The Last Films Blogathon: Douglas Shearer and Her Twelve Men (1954)

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This is the SBBN entry for The Late Films Blogathon, hosted by David Cairns at Shadowplay. Check out all the other terrific entries here! *** Given that one can’t discuss Norma Shearer’s career without the word “nepotism” being uttered at least once, it’s no surprise that her brother Douglas suffers the same fate. His career as the chief sound engineer for Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios was a distinguished one, helping to develop some of the first sound systems for films and ultimately being nominated for an astonishing 21 Academy Awards, winning seven of the statuettes. Yet very little is known about Douglas Shearer, whose career was almost entirely overshadowed by that of his younger sister Norma. Douglas and Norma examining a state-of-the-art sound camera, circa 1931. Did Norma ever appear in a photo in the 1930s where her hands weren’t on her hips? I submit to you that she did not.   It’s not that MGM publicity didn’t try to set Douglas apart from his more famous sibling. In 1931, author and screenwriter Donald Henderson Clarke was deployed to write a brief bio that began with a lament that Douglas was actually hindered by his better-known sibling. Still, even gossip columnists mentioned the Shearer family business, often under faux positive guise of “the building of dynasties”, a way of saying “nepotism” without getting Louis B’s boys breathing down your neck. Douglas Shearer was born in 1899, and by the mid 1920s, had joined his mother and Norma in Hollywood, where … Continue reading

Regis Toomey for The What A Character! Blogathon

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This is the SBBN entry for The What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by Once Upon a Screen, Outspoken & Freckled, and today’s host Paula at Paula’s Cinema Club. There are a ton of terrific articles spanning the three-day ‘thon, so please check them all out! ***   It’s difficult to imagine a more steadfast, hardworking, solid character actor than Regis Toomey. Cast as a policeman in more films than most actors in the Golden Age of Hollywood could list on their entire resume, Toomey worked in Hollywood and on the small screen for five decades, and had one of the most recognizable faces in the business, even if most people never knew his name. Regis Toomey was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the neighborhood of Lawrenceville, in 1898. As a teen, he attended the University of Pittsburgh, pursuing a degree in history and philosophy with an eye toward a law degree, but ultimately pursued a degree in theater. He graduated from Pitt in 1921 and then enrolled in Carnegie Tech’s theater department; in Mary Ellen Stelling’s semi-fictitious memoir A Place to Call Home, she claims Regis, a family friend, “put himself through Carnegie Tech by moonlighting as a traveling salesman.” Given his father was a lawyer and the Toomey family included as their friends at least one sitting U.S. Supreme Court justice, it’s unlikely he needed to moonlight at any job at all. After graduating, he had a successful run on stage in musical comedies. Several sources claim he made … Continue reading

Hitchcock Halloween Blogathon: Shadow of a Doubt (1943)

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This is the SBBN entry for the Hitchcock Halloween Blogathon, hosted by Backlots. Check out their blog today for all the great entries — and Happy Halloween, everyone! *** When Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) finds himself the suspect in a series of murders of wealthy widows, he dodges the detectives after him and takes the first train out of Philadelphia, headed to the quiet town of Santa Rosa, California, to lie low at the home of his eldest sister and her family. Just as Charlie headed to their home, his niece and namesake, Charlie Newton (Theresa Wright) had decided in a fit of late-teen pique that her family life needed shaking up, that their small-town drudgery and her father caring more about money than souls was hurting them all. She decides Uncle Charlie was just the one to shake everything up and fix their problems. He is well-loved, his sister Emma (Patricia Collinge) having doted on him as a child, his niece Charlie idolizing him, and the entire small town of Santa Rosa impressed with his charm and business acumen. Soon it becomes clear that Uncle Charlie has a terrifying secret, and young Charlie finds herself in danger as she pieces together the truth about her uncle’s life. Director Alfred Hitchcock often said that Shadow of a Doubt was his favorite film, and it must have pleased him greatly to receive such positive reviews on its release. Many critics in the UK felt the film was the first to show … Continue reading

The Vincent Price Blogathon: The Tomb of Ligeia (1964)

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This is the SBBN entry for Nitrate Diva’s fantabulous Vincent Price Blogathon, held October 25 through 27th. Check out all the terrific entries! *** It is a clear, cold day in the early winter of 1838, and Verden Fell, current owner of the Castle Acre Priory, an astonishing 11th century monastery, is burying his beautiful young wife Ligeia. Verden (Vincent Price) tells the few assembled of his wife’s extraordinary beliefs, that mankind can shake off the shackles of the Christian God and embrace the Egyptian idols, and return from the dead. Ligeia (Elizabeth Shepherd) is not to be buried in consecrated ground for her sins, but Verden defies tradition and the church, and remains fully committed to the idea of her secular resurrection. After all the humans leave, a black cat watches over Ligeia’s grave. Nearly a year has passed since her death, when the spunky Lady Rowena Trevanion (also Elizabeth Shepherd) finds herself, after a fox hunt, amidst the beautiful ruins of the ancient abbey. She is thrown from her horse and lands directly atop Ligeia’s grave, briefly knocked out. Rousing herself from the garden of wild red asphodelus atop the tomb, Rowena sees the sleek black cat, still guarding the tombstone, but is shocked into a faint at the sudden appearance of Verden, so ashen his skin is the color of bone, and in dark glasses to ward his delicate eyes from the light. In the real world, we’d say Verden was suffering from photophobia, but in the … Continue reading

The Italian Horror Blogathon: Orgasmo (1969)

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This is the SBBN entry for the 4th annual Italian Horror Blogathon hosted by our good friend Kevin at Hugh Stiglitz Makes Movies. The ‘thon runs for a week, so keep checking in! *** Actress Carroll Baker spent 1967 reeling from a series of Hollywood setbacks, all of which began, somewhat ironically, after she achieved the biggest commercial success of her career. Having had a solid film and stage career for nearly a decade, Baker accepted the role of a Jean Harlow-esque blonde bombshell in The Carpetbaggers (1964). As she later said, she took the role because it was so far removed from her iconic appearance as Baby Doll a decade earlier in the infamous film of the same name, and because she had thought the book was “great fun.” The soapy, scandalous Carpetbaggers went on to become a massive success, earning over $28 million, the fourth highest-grossing film of the year. It resurrected the careers of a few aging Hollywood actors, and briefly shot Baker and her leading man George Peppard into stardom. Carroll Baker in Harlow   Thinking Baker was on the cusp of international fame, Carpetbaggers producer Joe Levine signed Baker to a multi-million dollar contract, then immediately screwed her over. Levine was a bully and a hack, one of those long-time Hollywood producers who managed, simply by being around for decades, to produce a few classic films, but mostly spent his time on films like Santa Claus Vs. the Martians (1964) and The Oscar (1965). Thanks … Continue reading

William Castle Blogathon: Let’s Kill Uncle (1966)

This is the SBBN entry for the William Castle Blogathon, hosted by The Last Drive-In and Goregirl’s Dungeon. Check out Goregirl’s page here for a full list of all contributors! *** William Castle was a solid B-movie studio director in the 1940s, responsible for films like Undertow (1949), The Whistler (1944) and The Saracen Blade (1954). It was in the mid-1950s when he turned his attention to more lurid television fare and carnival-barker style promotion that he found his niche, and by 1958, he had launched his own production company and the first of his heavily hyped horror films, Macabre (1958). For six years, Castle was the undisputed king of hype, directing films that were sometimes exceptional, sometimes cheesefests, but always entertaining. Movies such as The House on Haunted Hill (1959) and Strait-Jacket (1964) work because the promotional shenanigans were confined mostly to outlandish ad campaigns, and they are fine horror films in their own right. But movies like The Tingler (1959) and Mr. Sardonicus (1961) take great ideas and interrupt them with promotional bits within the film itself, which can often ruin the established cinematic atmosphere in favor of silly gimmickry. Castle was unquestionably more interested in commercial success and attention than in art, as well as having fun in a culture he often felt was too staid; as a result, his films were hits with teenage crowds.   Just as he finished The Night Walker (1964), starring Hollywood luminaries Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor, Castle decided to court … Continue reading

Dynamic Duos in Classic Films Blogathon: Bela and Boris

This is the SBBN entry for the Dynamic Duos in Classic Film blogathon, hosted by the Classic Movie Hub and Once Upon a Screen. Read all of the first day’s entries here at Classic Movie Hub and the second day’s entries here! *** Boris Karloff never minded being typecast in horror films. Honing his craft in a touring stock company and relying on the approval of “unsophisticated” audiences, Karloff learned quickly what audiences responded to in a series of melodramas and murder mysteries performed in theatres across Canada and the United States. By the time he began to appear regularly in Hollywood silents, he was grateful for the work, no matter how small the role or how much makeup it required. Bela Lugosi railed against the Hollywood system that would force him into horror films. He began his career on the Hungarian stage in a variety of roles, both featured and supporting. After moving to the United States and continuing his solid stage career, Bela originated the role of Dracula in the 1927 Broadway production of Bram Stoker’s novel. It was a hit, and Universal bought the rights for a cinematic version. Eventually settling on Bela for the lead — because of his Hungarian accent, the studios were reluctant to cast him — the film became a terrific hit. Bela Lugosi was catapulted into instant stardom, and expected a plethora of lead roles to follow. One of these roles was as the Monster in Frankenstein, but Bela balked at the … Continue reading

It’s the Only Woman We Got: Margaret Dumont in Duck Soup (1933)

This post is the SBBN entry for the Funny Lady Blogathon, going on now at Movies, Silently. Check out the other entries today! *** Duck Soup (1933) is a tight little 68 minutes of absurdist, anarchic comedy featuring the Marx Brothers and a cast of constantly befuddled straight men and women. One part old-fashioned musical comedy and two parts political satire, Duck Soup was a box office failure on its release, and the Marx Bros’ final film for Paramount. The wealthy widow Mrs. Teasdale (Margaret Dumont) agrees to sponsor the small country of Fredonia to the tune of $20 million, but on one condition: That Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho Marx) be made the new leader. Firefly is a scoundrel and a cad, insulting everyone in power while remaining steadfastly unimpressed with his own. He quickly decides to woo the widow Teasdale — for her money or not, we’re never sure; that’s part of the fun — competing with Trentino of nearby Sylvania (Louis Calhern) who also wants her money. Hell bent on causing a war, Firefly insults Trentino so many times conflict cannot be avoided. Meanwhile two Sylvanian spies, Chico and Harpo Marx, join in on the antics in ways that really can’t be explained. If someone tells you they can explain everything that happens in Duck Soup, they are lying to you. The title is the first head-scratcher. Though allegedly based on the American slang phrase “duck soup,” with a meaning similar to “easy as pie,” Groucho once explained … Continue reading

The Mary Astor Blogathon: Holiday (1930)

This is the official SBBN entry for The Mary Astor Blogathon, hosted by Tales of the Easily Distracted and Silver Screenings. Check out all the entries here! *** Holiday began life in 1929 as a successful Broadway production. Written by Philip Barry,whose work tended to focus on the upper classes and their isolation from the real, modern world, the play was originally written under the title The Dollar. It was Barry’s second big hit, his first being just two years earlier, and helped cement Barry’s reputation in New York. When Barry was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1932, the accompanying article noted that a new Barry play was a social event, one that would clog streets around theaters from hours thanks to the excess traffic and crowds of fans waiting to catch glimpses of their favorite stars and politicians in the audience. His plays were often comedies of manners, positing that that wealth could not provide the true necessities of life and featured female leads who eschewed their riches, instead looking for a deeper meaning to life; Holiday and The Philadelphia Story, written a decade later, both follow this formula and are his most famous plays. Hope Williams played older sister Linda on Broadway, and Katharine Hepburn was her understudy. Hepburn would go on to play Linda in the better-known 1938 film version of the play, as well as the lead in both the play and film versions of Philadelphia Story. Hepburn and Barry had careers which … Continue reading

White Elephant Blogathon: Same Time, Next Year (1978)

Long-time SBBN readers (all three of you) might remember the issues I had with the White Elephant Blogathon in past years, primarily the random Penthouse-style nudes used by a blogger to review a film I submitted a few years ago, plus being scolded for the racist film I submitted last year. It was indeed a racist film, and I submitted it because (a) other racist (and sexist, fascist, homophobic, etc.) films had been submitted in prior years, (b) I was genuinely curious as to what another blogger/critic would make of the film, and (c) the whole point of the ‘thon is to submit shit films, and you can’t get much shittier than a racist comedy. That was my theory, anyway. All that said, if I’d realized people were “disturbed” that films like Triumph of the Will had been submitted previously, and if I had seen them call the person who submitted it a “sicko,” I would have avoided the controversial choice I made last year. I used to go into these ‘thons thinking, hey, you want to throw down with Buio Omega, go right ahead, pal, you don’t scare me. I was apparently the only one; I get that and have adjusted my expectations and behavior accordingly. How the White Elephant Blogathon works: Everyone showing interest gives Paul of Silly Hats Only a bad (or “bad” or “interesting”) film, and he randomly hands them out to participants, who are then surprised or delighted or nauseated by the film they’ve been … Continue reading