Sunday, April 30, 2023

"The Trouble with Harry" (1955)

What IS the trouble with Harry?

Well, Harry is dead.  And, the trouble is, nobody really minds that he's dead.  They just can't quite decide what to do with his body.  Should they bury him where he died, out in the middle of the New England countryside?  Should they leave him out in the open for the authorities to find?  Should they report his death to the authorities?

Harry was a stranger to the little New England community where he died, but not to one person who lives there -- Mrs. Jennifer Rogers (Shirley MacLaine).  She is, in fact, his widow now.  She was originally married to Harry's brother, with whom she had her little boy Arnie (Jerry Mathers), but then her husband died, and Harry decided it was his duty to marry his brother's widow and provide a home for her and his brother's son. 

But it's not Jennifer who finds Harry's body.  He dies on a sunny woodland hillside, possibly mistaken for a rabbit and shot.  Possibly killed by a blow from an outraged spinster.  Possibly from being hit over the head with a bottle by someone else.  His body is found at various times by little Arnie, a wandering doctor reciting poetry, a tramp, Captain Wiles (Edmund Gwenn), Miss Gravely (Mildred Natwick), and artist Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe).  

In the midst of burying and unburying Harry multiple times for various reasons, hiding him and leaving him out in the open, and hiding him again, and so on, two people fall in love, several people make new friends, and someone's fortune is made.  It's a black comedy from Alfred Hitchcock, with many little surprises along the way, but none of the fear or fright that his movies are usually known for.  And I love it!  In fact, it's my third-favorite Hitchcock film :-)

Is this movie family friendly?  Yeah, basically?  There's a little conversation about a couple's wedding night going unconsummated, but it's very vague.  No bad language, no real violence, nothing else objectionable UNLESS you find black humor objectionable.  Then you won't like this at all.

This has been my contribution to the Master of Suspense Blogathon hosted this weekend at Classic Film and TV Corner.  Be sure to check out the other fun entries!

Friday, April 21, 2023

The Shades of Shane Blogathon

Welcome to the Shades of Shane Blogathon!  Shane was released on April 23, 1953 -- seventy years ago this weekend!  Join us this weekend in celebrating the actors and actresses who appeared in Shane (1953) by talking about their other films, their careers, and so on.

Click on the posters or movie titles to visit each individual post!

The Roster

at Classic Film and TV Corner
Shane Connection: Van Heflin

at Hamlette's Soliloquy
Shane Connections: Alan Ladd, Elisha Cook, Jr.

at Realweegiemidget Reviews
Shane connection: Ben Johnson

at Taking Up Room
Shane connection: Van Heflin

at Silver Scenes
Shane connection: Edgar Buchanan

at Whimsically Classic
Shane connection: Alan Ladd

at Silver Scenes
Shane connection: Jean Arthur

I will update this roster as new entries come in, so check back every now and then for new posts to enjoy!

"Drum Beat" (1954)

Drum Beat has an unusual protagonist: an "Indian fighter" who has been tasked by the President with forming a lasting peace between whites and American Indians in the far West.  It brings up interesting questions of nature vs. nurture, the hold habits can have on people, and the way others will react when someone changes their ways.

Drum Beat is based around the Modoc War, an actual event in 1872-3 that took place in California and Oregon.  A Modoc warrior called Captain Jack, or Kintpuash, led about 150 Modoc people off the Klamath Reservation.  They evaded the US Army for quite some time, and the climax of this film seems like a pretty accurate portrayal of a real-life peace talk gone wrong.  You can learn more about the actual events of the Modoc War here.

When we first see Johnny MacKay (Alan Ladd), he's outside the White House, wondering how to get in to see the President.  He's gotten an invitation there, but he doesn't know how you're supposed to get inside.

It turns out the way to get inside to see President Grant (Hayden Rorke) is just to walk inside the White House and ask to see him.  This kind of shocks MacKay, as he was expecting there to be a lot more pomp involved.  It kind of shocks modern viewers too.

President Grant and his wife and daughter are entertaining a few people that evening, including Miss Nancy Meek (Audrey Dalton) and Dr. Thomas (Richard Gaines).  MacKay's arrival is perfectly timed because Dr. Thomas is here to plead the case of some renegade Modoc warriors who have left their reservation and are threatening settlers.  Dr. Thomas is convinced that these warriors are just high spirited, and that they pose no real threat.  Nancy is happy to hear this, since she is planning to travel West to live with her uncle and aunt.  

Johnny MacKay is completely skeptical about the Modoc renegades' intentions.  He's been a scout and a guide all his life, negotiating with various American Indian tribes to gain safe passage for travelers and pioneers, and fighting against them when they refused.  He also knows the leader of the renegades, Captain Jack.  He thinks Dr. Thomas is a starry-eyed fool.  But he understands why Nancy Meek might want to live in the West, as he loves it there.

Nancy Meek finds MacKay pretty fascinating, as you can see.  It may help that he's wearing a gorgeous fringed buckskin jacket.  I myself have a great weakness for those.

President Grant asks MacKay to be a peace commissioner and find a way to settle this Modoc uprising without bloodshed on either side.  MacKay doesn't think he's the right man for the job, but Grant insists he's the only one respected by both the whites and the Modocs, and he has a better chance at brokering a peace deal than anyone else.  Reluctantly, MacKay accepts.  He's much less reluctant to accept the job of chaperoning Nancy Meek on her journey west :-)

The first time we see Captain Jack (Charles Bronson), he's also alone, but against a much different backdrop from the one where we first saw Johnny MacKay.  They filmed the exteriors for this in Sedona, Arizona, and they are gorgeous.

Captain Jack (and, yes, I have a really hard time not typing "sparrow" after that name) is having a peaceful-so-far parlay with Colonel Meek (Richard H. Cutting), who is on his way to meet his niece Nancy at the stagecoach stop.  Captain Jack argues with Colonel Meek over some medals Meek is wearing but won't give to Jack, but Colonel Meek is able to smooth things over and go on his way.

The stagecoach MacKay and Nancy Meek were on, driven by Bill Satterwhite, is attacked.  Satterwhite's sweetheart is killed, and he goes off seeking vengeance.  MacKay drives Nancy out to her uncle's ranch.  The scenery they pass through is amazing, but they get more and more worried the closer they get without having met up with her uncle.  Sure enough, tragedy has struck the ranch.  Captain Jack wasn't so ready to give up on getting those medals from Colonel Meek after all.

MacKay takes Nancy back to the local Cavalry outpost, where he enlists the help of Captain Clark (George J. Lewis) and Lieutenant Goodsall (Peter Hansen) in meeting up with the friendly Modoc Indians who have not left the reservation.  Maybe they can help protect settlers while MacKay figures out how to arrange some peace talks with Captain Jack the way the President wants.

The daughter and son of the last Modoc chief, Toby (Marisa Pavan) and Manok (Anthony Caruso), arrange to take MacKay to one of Captain Jack's strongholds.

There's no reason for this picture to be here except that it is so breathtakingly beautiful I can't leave it out.

In order to meet with Captain Jack, MacKay must climb up onto the top of a half-sunken structure, then climb down inside through a hole in the roof.  Toby and Manok think this is a trap, but MacKay knows he has to show Captain Jack he's not afraid if Jack will respect him at all, so in he goes.

This is my favorite scene in the movie.  Jack and MacKay face off, measuring each other, testing each other with words, each trying to find a weakness in the other.  All while being as calm and cool as possible.

They both do a lot with body language, which I find really fascinating.  MacKay starts out with his hands on his hips, looking down at the seated Captain Jack.  Captain Jack is quite still for most of the scene, only shifting his position once in a while, while MacKay walks around, gestures to the assembled crowd, and overall tries to act as comfortable as possible.

Eventually, MacKay sits down, casual and calm, and they get down to talking man-to-man instead of appealing to the crowd.

Captain Jack agrees to think about peace.  You'll notice that there is only one scene in this film where Captain Jack wears sleeves.  The filmmakers weren't about to let Charles Bronson's magnificent arms go to waste.  Which I appreciate.

Unfortunately, right as MacKay leaves this talk with Captain Jack, someone shoots a Modoc warrior in retaliation for a recent attack on a stagecoach.  This infuriates the Modoc renegades, and they go on a killing spree.

Captain Jack and his followers take refuge in an almost impregnable mountain fortress, which is just gorgeous, isn't it?  Also, there are actually stunt guys climbing those ladders.  Yikes.

Manok and Toby convince Captain Jack to discuss peace with some representatives of the US government.  Again.  They're really brave, these two, risking their own lives again and again on behalf of the white people.

MacKay advises the Cavalry on how to proceed.  This picture is mostly here for the nice way Alan Ladd is leeeeeaning on that railing.

We have a couple of thrilling skirmishes between the Modoc warriors and the Cavalry soldiers.  It seems like Captain Jack's stone fortress is impregnable, and he'll be able to just keep burning ranches and killing settlers with impunity for as long as he likes.  So much for that peace MacKay is supposed to be arranging on the President's behest.

Meanwhile, MacKay and Nancy Meek have been encountering each other pretty often since she's still living at the fort.  A mutual fondness has sprung up.

They take a stroll together one evening, and end up sitting on a river bank discussing serious facts about the future.  This is my other favorite scene because... it doesn't get sappy.  Both characters are quite straight-forward about their attraction to each other AND the danger and problems that surround them.  

They don't try to disguise the age gap between the actors playing these characters, either.  Ladd was 41 and Dalton was 20, and so she plays Nancy as more hopeful and playful, while he's the experienced and somewhat weary one.  He's a little reserved toward her, but her enthusiasm is infectious, and they both start to think maybe a relationship between them would work out.  You know, if they manage to live through this whole situation with the Modoc renegades.

My favorite random tiny little thing about this whole movie is how they're just sitting there companionably by the water, and then Nancy just swings around and leans back against MacKay's upturned knee.  It's very cute and sweet and playful, and it's not really a romancing set-up you see a lot in movies, so I just... am enchanted by it.

Clearly, MacKay is too.  I mean, more flirty scenes should be staged like this.  So cute.

And it so neatly facilitates a few smooches!

Anyway, the plot interrupts all that blossoming romance.  Captain Jack has agreed to a peace talk with Johnny MacKay.  He brings some warriors, and MacKay brings a general and his Modoc friends Toby and Manoc, plus that annoying Dr. Thomas from the beginning of the movie, who has come out here because he's sure Captain Jack and his followers are just misunderstood.  They're really good and peaceable at heart.

Yeah, sure they are.  What happens next is that peace-talk-gone-wrong I mentioned at the beginning, a real-life incident that left quite a few people dead on both sides.

For a bit, we think that includes Johnny MacKay.  Which we kind of know can't be true, since Alan Ladd is starring in this, and if he's starring in a movie, he won't die until the very end.  If at all.  Never three-quarters of the way through.

So I really don't think it's a spoiler to tell you he's just wounded.  

Slightly random aside, but this shot of MacKay peeking over a rock feels like a total callback to this shot of Alan Ladd in Whispering Smith (1948).  It's probably just a coincidence.  But maybe not.

Anyway, we all know this whole thing has to come down to a one-on-one fight between Captain Jack and Johnny MacKay.  Which it does.  They fight with guns and knives and fists in a long and glorious brawl that involves them both getting delightfully wet in that river you see here.  Also, most of the wide shots look like it's really Bronson and Ladd flailing around in the river.  Only a couple of the widest shots looked like doubles.  Alan Ladd did love to swim and did as many of his own water stunts as the studios would stand for, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

Unfortunately, fights like that are hard to screencap, so I can only share this one shot from the end of a sopping wet Alan Ladd finally getting the upper hand.  You'll just have to go watch it yourself to get the full effect, I guess.

In reality, several other leaders of the renegades were captured along with Captain Jack, but the movie streamlines it to just be him.  

In real life, they tried and convicted all of the leaders, and a few were hung while the rest went to prison.  In the movie, it's Captain Jack who's been convicted of murder and is awaiting hanging.  He's very philosophical about his impending death, even kind of cheerful and charming.  MacKay comes to talk to him in the stockade, and they part amicably.

The film ends with some beautiful shots of the peaceable Modocs riding beside a lovely river, going about their lives.

As for Johnny MacKay and Nancy Meek, they are going about their lives too -- lives that will involve getting married and rebuilding her uncle's ranch.  Awwww!

This has been my contribution to the Shades of Shane blogathon that I am hosting here all weekend.  That event is all about celebrating other films by the people who acted in Shane (1953), and this movie has two of them: Alan Ladd and Elisha Cook Jr.  Stop by to see all the other things people are contributing!