Archive for February, 2014

Night of The Hunter 1955 a cinema release

In January of this year 2014, this film which apparently had been painstakingly restored was shown in a number of British Cinemas – and maybe also in many other countries – and it got rave reviews which sadly it didn’t on its first release.

Quite often in life, success or the opposite is about good or bad timing and this was a case of a film being made and released at a time when audiences just didn’t take to it.

As is well known, this was the only film that Charles Laughton directed and because it proved unsuccessful, he never did another. What a shame that is because he did a first class job here.

If there’s anything stranger than Night of the Hunter, a curious, melodramatic morality tale blatantly setting forces of good and evil in stark opposition to each other, it’s the way this 1955 film, directed by British actor Charles Laughtonand starring Robert Mitchum in one of his most memorable roles, has grown in stature in the decades since its release.

Originally shunned by audiences and scorned by most critics, it’s now regarded as a masterpiece of American cinema – which seems all the more remarkable for being the only film Laughton ever directed.

In the US and Britain it gets re-issued every few years and somehow looks better than ever. It’s an odd postscript to the life of a distinctly odd movie – a slab of Southern Gothic set in the Depression era.

Mitchum plays Reverend Harry Powell, a crooked, demented preacher who preys on the weak. He’s an unforgettable, iconic character: on each knuckle of his right hand, the four letters, L-O-V-E are tattooed; on the left hand, it’s H-A-T-E. (For years afterwards, young men who fancied themselves as tough guys sported similar tattoos.)

While in jail, Powell meets a man condemned to die who discloses he has left $10,000 hidden somewhere in his house, located on the banks of a small-town river. On his release, Powell tracks down the man’s family, charms his widow Willa (Shelley Winters) into marrying him and tries to befriend his young son and daughter, who are suspicious of him.

Night of the Hunter

When their mother disappears, the children hide from him in a basement. He finds them but fails to catch them. They take flight, hopping on a small boat that takes them up river. The preacher grimly and single-mindedly follows them: he knows they know where the money is. This chase, made more suspenseful by the children’s terror, takes up half the story.

View the Trailer here on this Link:http

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8dX6ZKJe20&feature=player_detailpage

Still, this plot outline does little to convey the uniqueness of Night of the Hunter. Laughton and his director of photography Stanley Cortez (who worked on Orson Welles’s The Magnificent Ambersons) opted for an expressionistic look – all oblique angles, long shadows, shot in black-and-white.    The photographing of Night of the Hunter heightens its sense of dread.

Charles Laughton showed here that he had an original eye, and a taste for material that stretched the conventions of the movies. It is risky to combine horror and humour, and foolhardy to approach them through expressionism. For his first film, Charles Laughton made a film like no other before or since, and with such confidence it seemed to draw on a lifetime of work. Critics were baffled by it, the public rejected it, and the studio had a much more expensive Robert  Mitchum picture (“Not as a Stranger”) it wanted to promote instead.

However, it is fair to say that  nobody who has seen “The Night of the Hunter” has forgotten it, or Robert Mitchum’s voice calling down those basement stairs, Chilling

 

Charles Laughton with Lilian Gish – on the set – and with Robert Mitchum.

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Sami Nasri – a Danny Ross Look a like !!

 Whenever I see Sami Nasri the Manchester City footballer on TV – I am reminded of the late actor Danny Ross – famous for playing Alf Hall in The Love Match with Arthur Askey – and later as Jimmy Clitheroe’s sidekick -
Alfie Hall.
What do you think ?
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Ronald Reagan and Richard Todd – Two Old friends

The Hasty Heart released in 1950  gave Ronald Reagan his first trip to England and with the filming done in 1949, which was only four years after the war,  he saw at first hand the bomb damage in the capital and experienced food rationing for the first and only time in his life. Things were all a bit dismal at that time – and yet he developed a real love for this country because of this visit.

His co-star in the film was a young unknown actor – Richard Todd – soon because of this film to be very well known both here and the USA.

The two of them struck up a friendship that lasted for the rest of their lives with regular letters and Birthday and Christmas Cards, although this tailed off a little when Ronald Reagan became Governor of California. They met up again in the late 80s when Mrs Thatcher held a dinner party ant No. 10 and invited Richard Todd and the two were reunited after all those years. Mrs Thatcher had told Richard Todd that whenever she met the President, he always spoke of his time in England with him when making the film – so much so in fact that on one occasion she had bought him, as a present, a full set of Front of House Stills from the film.

Above: Ronald Reagan and Patricia Neal have a look round  London 1949

Above: Patricia Neal chats with Vincent Sherman the director on the set of The Hasty Heart.

 

 

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Elton Hayes Remembered

 Above:  From the opening shots of the film The Black Knight starring Alan Ladd and made in England to the famous Walt Disney British made The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men 1952 starring Richard Todd and Joan Rice,  we see clips of Elton Hayes appearing – and mainly singing his way through each respective role. He was very good.

 

This is one of his friends Evelyn Branston’s wonderful Elton Hayes obituary:

“At the age of 86 Elton Hayes died peacefully in his sleep at the West Suffolk Hospital after a long illness borne with great courage.

As soon as you met Elton you realised that he was a man who would always keep a promise. There was an old-world courtesy about him. A smart dapper man with a penchant for bow ties: “The real thing not these clip-on or elastic things.” With a twinkle in his eyes and his charming easy going manner he won many friends wherever he went.

A lifelong fan of Elton, I was indeed fortunate to make contact with him again about six years ago. We corresponded for a while; then, following the stroke, which made writing difficult for him, we continued our friendship by telephone.

The seriousness of his last illness was known only to his closest friends, so the news of his death was quite a shock. Elton left me his own ‘Short Biography’ and his friends, Bill and Sallie Walrond, who cared for him until his death, have entrustred me with his personal collection of photographs, press cuttings and other memorabilia, including 3 bow ties!

Born of theatrical parents on 16th February 1915 at Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, Elton faced the footlights at a very early age. The curly-haired, blue-eyed little boy first sang on stage when he was four. Aged not quite 10 years (illegally, being under age and having no permit), he appeared in the prologue of a pantomime at Canterbury, Kent in 1925/26, whilst also employed as a call-boy and stage manager, at the all-in salary of 5/- a week.

He was also studying music under Professor Fritz Keinly of Austria with a view to becoming a serious musician and concert violinist.

In his early teens he won a scholarship to Fay Compton’s Academy of Dtamatic Art where he received an extensive theatrical education, from Shakespeare to Operetta, tap dancing to ballet and theatrical production. Not being prepared to sit around waiting for ‘the big break’ into theatre, Elton returned to the family tradition of variety, plus juvenile character parts in rep and chorus dancing in musical comedy. He demonstrated his amazing versatility with a speciality act, singing, playing the violin and tap dancing all at the same time.

As ”Eltonio’ he entertained at one night venues such as social clubs etc. He then joined three brothers in a musical variety act, ‘The Four Brownie Boys’. Elton said that he was very fit in those days. He needed to because in Cine Variety he sometimes gave five performances a day, plus late night cabaret, finally getting home after dawn. He toured Cornwall in 1937 with ‘Musical Cheers Co’ where he met his wife Betty Inman (ex Stuttgart Ballet). At the outbreak of war all theatres immediately closed, so driving a delivery van around the home counties became the means of paying the rent until ENSA invited him to put together one of their first mobile units.

Above: At Denham chatting to Walt Disney and Richard Todd – he really was in the big league here !

He enlisted into the Army in October 1943. His decision to take his guitar with him was to influence the whole of his future career; within 6 weeks of army life he was entertaining his companions at army concerts. He was first a gunner in The Royal Artillery and later gained a commission in the Royal West Kent Regiment.

He was posted to South East Asia Command, and, while serving in India, contracted severe rheumatic fever and spent many months in hospital. Elton foresaw the end of his dancing and guitar playing days. With typical courage and determination, in his hospital bed he would lie on his back painfully strumming his guitar. Eventually, his fingers grew more supple and he found the tunes coming fairly easy. At Rawalpindi he formed a trio with a trumpet player and a pianist. They played as ‘Bugs Rutter and his Rug Cutters.’

The Commanding Officer of ENSA India and SEAC, Col Jack Hawkins, requested that Major Hayes should join his Command and Elton became O.C. ENSA N.W. Frontier Provinces, India. Eventually he took over Jack’s job and had the task of closing down all the troops’ entertainment centres in Central Provinces India before demobilisation.

Shortly after arriving back in England, Elton visited Broadcasting House to renew his acquantance with the Children’s Hour Dept. He was asked to write and perform a short series of programmes based on Edward Lear’s Nonsense Poems and a spot on ‘In Town Tonight’ was arranged. The favourable reaction to the song he chose to sing, ‘The Jumblies,’ led to a guest appearance in the Carol Lewis Show. During the rehearsal of the show, Elton suggested to the BBC an idea for a one-off programme. To his great surprise it was not only accepted, but came with a contract for 13 weekly programmes of Elton Hayes ‘He Sings to a Small Guitar.’ The opening refrain began: “Sweet music and a small guitar, bring joy no matter where you are.”

After the success of those first programmes there followed the late night series, ‘Close Your Eyes’, in which Elton invited you to close your eyes and listen to some music to start you dreaming. These two series alternated and ran for more than 10 years. This was in addition to spots in all the popular variety programmes of the day – Midday Music Hall, Worker’s Playtime, Henry Hall’s Guest Night, Top of the Town, Just Fancy, etc. etc.; also Housewives’ Choice, both as presenter and popular choice, the most requested being ‘Whistle My Love,’
‘Greensleeves’ and ‘The Spinning Wheel’. On Uncle Mac’s Children’s Choice it was usually ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’ or
‘The Jumblies.’

Yet another series was ‘A Tinker’s Tales’ in which Elton, as an itinerant tinker, narrated a story which he and other actors dramatised as a musical play. Interspersed with radio came TV, both light entertainment and drama. Television proved the Elton’s personality was as important to his act as was his small guitar. He took over the 15-minute period originally scheduled for ‘The Harding Interviews’ during Gilbert Harding’s absence. He also introduced and sang in the ‘Centre Show’, was a frequent guest on the Leonard Sachs’ ‘Good Old Days’ olde time music hall, appeared in the series ‘The Minstrel Show’ and travelled with the BBC Children’s Caravan for three summer seasons, composing and performing special original material. Surprisingly to some viewers, he was cast in a straight acting role in Chekhov’s ‘Three Sisters’ for which he also wrote the music.

In 1949, afetr seeing Elton in the play ‘Maya’ (with Freda Mayne) at the Arts Theatre, the actor manager, John Clements invited Elton to join him in the revival of the Restoration Comedy ‘The Beaux Stratagem.’ The production was a huge success and ran for 18 months, first at the Phoenix Theatre, Charring Cross Road, then the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. The last night was as big a sell-out as the first. Elton said that he had just one small regret: “On the corner of the theatre, high above the entrance was a huge poster which could be seen from way along the street. On the poster in yellow letters two feet tall was a single name. Mine! How I wish I had taken a photograph.”

When Walt Disney’s ‘Treasure Island’ was made Elton had the task of arranging the old sea shanties sung on board the Hispaniola. This was followed by the job of researching ancient ballads for their forthcoming production of ‘Robin Hood.’ The producer, Perce Pearce asked him to assist in another actor’s screen test, then sprang the surprise that it had been Elton on test and the part of Alan-a-Dale was his! So good was he in that role that, although it started as a few lines, it developed into one of the main parts in the film.

The success of the film led to a nineteen-city tour of the USA and Canada, making 113 radio and TV appearances in 8 hectic weeks.

Sadly his second film The Black Knight did not enjoy the same success. One of the film ‘extras’ inadvertently wore Elton’s costume and was conspicuously killed in an early scene. Continuity failed to notice. Consequently all Elton’s scenes were later consigned to the cutting room floor.

He sang in the Light Music Festival at the Royal Festival Hall, the Royal Film Performance at the Empire, Leicester Square, innumerable other concert appearances, private functions and then trips to the continent for recitals of higher academic standard to music societies, universities, international musicians etc. The nervous tensions of the concert platform began to take their toll and Elton realised that it was time for a change of career. Being a confirmed country lover the choice was easy; he became a farmer.

He bought a 47-acre farm at Hartest, near Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk and soon built up a prestgious herd of pedigree pigs. He now found time to return to his youthful hobby of horses. This brought him into contact with the members of the British Driving Society and the art of Carriage driving. Like everything else, Elton threw himself into this new interest with enthusiasm and was soon skilled enough to win awards for driving tandem (two horses, one behind the other).

This led to him learning to play and compose music for the Post and Coach Horns. Sadly a severe stroke in 1995 put an end to these activities and Elton had to give up his farm and move to live with friends at nearby Cockfield. With characteristic courage and determination he overcame many of the difficulties associated with the stroke but lost the brave battle he had with his final illness.

His funeral took place at the West Suffolk Crematorium, Bury St. Edmunds, on 3rd October [2001]. The sun was shining and the chapel was filled with friends and family who had come not just to mourn, but to celebrate the long, interesting and fulfilling life of ELTON HAYES: He Sang to a Small Guitar.”

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William Roache Cleared – Back to normal now as Ken Barlow !!!

William Roache qualifies for the Films of the fifties site because he actually was in films in the late 1950s – One such film was a small role in the  film Behind the Mask 1958 starring Michael Redgrave, Tony Britton, Carl Mohner, Vanessa Redgrave, Ian Bannen, Brenda Bruce, Lionel Jeffries and Miles Malleson – so he was in a very good company of film actors here. It was a hospital drama.

He was, later on,  in The Bulldog Breed 1960 with Norman Wisdom.

He was today cleared and found not guilty of a number of allegations of sex abuse from years ago in a much publicised trial in England.

He is the World’s longest running actor in the same role, playing Ken Barlow in the very famous British TV Coronation Street continuously from 1960 and still going strong.

A star is born: Bill Roache, as Ken Barlow, with his on-screen family David Barlow, played by Alan Rothwell, and Ida Barlow, played by Noel Dyson, in a Christmas episode in the soap's first year on television - 1960

Above – In a very early episode of Coronation Street.

This is an interesting scene from one of the very first transmitted episodes of that famous British soap opera.

Interesting also in that it shows much of the set and the lighting.

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Merle Oberon – A secret from the past


She was one of the great stars of Hollywood’s golden age and I find it difficult to think of any other film star whose career spanned the great days of both the British and Hollywood film world and the life style associated with it, as she does.

Mystery has always surrounded Merle Oberon’s early life, not least because of the version of events given by the actress herself.

She claimed she was born in Tasmania and then moved to India to live with her aristocratic godparents after her distinguished father died in a hunting accident. Her Who’s Who entry in the 1970s listed her birthplace as Tasmania and her father as a British Army officer.

Merle Oberon with Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights (1939)

Dark secret: Merle Oberon was aHollywoodgreat and appeared with Laurence Olivier inWutheringHeights(1939), left. But the woman she thought was her sister actually gave birth to her aged 12

Merle Oberon

 

A dark moor haunted by secrets: The actress with Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights

A dark moor haunted by secrets: The actress with Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights in 1`939

 

Now, however, records have been published that confirm for the first time that she was actually born in India – and that the woman she knew as her sister was really her mother.

A project between the British Library and ancestry website findmypast.co.uk has published records from the time of the Raj online, including Oberon’s birth certificate.

It shows she was born Estelle Merle Thompson in 1911 in Bombay and her father, Arthur Thompson, was a railway engineer from Darlington rather than an Army officer.

It names her mother as Constance Selby, who was only 12 at the time of the birth.

Controversially, Constance was the daughter of Thompson’s girlfriend Charlotte Selby. Charlotte, a Eurasian from Ceylon with partial Maori heritage, had had Constance by an Irish tea planter when she herself was only 14 and living in Ceylon.

Merle OberonMerle Oberon

Merle died in 1979 and took the secret to her grave, saying her father had been a distinguished Army man

Merle OberonMerle Oberon, actress.

 

Starlet: Merle in That Uncertain Feeling (1941) with Ernst Lubitsch. She continued acting in Hollywood throughout the Second World War, sometimes in propaganda films

 

Above: Merle in That Uncertain Feeling (1941) with Ernst Lubitsch. She continued acting inHollywoodthroughout the Second World War, sometimes in propaganda films

 

Charlotte was around 26 when Merle was born and raised her as her own. The girl grew up thinking Constance was her sister rather than her mother.

In 1914 Thompson joined the British Army and later died of pneumonia on the Western Front during the Battle of the Somme.

Literary inspiration: As Cathy in Wuthering Heights with Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff

Literary inspiration: As Cathy inWutheringHeightswith Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff

Constance went on to marry a man called Alexander Soares and had four other children, Edna, Douglas, Harry and Stanislaus. All grew up believing Oberon was their aunt rather than their half-sister.

Her brother Harry discovered the truth and tried to organise a meeting with her, but she refused to see him.

Throughout her successful career Merle Oberon, who died in 1979, lied about her mixed-race heritage, a controversial subject at the time.

She became famous for her roles in Hollywood and British films of the 1930s and 1940s such as The Cowboy And The Lady and The Private Life Of Henry VIII. She was nominated for the best actress Oscar for The Dark Angel in 1935. Her career peaked as Cathy in Wuthering Heights in 1939. She married four times, had a relationship with actor David Niven and had two children.

However she could never bring herself to admit to her heritage and told everyone that she was born in Tasmania – which back then must have seemed so removed from Europe and the US that her secret would not be discovered.

She claimed that all early records of her birth were destroyed in a fire. In 1978 she even accepted an invitation to the Tasmanian capital Hobart to see her ‘birthplace’.

However, the story began to come out as friends remembered her growing up in Bombay.

Her birth certificate is among 2.5million records covering 200 years of British rule in India which are being made available online for the first time. They can be viewed by purchasing a findmypast.co.uk subscription or pay-as-you-go credits.

Merle of course has her star in the Hollywood Hall of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard - as indeed she should have – as one of the stars of that golden era  :

Merle Oberon

 

 

 
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