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

One Minute to Zero – 1952

One Minute to Zero (1952), like most war movies, isn’t “timeless,” which is a label critics so often paste on their reviews of a film to indicate a particular quality of excellence, more than of immortality.  It is locked, perhaps hamstrung, by its singular event of the Korean War—whose ambiguous political and military result is, not surprisingly, reflected in the film’s ambiguous and even ambivalent message.

The film, for many months up until its release in August 1952 was referred to in the press by its original (if unoriginal sounding) title: The Korean Story.  Produced at RKO by Edmund Grainger under the auspices of Howard Hughes, suffering delays due to severe weather on location in Colorado and the loss of its lead actress, Claudette Colbert, due to pneumonia she contracted there in the bitter cold.  The movie carried the reputation of a jinxed picture long before the crew limped back to Hollywood.  With several of the film’s cast and crew down sick, lead actor Robert Mitchum’s brawl with a serviceman, and the cooperation of the military up in the air with Howard Hughes over a scene the government preferred to be censored, the only bright spot in the lumbering affair seemed to be the popular, if unlikely, young actress Hughes hired at the eleventh hour to step into the female lead.  She also raised eyebrows due to her youthfulness compared to the other actresses hired, or considered for the role (Colbert, and also Joan Crawford), and speculation as to how the “little lady” of Hollywood would fare in a testosterone-infused war picture against bad boy Robert Mitchum.

Ann Blyth had just turned 23 years old when she belatedly joined the cast of what would eventually be called One Minute to Zero.  She told interviewer Eddie Muller in her 2006 appearance at the Castro Theater in San Francisco (in the transcript as posted by The Evening Class blog here):

I found myself in Howard Hughes' office with my agent—I didn't really want to go by myself; I'd heard stories—anyway, he was very nice to me, sat off in the corner…

According to a column by Louella Parsons, who visited Ann on the set of The World in His Arms, which we covered here, Ann was due to head out to location shooting in Colorado Springs for Hughes’ war picture “at the break of dawn the next day,” with no break between pictures. She told the gossip columnist that 1951 had been the most memorable and exciting year for her, in which she traveled to England for I’ll Never Forget You, visited relatives in Ireland for the first time, and saw the release of four very different films: the murder mystery Thunder on the Hill discussed here, exotic historical costume picture The Golden Horde, I’ll Never Forget You, and The Great Caruso, discussed here, which helped to launch her into MGM musicals.  Her versatility evident, there seemed to be no reason not to put her into a war picture, even if the script had to be altered to reflect a much younger woman in the role.  

From a syndicated article by Hugh Heffernan: 

This embattled outfit, headed by director Tay Garnett, has been filming The Korean Story on location sites near Denver for the last three months – and overcoming one rugged and discouraging hardship after another.…First of all, Joan Crawford pulled out from the star role after the company had been shooting there for several weeks awaiting her arrival.  Jane Greer was then announced as the replacement and there was more stalling until it became apparent that she could not be released from a previous commitment.

After two weeks of dealing, Claudette Colbert agreed to leap into the breach.  Claudette actually reported, but within a few days, was stricken…Meanwhile, the outfit kept on shooting with what it could, which wasn’t much.

Today they’re working with their fourth leading lady...but before Ann could take over, the heroine role had to be revamped almost in its entirety.

Too many excursions in Hollywood companies have been suffering torturous location pains recently and The Korean Story miseries may prove to be the straw that breaks the Hollywood jaunting budget.

Director Tay Garnett mentioned the troubles in his autobiography, Light Your Torches and Pull Up Your Tights:

When we arrived in Colorado, the trees had just come into full leaf.  When we finally locked up the last can of film, we had wired alien branches to the denuded aspens so as to match the stuff we shot in the spring.

Our initial difficulty was that, three-fourths through the location shooting, Claudette Colbert came down with a four-star case of pneumonia.  She was game, but 104-degrees of fever hospitalized her

He developed a “short sequence of pneumonia,” too, and was hospitalized.

H.H. suggested that I fly to Hollywood, because he wanted me, personally, to discuss the Colbert role with Joan Crawford.

Joan was represented at the time by Lew Wasserman (then head of the MCA talent agency, and now president of Universal Studios).  I’ve always felt that, because the male roles were dominant in Zero, Lew advised Joan against taking the lone female part.  I was disappointed.  I had known Joan for years and had always wanted to direct her.  She brings a brilliant talent onto the set, and I’m convinced she would have been great in the Zero role.

In Hollywood, I reported the situation to Mr. Hughes (by telephone) and was told to return to Colorado Springs the next morning, because Ann Blyth had been signed for the part.


Somewhat earlier, Ann had played (superbly) Joan Crawford’s daughter in Mildred Pierce; obviously our entire script had to be rewritten to accommodate the younger casting.

Ann managed to complete the assignment without getting pneumonia, and also got along with her bad-boy co-star.  She recalled in Eddie Muller’s interview noted above:

“…he was a terrific man to work with.  I loved working with Bob.  He was terrific.  He loved to play gags.  We had one scene one day—it wasn't too serious a scene so I guess he thought he could get away with this—and he got together with the prop department and he said, ‘Now, in this scene I want you to—up in the rafters—have a rubber chicken.’  In the course of the scene—and of course he always had his buff body—he said, ‘In the middle of the scene I'm going to aim up there and I want you to throw the chicken down.’  So we started the scene and—as I say—it was a fairly serious scene, rather melodramatic, and we were going along nicely when I hear this bang and this chicken comes down.  I kept right on going with my lines.”

Also, in 2006 she told interviewer Tavo Amador for The Bay Area Reporter:

Bob Mitchum was a favorite.  I loved Bob.  He was a big man, with boyish charm.  And an underrated actor.  He’s so frightening in the original Cape Fear, which was much better than the remake.”

She would continue to defend him when more alleged brawls gave his reputation a black eye in the years after she worked with him. 

“...when I worked with him, he was a perfect gentleman.  He always knew his lines.  He has the nicest manners and always was considerate of me.

“Every time he sees me.  He always comes right over and asks about my new baby, Timmy,” she beamed.  “I think he’s wonderful.”

Nor did she apparently mind climbing on a five-inch-high box for their kissing scenes.

Their most intriguing scene together, however, is playing sitting opposite each other at a kitchen table after she has made supper for him at her apartment in Japan, their first date.  The candles burn down, and both, slightly slumped over the table, he with his chin on his hand, give the impression of being all talked out.  A soothing, lazy tune, in a delicately Asian style, penetrates their silence, coming, we are told in quick camera shot from a record on a portable record player.  Suddenly, Robert Mitchum begins to sing along to the tune, in Japanese.  Catch Ann’s expression of surprised delight.  She is glued to his face, watching him sing, fascinated by him. It opens the door to their romance.  She sees there is more to him than just a blustering alpha male, dismissive of her opinions on the war.

In this story, Mr. Mitchum is a career U.S. Army officer stationed in Korea as tensions build with the communist uprising in the north.  Ann Blyth is a United Nations health worker.  He represents the male warrior and she is the female pacifist, (the yin and yang of this arrangement, I think, is more coincidental on Howard Hughes’ part than an artful use of Asian philosophy) and their first encounters are combative, a mixture of bad first impressions and a Cliff Notes version of geopolitics in 1951.  She puts her faith in the United Nations in curbing aggression; he feels the U.N. will be useless in stopping aggressors.  Both will bend somewhat in these opinions, but the conclusions are lost in a burst of new weaponry: jet airplanes firing rockets, and scouring the hills with napalm. 

We’ll go back to the war in a minute.  First, we return to that candlelight dinner.  As Robert Mitchum lazily smokes a cigarette (his trademark sleepy performance punctuates pretty nearly everything he does in this movie), he coaxes Ann, who confesses she knows only the English words to that tune, to sing.  Bless him.

So now it’s her turn at bat, and Ann sings an English verse of “Golden Moon.”  It is low, quiet, and lovely, and the really neat thing about this scene (correct me, please, if I’m wrong) is that they both appear to be singing “live.”  I don’t believe they’re lip-synching to a pre-recorded track.  It’s easier to keep the flow of singing and dialogue in this quiet, moody setting by having them do it live.  What we get is a very casual, natural, and intimate moment.

When they get up to move to the living room to have their coffee, Mitchum whistles another tune that becomes their romantic leitmotif, and we will later call it, “When I Fall in Love.”  It will swoop down upon us in a glorious wash of violins whenever they want each other, hurt each other, or just see each other.  For what is really a fairly pedestrian war movie, it’s unusual and quite charming to have such a moving love song be used so frequently and with such power.

The song was recorded by many through the decade, Doris Day and Nat King Cole both released very popular versions.  Unfortunately, Ann Blyth did not, and I don’t know who dropped the football here.

Thanks for “Golden Moon,” Howard, but why in Aunt Mary’s knickers didn’t Blyth sing the bloody theme song?

Pardon my French.

By the way, Ann gets to speak a little French in the movie too.

 Later in the film, when they’ve gotten serious, he proposes marriage, but she turns him down, bitterly showing him the box of medals, including the Medal of Honor, that had been awarded to her late husband, killed in World War II.  

“The President shook my hand,” she whimpers, not with pride, but brokenheartedly to the Medal of Honor, sifting the ribbon in her fingers.  That was another war, and another lifetime ago.  

We see this reality, too, in the modern weaponry the film displays.  This is isn’t your older brother’s war.  With Howard Hughes’ involvement with the aviation industry, it’s no wonder the fighter jets are the real stars of the movie, including a look at some Australian planes coming to the rescue of Mitchum and his infantry platoon at one point.  The footage of the military planes is impressive, even if the Australian accent from the pilot speaking over the radio is atrociously fake.

The picture also liberally uses genuine combat footage with the cooperation of the government. (The movie was filmed at Fort Carson, using troops of the 148th Field Artillery.)  It’s hard to say whether the footage is used successfully.  It is, certainly, a realistic view on war that takes us out of the back lot, and farther away than Colorado, but as often happens with interspersing other footage—say, as with rear-screen projection—the cuts are pretty obvious and we are not fooled into thinking the image we see is part of the scene.  We can easily tell what is government combat footage.  There are times when a soldier looks off to the side, we see a flaming tank, and it looks as if he is suddenly watching a newsreel and not a real tank beside him.  We are jerked out of the scene.

Another problem is the footage used, much of which is gratuitous—the enemy seared by flame-throwing and napalm, with screams added to the soundtrack for effect, pitiful refugees, and scores of dead American soldiers.  They seem to be used for shock effect and not for storytelling.  All these images are part of the reality of war, and to understand our participation in a war we should see them, but I think they are more effectively used in a documentary, or at least used in a fictional story with a greater skill.  After one removes these combat footage splices from One Minute to Zero, what is left is a standard Hollywood type war picture, with a squad of regular joes trying to maintain their position.  Some of the dialogue is pretty hokey.

We have the smart alecks, the comically naïve dumbbell, played by Alvin Greenman, who you’ll remember as the young janitor, Alfred, in Miracle on 34th Street (1947).  Charles McGraw plays the gruff, but hero-worshiping sidekick sergeant of Robert Mitchum.  You’ll remember gravelly voiced McGraw from Once More, My Darling (1949) here, where he played the chauffer of oddball socialite Ann’s wealthy eccentric father.  He also stars in one of my favorite train noirs, The Narrow Margin (1952) here.  They stumble through the Korean countryside, kill and are killed, are kind to Korean children and teach them how to blow bubbles with bubble gum.
Richard Egan is the captain of the lost squad.  It’s really quite an accomplishment for the film to juggle so many subplots: the guys in battle, the air force pilots who fly over from their base in Japan, including Mitchum’s longtime pal William Talman, whom many of us remember as the perpetually losing attorney on TV’s Perry Mason.  Their wives are with them, and that, too, makes this war strangely different from the Pacific Theater of World War II.  They show up at the airbase to watch their men come back from a mission, and count to see which ones don’t come back.

And then, a romance with Ann Blyth, who pops in and out of Robert Mitchum’s very busy life in Korea.  Perhaps the oddest and most uncomfortable subplot in the movie, the scene for which the film is most remembered, is when Mitchum orders his men to fire upon a long file of refugees approaching his checkpoint.  Innocent men and women, small children, and frail elderly, are massacred.

It is this scene to which the Department of Defense objected, and asked Hughes to remove from the film. (According to Transforming the Screen, 1950 to 1959 by Peter Lev, Mr. Hughes first ascertained whether defying the ban would hurt his defense contracts for his Hughes Aircraft.  He was told it wouldn’t.  He went ahead, apparently despite his promise not to film the scene.)  

It is based on an apparent actual incident from 1950 where American troops fired on Korean civilians, the facts of which are still cloudy.  In the movie, a long column of refugees, moving away from battle areas to safety, approach Robert Mitchum’s platoon, which is maintaining a defensive position.  Mitchum gives the order to fire warning shots from artillery to scare them away, to force them to go back to an area where the military will drop food and supplies to them.  The refugees ignore the warnings and continue to walk toward Mitchum’s outpost.

We are shown, in a rather melodramatic and heavy-handed way that many of the refugees are being prodded forward by enemy soldiers, who are using them as, in the modern term, “human shields.”  Mitchum knows this, and he will not allow the enemy infiltrators approach.  He fires more artillery, this time a little closer to the people.  They still proceed forward.

It is a showdown, and ultimately, Mitchum gives the orders to fire the artillery directly into the long column of people, massacring them.

At this moment, Ann Blyth, on duty with her U.N. health unit, shows up in a jeep, watches with horror, and tearfully, hysterically confronts Mitchum on the monstrous thing he has done.  Of course, he slaps her because that's what you do with women who cry and shout in your face.

By the end of the film, William Talman will take her aside and show her (through the inevitable clip of government footage) a temporary morgue in a bombed-out village where lie the corpses of many American soldiers, whose deaths, many of them slaughtered with their hands tied behind their backs, are the result of those enemy infiltrators sneaking into U.S. lines by way of refugees.

The end of the movie tries to switch back to patriotic World War II movie-mode and shows Ann in a bombed-out church praying for forgiveness for misjudging Mitchum, and praying for his safety.  When she finally catches up to him, as he is going off to more fighting, she says she wants to be his wife.  He tells her, without a trace of romance, but rather like he is acknowledging a salute from one of his men, “You will.”  And the columns of men leave us with Ann's patriotic voiceover.

This scene, after the daring move of showing the horror of war with ugly combat film, the political murkiness of our involvement, and even the ambivalence of the men and officers, seems forced and ersatz.  The movie drifts awkwardly between comforting us that this is just like World War II, and “we did it before and we can do it again”—and an eerie, unsettled frankness that tells us we are in a completely different ballgame and nobody knows the future.

Regarding the massacre, we may acknowledge that a scene of this sort would never have been shown in a World War II-era Hollywood movie, even to justify it.  U.S. military personnel didn’t massacre civilians, that would be the message.  (Even in a future war, information on the M Lai massacre in Vietnam was censored by the U.S. government.)

But, the boldness of this scene is weakened by the way the audience is supposed to feel sympathy for the stoic, if mentally anguished, Robert Mitchum for having to do his duty by firing on civilians.  We may, indeed, feel sorry for him, as making such a decision and then having to live with it must be terrible.  However, we cannot, in all conscience or logic, feel more sorry for him than we do for the innocents who were murdered in the name of weeding out the bad guys.  The idea that we must feel worse for Mitchum than the refugees is ludicrous, but that is what the film tries to accomplish in order to build up the hero.  Since everybody in this movie has been hero-worshipping Mitchum, talking about his character, his guts and his excellent military record, we don’t need to be hammered over the head that anything he does is for the greater good.  The scene would have been more powerful if it were Mitchum in the bombed-out church praying for forgiveness.

As propagandist as the World War II movies were (to an extent, all war movies are propagandist), the hero in those films never demanded, or even asked for our pity.  He might have earned it, but he didn’t ask.  

Perhaps we were so scared we’d lose that war, he didn’t have to.  Everything he did was jake with us.  But we didn’t feel Korea was a threat to our existence, and if many regarded it as an ideological threat, that was not enough.  It became, almost the moment it started, “The Forgotten War.”

Bosley Crowther, our old acerbic friend from the New York Times remarked of the film:

Plainly, One Minute to Zero is a ripely synthetic affair, arranged to arouse emotions with the most easy and obvious clichés.  And, although some of the battle talk sounds faithful and the inter-cut news shots are sincere, neither the story nor the performances of the actors, including Miss Blyth and Mr. Mitchum, rings true.  Here is another war picture that smells of grease paint and studios.

His last line is, I think, particularly telling.  War movies were old hat.  We’d seen them all before.  For whatever propagandist hue Howard Hughes tried to paint in this film to make it earnest for the military whose cooperation he needed to supply troops and equipment for the movie, and palatable to an apparently bored and war-weary audience, it didn’t create a big splash.   

But One Minute to Zero remains for us as a unique slice of history told, not in the grand scale Hughes was apparently reaching for, but in the detail of the reconnaissance plotting of the officers at the base in Japan, in the procedural tactics practiced with dull repetition by the little family of grunts that make up Richard Egan’s forlorn squad, and in the stolen moments between Robert Mitchum and Ann Blyth, whose courtship is sporadic under the “rules of engagement” the Korean War has allowed them.  

I can’t imagine their characters ever settling down in suburbia together.  Maybe that’s where the audience of 1952 was really headed, in minds and hearts as well as physically, leaving the Korean War behind.

Ann Blyth, having long established a routine of donating whatever time she could to charity singing engagements, as we discussed in this post, also made time to visit military bases in the U.S. and territories to entertain the troops, just as she had as a teen during World War II. 
She toured several bases in the territory of Alaska in 1952, as we discussed on this post on The World in His Arms (1952) and performed with Jack Benny at the White Sands Missile Base in New Mexico in 1951.  She visited former Ford Ord Army Base on the Monterey Bay in California also in September 1952, where she was named the Queen of the 20th Regiment and apparently helped the young GI David Janssen to join Special Services, a unit that was involved in entertainment and sports activities on the base.  What clout she might have had, or how she was able to do this is unknown to me at the present time, but David Janssen gave her input a fair degree of importance, feeling that it might have kept him from being sent into battle in Korea, and he was always grateful to her.  A website devoted to Janssen posts a letter he apparently wrote October 13, 1952 to his mother from Fort Ord after Ann Blyth’s visit there in September mentioning his writing a thank you letter to Ann Blyth, as well as Frank McFadden of Universal's publicity department.

Ann received quite a bit of fan mail from military personnel, and it was reported in a syndicated column by Armand Archerd in 1951 that some 2,000 letters per month came to her from GIs, about three-quarters of all her mail.  Perhaps Howard Hughes knew about this when signing her to the role.

When the film finished, she went right into her next movie without a break, right into being 12 years old in Sally and Saint Anne (1952), which we discussed here.

But Howard Hughes wasn’t quite finished with her.  In appreciation for her stepping in when the clock was running out on his shooting schedule, he gave her a new Cadillac, and a trip to Hawaii.  Ann took her uncle and aunt, with whom she lived, with her in the spring of 1952.

U.S. Navy photo

Where, in April she performed for the troops at Fort Shafter, Honolulu with Bob Hope, and on Easter Sunday, she visited the USS Wisconsin and sang for the crew.
Come back next Thursday, our Thanksgiving post, for an on-location shoot not quite as arduous, when Ann appears in her first and only big-screen western, her first movie in color, with Howard Duff and George Brent in Red Canyon (1949)


The Bay Area Reporter, July 20, 2006, by Tavo Amador – “The Real Veda Pierce: a Serene Ann Blyth.

Court, Darren and the White Sands Missile Range Museum.  White Sands Missile Range – (Charleston, SC; Chicago, Portsmouth, NH; San Francisco: Arcadia Publishing, 2009) pp 121-122. 

David Janssen.net website- http://davidjanssen.net/chron06.htm

Deseret News November 28, 1951 p. 2F – see article by Hugh Heffernan; December 9, 1951, by Sheilah Graham. 

Garnett, Tay.  Light Your Torches and Pull Up Your Tights (NY: Arlington House, 1973), pp. 282-283.

Kentucky New Era, February 9, 1951 – by Armand Archerd “Home Girl, Not Cheesecake, Pit Top Requests of GIs.”  

Lev, Peter.  Transforming the Screen, 1950 to 1959.  (University of California Press, 2006)

Milwaukee Sentinel, November 14, 1951, column by Louella Parsons part 1, p.8.

New York Times, September 20, 1952, review by Bosley Crowther.  

The Register-Guard (Eugene, Oregon) January 24, 1955, p. 5B  “Friends to the Defense of Robert Mitchum.”

St. Joseph News-Press (Missouri), December 16, 1951, column by Louella Parons, p. 4D.

USS Wisconsin website: USSWisconsin.org. http://www.usswisconsin.org/Pictures/famous.htm


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.


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.

mel said...

I consulted David Meeker's authoritative and exhaustive book "Jazz On The Screen - a Jazz And Blues Filmography" (2008) and Albert Ammons is not mentioned as performing in Dillinger (1945).
So my educated guess is a negative.

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 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. 


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

Ann Blyth’s Concert Career


Where has Ann Blyth been all these years?

This was the lead to Stephen Holden’s New York Times review of Ann Blyth’s concert with Bill Hayes at the famed and elite Rainbow and Stars atop Rockefeller Center in November 1992.

…she seemed so physically unchanged from her 1950s self that it was possible to imagine she had been frozen for the last 30 years and had thawed herself out for the occasion.

Their act was called “An Elegant Evening of Beautiful Music,” a collection of theatre and movie songs.

The kind of show that rarely plays in Manhattan nowadays.  Suburban dinner-theater entertainment aimed at audiences over 60, it trades heavily in nostalgia toward these show-business veterans who have aged well and seek only to spread sugarcoated cheer….Miss Blyth’s lyric soprano is still in good condition.

Today we discuss Ann Blyth’s “third act” career as a singer.  I use the term “third act,” though the more common dictum “second act” refers to a career adopted, or revived, late in life.  It stems from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s hard luck observation, “There are no second acts in American life.”  Well, there weren’t for him, poor man, but for others…a second act, a second chance at life, a revival is sometimes possible.

Ann Blyth had more than a second act, she had a “third act,” her singing, which took her beyond both her screen and stage career, in her resilient soprano that is like a metaphor for her resilient career: surprisingly strong, stunning it its loveliness, and carefully controlled.  Her “third act” was not so much a new venture as a reprise.  She always was a singer—before she became a movie star, before she even became an actress, she was a singer.  At six years old, she auditioned for a children’s radio program in New York City, and stood upon a box to reach the microphone, and sang the late hit “Lazy Bones” by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael.

Years later she would be required to stand on a box to kiss Gregory Peck.  Some of the best things in life are just out of reach.

Unless one perseveres.

She sang, and acted, on many radio programs as child, before her life-changing audition for Lillian Hellman’s Broadway play, Watch on the Rhine.  When her film career was launched in her early teens, she continued to perform as a singer for charity venues on her own time.  Donating her talent to needy causes had a secondary effect: it gave her experience singing live in front of an audience, even if it was just 50 people in a church hall. Gradually, those audiences became larger.  She traveled many miles to perform for them.

Syndicated columnist Sheilah Graham wrote of one such benefit: 

 Ann Blyth is one of the reasons why people like Hollywood.  She is just back from doing a swell show for the Loretto Heights College in Denver.  

Perhaps her largest audience in these years was the combined theater and radio audience who heard her at the 1949 Academy Awards, held March 23, 1950 at the RKO Pantages Theatre, where she sang one of the nominated songs, “My Foolish Heart” in a low-cut red gown.  In one respect, she was announcing her availability as a singer in the industry for those who had forgotten, or else never knew of, her talent, and throughout the 1950s took advantage of other opportunities to sing.  

She sang on Louella Parson’s radio show in September 1951.  After suffering the obligatory and heavily scripted “interview” on whom she was, or was not, dating, Ann soars in a song called “My Golden Harp” to the tune of “Danny Boy” or “The Londonderry Air.”  One imagines it was a payoff for the indignity.

Other radio shows gave her chances to sing, and television would give her a few more, including another Oscar® program in 1954, which we discussed in this previous post.  The fifties was a great era for musical variety on TV.  Among the shows on which she sang were The Perry Como Show, The Dinah Shore Show, The Fisher-Gobel Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, and The Jack Parr Show.  

It was also during this decade that Ann Blyth took an unusual (for a movie star) and brave plunge into nightclub performing.  In the late summer of 1954, still a new mother, her first baby only a few months old, she tested a new singing act for a few nights at the Tops Nightclub, a Streamline Moderne popular spot on the Pacific Coast Highway in San Diego.  

She wowed the crowd, and then brought the act up to Sacramento for a weekend at the state fair in September, all preparatory to opening at the Sahara in Las Vegas in late September for a month’s run.  The Los Angeles Times reported:

Ann Blyth proved that night-club entertainment can be something utterly new and different when she made her debut here tonight.  She received thunderous applause when she wound up her headline singing and intimate conversation with her audience at the Sahara.

Ann came down with laryngitis during that engagement, and though these comic press photos indicate her brother-in-law Dennis Day came to minister to her sore throat, he really helped out by filling in for her on stage.

There was to have been another appearance at the Sahara two years later in 1956, but MGM, her home studio at the time, called her back for the film Slander (1957), which we’ll discuss next week. 

But it was back to the nightclub circuit in 1958, when after The Helen Morgan Story (1957), which we’ll discuss in a future post, turned out to be her last film.  In September 1958 she opened a new act the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles.  Louella Parsons was in the audience.

Ann Blyth, so refreshingly sweet and beautiful at the Coconut Grove joined us after her show.  She said every night she sings a song about her husband, Dr. Jim McNulty, and that night he was sitting ringside when suddenly she looked and he was gone.  You guessed it—a call from the hospital sent him scurrying there to deliver a baby.

She had broken in the act the previous weekend in Phoenix, Arizona, where again, her obstetrician husband couldn’t make it to opening night because the stork interfered.  The entertainment press at this time conjectured how a two-career marriage and a growing family would work.  

The Los Angeles Times ran a brief blurb to announce the debut of the act that read more like a dossier than a feature story:

Subject: Ann Blyth, singer-film star, female.

Makes local nightclub debut at Coconut Grove, Ambassador Hotel on Wednesday.  Only other such appearance at Sahara in Las Vegas three years ago.  Plans to make club dates another facet of her career.

Sounds like Sgt. Joe Friday wrote that one.

Her planning to make club dates another facet of her career stemmed, in the wake of no upcoming films after The Helen Morgan Story, from practicality as well as her desire to sing.  From a syndicated column in September by James Bacon, which teases Ann as Hollywood’s “little lady” becoming a “saloon singer,” he quotes Ann:

“All the movie scripts offered wanted me to go to Europe and for such long times.  I just felt that I couldn’t be separated from my family that long.”

After the Coconut Grove, Ann would take this act to the Sahara in Las Vegas, and then to New York and Miami Beach, Florida.

In the early sixties, Ann re-joined the theatre world in what would be three decades of touring musical theatre performances, which we covered in this previous post.  Her re-emergence on the concert scene came in the mid-1980s.

In 1985 she teamed up with her brother-in-law, Dennis Day, for a show in Downey, California, that was so well received, they did an encore performance at El Camino College in Torrance, California.  Perhaps there might have been more concerts with Dennis Day, beloved longtime radio sidekick of Jack Benny, but sadly, Mr. Day became ill and was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  He died in 1988.

Ann called upon Bill Hayes to be her singing partner in a series of concerts that would continue for another decade.  Mr. Hayes had appeared with her in Brigadoon on stage in the late 1960s, and most recently had starred opposite Ann in Song of Norway in March 1985.  Many will remember Bill Hayes from his long run on the daytime drama Days of Our Lives.

Together, they joined Ann’s first screen partner, Donald O’Connor, for a two-week stint at The Dunes in Las Vegas in June 1992, then Hayes and Ann continued to take their show to several spots across the country, culminated by a four-week engagement at the exclusive Rainbow and Stars in New York City in late October through November 1992.  At the time she was 64 years old.  For a really stunning publicity photo of Bill Hayes and Ann Blyth together, have a look at Mr. Hayes’ website here.

And here:

Courtesy Bill Hayes, used by permission.

To promote their concert, Ann and Bill Hayes appeared as guests on Casper Citron’s radio talk show on New York’s WOR on November 14, 1992.  The studio was in the same building where Ann started in radio as a six-year-old child singer.  The poignancy of her bringing her career full circle in this very place seemed lost on Mr. Citron, who was a former politician, former theatre critic, and longtime radio host in New York.  He had interviewed many famous people, and yet one is struck by his lack of preparation and frank ignorance in this interview.  One is also struck by Bill Hayes’ gallant explanations to their host on Ann’s accomplishments, when she would not toot her own horn.  Both Bill and Ann were quite patient with their host who wandered off track many times.  Below are a few brief excerpts of a transcript of the interview:

AB:     We do a variety of music from Broadway and Hollywood.  I think a lovely potpourri, songs that everyone can certainly remember, songs that everyone has hummed or sung or whistled.

CC:      Your career in films was not as a singer?

AB:     Well, it didn’t start out that way, that’s correct.  And really, when I did my test, they said, “What else do you do?” and, of course, I said, “Well, I also sing.”  But it wasn’t until…

CC:      Did you sing in The Helen Morgan Story?

AB:     No, they used someone else’s voice, Gogi Grant, who has a completely different sound, a marvelous voice, to be sure, but a very pop sound and for some reason the studio at that time felt that that would be an added, an added dimension for some reason to that movie.


BH:     But Casper, Ann really did sing in a lot films.  It was just The Helen Morgan Story that…

CC:      What was your biggest singing role?

AB:     Well, I…

CC:      Pardon my stupidity on this.

AB:     I think I would have to say The Student Prince, and…

CC:      Oh, that’s a big singing role.


CC:      Do any of these people that you have worked with through the years come up to Rainbow and Stars?

AB:     Oh, indeed, and that’s half of the pleasure of what we do, is, of course, seeing people that perhaps you haven’t had a chance to see in many, many years—the nature of our business being such that you find yourself on one coast and so many of your friends are someplace else.


BH:     We do two different shows.  We do a dinner show and an after-theatre show.  The dinner show is at 9:00.  People come at 7:00 or 7:30 and have dinner, and we work from 9:00 to 10:00.  And then they come after the theatre, we do an 11:00, excuse me, 11:15 show.

CC:      How many times a week?

BH:     We do that five nights a week, so we’re off Sundays and Mondays, and we play Tuesday through Saturday.  And it’s a thrill.  It’s a breathtaking view.

CC:      That’s 10 times a week.  That’s even more than Broadway.

AB:     But it’s such lovely music.  We really do have a good time.  It is a lot of singing, but we do have a good time.  And the view is spectacular.

CC:      It always has been.

AB:     Here I am back in the very same building that I started in.

CC:      A number of years later.  We don’t ask…

AB:     Yes.

CC:      …how many.

AB:     Well, I’m just glad that I’m here.

Some of those old friends mentioned above who turned up in the audience were Claire Trevor; Arlene Dahl; Imogene Coca, with whom Bill Hayes appeared on the wonderful classic TV Your Show of Shows; Ruth Warrick, with whom Ann appeared in Swell Guy (1946); which we discussed here, and her old pal, Roddy McDowall.

Syndicated columnist Liz Smith was also in the audience:

Ann Blyth, who was a movie star when the words really meant something, looks incredible.  Time seems literally to have stood still for her—and not only physically.  The star’s soprano is as lilting and steady as when she was knocking out those MGM musicals…

Blyth, expertly partnered with Bill Hayes, even perched on a piano a la Helen Morgan and belted out “Why Was I Born?”

The room was awash with nostalgia.

Ann and Bill Hayes continued sporadic touring with their show, popping up Florida, Illinois, and a cruise ship from Acapulco to San Francisco.

More gigs in the mid-1990s partnered her with John Raitt, with whom she performed in Los Angeles.  In October 1994, they appeared at the Academy Plaza Theatre for two hour-long concerts, along with Ann’s longtime music director and accompanist, Harper MacKay, on piano.  They performed solos and duets from many musicals, including teaming up on “If I Loved You” from Carousel.

What has become known as The Great American Songbook has achieved a certain degree of “cool” these days, but twenty and thirty years ago was still in a nadir patch of being termed “old people music.”  Some of the articles about their performances have a slightly condescending tone to them. 

Ann Blyth, as on many occasions and in many circumstances of her life, seemed above it all, and serenely took the path, and musical form, that was right for her.

From the Los Angeles Times article by Libby Slate promoting her concert with Mr. Raitt in October, 2004:

Although they have sung many of Sunday’s selections numerous times, both say the songs remain fresh.  “In almost every phrase, there’s such emotion that it would be difficult not to feel it when you sing it, and hopefully, pass it on to the audience,” Blyth says.  “It’s the best way to communicate to those who are perfect strangers; suddenly, they’re not strangers any more.”

Ann Blyth continued into the twenty-first century with an act she performed with her accompanist, singing and telling stories of her film career on the woman’s club circuit in support of charities, once again bringing a facet of her career full circle.  In May 2000 she performed for an audience of 500 at a Holiday Inn in Hanover Township, Pennsylvania, to raise funds for the Visiting Nurse Service of Sacred Heart Hospital, opening with “With a Song in My Heart.”

From the Express-Times of Easton, Pennsylvania: 

Her voice, after nearly six decades of professional activity, was a little rough around the edges, but pleasant, warm and surprisingly powerful for such a tiny person; she wears a size four.  Her upper range is clear and easy, and she holds each phrase for its full value.

She was 71 at the time, and mimicked herself as a small child singing “Lazy Bones” for her very first audition, and playfully following the trajectory of her early career, sang “Peg O’ My Heart,” which was the song she sang for her audition prior to being signed by Universal.

We’ve noted previously that Ann sang at the 2009 Thalians Ball, along with other Hollywood stars, in Los Angeles in support of that charitable organization’s raising funds for children with mental health issues.  These types of charitable venues not only serve the community, but they seem to be, these days, the most receptive to aging singers.  It’s one thing for The Great American Songbook to be accepted by a young person in the form of a young entertainer, like Michael Bublé, or even someone older but tolerated as sufficiently hip, like Tony Bennett, but a roster of old tunes sung by old singers for more than a good cause is still more than the apparently hipper-than-thou can take.  In October 2005, Stephen Holden of the New York Times panned a concert of songs from the movies at Lincoln Center, an over-long event (some three-and-a-half hours)…

which featured mostly second-and-third-tier performers along with reminiscences by semi-and-semi-semi legends like Ann Blyth, Arlene Dahl, Sally Ann Howes, Jane Powell and Margaret Whiting, strove to connect old-time Hollywood glamor with the New York cabaret world.  

The master of ceremonies was Turner Classic Movies’ own Robert Osborne.  

With the exception of Ms. Powell’s, and to a lesser extent, Ms. Blyth’s, the reminisces of the semi-legends consisted of dull, over long mixtures of trivia, sentimentality, and self-glorification. 

Bad reviews come and go, and so do bad reviewers, as much as bad performances.  The music lingers, at least for those who like it, and for one lady who has sung it all her life.

“I’ve always enjoyed the joy, the excitement, the pure pleasure of singing this music.  It’s so easy to listen to, it stays with you.  Isn’t any art supposed to do that—to climb inside you and give you a wonderful feeling?”

Come back next Thursday when we return to Ann Blyth’s movie career and discuss the power of the press to do more than critique in Slander (1957).

PASS THE WORD!!!!!   Looking for photos and shared memories of the recent TCM Cruise regarding Ann Blyth's talks.  This material will be used for my upcoming book on Ann Blyth's career.  Please contact me at: JacquelineTLynch@gmail.com.


Bill and Susan Hayes.com - http://www.billandsusanhayes.com

Chicago Tribune, October 28, 1990, special article to the Tribune by Bill Hayes.

Daily Breeze, (Torrance, California), March 1, 1985, article by Sandra Kreiswirth; October 19, 1922, article by Sandra Kreiswirth, p. C1.

Daily News of Los Angeles, June 21, 1992, “Hayes of ‘Days’ Fame Hits the Road in Song-Filled Gala, by Lynda Hirsch, p. L25.

The Express-Times (Easton, Pennsylvania), May 4, 2000, “Actress Ann Blyth captures memorable career in songs – She is most known for ‘Mildred Pierce’ by Cynthia Gordon, p. B4.

The Los Angeles Times, September 22, 1954, “Ann Blyth Wins Ovation at Sahara in Las Vegas” by Edwin Schallert, p. B6; August 31, 1958, p. D1; June 23, 1988, article by Edward J. Boyner; October 14, 1994, “Playing Their Songs: Concert by John Raitt and Ann Blyth will target a crowd that craves ‘hummable’ music,” by Libby Slate.

Milwaukee Sentinel, September 10, 1958, syndicated article by Louella Parson, p. 6, part 3.

The Morning Call (Allentown, Pennsylvania), May 4, 2000, “Ann Blyth Appears at an Annual Benefit That Raises Money for Children’s Causes in the Lehigh Valley,” by Christian D. Berg, p. B02.

New York Times, November 3, 1992, review by Stephen Holden; October 22, 2005, by Stephen Holden.  

Ocala Star-Banner (Florida), September 2, 1958, syndicated article by James Bacon, p. 3.

The Spokesman Review (Spokane, WA), syndicated article by Sheilah Graham.

St. Petersburg Times (Florida), September 18, 1994, “Onetime Oscar Nominee Picks Stage Over Screen” by Jay Horning, p. 12A.

Toldeo Blade, November 13, 1992, syndicated column by Liz Smith, p. P-1.

 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.


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.

mel said...

I consulted David Meeker's authoritative and exhaustive book "Jazz On The Screen - a Jazz And Blues Filmography" (2008) and Albert Ammons is not mentioned as performing in Dillinger (1945).

So my educated guess is a negative.

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 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. 


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

Slander – 1957

Slander (1957) is a noble experiment, and if it fails to be as biting a drama on the scandal press as it could be, perhaps that is because it is difficult to make a tasteful movie about a distasteful subject.  It’s trying desperately to appeal to the better instincts of its audience.

That it also tries, at the same time, to indict the readers of scandal magazines—the movie-going audience—is a daring, but ultimately futile, tactic to legitimize the film’s message.  A lot of people bristle at any message in a movie, considering it preaching.  They like a clear-cut villain to shoulder all the blame and get his comeuppance in the end.  We have a villain here, and he does get foiled in the end.  But our villain does not, cannot shoulder all the blame for the evil in the story.  We must assume some of it.  The result is inevitably awkward.

Ann Blyth was rounding the corner on her 28th birthday when she made this film, her last film for MGM under her contract.  It would be the first of her three final movies, all of them released in 1957.  Slander came out in January; The Buster Keaton Story, which we covered here, was released in May for Paramount, and finally, The Helen Morgan Story, for Warner Bros., which we will cover in weeks to come, released in October 1957.  With this flurry of activity, more films at one time than she had made in years, and for three different studios, it did not seem like her film career was winding down.  There was no handwriting on the wall, no way to predict she would be a “former movie star” soon at 29 years old.

Harrison Carroll, a syndicated columnist, visited the set while Slander was being filmed, and watched her confrontation scene with character actor Harold J. Stone.

After the shot is over, I remark to Ann that it is an unusual sort of role for her to play.  Her face becomes very serious.

“It is a difficult decision for the woman in the story to make,” she says, “And anyway,” she defends, “It gives me a different sort of a part.  Audiences get tired of you if you fall into a rut.  And, just as important, a performer also gets tired of being in a rut.”

Her previous film to this had been the musical, Kismet, which we discussed here, and which had capped a string of several films, musical and non-musical which put her in fairy-tale circumstances and fanciful costumes.  In Slander, however, she is the picture of unglamorous modern reality, a housewife making beds and preparing meals for a husband and son in a tiny New York apartment in the low-rent district, her costume a neat but nondescript housedress and a wary, anxious demeanor.  Her last three films would feature her in serious, even doleful roles that were mature, sedate, and emphatically told the audience and future potential producers that she had grown up.

Her husband here is Van Johnson, in one of his last starring roles, as an up and coming entertainer.  He is a puppeteer (his work with marionettes being done by famed puppeteers Bil and Cora Baird), who has just landed a plum job with his own children’s show on TV.  Van had a hardscrabble youth in a rough neighborhood, and his past will come back to haunt him.

Their young son is played by Richard Eyer, whom we saw here in Friendly Persuasion (1956), a natural and charming kid.  His goofy, cockeyed grin is sweet, and he is the sort of gosh-gee all-American boy who loves baseball, and gets a huge kick out of his father being a TV star, as it makes him top dog at school.  But there is a down side to fame, and young Richard will suffer for it.

Harold J. Stone is Van Johnson’s agent, a friend to the family and a loyal, but ineffectual barrier to the cruelties of public life.

Directed by Roy Rowland, who directed Ann in Killer McCoy (1947), which we discussed here, the film is a good attempt at delivering a socially conscious agenda, but falters when some of the dialogue goes terribly mawkish.  I don’t think Mr. Rowland’s work here is as good as it was with Killer McCoy, most of the camera work is fairly lackluster, but I would lay most of the blame on the script for the movie’s just missing the mark.

The opening credits show the title as a blot on screen, and the actors’ names awash in a nightmarish image of floating tabloid magazine covers.  We are given the impression of sordidness from the beginning.

Then Rowland sets his opening shot on the city, its canyons of brick and steel monuments to mankind that represent both wealth and poverty, depending upon the angle.  We settle in on wealth and power first, in the palatial Park Avenue apartment of Steve Cochran, who plays the editor/publisher of one of those dirty tabloid confession magazines.  We don’t know that yet.  At first, all we see is a well-dressed man, fastidious in manner and speech, who with extraordinary thoughtfulness, arranges the daily activities of his semi-invalid mother, played with seasoned, nuanced irascibility by Marjorie Rambeau.

He is dapper, polished, refined and deliciously unrushed.  But there is a seed of doubt about him planted for the viewer by his mother’s resentfulness toward him, and by what we may suspect is the false adoption of his well-groomed self-superiority.  There’s more to this guy, and it doesn’t take long to find out.

We follow him to his office, where the gloves come off and we see that he is the master of his own kingdom of hack journalists, losers on the edge of the profession who deal in dirt, secrets, even outright lies when it serves them.  But all is not well in Steve Cochran’s world.  He has been in business for two years, enjoying enormous profits, but now he has competitors, other magazines imitating his formula for spoon feeding scandal to their readers.  Cochran’s gentlemanly demeanor of the introductory scene is stripped away when we see his work, and his cutthroat manner.

“The public has about as much brains as a halibut steak.”

He has found his success in the public’s appetite for filth.  But to top his competitors, he needs a big new story, and has found it in a well-known actress named Mary Sawyer.  Interestingly, we never see Mary Sawyer in this film, and though not showing a character that is spoken about is usually a problem in film, in this case her not being seen is perhaps a way of illustrating the point that it does not matter who is smeared.  Anyone can be a victim.  All we know of this Mary Sawyer is that she has been an actress for a long time, and is currently appearing in an uplifting film called Song of Faith.  “In the minds of the American public, she’s practically a nun.” 

One tipster has supplied information that Mary Sawyer is not practically a nun and that she fell upon some sort of disgrace in her youth.  Someone who might be able to give the magazine more information is a person who knew her from way back when, grew up with her in their old neighborhood—Van Johnson.

From this point, Van Johnson and Ann Blyth are squeezed in the jaws of a vise of moral conscience.  Van must tell what he knows about Mary Sawyer to Steve Cochran’s magazine, or else Cochran will spill the beans on Van’s secret.

As a teenager, Van committed robbery and assault with a knife, and went to prison for several years.  If the public found out, his career as a performer on a kid’s TV show is over.  There are arguments between husband and wife about the logic of throwing Mary Sawyer to the wolves to save themselves. 

What might appear as mere screen melodrama to younger viewers today was really a hot issue when this film was made, and based on numerous factual cases.  One of the most famous of these was probably when the foremost of these new scandal magazines, Confidential, threatened to disclose Rock Hudson’s homosexuality to the public.  His agent stepped in and made a deal, feeding them info on his other client instead, newcomer Rory Calhoun, who had a past involvement in armed robbery and prison time as a teen.  

Gossip columns and magazines had been part of the Hollywood scene since the first reel was shot, but what had been fairly innocuous, if occasionally irritatingly intrusive, interest in the stars’ homes, hobbies, and romances, exploded in the post-war era as a sinister inquisition into the private lives of stars, a wildly cruel seek-and-destroy mission. Hollywood actors and actresses were attacked not merely on peccadilloes in their private lives, but for their politics, and sometimes created scandal where there was none to be found.  Confidential, and other magazines and columnists of this sort who were politically conservative had taken their cue from the infamous blacklist tactics and sought to sink the careers of Liberal-leaning actors, directors, and members of the film community.

Shirley MacLaine, in her first memoir, Don’t Fall Off the Mountain, recounts a run-in with one such trash columnist of the day, Mike Connolly of the Hollywood Reporter, who, apparently believing her affiliation with liberal causes required punishment, inferred that she had her nose fixed, had attempted suicide over an unhappy love affair, had undergone an abortion, and other lies.  Sufficiently fed up, and after consulting her attorney and bringing along her secretary as a witness, Ms. MacLaine marched into Connolly’s office and slapped him hard, twice, across the face.

Columnist Hedda Hopper, despite being known, and feared, for her own self-important brand of heavy handedness, called her and told her, “Why didn’t you knock him out cold at least?  As far as I’m concerned, you should be ashamed of yourself for not finishing him off completely.”

Everyone applauded Shirley MacLaine when she visited Chasen’s restaurant; former middleweight champ Rocky Graziano sent her a pair of boxing gloves; and she received many congratulatory telegrams by those in the industry, by the governor, and a humorous one from President John F. Kennedy. 

I think of Ms. MacLaine’s the-slap-heard-around-Hollywood during the scene where Van Johnson visits Steve Cochran in his office, and slaps him.  It’s a temptation to draw similarities with Cochran’s character to real-life figures working for the scandal mags, but they’re really just types, there were plenty of them, and megalomaniacs exist in every industry.

The upshot of all this nonsense was an ugly grab for power.  This is the template by which Steve Cochran wields the whip hand over Van Johnson.  Van, his wife and child, mean nothing to Cochran, but the end result of more power, more circulation is irresistible to him.

In this climate of real-life controversy, we might suggest that the studio was brave to make this film, throwing such a moralistic dart at these magazines.  However, we could also note that the story takes place in New York, with an unknown puppeteer and involves the world of TV.  It’s as if the studio pulled a punch on this one.  If Hollywood really wanted to tell the story as it was, they’d place the setting in their own backyard, they’d show a studio mogul or two throwing an innocent actor under the bus to quash a story about to be planted about someone more valuable to them and to stay in the magazines’ good graces, the way you fork over your lunch money to a bully.  That was the way the HUAC worked during the blacklist; that’s the way all power is achieved.

But Slander attempts to show more than how the rotten deal worked; it attempts to educate the audience that buying these magazines and reading them is not nice.  That’s a tougher message to sell.

There’s a secondary social blot here to examine, but it falls by the wayside, and that’s how our society tends to grab children in a headlock and feed them garbage.  The sponsors of Van Johnson’s kids’ show, who make breakfast cereal, have the most to lose—the most money, that is, especially when, as Van’s agent Harold J. Stone proudly announces, “Kids would eat carpet tacks if Jeff Martin told them to!”

The sponsors admit their nervousness over Van’s past, and frankly admit, “We’re trying to sell children.”  It’s about as opportunistic and unseemly as the scandal mags pushing dirt on a public dirty-minded enough to enjoy that stuff.

Not all enjoy it, and some look down on Steve Cochran—respected publishers who bar him from speaking on a television panel show, waiters and maître d’s who won’t serve his mother in swank restaurants, and even his mother, who wishes he would quit this racket.  Cochran just grows more defensive and more poisonous.

The movie skirts just shy of another big issue, and that is what truth worth knowing?  We may regard a movie star’s third marriage as his own business and not worth shouting about.  But if our congressman was, say, an abusive spouse or parent, wouldn’t we want to know?  That aspect of his personality may have nothing to do with balancing the fiscal budget, but most of us would feel ill to realize we voted for such a person, and would want to avoid voting for someone who, if not a saint, at least was not cruel or involved in illegal activities.

A wise old respectable editor, who is meant to represent the nice journalists, says of Cochran: “If our drinking water was being poisoned, none of us would think it funny.  Why should we laugh at something that is doing us the same sort of damage?”

Cochran tells his ashamed mother, “I’m giving the public something that they not only want, but something they need.”

Two sides of the coin, indeed, but the movie pulls back from any thoughtful debate, preferring to show us Cochran’s arrogant sneer, Van’s hunted look of fear, and all-American boy Richard Eyer’s silly grin. 

I’ve got to give you a spoiler here, because I really can’t discuss this film without it, so go down to the corner and get a paper if you don’t want to hear this.  Or a magazine.  A nice one.

Despite a wedge driven through his marriage because of this, and his career on tenterhooks, Van won’t give Steve Cochran the information.  In part, his decision not to fold is because of the shame he carries from his crime as a teen and his prison sentence.  He is deeply sorry for that and is determined not to carry any more shame in this life than what he’s already got.  That should be played up more; instead we are given only the picture of a decent man doing the decent thing.  Honorable, to be sure, but his motives are more than pure righteous stubbornness. He’s haunted.

In retaliation, Cochran prints the story, and the sponsors, horrified at the loss of sales of cereal, drop Van Johnson from the show.  His sponsor apologetically tells him, “The public always calls the tune.”

So true, which is why when we get inferior products, either in the form of entertainment or anything else we deserve it because we don’t demand better.

The cost of his marriage and career isn’t enough, and Van must suffer one more great sorrow: the death of his son.  The kids (a microcosm of the adult world with its own rules for bullying and swaying public opinion), turn on young Richard and tease him.  Distressed, he bolts out of the schoolyard and gets hit by a car in traffic.  He dies. 

On the one hand, it’s tempting to view this scene as really going overboard, as indeed, some critics of the day felt.  On the other hand, it’s so shocking and unexpected, just by itself the scene has immense power.  We may or may not draw a direct correlation to Steve Cochran’s bullying and the death of a little boy due to the boy’s own negligence, but we see the pattern of poison entering the minds of society and the minds of children that has far-reaching effects we cannot imagine.

The aftermath also gives Ann Blyth one of her most intense scenes.  She is at her mother’s apartment, sitting in an almost catatonic state, when Van Johnson, who has just heard the news about the death of their son, rushes to her.  She had been on her way to pick him up from school when the tragedy happened.  She thaws out of her shock, and it is as painful for us to watch her allow herself to grieve as it must be for a woman to smack hard against the realization her little boy isn’t coming home anymore.  When Van kneels to embrace her, she gulps slurred words in broken sentences of helpless, almost apologetic explanation to him, and wails, a heartbreaking moan, repeatedly calling her son’s name.  A very real and powerful scene.  She goes deep here, and it is deftly played.

Van Johnson is nearly sick trying to hold himself together.

The dénouement of this is for Van to appear on the nice editor’s TV panel show to have his say on things, and though his illusion to his son being poisoned by the gossip is an analogy as true as it is emotional, unfortunately the rest of his cautionary speech limps along, weakly written.

Because we have to have an ending to all this horror, agent Harold J. Stone catches up with the sorrowing Van and Ann, and tells them that the TV station is being flooded with phone calls of support, that the public is determined not to buy anymore of these kinds of magazines.  Hurray.

It would have been a better film, and a better service to an impressionable movie audience, to simply have them walk down a street, see the latest issue with their son’s grisly death splashed across the cover, and a line of eager customers waiting to buy it.  That’s not the kind of thing we might want to see, but it would be the truth.

Though there are still a few tabloids knocking around today, for the most part they have been rendered harmless by their ridiculous stories of Hitler’s brain being kept in a laboratory or celebrities being abducted by space aliens.  Truly, only idiots buy them.  However, the real reason we have few of the old-time scandal mags is that this kind of reporting is no longer considered gossip.  It’s considered news.  Dirt, and at the very least, fascination with the superficial and shallow, has gone mainstream. The line between good solid journalism and schlock has blurred, and not only the public, but the professionals in journalism don't seem to know the difference anymore.

A few more good scenes:

When Ann and Van lie in their beds at night, unable to sleep, are acutely aware the other is awake, but are loathe to continue the fight they had earlier in the evening, and any words, even ones of comfort, are difficult now.

Van’s tortured struggle with his past and his guilt, and his pained refusal to be anything less than the decent man he wants to be.  He loses everything in the attempt, but still seems like a champion. 

Marjorie Rambeau’s caustic sniping at her son, and her futile, and melodramatic, visit to Ann Blyth after the death of the little boy to determine for herself if the cause of his death was the smear campaign.  Ann lets her have it between the eyes.

Then Miss Rambeau’s careful, pained walk down the steps of their brownstone, thumping with her cane, shoulders slumped in sorrow, just an unknown old lady to Van and Mr. Stone as they rush past her.

The triumph, the fire in Cochran’s eyes when Van Johnson calls him out on TV, because he knows it will mean even more publicity for his magazine.  Steve Cochran is very good in this role, especially as this is not the usual sort of bad guy.

One may feel the story jumped the shark when Steve Cochran is shot to death by his own mother, like a bad seed she must kill for the greater good.  Since he had made a remark earlier in the film about someone being driven to a suicide attempt over one of his previous smear jobs, perhaps it would have been more in keeping with the flow of the story to have his mother commit suicide over her son’s activities.  Some grisly end for Cochran is generally what would happen in these scenarios, though the reality is nothing would ever happen to him to make him regret his actions.

Here’s the trailer for Scandal:

A review in the Florence (Alabama) Times wrestles with the telling of this story and the idea that, like Steve Cochran’s gleaming eyes at the kill, may have given more power to the scandal mags by giving them importance:

For what is an obvious attempt at retaliation at one of Hollywood’s most feared foes, Scandal could hardly be classified as a mortal blow.

In fact, this middle bracket drama…might not only have missed the target altogether, but may have inadvertently given aid, if not comfort, to the enemy…where even the hardest knocks boomerang into boosts.

Ann Blyth took a more gentle, if no less earnest, course to address the scandal mags.  In February 1955 she was called upon to be hostess, and Pat O’Brien was master of ceremonies, at the film industry’s fourth annual Lenten Mass and Communion breakfast.  Around 1,500 film workers attended at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Hollywood, where Mass was celebrated by James Francis Cardinal McIntyre (who had performed Ann’s marriage ceremony two years previously – see this post).

She delivered a speech that she and her husband, Dr. James McNulty, wrote together.  It was reprinted in several newspapers afterward, and even today you can still find the tale of it's enthusiastic reception bouncing around the Internet.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  And since then one million billion words have been said.

There are words that sing and jump and skip and dance: little girl words.  And there are words with fun in their eyes and things in their pockets and their hair mussed: little boy words.

There are young words.  And there are wise old words with a glint in their eyes.  There are words wide-eyed with wonder, soft as a baby’s feet, strong as a baby’s twining fingers.

There are steel words and iron words; thrusting, stinging, lancet words; cruel blades of words.  And there are sweet words; soothing, unguent words: father, mother words: the words that raise you like a child again, and hoist you on their shoulders.

Words are everything that man is; everything he can be-they are everything he should not be.  They are his slave; they are his master.  In a world of mercy, of the word of God, man is at the mercy of words.

In the beginning was the word—all the infinite wonder and beauty and truth and love and life that God is, uttered in one divine word.  This is the truth.  And, by its nature, every word should be a reflection of the divine Truth.

I plead with you, gentlemen of the press to remember that words are written about men, and read by men.  I plead that infidelity is not new—it isn’t even news.  That a Decalogue broken on the front page helps no one and hurts many.  That sensationalism and emotionalism and carnalism are a direct appeal to man’s baser part and the betrayal of a trust.

You are the light bearers, men of the press.  Don’t burlesque man; lead him.  You have the words.  You have the truth.  Lead not the child of God into darkness.

Come back next Thursday for Ann Blyth and Robert Mitchum, adversaries and lovers in the Korean War in One Minute to Zero (1952).

A love triangle: Ann, Robert Mitchum, and the box on which she is standing.


Catholic Herald, (London, England) February 25, 1955, p. 1.

The Florence (Alabama) Times, February 19, 1957.

MacLaine, Shirley.  Don’t Fall Off the Mountain. (NY: W.W. Norton and Company, 1970) pp 108-110.

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, May 26, 1956, letter to the editor by G. E. Grezaud, p. 16.

The Warsaw (Indiana) Times-Union, September 1, 1956, syndicated column by Harrison Carroll, p. 12.
 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.


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.

mel said...

I consulted David Meeker's authoritative and exhaustive book "Jazz On The Screen - a Jazz And Blues Filmography" (2008) and Albert Ammons is not mentioned as performing in Dillinger (1945).

So my educated guess is a negative.

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 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. 


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