Thursday, April 19, 2018

Disappearing Act

I just realized my recent post on the play Bicycle Ride to Nevada has disappeared from my blog! I'm trying to figure out what happened to my post and my drafts of it online and can hopefully repost it in its entirety. If not, I'll write about it again shortly.

Exploration of Five Graves to Cairo coming this weekend!

Update: I think I definitely deleted the BRtN post by accident before backing it up. What a bummer! Will recreate it from my notes soon. Five Graves still coming!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

She Knew All the Answers (1941)

She Knew All the Answers is a lighthearted romantic comedy starring Franchot Tone and Joan Bennett. Released in 1941, the film is directed by Richard Wallace, who would team up with Tone and Bennett again a year later for the war comedy The Wife Takes a Flyer. Neither film has been released commercially on DVD and I'm not sure if that will ever be something slated for the future at all, but I would love to see a Bennett/Tone double feature DVD one day. In addition to these two early 40's films, Franchot and Joan would go on to costar in a 1957 episode of Playhouse 90 entitled The Thundering Wave.

In She Knew All the Answers, we are first introduced to playboy Randy Bradford (John Hubbard) and chorus girl Gloria Winters (Joan Bennett), both eager to elope. There's just one problem standing in their way and that problem's name is Mark Willows. Willows (Franchot Tone) was Randy's father's partner in a lucrative financial firm on Wall Street, and was appointed Randy's guardian when his father died. As guardian, Mark gets approval over the woman Randy marries and if he doesn't approve, Randy loses his millions. Mark is a mild-mannered, conventional man who doesn't approve of Gloria's chorus girl status and nixes their plans.


Gloria knows that Randy will never make it as a working class man and she's not willing to be a working class wife, so she hatches a plan. She will get a job—under the name of a roommate—as the switchboard operator at Willows' office long enough for him to sign a letter of recommendation for her, then she will use that signed letter to marry Randy without consequence. Expecting an older, unattractive guardian, Gloria is surprised to find that Mark Willows is a young, attractive man—albeit, a reserved, bespectacled one. Although focused on stocks and investments, Mark is clearly befuddled by his blossoming attraction to Catherine Long (Gloria's assumed name.)


Beginning to feel confident with the switchboard and around her coworkers, Gloria—unaware of Wall Street lingo—accidentally spreads false news about the firm causing Mark to lose a large amount of investments. Mark fires her, then, after her suggestion for a solution is successful, visits her apartment to ask her to return to the firm. This is the scene where many men would've caught on to Gloria's tricks, but Mark is gullible. Randy is hiding in the kitchen while the real Catherine Long, Gloria's roommate played by the infallible Eve Arden, feigns a disability to substantiate Gloria's lies.


Randy sees that his guardian is falling for Gloria and has a prank call placed to the restaurant where Mark and Gloria are dining one evening. Mark decides to get revenge and talks Randy into staying in the office all night in order to "save the business." Gloria's eyes light up when she realizes that the typically straight-laced Mark, whom she's convinced to ditch the glasses, is up to mischief. As Randy waits by the phone all night, Mark and Gloria go to Coney Island and act like total goofballs. This is my favorite part of the film! They pose for silly pictures, ride the Tunnel of Love, eat cotton candy, and both Franchot and Joan are really adorable in these scenes. They fall for each other, but then Mark learns the truth about Gloria and her scheme. In the final scenes, an unusual dream sequence for all three main characters follows leading to a wedding in which those dream alter egos call the shots.


The film was lukewarm with critics. Bosley Crowther warned audiences that it was an "inconsequential little comedy," which was actually much kinder than he'd be a year later when he deemed The Wife Takes a Flyer a "painfully labored comedy." She Knew All the Answers would be neither Franchot nor Joan's most successful comedy, but they, as evidenced in their incredibly expressive faces throughout, embrace the lightness of the picture. It's a joy to watch from start to finish and the two stars are very well-matched in their comedic timing. I hate to call it a "cute movie," but it just is. I watched it again this week when I was ill with a virus, and—even though the quality of my old copy leaves much to be desired—it proved to be the fantastic spoonful of sugar I required.




Franchot and Joan shared not only these films, but also the same birthday. As I wrote about a few weeks ago, Franchot and Joan celebrated their birthdays together two years in a row—with surprise cakes for each other on the set of this film in '41 and by cohosting a massive party for servicemen with Feb. 27 birthdays a year later in '42.

Finally, a pal who has been a kind supporter of my Franchot efforts (and antics) happens to be an out-of-this-world knowledgeable and passionate expert on all things Joan Bennett (as well as some other fantastic film ladies) and recently devoted a website to Joan B. at http://www.joanbennettfan.com. Check it out!





Sources:
Crowther, Bosley. "The Screen in Review." The New York Times. June 20, 1941.
Crowther, Bosley. "The Screen." The New York Times. .June 19, 1942.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Wagon Train: The Malachi Hobart Story (1962)

Franchot was the special guest star for Wagon Train's fifth episode in its fifth season. The Malachi Hobart Story aired on January 24, 1962, with Franchot as the title character. Franchot showed up in a handful of western shows in the 1950's and especially, the 1960's. Despite their identification of him as a former film gentleman, the public seemed to embrace Franchot in these rugged cowboy roles and frankly, he was compelling in them. In that gravelly older-Franchot voice, he masterfully adopted a southern accent (so much so that sometimes I hear it faintly in later roles that didn't require it!) and cowboy swagger.

Duke (billed here as Scott Miller-later called Denny) stumbles upon Malachi Hobart (Franchot Tone), a seemingly gracious Southern man who makes his living as a traveling preacher. Malachi extends his camp to Duke, sharing his supper and his shelter.





Duke leaves the next morning to check on friends George and Martha, only to find that drunkard George has died and his long suffering wife Martha paid a traveling preacher $300 to pray George into heaven. Martha believes it was worth the money not to worry about her husband's soul...until George shows up at the door! Turns out he was not dead at all, just off on an epic bender. Duke promises to get the cash back and seeks out Malachi.

Duke confronts Malachi and learns that Malachi is a major conman. Then, Duke does something unexpected. He decides to join Malachi in a gold detector product grift. Malachi guarantees that the detector will sound an alarm when gold is buried underneath it. Of course, it's only an alarm clock inside a box. As sidekick, Duke buys the detector in front of a group of men, then brags about all the gold he found with it. As Malachi gains interest in the product, Duke (hiding) shoots the detector and exposes what's inside. Malachi has to race out of town in his wagon, with Duke jumping in the back, to avoid injury.

When Duke asks Malachi if he ever feels bad about what he does, Malachi answers that he often does more good than harm. Here is that scene in full:






Duke convinces Malachi to seek shelter with the wagon train. The families are eager for a preacher and a moving sermon, and Malachi delivers. Then, when the collection plate is passed around, Duke exposes the fraud once more, changing Malachi's life forever.

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The Malachi Hobart Story episode is another great piece of Franchot's television work. Fortunately, this episode is easy to find and watch in its entirety! It's available to stream on the Internet Archive if you click here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Happy Birthday, Franchot!

Today marks the 113th anniversary of Franchot's birth and I thought it would be fun to celebrate Franchot's birthday this year by looking back at ways he celebrated in the past.


In 1937, Franchot celebrated his 32nd birthday on the set of They Gave Him a Gun. Costars Spencer Tracy, Gladys George, and Woody Van Dyke surprised him with a cake covered in candles imbedded in revolver cartridges (keeping with the theme of the film) and a birthday note written in pink icing across the top. Franchot was reportedly very happy with the surprise and ordered ice cream to go along with it.

In 1938, Joan Crawford threw a surprise party for Franchot at the Trocadero. Ethel Merman, Norma Shearer, Cesar Romero, David Niven, and George Murphy attended.



In 1941, Franchot shared a birthday party with Joan Bennett, his co-star in She Knew All the Answers and later The Wife Takes a Flyer. Joan requested that a cake be arranged for Franchot as a surprise. Little did she know that Franchot had approached the movie's prop man for the very same arrangement for Joan. On the day of their shared birthday, Franchot and Joan arrived on set to discover one table with two surprise cakes.

Joan B. and Franchot enjoyed a joint birthday celebration so much that the following year they threw a massive birthday party for servicemen who were also born on February 27th. Attendees (reported at between 25 and 30 total) played games, ate a buffet, and danced with "a throng of screen actresses, were presented with surprise birthday gifts and carved a huge birthday cake topped by 27 candles."

Happy Birthday, Franchot! The world was made better because you existed in it.

Sources:
"Birthday Epidemic." Los Angeles Times. March 9, 1941.
"Birthday Party Cake Provides Arsenal." Los Angeles Times. March 14, 1937.
"Film Stars Fete Service Men with Same Birthday." Los Angeles Times. February 28, 1942.
"Franchot Tone Tendered Surprise." Los Angeles Times. March 6, 1938.
*gifs above are from Sadie McKee and The King Steps Out.


Friday, February 23, 2018

The Gambler and His Face: Franchot Tone on his Plastic Surgery

In May 1952, Franchot was asked how he felt about his "new face." I wrote about the complicated 1951 Neal-Tone altercation that caused the need for Franchot's plastic surgery and impaired his voice last year (click here), but this is the first time I've run across Franchot making a statement about the plastic surgery to the press:
They say it's better than ever, but I liked the old one better. I'm a gambler, and gamblers sometimes lose. A man's got to live. I've had a full life, with no regrets. There was so much bad publicity, I couldn't defend it; so I've never had my day in court. I think I'll just pass it up. People all over the country tell me they're on my side. I'll settle for that. Well, you can't kill a guy for falling in love, and I've always let them make an honest man of me.
The change in his nose is very apparent in these side-by-side shots.
Source:
"The New Tone." Los Angeles Times. May 24, 1952. page 10.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Electric Eartha Kitt and Jolly's Progress

On May 16th, 1952, a new play "New Faces of 1952" had a reading at the Metropolitan Opera House Lounge. The play starred Eartha Kitt and Ronny Graham and received positive reviews. Franchot Tone attended a party that was given in honor of the play. He was photographed sharing the good reviews with Eartha and Ronny on the steps of the opera house. Everyone gravitated toward Eartha that night, including Franchot, who called her "the most electric personality I've ever seen" and, according to Jet Magazine, blushed when a photographer asked to take their photo.

Seven years later, Franchot was set to costar with Eartha in "Jolly's Progress." In September 1959, Jet published that Eartha was resting briefly before going into rehearsals with Franchot, but by September 18th, the New York Times revealed that Franchot had already dropped out of the play. There seems to be some debate as to why he dropped out. Franchot told reporters that he had an additional work commitment that he couldn't discuss at the time. The word around town, though, was that Franchot left the play because he wasn't pleased with the way Coleman's dramatization had turned out. Franchot had liked Coleman's book, but felt the characterization was lacking in the play's script. Columnist Dorothy Kilgallen hinted that Eartha, having gone through the deterioration of several romantic relationships in previous months, was having "temperamental outbursts" throughout the process of casting and rehearsals. It was also rumored that Franchot left due to a billing dispute.

Perhaps, it's a good thing that Franchot dropped out. Reviewer Peter Dee, in his 1959 Second Balcony column suggested that the playwright "thought that if he combined ideas from 'Pygmalion' and 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' he'd have a great play. He doesn't, but surely has an arresting one." Dee would go on to say that Eartha's "electric histrionics cannot hide the fact that this play needs such judicious fixing-up..." Wendell Corey took Franchot's place in the play, which ran for 9 performances from December 5th through December 9th on Broadway.




Getty has an even better photo of Franchot and Eartha here: Getty Images

Sources:
Dee, Peter. "Second Balcony: Jolly's Progress." The Heights. November 13, 1959.
"Eartha Kitt, Franchot Tone to Costar in Play." Jet Magazine. September 10, 1959.
Internet Broadway Database: https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-production/jollys-progress-2803
"Round Up." Jet Magazine. September 17, 1959.
"Star is Acclaimed by Celebrities." Jet Magazine. July 31, 1952.
"Tone Withdraws from Role Opposite Eartha Kitt." Jet Magazine. October 1, 1959.
Zolotow, Sam. "Corey May Take Role Tone Quit." The New York Times. September 18, 1959.

Friday, February 16, 2018

That Night With You (1945)

That Night with You is a 1945 romantic comedy with some dream fantasy thrown in for good measure. The film stars Franchot Tone, Susanna Foster, Louise Allbritton, David Bruce, and Jacqueline de Wit. It also includes an odd, too-brief part played by Buster Keaton.

I've not watched That Night With You nearly as much as other Franchot films. To be honest, the first time I saw it I thought it was not a strong performance of Franchot's and didn't really go for all the dream sequences. I recently rewatched it and realize I've missed the mark in a lot of ways. Franchot's performance is a bit hammy (the first time I watched it I felt he overplayed it), but it's actually quite in line with the character he plays. As Paul Renoit, he winks and smirks and flirts his way through the picture. But Paul's a self-described cad who promises women stage parts in exchange for romantic interludes, cares only about himself, and thinks he's God's gift to women. The way Franchot plays it absolutely makes sense and is, frankly, a pretty adorable performance. He's lovely to look at and more goofy than debonair throughout the film.  I found myself giggling at him by the end of each scene.


Penny (Susanna Foster) dreams (literally) of becoming a singing sensation for Paul Renoit. When she sleeps, she finds herself on expansive musical stages headlining a Renoit production. Penny is certain these dreams will become reality and doesn't hesitate to forge her own path to Paul's stage door. Penny's boyfriend Johnny (David Bruce) owns the diner where Penny works (and where Buster Keaton serves customers from behind the counter) and thinks Penny's dreams are just wishful thinking and aims to make Penny a housewife and mother.



Sneaking into the theater, Penny witnesses star Clarissa quit the show on opening night—just as her dream had foretold. We learn that Clarissa gave up a big Hollywood contract in order to be Mrs. Paul Renoit, but Paul has been stringing her along. A well-meaning wardrobe mistress advises Penny to stay as far away from Paul as possible. He's a serial womanizer. He even abandoned a wife, annulling the marriage as a very young man. Penny realizes she's young enough to convince Paul that a daughter was born following the brief marriage and that she is said daughter.





Paul's wise-cracking, Eve Arden-type secretary Prudence (Louise Allbritton, a comedic revelation to me) is on to Penny's scheme at once. Paul is, too, but decides to play along. But when his friends begin to joke that Penny really does favor Paul quite a bit in bone structure, Paul begins to worry that he is a father after all. And when his long-forgotten first wife Blossom (Jacqueline de Wit) reappears and vouches for Penny's story, every character becomes confused until the truth finally reveals itself. The film is hard-to-find, but is an engaging, cute story showing Franchot's knack for romantic comedy.




Criticisms:
-Although Franchot is the lead, there are a lot of musical numbers that he's not involved in, so he's not given as much screentime as he could've handled.
-Susanna Foster is lovely and an amazing singer, but I couldn't help but wish Deanna Durbin (her studio-imposed rival at Universal, apparently) was in the role instead. I'm crazy about Durbin-Tone pairings and would've liked to see them in this film together.
-I wish this film had been shot in Technicolor. It would've lent a more magical quality to the dream sequences.

Bosley Crowther (never much of a fan of Franchot's) reviewed the film for the New York Times dated November 9, 1945 and called it a "mild musical" and "romantic nonsense of an innocent and thoroughly foolish sort." He said, "Mr. Tone's coyness as a foster father is not precisely on the scintillating side."  I, however, think the innocence and foolishness of the romance is what makes this movie so delightful.