HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: END OF THE TRAIL

Just as all good things must come to an end, so too must all bad things (even Trump’s evil rule will run out of recourse eventually — e.g., the fat lady’s last aria at the opera seems to go on forever; will it end short of becoming a hoarse opera?). What it all a-mounts to is….

Meanwhile, back at the ranch , we bid happy trails to “bad” actors not named Trump, and end our HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE series with a roundup of some of the era’s great song & dance stars, starting with this incomparable pair whose magic outlasted their time:

When it comes to high-energy dancing, no one outshined Gene Kelly. Here he is in THE PIRATE (1948), clowning around with the fabulous Nicholas Brothers:

I do have one regret about this retrospective: so many musical stars, so little time and wherewithal for them all. Perhaps, as time goes by, I will use a favorite star’s birthday as an occasion to do an occasional post.

In closing (speaking of when A STAR IS BORN), if ever someone was born to be one, it’s this star-crossed girl/woman with whom we bring down the curtain on this series:

HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: NOT JUST BAD, BUT HORROR-ABLE ACTORS

November 8 is an especially appropriate day to unveil this post. Why? Because it’s the birthday of both VLAD DRACUL and BRAM STOKER, author of DRACULA, the famous horror novel “inspired” by the lore of Vlad Dracul — badder known as Vlad the Impaler (for badder details, click links below — the second of which is not for the squeamish):

https://www.onthisday.com/people/vlad-the-impaler

Vlad The Impaler Was Much Worse Than Dracula Ever Was

This sets the stage for the first of our “horror-able” actors: BELA LUGOSI, one of movie history’s most iconic character actors, who played Count Dracula in the classic DRACULA film released in February 1931. Here is the trailer:

As if unleashing one monster on the public in 1931 wasn’t enough, November brought….

Frankenstein’s monster was of course played by the equally “horror-able” and iconic character actor, November-born Boris Karloff:

Next we have The Wolf Man, Lon Chaney Jr. (son of the legendary silent film star who played Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the phantom in The Phantom of the Opera, and other leading roles in early classics)….

For our closer, the Price is right….Vincent Price, that is. Although most of Price’s horror-able roles came after Hollywood’s Golden Age, he wasn’t entirely invisible during it (or was he?):

That’s The End for now, but never fear. We, too, shall return….

HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: MORE “BAD” ACTORS

In my previous post dealing with “bad” actors, we looked to the stars before turning to the character actors….but Hollywood’s Golden Age produced so many great bad character actors that only ONE such showing would be an injustice. So, before making my getaway from these characters, I’ll need to do more than one more post.

Let’s begin this post with a name mentioned in my last post, PETER LORRE. Here he is, along with two accomplices, committing an act so unconstrained, it’s almost unbelievable:

OK, that wasn’t exactly the typical Lorre performance you expected. But if you’ve seen CASABLANCA and THE MALTESE FALCON (and what classic movie fan hasn’t?), you’ve seen the classic Peter Lorre. So let’s put a wrap on that bird with this:

Next, we turn to Lorre’s frequent “partner in crime” movies, SYDNEY GREENSTREET:

We close this segment with a name you may not remember, but who could forget that character:

TO BE CONTINUED….

 

 

HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: THE “BAD” ACTORS

“The gangster film has always been one of the staples of the American cinema. Though the record shows that there were several motion pictures with a gangster theme as far back as the silent era, the genre did not really begin to flourish as a popular form until the thirties. Depression-era audiences responded strongly to all the action, violence and romance that these films contained, and were more than willing to get caught up in the colorful on-screen exploits of Edward G. Robinson,, James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. In a sense, the movie gangster, with the rebellious breaking of society’s rules and regulations, and his aggressive drive to “get somewhere” regardless of consequences, became something of a hero to filmgoers of the period.”
“Robinson, Cagney and Bogart are, even today, the three actors most associated with films of this type, which isn’t surprising, since all three achieved their initial fame in a Warner Brothers [the king-of-the-hill gangster film studio] crime drama.”

–Robert Bookbinder, author of CLASSIC GANGSTER FILMS

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There were a lot of “bad actors” in Hollywood in those days. Robinson, Cagney and Bogart weren’t the only famous names to have become famous names playing bad guys in 1930s gangster films, but most (e.g. Peter Lorre) remained typecast as character actors. We will take a look at the “bad character actors” in our next post; this post will look to the stars.

Quoting further from Robert Bookbinder’s excellent book CLASSIC GANGSTER FILMS, “Little Caesar [1931] was the first of the great gangster films. It made a star of Edward G. Robinson, who had been working in films since 1923, and it laid the groundwork for all the fine Warner Brothers gangster movies that followed.” Here’s a clip from the film:

How tough was Edward G. Robinson? Tough enough to get Doris Day and Jack Carson out of a pickle:

Just as Little Caesar made a star of Robinson, Warner Brothers’ second gangster film (later the same year), The Public Enemy, made a star of James Cagney. In this scene, after Cagney’s friend is shot to death by a gang, he vows revenge and arms himself with two 38s:

By 1942, Cagney had made a clean break from the “gangs” — here he is in scenes from his Oscar-winning performance as showman George M. Cohan in Yankee Doodle Dandy:

As for Humphrey Bogart, he was the last of the three to attain stardom after years of supporting roles in gangster films. In The Roaring Twenties (1939), he is third-billed (Cagney stars):

All three, as we know, went on to bigger (if not badder) things in such films as Double Indemnity (Robinson), Mister Roberts (Cagney), and, of course, Casablanca (Bogart), among many other memorable performances. Who says crime doesn’t pay?

 

AMERICA’S STOLEN AGE: A BAD ACTOR WITH NO CHARACTER

We interrupt our HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE series (featuring class character actors) for this broken news:
America’s misbegotten President, in the person of His Majesty Donald ‘Putin T. Barnum’ Trump — a bad actor with no class and even less character — has been assaulting the Constitution and committing autocracy before our very eyes, to the wild applause of his adoring audience, while the rest of us have been mostly played for patsies and suckered into passive, if not paralyzed, acquiescence.

Did we really believe this megalomaniac’s promises, lies and outlandish exaggerations? Did we really think “make America great again” was ever anything more than bald-faced political grandstanding? No person of character treats his fellow men, women and children as this man does — did we really not see and/or care that his bullying, bragging, dehumanizing rhetoric and self-serving behavior were leading the country into a downward spiral of moral pointlessness?  News Flash: we have gotten the President, role model, and “new normal” that we deserve, and have been complicit by our failure to turn back his theft of America’s promise. Shame on us who have no shame.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming (as of our next post).

 

HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: WHAT A CHARACTER (ACTOR)!

“Nobody needs a mink coat but the mink.” –S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, character actor (Feb. 2, 1883-Feb. 12, 1955)

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There have been so many great male character actors in Hollywood Golden Age history that, for this post, I’m going to narrow the field to comedic character actors….and even then, I’ll probably leave out some of your favorites. Of course, if you don’t have any old comedy film favorites, you’re probably not an old comedy film fan, so you’re excused (even though that’s no excuse….actually, you should be ashamed of yourself).

Leaving that aside, let’s move on, starting with the author of the above quote….a quote which probably didn’t go over too well with most of the Hollywood glamour girls he knew — speaking of which, did you know that Sakall was born in, and is strictly from, Hungary (btw, he was also in Casablanca). Here’s more scuttlebutt about Cuddles but…it’s not a lot:

Next, Laurel & Hardy fans will remember the trademark ‘double-take’ look of this gent, who appeared in many of their films, including here in one of their best, WAY OUT WEST:

Remember double features (two films for the price of one in movie houses of the 1930s-50s)? Here’s a double feature of two great comedic actors for the price of one in a scene from SHALL WE DANCE, one of three Astaire-Rogers movies in which they appeared together:

If you’re a fan of Charlie Chan movies, you may recall the pop-eyed comic who played Chan’s chauffeur in over a dozen films, as well as parts in Preston Sturges’ THE PALM BEACH STORY (1942), CABIN IN THE SKY (1943), CHIP OFF THE OLD BLOCK (1944), and many others. Here he is in a scene from THE SCARLET CLUE (1945):

In closing, I’ll mention several other great comedic character actors I could’ve/should’ve profiled here, but I have to stop somewhere: William Demarest, Edgar Kennedy, Frank Morgan, Franklin Pangborn, Erik Rhodes, Victor Moore, and many more. Thank you, one and all, for bringing character to comedy.

HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE: THE GRAMMAR GIRLS

Speaking of distinctive actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age, we turn from glamour girls (in my previous post) to a group of gals who made up in individuality what they lacked in allure. There were perhaps no actresses more unique and unforgettable in any category than the so-called character actors. Bring up such names as Margaret Hamilton, Marjorie Main, and Margaret Dumont (apart from their photos) to any classic film buff, and there’d be no problem matching which name belongs with which (or witch) face; same with their immediately recognizable voices. In a manner of speaking, they were vocal gold.

BTW, I have something in common with That Hamilton Woman. Like my wife, she was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and was once a teacher….but unlike my wife, she was unlike my wife (and vice versa….or is it verse vica).

Character actresses may not be leading ladies, but there’s one who was always the Main attraction :

My last post started with a birthday girl; this post ends with one….and what a one: Margaret Dumont (born Oct. 20, 1882), the gloriously inimitable foil of Groucho in nine of the Marx Brothers’ thirteen films, as typified by the following story.

In a play in which she played Mrs. Rittenhouse (and which was later made into an early Marx Brothers film), the brothers abandoned the script during one performance and began improvising scene after scene….from here, I quote from the book THE MARX BROTHERS AT THE MOVIES:

After some time she decided to take her chances and enter in the middle of it all. At that moment, Chico and Harpo simply walked off the stage, leaving the great dowager face-to-face with Groucho. So Groucho, with his characteristic speed of mind, gestured to a nearby divan. “Ah, Mrs. Rittenhouse,” he proclaimed. “Won’t you…er…lie down?” It had gotten a laugh on Broadway, so the brothers simply took it with them when they traveled to the Astoria studio [to make movies].

There’s a scene in my favorite Marx Brothers movie, DUCK SOUP, in which Dumont’s character addresses Groucho’s character, Rufus T. Firefly, President of Fredonia, as “Your Excellency!”…to which he replies, “You’re not so bad yourself.”
To which I can but add, You Bet Your Life!