Diary of a Lost Girl


Diary of a Lost Girl, the second of Georg Wilhelm Pabst's productive collaborations with Louise Brooks, is a potent and gorgeously stylized depiction of an innocent young woman's destruction at the hands of the not-so-innocent. Brooks plays Thymian, a beautiful and sheltered pharmacist's daughter whose dawning realization about the cruel ways of the world coincides with the loss of the security of her family. The opening of the film enacts a lurid symbolic struggle between innocence and sin, naïveté and knowledge. Brooks' Thymian, dressed all in white on the occasion of her confirmation, her eyes wide beneath the iconic ridge of her dark bangs, looks around her with a complete lack of guile, sweetly accepting presents from family and friends, glowing with courtesy and grace.

She seems entirely unaware of all the sexually charged glances being exchanged all around her: the exaggerated leer of her father's assistant Meinert (Fritz Rasp) who all but licks his lips and bulges his eyes like a cartoon wolf when he looks at her; her father's (Josef Rovensky) sexual liaisons with one maid after another; her aunt's (Vera Pawlowa) grim knowledge of these constant affairs; the knowing glances and raised eyebrows of the party guests when they see the new maid Meta (Franziska Kinz), who brazenly stares at her employer with an invitingly wicked smile that openly suggests that the cycle is going to start again. Everyone but Thymian seems to know exactly what's going on, but she is blissfully unaware of the sexual drama surrounding her.

In her pure white confirmation dress, a band of flowers wrapped around her head, she's a vision of innocence so pure and unstained that the mere realization that sin and sexual predation exist in her household produces a fainting spell, confining her to bed as though she's taken ill. She sees the corpse of her beloved maid — who'd committed suicide after being abandoned by Thymian's father — then runs up the stairs in a daze, sees her father with his arm already around the new maid, both of them staring at the camera in a frozen pose, a sly smile on the face of the new maid in contrast to the serene blankness of the dead girl downstairs, and in one fluid motion Thymian swoons to the floor, overcome by the taint of impurity infiltrating her home.


This is only the beginning of Thymian's suffering, as Meinert takes advantage of her vulnerability and rapes her. Pabst freezes the frame at the moment when the creepy druggist lowers Thymian's limp form into bed, and then immediately cuts to a baby carriage being taken out of Thymian's room, months later, carrying the fruit of that forceful union. Thymian's family casts her out, and she's sent to a reformatory, which she soon escapes with her friend Erika (Edith Meinhard), only to fall into a life of prostitution. The man she believes is going to save her, the disgraced and disinherited Count Osdorff (André Roanne), is actually a lazy and pathetic outcast who settles easily into a life of comfort at the brothel with Thymian and Erika. Pabst, though, doesn't portray the brothel as an entirely unpleasant life; the girls have fun and like each other, and Thymian certainly seems happier and better off there than she was under the care of the strict Christian moralists at the reformatory.

The reformatory is run by a stern mistress (Valeska Gert) whose usually stony face betrays an expression of ecstatic joy when whipping the girls through a frenzied gymnastics routine, and a bald-headed, looming movie monster giant (Andrews Engelmann) who first pops comically into the frame by standing up in front of a sign listing the many things that are "verboten" in this dismal place. This cartoonish giant delights in punishing the girls, grabbing them with a clawed hand at the scruff of their neck as though picking up a disobedient puppy, and his leering sadism is both creepy and hysterical — particularly when he runs a confiscated tube of lipstick across his own mouth, grinning impishly, then uses it to write a reminder to punish the girl he'd taken it from, a note signed with a heart to indicate his sadistic love of punishment.

Lesbian eroticism is another obvious subtext here, especially in the reformatory, where most of the girls have clipped, close-cropped boyish haircuts, and Erika introduces herself to Thymian by surreptitiously touching the new girl's leg with her foot and winking at her, echoing Meinert's leering winks. At bedtime, as Pabst pans down the line of girls getting ready for bed, two girls sit in the same bunk, giggling, and fall back into bed together. The scene where the matron tries to seize Thymian's diary is also loaded with suggestive intimacy, with the stern woman grabbing at Erika's bare legs, looking up at the two girls sitting in the top bunk, grasping at them with clawed hands. Later, when Thymian visits Erika at the brothel where she's staying, Pabst emphasizes the brothel's madame putting an intimate hand on the bare back of one of her girls — the gesture is repeated when the madame pushes Thymian together with a male client to dance — and then has Erika kneel before Thymian, taking off her shoes and undressing her, unbuttoning her demure reformatory blouse with its high collar to expose a V of flesh at her neck.


The film is steeped in this kind of sexual suggestiveness. Thymian's downfall has everything to do with sex and money, and sex and money come to be linked in very intimate ways for her. After her first night at the brothel, after she's spent the night with a man — swooning in his arms so that her limp form very much recalls her unconsciousness during Meinert's exploitation of her — the madame hands her an envelope of cash and makes it clear that it's from the man. Only then does the very naïve Thymian realize what's happened, and she recoils from the cash, which Pabst nevertheless emphasizes in a closeup. Much later, when her father dies and she receives an inheritance from Meinert for buying out the pharmacy, the camera glances from the pile of cash to Meinert's smug, cartoonishly grinning face, making it seem as though this too is a transaction, a belated payment for that long ago night when he'd taken her to bed.

It's not all grim tragedy here, though, and there's some limited comedy relief along the way. Among the humorous scenes is a very strange sequence where a goofy guy with a billy-goat beard (a possible anti-Semitic caricature) comes to see Thymian for "dance lessons," and she leads him in a bizarre calisthenic workout inspired by her reformatory exercise drills, while holding a drum protectively/suggestively over her crotch and beating it with a mallet in the way the reformatory mistress had done. The sexual symbolism is especially naked here, but those undercurrents are everywhere in this film.

The plot unravels a bit towards the end with a predictable tonal shift towards an optimistic, redemptive conclusion, seemingly foisted upon Pabst by censors eager to end on a positive note after all this barely coded sex. Even here, though, Pabst's emotional poetry shines through. The film is never less than beautiful, its style fluid and expressionist while also remaining grounded in social realism. And Brooks is just magnificent, with a beautiful and vibrant face that was perfectly suited to the silent cinema. When she smiles, the screen glows, and when she's suffering her eyes seem to contain unimaginable depths of feeling, often assisted by Pabst's very sympathetic photography of her, as in the stunning shot where she stares out a rain-streaked window, the raindrops on the glass standing in for her tears.

Posted in Cinema

Magnificent Obsession


Douglas Sirk was a master of the lurid Hollywood melodrama, transcending often outrageous and contrived material with the sheer force of the emotion and the visual rigor that he invested in these stories. In films like All That Heaven Allows and Written on the Wind, Sirk found profundity and great beauty in what would have been trash in the hands of others. In Magnificent Obsession, a forerunner to the Jane Wyman/Rock Hudson pairing of All That Heaven Allows, not even Sirk can truly transcend what must be one of the worst plots and the worst screenplays in Hollywood history, a ridiculous pile-up of contrivances and silly plot twists in the service of a saccharine Christian-themed drama. It's a clunky and deeply strange film, and its absurd narrative prevents it from ever really being great, though Sirk's mise en scène and keen eye for painting in Technicolor elevate it at least to the level of a campy, emotionally intense tearjerker.

The story concerns the redemption of the callow playboy Bob Merrick (Rock Hudson), who gets a wake-up call when his boating accident indirectly causes the death of a prominent, well-loved local doctor because an important piece of medical equipment was being used to treat Bob when the doctor had a heart attack. Bob falls in love with the doctor's widow Helen (Jane Wyman), but his clumsy attempts to pursue her — using a bastardized version of the philosophy of Christian charity practiced by her husband, and taught to Bob by the husband's friend Edward Randolph (Otto Kruger) — only results in further tragedy, when an accident leaves Helen blind. It's soapy in the extreme, particularly when Bob dedicates his life to medicine, becoming a doctor and using his wealth and his knowledge in an attempt to cure Helen's blindness even as he courts the blind woman (who apparently doesn't recognize his voice) under the laughable assumed name of Robby Robinson. Once one starts trying to pick apart the plot, it's difficult to stop, so it's best to just let it be, to try to overlook the unending cavalcade of absurdities and foolishness and sudden emotional reversals, to focus instead on the undeniably rapturous power of Sirk and cinematographer Russell Metty's images, which are as always some of the finest examples of Technicolor extravagance.

Sirk makes this insane plot come alive with the sensuous power of his images. Resonating with the theme of literal and metaphorical blindness, Sirk continually bathes the characters in alternating blocks of light and shadow, draping the film in darkness. Walking across a room, they step into the light for a moment and are then swallowed up again in darkness, the shadows falling across faces and erasing features into black silhouettes in the night. For all his obvious love of bright, pastel colors, Sirk seems equally at home in inky blackness, stretching shadows across the frame so that the characters are perpetually shuttling back and forth between seeing and unseeing, between flashes of light and dark pools in which nothing can be seen. When Helen visits Switzerland for a barrage of tests with some famed eye surgeons, her face is totally profiled in shadow until the doctor pans a small light across her face, highlighting each of her eyes in turn, creating a tiny circle of light, a pinprick reflected in her shining eye.


This approach reaches its apex with the scene where Bob takes Helen out for a romantic evening. The whole sequence is draped in these kinds of shadows, simultaneously creating a sumptuously romantic mood and suggesting a visual analogue for Helen's blindness, the darkness all around them shading their faces, hiding them from one another. As they dance together, they twirl and their faces are alternately shaded and lit up, passing in and out of the shadows with each turn. Sirk's aesthetic has a meticulousness that works against the raw, oversized emotions of his material. At one point, Helen, blind, picks her way across a darkened room, carefully feeling for obstacles and making her way slowly through the shadow-strewn room, until she comes to a balcony where her extended hand knocks a potted plant off the ledge. The camera follows the plant's fall down to the street below, where it shatters with a loud crack, triggering Helen's breakdown at precisely that instant, as though a starter's pistol had been fired.

In another scene, when Bob is about to perform the climactic surgery that will inevitably restore Helen's sight and redeem him from his careless and wasteful past, he hesitates until he looks up to the viewing gallery, where he sees Randolph, this film's kindly incarnation of God, looking down on them with a benevolent smile, the operating table and the doctors around it reflected in the glass around Randolph. He then steps away, satisfied that Bob will perform this task, and Sirk holds the shot of the now-empty viewing gallery, the operating room still reflected in it, visually communicating that God has done his work of inspiration, and the rest of the task must be left to the hands of man.

The film is rich in this kind of loaded visual symbolism. Sirk often transcends the frankly stupid plot with the sheer emotional power of his images, which crackle with vitality and feeling even when the twists and turns of the script barely make a bit of sense. But, even though Sirk often worked with such lousy material, and routinely transformed it into masterpieces, here, for whatever reason, he can't quite perform that miracle. The result is a film that's as visually beautiful as one would expect, and often seething with raw and over-the-top emotion, but never comes together on the multiple levels that characterize Sirk's best work.

Posted in Cinema

Under Capricorn


Alfred Hitchcock's Under Capricorn is one of the director's more divisive films, but it certainly doesn't deserve its unflattering reputation. This lavish period melodrama, set in 1800s Australia, might be deliberately paced, but it's as emotionally, psychologically and formally complex as any of the director's best work. The core of the film is a twisted three-way relationship that develops between the wealthy ex-convict Sam (Joseph Cotten), his disturbed, alcoholic wife Hattie (Ingrid Bergman), and Charles (Michael Wilding), who had known Hattie as a boy in Ireland and claims to Sam that he can awaken Hattie from her self-destructive, near-insane mental state. Indeed, the charming Charles is able to shake Hattie out of her stasis and mental collapse, but he also preys on her, seducing her away from her husband even as he cures her. Sam watches this situation unfold, glowering and brooding, under the watchful eye of his maid Milly (Margaret Leighton), who obviously desires Sam and resents his wife. There's a dark history here that slowly, patiently unfurls, but the emphasis throughout is not really on narrative, past or present, but on the churning, potent emotions of the protagonists and the engulfing visual style that Hitchcock springs like a trap around the characters.

Hitchcock made this film immediately after the long-take formal experiment of Rope, and he applies a similar aesthetic here, albeit not quite as rigorously. This was Hitchcock's only collaboration with Powell/Pressburger cinematographer Jack Cardiff, whose sumptuous use of color and glossy, unreal aesthetic is a perfect complement to Hitchcock, and especially to the particular qualities of this lush period drama. Using the unbroken take style of Rope, Hitchcock and Cardiff hold shots for minutes at a time, the camera unmoored, drifting around the rooms of Sam's palatial home, its gentle movements subtly but definitively defining the relationships between the characters. Who's in the frame and who's not means everything in this film, particularly in terms of the central love triangle, as Charles' friendship with and seduction of Hattie increasingly pushes her own husband out of the picture, shunting him off to the side.

In the first scene where Charles and Hattie meet, she wanders, drunk and dazed, into one of her husband's dinner parties and sits down at the head of the table. Charles holds her chair for her and then sits next to her, leaving his own spot at the table. Once Charles sits down by Hattie's side, it's as though there's no longer anyone else at the table; Hitchcock maintains a two-shot of them as she reminiscences about the past, occasionally glancing across the table, presumably at her unseen husband, but Hitchcock doesn't cut away, doesn't show the reaction of the others to this immediate intimacy, doesn't show anyone else or have anyone else even talk again until Hattie stands up and the camera tracks to follow her, past the others at the table, as Charles walks her to the staircase leading back to her room.


Later, when Hattie dictates a letter to Charles' sister, Hitchcock again keeps the camera on the two of them, Sam forgotten outside the frame, until the camera begins tracking away from Charles and Hattie, past her husband's now abandoned place setting, through the empty room, finally finding Sam, walking away, his back to the camera, in the hallway, as the image fades to black. It's as though, when Charles and Hattie are together, everything else fades away, forgotten, the triangle becoming a two-shot, the room emptying off-camera. Hitchcock and Cardiff have a way of shooting the scenes between Hattie and Charles so that even if someone's standing right next to them, it feels like they're all alone.

In a subsequent scene, Milly, who'd been fired, returns while Charles and Hattie go out to the ball together, again leaving Sam behind. Hitchcock holds a very long and mostly static take as the maid chatters away, delivering her passive-aggressive patter about Hattie, her voice full of gossipy insinuation. The frame slowly constricts and expands as Sam wanders in and out of view, sometimes glowering in the background, sometimes strolling towards the camera, his face dark. All the while, Milly's barely disguised bile dominates the soundtrack, and she remains the visual center of the shot, but it's Sam's darkening expression and stalking walk that actually serve as the scene's viscerally felt focus even when he's peripheral or outside the frame altogether. Only at the very end of the scene, the end of the shot, does Sam finally step forward into the foreground of the frame, and Milly's voice fades away, his anger finally blotting out her words.

There's another fantastic long take when Hattie tells the story of her past with Sam. The camera maintains a medium distance as she paces around the room, and the camera glides with her, often with Charles' head in the foreground of the frame, placing the spectator in his position as he listens to her. She often resists facing him, though, showing the camera her profile more than her full face, which makes the sudden closeup, when she confesses to shooting her brother, all the more startling: the camera suddenly floats upwards and presses in at precisely the moment when she steps forward and leans into the shot, nearly facing the camera for her confessional moment. It's especially striking because immediately afterward she returns to avoiding this direct, forward-facing manner, turning her profile to the camera or turning away altogether, looking up, down, anywhere but straight-on.


This patient, elegant style pays off especially well in the final act, when all the long-bubbling resentments and conflicted emotions come to the surface in an eerie, dreamlike climax. Hattie, returning to her drunken hysteria after a series of dramatic twists and turns, sinks back into her isolation, terrified of the horrifying things she imagines seeing around her room. As Sam tucks Hattie in and comforts her, there's a long, rumbling roll of thunder that sounds like a blown-out speaker, and it continues to roar throughout the nightmarish scenes in which Hattie discovers a ghoulish shrunken head in her bed and collapses, with Hitchcock suggesting the passage of time afterwards with a gorgeous image of a rain-streaked window superimposed over the unconscious woman's face. This whole sequence is haunting and gorgeous, with every detail heightened: the single beaded tear glistening on Hattie's cheek, the tracking shot along the rough terrain of the pillowcase and bedsheets, the continued rolling of the thunder, the sinister tinkling of Milly's keys as she creeps around the room, the light glinting off the poisoned glass that's so resonant of other sinister drinks in Hitchcock's oeuvre.

It's a dream, a nightmare, and the subsequent scenes in which the plot begins reversing gears to move inexorably towards a happy resolution have the feeling of waking up from a dream, finally shaking off the narcotized slumber that afflicted these characters and kept them trapped in a recurring cycle of self-destruction and recrimination. Under Capricorn is a stylish and beautiful movie, its aesthetic seductive and hypnotic, with a psychological complexity that makes it enthralling throughout.

Posted in Cinema

Wagon Train – “The Martha Barham Story” – 1959

The Wagon Train episode of “The Martha Barham Story” is one in a string of television appearances Ann Blyth made in a variety of shows and genres in the immediate years following her last film, The Helen Morgan Story (1957), which we’ll talk about down the road.  There was no expectation by Miss Blyth or anybody else at this time that this would be her last film, but circumstances conspired together such that good scripts were not forthcoming, the studio system was not there anymore to plug her into the old assembly line of roles, and what offers did appear were often filmed far away from Hollywood.  As she told syndicated columnist James Bacon,

“All the movie scripts offered wanted me to go to Europe and for such a long time…I just felt that I couldn’t be separated from my family that long…I think long separations, no matter how understanding the husband or wife, have broken up more Hollywood marriages than any other single factor.  No script is worth that.”

She was also the mother of three.  At 31 years old, she was not ready to completely abandon her career.  TV anthologies filmed in Hollywood allowed her to slip in and out of a variety of roles with minimal disruption to her family, and with steady frequency.  In October 1959, she appeared in a skit on the Ford Star Time Hour variety show with Art Linkletter in an episode called “The Secret World of Kids”.  She played a new mother caring for her infant and sang “An Irish Lullaby”.  Vincent Price was another guest.

The following month, she appeared on Wagon Train, and in December, a tense drama in The DuPont Show with June Allyson.  There was more TV in early 1960, and her star planted along with others on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  By the end of year, she gave birth to her fourth child, a baby son.  She had traded a film career in these years for a juggling act.

On Wagon Train, season 3, episode 6, broadcast November 9, 1959, she plays the haughty daughter of a frontier fort commander, played by Dayton Lummis.  She is a former love of show star Robert Horton, but displays disdain for him now when he rides through the stockade because she has a new fiancé, an officer on her father’s staff, played by Mike Road.  

Also, she regards Mr. Horton with frank disgust because he enters the fort with his best friend, a Sioux named Curly Horse, played by Read Morgan.  Miss Blyth’s character, high tempered and tempestuous, is bigoted toward Indians.  Her father may regard one tribe over another as allies or enemies, but she lumps them all in the same category as inferiors, which earns an even greater repugnance than an enemy.

Horton renews acquaintance with her, teases her, but bristles at being called a “renegade white” for his friendship with Curly Horse.  They might both be well rid of each other, except a truce with the Sioux is on shaky ground.  White hunters are shooting the buffalo, taking the hides only and leaving the meat to rot in the sun, which infuriates the Sioux because their people are starving.  Ann’s officer fiancé, in a frontier gesture at proving both his manliness and his devotion to her, shoots a buffalo and skins the hide to give to her as a wedding present.  This last buffalo carcass is the last straw for the Sioux, who capture the fiancé to make an example of him.

By the way, look for a young Warren Oates as an exhausted cavalryman reporting on the ambush.

Curly Horse is asked to act as mediary.  He is not happy about the job, and we see a man uncomfortably caught between two cultures, and torn.

Meanwhile, the Sioux’s enemy, the Cheyenne, have attacked the fort and killed pretty nearly everybody, including Ann’s father.  She has escaped, hidden the fort, where Robert Horton finds her, hysterical, terrorized and half out of her mind with hatred.  He saves her from a second-round attack, and when she faints, he carries her out of the garrison loft, down a ladder, through the fort and out to where he tied his horse.  I know she didn’t weigh a lot, but he must have been exhausted.

Strong-willed, shouting, sick with hatred, she resists going with him, but he puts her on his horse and off they get, as fast as they can, before the Cheyenne spot them.  In the wee hours of the night, she walks away from their camp, taking his horse, hoping to get to the next fort, but the Sioux catch her, and through her, catch Mr. Horton.  They are both taken prisoner, reunited with her fiancé, and Curly Horse, who has to pretend to hate them to save his neck.

Henry Brandon plays the angry, murderous son of the chief who wants to take Ann for his woman.  We last saw Henry in the same position in The Golden Horde (1951) discussed here, as the son of Genghis Khan, who wanted to take Ann for his woman.  Poor Henry’s in a rut.

The Sioux have are going to torture the men, and tie them to stakes, setting a ring of brush around them on fire. 

Curly Horse slyly crafts their method of escape, which requires Horton to wrap skins around his bare feet so he can walk on hot embers carrying the fiancé over his shoulder in the wee hours when the village is asleep.  Horton does a lot of heavy lifting in this episode.

They will take horses and ride to a distant spot, where Curly Horse will meet them, hopefully with Ann, whom he will to free by himself.

There is a long, dramatic scene of Horton carrying the injured fiancé out of the fire, but in a sense, it’s kind of a wasted moment.  He’s the star of the show, the regular who’ll be on next week.  We know he’ll be okay.  Ann and Read Morgan are the couple on whom the climax should focus.  Instead, they all show up at the meeting place at the right time, Ann is humbled and grateful to Curly Horse, and Horton brushes her off kindly when she begins to fall for him again.  She goes off with her fiancé, status quo.

What would have been more interesting is seeing the exchange between Ann and Read Morgan when he knocks out the fellow who’s been guarding her, and saves her.  Does she resist him as she resisted Horton, thinking he’s up to no good?  Does she scream, is she so frightened of her ultimate fate as Henry Brandon’s new woman that she clings to Curly Horse as her rescuer?  How do they interact with each other in the intimacy of escape?  At what point does she decide she’s been wrong about her bigotry and come to regard Curly Horse with gratitude?  It’s a big message in this episode, where we begin the 1960s with looming social issues of equality and brotherhood of man, and come to face our blatant prejudices as a nation.  Westerns are no longer about shooting the Indian.  There’s more going on in the West now, even if it’s just the back lot. 

Instead, the episode falls back on pure manly daring-do that is uncomplicated and untroubled by conscience.

But the episode ends with a shocking scene.  The Sioux discover that Curly Horse has betrayed them, and they beat him to death. 

We don’t know if Robert Horton will ever learn the fate of his friend, or if Ann, one day telling the adventure to her children and grandchildren on the prairie, will ever comprehend how much Curly Horse gave up to save her.  But we see it, and our inability to tell them what happened, and to watch them go off to resume their presumably happy lives, unknowing, is a powerful and ironic indictment of the ignorance and waste of bigotry.

Wagon Train season 3 is available on DVD.

Come back next Thursday for more TV, this time a double-header: a comic episode of Wagon Train where Ann plays a saloon gal who has to hide the fact from her visiting father; and a modern drama from The Dick Powell Show called “Savage Sunday” where she plays a sassy Washington correspondent at a New York newspaper.

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Ocala (Florida) Star-Banner, September 2, 1958, “Ann Blyth, Screen’s ‘Little Lady’ Now a Saloon Singer” by James Bacon, p. 3


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As  most of you probably know by now, this year's TCM Classic Cruise will set sail (proverbially) in October, and one of the celebrity guests is Ann Blyth.

TCM has just published the itinerary for the cruise.  Ann will be doing a couple hour-long conversation sessions, and will also be on hand for a screening of Mildred Pierce.


Have a look here for the rest of the schedule and events with the other celebrity guests. Unfortunately, the cruise is booked, so if' you're late, you can try for the waiting list.

I, sadly, am unable to attend this cruise, but if any reader is going,  I invite you (beg you) to share your experiences and/or photos relating to Miss Blyth on this blog as part of our year-long series on her career.  I'd really appreciate your perspective on the event, to be our eyes and ears.  Thanks.

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 THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.


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TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
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 HELP!!!!!!!!!!

Now that I've got your attention: I'm still on the lookout for a movie called Katie Did It (1951) for this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  It seems to be a rare one.  Please contact me on this blog or at my email: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com if you know where I can lay my hands on this film.  Am willing to buy or trade, or wash windows in exchange.  Maybe not the windows part.  But you know what I mean.

Also, if anybody has any of Ann's TV appearances, there's a few I'm missing from Switch, the Dennis Day Show (TV), the DuPont Show with June Allyson, This is Your Life, Lux Video Theatre.  Also any video clips of her Oscar appearances.  Release the hounds.  And let me know, please. 


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A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

I’ll provide a free copy, either paperback or eBook or both if you wish, to bloggers in exchange for an honest review.  Just email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com with your preference of format, your email address, and an address to mail the paperback (if that’s your preference).  Thanks.

Posted in Old Movie Blog

Killer McCoy – 1947

Killer McCoy (1947) is an engaging hybrid of genres, a post-war noir with a 1930s innocence and parade-of-years element; a story where the slum-raised protagonist is actually a hero rather than anti-hero, as sentimental as he is cynical.  The racketeers are soulless, except for the one with the most to lose.  The romantic couple never even kiss, but they are bonded together from the moment they meet.  Most interestingly, it is an MGM movie and not Warner’s, where one might expect to find a gritty boxing picture.  It is a both a gift, and a challenge, from the studio—perhaps even a dare to test his box office value—to its prodigal son just back from service in the army, Mickey Rooney.

This post is part of The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September.  Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries.

Ann Blyth, on loan out from Universal for the second time, plays a finishing school debutante,  the daughter of the successful racketeer.  Her father, played by Brian Donlevy in a tailor-made role, has kept his nefarious career a secret from her, but she learned about it when she was still a child and carries the shame inside her.  She doesn’t tell her pop she knows because she doesn’t want to hurt his feelings.  There’s a lot of protecting of parents by disillusioned young people in this movie, not excatly a forerunner of the 1950s and 1960s teen films of mom-and-dad-don’t-understand flicks.

These young adults are much more mature and compassionate than the malt-shop or beach bum gang of whiners that would follow.  They are not grappling with growing up; they grew up too soon.

Though this is a remake of the Robert Taylor vehicle, The Crowd Roars (1938), I won’t make any comparisons, partly because I haven’t seen that movie yet, and partly because Killer McCoy can stand on its own as a slice of the careers of its prodigiously talented leads.

Mickey Rooney creates a fascinating double-image of his screen persona.  We see flashes of Andy Hardy in his playful song-and-dance routine with the wonderful James Dunn, who plays his alcoholic shiftless father, and even in some of the rubbery pratfalls he takes in the boxing ring.  Mr. Rooney, though he is a natural athlete and is clearly in shape, muscular with good upper body development, is no boxer.  He doesn’t really have the technique down, but that is covered pretty well by director Roy Rowland’s judicious direction.

Rooney has famously, both in his autobiography, Life Is Too Short, and in his television interview with Robert Osborne on TCM’s Private Screenings series, discussed his fights with Rowland on set, that he felt the director berated him and was out to get him.  You’d never know it by the image on screen, though, which is a wonderful blend of skillful cinematography and Mickey Rooney’s own masterful screen presence. In the scene where he first meets Donlevy, Mickey enters the room, casts an eye around, almost as if looking for the camera and for us, as if to say, "Yeah, it's me.  I'm back."

It is in the quieter moments of serious dialogue where Rooney really shines, where we see he has left Andy Hardy behind, in his beaten, cynical manner and in the lines on his face.  He confronts what he feels is Ann Blyth’s snobbery about boxers in a speech that displays his anger, his resentment for the fight game and himself a pawn in it, and yet also his compassion for all the washed-up boxers he’s ever met.  Despite his pride, we see his self-loathing later in a scene where crisis comes and he blurts out, "In a way, I had this coming to me."

Most especially preying on his mind is his friend and mentor, played by Mickey Knox, a boxer who trained him.  Knox left the game for wife and baby and chicken farm, but when the money was tight, he went back into the ring for a comeback.  He wasn’t in good condition, and his opponent—Mickey Rooney by luck of the draw—kills him in the ring. 

Mr. Rooney has a terrific scene with Knox’s wife, played by Eve March, where they, both embarrassed and in pain, try to make small talk in one of the worst places in the world to do that: a hospital waiting room in the wee hours of the night.  Miss March is excellent in this scene.  Her career comprised of a lot of bit parts, mostly uncredited, but the strength of her realistic performance as a careworn, lower class woman of dignity, so striking, makes us wonder why she wasn’t used more.  I love the quick flashes of a weak smile when she speaks proudly of her little son.  She tells Rooney the boy wants to grow up to be a boxer like his daddy.

Rooney’s expression hardens.  “Don’t you let him, Mrs. Martin.  Don’t you ever let him.”

“No.” she quietly agrees.

So many scenes, which could come off as cliché, ring true, such as when Rooney, betrayed and disgusted that his father would sell his contract to racketeer Donlevy for gambling and drinking money—only one in a string of disappointments in his washed-up actor father. 

Dunn plays his role with relish, a helpless big-talker who lives for the next stroke of luck, but who can’t settle down to an honest day’s work, as pitiable as he is repugnant.  Rooney has supported his parents and been the man of the family since boyhood.  But there is no hearts and flowers sentimentality to his sacrifice; on the contrary, he is more resentful than a truckload of George Baileys.  Rooney does not apologize for his father, indeed, lets him have it in strong words and a slap on the face, but with the extraordinary compassion (one keeps coming back to that noble word) of his character, he also looks out for him.

“You’re a ham and I’m a pug.  Maybe that’s all we’ll ever be, but at least we’ll have each other.  At least we can go on hoping.”

Another good, genuine scene with Rooney is when the gold-digging waitress at the dinner chats him up for a big spender, and he, with self-depreciating humor, though too shrewd to be taken in, is still generous to her.

The scene where Ann introduces Mickey to her father, unaware they already know each other and are working together in a racket.  Her eagerness for them to like each other, their uncomfortable and embarrassed pretending for her sake.

The scene where when he takes Ann Blyth to a nightclub and she, with youthful importance, orders a drink, and he orders tomato juice.

“Don’t you drink?” she says, startled, expecting more of the big-time boxer in a night on the town.

“No,” he says with wonderfully unconcerned nonchalance, showing the maturity and self-confidence of the young man who doesn’t give it a second thought.  He’s got his own code of honor.  

And it’s torturing him.

Though it’s Rooney’s movie, Ann Blyth is a particularly good choice for the role of the girl.  This is her first time at MGM, the studio that will in a few years give her a chance at a big musical, The Great Caruso (1951), which we discussed here, and would be her own home studio when she left Universal in the 1950s. 

Her own maturity, her empathy not only for her character, but for Rooney, makes her an intriguing and quietly powerful companion for Mickey.  Noting the difference in their social spheres, he tries to stop seeing her many times, but she won’t let him, yet she is not clinging, she is even sickened by her first sight of a boxing match, watching him getting punched, the blood lust of the crowd enjoying it.  Their worlds collide because their souls are drawn to each other. 

One particularly affecting scene takes place in a sailboat, where she confesses to him that she has known since she was a child that her father was a gangster, and so she had never really fit in with her private school classmates, his criminal activity like a long shadow over her.

From a technical aspect, the scene is magical, a still and quiet world away from the noise of the boxing arena and its savage fans.  The boat lifts and falls in a lapping of a gentle wave on an otherwise deserted lake.  The rear-screen projection is used very skillfully here.  The scene is exquisitely gentle.  There is power in Mickey’s restraint as he confesses his dream to leave boxing, and in the consoling way he listens to her and tries to advise her.  There is power in the waver of Ann’s voice and tearing eyes as she tries to carefully unburden herself with fragile dignity.

“I’m all he has,” she says helplessly of her father, who lives a double life.

Ironically, the strongest aspect of their relationship is that, as mentioned above, they do not kiss.  They don’t embrace, there are no confessions of love between them.  They just need each other, and are both too wary, too burdened by others, too fearful to risk loving one more person.  They are taking their time. Only at the magnificent end, when his last terrible boxing match is over, after Rooney screams hoarsely and out of breath into the radio microphone that he’s quitting, do they share a single, sweaty, bloody clinch.  It’s perfect.

Only one scene doesn’t work for me, when Miss Blyth first meets Mr. Rooney, and he is playing Franz Liszt’s “Lebestraum” on the piano.  How a guy who never went beyond seventh grade in school and scrambled to sell papers to feed his parents and spent every free moment hustling chumps in pool halls ever found the time or money to learn how to play classical pieces on the piano, I don’t know.  We need to have a scene of him learning to play the piano as a child to believe it.

Interestingly, there is no mention of the war, though the movie covers a time span of about five years.  The montage of headlines flashes only news of boxing, nothing else.

I won’t go play-by-play on the plot, except to note another scene were Dunn, in an attempt to save both himself and Ann from mobsters, finally displays mettle and resolve in a crisis instead of indulgent self-pity.

Donlevy’s devoted father-panic when he rages at Mickey for hanging around his daughter:

“You’re a pug.  You come from the slums.  You’ve fought your way through back alleys.  You’ve killed a man.”

“Sheila knows that.”

"She’s just a child.  She’ll feel differently,” he says, when Rooney’s been rendered senseless by one too many punches.

The ending may remind you of Rocky (1976).  Concidence?

Another one of the joys of this movie is the parade of wonderful character actors:  Sam Levene as Mickey’s trainer and cut-man, Happy, who suffers from the corner every time he’s hit, and has some great wisecracks.

Tom Tully plays a rival racketeer, a great performance that runs a knife-edge of humor and frightening cruelty.  He tells a funny story about having indigestion, and he’s willing to kill for spite, let alone money.  Everybody in this movie has two sides.  Walter Sande his is partner.

Bob Steele, who’d been around since the days of the silents and made a name for himself in westerns, plays boxer Sailor Graves in a delightfully good-natured and even comic performance.

Watch for the extras, including Milburn Stone, Ray Teal, and blink-and-you-miss-her Shelley Winters in a non-speaking role as a boxing groupie who crashes training camp.  She’s driving the convertible.

Ann Blyth, we could also note, is photographed absolutely beautifully in this movie.  You can really see the MGM gloss in how the movie handles her.  She conveys dignity, gravity, and decency, and her thoughtful expression darkens, cringes everytime someone speaks of gambling and mobsters. She was coming out of one of the worse periods of her personal life—her spine injury and death of her mother—and slogged out these bad memories in her intense bad-girl role in Swell Guy (1946), which we discussed here, and popped up only briefly in Brute Force (1947), which we’ll discuss down the road.  In a way, this loan-out to MGM was, for her as much as Rooney, a kind of reboot to her career. 
She would head back to Universal and a couple more intense dramas and characters of dubious moral conduct: A Woman’s Vengeance (1948) which we discussed here, and Another Part of the Forest (1948) discussed here.  She was about to enter the busiest and most prolific period of her screen career.  Though she was still a young woman, just 19, and she would not yet be through playing teens, still, not since the early four films at Universal in 1944 had she really been locked into ingénue roles.  Instead, she could and would play women who, if not chronologically older, were certainly world-wise and knowing.  Her own personal maturity and empathy contributed to this ability.  A playfulness, even goofiness that was also part of her personality, would remain hidden and that would not come out until later films: Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) here; Once More, My Darling (1949) here; and Rose Marie (1954) discussed here.

A syndicated review in the Toledo Blade called the movie a…

Great comeback by Ann Blyth, who’s Mickey Rooney’s sweetheart in Killer McCoy.  She’s the Mildred PierceAcademy Award nominee who broke her back tobogganing.  It threatened to end her career!  Hollywood’s happy for her...

Mickey Rooney’s career would lose momentum, despite his splendid performance in this film, and would ride a variety of crests and valleys through the coming years, but endured with remarkable longevity, which itself was a tribute to this very talented man.


Killer McCoy is available on DVD from the Warner's Archive Collection.

Have a look at the other great bloggers posting this month as part of the getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken& Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September.
Come back next Thursday when we head back west on TV’s Wagon Train for another episode, “The Martha Barnham Story” where Ann Blyth plays an officer’s haughty daughter whose bigotry will alienate a former love and mean life or death for herself and others.



Posted by Jacqueline T. Lynch at Another Old Movie Blog.
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Private Screenings, Turner Classic Movies, Robert Osborne interview with Mickey Rooney.

Rooney, Mickey.  Life Is Too Short. (NY: Villard Books, 1991).


Toledo Blade, July 9, 1947, “Filmdom chatter box”.

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As  most of you probably know by now, this year's TCM Classic Cruise will set sail (proverbially) in October, and one of the celebrity guests is Ann Blyth.

TCM has just published the itinerary for the cruise.  Ann will be doing a couple hour-long conversation sessions, and will also be on hand for a screening of Mildred Pierce.


Have a look here for the rest of the schedule and events with the other celebrity guests. Unfortunately, the cruise is booked, so if' you're late, you can try for the waiting list.

I, sadly, am unable to attend this cruise, but if any reader is going,  I invite you (beg you) to share your experiences and/or photos relating to Miss Blyth on this blog as part of our year-long series on her career.  I'd really appreciate your perspective on the event, to be our eyes and ears.  Thanks.

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 THANK YOU....to the following folks whose aid in gathering material for this series has been invaluable:  EBH; Kevin Deany of Kevin's Movie Corner; Gerry Szymski of Westmont Movie Classics, Westmont, Illinois; and Ivan G. Shreve, Jr. of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear.  And thanks to all those who signed on as backers to my recent Kickstarter campaign.  The effort failed to raise the funding needed, but I'll always remember your kind support.


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TRIVIA QUESTION:  I've recently been contacted by someone who wants to know if the piano player in Dillinger (1945-see post here) is the boogie-woogie artist Albert Ammons. Please leave comment or drop me a line if you know.
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 HELP!!!!!!!!!!

Now that I've got your attention: I'm still on the lookout for a movie called Katie Did It (1951) for this year-long series on the career of Ann Blyth.  It seems to be a rare one.  Please contact me on this blog or at my email: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com if you know where I can lay my hands on this film.  Am willing to buy or trade, or wash windows in exchange.  Maybe not the windows part.  But you know what I mean.

Also, if anybody has any of Ann's TV appearances, there's a few I'm missing from Switch, The Dick Powell Show, the Dennis Day Show (TV), the DuPont Show with June Allyson, This is Your Life, Lux Video Theatre.  Also any video clips of her Oscar appearances.  Release the hounds.  And let me know, please. 


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A new collection of essays, some old, some new, from this blog titled Movies in Our Time: Hollywood Mimics and Mirrors the 20th Century is now out in eBook, and in paperback here.

I’ll provide a free copy, either paperback or eBook or both if you wish, to bloggers in exchange for an honest review.  Just email me at JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com with your preference of format, your email address, and an address to mail the paperback (if that’s your preference).  Thanks.

Posted in Old Movie Blog

In Remembrance



The blog goes dark today in remembrance of the victims of 9/11.

We'll resume posting in our Year of Ann Blyth series tomorrow with Killer McCoy (1947).

Posted in Old Movie Blog