Dr. Christina J. Johns
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Dr. Christina J. Johns

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Book reviews, movie reviews, classic movie picks, classic actor picks, a discussion about all things arty. 

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Man on Fire (1957)

Posted on June 6, 2019 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)

 

 

MAN ON FRE (1957)

 

A wealthy businessman, Earl Carleton (Bing Crosby), is bitter about a divorce and tries to keep his son from having a relationship with his former wife (May Fickett). The two parents, with assistance from the wife’s new husband () and Crosby’s law team (E. G. Marshall and Inger Stevens) fight it out and in typical Hollywood fashion everybody ends up happy.

 

This is the first film where the studio didn’t feel like it had to have Cosby sing at least one song to please his audience. Crosby was at this time and had been for decades an important popular singer. He was one of the top selling recording artists of all time. Crosby did finally end up, under protest, singing the theme song to the film – a strange choice since the lyrics are about a man in love being a man on fire. The script, however, is not about a man in love unless you interpret it to mean that he’s in love with his son.

 

Man on Fire is also one of the few serious dramatic roles played by Crosby in his career. Before this role, Crosby had played a correspondent searching or his son believed to have been killed in WWII (Little Boy Lost, 1953) and in 1954, a recovering alcoholic stage actor (Country Girl). Even in these films, he performed at least one song.

 

To Crosby’s credit, he insisted on leaving in the hard edges of his character even though it made him somewhat unpleasant and unsympathetic. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times said that it was a “difficult and unattractive role.” He described Crosby’s character as “a stubborn, self-pitying father who tries to monopolize his young son.” But “Variety” called it an “appealing and sensitive performance.”

 

The movie was not a hit at the box office, and it’s not difficult to understand why. There are few appealing characters in the film. The supporting characters of the lawyer, E. G. Marshall, and the lawyer’s assistant, Inger Stevens, come as close as you’re going to get. And, it’s not the type of role people expected from Bing Crosby. And, the studio made a decision to use two stage actresses for the major female roles (Inger Stevens and Mary Fickett). This was the first film for both.

 

The screenplay (written by the director, Ranald MacDougall) was based on a story which was dramatized on television in a 1955 episode of “The Alcoa Hour.” It probably would have worked better as a shorter piece. It’s hard to watch 90 minutes of people arguing over a custody dispute. But, the film brought Crosby some of the best reviews of his career.

 

At the beginning of filming, Stevens had an appendicitis attack. Crosby took to visiting her in the hospital and the two developed a close relationship. This eventually turned into an affair during the production. Crosby had also had an affair with Grace Kelly while he was filming with her. And, he was also (unbeknownst to Stevens) involved with a young starlet, Kathryn Grant, during the filming of “Man on Fire.” Crosby was 33 years older than Stevens.

 

Stevens was just out of a marriage to her agent, reportedly an abusive and intensely jealous man. She also had a habit of having relationships with people she worked with.

 

Stevens evidently wanted to be the second Mr. Crosby, but she wasn’t willing to convert to Catholicism for Crosby. Sometime after the filming of “Man on Fire” Stevens accepted a proposal from Crosby that she redecorate his home. She, it is said, assumed that he asked her because she would be living there as his next wife. But, while she was doing the redecorating, she found out that Crosby had married Grant.

 

Not long after, (January 1959) Stevens made another suicide attempt. She later died in 1970 from an overdose of alcohol and pills.

 

Crosby was left with four sons after his first wife died in 1952. Two of those sons reportedly committed suicide. One of those sons wrote a memoir “Going My Own Way,” in which he accuses Crosby of physical and psychological abuse. Grant wrote several books about her life with Bing.

 

For a detailed discussion of ‘stevens’ career see

 

http://www.classicimages.com/people/article_1e7f82c6-bac3-57e9-a1bb-2d301aee1af7.html

 

Books about Bing Crosby

 

Giddins, Gary (2018) Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: the War Years, 940-1946.

Giddins, Gary (2002) BingCrosby: A Pocketful of Dreams – The early Years, 1903-1940.

Bing Crosby, Pete Martin, et. Al. (2001) Call Me Lucky: Bing Crosby’s Own Story.

Crosby, Kathryn (2002) My Last years with Bing.

Prigozy, Ruth (2007) Going My Way: Bing Crosby and American Culture.

 

Man on Fire (1957)

Posted on June 6, 2019 at 5:20 PM Comments comments (0)

 

 

MAN ON FRE (1957)

 

A wealthy businessman, Earl Carleton (Bing Crosby), is bitter about a divorce and tries to keep his son from having a relationship with his former wife (May Fickett). The two parents, with assistance from the wife’s new husband () and Crosby’s law team (E. G. Marshall and Inger Stevens) fight it out and in typical Hollywood fashion everybody ends up happy.

 

This is the first film where the studio didn’t feel like it had to have Cosby sing at least one song to please his audience. Crosby was at this time and had been for decades an important popular singer. He was one of the top selling recording artists of all time. Crosby did finally end up, under protest, singing the theme song to the film – a strange choice since the lyrics are about a man in love being a man on fire. The script, however, is not about a man in love unless you interpret it to mean that he’s in love with his son.

 

Man on Fire is also one of the few serious dramatic roles played by Crosby in his career. Before this role, Crosby had played a correspondent searching or his son believed to have been killed in WWII (Little Boy Lost, 1953) and in 1954, a recovering alcoholic stage actor (Country Girl). Even in these films, he performed at least one song.

 

To Crosby’s credit, he insisted on leaving in the hard edges of his character even though it made him somewhat unpleasant and unsympathetic. Bosley Crowther of the New York Times said that it was a “difficult and unattractive role.” He described Crosby’s character as “a stubborn, self-pitying father who tries to monopolize his young son.” But “Variety” called it an “appealing and sensitive performance.”

 

The movie was not a hit at the box office, and it’s not difficult to understand why. There are few appealing characters in the film. The supporting characters of the lawyer, E. G. Marshall, and the lawyer’s assistant, Inger Stevens, come as close as you’re going to get. And, it’s not the type of role people expected from Bing Crosby. And, the studio made a decision to use two stage actresses for the major female roles (Inger Stevens and Mary Fickett). This was the first film for both.

 

The screenplay (written by the director, Ranald MacDougall) was based on a story which was dramatized on television in a 1955 episode of “The Alcoa Hour.” It probably would have worked better as a shorter piece. It’s hard to watch 90 minutes of people arguing over a custody dispute. But, the film brought Crosby some of the best reviews of his career.

 

At the beginning of filming, Stevens had an appendicitis attack. Crosby took to visiting her in the hospital and the two developed a close relationship. This eventually turned into an affair during the production. Crosby had also had an affair with Grace Kelly while he was filming with her. And, he was also (unbeknownst to Stevens) involved with a young starlet, Kathryn Grant, during the filming of “Man on Fire.” Crosby was 33 years older than Stevens.

 

Stevens was just out of a marriage to her agent, reportedly an abusive and intensely jealous man. She also had a habit of having relationships with people she worked with.

 

Stevens evidently wanted to be the second Mr. Crosby, but she wasn’t willing to convert to Catholicism for Crosby. Sometime after the filming of “Man on Fire” Stevens accepted a proposal from Crosby that she redecorate his home. She, it is said, assumed that he asked her because she would be living there as his next wife. But, while she was doing the redecorating, she found out that Crosby had married Grant.

 

Not long after, (January 1959) Stevens made another suicide attempt. She later died in 1970 from an overdose of alcohol and pills.

 

Crosby was left with four sons after his first wife died in 1952. Two of those sons reportedly committed suicide. One of those sons wrote a memoir “Going My Own Way,” in which he accuses Crosby of physical and psychological abuse. Grant wrote several books about her life with Bing.

 

For a detailed discussion of ‘stevens’ career see

 

http://www.classicimages.com/people/article_1e7f82c6-bac3-57e9-a1bb-2d301aee1af7.html

 

Books about Bing Crosby

 

Giddins, Gary (2018) Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: the War Years, 940-1946.

Giddins, Gary (2002) BingCrosby: A Pocketful of Dreams – The early Years, 1903-1940.

Bing Crosby, Pete Martin, et. Al. (2001) Call Me Lucky: Bing Crosby’s Own Story.

Crosby, Kathryn (2002) My Last years with Bing.

Prigozy, Ruth (2007) Going My Way: Bing Crosby and American Culture.

 

On The Loose (1951)

Posted on June 3, 2019 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

On the Loose (1951)

 

I don’t know that Melvyn Douglas hated making this movie, but I can imagine that he did. It is just such a terrible script (based on a story by Malvin Wald and Collier Young). It may be that the theme just seems so hackneyed now that it’s impossible to watch it without seeing the obvious direction of the story a mile ahead. But, Melvyn Douglas made a lot of movies, good movies and I can’t help but wonder what he thought about this one.

 

Added to the pretty dreadful script is the directing that has Lynn Bari playing the mother in unrelenting obnoxiousness. Fortunately, Douglas’ character, the father, at least gets some sympathetic lines. I don’t think Bari has any. And, Douglas uses the opportunity of a section of the film where he takes his daughter out dancing to introduce the charm of his natural character. I almost fell in love with him during these scenes where he dances with his daughter.

 

Interestingly enough, this film was produced by Ida Lupino’s production company. Known for social commentary productions, most of the films made by this production company stand up well even decades later. This one doesn’t. There is such an obvious and simplistic “blame it on selfish parents” theme that it is unsatisfying.

 

You can see the same problem four years later in “Rebel Without a Cause.” I suppose at the time, the theme of the film was ground breaking, but much like “Rebel” I find the young people in  "On the Loose" whiny, self-indulgent and unsympathetic.

 

And, it is yet another of the “cautionary tales” for women movies. The message distinctly sent is that if you play fast and loose with boys, your reputation will be affected, and polite society will shun you. It doesn’t matter if you’re guilty or innocent, ignore the rules at your own peril. Even if it’s all the fault of your parents, you might have to leave town if you (as in this film) date a lot of boys and have too much, even platonic, fun with them.

 

It also makes clear that boys will not respect you if you go places with them where there are no adults to chaperone. It’s the “they won’t respect you in the morning” lesson. The teenage girl goes to a boy’s house and makes it clear that she’s willing to be sexually available, but when she starts to talk about marriage and children, it turns him off. But, even so, it doesn’t stop him from parroting his MOTHER’S admonition that you can’t trust a girl who would come to the house anyway. You can’t even trust her to wait for you if you go to war (as he explains) because a girl like her would be dating other boys when he was away.

 

Another thing that makes this film hackneyed and unsatisfying is the ending. Both parents (who were horrors during most of the film) suddenly become thoughtful and loving at the end, surrounded by the wider community who gather to give her a party.

 

As Leonard Maltin writes of, “On the Loose:” “Pretty awful, but intriguing as a relic of its era.”

 

Note: Joan Evans was the daughter of two Hollywood writers. They named her after her god mother, Joan Crawford. When Evans was 17, she announced that she was going to marry a car salesman. Her parents asked Joan as her god mother to use her influence to try to stop it. Joan not only didn’t condemn the union, she blessed it and arranged to have the wedding in her house without the parents. Isn’t Joan Crawford just preposterous?

 



On The Loose (1951)

Posted on June 3, 2019 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

On the Loose (1951)

 

I don’t know that Melvyn Douglas hated making this movie, but I can imagine that he did. It is just such a terrible script (based on a story by Malvin Wald and Collier Young). It may be that the theme just seems so hackneyed now that it’s impossible to watch it without seeing the obvious direction of the story a mile ahead. But, Melvyn Douglas made a lot of movies, good movies and I can’t help but wonder what he thought about this one.

 

Added to the pretty dreadful script is the directing that has Lynn Bari playing the mother in unrelenting obnoxiousness. Fortunately, Douglas’ character, the father, at least gets some sympathetic lines. I don’t think Bari has any. And, Douglas uses the opportunity of a section of the film where he takes his daughter out dancing to introduce the charm of his natural character. I almost fell in love with him during these scenes where he dances with his daughter.

 

Interestingly enough, this film was produced by Ida Lupino’s production company. While knows for social commentary productions, all the films made by this production company stand up well even decades later. This one doesn’t. There is such an obvious and simplistic “blame it on selfish parents” theme that it is facile.

 

It’s the same problem four years later in “Rebel Without a Cause.” I suppose at the time, the theme of the film was ground breaking, but much like “Rebel” I find the young people in the film whiny, self-indulgent and unsympathetic.

 

And, it is yet another of the “cautionary tales” for women movies. The message distinctly sent is that if you play fast and loose with boys, your reputation will be affected, and polite society will shun you. It doesn’t matter if you’re guilty or innocent, ignore the rules at your own peril. Even if it’s all the fault of your parents, you might have to leave town if you (as in this film) date a lot of boys and have too much, even platonic, fun with them.

 

It also makes clear that boys will not respect you if you go places with them where there are no adults to chaperone. It’s the “they won’t respect you in the morning” lesson. The teenage girl goes to a boy’s house and makes it clear that she’s willing to be sexually available, but when she starts to talk about marriage and children, it turns him off. But, even so, it doesn’t stop him from parroting his MOTHER’S admonition that you can’t trust a girl who would come to the house anyway. You can’t even trust her to wait for you if you go to war (as he explains) because a girl like her would be dating other boys when he was away.

 

Another thing that makes this film hackneyed and unsatisfying is the ending. Both parents (who were horrors during most of the film) suddenly become thoughtful and loving at the end, surrounded by the wider community who gather to give her a party.

 

As Leonard Maltin writes of, “On the Loose:” “Pretty awful, but intriguing as a relic of its era.”

 

Note: Joan Evans was the daughter of two Hollywood writers. They named her after her god mother, Joan Crawford. When Evans was 17, she announced that she was going to marry a car salesman. Her parents asked Joan as her god mother to use her influence to try to stop it. Joan not only didn’t condemn the union, she blessed it and arranged to have the wedding in her house without the parents. Isn’t Joan Crawford just preposterous?

 



Clark Gable: The King of Hollywood

Posted on May 29, 2019 at 12:00 AM Comments comments (0)


Clark Gable was born in 1901 in Ohio.  His father was an oil prospector.  Even when Gable was making a lot of money, his father continued to think Clark would have done better if he had followed his father into the oil business.  

Novel/Movie Series: Burt Lancaster

Posted on May 27, 2019 at 2:45 PM Comments comments (0)

BURT LANCASTER BOOKS

 

Buford, Kate (2000) Burt Lancaster: An American Life.

Fishgall, Gary (1995) Against Type: The Biography of Burt Lancaster.

Fury, David (1989) Cinema History of Burt Lancaster

Charles River Editors (2014) American Legends: The Life of Burt Lancaster

(Free on kindle unlimited)


The next Novel/Movie Series will cover the films of Burt Lancaster.  Look foward to seeing you there. 

Mass Market Paperback () Burt Lancaster by Windeler, Robert (1985)

 


New Novel/MOvie Series

Posted on May 26, 2019 at 1:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Burt Lancaster

 

Fortunately, we have a lot of movies to choose from. Burt Lancaster made eighty movies. Of course, not all of them are based on novels. But many of them are. This is what I have come up with so far.


(1999) Luchino Visconti (documentary, himself)

(1996) The Island of Dr. Moreau

(1989) Field of Dreams (W.P. Kinsella “Shoeless Joe”;)

(1988) Rocket Gibraltar

(1988) The Jeweller’s Shop

(1987) Control -

(1986) Tough Guys

(1985) Kiss of the Spider Woman -?

(1985) Little Treasure

(1983) Local Hero (Bill Forsyth)

(1983) The Osterman Weekend

(1981) Cattle Annie and Little Britches

(1981) The Skin

(1980) Atlantic City

(1979) Zulu Dawn

(1978) Go Tell the Spartans -

(1977) Twilight’s Last Gleaming

(1977) Exploring the Unknown (documentary)

(1976) The Cassandra Crossing

(1976) Buffalo Bill and the Indians (small part)

(1976) 1900?

(1974) The Fighters –

(1974) Conversation Piece

(1974) The Midnight Man (novel by David Anthony, Lancaster writing credit, directed)

(1973) Executive Action

(1973) Scorpio -

(1972) Ulzana’s Raid

(1971) Valdez is Coming (novel by Elmore Leonard)

(1971) Lawman

(1970) Airport

(1970) King: A Filmed Record (himself)

(1969) The Gypsy Months

(1969) Castle Kep

(1968) The Swimmer (Story by John Cheever)

(1968) The City of Gods

(1968) The Scalphunters

(1966) The Professionals (Novel by Frank O’Rourke, screenplay by Richard Brooks)

(1965) The Hallelujah Trail

(1964) The Train (French screenplay)

(1964) Seven Days in May (Fletcher Knebel, Charles W. Bailey II, novel, screenplay by Rod Serling)

(1963) The Leopard (novel by Guisseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, on audible)

(1963) The List of Adrian Messenger

(1963) A Child is Waiting -

(1962) Birdman of Alcatraz (Novel by Thomas E. Gaddis)

(1961) The Young Savages

(1961) Judgment at Nuremberg (story by Abby Mann, later stage play, amazon, audible)

(1960) The Unforgiven (directed by John Huston, novel by Alan LeMay)

(1960) Elmer Gantry (Sinclair Lewis)

(1959) The Devil’s Disciple

(1959) Take a Giant Step

(1958) Run Silent Run Deep

(1958) Separate Tables – (play by Terence Rattigan who wrote the screenplay with John Gay).

(1957) Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (screenplay by Leon Uris, lots of non-fiction books about this fight).

(1957) Sweet Smell of Success (novel by Ernest Lehman, screenplay by Lehman and Cifford Odets)

(1957) The Bachelor Party

(1956) Trazeze

(1956) The Rainmaker (play by N. Richard Nash)

(1955) The Rose Tattoo (Screenplay and play by Tennessee Williams)

(1955) Marty (Produced)

(1955) The Kentuckian (novel by Felix Holt, directed)

(1954) Apache

(1954) His Majesty O’Keefe (uncredited directing novel by Lawrence Klingman and Gerald Green)

(1954) Very Cruz

(1953) From Here to Eternity (NOVEL by james Jones)

(1953) South Sea Woman

(1953) Three Sailors and a Girl

(1952) The Crimson Pirate

(1952) Come Back, Little Sheba (play by William Inge)

(1951) Jim Thorpe – All American

(1951) Vengeance Valley

(1951) Ten Tall Man -

(1950) Mister 880

(1950) The Flame and the Arrow -

(1949) Criss Cross (novel by Don Tracy)

(1949) Rope of Sand

(1948) All MY Sons (Arthur Miller play)

(1948) Sorry, Wrong Number -

(1948) Kiss the Blood Off My Hands

(1947) Brute Force

(1947) Desert Fury –

(1947) Variety Girl –

(1947) I Walk Alone -

(1946) The Killers (Story by Ernest Hemingway)



Dead Reckoning (1947)

Posted on May 26, 2019 at 12:35 AM Comments comments (0)

 

 

Originally intended as a vehicle for Rita Hayworth, Lizbeth Scott takes over the part of the femme fatale with Humphrey Bogart playing the male lead. This film noir directed by John Cromwell, is a military film noir and one of the few not to take place in the city. Scott didn’t get good reviews for this film and the plot was considered “rambling” by the New York Times reviewer. But, Bogart got good reviews and Bogart is always worth watching.



 

 

They Gave Him a Gun (1937)

Posted on April 6, 2019 at 6:35 PM Comments comments (0)


 Most of the reviewers agree that there's a reason why most of us never heard of and never saw this movie.  It's just not the best even though it's directed by W. S. Van Dyke and starrs Spencer Tacey and Francot Tone and Gladys George. 

It should be an interesting script - WWI buddies (Tracey and Tone) fall for the same nurse.  She decides to marry Tone when she thinks Tracey's dead.  Tracey returns, but steps aside.  Disaster ensues. But, it's not the predictable disaster of two people deciding to marry because of wartime tragedy.  The tragedy comes from Tone going back to the states and, unable to get a good job, turns to using the gun that the government taught him how to handle being a raceteer.  It's an interesting 1937 anti-war film, but unfortunately, the script glosses over most of the anti-war message in order to superficially explore the relationships between the three.  So, neither sub-plot is really successful.




Pacific Liner (1938)

Posted on April 3, 2019 at 5:55 PM Comments comments (0)

Pacific Liner (1938 )



Chester Morris

Chester Morris stars in Pacific Liner along with Victor McLaglen, Wendy Barrie, Alan Hale, and Barry Fitzgerald. 

The screenplay for Pacific Liner was written by John Twist and is based on a story by Anthony Coldeway and Heny Roberts Symonds.  The film is directed by Lew Landers. 

Chester Morris plays a ship's doctor (Doctor Craig) who fancies nurse Wendy Barrie (Ann Grayson).  Victor McLaglen (Chrusher McKay) also has designs on Grayson.  When a cholera epidemic breaks out the two men are in even more conflict. It's a slow film, not the best, but worth seeing. 

Morris (1901 - 1970) was the son of stage actor William Morris and stage commedienne Etta Hawkins.  He was nominated in 1929 for best actor for his role in the film "Alibi."  But, he is best known for the series of Boston Blackie films which he made in the 1940s.  Morris played the criminal turned detective Boston Blackie in 14 films.

Morris' career began in the silent era and lasted until the year he died 1970.  He, in fact, died while working on his last film role.  He was diagnosed with stomach cancer at some time during the last two years of his life, but died of a barbituate overdose. 



 

 

 


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