Archive for July, 2012

Olympics, Olympics, Olympics

With the London Olympics in full flow and after we have witnessed such a breathaking and stupendous opening ceremony, I thought I would look back at one of the few films I know that deal with the subject – and this is indeed a fifties film.

Bill Travers stars as ‘Geordie’ made in 1955 and is the story of a young lad who sends for a body building course and as this is successful he becomes a champion thrower of the Hammer and strives to represent Great Britain at the 1956 Melbourne Games

The film is sometimes called ‘Wee Geordie’ about an undersized young  lad who spends his savings on a Charles Atlas type body building course to increase his height and improve his strength. This proves to be so successful is he that he is chosen in later years to represent Britain in the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games and wins gold in the hammer throwing event.

This is a  simple tale about sheer hard work and dedication.  Bill Travers plays the lead role as Geordie with a dour expression which breaks into a winning smile when things turn out well.

Nora Gorsen plays Jean his childhood sweetheart who urges him to accept the Olympic challenge and provides the female lead. She is an actress that I have never heard of before who actually hails from Devon.

Alistair Sim in one of his later roles, is excellent as the laird as he always was indeed.

Francis de Wolff as Samson is the man who prepares the correspondence course and thereafter seeks loudly to gain full credit for the success. He appeared in Treasure Island among many other roles.

There is a hilarious scene at the railway station when he says goodbye to Geordie on his trip to Australia.

Filmed in ‘glorious Technicolor’ this is a lovely film and a joy to watch.


This scene shows Alistair Sim giving advice to Geordie – Bill Travers.


It is a pity that the stills I have are not colour ones which I find strange because in 1955 the fact a film was In Colour was a bonus and as these stills are to promote the film you would have thought they would have been.


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I well remember as a very young lad, going to see The Robe at the local Essoldo Cinema which was the very first film to be made in Cinemascope. It was very impressive as we sat close to the front with heads turning from one side of the wide screen to the other so as not to miss anything. The film had stereophonic sound and the voices seem to be coming from all over the place.

My dad was a fan of Victor Mature at that time, and he certainly was well used in the  Biblical epics such as Samson and Delilah, The Robe and Demetrius and the Gladiators and to be fair to him, he was very good in these roles.

The early Scope films had a very wide screen – letterbox as they say – a new format designed to counter the threat of television which could never compete with this. Even today the wide screen is the thing and TV has changed its shape of screen to a wider format.

Other formats came along Vistavision and Supersope to name just a couple and also Cinerama which had an ultra large screen. I remember going to see the film Khartoum in London in that format on a very hot summer day with cinemas having no air con in those days. Maybe the heat would have set the scene for us.


Some films that were made around the time of the wide screen change and just prior to it had to be re-formatted to suit the trend – one such film was Shane with Alan Ladd. There was quite a delay from the filming to the release in order to give the technicians time to  ‘stretch’ the print.

Another fairly juvenile romp I remember – a liitle later – was Prince Valiant with Robert Wagner and James Mason as the baddie. It seemed great at the time but when viewed today is not quite so good.

I reckon that Hitchcock’s Vertigo was filmed in VistaVision.

Some of the horror films of the time went in for more gimmicky formats such as Emergo with the ridiculous sight of a skeleton seeming to come out from the screen. Actually it was the local cinema manager who would operate this thing on pulleys at a particular part of the film. It was laughable really I recall.




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When it comes to writing a history of Hollywood or even this Blog, and think of the great stars of this or any other era, there is  no star shines more brightly  than this one. Still adored by fans the world over and unbelievably an icon even now to a generation of picturegoers born long after she left us, Marilyn Monroe raises the bar in terms of film stardom to a level that virtually no other even comes close.

Her history is well known and documented. Born Norma Jean Mortensen  or Baker in 1926 she grew up in Los Angeles.  Her mother was committed  to State Mental Institutions as had been her grandparents.

She attended school at Los Angeles Orphans Home Society and on leaving school she worked in the Lockheed Factory. There she was discovered by a photographer looking for a subject and this led to her modelling full time. Her pictures became known on a world scale and she was signed up by 20th Century Fox with  her name changed to Marilyin Monroe.

Marilyn was coached in acting and continued but she did not prosper at Fox and she moved to Columbia where she had little more luck in terms of breaking into films. 

One of the films she is not particularly well remembered for was Don’t Bother to Knock 1952 starring alongside Richard Widmark. This was very much a straight role with Marilyn playing a beautiful but psychotic young lady who is babysitting a young child and whilst doing so becomes involved with Richard Widmark. The child wakes up and it was at this stage that the babysitter reveals homicidal tendencies.She has just, we find, been released from an asylum. An unusual role for Marilyn – her first major dramatic part.

 A few largely forgettable films followed and then came the titles we all know Gentleman Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire working alongside Betty Grable, Lauren Bacall and Jane Russell.

 She toured Korea to entertain US troops out there and returned to films like Theres No Business Like Show Business and on to The Seven Year Itch.

One fascinating little snippet comes from Richard Todd’ s autobiography In Camera when he describes being in Hollywood to film A Man Called Peter about the life of Peter Marshall the famous preacher and it was whilst filming one of the many sermons in the film that  Marilyn Monroe came quietly in from a nearby film set to watch and was seen crying as she listened to the words.

She came to England in 1956 to star opposite Sir Laurence Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl but this was not a happy film to make for her. Olivier was not at all pleased with what he perceived as her lack of discipline on the set and her lateness but I have always thought that his feelings were tinged with a certain amount of jealousy. He was, as we all know, a great stage actor no doubt  but he didn’t possess the same screen prescence as Marilyn (or even his former wife Vivian Leigh) and was not a film star in the same mould as they were. In this film Marilyn’s performance was quite light and Olivier’s a more stagey effort.

I do remember that at the time this film was being made, the local vicar’s son in the village where we lived was away at boarding school and he told us that a number of the pupils in his class had worked as extras on this film. Wish I had asked more about it at the time !!

Marilyn was at the time married to Arthur Miller and I often wonder what he made of it all.

She made Some Like it Hot which is such a well remembered film. The film ran over budget in the making but eventually grossed $14,000,000 dollars and earned Mayilyn some $3 million. The Misfits opposite Clark Gable was to be her last real role.

Her death has been examined and re-examined over the years. The recorded verdict was ‘probable suicide’.

On a cruise holiday two years ago, we had a series of lectures by a former Los Angeles Crime Dept Official who had been asked to look again at the evidence they had regarding her death and this he had done in the mid 1980s.  He showed us a photograph of all the documents that were left  which had been kept under lock and key in his department. There weren’t that many remaining.

Some of the facts he stated  – firstlyover the night that Marilyn died there had been a lot of phone calls from Peter Lawford – Kennedy’s Brother In Law – to Marilyn’s home and there were reports from a number of locals that a helicopter had taken off somewhere close to Lawford’s house that night.

There was also a report from near neighbours in the quiet little road where she lived that a vehicle had driven past on the morning of her death. The witness thought they recognised someone in the car but this was largely hearsay and conjecture with nothing more specific.

He concluded that it was now impossible to say conclusively what had happened but that he himself didn’ think that her death was suicide.

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Treasure Island 1950

To start off this Blog on the films of the fifties, it first seemed that a general view of the whole decade would be the way forward – a decade that took us from Hollywood B movies, through wide screen Cinemascope films which kicked off with the many Biblical epics and those musicals like South Pacific and Carousel then on to Elvis Presley and along the way we saw the brief interlude of 3D – something back in vogue today -all helping the cinema in its battle with the new era of Television which was at that time certainly viewed as a major threat.

However I decided to hit the ground running so to speak with a memorable film from 1950 – Walt Disney’s Treasure Island.

This swashbuckling adventure was the first in a series of British made live-action films, produced with the Studio’s overseas revenue, which was still frozen after the war. It was also the very first feature length film made by Disney without a single animated sequence.

Based of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, the film stars Bobby Driscoll as Jim Hawkins, who finds himself lured into the evil machinations of Long John Silver, a part played with great relish by Robert Newton to such an extent that his later film career was effectively defined by this appearance. It was a brilliant portrayal bordering on pantomime and yet he dominates the film even alongside such an illustrious cast list.

 Perce Pearce was the producer trusted by Walt Disney in this role and special effects ace turned director Byron Haskin was put in charge of directing the film. With screenplay by Lawrence Watkin, the film is considered to be one of the Disney Studios finest live-action dramas. The film was made in England at Denham Film Studios with lush island exteriors greatly enhanced by Peter Ellenshaw’s magnificent matte painting – a technique used by Walt Disney many times over the next years – and still used today – but always done by Peter who was signed on a lifetime contract in Hollywood to the Disney Studio.

All the excitement and action of the story was brilliantly captured by Freddie Young the Award winning photographer. The film was shot in ‘glorious Technicolor’ with a glossy colour that is still impressive even by todays standards. The memorable scene where the long boat comes into shore from which Jim Hawkins escapes was actually filmed on the lake at Denham with the River Colne having been dammed to raise the water level for the desired effect. Sand and palm trees finished off the stunning scene.

Director Byron Haskin prepares to shoot the above scene. Robert Newton is ready for action in the boat to the left.

 The film was released worldwide through RKO Radio and did pretty well at the Box Office. It was released in England on 22 June 1950.


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