Archive for May, 2020

Marguerite Chapman – Film actress

Until I saw the film Kansas Raiders and wrote the last article here, in truth, I had not heard of this film star who was a leading lady in Columbia films of the Forties.

Marguerite Chapman was a beautiful, blue-eyed brunette who looked particularly lovely in colour. She was a former model who virtually learnt to act in front of the cameras, she was at her peak when good film roles became scarce and she turned to television. Later she was to speak with refreshing honesty about the effect her beauty had on such prominent moguls of the period as Howard Hughes and Harry Cohn, who were to help her establish an acting career.

She was born in Chatham, New York, in 1920, and had four brothers – three of them older.  She began her working life as a typist and switchboard operator in White Plains, New York, but, urged on by her friends who praised her beauty, she left her job and went to New York City in search of modelling work. She was hired by the influential John Powers agency, and soon began appearing on magazine covers. “I originally had no intention of becoming an actress,” she said later. “When I began to think of what I would do in the future I decided I might like to become fashion editor for Vogue or something like that.”

Marguerite Chapman’s boyfriend at the time was Sherman Fairchild of Fairchild Aircraft and Cameras, and he was a friend of Howard Hughes, who was an aeroplane enthusiast. Fairchild took Chapman to a party given by Hughes, and shortly afterwards she was told that Hughes wanted her to do a screen test at his Long Island studio – he was looking for an actress to star in a film he was planning, The Outlaw. “It was a visual test, no dialogue. Hughes liked the test, and signed me to a contract with an option.

I arrived in Hollywood on Christmas Eve afternoon, 1939. Hughes had arranged for Pat di Cicco, Cubby Broccoli and Bruce Cabot to squire me here and there.

“When I met Ruth and Hoagy Carmichael, they gave me advice appropriate for a young girl visiting Hollywood for the first time. They told me to keep away from my three escorts and to stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I did everything they told me not to . . .”

She did say that when she arrived in Hollywood just before Christmans 1939 she was ‘lonelier than I had ever been in my life’

She did attend a Warner Brothers New Year Party and met stars like Ann Sheridan, Charles Boyer and Errol Flynn who asked her for a date but she declined as he was married.

After some sessions with a drama coach, Marguerite did a full screen test directed by Hughes. “It was a very ladylike test – it was a scene from an Irene Dunne picture – and afterwards Hughes told me, `You’re too much of a lady for me and too much of a lady for the film. I’m going to send your test to Joe Schenck, chairman of 20th Century-Fox pictures.’ ” Signed by Fox, Chapman was coached at their drama school on the lot, and made her screen debut in On Their Own (1940), one of a series of B movies about the exploits of the Jones family (the studio’s answer to MGM’s enormously popular Andy Hardy films).

She next played a girl reporter in Charlie Chan at the Wax Museum (1940) but after six months her option was dropped. Later the actress stated that the decision may have been affected by something that happened when she first met the studio’s production chief Darryl Zanuck at the night- club Ciro’s. “Zanuck, who was short, asked me to dance. I said, `I’m sorry, I don’t like to dance with men who are shorter than I am.’ That was a mistake.”

Moving to Warners, where she stayed for a year, she played several small roles, notably in The Body Disappears (1941) in which her wealthy fiance discovers her mercenary nature after he is rendered invisible, and the musical Navy Blues (1941) as one of the “Navy Blues Sextet”, a group of glamorous starlets (all former Powers models) who also appeared in morale- boosting short films which were sent to the troops. Leaving Warners, Marguerite had her best role to date as the heroine of Republic’s serial Spy Smasher (1942), based on the Whiz Comics adventure series (“SEE Spy Smasher – as a human tornado – sink the German U-Boat!” promised the ads) with Kane Richmond in the dual role of the costumed hero and his twin brother, both battling a Nazi menace called the Mask.

Few serial heroines successfully made the transition to major features, but Marguerite was the exception. When Columbia signed her, they immediately gave her leading roles in a series of B movies as training for promotion to “A”s. In Parachute Nurse (1942) she was top- billed as a new recruit to a team of nurses who parachute to aid men injured on the battlefield. Variety described her as adequate, adding “though patently a newcomer and a bit awkward”.

Submarine Raider (1942) was another propaganda piece in which, as a shipwrecked heiress, she is picked up by a submarine which then sinks a Japanese carrier to score the navy’s first victory after Pearl Harbor. Appointment in Berlin (1943) was publicised as the first film to deal with a “Lord Haw-Haw” situation, with George Sanders as an apparent traitor broadcasting anti- British diatribes which in fact contain coded messages of vital information. Its pessimistic ending – Sanders, along with a German who aids him (Chapman) and a British spy (Gale Sondergaard) all die – made it unpopular with audiences, while the New York Herald-Tribune chided the film for “its considerable wishful thinking in its glorification of the British Intelligence”.

Marguerite Chapman in a dramatic scene from ‘Appointment in Berlin’

Marguerite was next given her first lead in a major film, Destroyer (1943) starring Edward G. Robinson and Glenn Ford. “With this film, my career finally took off,” said Chapman. “Robinson was a charming man, but I remember that he grew increasingly concerned because he was shorter than I, and he spoke to the director about it. If you look at the film, you’ll notice that I’m sitting down a lot.”

Marguerite’s performance as Robinson’s daughter was well received (“By now, I had done many films and had gone to several drama coaches”) but she was featured in several more B movies before being given the prestigious female lead in Counter-Attack (1945) opposite Paul Muni. Based on a Russian play, Pobyeda, it was almost entirely set in a bombed-out factory’s basement where Russian soldier Muni and Russian guerrilla Marguerite hold off a septet of German soldiers while they await rescue. “A lot of girls had tested for the part of `Comrade Lisa’, including Nina Foch. I went to see the producer Zoltan Korda with no make-up and straggly hair. He said, `You’re just what I want. You look like a boy, but I know there’s a woman underneath all that.’

“The first scene we shot had to be done over again, because I had my hair swept up. Harry Cohn, head of Columbia, had a real thing about hair. He wanted my hair down, and that’s how we did the scene.”

Filmed in 1944, when America was pro-Soviet, but released in the spring of 1945 when, to quote the historian Bernard F. Dick, “Russophobia staged a comeback”, the film did not do well, and a few years later when Muni, his co-star Larry Parks, script-writer John Howard Lawson and Columbia supervisor Sidney Buchman were all named by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the film was used against them.

Marguerite had a welcome change of pace with her next film, Leslie Fenton’s deft comedy Pardon My Past (1945), with Fred MacMurray playing dual roles in a sparkling tale of mistaken identity, Chapman playing the girl who ends up with the worthier of the two MacMurrays. Like most Columbia employees, the actress was not happy with her pay, and later recalled that the night the film was finished she attended a dinner party at Cohn’s house. “I was wearing this cute little dress and Harry asked me where I got it and then asked, `How much did you pay for it?’ In front of the other guests I replied, `I paid $75, my week’s salary. Aren’t you ashamed?’ I always talked like that to Harry. He was always calling me into his office. I think he enjoyed sparring with me.”

One of their discussions was about her name. “Harry always called me Margaret. `My name is Marguerite,’ I told him. `You spend all that money putting me under contract and spelling my name out on marquees, so at least pronounce it right, Uncle Harry.’ `From now on,’ Cohn assured me, `I will always call you Marguerite, Margaret.'”

In Mr District Attorney (1946), based on a popular radio series, Chapman played a murderous gold-digger, then she starred opposite Lee Bowman in a good thriller, The Walls Came Tumbling Down (1946) which suffered from its resemblance to The Maltese Falcon, the sought-after items in this case being two bibles and a painting, with Chapman a beautiful socialite who may not be all she seems. “All I can recall of that film,” said Chapman, “is Lee Bowman refusing to take his hat off in the elevator, which the director did not like. Lee didn’t want to put on his hairpiece.”

A western with Randolph Scott, Coroner Creek (1948), and a roisterous swashbuckler, The Gallant Blade (1948), with Larry Parks, were both filmed in Cinecolor and demonstrated how well the actress’s looks responded to the colour camera.

ABOVE with Larry Parks in The Gallant Blade 1948

They were followed by one of her finest films, Relentless (1948), co-starring Robert Young. Chapman said:

Don “Red” Barry, the western actor, told me that he had found this book Three Were Thoroughbreds, which Gene Rodney and Robert Young were going to produce as a major Technicolor western for Columbia release. Don said, “Marguerite, you’re just right for the tomboyish leading lady.” I thought, “That’s my studio, I’ll push myself”, so I went to see Gene and Bob at Columbia. “If you don’t give me this part,” I said, “I’m going up and tell Uncle Harry.” I had never done anything like that before, but I knew it was a good part. We filmed in Tucson,

Arizona, under George Sherman’s direction, and it turned out to be one of my best pictures. Bob Young was very warm, a real pro, and many years later I appeared on his TV series Marcus Welby, MD, with him.

Though Relentless was a success, it was to end Marguerite’s career at Columbia, and she decided to freelance. At Universal, she co-starred with Audie Murphy in Kansas Raiders (1950), but the following year she was at the budget studio Monogram starring in Flight to Mars (1951) as Alita, a Martian who falls in love with a reporter (Cameron Mitchell) who has crash-landed on her planet with a group of scientists.

In ‘Flight to Mars’ 1951

In 1952 Marguerite Chapman came over to England along with George Brent, whose star was also fading, and made a very good film there – Terence Fisher’s The Last Page, an efficient thriller (called Man Bait in the US). Filming commenced on July 9th 1951 – in a warm English Summer.

During this time she must have met, and a romance ensued between her and Film Producer Anthony Havelock-Allan who at that time had parted and probably was divorced from Valerie Hobson.

Some reports I have read state that Anthony Havelock-Allan had married Marguerite Chapman but I don’t think that was the case.

In London With George Brent in The Last Page
Filming ‘The Last Page’ In Central London – The gardens next to St James’s church between Jermyn Street and Piccadilly in London W1 and the Piccadilly Hotel in the right background.
Here Marguerite Chapman meets Raymond Huntley again the the Church Gardens
Again with George Brent

By 1955 she was playing a supporting role as a secretary in Billy Wilder’s The Seven Year Itch. Since 1951 she had been appearing frequently on television, guest starring in many popular series including Four Star Playhouse, Studio 57, Climax and Perry Mason. She attempted a cinema comeback in 1960, starring in Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Amazing Transparent Man, but the film’s unconvincing special effects (the title character, supposed to be invisible, was often easily seen) doomed it to failure.

Never having set foot on a stage before, Marguerite Chapman began to work in small theatres, and won praise for her portrayal of Sylvia, the bitchy gossip of The Women in a Fort Worth production. One critic praised her “ribald comic flair” while another commented, “Here is another great performer with versatility spilling over in ebullient delight with every line and movement on stage.”

Marguerite enjoyed painting (her pictures have been exhibited at the Beverly Hills Art League Gallery), golfing, and decorating her house in Woodland Hills, California, where she is memorialised by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Two years ago the director James Cameron asked her to audition for the role of the elderly survivor in his film Titanic, but she was too ill to do so. Talking of her Hollywood career, she said recently, “I acted in just about everything possible in those years – `A’s, `B’s, serials, short subjects, even trailers. And I loved every minute of it.”

Marguerite Chapman, actress: born Chatham, New York 9 March 1920; married first Bentley Ryan (marriage dissolved), second Richard Bremerkamp (marriage dissolved); died Burbank, California 31 August 1999.

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Kansas Raiders 1950 – Audie Murphy

This was quite an early film from Audie Murphy and a good Western at that which was on TCM over the last weekend.

Audie Murphy plays a young Jesse James. He and his brother Frank join the Quantrill Raiders gang led by the notorious William Quantrill, played by Brian Donlevy.

Jesse and Frank are motivated to join the group to avenge the deaths of their murdered parents. Both quickly become disillusioned with the senseless violence and the looting of innocent people. The gang’s reputation becomes best known for its bloody attack on Lawrence, Kansas.

Jesse finally realises that this is not the life he wants to lead but stays with Quantrill until the soldiers find them.

Quantrill forces Jesse to leave. Quantrill then faces the Yankee’s gunfire alone and is killed.

Jesse James manages to escape with his own gang and rides off into history.

An action scene from the filmthe bloody and brutal attack on Lawrence Kansas

This was an action packed sequence in the film and a few moments later we have the brutal gunning down of unarmed men Audie Murphy as Jesse James and his Brother Frank are visibly appalled by this murderous act.

He is shocked by this murderous act

Now this is a Double Bill I would have loved to see.  I loved Tap Roots although it is years since I have seen it- a really good film with Boris Karloff as an Indian. Both these films in Technicolor and both exciting productions
Marguerite Chapman here with Audie Murphy
Marguerite Chapman 
Marguerite Chapman 

I did not know this actress at all – however on looking her up she seems to have made quite a lot of films from the early 40s onwards and continued into the late 70’s, so it seems that she had a good career

On looking further she does seem to have had a very interesting and varied life in films – with lots of anecdotes on people she came into contact with over the film years – so much so that my next article on this Blog will be on Marguerite Chapman

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Valerie Hobson marries John Profumo

The date is 31 December 1954 at St.Columba’s Church in Chelsea, London.

Film star Valerie Hobson marries MP John Profumo

All film fans will remember that she  played the slender, virtuous Edith D’Ascoyne in ‘Kind Hearts and Coronets’ – competing for the hand of Denis Price, against  her suburban rival in the film, played by Joan Greenwood. She had also portrayed  Estella in David Lean’s ‘Great Expectations’, showing a very cold and icy  front to John Mills who played the grown-up ‘Pip’.   Without doubt these were her two most famous roles on screen

In the 1950 s  she played opposite Herbert Lom on the London stage in ‘The King and I’ at the famous Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in the West EndI note from the above that it is billed as a ‘new musical play’ so this must have been one of the first London productions – and on looking further indeed it was and opened in October 1953

I had never associated her with the stage but it seems that she was very much at home there and this was a very big prestigious production. She stayed in her role for quite a few months before deciding to retire from acting to concentrate on her family.

It opened on 8 October 1953 and ran for 926 performances.

I wonder if she regretted this and missed the acting world – my guess is that she would have done. Her first husband Anthony Havelock-Allen, with whom she remained on friendly terms was all his life a Film Produce / Director of some note – so a lot of her life had been connected in one way or another with film life

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David Farrar in Hollywood

These pictures come from the spring of 1951 when David Farrar along with his wife and daughter Barbara, were in Hollywood whilst he was filming ‘The Golden Horde’

He was a film actor who seemed to have a very high opinion of himself which apparently comes over in his Autobiography ‘No Royal Road’ published in 1947 or 1948. I am searching for this book but so far have not been successful in locating a copy. If anyone has one please let me know.

Years before this he ran his own theatre in the Tottenham Court Road and he used to get masses of fan mail. He had a very good career in films in England mainly thanks to Michael Powell and Emric Pressburger who gave him some great parts but later went to America when he would have been 43 years old – he was too late being too old for the leading roles he aspired to like this film.

His is wife Irene died fairly young – but he never re-married.

In fairness to him he did seem to be a real family man devoted to his daughter Barbara and his wife

David Farrar in Hollywood – This was his first Hollywood film and so he took the family there for the few weeks of filming in the spring of 1951 I would guess.

He really does seem a pompous man – with a self-styled aura of superiority – misplaced I am sure. Just who does he think he is !!

Maybe I am a bit harsh here but he just comes over that way sometimes.

Irene his wife pours a nice cup of tea in the morning

Catching up on some paperwork
Listening to daughter Barbara play the piano
Posting a Letter home
Breakfast Time
With trousers like that it is no wonder David Farrar’s career in Hollywood didn’t go better – quite honestly he looks ridiculous
Goodnight to daughter Barbara
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Gun Glory 1957

Here we have Stewart Granger in a Western – I know he did The Last Hunt just before this – but he is not associated with this type of film – probably because he is very English – but I have to admit he was good in this one and to be fair is was a pretty good Western from MGM

On the very impressive wide screen that we all loved and the location filming was really impressive

Seeing GUN GLORY reminds me once again what a pleasure it is to watch Stewart Granger and Rhonda Fleming.

Stewart Granger plays a family man who has become something of a drifter- not to mention a gambler and a gunfighter. He returns home to his ranch after turning away from this life style only to discover that his wife is dead and his son wants nothing to do with him. So he then hires Rhonda Fleming to keep house for him, and she works to bring father and son together.

Rhonda Fleming is, without doubt, a beautiful young lady and once again, she proves she can act as well.

Chill Wills excels as a wise, non judgemental vicar. It really was exquisitely photographed in Metrocolor and Cinemascope.

This is a film that can, for the most part, be enjoyed by all the family which is a bonus.

About the time that this film was made, Stewart Granger and his Wife Jean Simmons, had purchased a 5,000 acre farm in Arizona which should and would have been perfect for them and their small children, but as he himself recalls in his excellent autobiography ‘Sparks Fly Upwards’, the repayments they had to meet on the financing of the ranch meant that both of them had to make film after film which resulted in them being apart for long periods.

The inevitable happened and they went their separate ways, much to the sadness of Stewart Granger – because in my opinion Jean was the love of his life and he remained in love with her until the day he died.

One of the films that Jean Simmons made in that period was ‘Elmer Gantry’ directed by Richard Brooks who she married after her divorce from Stewart Granger – in fact she married him quite quickly afterwards.

Gun Glory was directed by Roy Rowland and his son, Steve was cast in the film as Stewart Granger’s son who had a career as a film actor although not a major one.

A few years before this was probably the best – or one of the best, of Stewart Granger’s films Scaramouche – another in my opinion made just before that was the wonderful ‘King Solomons Mines’

However one of the stars of Scaramouche – the very lovely Eleanor Parker had this to say :-

In 1952 Stewart Granger had starred in Scaramouche and it seems his co-star Eleanor Parker was not exactly a fan of his – she said of him “Everyone disliked this man…. Stewart Granger was a dreadful person, rude… just awful. Just being in his presence was bad. I thought at one point the crew was going to kill him.

However the resulting film was a notable critical and commercial success.

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Konga – Michael Gough and Jess Conrad

This film was made soon after the success of The Horror of the Black Museum which like this one, starred Michael Gough. As we can see from the Poster below Konga features a giant ape seen here on the rampage but the film itself is really carried by a truly wonderful performance from Michael Gough.

This film is incredible in many ways. It has an outlandish story about a scientist played by Michael Gough who returns from Africa having been presumed lost. However during his travels in Africa he has found a botanical secret to growth in humans and other animals through injections of serums made from seedlings brought back from the jungle.

These he injects into a small chimp which he has also brought back from Africa which he seems to use it as some kind of guinea pig After several injections(and murders of people standing in the scientist’s way) the ape grows to epic proportions and brings an end to his creator’s dreams.

Michael Gough is both cruel and unsympathetic in the way he works to his own ends – a part played with aplomb and panache by Michael Gough. There is one scene where he shoots his own cat at close range rather than have it ruin his scientific discovery.

Michael Gough is incredible and his performance is worth a look at the film alone. The other actors are credible and the guy in the ape suit is believable till the last act.

We also have  very large carniverous plants thrown in for good measure and some great dialogue and surprisingly good acting.

There are lots of cliches thrown at us, the audience, in this delightful and fun film which is in Glorious Eastmancolor too!

A taste of the fun below with these Front of House stills from the film

Konga runs amock and shatters the greenhouse in his path

Jess Conrad also starred in this film. What an interesting character he is. He had a brief Pop career and a smallish career in films and Television – and yet he remains very well known and well liked. He spans so many eras and somehow seems to fit in them all

One of the first and best things he ever did when his Pop records started to be successful, was to but a very nice house in Denham Village close to Roger Moore at that time. Jess and his wife still live there.

He also has had a long and happy marriage – another plus !!

He was born Gerald Arthur James on February 24th, 1936 in England. He his youth he was nicknamed “Jesse” after the American outlaw Jesse James. When Conrad began acting there was already an actor named “Gerald James.” A drama teacher who was a fan of actor Joseph Conrad, a Polish-British writer, suggested the stage name of Jess Conrad.

Conrad began his career as a repertory actor, an actor who performs with a regular company, and a film extra. He was cast in a television play, Bye Bye Barney as a pop singer. This led to other television series and to him recording with several record labels. He had several chart hits including “Cherry Pie”, “The Pullover”, “Mystery Girl” and “Pretty Jenny”.

In the 1950’s and 1960′ JessConrad appeared in several films including Serious Charge, for which he is uncredited, The Boys, Rag Doll, K.I.L. 1 and Konga as well as Michael Powell’s The Queen’s Guards.

By the 1970’s Conrad was appearing in musicals on stage as well as beginning to appear in documentaries. Unfortunately at the time his earlier music was falling out of favor with audiences. In 1977, no fewer than 7 of Jess Conrad’s singles were included in the “World’s Worst Record” list. Eventually the list was turned into an album. On the show contestants who did no make the “big break” were given a box set of Conrad’s hits as a “booby” prize.

However Jess, who still looks incredibly young, and still appears on stage

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The Prendergast File

This quite short film is something of a curio but one I was pleased to see very recently  on Talking Pictures – the UK Television channel that is unique in it’s style and understands – as none of the other TV stations seem to do – that there are millions of us out there wanting to see those films of the fifties or before that even – many of them would never have seen the light of day but for Talking Pictures.

The Prendergast File was made in lovely Technicolor showing off the English countryside in summer to its very best advantage with the accent on the canal waterways we have here zig-zagging the country

There is humour thrown in because this is a spoof film from the ‘Ministry of Public Apathy’

Hugh Symons plays Samuel Prendergast, a civil servant in the ‘Department of Constructive Delays’  is sent by the ‘Ministry of Public Apathy’  to investigate the canals and report back with an eye on closure.

The sequence above and below has Samuel Prendergast reading a newspaper whilst standing on the deck of the barge – as we can see  his bowler hat is knocked off under the bridge which he seems to find quite funny

He has to report back on his findings and produce ‘a full report of recommendations which he duly does but it does not fit the brief of ‘inaction’ so his report is discarded

The film ends speculating on the whereabouts of Prendergast, who we seem to think has abandoned his civil service career – and maybe fallen in love with canals !!!

The other actors in the film are Mabel Cunningham, David Hutchings, Harry Barlow and Jack James – and all of these along with William Symons have one thing in common – they were all in this picture but never made another or seemed to appear in any TV programmes either – so their film careers were short lived – but very pleasant

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VE Day – and Dad’s Army 2016 on Television

VE Day was very memorable with street parties in every village – social distancing fully adhered to no doubt – and beautiful warm sunny weather – and then just to add perfection The Queen addressed us all with her usual beautifully and carefully chosen words that evoked Wartime Memories by her reference to standing on the Buckingham Palace Balcony -and her father – the King’s speech to the nation and then right up to date with an oblique reference to our current situation.

Then we had Dad’s Army 2016 – the latest film version with great performances from Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring and Bill Nighy as Sergeant Wilson.

Toby Jones as Captain Mainwaring

Bill Nighy as Sergeant Wilson.

I love this version and think it was a well filmed story with terrific locations around Bridlington and Flamborough.

The casting was excellent. The characters were close enough to the original but still brought enough of their own interpretation to make something new.

By bringing Captain Mainwaring’s wife into the film – we never saw her in the TV series although she was frequently referred to – we added another dimension particularly when the final climatic action takes place.

Corporal Jones was still pursuing his ‘hinted at’ liaison with Mrs. Fox and Sergeant Wilson, as suave as ever, seemed close to losing his heart to Catherine Zeta Jones who was actually a German spy

She, in fact, was seen through quite quickly by Private Godfrey’s sisters played by Julia Foster and Annette Crosbie, but they were not listened to until close to the film’s end when they came up with information that really sealed it.

The final sequence saw Mainwaring heading the parade along with Sergeant Wilson through the streets of Walmington On Sea ( actually the old town of Bridlington ) through cheering crowds as three Spitfires swooped overhead – when I saw it in the Cinema on first release on the big screen, I felt like standing on my seat and cheering.

Also when Catherine Zeta Jones and Toby Jones are seen standing on the beach – filmed at Flamborough – and suddenly a German U Boat rises up out of the waters in front of them on that wide screen, I thought that was really impressive.

In a later interview, Holli Dempsey the young actress who played Vera, Pike’s girlfriend, said how enjoyable it was, and quite daunting, to play in this film with such a big cast of experienced and well known actors

Holli Dempsey and Catherine Zeta Jones approaching the film’s exciting climax

Catherine Zeta Jones has just clubbed Vera ( Holli Dempsey) to the ground

When the film was being made, there was much publicity, so when it was released I just had to be there and see it, and in fairness I did go with the intention of enjoying it and not being critical in comparing it with the original cast. That was, I know, inevitable but you just have to make adjustments mentally I think.

I, for one, was not disappointed – I thought and think that it is a good and very enjoyable film

Captain Mainwaring and Sergeant Wilson head the parade through Walmington On Sea

Walmington On Sea – Bridlington Old Town

Walmington On Sea – Bridlington Old Town

Those Spitfires swoop overhead

We must not forget to mention that a couple of the original cast members appeared in this 2016 film – Frank Williams who played the vicar Reverend Timothy Farthing – and does so again here and Ian Lavender who as a very young man was Private Pike, here he plays Brigadier Pritchard

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The Thief of Bagdad – 1940 from Alexander Korda

Talking Pictures treated us a few days ago with a big film – Brought to us by Alexander Korda and starring John Justin, Sabu and Conrad Veidt

This 1940 Film is a great piece of fantasy and certainly is great entertainment. It has adventure, romance, song, a Miklos Rozsa score that one critic said is “a symphony accompanied by a film”

The Film was Directed by Michael Powell and it shows – it has his stamp all over it – The Thief of Bagdad is a towering triumph that takes us the audience to a spectacularly coloured world of adventure and magic.

The Colour and the camera angles and use of close-ups that hold the screen for longer that we are used to, reminds me of a later Michael Powell film ‘The Elusive Pimpernel in 1950 which was not a success – personally I think that was because David Niven was not the actor for the lead – much like he wasn’t a few years earlier in Bonnie Prince Charlie. 

With the right leading man, I reckon that The Elusive Pimpernel would have been a hit

The Thief of Bagdadwith may not be Michael Powell’s best film. We more remember him for the  such classics as The Red Shoes and Black Narcissus, teamed up of course with his close colleaugue and friend Emeric Pressburger.

He first collaborated with Emeric on ‘The Spy in Black’ and I remember a story that Michael Powell himself told about his first meeting with Emeric Pressburger in AlexanderKorda’s stately office at Denham in the old house.  Mr Korda asked Emeric, who Michael Powell didn’t know at all at the time, to read out a summary of the screen play that he had written for this film.  On hearing it, Michael said that the author nearly fell off his chair whilst Korda remained sitting calmly watching the other’s reactions. Michael Powell thought it was brilliant – Emeric Pressburger had turned the story on its head , changed a man to a woman and so on – and Michael Powell thought ‘this man is a genius – I must work with him again’ – and the rest, as they say, is history.

John Justin a young actor made his film debut in this one – he was a classic handsome leading man of the era and Alexander Korda chose him and liked him

The Man Who Loved Redheads

The most compelling character, as he should be, is the villain Jaffar, played by the German actor Conrad Veidt with hypnotic eyes and a cruel laugh. The beautiful heroine is  a princess desired by both men, is played by June Duprez.

John Justin – Obituary from The Independent (UK)

John Justinian de Ledesma (John Justin), actor: born London 24 November 1917; married first Pola Nirenska (died 1992; marriage dissolved), second 1952 Barbara Murray (three daughters; marriage dissolved 1964), third 1970 Alison McMurdo; died London 29 November 2002.

A handsome actor with lean, matinée-idol looks in the style of Ivor Novello and Rex Harrison, John Justin will forever be associated with the first major role he played on screen, that of Prince Ahmed in the opulent Korda production The Thief of Bagdad. His film career, interrupted by the Second World War, was never as illustrious as that start promised, and he concentrated more on the theatre, where he had a long if variable reign as a star.

Born John Justinian de Ledesma in Knightsbridge, London, in 1917, he was the son of an Argentinian rancher and he spent much of his childhood in South America. He returned to England to be educated at Bryanston in Dorset but at 16 he left college and defied his father’s wishes by joining Plymouth Repertory Company. His grandmother payed for him to be trained at Rada, after which he joined John Gielgud’s repertory company for a season at the Queen’s Theatre in 1937, appearing in Richard II, The Merchant of Venice and The School for Scandal. The following year he played Hugh Randolph on stage in Dodie Smith’s delightful comedy drama about a large family, Dear Octopus (1938) and was the footman in The Importance of Being Earnest (1939).

He made his screen début with a bit role in the spy story Dark Journey (1937), produced by Alexander Korda and starring Vivien Leigh and Conrad Veidt, but his major break came when Korda cast him as the dashing hero in The Thief of Bagdad (1940). Though credited to three directors, the film was primarily the vision of its producer, Alexander Korda. “He controlled it totally,” said Justin, “and, effectively, he directed it.”

One of the most magical fantasy films ever made, with breathtaking sets designed by Vincent Korda, The Thief of Bagdad was a tremendous success. Korda originally wanted Jon Hall and Vivien Leigh to play the leading roles, but neither was available, so Justin and June Duprez won the parts. Alongside the portrait of venomous evil by Conrad Veidt and the exuberant enthusiasm of young Sabu, the pair made an engaging couple, with Justin’s aristocratic bearing, athleticism and melodious voice were assets that served him well as the story-book hero.

War broke out during production, but Justin was allowed to finish the film before starting service as a pilot in the RAF. Later he was given time off to appear in two propaganda films, providing brief love interest in Leslie Howard’s tribute to the women’s army, The Gentle Sex (1943), and playing a cameo role in Journey Together (1945), which promoted co-operation between British and American airmen.

After war service, he returned to the stage, perfectly cast as Robert Browning in The Barretts of Wimpole Street (Richmond, 1945) and playing Admetus in The Thracian Horses (Lyric, Hammersmith, 1946), a mock-Greek comedy co-starring Eileen Herlie. In the 1948 Stratford-upon-Avon season Justin’s several roles included lauded performances as Horatio to Paul Scofield’s Hamlet, Paris in Troilus and Cressida and Cassio in Othello. At the Scala Theatre in 1949 he played Mr Darling and Captain Hook in Peter Pan.

For Korda’s company, London Films, he appeared in The Angel with the Trumpet (1950), a sad tale of thwarted love and Nazi persecution starring Eileen Herlie. Justin told the writer Brian McFarlane,

Eileen wasn’t right for the part and the picture failed. It was the first time I played a role which aged from 22 to 75 – but not the last.

He had one of his best screen roles as a test pilot in David Lean’s The Sound Barrier (1952), sharing some notably tender scenes with Dinah Sheridan as his wife. In an enjoyable if implausible comedy thriller Hot Ice (1952), Justin co-starred with Barbara Murray, who became his second wife the same year (he had formerly married the Polish dancer, seven years his senior, Pola Nirenska). The couple had three daughters, but divorced in 1964.

20th Century-Fox offered Justin a non-exclusive contract in 1953 and he played major supporting roles in several films the studio made in the then-new CinemaScope process. In Henry King’s stirring adventure story King of the Khyber Rifles (1953), Justin was Tyrone Power’s rival for the hand of the General’s daughter (Terry Moore) and maliciously reveals that Power is a half-caste.

Justin was teamed again with King and Power in Untamed (1955), advertised by the studio as “Africolossal!”. As the husband of Susan Hayward, Justin is killed in a Zulu attack, leaving the way clear for Hayward and Power to get together. In Robert Rossen’s Island in the Sun (1957), a tedious film which became a hit due to its Caribbean locations and its controversial treatment of interracial romance, Justin was teamed romantically with Dorothy Dandridge.

Between Fox assignments Justin had starring roles in the theatre, though plays such as Miss Hargreaves (1952), with Margaret Rutherford, and the Hollywood satire Olive Ogilvy (1957) with Yolande Donlan, were not very successful.

He had a challenging star role in the film The Man Who Loved Redheads (1955), in which he again aged from a young man to an old one. Adapted by Terence Rattigan from his own play Who is Sylvia?, it told of a man who has four great loves during his life and they all look the same. Co-starring Moira Shearer as the four women, it was not a happy production – the producer Alexander Korda and director Harold French argued throughout the shooting and French later said,

I shouldn’t have done it. I knew it was a bad script but it was partly love of Rattigan that made me do it. I felt it was under-cast. I got on all right with Moira but I didn’t think she was quite strong enough. You couldn’t meet a nicer man than John Justin, but I really wanted Kenneth More.

It was a film that Justin recalled with affection:

The film didn’t go down well, but I liked it. There were some wonderful comic actors and some very nice moments.

In 1959 Justin joined the Old Vic company, and played Mellefont to Maggie Smith’s Lady Plyant in The Double Dealer, Orlando in As You Like It, John Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest and King Richard in Richard II. The following year he made his first appearance on Broadway, as Lieutenant Boyd in Little Moon of Alban.

At the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park he was a flamboyant Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing (1963) and he spent a season (1963-64) in The Mousetrap at the Ambassador’s Theatre. He tackled the demanding role of Willy Loman in a revival of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in repertory in Northampton (1965), and he played both Prince Escerny and Puntschu in Peter Barnes’s adaptation of Wedekind’s play Lulu (1970), which moved from Nottingham to the Royal Court and then the West End. In 1974 he toured as Winston Churchill in A Man and his Wife and as Mr Laurence in Little Women, and the following year he went to West Germany to give recitals of Blake and Shakespeare for the British Council.

His later film roles included three for director Ken Russell – small parts in Savage Messiah (1972), Lisztomania (1975) and Valentino (1977). In Michael Winner’s remake of The Big Sleep (1980) he played the effete bookstore owner and murder victim Arthur Geiger, and his last film was Disney’s limp comedy thriller Trenchcoat (1983).

By most film fans, though, he will be remembered as the athletic, devil-may-care hero of The Thief of Bagdad.

Conrad Veidt had a long and very successful career in the cinema – I mainly think of him in ‘The Passing of the Third Floor Back’ made in England in 1935 where he plays the stranger who moves in to a block of slum like flats where there is much unhappiness and nastiness among the people who live there. The stranger brings peacefulness to them and by the time he disappears things have changed dramatically – I love this film

ABOVE – Conrad Veidt in The Thief of Bagdad

Conrad Veidt in ‘The Passing of the Third Floor Back’

Back to the The Thief of Bagdad :-

The story seems to move from one spectacular special-effects sequence to another: the Sultan’s mechanical toy collection. The flying horse. The storm at sea. The goddess with six arms. The towering genie released from a bottle. Abu’s assault on the temple that contains the All-Seeing Eye. His climb up a mountainous statue. The battle with the gigantic spider. The flying carpet. At the time these special effects when viewed on that large cinema screen would have been unbelievable – and so so impressive – they even are today on the smaller TV screen

The film was a breakthrough in technique and vision and went a long way to shaping the film future for this type of adventure story

The Thief of Bagdad mixes the best of those classic tales in a nice even mixture of fantasy and swashbuckling action to deliver a unique film that still is as enchanting and thrilling as it was all those years ago.

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