I Love Lucy…especially in LURED

As #TCMParty people and/or readers of this blog may or may not know, I’m obsessed with the 1947 mystery-drama Lured. Sure, the presence of one of my favorite velvet-voiced British thespians, George Sanders, has a lot to do with it. But its major charm is Lucille Ball’s fine performance in the lead role, which, while allowing flickers of her comedic genius to show through, always makes me wish she’d done more dramatic roles.

Continue reading “I Love Lucy…especially in LURED”

Review: Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide

turner-classic-movies-presents-leonard-maltins-classic-movie-guide-paperback-book-234_500The third edition of Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide drops tomorrow (September 29, 2015). Updated for the first time since 2010, and presented by Turner Classic Movies (TCM), the Guide covers films “From the Silent Era through 1965.” There’s more than 200 new entries — some of which are running on TCM tonight, including our TCM Party at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, Why Be Good? (Maltin gives it 3 stars out of 4, in case you were wondering.)

The bulk of the book is capsule reviews, each of which includes the film’s year of release, running time, rating, director, major cast, and symbols indicating what formats are available. It’s fairly comprehensive, with more than 10,000 entries. Although it’s light on films before 1920, there’s plenty in here that I’ve never heard of. The “Index of Stars” at the end of the book is a partial listing of selected actors’ filmographies and is handy for recalling the name of a movie when you can only remember who starred in it.

Continue reading “Review: Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide”

Errol Flynn in LADY FROM SHANGHAI?

Back in May 2014, when Cinema Detroit was showing Sony Pictures’ 4K restoration of The Lady From Shanghai, I had occasion to research the making of Orson Welles’ classic film noir, and I discovered that, while Errol Flynn is (probably) not in the movie, he was present and was very much involved in the filming.

Continue reading “Errol Flynn in LADY FROM SHANGHAI?”

So…I’m going to be on TCM next Saturday 11/29

It doesn’t even really seem real, but just about a week from now, if you tune in to Turner Classic Movies (TCM), you’ll see me chatting with Ben Mankiewicz about the Bob Hope Christmas classic, The Lemon Drop Kid. I’m one of four TCM fans introducing favorite films on the afternoon/evening of Saturday, November 29. I am lucky enough to know the other three, Aurora Bugallo, Joel Williams, and Miguel Rodriguez, who are all friends I met first online via the live tweet I co-founded and organize, TCM Party, and then offline at the TCM Film Festival.

Apt descriptor of both the professional quality mic TCM sent, and, let’s be real, myself

The intros were all recorded in August via Skype, which I think is a cool use of technology. Mine took place at Cinema Detroit, the indie theater I co-own with my husband, Tim. While my programming there is mostly contemporary and decidedly indie, we have shown classics like The Lady from Shanghai, A Hard Day’s Night, and a whole mess of noir for Noir Detroit (during CD’s first full month, November 2013). I definitely think my experiences bringing people and movies together online influenced us to try to do the same offline with Cinema Detroit.

TCM site screen cap, shamelessly stolen from Joel Williams
TCM site screen cap, shamelessly stolen from Joel Williams

So here is the schedule for Fan Favorites on Saturday, November 29 (all times Eastern):

12:30 p.m. Meet Me in St. Louis – Aurora
2:30 p.m. The Lemon Drop Kid – Me
4:15 p.m. The Thing From Another World – Miguel
6:00 p.m. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Joel

Poster - Lemon Drop Kid, The (1951)_09

In case anyone is curious why the The Lemon Drop Kid…TCM producer Courtney O’Brien asked me to submit a list of 10 mostly family-oriented, somewhat holiday-related, classic movies that I would want to introduce. As it is extremely difficult to limit oneself to 10 films, I actually sent more than 10. This was the list I sent, there’s no particular order:

Christmas in Connecticut
It Happened on 5th Avenue
The Lemon Drop Kid
Remember the Night
Holiday Affair
Stand-In (1937)
Show People
The Rains Came
The Lady Vanishes
The 39 Steps
Rio Bravo
Angel and the Badman

There is nothing on here I don’t really love, but I’m glad they went with Lemon Drop Kid. It has a special place in my heart, because Christmas is a tough time for me. My mother passed away a few days after Thanksgiving in 2002 and during the holiday season, I often need a laugh, which this film provides. It does have some sentimental moments, but it’s mostly Hope one-liners, sight gags, and Runyon-esque characters and situations. Damon Runyon wrote the story it’s based on…think Guys and Dolls, Little Miss Marker…like that.

I cannot say enough good things about the people at TCM, who made the whole process easy for me, a total novice. Noralil, Courtney, Mardy and Ben…thanks for your patience and understanding.

So I hope you will tune in on Saturday afternoon, November 29, and check it out. And in the meantime…what would be on your list of 10?

 

WHAT A CHARACTER! 2014 – Day 2 – Monday posts

The Third Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon — hosted by myself, Aurora of Once Upon A Screen, and Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled — is now in its second day of informative and entertaining posts, as the movie blogosphere spotlights those unsung actors on the periphery of the screen, bringing them to the center of attention.

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Vienna’s Classic Hollywood give overviews of not one, but two, unsung character performers, Charles Lane and Fritz Feld.

Sister Celluloid declares that Kathleen Howard “as W.C. Fields wife…took henpecking to operatic heights.”

Caftan Woman celebrates Esther Dale‘s “ability to take even a few seconds of screen time…and turn it into something memorable.”

Aurora at Once Upon a Screen sets out to prove that Thomas Mitchell is “synonymous with versatility.”

Joel’s Classic Film Passion takes a look at two of Harry Dean Stanton‘s many important films, Repo Man and The Straight Story.

Grand Old Movies highlights “that darling boy” whose face you know, but name you might not… Chester Clute.

Movies Silently writes that “One saving grace of Souls for Sale [1923] is its wonderful cast of character actors,” including Mae Busch.

Silent-ology pays tribute to the “funniest drunk of them all,” Arthur Housman.

Second Sight Cinema recalls Peter Lorre, “a great artist who is beloved, but only for a fraction of his gift.”

Silver Scenes investigates Dennis Hoey, the actor best known for portraying Inspector Lestrade in Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series.

Amy’s Rib inventories her favorite films among Charles Coburn‘s work.

Tales of the Easily Distracted finds that Agnes Moorehead was “was practically bulletproof with her chameleon dexterity.”

Third Annual What A Character! Blogathon 2014 Schedule

The 2014 What a Character Blogathon schedule has been set, and the blogathon is underway. There’s still plenty of time to join though. If you want to participate, check out the announcement immediately following, and contact one of us ASAP.

Sunday, November 16 – Hosted by Kellee

Ann Doran and Lurene Tuttle – Theresa on Once Upon a Screen

Billie Burke – Girls Do Film

Burgess Meredith – The Last Drive-In

Charles Durning – Movie Movie Blog Blog

Chris Cooper – Jack Deth on Paula’s Cinema Club

Christopher Lloyd – The Movie Rat

Dame Edith Evans – Margaret Perry

Edna May Oliver – Portraits by Jenni

Elsa Lanchester – Blog of the Damned

Frank McHugh – (This) Girl Friday

Leo Carrillo – Phantom Empires

Richard Widmark – Danny’s Reviews

Thomas Mitchell – Once Upon a Screen

Tony Randall – A Shroud of Thoughts

 

Monday, November 17 – Hosted by Paula

Agnes Moorehead – Tales of the Easily Distracted

Arthur Housman – Silent-ology

Charles Coburn – Amy’s Rib

Charles Lane & Friz Feld – Vienna’s Classic Hollywood

Chester Clute – Grand Old Movies

Dennis Hoey – Silver Scenes

Esther Dale – Caftan Woman

Harry Dean Stanton – Joel’s Classic Film Passion

John Ridgely – Comet Over Hollywood

Kathleen Howard – Sister Celluloid

Mae Busch – Movies, Silently

Peter Lorre – Second Sight Cinema

Rochelle Hudson – Bunnybun’s Classic Movie Blog

 

Tuesday, November 18 – Hosted by Aurora

Ann Dvorak – A Person in the Dark

Beulah Bondi – A Thousand Words

C. Aubrey Smith – Critica Retro

Cecil Kellaway – The Lady Eve’s Reel Life

C. Aubrey Smith – Critica Retro

Don Beddoe – Christy’s Inkwells

Edward Everett Horton – Outspoken & Freckled

Eric Blore – The Blonde at the Film

Grant Mitchell – Immortal Ephemera

Henry Travers – Movie Fan Fare

Iris Adrian – Speakeasy

Karl Malden – Oh Rachel Leigh

Melville Cooper – Classic Movie Hub

Ned Sparks – Paula’s Cinema Club

Raymond Burr – Shadows and Satin

Thelma Ritter – Cinephiled

Wallace Shawn – Moon in Gemini


Original announcement:

I was only a leading man for a minute; now I’m a character actor. — Robin Williams

In 2012, we – by that I mean myself, Aurora, and Kellee – borrowed a catchphrase from our beloved Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in order to host a blogathon dedicated to those amazing actors whose faces are familiar but whose names few remember.

The phrase is WHAT A CHARACTER, and the individuals concerned rarely got leading parts, exhibiting instead a versatility and depth many star players wished they had. We never tire of seeing them or paying them tribute, and if the previous two installments of this event are any indication, neither do you.

What-A-Character-2014-03

So, here we are with the Third Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon.

To say we’re thrilled is an understatement. We hope you’ll join us in spotlighting the Edward Arnolds, Alan Mowbrays, and Alice Bradys of the world, oft-forgotten names that never appeared above the title.

What-A-Character-2014-01

If this is right up your movie alley, then give us a shoutout…

Me (leave a comment below) — Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club or tweet (@Paula_Guthat)

Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled | (@IrishJayHawk66)

Aurora at Once Upon a Screen | (@CitizenScreen)

What-A-Character-2014-02

We ask that you adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Let one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.  Since there are so many greats worthy of mention, we won’t take any repeats and we’re not limiting these to “classic” actors.  Great character actors have made their mark both before and since the end of the classic era and contemporary talents deserve some attention as well, so the field is wide open.
  • Please include your twitter and/or FB tag, email address and blog name & URL.
  • Publish the post for either November 16, 17 or 18.  Let us know if you have a date preference, otherwise we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include one of the blogathon graphics in this post on your blog to help us publicize the event.
  • Include the graphic and link to the host sites in your WHAT A CHARACTER! post
  • If possible, please send any of the hosts the direct link to your WHAT A CHARACTER! post by the day before your due date. Otherwise we’ll simply link to your site’s home page.
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!  There are so many great characters worthy of attention, we would like to honor as many as possible.

Check out some of the 2012 and 2013 posts. Also find out who’s who with this Key to the WHAT A CHARACTER! graphic.

Announcing the Third Annual What A Character! Blogathon (2014)

I was only a leading man for a minute; now I’m a character actor. — Robin Williams

In 2012, we – by that I mean myself, Aurora, and Kellee – borrowed a catchphrase from our beloved Turner Classic Movies (TCM) in order to host a blogathon dedicated to those amazing actors whose faces are familiar but whose names few remember.

The phrase is WHAT A CHARACTER, and the individuals concerned rarely got leading parts, exhibiting instead a versatility and depth many star players wished they had. We never tire of seeing them or paying them tribute, and if the previous two installments of this event are any indication, neither do you.

What-A-Character-2014-03

So, here we are with the Third Annual WHAT A CHARACTER! Blogathon.

To say we’re thrilled is an understatement. We hope you’ll join us in spotlighting the Edward Arnolds, Alan Mowbrays, and Alice Bradys of the world, oft-forgotten names that never appeared above the title.

What-A-Character-2014-01

If this is right up your movie alley, then give us a shoutout…

Me (leave a comment below) — Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club or tweet (@Paula_Guthat)

Kellee at Outspoken & Freckled | (@IrishJayHawk66)

Aurora at Once Upon a Screen | (@CitizenScreen)

What-A-Character-2014-02

We ask that you adhere to the following guidelines:

  • Let one of the hosts know which character actor is your choice.  Since there are so many greats worthy of mention, we won’t take any repeats and we’re not limiting these to “classic” actors.  Great character actors have made their mark both before and since the end of the classic era and contemporary talents deserve some attention as well, so the field is wide open.
  • Please include your twitter and/or FB tag, email address and blog name & URL.
  • Publish the post for either November 16, 17 or 18.  Let us know if you have a date preference, otherwise we’ll split publicizing duties equally among the three days.
  • Please include one of the blogathon graphics in this post on your blog to help us publicize the event.
  • Include the graphic and link to the host sites in your WHAT A CHARACTER! post
  • If possible, please send any of the hosts the direct link to your WHAT A CHARACTER! post by the day before your due date. Otherwise we’ll simply link to your site’s home page.
  • HAVE FUN and spread the word!  There are so many great characters worthy of attention, we would like to honor as many as possible.

Check out some of the 2012 and 2013 posts. Also find out who’s who with this Key to the WHAT A CHARACTER! graphic.

Character actors and participating blogs:

Agnes Moorehead – Tales of the Easily Distracted

Ann Doran and Lurene Tuttle – Theresa on Once Upon a Screen

Ann Dvorak – A Person in the Dark

Arthur Housman – Silent-ology

Beulah Bondi – A Thousand Words

Billie Burke – Girls Do Film

Burgess Meredith – The Last Drive-In

C. Aubrey Smith – Critica Retro

Cecil Kellaway – The Lady Eve’s Reel Life

Charles Coburn – Amy’s Rib

Charles Durning – Movie Movie Blog Blog

Charles Lane & Friz Feld – Vienna’s Classic Hollywood

Chris Cooper – Jack Deth on Paula’s Cinema Club

Christopher Lloyd – The Movie Rat

Dennis Hoey – Silver Scenes

Don Beddoe – Christy’s Inkwells

Dame Edith Evans – Margaret Perry

Edna May Oliver – Portraits by Jenni

Edward Everett Horton – Outspoken & Freckled

Elsa Lanchester – Blog of the Damned

Eric Blore – The Blonde at the Film

Esther Dale – Caftan Woman

Frank McHugh – (This) Girl Friday

Grant Mitchell – Immortal Ephemera

Harry Dean Stanton – Joel’s Classic Film Passion

Henry Travers – Movie Fan Fare

Iris Adrian – Speakeasy

John Ridgely – Comet Over Hollywood

Karl Malden – Oh Rachel Leigh

Kathleen Howard – Sister Celluloid

Leo Carrillo – Phantom Empires

Melville Cooper – Classic Movie Hub

Peter Lorre – Second Sight Cinema

Richard Widmark – Danny’s Reviews

Rochelle Hudson – Bunnybun’s Classic Movie Blog

Thelma Ritter – Cinephiled

Thomas Mitchell – Once Upon a Screen

Tony Randall – A Shroud of Thoughts

Wallace Shawn – Moon in Gemini

Reckless Review – CHARLIE CHAPLIN: A BRIEF LIFE by Peter Ackroyd

Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life, the new biography by Peter Ackroyd, definitely lives up to its billing. Yet for all its brevity, it’s packed with telling details about Chaplin and his life and work. And at times, it’s really two biographies in one, as Ackroyd consistently describes the polarity between the Little Tramp, “Chaplin’s shadow self or alter ego,” and the man himself, which becomes the through line of the story of their parallel lives.

Where the Little Tramp was infused with “common humanity,” Chaplin apparently demonstrated very little or none of that trait in real life. Simply put, he used many friends and colleagues like the props in one of his films, tossing them aside when he was done. He expected absolute fidelity from his lovers and wives while pursuing any other woman who struck his fancy. He seemed to flirt with Communism but equivocated about his beliefs and continued to make a fortune from the stock market.

ccabl-500w

If “hypocrite” is one way to describe Chaplin, another might be “control freak.” I had already known that he was a perfectionist who took on nearly every task in the making a film, but here Ackroyd relates this tendency to the entertainer’s constant anxiety about poverty while giving specifics about the multiple takes and bullying Chaplin employed on set, techniques that wore down his actresses and crew. “Multiple takes” could often mean tens, in some cases hundreds. The scene in City Lights where he buys a flower from a flower girl (Virginia Cherrill), in the process discovering that she is blind, “took two years and 342 takes to assemble.”

The reporting of the City Lights story is just one example of the remarkable even-handedness Ackroyd maintains throughout the book. He is sympathetic to the entertainer’s childhood trauma, tracing the roots of Chaplin’s personality in his unstable, impoverished early life in truly dismal South London, but he doesn’t shy away from “the erratic, whimsical and imperious way in which Chaplin conducted his private life” either. Of his relationship, or lack thereof, with Cherrill, Ackroyd writes, “At the age of twenty she may have been too old for him.” Chaplin’s ill treatment of Lillita MacMurray (aka Lita Grey), first cast as leading lady in The Gold Rush, may be the most egregious example of his behavior towards women, but there are many other episodes presented here.

Despite the intermittent unpleasantness of his subject, the author also manages to capture the magic of Chaplin’s work, imparting a desire at least in this reader to see more of it, particularly A Woman in Paris, with which “Chaplin established a new cinema of social manners as well as a novel style of acting,” influencing both Ernst Lubitsch and Michael Powell. By what alchemy can someone so detached and cruel produce such heartbreaking emotions in the audience, about which he was ambivalent?

To sum up, Brief Life is a fascinating read. Obviously, completely new content would be an impossibility, but Ackroyd’s perspective on Chaplin’s duality is refreshing and insightful. As regular readers know, I am a relatively new silent film fan, and I learned quite a bit. If there is any flaw in it, it is the lack of footnotes or endnotes; I prefer the line between facts and interpretation to be clearer than that. There is, however, an extensive bibliography. It also does this designer’s heart good to see a book so appropriately well-crafted and old-fashioned — beautifully typeset, complete with a colophon, and silent-era-style typefaces for the headings, on deckle-edged pages. In some cases they do make them like they used to. Brief Life is perfect for any of those with an interest in filmmaking in general or Chaplin in particular…as long as they don’t mind a little of the gilding wearing off the idol.

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Charlie Chaplin: A Brief Life by Peter Ackroyd is published by Doubleday on October 28.

The getTV Mickey Rooney blogathon MEGAPOST

The audience and I are friends. They allowed me to grow up with them. I’ve let them down several times. They’ve let me down several times. But we’re all family.

Mickey Rooney would have celebrated his 94th birthday this month, and in tribute, getTV is dedicating a substantial portion of the month’s programming to him. Kellee (@IrishJayHawk66) of Outspoken & Freckled, Aurora (@CitizenScreen) of Once Upon a Screen, and myself, Paula (@Paula_Guthat) of Paula’s Cinema Club, are thrilled to join forces with getTV for their first ever blogathon collaboration to celebrate Rooney’s career with The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon, running the entire month of September.

As the posts are published, I will update this list. Check back for great new Mickey Rooney posts throughout September.

All about getTV
getTV is a digital subchannel available over the air and on local cable systems dedicated to showcasing Hollywood’s legendary movies. The network, operated by Sony Pictures Television Networks, launched in February 2014. It features Academy Award® winning films and other epic classics titles. getTV distribution is close to covering nearly 70 percent of all U.S. television households across 65 markets, including 40 of the top 50 designated market areas (DMAs). The network is broadcast by Sinclair Broadcast Group, Univision Television Group and Cox Media Group owned stations and others. For information, visit getTV and connect with the network on Facebook and Twitter @getTV.

If you’d like to submit a blog post (or several) dedicated to Mickey Rooney – on his life, career, television work or a particular film – you can do so by submitting the entry to any one of the event hosts throughout the month of September.

Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club (leave comment below) – Twitter @Paula_Guthat
Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and Twitter @CitizenScreen
Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled and Twitter @IrishJayHawk66

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We ask only that you please do the following:

  • Leave us a comment or send us a Tweet with your preferred Rooney topic
  • Let us know when you post your entry so we can promote it
  • Please copy @getTV on all tweets related to this event
  • Include the blogathon banner provided by getTV (above) in your post as well as the following statement:
    • “This post is part of The getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club taking place throughout the month of September. Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries.”
  • Have fun!

Thank you!

getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon: THE ATOMIC KID vs. BABY FACE NELSON by Jack Deth

As part of the getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon, Paula’s Cinema Club is pleased to present this post by occasional contributor Jack Deth. He is also a regular contributor at Flix Chatter, so be sure and check out his posts there too.

Welcome, all and sundry!

When given the opportunity to examine, elucidate, and opine on Mickey Rooney, one of Hollywood’s busier actors of the 1930s and ’40s — opposite up and coming heavy-hitter Spencer Tracy in Boys Town, and countless young romantic musicals with Judy Garland, while being front and center in a string of shorts as very young man, “Mickey,” to a succession of lighthearted films about the travails of Andy Hardy — it’s the decade beyond that sparked my interest, in a quest to seek answers to the question: What now?

The 1950s presented Rooney with a string of offerings, some memorable, some not, which he took in a desire to put distance between himself and the characters most fondly remembered, cherished, and empathized with.

Two lesser-known films from this era caught my attention long ago, left their mark, and nearly demanded a second viewing, to see if that juvenile magic was still there. And for the most part, both films remain intact.

Without further ado. Allow me to proffer two distinct views of one of the more unsung character actors:
Breaking Away From Andy Hardy: A Mickey Rooney Double Feature
The first is a nearly forgotten, rarely seen, B & W post-Atomic Bomb comedy from 1954, directed on a miniscule budget by Leslie H. Martinson, and buttressed with the flimsiest of plots in and around the deserts of Nevada, New Mexico, and far southwest California.

ATOMIC-KID-finalThe Atomic Kid (1954)
Where Mr. Rooney plays amateur archaeologist, mineralogist, and uranium prospector, Barnaby “Blix” Waterford. Down on his luck financially and romantically, Blix and his partner and longtime friend, Stan Cooper (marvelously gravel-voiced and slovenly Robert Strauss, who played Sgt. Stanislaus “Animal” Kuzawa in Stalag 17) hear a rumor about a mineral lode deep beneath the sands of New Mexico. (Read: the outreaches of government-owned and -facilitated White Sands Testing Range.)

Atomic Kid~2 Blix and Stan approach the next-to-nothing town. Stan decides to wait and watch at a distance as Blix stumbles in, investigates, and eventually enters one standing clapboard home in the deserted, middle-of-nowhere “town,” sees mannequins fully dressed around a family kitchen table, feels hungry, and decides to raid the pantry for a peanut butter and sardine sandwich.

While far away in a sandbagged bunker, high-ranking Army officers and white-smocked scientists (amongst them, the always-reliable Whit Bissell) start the countdown for a Nuclear Test, then notice activity in the far-off rocks around mesas outside the “town.” Soldiers arrive. Stan tells them that Blix is somewhere in the “Test Town”. The countdown can’t be stopped or aborted. The bomb high atop a tower explodes!

A mushroom cloud rises. Winds gust and swirl dust and debris to all points of the compass rose. The dust settles and Jeeps and trucks arrive as guards set a perimeter. Stan and an entourage of scientists gather around outstretched Geiger counters.

Atomic Kid~3The site is hot. Just shy of leveled. Testament to the weapon’s destructive power. As a sound is heard, a pile of rubble and shingles shift. And Blix twists and inches out. Sandwich scorched on one side. Obviously unscathed. But speaking at about six times normal speed, and radioactively hotter than a three dollar pistol. Questions abound as Blix is taken to a lab and soaked in a heavy water tank to leech off some Roentgens.

Refreshed and his speech back to normal, Blix is introduced to Nurse Audrey Nelson (Elaine Devry, aka Mrs. Mickey Rooney at the time). And his luck changes. Though it’s kept in check, kind of, with a wristwatch-like device that points to different levels of danger when Blix gets excited. Which becomes often and obvious, as light fixtures in the immediate area that were turned off suddenly have brightly glowing bulbs.

Atomic Kid~4With the passage of time. Men in dark suits and hats arrive, announcing themselves as the FBI, and want Blix to roam around Vegas and other spots to help flush out a Communist spy ring. Blix obliges. With Nurse Audrey safely ensconced in a hotel room nearby at first. Becoming inseparable with time. As contact is made, and the Commies being just as sloppy and ill-focused as you would imagine in the 1950s. Led by stalwart Robert Emmett Keane as “Mr. Reynolds,” and Peter Brocco as “Comrade Mosely.” Blix plays dumb, once delivered to the spies’ hideout. Becomes excited as future plans are laid bare. Pulls off some razzle dazzle with lights, lab equipment and appliances. As the spies panic and run into the waiting arms of the FBI.

After all the excitement settles down. Blix decides to throw fate to the wind and ask Audrey to marry him. Audrey is standoffish at first. Yet slowly agrees. Sealing the deal with a kiss that lights up the romantically darkened room, to the point that the FBI agents covertly watching from across the cul-de-sac have a fair idea of what’s going on.

What Does Mr. Rooney Bring To This Role?
Not really a buffoon, but more of life’s recipients of sad to bad tidings, enriching a rather flimsy plot and heightening the writing of a young upstart named Blake Edwards, in a “bread and butter” Republic Studios film that clocks in at 86 minutes.

Mr. Rooney also produced the film and used its budget frugally. Pinching pennies, though not really cutting corners, when necessary, while director Lewison uses Mr. Rooney’s talents as an ensemble player, if not the continuous focus of attention. All of the stock players have their times to shine. Especially Robert Strauss and Ms. Devry (the only woman in the cast), bouncing emotions off Mr. Rooney, who has lovely timing, and a penchant for riding the roller coaster from sad to ebullient and back again.

Is ‘The Atomic Kid’ a great film? No. Though it is a worthwhile diversion.And not just for its rarity.
A fairly well executed and streamlined into the near absurd. Not to be taken seriously. Outside of a fairly decent attempt to switch and take on a character a bit older and wiser than one which was a meal ticket only a decade earlier.


Which brings us to another journey of exploration, and a bit of exploitation, in a low-budget B&W United Artists release, directed by up-and-comer Don Siegel. And a screenplay, courtesy of Daniel Mainwaring (Out of The Past) and Irving Schulman.

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Baby Face Nelson (1957)
Which opens with the standard honorarium to the FBI and its agents, then shifts to the shadow-swept confines of Joliet Prison and the release of shabbiily-suited Mr. Rooney, as low-rent nobody and recidivist criminal Lester M. Gillis, to the tender mercies of 1933 Illinois.

Baby Face Nelson~2Fully expecting to follow the straight and narrow. Gillis is offered a ride within seconds of the prison gates closing. A ride to see “Mr. Rocca” (Ted De Corsia), leader of a small gang of bootleggers on Chicago’s south side, who may have had a hand in sending Gillis to Joliet originally. No love is lost, nor manly hugs exchanged, as Rocca explains the reason for Gillis’ early parole.

A Union bigshot is making too much noise and needs to be taken care of. Pointed out by Rocca as they share the back seat of a touring car. Gillis is given a silenced pistol to do the job. Gillis wants none of it. He takes the Rocca paid for hotel room, bathes, and is off to see his girlfriend, Sue Nelson (beguiling Carolyn Jones, long before “The Addams Family”). She watches the register and buzzer to the back-room offices of one of Rocca’s many pool halls.

Kisses are savored and a date is set for three hours later, when Sue goes off shift. In the interim, Gillis reads that his intended target has been murdered. Detectives bust in, and find the silenced pistol taped to the roof of the room’s flush box. A classic frame. Gillis is arrested. Booked. And gets to see Sue through a mesh screen before being shipped back to Joliet.

Sue finds out when and where Gillis is be loaded on the train to Joliet, and intervenes. Stumbling before two armed guards as Gillis knocks both unconscious and Sue wheels around with a getaway car, to ambush and seek revenge on Rocca and his hideout’s deserted staircase. With that task accomplished, Gillis decides to take Sue’s last name as they go to see if John Dillinger (Professional Bad Guy Leo Gordon) could use an extra gun hand. Dillinger nicknames the new arrival “Baby Face”. Gives him a Thompson. And explains their next payroll heist.

Baby Face Nelson~3Cleverly executed, with the main guns hiding in a plumber’s van as the armored car arrived at the factory. Dillinger and his crew have the drop on the guards. A steam whistle shrills. And Nelson cuts loose. Dropping the three guards as they head off to lick wounds and hide out at the out-of-season Little Bohemia Lodge, where unlicensed and lecherous, “Doc” Saunders (Cedric Hardwicke) works on Dillinger, and starts flirting with the recently-arrived Sue.

Dillinger doesn’t want the heat of three dead bodies and cuts Nelson and Sue loose. The two head west to Minnesota and a string of bank and payroll robberies. Courtesy of architect and engineer “Fatso” Nagel (Jack Elam), who supplies schematics and blueprints. One robbery goes bad, Nelson is wounded, and decides to return to the one place no one will look. The Little Bohemia Lodge.

A group of FBI agents decide to play a hunch after Dillinger is betrayed and removed from the spotlight of “Public Enemy Number One”, and are spotted shortly thereafter. An agent (Dabs Greer) is shot and killed. Baby Face becomes a worthwhile substitute, as Nelson and Sue begin putting together their own gang, among them, Homer van Meter (Perpetual Sap Elisha Cooke, Jr).

A final job is suggested by Nagel, with the help of the FBI — a bank job, whose execution catches the Feds off guard, with the addition of tear gas grenades. Van Meter and the rest of Nelson’s gang locked in the bank’s vault. And a hail of gunfire as Nelson and Sue slip through the Fed’s dragnet.

I’ll leave it right here for spoilers’ sake.

What Does Mr. Rooney Bring To This Role?
An apocryphal and tabloid-splashed take one of the Midwest’s lower-tier desperadoes, heightening the folklore while bringing creepy life to a short and shallow man with an enormous chip on his shoulder.

Mr. Rooney fills the bill quite well. With mercurial mood swings, especially when and where Sue is concerned. Taking his anger out in grisly and cleverly edited ways. Letting his long-smoldering sociopath out to play and be glimpsed by Sue, who still loves him.

Backed up by a satisfactory Rogues Gallery of solid character actors of the day, on both sides of the law. Especially Mr. Hardwicke’s drunken “Doc” Saunders, Leo Gordon’s arrogant John Dillinger. And the building, grounds, lakes and dusty roadways around The Little Bohemia Lodge, a very familiar backdrop for several gangster and desperado films of the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s. All under the touch of aspiring Don Siegel, adding another notch in his gun belt early on in his quest for greatness. And creating another noteworthy step towards branching out and away for Mr. Rooney!

This post is part of the getTV Mickey Rooney Blogathon hosted by Paula’s Cinema Club, Once Upon a Screen, and Outspoken & Freckled, taking place throughout the month of September. Please visit the getTV schedule for details on Rooney screenings throughout the month and any of the host sites for a complete list of entries. You can access the entire getTV schedule here and check to see if getTV is available in your area here.

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