August 20, 2015

#SUTS - Virginia Bruce

TCM's Summer Under the Stars features a star a day every day in August. August 25 features the films of Virginia Bruce beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 6 a.m. the next morning. I'm pleased to be taking part in the 2015 TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Please check out Journeys in Classic Film and read some great articles by Kristen and also follow the links to other interesting material on the classic stars featured this month on TCM.

Virginia Bruce (September 29, 1910 – February 24, 1982) was an American actress and singer. She was born Helen Virginia Briggs in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the daughter of a golf-champion mother and insurance broker father. She moved with her family to Los Angeles intending to enroll in the University of California when a friendly wager sent her seeking film work.

Bruce entered films as a bit player and chorus dancer; she's easily recognizable as one of Jeanette MacDonald's ladies in waiting in The Love Parade (1929) and as a "Goldwyn Girl" (along with Betty Grable) in Whoopee (1931). In 1930 she appeared on Broadway in the musical Smiles, followed by America's Sweetheart in 1931.

Bruce returned to Hollywood in 1932, where she married John Gilbert, her co-star in the film Downstairs. She retired briefly after the birth of their daughter Susan Ann Gilbert. The couple divorced in 1934 and Gilbert died two years later.

Bruce was awarded her first major lead on loan-out to Monogram in the title role of Jane Eyre (1934), which costarred Colin Clive. She portrayed Jenny Lind in 20th Century Pictures' The Mighty Barnum (1934). In 1936, Bruce played a character based on Marilyn Miller in The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and as such was center of attention in the unforgettable "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody" production number. Also in 1936, Bruce introduced the Cole Porter standard "I've Got You Under My Skin" in the film Born to Dance.

"Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms" - The Mighty Barnum (1934)
Virginia Bruce as Jenny Lind with Wallace Beery and Adolphe Menjou

"I've Got You Under My Skin" - Born to Dance (1936)
Virginia Bruce and James Stewart

As it often happened with actresses, Ms. Bruce was given fewer good Hollywood opportunities as she got older. She made the most of her title role in The Invisible Woman (1941), carrying virtually her entire part in this sci-fi satire with only her voice. Bruce enjoyed solid secondary parts in such films as Night Has 1000 Eyes (1948) and State Department: File 649 (1949). In 1949, Bruce starred in a daily 30-minute radio drama. Make Believe Town was an afternoon program on CBS. On television she landed an occasional plum part such as the title role in Mildred Pierce on “Lux Video Theater” in 1956. She was quite effective as Kim Novak's mother in Strangers When We Meet (1960).

Bruce married her second husband, film director J. Walter Ruben, in 1937. They met while making the Wallace Beery western The Bad Man of Brimstone. Their son Christopher Briggs Ruben was born in 1941. Unfortunately, Bruce was widowed in 1942. In 1946 she married Turkish film writer Ali Ipar. They divorced in 1951 so he could serve as an officer during a year's compulsory Turkish army service. Turkish law denies any army commission to Turks married to foreigners. They remarried in 1952, divorcing again in 1964.

Virginia Bruce died of cancer on February 24, 1982 in Woodland Hills, California. Author Scott O’'Brien details her life in his 2008 biography Virginia Bruce - Under My Skin.

State Department: File 649 (1949)

Before you watch State Department: File 649, it helps to know about the Chinese Revolution of 1949.

On October 1, 1949, Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The announcement ended the costly full-scale civil war between the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang (KMT), which broke out immediately following World War II and had been preceded by on and off conflict between the two sides since the 1920’s. The creation of the PRC also completed the long process of governmental upheaval in China begun by the Chinese Revolution of 1911. The “fall” of mainland China to communism in 1949 led the United States to suspend diplomatic ties with the PRC for decades.

The Chinese Communist Party, founded in 1921 in Shanghai, originally existed as a study group working within the confines of the First United Front with the Nationalist Party. Chinese Communists joined with the Nationalist Army in the Northern Expedition of 1926–27 to rid the nation of the warlords that prevented the formation of a strong central government. This collaboration lasted until the “White Terror” of 1927, when the Nationalists turned on the Communists, killing them or purging them from the party.

After the Japanese invaded Manchuria in 1931, the Government of the Republic of China (ROC) faced the triple threat of Japanese invasion, Communist uprising, and warlord insurrections. Frustrated by the focus of the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek on internal threats instead of the Japanese assault, a group of generals abducted Chiang in 1937 and forced him to reconsider cooperation with the Communist army. As with the first effort at cooperation between the Nationalist government and the CCP, this Second United Front was short-lived. The Nationalists expended needed resources on containing the Communists, rather than focusing entirely on Japan, while the Communists worked to strengthen their influence in rural society.

During World War II, popular support for the Communists increased. U.S. officials in China reported a dictatorial suppression of dissent in Nationalist-controlled areas. These undemocratic polices combined with wartime corruption made the Republic of China Government vulnerable to the Communist threat. The CCP, for its part, experienced success in its early efforts at land reform and was lauded by peasants for its unflagging efforts to fight against the Japanese invaders.

Japanese surrender set the stage for the resurgence of civil war in China. Though only nominally democratic, the Nationalist Government of Chiang Kai-shek continued to receive U.S. support both as its former war ally and as the sole option for preventing Communist control of China. U.S. forces flew tens of thousands of Nationalist Chinese troops into Japanese-controlled territory and allowed them to accept the Japanese surrender. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, occupied Manchuria and only pulled out when Chinese Communist forces were in place to claim that territory.

In 1945, the leaders of the Nationalist and Communist parties, Chiang Kai-shek and Mao Zedong, met for a series of talks on the formation of a post-war government. Both agreed on the importance of democracy, a unified military, and equality for all Chinese political parties. The truce was tenuous, however, and, in spite of repeated efforts by U.S. General George Marshall to broker an agreement, by 1946 the two sides were fighting an all-out civil war. Years of mistrust between the two sides thwarted efforts to form a coalition government.

As the civil war gained strength from 1947 to 1949, eventual Communist victory seemed more and more likely. Although the Communists did not hold any major cities after World War II, they had strong grassroots support, superior military organization and morale, and large stocks of weapons seized from Japanese supplies in Manchuria. Years of corruption and mismanagement had eroded popular support for the Nationalist Government. Early in 1947, the ROC Government was already looking to the island province of Taiwan, off the coast of Fujian Province, as a potential point of retreat. Although officials in the Truman Administration were not convinced of the strategic importance to the United States of maintaining relations with Nationalist China, no one in the U.S. Government wanted to be charged with facilitating the “loss” of China to communism. Military and financial aid to the floundering Nationalists continued, though not at the level that Chiang Kai-shek would have liked. In October of 1949, after a string of military victories, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the PRC; Chiang and his forces fled to Taiwan to regroup and plan for their efforts to retake the mainland.

The ability of the PRC and the United States to find common ground in the wake of the establishment of the new Chinese state was hampered by both domestic politics and global tensions. In August of 1949, the Truman administration published the “China White Paper,” which explained past U.S. policy toward China based upon the principle that only Chinese forces could determine the outcome of their civil war. Unfortunately for Truman, this step failed to protect his administration from charges of having “lost” China. The unfinished nature of the revolution, leaving a broken and exiled but still vocal Nationalist Government and army on Taiwan, only heightened the sense among U.S. anti-communists that the outcome of the struggle could be reversed. The outbreak of the Korean War, which pitted the PRC and the United States on opposite sides of an international conflict, ended any opportunity for accommodation between the PRC and the United States. Truman’s desire to prevent the Korean conflict from spreading south led to the U.S. policy of protecting the Chiang Kai-shek government on Taiwan.

For more than twenty years after the Chinese revolution of 1949, there were few contacts, limited trade and no diplomatic ties between the two countries. Until the 1970s, the United States continued to recognize the Republic of China, located on Taiwan, as China’s true government and supported that government’s holding the Chinese seat in the United Nations.

About State Department: File 649 (1949)

State Department: File 649 is a 1949 Cinecolor American film known as Assignment in China in the United Kingdom.

It was directed by Sam Newfield (using the pseudonym "Peter Stewart"). Sam Newfield, born Samuel Neufeld, (December 6, 1899 - November 10, 1964), also known as Sherman Scott or Peter Stewart, was an American B-movie director. He would sometimes direct more than 20 films in a single year and has been called the most prolific director of the sound era. Many of Newfield's films were made for PRC Pictures. This was a film production company headed by his brother Sigmund Neufeld. The films PRC produced were low-budget productions, the majority being westerns, with an occasional horror film or crime drama.

It was produced by Sigmund Neufeld (May 3, 1896 - March 21, 1979), an American B movie producer. He spent many years at Poverty Row studio Producers Releasing Corporation where he mainly produced films directed by his brother Sam Newfield. When PRC was taken over by Eagle-Lion Films in 1947 they both left the company. Eagle-Lion had goals of making bigger, more ambitious movies, a change in strategy that Sigmund deemed to be a financial mistake. During the following years he and his brother made several films for Film Classics. When this company also merged with Eagle-Lion in 1950 they both moved to Lippert Pictures.

It was written by Milton Raison (August 30, 1903 - January 20, 1982), a screenwriter, author and poet. He is remembered for his prolific television scripts and his love of a good story. He was a man with a poet's soul and an artist's ear, and he was a good cook and a soft-spoken storyteller.

The film's music was written by Lucien Cailliet (May 22, 1891 - January 3, 1985), a French-American composer, conductor, arranger and clarinetist. Cailliet enjoyed a prolific career creating music for films. He contributed to nearly fifty films as either composer or arranger. Among the best known of these films are She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, The Ten Commandments (for which Elmer Bernstein wrote the score), and Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. His most famous orchestration is the virtuoso piece for piano and orchestra Midnight on the Cliffs by the pianist and composer Leonard Pennario, for the Andrew L. Stone's film Julie (1956).

It was photographed by Jack Greenhalgh (July 23, 1904 - September 3, 1971), a rough and tumble cameraman of legendary speed and efficiency. His career began in 1935, ended in 1953 and spanned more than 200 films as director of cinematography.

It was distributed by Film Classics, Inc., a company owned by Irvin Shapiro (August 6, 1906 - January 1, 1989),  an American producer, film importer and distributor who was responsible for introducing a number of influential foreign films to the United States, as well as handling the early work of some noted directors.

In 1943, Shapiro founded Film Classics, which dealt with film reissues and American releases of British Gaumont Films. Film Classics began producing their own or releasing other new productions in 1947. In 1950 the company merged with Eagle-Lion to become Eagle-Lion Classics. In 1951, ELC was taken over by United Artists.

Cast of State Department: File 649

William Lundigan as Kenneth R. Seeley

He was great in I'd Climb the Highest Mountain (1951) with Susan Hayward.

Virginia Bruce as Margaret 'Marge' Weldon

I wish she'd been given a little more to do in this film.

Jonathan Hale as Director General of Foreign Service

He played Mr. Dithers in the Blondie film series.

Frank Ferguson as Consul-General Reither

He portrayed the Calverton veterinarian in the first several seasons of CBS's Lassie.

Richard Loo as Marshal Yun Usu

He had a rare heroic role as a war-weary Japanese-American soldier in Samuel Fuller's Korean War classic The Steel Helmet (1951). He was Chinese by ancestry and Hawaiian by birth.

Philip Ahn as Colonel Aram

William Lundigan and Philip Ahn
He was the first Asian American (Korean) film actor to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Ahn's most notable television role was as "Master Kan" on the television series Kung Fu.
Raymond Bond as Consul Howard Brown

I liked him in A Foreign Affair (1948).

Milton Kibbee as Bill Sneed

John Holland and Milton Kibbee
He appeared in more than 360 films between 1933 and 1953. He was the brother of actor Guy Kibbee and his daughter was daytime actress Lois Kibbee.

Victor Sen Yung as Johnny Han

He was a Chinese American character actor. Sen Yung played Jimmy Chan in 11 Charlie Chan films between 1938 and 1942. He played a minor but crucial role of lawyer's clerk Ong Chi Seng alongside Bette Davis in The Letter (1940).  He is probably best remembered as Hop Sing, the cook on the long-running television series Bonanza, appearing in 102 episodes between 1959 and 1973.

Lora Lee Michel as Jessica Morse

She played Olivia de Havilland as a child in The Snake Pit (1948).

John Holland as Wilfred Ballinger

He was an actor who appeared in over a hundred films and many stage performances. Perhaps his most notable role was as the butler in the 1964 film version of My Fair Lady.

Harlan Warde as Rev. Dr. Morse

He was a character actor active in television and movies. During World War II, he served in Special Forces. Warde showed up in supporting roles as detectives, doctors, and ministers.

Carole Donne as Mrs. Sarah Morse

She was a Danish actress, known for Decoy (1946), Amazon Quest (1949) and Not Wanted (1949).

Barbara Woodell as Carrie Willoughby

She was an actress, known for Doctor Jim (1947), I Shot Jesse James (1949) and Everybody's Dancin' (1950). She was married to Arthur Marcus Loew and Oscar Levant.

Lee Bennett as Agent Don Logan

William Lundigan, Frank Ferguson and Lee Bennett

He was an actor, known for Scared to Death (1947), Driftin' River (1946) and Stars Over Texas (1946).

Robert Stevenson as Mongolian Spy

He was an actor, known for Jefferson Drum (1958), Zero Hour! (1957) and When Hell Broke Loose (1958).

H.T. Tsiang as Wonto

He was a Chinese actor, known for The Keys of the Kingdom (1944), China Sky (1945) and Smuggler's Island (1951).

Joseph Crehan as Government Official

Jonathan Hale and Joseph Crehan

He appeared in more than 300 films between 1916 and 1965, and notably played Ulysses S. Grant nine times between 1939 and 1958, most memorably in Union Pacific and They Died with Their Boots On.

Ray Bennett as Fur Trader

He was an actor, known for The Spoilers (1942), Death Rides the Plains (1943) and The Man from Tumbleweeds (1940).

Nana Bryant as Peggy Brown

Nana Bryant and Barbara Woodell

She was an actress, known for Harvey (1950), Hangmen Also Die! (1943) and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1938).

Mini-Review of State Department: File 649

Virginia Bruce, William Lundigan, Barbara Woodell

U.S. Foreign Service officer matches wits with a Mongolian warlord to try to save American citizens threatened with execution. Don't let the words "Mongolia" or "Mongolian" fool you. This film is about Communism. Specifically, it's about the Communist takeover of China. The filmmakers just didn't have the guts to come right out and say it. It's difficult not to notice the "Mongolian Warlord" and his followers are dressed in Maoist People's Army-type uniforms.

William Lundigan and Virginia Bruce star in this "B" docudrama. William Lundigan plays the heroic officer of the  U. S. State Department's Foreign Service Bureau with a warm, radio-trained voice; Virginia Bruce is fine as Lundigan's love interest and morale worker with the bureau; Richard Loo has a grand time as the temper-tantrum-throwing evil warlord marshal, with Philip Ahn as his civilized aide-de-camp; and Victor Sen Yung is splendid as a brave radio operator.

Philip Ahn gets to deliver the film's strangest line after Richard Loo flips out and destroys Victor Sen Yung's communications set-up: "The marshal is very angry. He has broken your radio."

File 649 :)

Best Part: As the film comes to its conclusion, our brave vice consul confronts the warlord and expresses the spirit of the Foreign Service and America: "I am on the winning side, Marshal. I represent an ideology that recognizes the dignity of the individual, that holds all men to be free and equal under God. You represent murder, rape and slavery in the name of the law. You're a mad dog that must and will be destroyed."

I'll freely admit those flag-waving lines now seem dated and corny. Yet, don't murder, rape and slavery still exist in the world? Don't "dignity of the individual" and "free and equal under God" still express the best American sentiments, no matter how imperfectly we advance them? Don’t we still believe in—and represent—these old values? I think a lesson can be learned from this little movie about patriotism and the American spirit.

Fandango Synopsis
Those scurrilous Chinese communists are up to their old tricks in the 1949 flagwaver State Department - File 649. William Lundigan plays Ken, an operative of the U.S. Foreign Service stationed in North China. Ken is one of several people trapped in a remote village by evil warlord Yun Usu (Richard Loo), who intends to sell his services to the highest bidder, be they Red or otherwise. Our hero manages to get a message out to the Free World before the film's operatically self-sacrificial climax. The characterizations are of the cardboard variety and the dialogue is straight out of Fu Manchu. Still, State Department - File 649 is a fascinating encapsulation of postwar political propaganda.

Virginia Bruce and William Lundigan in his snazzy red convertible

Watch State Department: File 649 (1949)

TCM's Summer Under the Stars - August 25, 2015
Films of Virginia Bruce

Shadow of Doubt (1935)
D: George B. Seitz. Ricardo Cortez, Virginia Bruce, Constance Collier. Murder charges threaten an actress's marriage plans.

Times Square Lady (1935)
D: George B. Seitz. Robert Taylor, Virginia Bruce, Helen Twelvetrees, Isabel Jewell, Nat Pendleton, Pinky Tomlin, Henry Kolker, Raymond Hatton, Jack La Rue. When naive Bruce inherits her father's Broadway businesses, crooked lawyer Kolker assigns Taylor to get control of them, but Taylor falls for her and double-crosses his boss. Programmer starts out promisingly but bogs down in cliches. Taylor's first lead role in a feature; Ward Bond has a bit as a murderous hockey player.

Arsene Lupin Returns (1938)
D: George Fitzmaurice. Melvyn Douglas, Virginia Bruce, Warren William, John Halliday, Nat Pendleton, Monty Woolley, Clive, George Zucco, Vladimir Sokoloff. Douglas takes over John Barrymore's role as the famed Parisian jewel thief. Lupin, now retired as a gentleman farmer, pretends to make a comeback in order to catch a copycat crook. Slick, satisfying comedy-thriller, deftly handled by a fine cast.

There Goes My Heart (1938)
D: Norman Z. McLeod. Fredric March, Virginia Bruce, Patsy Kelly, Alan Mowbray, Nancy Carroll, Eugene Pallette, Claude Gillingwater, Harry Langdon, Arthur Lake. Typical '30s fluff about runaway heiress Bruce spotted by reporter March; good cast makes one forget trite storyline.

Stronger Than Desire (1939)
D: Leslie Fenton. Virginia Bruce, Walter Pidgeon, Lee Bowman. A lawyer's wife keeps mum as her husband defends an innocent woman for the crime she committed.

Society Lawyer (1939)
D: Edwin L. Marin. Walter Pidgeon, Virginia Bruce, Leo Carrillo. A lawyer plays with fire when he gets mixed up with underworld types.

Man Who Talked Too Much, The (1940)
D: Vincent Sherman. George Brent, Virginia Bruce, Brenda Marshall, Richard Barthelmess, William Lundigan, George Tobias. Good courtroom drama with D.A. Brent and lawyer Lundigan, brothers fighting same case. Remake of The Mouthpiece, made again as Illegal (1955).

Flight Angels (1940)
D: Lewis Seiler. Virginia Bruce, Dennis Morgan, Wayne Morris. Airline stewardesses vie for the love of a dashing pilot.

Murder Man, The (1935)
D: Tim Whelan. Spencer Tracy, Virginia Bruce, Lionel Atwill, Harvey Stephens, Robert Barrat, James Stewart. Tracy is good as usual playing a hard-drinking newspaper reporter who specializes in covering murders. Snappy little film also offers Stewart in his first feature appearance (playing a fellow reporter named Shorty).

Kongo (1932)
D: William Cowen. Walter Huston, Lupe Velez, Conrad Nagel, Virginia Bruce, C. Henry Gordon. Bizarre, fascinating melodrama of crippled madman Huston ruling African colony, seeking revenge on man who paralyzed him by torturing his daughter. Not for the squeamish. Remake of West of Zanzibar.

Downstairs (1932)
D: Monta Bell. John Gilbert, Paul Lukas, Virginia Bruce, Hedda Hopper, Reginald Owen, Olga Baclanova. Crackling, adult drama about a heel who sleeps and cajoles his way from one wealthy household to another--using both the mistresses of the houses upstairs and the servants downstairs. Gilbert delivers an audacious performance that more than any other redeems his maligned reputation as a "talkie" actor; he also gets story credit for the film. Leading lady Bruce was then his wife. Karen Morley appears unbilled in final scene.

Invisible Woman, The (1940)
D: A. Edward Sutherland. John Barrymore, Virginia Bruce, John Howard, Charlie Ruggles, Oscar Homolka, Margaret Hamilton, Donald MacBride, Edward Brophy, Shemp Howard, Charles Lane, Thurston Hall. Great cast in likable comedy about screwy professor Barrymore turning model Bruce invisible, arousing the curiosity of playboy sponsor Howard, as well as the more monetary interests of gangster Homolka. Slick and sprightly, with Ruggles terrific as Howard's long-suffering butler; Maria Montez has a bit as one of Bruce's fellow models.

Born to Dance (1936)
D: Roy Del Ruth. Eleanor Powell, James Stewart, Virginia Bruce, Una Merkel, Sid Silvers, Frances Langford, Raymond Walburn, Buddy Ebsen, Reginald Gardiner. Powell bears out title in good Cole Porter musical with sensational footwork and fine songs: "Easy To Love," "I've Got You Under My Skin."

Great Ziegfeld, The (1936)
D: Robert Z. Leonard. William Powell, Myrna Loy, Luise Rainer, Frank Morgan, Fanny Brice, Virginia Bruce, Reginald Owen, Ray Bolger, Stanley Morner (Dennis Morgan). Spectacular, immensely entertaining biography of flamboyant impresario Florenz Ziegfeld, with Powell quite dashing in the title role. However, Rainer (as Anna Held) is stunning, and won an Academy Award; her telephone scene is a classic. Also won Oscars for Best Picture and Dance Direction (the "A Pretty Girl Is Like a Melody'' number, supervised by Seymour Felix).

Bad Man of Brimstone, The (1937)
D: J. Walter Ruben. Wallace Beery, Virginia Bruce, Dennis O'Keefe, Joseph Calleia, Lewis Stone, Guy Kibbee, Bruce Cabot. Low-grade Western vehicle is for Beery fans, with star as outlaw who is reformed by family revelation.

Bonus Film - Jane Eyre (1934)

This is the first talking film adaptation of the Charlotte Bronte classic. It stars Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive. It was produced on a low budget by Monogram Pictures and directed by the prolific Christy Cabanne with a script by Adele Comandini.

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