Interview: Author Bill Levy on Director John Ford’s Acting Company and his new project, Familiar Faces in Unexpected Places

Click below to check out my June 2014 interview with NPR’s Julia Meek where I discuss my  book on film director John Ford’s stock company of actors and actresses and my next project, Familiar Faces in Unexpected Places.

 

 

 

http://wboi.org/post/interview-author-bill-levy-director-john-fords-acting-company

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Trail of Robin Hood

Trail of Robin Hood  

A Forgotten Gems Column by Bill Levy

© Bill Levy 2013

 

To celebrate the holiday season, this critique focuses upon an enjoyable holiday-related movie that isn’t  as well-known as White Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street, The Bishop’s Wife, the various versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, or It’s a Wonderful Life.  This  “Christmas Forgotten Gem” is Trail of Robin Hood (1950).

This motion picture has nothing to do with the legendary bandit of Sherwood Forest.  There’s a sheriff, but he’s a minor character in the storyline; there’s a marksmanship contest, but it involves rifles not bows and arrows;  and there’s a character named Sir Galahad,  but he’s not a noble knight but a pet turkey.  Instead of a sequel to Errol Flynn’s greatest adventure, Trail of Robin Hood is a likeable Roy Rogers B-western that features a Christmas theme, several Christmas songs, lots of action, and an abundance of entertaining silliness.

The plot of this Republic Pictures film involves a retired silent movie cowboy star (Jack Holt) who wants to sell Christmas trees to the needy at cost.  A greedy timber baron (Emory Parnell), his manipulative daughter (Penny Edwards), and their evil lumber camp foreman (Clifton Young) attempt to sabotage Holt’s operation, but their schemes are thwarted by a U.S. Conservation agent (Rogers) assisted by Trigger, Bullet, a simpleton-handyman (Gordon Jones) and his young spunky sister (Carol Nugent), and a posse of well-known B-western movie stars including Rex Allen, Allan “Rocky” Lane, Monte Hale, and Ray “Crash” Corrigan.

In his encyclopedia of western films, “The Western,” Phil Hardy describes Trail of Robin Hood as, “one of the most surreal of serial westerns, and all the more charming for it.”  This is certainly a bizarre movie.  In addition to its irrelevant title, the movie is filled with zany inconsistencies like cowboys prancing around wearing  six-shooters like it’s the 1880s while Roy’s romantic interest drives around in a modern convertible.  And then there’s Sir Galahad.  The film abruptly switches from an action horse opera with numerous fist fights, fires, and chases on horseback (filmed in California’s Big Bear Lake area and the San Bernardino Mountains by Rogers’ favorite director, William Witney) to a musical with Roy and The Riders of the Purple Sage abruptly singing “Home Town Jubilee,” “Get a Christmas Tree for Johnny,” and “Ev’ry Day is Christmas in the West.”  Then the movie changes to a comedy with  Gordon Jones (Mike the Cop in the Abbott and Costello television series) as the bumbling sidekick before the action resumes, and then, suddenly, it’s a Christmas melodrama with Roy and his buddies risking their lives to help those in need enjoy their Christmas.  But somehow it all works.

The first “Christmas Forgotten Gem” I ever wrote was John Ford’s Three Godfathers (1948). Although Trail of Robin Hood does not feature John Wayne’s strong presence,  Ford’s creative direction, Winton Hoch’s majestic photography, or  any  significant Christmas symbolism, it does offer four things that Three Godfathers doesn’t:  “The King of the Cowboys,”  “The Smartest Horse in the Movies,” a wintry Christmas snow scene, and that unforgettable pet turkey.

 

 

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Celebrating Greer Garson’s September Birthday: The forgotten gem, “Blossoms in the Dust”

“Blossoms in the Dust”
A Forgotten Gems Column by Bill Levy
© Bill Levy 2013

Greer Garson (1904-1996) and Walter Pidgeon (1897-1984) co-starred in eight motion pictures. “Mrs. Miniver” (1942), “Madam Curie” (1943), and “Mrs. Parkington” (1944) were produced at the zenith of the couple’s fame and are each well-remembered, while “Blossoms in the Dust” (1941), the first movie they made together, is the “Forgotten Gem” of the group.

This MGM production describes the life and contributions of Edna Gladney (Garson), a real-life selfless American heroine who devoted her life to helping orphans and to combatting the stigmatizing these children were forced to experience for the rest of their lives. In the film, Edna receives loving support from her husband (Pidgeon) as she runs the Texas Children’s Home and Aid Society and battles indifference and rampant prejudice against these innocents. Her stance can best be summed up by her mantra, “There are no illegitimate children; only illegitimate parents.”

Greer Garson’s characterization displays a powerful presence mixed with uncompromising integrity, compassion, and commitment. She (and her gorgeous red hair and marvelous cheekbones) benefit from Karl Freund and W. Howard Greene’s Technicolor cinematography as well as Mervyn LeRoy’s adroit direction. Garson was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award but lost out to Joan Fontaine (“Suspicion”).

In this movie, Walter Pidgeon he portrays a Texas businessman who continually provides her with the assistance and encouragement she needs. Character actor, Felix Bressart, resembling a bewhiskered Walter Brennan with a Hungarian accent, adds solid support as Edna’s friend and ally, Dr. Max Breslar.

In addition to Garson’s nomination, the film was nominated for Oscars for Best Picture and Best Color Cinematography. It won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction – Interior Decoration in Color. “Blossoms in the Dust” was adapted by Anita Loos, Hugo Butler, and Dorothy Yost based on a story of Edna Gladney’s life by Ralph Wheelwright. Producer/Director Mervyn LeRoy also directed Greer Garson in Random Harvest and Madame Curie. During her lifetime, the real Edna Gladney (1886-1961) placed over 10,000 babies with adoptive families.

Movie critic Jason Higgins recently observed, “Blossoms in the Dust,” “has all the makings of a classic MGM film – outstanding production values, a great cast, good writing and expert direction. Greer Garson is superb and her frequent co-star, Walter Pidgeon, gives a fine, low-key performance. It’s a tear-jerker done with great style.” The basic premise of this movie – a plea for compassion – is as timely today as it was seventy-odd years ago when the film was made and one hundred-odd years ago when Edna Gladney fought for the rights of her blossoming orphans and foundlings. This is a heartwarming and inspiring tribute to a lady whose portrayal deserves to stand besides Spencer Tracy’s Father Flanagan of “Boys Town” as a prime example of classic Hollywood’s depiction of a true hero dedicated to protecting and championing hundreds of children, in her case, hundreds of defenseless “creatures of shame.”

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Celebrate July 4th with “Stars and Stripes Forever”

“Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) is a movie that provides viewers with a different way of celebrating the Fourth of July by relishing John Philip Sousa, his wife, and his music:

                                                             “Stars and Stripes Forever”

A Forgotten Gems Column by Bill Levy

© Bill Levy 2013

 

          During the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, Hollywood made numerous films in which the wife of a famous historical personality is the “power behind the throne.”  One of the best of these movies is Stars and Stripes Forever (1952) with Ruth Hussey as the wife of the famous “March King” John Philip Sousa (Clifton Webb). 

          Ruth Hussey often portrayed the calm sophisticated, knowing wife.  Halliwell’s Filmgoer’s Companion characterizes many of her characters as “smart and competent.”  In Stars and Stripes Forever, she is superb as Jennie Sousa, an intelligent (and extremely attractive) spouse subtly guiding her brilliant but eccentric husband.   Whether she is “suggesting” that a new ballad he wrote be played as a march or educating him about the best ways to deal with a young couple (a very youthful Robert Wagner and a very radiant Debra Paget), Miss Hussey is wonderful. 

          Clifton Webb is also perfectly cast.  His John Philip Sousa is pompous but somehow endearing, stiff yet quite vulnerable and human.  Sousa is far more than the stereotypical absent-minded music professor and is more perceptive than his wife realizes.   His dedication to his music, his subtle sense of humor, and his arrogant stare create a life-like person and personality that earned Webb a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination.

          Stars and Stripes Forever depicts the story of Sousa’s famous band focusing on its formation and its popular tours during the Gilded Age of the 1890s.  The film is filled with patriotic music including Sousa’s great marches “El Capitan,” “Washington Post,” “King Cotton,” and “Stars and Stripes Forever” as well as Julia Ward Howe and William Steffe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” John Sanderson’s “Hail to the Chief,” and Daniel Decatur Emmett’s “Dixie.”

          This Fox production was directed by Henry Koster and scripted by Ernest Vajda and the movie’s producer Lamar Trotti.  The picture was based on Sousa’s autobiography, Marching Along.  Academy Award winner George Chakiris appears in the film as a ballroom dancing extra.  Ruth Hussey was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the cynical photographer, Elizabeth Imbrie in The Philadelphia Story (1940).  Clifton Webb, born Webb Parmalee Hollenbeck, was nominated twice for Best Supporting Actor Oscars; (for his Waldo Lydecker in Laura [1944] and his Elliott Templeton in The Razor’s Edge [1946]), and for Best Actor as Mr. Belvadere in Sitting Pretty (1948).   

          So, as an alternative to watching those endless war films on and around the Fourth of July, try something different and experience a movie that will not only stir up the patriotic juices but will also give you the opportunity to witness a successful marriage of strong-minded individuals who together created great happiness for themselves and for millions of others.

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Back Again

I apologize for disappearing but it’s been a busy spring. 

I’m just about done with my second BearManor book.  This one is titled 101 Forgotten Gems: Overlooked/Overshadowed Films from Hollywood’s Golden Era.  (For further information on that book, please check the section on Upcoming Projects).

I have also been busy promoting the John Ford Stock Company book.  I just did a book signing at the Westport (Connecticut) Library and have two others schedule this month – at Mendham Books in Mendham, NJ on May 18th  at 11:00 am and at The Quiet Man Pub in Dover, NJ on Saturday, May 25th from 11:00am to 3″oo pm.   If you’re into John Ford, old movies, or great Irish pubs, do check out the Quiet Man pub.  (For further information on these and other appearances and talks, please check out  the section on Scheduled Events).

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Bear Manor to Publish a Second Book – “Forgotten Gems from Hollywood’s Golden Era”

BearManor Publishing will publish a second of my books: Forgotten Gems from Hollywood’s Golden Era: 100 Overlooked and Overshadowed Films of the Studio Era. The book will be available later in 2013.

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“Being Sensible About Pennies”

“Penny Sense”
A “Levy’s Wry Column” by Bill Levy
© Bill Levy 2013

There has been a great deal of recent conversation about eliminating the penny. Several foreign nations have already done this. Many merchant and retail groups have been lobbying to get rid of the penny for years. There has been talk of legislation to round cash purchases to the nearest nickel. An article in the New York Times declared, “Once a symbol of thrift and resourcefulness, pennies are now striking many people as anachronistic and a nuisance.” But before we ban the penny, we should attempt to be as sensible as possible.

Pennies have always been a significant part of the American Experience. Throughout the years, American culture has been broadened and brightened by penny arcades and penny serenades. Pennies have been responsible for such unique American institutions as baseball centerfielders, Thanksgiving centerpieces, and, of course, Playboy centerfolds.

The penny has shaped the American character. For example, American men have generally been less aggressive than European Continental males because we’ve had pennies to pinch. Also, American teenagers would probably never have had the energy for rock and roll if they were weighted down by silver-dollar loafers.

No one can deny that there are bad pennies and that pitching pennies, gambling at penny arcades, and kissing pretty pennies have hindered some youngsters’ moral development. But if pennies become extinct, we would lose so much. We would lose the optimistic hope that there are “pennies from heaven” and “honest pennies” among us. The thought-provoking phrase “penny for your thoughts” would become obsolete. Without the possibility to become penny-wise, many of us could become pound foolish, and too many of us are overweight already. The thought of the United States of America without the penny is nonsense. With all the problems facing our nation today, we need all the sense and cents we can get.

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A Discussion of My New John Ford Book

April Lane, the webmaster of THE John Ford website, DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD, discussed my book on February 5th. The discussion includes questions and answers we shared as well as the BearManor press release. It can be found at: http://www.directedbyjohnford.com/blog/articles/new-book-shines-spotlight-on-john-fords-stock-company/

The book’s cost is $19.95. If you are interested in a personalized autographed copy, please contact me at bill@BillLevyShares.com.

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To Celebrate Valentine’s Day: Ten Romantic Triangles from Movies During Hollywood’s Golden Era

To celebrate Valentine’s Day, here are ten of my favorite  movies from Hollywood’s Golden Era that feature romantic triangles.  Usually two men chased a young lady, but there were certain times when things were reversed.  In no particulat order:

(1)  Shane (1953)  Alan Ladd – Jean Arthur – Van Heflin

(2)  Alexander’s Ragtime Band (1938)  Tyrone Power -Alice Faye – Don Amache

(3) Road to Morocc0 (1942)  Bob Hope – Dorothy Lamour – Bing Crosby

(4)  The Philadelphia Story (1940)  Cary Grant – Katharine Hepburn – James Stewart

(5)  The Awful Truth  (1938)  Cary Grant – Irene Dunne – Ralph Bellamy

(6)  Holiday Affair  (1949)  Robert Mitchum – Janet Leigh – Wendell Corey

(7)  My Favorite Wife  (1940) Cary Grant –  Irene Dunne – Randolph Scott

(8)  Mogambo (1953)  Grace Kelly – Clark Gable – Ava Gardner

(9)  Tall in the Saddle (1944)  Ella Raines – John Wayne – Audrey Long

(10)  Cabin in the Sky (1943)  Lena Horne – Eddie “Rochester” Anderson – Ethel Waters

    And the trivia question of the day is:  Who lost the girl more, Ralph Bellamy or Wendell Corey??????

 

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Twenty Memorable Movie Endings from Hollywood’s Golden Era

To celebrate the end of a yet another year, here is a listing of twenty memorable movie endings from Hollywood’s Golden Era (the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s) in no particular order.   

(1)     Gone With the Wind

(2)     The Searchers

(3)     Casablanca

(4)     Citizen Kane

(5)     Some Like It Hot

(6)     The Maltese Falcon  

(7)     King Kong

(8)     It’s a Wondeful Life

(9)     Scaramouche

(10)    Land of the Pharaohs

(11)   Mr. Smith Goes to Washington   

(12)    The Greatest Show on Earth

(13)    Young Mr. Lincoln

(14)    The Grapes of Wrath 

(15)    Shane

(16)    The Inn of the Sixth Happiness

(17)   The Wizard of Oz 

(18)   Stagecoach 

(19)    Rear Window 

(20)    Annie Get Your Gun 

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