Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Ma And Pa Kettle (1949)

Ma and Pa Kettle is a great family film about a very unique family.  This was the second film appearance of the characters after their first unforgettable, incidental supporting character roles in the The Egg And I (1947) starring Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray.  Released by Universal-International Pictures this film stars Marjorie Main, Percy Kilbride, Richard Long, and Meg Randall.  It was directed by Charles Lamont, produced by Leonard Goldstein, and the music was arranged and directed by Milton Schwartzwald. That first film appearance spawned a whole series of films featuring the Kettle family.

The story begins as the Cape Flattery city council tries to condemn the Kettle residence because it's an eyesore and has a yard "like the city dump".  Ma (Main) already has her hands full taking care of Pa (Kilbride) and her fourteen "or was it fifteen" kids when they get a telegram notifying them that Pa has won a contest and that the grand prize is a new "prefabricated model house of the future", completely furnished.  This is a lot more than they bargained for because all Pa was trying to do was to get a new tobacco pouch for entering the contest.  For the duration of the film the Kettle's run into one snag after another trying to get accustomed to their new surroundings.  Their son Tom (Long) is returning home from college and helps his folks try to settle in to their new accommodations.  This fish-out-of-water scenario could very well have been an inspiration for the Beverly Hillbillies television series.

In a little side story in the film Tom meets a young woman (Randall) on the train ride home from school who just happens to be writing a magazine article on "the importance of hygiene in the home" and decides to include the Kettle's change in lifestyle as part of her series of stories.  Of course Tom doesn't tell her that he's related to the Kettle's because he's trying to impress her.  But Kim shows up for the ceremony at the new house and discovers Tom's secret and ends up becoming very fond of him and his family and tries to help out. 

The new home is a complete contrast to their plain and simple rustic lifestyle.  Watching them trying to get used to using push-button "futuristic" gadgets, including a large flat-screen television which was quite a luxury at that time, is a riot.  The Ma and Pa characters seem to compliment each other perfectly.  Pa has a kind of lackadaisical approach to life.  He's lazy but means well, and delivers his lines with slow deadpan perfection.  Ma is loud, rambunctious and does pretty much all of the work around the house.

Of course this film has some controversy surrounding it.  Rumor has it that Betty MacDonald, the writer and creator of the Kettle characters was sued at some point because people were upset that the characters were portrayed in a less than dignified and flattering fashion.  There was also some controversy regarding having Caucasian actors portraying Pa's Native American buddies Crowbar and Geoduck in various films throughout the series.

Unfortunately Kilbride became ill while filming Ma And Pa Kettle At Waikiki (1955) so he didn't appear in the last two films in the series.  The Pa character was completely absent from the film The Kettle's In The Ozarks (1956), and was replaced by Parker Fennelly in the final film The Kettles On Old MacDonald's Farm (1957).
One of the good things about this film is that it brings back many of the townsfolk from The Egg And I , like the eccentric widow who likes to take trips with her "husband" Albert, and the town busybody Birdie (Esther Dale) and her mother (Isabel O'Madigan), as well as traveling salesman Smilin' Billy Reed (Emery Parnell) who tends to speak in rhyme.

It's not one of the most sophisticated films you'll ever see, but good, solid, clean family entertainment. So take a seat, relax, and spend some time visiting with the Kettle clan.  It's a visit you won't soon forget.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Cat-Women Of The Moon (1953)

Cat-Women Of The Moon is directed by Arthur Hilton, produced by Al Zimbalist and Jack Rabin, and stars Sonny Tufts, Victor Jory, Marie Windsor, William Phipps and Douglas Fowley.  The music is composed and directed by Elmer Bernstien.

The film begins with a brief narration about man's exploration of the stars and then quickly cuts to a rocket blasting off and the crew inside evidently suffering from the strain and G-forces of the liftoff (either that or maybe it was a bad meal).  Outside the window we see some stock footage of the view from early spacecraft entering orbit with the earth spinning off into the distance below.  The control center frantically tries to contact the space ship numerous times as it speeds away from the earth and the crew slowly regains the ability to get out of their cots and move about the ship.  The voice from the control center is actually kind of funny at times, I'm not sure if it was intentional or not.  Once everyone is up and about the first thing Helen (Windsor) does is get out a compact and comb to fix her hair.

The crew settles into their 50's style metal frame swivel desk chairs for their long journey ahead.  A brief encounter with a meteor temporarily shakes things up, but a short time later and without much effort the craft lands on the moon,  Helen seems to have some sort of telepathic connection to the female inhabitants on the moon which she uses to guide them to a specific landing area.  The crew exits their ship and after a quick exploration of the area around the landing site they find a cave with life sustaining atmosphere and gravity.  Now with breathable oxygen available the team sheds their space suits and continues onward to discover the buildings of an ancient civilization.  Of course the inhabitants of the city are beautiful women in skintight outfits just as you would find on any other planet.  The cat-women tempt the travelers with food and drink and their female charm in an attempt to seduce the men and gain access to their spaceship. 

Viewers will recognize most of the supporting players from appearances elsewhere.  Douglas Fowley who played "Walters, the engineer" had the role of "Kipp" in the film Battleground (1949), Bill Phipps who played "Doug, the radio operator" had a small part in the The War Of The Worlds (1953), Victor Jory who starred as "Kip, the copilot" appeared in many films, serials, and television shows throughout his long career.  Sonny Tufts who starred as "Commander Grainger, leader of the expedition" starred in numerous films through the 40's and 50's and then did some television spots in the 60's after his film career was tainted by a few off screen incidents in Hollywood.  Marie Windsor who played "Helen, the navigator" did pretty well for herself in the "film noir" genre.  And all the lovely cat-women were played by "The Hollywood Covergirls" - Carol Brewster, Betty Arlen, Suzann Alexander, Roxann Delman, Ellye Marshall and Judy Walsh.

Keeping the production budget to a minimum is pretty obvious judging from the sets and costumes, and the film is pretty standard 50's B-film/science fiction fare.  It's a fun film to watch though as long as you don't have any great expectations.  And it has a pretty standard ending that you can see coming from a mile away.  With a running time of about 64 minutes the film will be over before you know it (for some folks maybe that's a good thing).  Seriously, it's really not that bad, especially if you're a fan of the "50s sci-fi films with hot alien women" genre.  And you'll probably get a few laughs from the dialogue that gets tossed back and forth.

I've definitely seen worse and I do see myself watching Cat-Women Of The Moon again at some point.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Gaslight (1940)

Gaslight is based on the stage play Angel Street by Patrick Hamilton, was released by British National Films Ltd., filmed at D&P Studios Ltd., and stars Anton Walbrook, Diana Wynyard, Frank Pettingell and Cathleen Cordell.  The film is directed by Thorold Dickinson and produced by John Corfield.

The story takes place in London and begins at No. 12, Pimlico Square with the murder of an elderly woman followed by a frantic search of the house by an unknown person searching for an unknown item or items.  A short time later we find that the items in question are some valuable rubies which are reported missing.

Years later we see that the same residence where the dreadful murder took place is now being inhabited by a young couple, Paul Mallen (Walbrook) an overbearing and controlling husband, and his wife Bella (Wynyard) who is recovering from a breakdown.  Mr. Rough (Pettingell) a retired police officer becomes suspicious when he believes he recognizes the man as the nephew of Alice Barlow, the woman who was murdered in the house twenty years earlier.  The case was never solved, and this has bothered Mr. Rough all these years because he had originally worked on the case.

This film follows the same basic storyline as the remake although the character names are a little different.  A man tries to conceal a deep dark secret as his wife struggles against his efforts to drive her mad, and finds herself drifting between reality and insanity. Of course like everyone else I'm probably spoiled by the repeated viewings of the superior 1944 remake starring Ingrid Bergman, who won an Oscar for her part, Charles Boyer, and Angela Lansbury who was nominated for an Oscar in her debut film at only 17 years old.

Much of the dialogue is the same in both films, and the camera angles and interior set designs are very similar.  The scene in the music hall featuring the "can-can" dancers is amazing. 

Diana Wynyard is lovely but seems to be missing the more fragile and naive quality that Bergman brought to the part.  Ms. Bergman actually spent time observing the mannerisms and habits of a female resident of an asylum as she researched her role.  Walbrook does a nice job as the cold, calculating and verbally abusive husband.  And Cordell's portrayal of the maid Nancy is very good, though I prefer Lansbury's more cocky portrayal of the maid.  But Bergman's grace and Boyer's growl are sorely missed.

There are some pretty good British suspense films out there but to me, this one falls just a little short.  I find this version slightly less dramatic and the acting a little stiff at times.   A pretty good musical score helps to drive the film which does have its moments.  It's definitely worth a viewing if you haven't seen it yet and have an hour and a half to kill.  But if you're looking for some real drama, stick with the more memorable, moody, and atmospheric film from 1944 directed by one of film's great directors George Cukor.