Movie of the month was a film that I (shock!) actually watched on broadcast television! The fact that this surprises me shows you the state of classic movie watching on regular TV these days (I’m really looking forward to Christmas and the annual repeats of Casablanca and the like). The movie in question was The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry from 1945 starring the ever-wonderful George Sanders. I’m always drawn to George Sanders due to his world weary, sardonic screen persona (which by all accounts spilled over into real life too). He could take fairly everyday roles and imbue them with a charming cynicism that was really quite subversive. Obvious examples include his turns in All About Eve and The Picture of Dorian Grey, and less obviously his starring role in Albert Lewin’s rather brilliant The Private Affairs of Bel Ami. Sanders was a unique actor in that he often gave the impression of being above it all and at times even terribly bored to be on screen. Though they were childhood favourites, looking now I can see that he is virtually sleepwalking through the Saint and Falcon series (and the films are possibly all the better for it).
However, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry is one of his non-cad roles and as such he brings a laid back, almost vulnerable quality to his role as the mild mannered clothes designer who is dominated by his overbearing, possessive younger sister. Technically the movie is classed as ‘film noir’ (to be honest not one of my favourite genres) in that Harry is motivated to take revenge on his sister when she breaks up his one and only love affair. Nevertheless, most of the film is taken up with a well-observed study of the lonely life Harry lives, constantly trying to make his sister happy and to keep the peace between her and their older sister. This in itself would have made an interesting film since it is so sensitively played by the cast, with Geraldine Fitzgerald as the younger sister being particularly excellent. The revenge plot takes the film into altogether darker territory and initially results in what we are led to think is a rather bleak ending. This development is interesting as Harry is not your typical ‘noir’ protagonist, almost being an innocent who is forced into making a tough moral decision. That is, until the twist is revealed! I can’t tell you the twist because the film told me not to with a “please do not disclose the ending” title card. However, suffice it say, Les Diabolique it is not!
Anyway, George Sanders is always a fascinating actor who can always be relied on to brighten any screen, and here it was good to see him in an atypical part so well written. The ending, however, is not to most people’s tastes but in a strange way reflects Sanders own perverse and contrary sense of humour. But more importantly I saw this film on television! In 2010, who would have thought?
Other Movie highlights in November –
Quiet Please! (1933) – A fantastic Edgar Kennedy RKO short directed by George Stevens which sees the characters of the “Average Man” series begin to take shape. Here we find Edgar receiving a stroke of luck while on a train journey only for the family to ruin it all. There’s a nice reworking of Laurel and Hardy’s bunk beds sequence from Berth Marks and Kennedy is so good with his deadpan looks to camera that you really feel for him when it all goes wrong. So far two volumes of these shorts have been released by Alpha Video and here’s hoping for more!
So Goes My Love (1946) – A Fairly entertaining Myrna Loy drama with Don Ameche doing his best William Powell impression as her eccentric inventor husband. What I found odd is that it features one of those typically ‘Hollywood’ pregnancies. After Myrna has told her husband that she is expecting, we flash forward a while to a scene where she has to chase away the family dog. She collapses from exhaustion and the next day the baby is delivered! At no time did she show the slightest sign of being pregnant. They must have had good corsets in those days…
Lost in a Harem (1944) – I know the received wisdom states that Abbott and Costello were on the wane by 1944 but I really enjoyed this one (I’ve been watching them all in order and this has probably been my second favourite after It Ain’t Hay). It was slick, well made entertainment with some funny gags to boot. Of course it has the famous “Pokomoko” routine (or did the Three Stooges do it first? I can never remember) with Murray Leonard as the raving madman with the broken heart. Incidentally, they did the routine a decade later on the Colgate Comedy Hour with a grizzled Errol Flynn in the Leonard role which is worth seeing for the oddity value if nothing else. I really like Abbott and Costello. I don’t love them, but I really like them.
Old Time Radio highlight of the month –
This month I’ve been listening to a lot of Bob Hope radio shows. The collection I have also includes many of his guest appearances on other shows and it really helps to get a sense of Hope in the context of the period. There don’t seem to be a whole lot of his shows left compared to Jack Benny for instance, but what does exist is very interesting and as I mentioned back in May, show a side to Bob that many forget.
In November I reached 1944, and by this time Hope has firmly established himself as the forces favourite with his tireless campaigning and entertaining. Although he was famous before the war started, it really seems to be this side of his career that establishes him as a massively popular star and showbiz fixture. He’s just so confident in front of the G.I. crowds, with expertly written and delivered monologues and a loose style that uses ad-libs in the right places to give the impression (whether true or not) that he’s relaxed and having fun out there. And the response from the troops is often deafening, it’s a crowd that sorely needs to be entertained.
Strangely though, it’s his appearances on other shows that display his skills the best. Shows like Command Performance and G.I. Journal where he hosts alongside other stars allow him to interplay with others in a really funny way (you know, the way that makes you imagine that the stars are all part of one big showbiz family, living an big house together). Of course, this works supremely well when he’s teamed with Bing Crosby. Good examples of their patter occur on Command Performance from June 3rd and December 15th 1944 (the first one also has a great routine involving Bing, Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra). The absolute best Bob and Bing routine I’ve ever heard is from Crosby’s Kraft Music Hall, dated October 12th 1944. Crosby had just returned from entertaining the troops overseas and appears from New York while Bing’s cast and Bob are in Los Angeles. What’s lovely about the skit is that the real affection between the two is immediately apparent. You can tell that Bob is really pleased to hear from his friend after time away, and the insults fly thick and fast, and are seemingly ad-libbed at times. Despite not being a ‘proper’ double act, I’ve no doubt that Hope and Crosby could improvise together at the drop of a hat, and that’s what is so good about them. They are a team, yet not a team and united in a real friendship. Anyway, my month’s listening has really made me realize how important to the war effort Bob Hope (and Bing Crosby) were and when Hope sums up at the end of his shows with a message to the people at home, while it’s easy to be cynical in this day and age, I truly believe that he was being sincere, and in essence that is what made him so popular with troops the world over.
And that folks, was November. Don’t expect any Christmas movies next month as I can’t ever think of any good ones to watch and I really think we all need to give It’s a Wonderful Life a rest for a few years…