Archive for December, 2022

Death Goes to School 1953

I have just watched this excellent murder mystery and found it intriguing and a film that held your attention the whole time.

It was one made at Merton Park Studios and starred Gordon Jackson and Barbara Murray with Gordon Jackson playing the Police Inspector who along with his sidekick Sam Kydd, investigate the murder of a teacher at a private All Girls School – and eventually find the killer.

Each of the female teachers there, including Barbara Murray, are suspects and during the interviewing we discover that the staff members are all quite different and in many cases don’t get on particularly well and we learn things about each of them – some good things and some not so good. However this leads to an absorbing Who Dunit – the one thing that really pleased me was the sheer amount of dialogue for each of them throughout the film

Sam Kydd ABOVE in another of his many many roles – this time as the witty assistant to the Chief

Beatrice Varley the older teacher, played in very many Film and Television roles throughout this period – she was a busy actress and when I saw her in this, both my wife and I thought that she was very familiar and yet until I researched we couldn’t seem to pin down anything specific

Imogen Moynihan who played Miss Essex appeared only in this film and quite a bit later married Charles Vance who was a Film and Theatrical Director as well as Theatre Producer who with his own group of actors toured the country – here he is below

They had one child – a daughter Jacqueline – and remained together until Charles died in 2012

In fact Imogen and her husband Charles played together in their Theatre Productions – later they regularly put on shows in Sidmouth Devon among so many other places.

At this time of year, Pantomime was a big and successful part of their work.

I can find a reference to Imogen Directing a Theatrical Production of ‘The Corn is Green’ in Leas Theatre Folkestone – I am fairly sure that they lived in this area

Charles Vance – December 6, 1929 –  January 13, 2012

Charles Vance, a self styled anarchronism and a leading champion of rep theatre giving  hundreds of actors, stage managers and designers their first opportunities in the world of the professional theatre. He enjoyed his role as the last of the old-time actor managers, often seen at first nights with a silver-topped cane, once owned by the redoubtable Victorian actor Henry Irving, and wearing a  green velvet jacket. There was always something raffish about Vance, who was proud of his origins as an Irish Jew, the son of a dealer in leather goods and the nephew of Harold Goldblatt, who founded the Ulster Group Players. At the age of seven, he was heard on BBC Radio’s Children’s Hour. At Queen’s University, Belfast,  where he read law, he joined its amateur dramatic club, which he found mediocre. He first appeared onstage at the city’s Grand Opera House. After university, he joined a theatre company that toured Ireland with the plays of Shakespeare. There followed a spell at the Gate, in Dublin, which he described as “like going to heaven”.

After a prolific career as an actor, Vance launched his own production company in 1960 with his wife Imogen Moynihan, the daughter of the distinguished Liberal peer, the second Lord Moynihan. Their first production was Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, which was staged at the Empire Theatre, now the Little, in the Norfolk resort of Sheringham.

It also appears that Charles and Imogen became the owners of the Leas Pavilion Theatre in Folkestone

Their first full season followed a year later at the new Civic Theatre in Chelmsford. There were further seasons in Torquay, Cambridge, Eastbourne, Hastings, Weston-super-Mare, Whitby, Wolverhampton and at the Leas Pavilion, Folkestone, which Vance bought in 1976. In 1987, he instituted the Summer Play Festival at the Manor Pavilion, Sidmouth, which continued every year until last year, when seat prices forced him to abandon the enterprise.

A typical Sidmouth season was a clever mix of 13 plays, offering something for everyone, including two Rattigan plays – Vance knew the dramatist well – two Ayckbourns, Jane Eyre and Private Lives. Work by Francis Durbridge took the place of Agatha Christie after an international media production company took control of the latter author’s copyright. Throughout a career that lasted nearly 50 years, Vance mounted hundreds of touring productions, ranging from Stop the World –I Want to Get Off to The Merchant of Venice. He produced 180 pantomimes all over Britain, and in the latter part of his life he became known for his world premieres of stage adaptations of Ealing comedies, starting with Kind Hearts and Coronets in 1998.

As a publisher and editor, he founded the British Theatre Directory and was, uniquely, twice president of the Theatrical Management Association.

Charles Vance, who was born on December 6, 1929, died on January 13 at the age of 83.

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Errol Flynn – San Antonio

A classic Western with Errol Flynn

Released just after the War had ended, WarnerBrothers pulled out all the stops when they made this one. Both the colour cinematography, photographed by Bert Glennon and overseen by Technicolor Corporation’s top adviser Natalie Kalmus.

Instead of just using the standard Western Town set, Warners made it look like old San Antonio.

Errol Flynn’s leading lady is Alexis Smith the topping the cast with support from John Litel and the very funny couple played by Cuddles Sakall and Florence Bates.

This is one of the most extravagant Westerns made – certainly of that era – and it did well at the Box Office both in the USA and Worldwide

SAN ANTONIO. Warner Brothers, 1945.Errol Flynn, Alexis Smith, “Cuddles” Sakall, Victor Franken, John Litel, Paul Kelly and Tom Tyler. Written by Alan Le May and W. R. Burnett. Music by Max Steiner. Directed by David Butler, Robert Florey (uncredited) and Raoul Walsh (uncredited).


Errol  Flynn plays Clay Hardin, a South Texas rancher shot to pieces sometime before the film starts – he is recovering from his wounds in Mexico and gathering evidence against Paul Kelly, who heads up a gang of organised rustlers preying on honest cattlemen.

As the film opens, Errol Flynn has managed to get hold of vital evidence that will convict Kelly, and means to make his way to San Antonio through outlaw-infested territory to get his man — and along the way time to romance itinerant singer Alexis Smith.


Paul Kelly owns the nightclub saloon where Alexis Smith performs and he has a treacherous partner in Victor Franken.

There is a saloon-wrecking brawl and shoot-out which is well staged

There are also as couple of quieter moments – with Errol Flynn looking visibly shaken after killing Tom Tyler in the street. Well acted by Errol Flynn

All in all, a pretty good Western

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Denham Film Studios

I keep coming back to these Film Studios built by Alexander Korda in the mid 30s on a vast scale with the thought that we could produce the big films on a large scale and more than compete with Hollywood. This could well have worked out and very nearly did, but the War came and after that the Post War years of hardship here, which dealt a blow to such plans

I have not seen this particular aerial view before and it really intrigues me. Someone did ask where the old house close to the lake that Alexander Korda used as his office and I am sure that it is visible here.


On the top right and across the river there seems to be some film sets and even what looks like a railway line on one of these sets.

I wonder what film this could be with the railway and the little town – I must investigate and report back. It must have been in the late 1940 s I would think

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Happy Christmas

I would like to wish all readers of filmsofthefifties a Very Happy Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.

This is a year in which we said our goodbyes to The Queen someone loved by all who had given a lifetime of service to this country – and was herself a film fan particularly of the era we cover.

The Queen delivering her much awaited Christmas Message.

A ‘must see’ event each year and very much part of Christmas

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‘The Admirable Chrichton’ and Cecil Parker Film Actor

I regard The Admirable Chrichton’ as the film that makes this actor stand out in my own memory

He was in so many films before and after the War and into the 70 s and he is instantly recognisable.

Another of my memories of him – in fact one I have only recently discovered – is the Radio Drama Series that he starred in as ‘Dr. Morelle’ which ran for 13 episodes in the late 1950’s – I wish they had made many more as I just love them and listen to them over and over again. This also starred Sheila Sim as Miss Frayle his sidekick

The Parker Family History

Tim Parker has written a book about the extraordinary life history of Cecil Parker and his family. Tim, now 84, lives in Brighton, only found out his real family name was Schwabe at the age of 43. “I was driving through London listening to Radio 3 when there was an announcement of Cecil Parker’s death,” he recalled. “It was an appreciation of him as an actor and mentioned that his real surname was Schwabe. I thought they had got it wrong but my mother told me it was true. I asked why she hadn’t told me and she said because it had all been so difficult.”

“I like to think it’s an extraordinary story,” he said. “I feel the honour of what my two uncles did. Not only did the first generation fight through the First World War but the second generation then fought in the Second World War. Yet people threw bricks through their hotel windows because of anti-German feeling during the First World War.”

The change of name became a family secret for decades but now the full remarkable story has been told in a new book, A Question Of Identity, by historian Tim Parker, the nephew of actor Cecil Parker.

The Parker family saga began when Charles August Schwabe was born near Frankfurt in 1860, the illegitimate son of Dorothea and a man described as “a hunter”. He arrived in England in 1890 and fell in love with church organist Kate Parker. She was 19 and he was 30, and after they married, they settled in Hastings to run The Albany hotel. They had 11 children, including sons Charles, the oldest, Sydney, Cecil and Tim’s father Eric.

In 1908 August was “proud” to become a British citizen but when war was declared in 1914, he was visited by Hastings police. They declared him a loyal subject but he suffered “shock and humiliation” by their visit.

His sons Charles, Sydney and Cecil signed up, Charles joining the Royal Fusiliers and the others joining the Royal Sussex Regiment, a battalion of local men raised for the army by Colonel Claude Lowther, the owner of Herstmonceux Castle. Sydney and Cecil spent 18 months training there.

“Cecil… was a shy and rather diffident soldier,” writes Mr Parker. “He did not like Army life but did his best and his great sense of humour carried him through, together with the joy of having his older brother Sydney with him.”

In 1915, August died of stomach cancer, leaving 45-year-old Kate alone, her youngest child just five, and now in charge of The Albany. She sold it and took over management of The Alexandra hotel in St Leonards, telling the children they had to change their surname to her maiden name and that “none of them were to talk about it”.

In 1916, Charles, now a captain with the Royal Fusiliers, was deployed on the Western Front, where he was injured and gassed before he simply disappeared for two and a half years.

The family later discovered he had been recruited by MI6 as a Secret Service intelligence officer and sent to revolutionary Russia.

Charles, a chemist, worked on ways gas could be used to defend Russia but also enjoyed partying in St Petersburg where author Arthur Ransome, a left-wing socialist, was among his friends.

A year after the Russian Revolution of 1917, militant Bolsheviks, the leaders of the country’s revolutionary working class, attacked the British Embassy in Petrograd and its staff, including Captain Schwabe, were incarcerated in medieval dungeons in the decaying Peter and Paul Fortress on an island on the Neva River. In just three weeks, 500 political prisoners were executed but Captain Schwabe escaped, jumping into the freezing Neva and swimming to the river bank before making his way to the American Embassy. Two days later, he left the embassy by night and made his way to Finland by swimming the frontier stream between the two countries. He was reunited with his colleagues and in 1919 returned to Britain, where he received the OBE.

Meanwhile, in 1916 Sydney and Cecil sailed for France with three Royal Sussex Battalions and fought in the infamous Battle of Boar’s Head.

Sydney was badly injured and sent home. After he recovered, he returned to France in 1918 and was killed, aged 23.

Cecil was also injured and when he had recovered was given the job of dispatch rider. He had never ridden a motorcycle before and crashed during his first lesson, dislocating his neck.

He was sent back to Britain to be nursed back to health by his mother, who gave him a plot of land where he raised chickens. He had refused to change his name from Schwabe “to make quite sure the Army pays my dues”. Now, in 1919, aged 21, he became a song and dance man with an amateur dramatic group in Hastings. He made his professional debut at the Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne in 1922 and his West End debut three years later, falling in love with his leading lady, Muriel Brown. They were married in 1927, their daughter, Angela, born the following year.

Cecil Parker’s career took off and he became one of the great character actors of cinema’s golden age, with an ability to appear menacing, authoritative or stuffy. He appeared in 91 films between 1933 and his last film, Richard Attenborough’s Oh, What A Lovely War!, which was filmed in Brighton in 1969. He made his first real mark in films as nervous would-be adulterer Mr Todhunter in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1938 thriller The Lady Vanishes, starring alongside Margaret Lockwood and Michael Redgrave, and he went on to appear in Carol Reed’s 1939 film The Stars Look Down.

Here is Cecil Parker in The Lady Vanishes 1938 ABOVR

Perhaps his biggest films were Caesar and Cleopatra, the 1945 Hollywood adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s play, where he played Britannus opposite Claude Rains as Caesar, Vivien Leigh as Cleopatra and Douglas Fairbanks as Antony, and the 1958 romantic comedy Indiscreet with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant.

He also had fun in the 1955 British classic comedy The Ladykillers and as a professor in The Pure Hell of St Trinian’s in 1960.

“My memories are of a gentle, courteous man, a little shy, but with a great sense of humour,” said Tim. “He was fun to be with and everybody who knew him liked him.”

Cecil and Muriel retired to Brighton after he shot his last movie and for the last two years of his life was in and out of the Royal Sussex County Hospital with bronchitis and a heart problem. He died in 1972.

Tim said: “It has taken me some 60 odd years to find out who the Schwabes are. This is the story of what I’ve discovered.”

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Montecito – the San Ysidro Ranch

Now to film lovers this place was on the map well before the recent arrival of Harry and Megan.

Back in the early thirties film actor Ronald Colman the legendary film actor along with his Business Partner Al Weingand purchased the San Y Sydro Ranch in Montecito which was a hotel complex set in extensive grounds which had individual bungalows set in there. It became very popular with the Stars and anyone famous – and it was seen to be – and was – very upmarket.

It is still marketed as one of the the finest hotels in the World

Gardens and a guest bungalow at the San Ysidro Ranch

Verdant gardens, groves of olive and citrus trees, and an array of California guest bungalows distinguish the San Ysidro Ranch in Santa Barbara, California. A couple of years ago it was restored following mudslides exacerbated by the Thomas Fire at that time

Just prior to purchasing San Ysidro Ronald Colman and Al Weingand had visited and inspected the vast site and found it to be in pretty good shape although maybe in need of some renovation


  • 1925 – Sam Goldwyn brings Ronald Colman to Hollywood.
  • 1927 – 1935 – 2092 MOUND STREET – HOLLYWOOD HILLS – Colman bought his first home, a Spanish – style, patioed house with a tennis court. It was on a winding road and secluded behind walls and gardens.
  • 1929 – 1935 – In 1929 he leased a small beach cottage in Malibu. It was near Warner Baxter’s beach house. Colman sold it in 1935.
  • 1935 – 1953 – 1003 SUMMIT DRIVE
  • In 1935 Colman and hotel manager, Al Weingard decided to get into the hotel business and had been shopping around for the perfect property when they heard about the 525 acre property south of Santa Barbara and nestled against the coastal mountain range. It even had it’s own beach facilities several miles away.
    • The ranch had been turned into a vacation resort in 1895 and private cottages were scattered around the grounds. Colman and Weingard toured the property and found it in better shape than they had expected. Though some minor repairs were needed, both men agreed that it was what they were looking for.
    • The Colman’s property, which they called “VERBOIS” and their house was set apart from the guest cottages,and had a private drive way. Overlooking the house was a barn and garage.
    • At the time Ronald Colman and actress Benita Hume and been together for four years. They would later get married at the ranch.
    • In the beginning Ronnie and Benita used the ranch for weekend get aways and vacations while they continued to use the Summit Drive house as their full time residence.
    • In 1942 “VERBOIS” was renamed “Random House” after one of Colman’s films.
    • In 1953 they sold the Summit Drive mansion and made the ranch their permanent home.
    • On May 19, 1958 Ronald Colman passed away. He is buried in Santa Barbara Cemetery.
San Ysidro

Several weeks later Benita sold the ranch and moved back to England. She later married actor George Sanders. They remained together until her death in 1967 from bone cancer.

San Ysidro Rach, ca. 1900

The San Ysidro Ranch, located high in the Montecito hills, is today one of the area’s most exclusive resorts. It boasts a history that may be traced back to the earliest days of Santa Barbara.

San Ysidro was a working ranch throughout the 1800s.

The Johnston family sold the ranch to Ronald Colman and Alvin Weingand for $50,000 in 1935.Al Weingand was an experienced hotelier. Ronald Colman’s connections and Weingand’s managerial skills combined to produce the ranch’s most famous and elegant period.

San Ysidro soon became a favourite hideaway for the members of California’s film colony. William Powell, Jean Harlow, Audrey Hepburn, Jack Benny, Fred Astaire, and Bing Crosby were just a few of the guests. John Huston sought out the tranquil peace of the ranch to finish the script for The African Queen. Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh married here in 1940; John and Jacqueline Kennedy honeymooned here in 1953. Discretion was an iron rule at San Ysidro.

Ronald Colman died in 1958, and Al Weingand carried on alone. A lifelong Democrat, he became deeply involved in California state politics and was a member of the state legislature for six years. He found juggling the demands of a political career and managing the ranch too difficult, and he sold the ranch in 1965. Financial troubles and litigation followed until the ranch was sold to James Lavenson in 1976, who restored it to its former glory.

Ty Warner bought the ranch in 2000. It continues to enjoy a glittering reputation for its natural beauty, its impeccable accommodations, and its wonderful cuisine. It is still a destination for many Hollywood film people who need to get away from it all.

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Kit Carson and the Mystery Riders

In 1952 there was only one channel to watch and that was BBC. During that year in the children’s Hour slot we had this Kit Carson serial which had been imported from America and was actually produced in the mid 30’s there under the name ‘Fighting with Kit Carson’

This was thrilling to us youngsters – so exciting and finishing each episode with a cliff-hanger leaving us desperately waiting for the thrillng next episode.

I have just acquired a copy of Film Director William Witney’s Autobiography and this is a film series that he worked on in his very early days in films – in fact the very first one that he worked on up at the famous Iverson Ranch.

Such was the flexibility of working practices at the time that he even had to appear in a cloak as one of the Mystery Riders .


Army scout Kit Carson (John Mack Brown) is ordered to transport a government gold shipment through Indian territory; however, among the frontiersmen recruited to assist him are several undercover members of the Mystery Riders, a ruthless outlaw band. These infiltrators kill the other gold-guards while Carson is off dealing with hostile Indians, but lose the gold itself when one surviving guard, Matt Fargo (Edmund Breese), escapes with it and hides it somewhere in the wilds.

Reynolds (Al Bridge), one of the secret Riders, tells the Army that Kit Carson was behind the massacre of the guards and the theft of the gold, forcing the scout to become a fugitive; to clear his name, he sets out to locate the gold and deal with the Mystery Riders, assisted by Fargo’s young daughter Joan (Betsy King Ross) and by Nakomas (Noah Beery Jr.), a Cheyenne chieftain whose father was murdered on the orders of the Mystery Riders’ leader.

That leader is Cyrus Kraft (Noah Beery Sr.), an outwardly honest trading-post proprietor who is determined to keep settlers out of “his” fur-trapping country, and who is equally determined to get his greedy hands on the missing gold shipment.

Like most Mascot serials, Kit Carson is filled with strong action scenes–most of them centred around the excellent stunt work of Yakima Canutt, who doubles for Johnny Mack Brown throughout the film – and because of the amount of action, he had plenty to do

Fighting With Kit Carson--riders and scenery 1
Fighting With Kit Carson--riders and scenery 2

Above, top left: Indians riding on a raid. Top right: John Mack Brown and Noah Beery Jr. race up a hillside.

Fighting with Kit Carson makes for extremely enjoyable viewing, it has excellent action, first-rate cinematography, a good hero, and a great villain.

Fighting With Kit Carson--last


Fighting With Kit Carson--team leap
Fighting With Kit Carson--guardhouse fight

Above left: Yakima Canutt (doubling Johnny Mack Brown) prepares to leap from one pair of galloping horses to another. BELOW Edward Hearn and John Mack Brown grapple for a knife during their Chapter Eleven fight.

Fighting With Kit Carson--riders and scenery 3
Fighting With Kit Carson--riders and scenery 4
Fighting With Kit Carson--canyon hunt
Fighting With Kit Carson--rigged gun

Above: The Mystery Riders are on the verge of discovering Brown’s hiding place (Top picture), until a gun previously rigged by the hero goes off just in time.

Fighting With Kit Carson--knife cliffhanger 1
Fighting With Kit Carson--knife cliffhanger 2

Above: Top Picture Noah Beery Sr. starts tossing his pocket-knife around while talking to Johnny Mack Brown –a signal to henchman Maston Williams (Bottom Picture) to throw his own knife into Brown’s back.

We then had to wait for the next episode – Will Kit survive ??

Fighting With Kit Carson--Betsy King Ross
Fighting With Kit Carson--Noah Beery Jr

Above TOP: Betsy King Ross saddles up to go to Brown’s aid.

BELOW that : Noah Beery Jr. prepares to climb up the side of a barn.

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Dick Barton Strikes Back 1949

On Radio, Dick Barton Special Agent was very popular – in fact so popular that there were three films made to benefit from this Radio success and there would have been more but for the sad fact that Don Stannard the actor playing Dick Barton on screen was killed in a car crash near Cookham

‘Dick Barton Strikes Back’ was an exciting film with action across many English locations including Blackpool and Blackpool Tower

ABOVE and BEOW – In Blackpool

ABOVE – Dick Barton played by Don Stannard, wrestles with an assailant on the lift of Blackpool Tower

This Radio drama held our attention each evening – always finishing with a ‘cliff-hanger’ situation and then the stirring title music – leaving us, so as we had to tune in the next evening. When Dick Barton finished we then got – and still have – ‘The Archers’ which I like very much and have listened to over the years.

Because Dick Bartons’s popularity, it was decided that there should be a film version – and in fact in all there were three films. Apparently another one was planned to be called ‘Dick Barton in Africa’ – sounds as if it would have been very good – but plans were scrapped after Don Stannard’s tragic death

When Dick Barton came to the screen however, Dick’s sidekicks Snowy and Jock did not seem to be as we imagined and a friend of mine made this point – they just didn’t look right.

Duncan Carse

Duncan Carse – the second Radio Dick Barton – I remember him

Don Stannard as Dick Barton in Films
Dick Barton in Haslemere
Dick Barton in Haslemere 2

Hammer Films made three Dick Barton films – so they must have had success and they were planning another when the actor who played Dick on screen, Don Stannard was killed in a car crash   on July 9 1949 at Cookham Dean in Berkshire.

I just have to add that, I have written a similar article to this a few years ago – but having done well over 1,000 articles on here, then maybe I can be excused from repeating myself at times.

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