of the story, which prompted him to hire that film's director, Howard Hawks, to bring Come and Get It to the screen. He also was intrigued by the fact Hawks' grandfather had served as the basis for the character of Barney Glasgow.

Soon after filming began, Goldwyn underwent two major surgeries that incapacitated him for a lengthy period of time, keeping him away from the studio and the daily rushes. Hawks took advantage of the situation and allowed Furthman to change completely the tone of Ferber's original story; cast slender Walter Brennan as Swan Bostrom, a man Ferber had described as "the strongest man in the North woods;" and arrange a shooting schedule and budget Goldwyn never would have approved.

Upon returning to the studio, Goldwyn viewed a rough cut of the film and was shocked to discover Hawks had shifted the focus from the unbridled destruction of the land to a love triangle. When the director refused to comply with Goldwyn's demands for major changes, the producer fired Hawks from the project.

William Wyler was summoned to Goldwyn's home and told he would be completing Come and Get It or he would be suspended. Wyler never considered Come and Get It a part of his filmography and disowned it whenever he could, although it greatly pleased Ferber, who praised Goldwyn "for the courage, sagacity, and power of decision" he demonstrated by "throwing out the finished Hawks picture and undertaking the gigantic task of making what amounted to a new picture."

For his performance, Walter Brennan became the first recipient of the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Edward Curtiss was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Film Editing but lost to Ralph Dawson for Anthony Adverse.


"Come and Get It" on Lux Radio Theatre: November 15, 1937

Cast: Edward Arnold, Anne Shirley, Walter Brennan, Lew Ayres, Mary Nash and Mady Christians.

Stage Door is a 1936 comedy play written by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. The play concerns a group of young girls who have come to New York to study acting and find jobs. It opened at the Music Box Theatre on October 22, 1936 and closed in March 1937 after 169 performances. It was produced by Sam H. Harris, staged by George S. Kaufman with scenic design by Donald Oenslager. It starred Margaret Sullavan as Terry Randall, Phyllis Brooks as Jean Maitland, Walter Davis as Fred Powell, Jane Buchanan as Linda Shaw, Frances Fuller as Kaye Hamilton and Lee Patrick as Judith Canfield.

Stage Door (1937 film)

Stage Door is a 1937 RKO film, adapted from the play of the same name, that tells the story of several would-be actresses who live together in a boarding house at 158 West 58th Street in New York City. The film stars Katharine Hepburn as Terry Randall, Ginger Rogers as Jean Maitland, Adolphe Menjou as Anthony Powell, Gail Patrick as Linda Shaw, Constance Collier as Catherine Luther, Andrea Leeds as Kay Hamilton, Samuel S. Hinds as Henry Sims and Lucille Ball as Judy Canfield. Eve Arden and Ann Miller, who became notable in later films, play minor characters. It was directed by Gregory La Cava, produced by Pandro S. Berman with music by Roy Webb and cinematography by Robert De Grasse. The film received very good reviews and was a moderate success at the box office.

The film was adapted by Morrie Ryskind and Anthony Veiller from the play by Edna Ferber and George S. Kaufman, but the play's storyline and the characters' names were almost completely changed for the movie, so much so in fact that Kaufman joked the film should be called "Screen Door."

Katharine Hepburn's famous lines during the play within the film, "The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day and now I place them here in memory of something that has died," are from The Lake (1934), the play for which Dorothy Parker panned Hepburn's performance as "running the gamut of emotions from A to B."


"Stage Door" on Lux Radio Theatre: February 20, 1939

Cast: Ginger Rogers, Rosalind Russell and Adolphe Menjou.

Saratoga Trunk is a best-selling 1941 novel by Edna Ferber. It concerns a notorious Creole woman, Clio Dulaine, who returns to her native New Orleans and marries a Texas gambler, Colonel Clint Maroon.

The book serves as the basis for the 1945 film, Saratoga Trunk, and the 1959 stage musical, Saratoga.

Saratoga Trunk (1945 film)

Saratoga Trunk is a 1945 romantic drama film directed by Sam Wood and starring Gary Cooper, Ingrid Bergman, Flora Robson and Florence Bates. The film is about a Texas gambler and a Creole daughter of an aristocratic family who work together to seek justice from a society that has rejected them.

It was directed by Sam Wood, produced by Hal B. Wallis, with a screenplay by Casey Robinson, music by Max Steiner and William Lava and cinematography by Ernest Haller. It was distributed by Warner Brothers.

A big box-office hit at the time of its release, Saratoga Trunk is a well-mounted and enjoyable but essentially empty film that is saved by the star power of its two leads.

Saratoga (1959 musical)

Saratoga is a musical with a book by Morton DaCosta, lyrics by Johnny Mercer, and music by Harold Arlen.

The Broadway production, directed by DaCosta and choreographed by Ralph Beaumont, opened on December 7, 1959 at the Winter Garden Theatre, where it ran for 80 performances. The cast included Carol Lawrence as Clio, Howard Keel as Clint, and Warde Donovan as Bart, with Virginia Capers, Odette Myrtil, and Edith King in supporting roles.

Critics were impressed by the elaborate sets (which included a turntable and fifteen different locales) and the more than two hundred costumes created by Cecil Beaton, who won the Tony Award for Best Costume Design and was nominated for Best Scenic Design. The leads drew good notices, but most agreed that DaCosta's book and direction resulted in a slow-moving, uninvolving production.


"Saratoga Trunk" on Lux Radio Theatre: November 24, 1947

Cast: Ida Lupino and Zachary Scott.

Giant is a best-selling 1952 novel by Edna Ferber. According to Publishers Weekly It was the sixth most popular book of that year. The sweeping tale captures the essence of Texas on a staggering scale as it chronicles the life and times of cattleman Jordan "Bick" Benedict, his naive young society wife, Leslie, and three generations of land-rich sons. A sensational story of power, love, cattle barons, and oil tycoons, Giant was the basis of the classic film starring James Dean, Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson.

Giant scandalized Texans. Critics ripped the novel and Ferber herself to shreds in papers across the state. The Houston Press suggested she be lynched. And The Dallas Morning News headline on Lon Tinkle’s review read “Ferber Goes Both Native and Berserk: Parody, Not Portrait, of Texas Life.”

Even non-literary Texans were out for her hide. Ferber loved, for instance, recounting a story from those days when people were paged by bellboys and over loudspeakers, and she, while lounging poolside at a Beverly Hills hotel, heard herself summoned to the telephone: “Telephone call for Edna Ferber,” a voice rang out. “Miss Edna Ferber to the telephone.”

Suddenly, a markedly Texan male popped up from a chaise. “Edna Ferber!” he drawled. “The author of Giant! Why I’d like to murder her!” After finishing her telephone call, Ferber sallied up to the man, and introduced herself. “How do you do?” she said. “My name is Edna Ferber, and I’ve heard you’d like to murder me.” Inevitably, the pair got on like gangbusters.

Reading Giant today, it’s difficult to understand what all the fuss was about. It is, in many ways, a powerful novel and a gripping read, and very much ahead of its time regarding South Texas race relations. It has charm and intelligence and swagger, and even some fairly profound sociological insight.

Giant (1956 film)

Giant is a 1956 drama film, directed by George Stevens from a screenplay adapted by Fred Guiol and Ivan Moffat from the novel by Edna Ferber. The film stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean and features Carroll Baker, Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Mercedes McCambridge, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, Elsa Cardenas and Earl Holliman. Giant was the last of James Dean's three films as a leading actor, and earned him his second and last Academy Award nomination – he was killed in a car accident before the film was released. Nick Adams was called in to do some voice dubbing for Dean's role.

It was produced by George Stevens and Henry Ginsberg with music by Dimitri Tiomkin and cinematography by William C. Mello. It was distributed by Warner Brothers and has the lengthy running time of 201 minutes.

Originally budgeted just shy of $2 million, the film ended up costing over $5 million. Despite the worries of studio head Jack L. Warner, it went on to become Warner Brothers' biggest hit up to that time. In fact,  it was the highest grossing film in Warner Bros. history until the release of 1978's Superman.

Ferber's character of Jordan Benedict II and her description of the Reata Ranch were based on Robert "Bob" J. Kleberg, Jr. (1896-1974) and the King Ranch in Kingsville, Texas. Like the over half-million-acre Reata, King Ranch comprises 825,000 acres (3,340 km2; 1,289 sq mi) and includes portions of six Texas counties, including most of Kleberg County and much of Kenedy County, and was largely a livestock ranch before the discovery of oil. The fictional character Jett Rink was inspired partly by the extraordinary rags-to-riches life story of the wildcatter oil tycoon Glenn Herbert McCarthy (1907–1988). Author Edna Ferber met McCarthy when she was a guest at his Houston, Texas, Shamrock Hotel (known as the Shamrock Hilton after 1955), the fictional Emperador Hotel in both the book and the film.

Although the film adaptation closely follows the plot of the book, there are noticeable changes and additions to and from the source material. Ferber's story begins in medias res with the preparations for Jett Rink's celebratory dinner. In contrast to the film, the novel describes Jett as being a broad and beefy man whose sole motivation for becoming rich is to prove himself better than other Texans. His relationship with Leslie is also different in the book: Leslie considers him to be a horrible person, whereas the film has her coming to understand Jett for who he is. Jett's feelings for Leslie are more evident in the novel than in the film; at one point, he urges her to leave Bick for good. Whereas the novel has the diner scene, it is vastly different from the film, in which Bick challenges the racist owner Sarge and loses in a fistfight. Instead, the book does not have Bick present, and it ends with Leslie leaving the diner with her daughter and daughter-in-law.

Giant won the Academy Award for Best Director and was nominated nine other times, twice for Best Actor in a Leading Role (James Dean and Rock Hudson). The other nominations came in the categories of Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Mercedes McCambridge); Best Art Direction–Set Decoration, Color (Boris Leven, Ralph S. Hurst); Best Costume Design, Color; Best Film Editing; Best Music, Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture; Best Picture; and Best Writing, Best Screenplay – Adapted.

Giant Trivia

Director George Stevens wanted to cast fading star Alan Ladd as Jett Rink, but his wife advised against it. Robert Mitchum and Montgomery Clift were also considered for the part of Jett Rink. The role went to James Dean.

Audrey Hepburn was one of first choices for the part later played by Elizabeth Taylor.

John Wayne, Clark Gable, William Holden, Forrest Tucker and Sterling Hayden were considered for the part of Bick Benedict.

When Rock Hudson was cast, director George Stevens asked him whom he preferred as his leading lady, Grace Kelly or Elizabeth Taylor. Hudson picked Elizabeth Taylor and they became lifelong friends.

Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor went for get-to-know-you drinks one night at the very start of the production. They both got exceedingly drunk, finishing the evening at 3:00 am. Their call time was 5:30 am. Fortunately the scene being shot that morning was a wedding scene with no dialog, so instead of talking, all they had to do was look lovingly at each other. The two actors were concentrating so hard on not being sick that they were quite surprised when some of the people on-set started to cry, so convinced were they of their supposed looks of adoration at each other.

Age differences between Elizabeth Taylor and her screen children: Dennis Hopper (Jordan Benedict II) was four years younger, Fran Bennett (Judy Benedict) was five years younger and Carroll Baker was one year older.

The start date of the film was delayed a few months so that Elizabeth Taylor could give birth to Christopher Wilding.

In the '40s and '50s the usual policy for films where characters would age was to cast older actors and de-age them to show them as their younger selves. Giant took the then largely radical step of doing the opposite: casting younger actors and using make-up to make them appear older. James Dean refused to undergo a lengthy make-up process for his later scenes, claiming "a man of forty-five shows his age in thoughts and actions, not in wrinkles." He only allowed them to gray his temples and put a few lines on his forehead.

The massive painting seen on the set of the Benedict home is now in the Menger Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. It has hung in several spots in the original 1800s section of the hotel.

Location filming took place for two months outside the tiny Texas town of Marfa. Director George Stevens did not have a closed set but actively encouraged the townspeople to come by, either to watch the shooting, visit with the cast and crew or take part as extras, dialect coaches, bit players and stagehands.

When the production moved to Marfa, Texas for location filming, the Victorian mansion set was shipped from California on six train cars. The set was built on the Evans Ranch, 21 miles outside Marfa, and lashed to four telephone poles to hold it upright. It was really just a facade: three walls with no back, no roof and no interior. Interiors at the mansion and other Texas locations were filmed at Warner Bros. in Burbank.

Except for Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson, who stayed in rented houses, everybody else in the cast and crew stayed at Marfa's one hotel. Although conditions on the set were grueling, the days actors weren't working were worse, as the small town (population 3,600) offered almost nothing to do.

With Elizabeth Taylor spending time with her two co-stars, rumors flew that she was involved with one or both. Amazingly, one person who claimed to believe it was Phyllis Gates, Rock Hudson's future wife, who never acknowledged her ex-husband's homosexuality. Far from squelching the rumors, a visit from her husband and children just fanned the flames, with gossips claiming Wilding had come to win her back. In truth, she had asked him to visit for moral support because the role and location filming were so difficult.

Shooting in Texas during the summer was far from comfortable, with temperatures rising as high as 120 degrees in the shade. Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor bolstered each other's spirits as much as possible, often staying up late drinking together.

The heat in Texas was so great that during one day of shooting, Mercedes McCambridge's make-up melted into her skin, creating a serious infection that left her neck scarred.

The hat that Mercedes McCambridge wore in her exterior scenes was given to her by the wardrobe department. It was then "aged" by actor Gary Cooper so that it would look authentic. Mercedes McCambridge wrote in her memoirs that James Dean threatened to steal it.

George Stevens eschewed the use of the CinemaScope format, as he felt that the lenses tended to distort the image. In terms of his story, he felt that height was much more important than width. Stevens had the Palace, an old movie theater that had been boarded up two years earlier, reopened so he could screen the daily rushes there. He shot 875,000 feet of film and spent an entire year editing the movie. He made the film for no upfront salary but a percentage of the (substantial) back end profits.

James Dean's rebellious behavior started with the press luncheon announcing the start of production. Not only did he arrive late, but also when a photographer asked him to remove his glasses, he responded by putting a set of clip-on sunglasses over them. He also refused to take a bow when George Stevens introduced him. Later he tried to rationalize his behavior by claiming he had come directly from the set of Rebel Without a Cause and was concerned about being seen unshaven and tired. In fact, he had finished work on the film the night before and was exhausted. With the earlier filming running over schedule, he was shooting wardrobe and make-up tests for Giant while finishing Rebel Without a Cause and did not get a promised vacation between the two pictures.

George Stevens had a hard time directing James Dean. The problem started with Stevens's ordering Dean to get rid of mannerisms like moving his head from side to side or hopping while walking. The two argued constantly, and at one point the actor went on strike for three days. Dean even ordered his agent to come to the location to help him deal with the director. He also referred to Stevens as "Fatso" behind his back.

James Dean called the shooting style of director George Stevens the "around the clock" method, because Stevens would film a scene from as many different angles as possible, which made everything seem to take longer to do.

James Dean objected to being kept waiting for his scenes. After being called to the set three days in a row without being used at all, he skipped his next call. When George Stevens objected, he argued that with the amount of preparation he did to create his character's emotional life, it was grueling to be kept waiting that long. Although not really sympathetic to the Method acting Dean had learned at the Actors Studio, Stevens tried to keep him on a more reasonable schedule after that.

Although they had enjoyed a congenial relationship making A Place in the Sun, Elizabeth Taylor and George Stevens quarreled a good deal during filming. Most of their fights stemmed from his practice of demanding multiple takes without explaining why or offering additional direction to the actors.

James Dean was so completely immersed in his character that he hardly ever changed out of his costume.

James Dean refused to show up for one Saturday call because he had planned to move that day. A week later, he arrived late on a day when Mercedes McCambridge had shown up on time, even though the night before she was sent to the hospital for stitches after a bad fall. George Stevens dressed him down in front of the entire cast and crew, then walked off the set and left an assistant to direct the actor's scenes.

Although appalled by his lack of professionalism, George Stevens was always highly complimentary about James Dean's acting abilities. He even conceded that some of his lateness was a result of his intense work getting into character before shooting.

It was James Dean who suggested to George Stevens that Jett Rink's final drunken soliloquy should be done in long-shot to emphasize the character's utter isolation.

James Dean finished principle photography on Friday, September 23, 1955. He died in a car crash a week later.

Elizabeth Taylor forged a close bond with James Dean. Some nights they would sit up late as he vented his frustrations with his life as an actor, the restrictions of Hollywood life and past traumas. Unlike Rock Hudson, however, he rarely acknowledged their closeness on set, often ignoring her completely after a night of baring his soul to her. She was said to be so upset the day after James Dean was killed in a road accident that she was excused from the set for two weeks, hospitalized with depression.

Rock Hudson and James Dean did not get along. Although later rumors would suggest that Dean had rejected a pass from the actor, most sources reported that each had little respect for the other's approach to acting, and Hudson resented Dean's unprofessional behavior.

During the production of Giant, James Dean appeared in an informal black and white TV commercial in which he responded to questions posed by actor Gig Young. Ironically, Dean was promoting safe driving and informed viewers, "People say racing is dangerous, but I'd rather take my chances on the track any day than on the highway." Before he left the studio he added one piece of advice: "Drive safely, because the life you save may be mine." Dean wore his movie costume in the commercial. He perished a few weeks later.

In a prolonged scene, ranch hand Angel Obregon has been killed in World War II and his body returned home for burial. During the war, American battle dead were interred in temporary cemeteries. It was only after the war that, depending on the families wishes, American war dead were reburied in permanent cemeteries abroad, national cemeteries, or returned to the family (as in Angel's case) for burial at home. Accordingly, this scene would have occurred between 1947-1953, when the reburial process took place.

In the 2005 DVD release, the birthday party scene, in which Bick forces his visibly unhappy son to ride a horse, is titled "Uneasy Rider." Bick's son is played in adulthood by Dennis Hopper, who would go on to co-write, direct and star in Easy Rider.

Giant (2009 musical)

Giant is a musical based on the 1952 Edna Ferber novel of the same name, with music and lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa and the book by Sybille Pearson. The musical premiered at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia in 2009. The story follows a ranch family in Texas over 30 years, and the effect of the oil boom. The musical premiered Off-Broadway at the Public Theater for a run from October 26 to December 16, 2012.

The show closely follows the novel, rejecting the many plot changes that were made for the classic 1956 film.

The music displays various musical styles from Mexican folk to country to rock 'n' roll, jazz and mariachi.

The show has received mostly positive reviews, hedged by concerns over its length (3 hours, 45 minutes) and the nontraditional use of three acts.

The musical received eight Drama Desk Award nominations and a nomination by the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical.

Ice Palace is a best-selling 1958 novel by Edna Ferber. It is the story of Alaska before statehood, in all its glory, beauty and bleakness...where men pitted themselves against the elements and the wilds, only to find the greatest threat is from "outside."

Ice Palace (1960 film)

Ice Palace is a 1960 drama film. The motion picture dramatizes the debate over Alaska statehood. Alaska had become a state in 1959. The film was shot in part in Petersburg, Alaska.

It was directed by Vincent Sherman, produced by Henry Blanke and Harry Kleiner, and features a screenplay by Harry Kleiner adapted from Edna Ferber's 1958 novel of the same name. The music for Ice Palace was written by Max Steiner. It was photographed by Joseph F. Biroc and distributed by Warner Brothers.

The film stars Richard Burton as Zeb Kennedy, Robert Ryan as Thor Storm, Carolyn Jones as Bridie Ballantyne, Martha Hyer as Dorothy Wendt Kennedy, Jim Backus as Dave Husack, Ray Danton as Bay Husack, Diane McBain as Christine Storm, Karl Swenson as Scotty Ballantyne, Shirley Knight as Grace Kennedy, Barry Kelley as Einer Wendt, Sheridan Comerate as Ross Guildenstern, George Takei (his film debut) as Wang and Steve Harris as Christopher Storm.

The film follows the Edna Ferber novel in telling the story of Zeb "Czar" Kennedy (Richard Burton) and Thor Storm (Robert Ryan), Alaska residents of the fictional Alaskan town of Baranof in the period following World War I through 1958. Bridie Ballantyne (Carolyn Jones) is a love interest of both Zeb and Thor and Dorothy Wendt (Martha Hyer) is Zeb's wife. The story is sweeping and multigenerational.

The rights to Ice Palace were sold to Warner Brothers for $350,000 before the novel was published. Warner Brothers had already had a success with a 1956 adaptation of another Edna Ferber novel, Giant.

July 23, 2015

#NoirSummer - Study Materials for TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir

Below is a list of files to aid you in studying for the free course "TCM Presents Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir" taught by Ball State's Dr. Richard Edwards. The summer of 2015 has been #NoirSummer for me and I've thoroughly enjoyed it. All text files are Google Docs, all sound files are in .mp3 format and all videos are in .mp4 format.

Assigned and Optional Readings

All Material for Each Week in One Document

Study Material in .MP3 Format

Lectures in .MP4 Format

All Daily Doses Videos

Study Materials for the Final - Google Docs and MP3 Files

Google Docs
MP3 Files

July 18, 2015

#NoirSummer - TCM's Summer of Darkness July 31, 2015

Big Heat, The (1953)

Leonard Maltin Review ***:
D: Fritz Lang. Glenn Ford, Gloria Grahame, Jocelyn Brando, Alexander Scourby, Lee Marvin, Carolyn Jones, Jeanette Nolan. Time has taken the edge off once-searing story of cop determined to bust city crime ring; famous coffee-hurling scene still jolts, and Grahame is excellent as bad girl who helps Ford.

Meredy's Thoughts:
The film was written by former crime reporter Sydney Boehm, based on a serial by William P. McGivern, which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post and was published as a novel in 1953.
Director Fritz Lang utilized many of the elements typical to his other films: unseen yet gruesome violence, relentless pacing, and a hardboiled view of justice and revenge. Glenn Ford is fine as the police detective. Lee Marvin and Gloria Grahame shine in key supporting roles. Has to be seen at least once for the coffee-hurling scene alone.

Suddenly (1954)

Leonard Maltin Review ***1/2:
D: Lewis Allen. Frank Sinatra, Sterling Hayden, James Gleason, Nancy Gates, Willis Bouchey, Kim Charney, Paul Frees, Christopher Dark, Charles Smith. Sinatra leads trio of paid assassins who take over house in small town where the President will pass on his way to a fishing trip. White-knuckle thriller, written by Richard Sale, with Sinatra excellent in thoroughly detestable role; rest of cast equally fine. "Suddenly," incidentally, is the name of the town.

Meredy's Thoughts:
The lesser known of the two films involving Frank Sinatra which were withdrawn from distribution after the death of JFK. The other is The Manchurian Candidate. Suddenly offers a more conventional portrait of cold-war hysteria and '50s conformity.
Sinatra is excellent as the paranoid, embittered WWII vet, Gleason has one of his best parts as a wily retiree who understands how to exploit the chinks in the killer's psyche, and Hayden is solid in a lesser role.
Film is in the public domain. Be sure and miss the notorious colorized version. Sinatra's famous blue eyes were colorized brown!

I Died a Thousand Times (1955)

Leonard Maltin Review **:
D: Stuart Heisler. Jack Palance, Shelley Winters, Lori Nelson, Lee Marvin, Earl Holliman, Lon Chaney (Jr.), Dennis Hopper. Overblown remake of Bogart's High Sierra with Palance as mad killer with soft spot for crippled girl (Nelson). Winters is his moll in this gangster run-through. CinemaScope.

Meredy's Thoughts:
Why do a scene-by-scene remake of the classic High Sierra? Pointless. Only interesting for film buffs who like to compare performances.
The stereotype comedy-relief character played by black actor Willie Best in the original film has been replaced by a Mexican stereotype played by Pedro Gonzales-Gonzales. I guess stereotyped Mexicans were more acceptable to 1950s audiences than stereotyped African-Americans.
Think I'll make and eat breakfast while it's on.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)

Leonard Maltin Review **1/2:
D: Fritz Lang. Dana Andrews, Joan Fontaine, Sidney Blackmer, Philip Bourneuf, Barbara Nichols. Far-fetched tale of man who pretends to be guilty of murder to get firsthand view of justice system, unable to prove himself innocent later on. Pale production values. Intriguing idea doesn't hold up.

Meredy's Thoughts:
This was the last American film directed by Fritz Lang. Because Lang was working with a small budget, he was forced to sacrifice his richly detailed visual designs and be satisfied with making a competent suspenser.
Wooden acting by Dana Andrews and the rest of cast doomed this picture to mediocrity. The final plot twist requires a suspension of disbelief of huge proportions.
Reviews were mixed on this one. I'll rewatch it because Lang directed it.

Harder They Fall, The (1956)

Leonard Maltin Review ***1/2:
D: Mark Robson. Humphrey Bogart, Rod Steiger, Jan Sterling, Mike Lane, Max Baer, Edward Andrews. Bogart's last feature casts him as cynical sportswriter-turned-press agent who realizes for the first time how badly prizefighters are manipulated by their unfeeling managers. Powerful drama by Budd Schulberg.

Meredy's Thoughts:
This was Humphrey Bogart's last film. He was dying of esophageal cancer while making it. Occasionally inaudible in some takes, some of his lines are reported to have been dubbed in post-production by Paul Frees, who also appears in the film as a priest.
It was written by Philip Yordan and based on the 1947 novel of the same name by Budd Schulberg. The drama tells a thinly disguised à clef account of the Primo Carnera boxing scandal with the challenger based on Carnera and the champ based on Max Baer. Bogart's character, Eddie Willis, is based on the career of boxing writer and event promoter Harold Conrad.
The film was originally released with two different endings: in one, Eddie Willis demanded that boxing be banned altogether, while in the other, Willis merely insisted that there be a federal investigation of the prizefighting business. The video version contains the "harder" ending, while most television prints end with the "softer" message.
Put this one on your viewing list this week.

While The City Sleeps (1956)

Leonard Maltin Review ***:
D: Fritz Lang. Dana Andrews, Ida Lupino, Rhonda Fleming, George Sanders, Vincent Price, Thomas Mitchell, Sally Forrest, Howard Duff, James Craig, John Barrymore, Jr., Mae Marsh. Veteran cast and intertwining storylines keep interest in account of newspaper reporters and police on the track of a berserk killer.

Meredy's Thoughts:
Directed by Fritz Lang and written by Casey Robinson, this newspaper drama was based on The Bloody Spur by Charles Einstein, which depicts the story of "Lipstick Killer" William Heirens.
William George Heirens (November 15, 1928 – March 5, 2012) was a convicted American serial killer who confessed to three murders in 1946. Heirens was called the "Lipstick Killer" due to a notorious message scrawled in lipstick at a crime scene. At the time of his death, Heirens was reputedly Chicago's longest-serving prisoner, having spent 65 years in prison.
Time Out film reviews wrote of the film: "Lang makes inspired use of glass-walled offices, where all is seen and nothing revealed, and traces explicit parallels between Andrews and the murderer. Lang's most underrated movie."
I agree. Watch this one. The film has proved to be one of Lang's more enduring successes over the decades, due to the combination of its virtues as a thriller and also as a snapshot of American mores circa 1954.
John Drew Barrymore (John Barrymore's son by Dolores Costello and Drew Barrymore's father) plays the "Lipstick Killer."

Blue Gardenia, The (1953)

Leonard Maltin Review ***:
D: Fritz Lang. Anne Baxter, Richard Conte, Ann Sothern, Raymond Burr, Jeff Donnell, George Reeves, Nat King Cole. Engaging murder caper with 1940s flavor. Baxter is accused of murdering wolfish Burr, decides to take columnist Conte's offer of help. Solid film with twist ending.

Meredy's Thoughts:
The Blue Gardenia is directed by Fritz Lang and based on a story by Vera Caspary. It is the first installment of Lang's "newspaper noir" movie trio. While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (both 1956) are the other two.
Nat King Cole sings the title song and appears in the movie on the bandstand at the tiki bar.
The director of cinematography was one of RKO's regulars Nicholas Musuraca, then working at Warner Brothers.
Peter Bogdanovich called the film "a particularly venomous picture of American life."
Tom Vick said:
The Blue Gardenia contains one of the purest examples of Fritz Lang's ability to transform commonplace pieces of household technology (such as clocks and telephones) into engines of destiny. Lang often dismissed this film as a job-for-hire, but its recurring image of the telephone as a sinister conduit of possibly fatal information (and misinformation) remains intriguing. The Blue Gardenia subtly questions the 1950's mass-produced cultural blandness by exposing the dark side that's never very far below the surface.
Raymond Burr is at his smarmiest in this one. A must-see because of Lang and Musuraca.

Party Girl (1958)

Leonard Maltin Review ***:
D: Nicholas Ray. Robert Taylor, Cyd Charisse, Lee J. Cobb, John Ireland, Kent Smith. Crooked lawyer (Taylor) and showgirl (Charisse) try to break free from Chicago mob life. Charisse has a couple of torrid dance numbers; Ray's stylish treatment has won this film a cult following. CinemaScope.

Meredy's Thoughts:
This was the last film Robert Taylor did under contract for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Rico Angelo (Lee J. Cobb) is a composite based on Al Capone and Lucky Luciano. Elements in the film may be very loosely based on Luciano's feud with Dutch Schultz, but an episode where Angelo attacks someone with a metal cue may be based on a similar incident involving Capone. Thomas Farrell (Robert Taylor) is loosely based on Dixie Davis, a lawyer for mob boss Dutch Schultz of New York, who later turned informant and married a beautiful showgirl.
Bruce Eder says, "Party Girl is regarded by many Nicholas Ray fans as the most beautiful looking of all of his movies. Shot in CinemaScope and color, it gave cinematographer Robert J. Bronner one of the best showcases he ever had for his work, and was a treat to the eye of the viewer, a veritable explosion of color and motion for many of its best sequences."
I'll be watching this one.

Criss Cross (1949)

Leonard Maltin Review ***:
D: Robert Siodmak. Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally. Lancaster returns to hometown, where he crosses path of ex-wife De Carlo, who's taken up with gangster Duryea. Potent film noir look (by cinematographer Franz Planer) and music (by Miklos Rozsa) help compensate for Lancaster's miscasting as easily manipulated husband. Tony Curtis' screen debut; he's briefly seen as De Carlo's dance partner. Remade in 1995 as The Underneath.

Meredy's Thoughts:
Robert Siodmak was one of the most influential stylists of the 1940s, helping to create the characteristic look of American film noir. Criss Cross is a cynical film noir of obsessive love and betrayal. It is enhanced by the beautiful dark photography of Frank Planer, the tight script by Daniel Fuchs, and the taut pacing by Siodmak. It's based on a story by Don Tracy.
Brendon Hanley says, "Criss Cross doesn't quite live up to the standard of director Robert Siodmak's enduring noir classic The Killers, but the film is nonetheless full of the stylish atmospherics, sly plot twists, human frailties, and fatalistic attitudes that defined the genre after World War II. The film certified Burt Lancaster as one of the stars of the genre."
Criss Cross features the screen debut of Tony Curtis (then known as James Curtis). Curtis plays De Carlo's dance partner in a key scene at the Round-Up Bar. The song Curtis and De Carlo dance to is called "Jungle Fantasy" and is performed by Esy Morales who also makes a cameo appearance in this scene.
This film is a must-see for fans of film noir.

Brute Force (1947)

Leonard Maltin Review ***1/2:
D: Jules Dassin. Burt Lancaster, Hume Cronyn, Charles Bickford, Yvonne De Carlo, Ann Blyth, Ella Raines, Howard Duff, Whit Bissell, Jeff Corey, Sam Levene, Roman Bohnen, John Hoyt, Anita Colby. Tingling, hard-bitten prison film with its few cliches punched across solidly. Brutal captain Cronyn is utterly despicable, but you know he's going to get it in the end. Scripted by Richard Brooks, from Robert Patterson's story. Duff's film debut.

Meredy's Thoughts:
Director Jules Dassin would next direct the influential noir drama The Naked City; six years later, he would move to Europe after political blacklisting prevented him from continuing to work in the United States.
Still one of the harshest and grimmest of all noirs with Hume Cronyn as Capt. Munsey, the indelibly fascistic chief of security. The character of Munsey remains a compelling portrait of a grotesquely authoritarian personality. The rest of the cast is as good as Cronyn. Miklos Rosza's score and William H. Daniels' moody photography are vital elements in the film's impact.
Film writer Eddie Muller wrote that "the climax of Brute Force displayed the most harrowing violence ever seen in movie theaters."
My two favorite prison movies are Brute Force and Caged. I'll be rewatching it.

Desperate (1947)

Leonard Maltin Review **1/2:
D: Anthony Mann. Steve Brodie, Audrey Long, Raymond Burr, Douglas Fowley, William Challee, Jason Robards, Sr. An honest truck driver is victimized by racketeers and forced to flee with his wife. Well-made little film noir, if not as good as director Mann's follow-ups (Raw Deal, T-Men, etc.). Also shown in computer-colored version.

Meredy's Thoughts:
Anthony Mann made a substantial film out of very little with Desperate, a disturbing, noirish twist on traditional moral values, responsibility, and guilt.
Steve Brodie is convincing in his first important role. In fact, the whole cast acquits itself well, especially Raymond Burr as the psycho gang leader.
In all, this is one neat and diverting low-rent, high-quality thriller. A surprise ending caps this film noir mini-classic, which is best appreciated when not seen in its computer-colorized version. A *** in my book.

Asphalt Jungle, The (1950)

Leonard Maltin Review ***1/2:
D: John Huston. Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, Marc Lawrence, Marilyn Monroe. The plotting of a crime, and the gathering of a gang to pull it off; a taut, realistic film full of fine characterizations (especially Jaffe, and Monroe in a memorable bit). A model of its kind, frequently copied, and remade no less than three times (as The Badlanders, Cairo, Cool Breeze). Scripted by Ben Maddow and Huston, from a W.R. Burnett novel. Also shown in computer-colored version.

Meredy's Thoughts:
The film tells the story of a group of men planning and executing a jewel robbery. It was nominated for four Academy Awards and was one of the most influential crime films of the 1950s.
Much imitated, The Asphalt Jungle was one of the first caper films to show a crime and its consequences from the criminals' point of view. It instigated the crime thriller subgenre of caper films.
Film writer David M. Meyer noted, "The robbery is among the best-staged heists in noir. The simple visual treatment, the precise movements of the actors, and the absence of music on the sound track raise the tension to a boiling point."
Both Huston and war hero star Sterling Hayden were members of the Committee for the First Amendment, which opposed the blacklisting of alleged communists active in the film industry during the Red Scare.
My rating is the same as Leonard Maltin's rating: ***1/2.

Wrong Man, The (1956)

Leonard Maltin Review ***:
D: Alfred Hitchcock. Henry Fonda, Vera Miles, Anthony Quayle, Harold J. Stone, Nehemiah Persoff, Peggy Webber. Unusual Hitchcock film done as semi-documentary, using true story of N.Y.C. musician (Fonda) falsely accused of robbery. Miles is excellent as wife who cracks under strain; offbeat and compelling. Written by Maxwell Anderson and Angus MacPhail.

Meredy's Thoughts:
The film was drawn from the true story of an innocent man charged with a crime, as described in the book, The True Story of Christopher Emmanuel Balestrero by Maxwell Anderson, and in the magazine article, "A Case of Identity" (Life magazine, June 29, 1953) by Herbert Brean.
For the only time in his many films, Alfred Hitchcock starts this picture talking to the camera and says that "every word is true" in this story.
Henry Fonda is solid in his role. Vera Miles steals the show in the tragic role of Fonda's wife.
Actors appearing in the film, but not listed in the credits, include Harry Dean Stanton, Werner Klemperer, Tuesday Weld, Bonnie Franklin, and Barney Martin.
Utilizing one of his favorite themes-the helplessness of the innocent individual when confronted by the faceless bureaucracy of the Law-Hitchcock weaves a nightmarish tale, all the more frightening because it really happened. A very good film. If you haven't seen, watch it.