Archive for September, 2013

The Flame and the Arrow 1950

“The Flame and the Arrow” takes the story of Robin Hood and transfers it from England to Italy. The scene is set in twelfth-century Lombardy, at a time when that area was subject to the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. The villain of the piece is Count Ulrich the Hawk, the cruel German overlord of Lombardy. The Robin Hood figure is Dardo Bartoli, a hunter and skilled archer who leads a group of rebels against Ulrich after being outlawed, with the mute Piccolo the equivalent of Little John. There is also another villain, the Marchese Alessandro di Granazia, and a Maid Marian figure in Anne of Hesse, a beautiful German aristocrat who takes the side of the Italian rebels and falls in love with Dardo.
The film which obviously inspired this one was the Errol Flynn version of “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, made twelve years earlier. Burt Lancaster, who had previously been a gymnast and a circus acrobat, was an obvious choice to play Dardo, the sort of swashbuckling role which Flynn had made his own in the late thirties and forties. (Lancaster was to go on to play similar roles in other films such as “The Crimson Pirate”). Here, he gets plenty of opportunity to display his athletic talents, doing all his own stunts, many of which (such as the scene where he swings from the chandelier) were clearly inspired by “Robin Hood”.

I absolutely love this matte shot at the opening of The Flame and the Arrow – above.  Bottom half of the picture is live action and the top of the frame a wonderful colour painting – expertly joined together as one when on screen. Brilliant technique this and one that did so much for films.

Below link to The Trailer to The Flame and the Arrow

Unlike Robin Hood, who is normally portrayed as a Saxon nobleman leading his people against their Norman oppressors, Dardo has a personal reason for resenting the German rulers of Lombardy. His wife Francesca has left him in order to become Count Ulrich’s mistress, and much of the plot concerns Dardo’s attempts to rescue his son Rudy, whom Ulrich has kidnapped.

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Ava Gardner

Just arrived in England to film Pandora and the Flying Dutchman.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

In 1930, in the Seaport of Esperanza, on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, the fishermen find the bodies of a couple trapped in the net of their fishing vessel. The historian Geoffrey Fielding (Harold Warrender) recalls the beautiful, selfish and spoiled American singer Pandora Reynolds (Ava Gardner), who used to break the heart of her lovers. When Pandora is proposed by the British racing car pilot Stephen Cameron (Nigel Patrick), she demands that he drives his car off the cliffs to prove his love to her. Stephen does what Pandora has asked him and they schedule their wedding on September 3rd.
However when Pandora sees a yacht anchored in the bay, she impulsively swims to the vessel and meets the Dutch Hendrik van der Zee (James Mason) alone without any crew on board. Pandora immediately feels attracted by the mysterious Hendrik and introduces him to her friends. When Jeffrey finds a manuscript from the Seventeenth Century of the Flying Dutchman, he asks Hendrik to help him in the translation. Jeffrey learns that Hendrik apparently is the Flying Dutchman – a captain that stabbed to death his innocent wife believing that she was unfaithful to him. He is sentenced to death and his soul is cursed by God, doomed to sail alone for the eternity, unless he finds a woman that loves him so much that should be capable to die for him. Jeffrey is afraid that Pandora might be this woman and presses her to marry Stephen as soon as possible.

“Pandora and the Flying Dutchman” is an adorable timeless romance based on the legend of the Flying Dutchman.

The beauty of Ava Gardner shines through in the role of a woman that does not love any man until she finds the doomed captain Hendrik van der Zee, falles in love with him and becomes capable of an ultimate act of love.    James Mason gives an extraordinary performance – a very dramatic one at that.        The costumes of Ava Gardner are really beautiful. The cinematography is wonderful by Jack Cardiff who went on to direct films but was one of the great cinematographers of the golden age of films.

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman

Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951) directed by Albert Lewin, starring Ava Gardner, James Mason

Albert Lewin, the man behind Pandora and the Flying Dutchman, was one of the most unusual directors to come out of mid-century filmmaking. He only directed six films, all of which he wrote and produced himself. In defiance of mainstream tastes, his films were erudite, highbrow, and fiercely intellectual. Lewin was also an art collector, with a taste for the surreal (his friends included Man Ray and Max Ernst) and his films frequently reflected this fascination. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman was his fourth film and many consider it the culmination of Lewin’s obsessions: a proudly romantic, visually fascinating attempt to bring his love for myths and art to cinematic life.




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Hubert Gregg – Man of many talents.

Hubert Gregg –

Hubert Gregg (1914-2004) was an actor, songwriter, author, director and radio presenter – among other talents – as if that isn’t enough. His career spanned 70 years in theatre, film and radio.

The picture above  shows Hubert Gregg in his role as the evil Prince John in Walt Disney’s live-action movie, the Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952). In my opinion, his performance as the ‘sneering’ brother of King Richard the Lionheart is very underrated and is up there with the likes of Claude Rains and Guy Rolfe.

This is a excerpt from his autobiography Maybe It’s Because… :

‘It was during a tour of Agatha Christie’s The Hollow that I got a telephone call to say that I had been asked to test for the part of Prince John in the coming Walt Disney production The Story of Robin Hood. I was told that Ken Annakin was directing. He had directed me in a pot-boiler called Vote for Huggett and we got along well together.

I made my first film at Denham Studios – I hadn’t set foot there since In Which We Serve – and the final choice seemed to be between Kenneth More, Geoffrey Keen and myself. I won by a short beard.

The Disney Robin Hood was a new screen experience and one I wouldn’t have missed for seven whodunits in a row, director or play. Peter Finch was cast as the Sheriff of Nottingham and we shared a crack of dawn car to the studio each day. It was a colour movie with absolutely no expense spared. The costumes were beautiful, if unnecessarily weighty in their adherence to medieval reality. One cloak was heavily embroidered and lined with real fur: it cost more than a thousand pounds (a good deal of money in pre-inflationary days) and took all my strength to wear. In one scene I had to ride into the town square, leap off my horse and enter the treasury building in high dudgeon.

To add to the reality our saddles were fitted with medieval pommels at the back that had to be negotiated carefully when dismounting. In the first take, I lifted my leg as gracefully as I could the necessary six inches higher than usual and leaped beautifully off my steed. As my feet touched the ground the weight of my cloak carried me completely out of frame to the left.

One day on the set, a week or two after shooting had begun; I heard a quiet voice coming from a chair on my left.”How are you, Mr. Gregg? My name is Disney.” I looked surprised at this modest newcomer to the studio – he had arrived from Hollywood the day before. “I’d like to thank you….” he was saying, adding flattering things about my performance, which however he referred to as ‘a portrayal’. The choice of word was typically American and the modesty typically Disney.

I enjoyed every moment of the filming but had to put my foot down over a suggestion from the publicity department. They wanted to send me by car, in costume and make-up, to Alexandra Palace where I would appear on television singing Maybe it’s Because I’m a Londoner!’

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The Sword and the Rose 1953 – Walt Disney

Richard Todd and Walt Disney, July 1952

Richard Todd, the fine British actor  was Walt Disney’s first adult live-action star and his good friend. Todd’s second movie for Walt (after The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men) was The Sword and the Rose, which was filmed in England in 1952 and released in the U.S. in July 1953. I recently acquired this publicity photo for Sword and the Rose which shows Walt with Todd, and with Glynis Johns, Todd’s co-star, around the start of the shooting of that film at the Pinewood Studios. The occasion was the filming of costume tests.

The photo is undated, but it most likely was taken early in July 1952. Walt and Lillian Disney, their daughters, Sharon and Diane  and Lillian’s niece, Marjorie Sewell Bowers, sailed from New York on the Queen Elizabeth on Tuesday, July 1, 1952. They arrived at Southampton on Sunday, July 6, and proceeded to the Dorchester Hotel in London. The Hollywood Reporter for July 17, 1952, in a dispatch from London dated Friday, July 11, reported:

Walt Disney arrived in town this week and got right down to work on his new British picture, “The Sword and the Rose.” Already he has visited Pinewood studios and had conferences with producer Perce Pearce and writer Lawrence Watkin, inspected art director Carmen Dillon’s set designs and given artists’ and make-up tests the once-over. After expressing his complete satisfaction with the pre-production planning and progress to date, he took a quick look at the sound stage where the first set is being built in readiness for interior shooting to start Aug. 5. This set, on which the opening scenes will be filmed, depicts part of the grounds and battlements of Windsor Castle in 1515 during the early years of Henry VIII’s reign. Location shooting will be done by a second unit at Wilton Park, Beaconsfield, about 20 miles out of London, and will start next Monday.

The Disneys and Marjorie Bowers left Europe on Monday, August 25, 1952, sailing from Naples, Italy, aboard the Independence, and arrived in New York on Wednesday, September 3. I don’t know if they flew or took the train to Los Angeles, but, in any case, Walt was back in his Burbank office the following Tuesday, September 9, the day after Labour Day.

Muriel Marjorie Sewell Bowers, daughter of Lillian Disney’s sister Hazel Sewell and the stepdaughter of Walt’s longtime employee Bill Cottrell, married Marvin Davis, one of Disneyland’s key designers, in 1955. He died in 1998. Marjorie Davis died in December 1999, at the age of 83.

The Picture below shows Walt Disney arriving here in 1949 for the making of Treasure Island

1949 – Accompanied by his wife and daughters – Diane, 16 and Sharon, 13 – Hollywood film producer Walt Disney arrives at Southampton aboard the Cunard- White Star liner ‘Queen Elizabeth’. Disney has come to Britain to film ‘Treasure Island’.

The Sword and the Rose was the third film made with the locked revenue from Disney films released in the U.K. during the war. Many of the people responsible for making the film also worked on the previous British Disney film, The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men, including director Ken Annakin, producer Perce Pearce, and star Richard Todd, who played Robin Hood. Glynis Johns was cast as Mary Tudor.
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After The Ball – 1957 Laurence Harvey and Pat Kirkwood

I don’t seem to remember this film at all but After the Ball is a 1957 British biographical film directed by Compton Bennett.   It portrayed the life of the stage performer Vesta Tilley.

It stars Pat  Kirkwood, Laurence Harvey.   ‘After the Ball’  was  filmed on a quite a low budget and was made by British Lion Films.

The most interesting scenes are Tilley’s interactions with various British and American theatrical figures. In New York City, she works for impresarios Tony Pastor and Oscar Hammerstein: the latter is not the lyricist, but his  grandfather.

It is the story of Vesta Tilley

This film charts the life and loves of a music-hall singer.    Vesta Tilley (Pat Kirkwood) is the daughter of a music-hall Chairman who watches shows from the wings with great enthusiasm.   One day her father finds her dressed as a boy and singing to an audience consisting of dolls. Her act, he believes, is good enough to be performed in front of a live audience. As time goes on, word of her spreads.

She was viewed as the first male impersonator, her fame leads her into marriage to a nobleman.

Above – Leonard Sachs and Laurence Harvey in a scene from the film
















Above: Pat Kirkwood in a scene from After The Ball. 

I did notice also the Hubert Gregg had written the screenplay for this film starring his wife. He was such a talented person. I can’t think of anyone else who was so good at so many aspects of theatre and film. He was just phenomenal !!!

Laurence Harvey.

This film was made just before his greatest role as Joe Lampton in Room at the Top.

His career was cut short by illness and he died at the young age of 45. His only child – his daughter who was only a small toddler when he died – lived to an even younger age and died aged 35. She is buried with her father in the cemetery at Santa Barbara, California.


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