Monday, April 14, 2014

It’s A Wonderful World: The Original Colbert Report!

This revised version of It's A Wonderful World (1939) comes from The James Stewart Blogathon!  Hosted by The Classic Film & TV CafĂ© from April 14th to April 17, 2014! 

Welcome to Edwina Corday's Poetry Corner! Here's her poetry-chart-topping rhyme, "It's A Wonderful World":

The night will be here when we are gone,
Though we are gone, the stars will be here,
And other throats will sing in the dawn,
It’s a wonderful world, my dear

Don’t rack your brain trying to remember Edwina’s lovely poem from your poetry class; you’ll find her body of work in the Hollywood School of Poetry. Our gal Edwina is a ditzy but soulful poetess; yes, that’s what they call her in the comedy-adventure It’s A Wonderful World (1939), a poetess, not a poet.  And no, it’s not Frank Capra's classic Christmas film It’s A Wonderful Life, though we wouldn’t blame you for the confusion; more about that momentarily. I guess poets were like that in 1939.  But I digress!

Things aren't going well for Guy!
Where are Nick & Nora, and Asta when you need them? 

Edwina is played by that luminous Oscar-winner Claudette Colbert of It Happened One Night and  The Palm Beach Story among so many other hits. With that title alone, you’d have every right to expect it to be a wonderful screwball comedy-mystery, at the very least.  It’s got heck of a pedigree, starting with Oscar-winning director W.S. “Woody” Van Dyke, who brought us San Francisco (1936) as well as Team Bartilucci favorite The Thin Man (1934) and several of its sequels. The script was a collaboration between talented, versatile screenwriters Ben Hecht and Herman J. Mankiewicz (the latter being part of the Mankiewicz filmmaking family, including his grandson Ben Mankiewicz of TCM fame), whose combined resumes included such classics as Nothing Sacred; Twentieth Century; Dinner At Eight; Citizen Kane; The Front Page and its distaff remake His Girl Friday; and several of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films.  Now team up Claudette Colbert with a pre-Oscar James Stewart (note that Colbert’s name appears onscreen in a larger font than Stewart’s, since she was the bigger star at the time).  It didn’t hurt that the film’s title brought to mind the stars’ beloved previous films It Happened One Night and It’s a Wonderful Life (even if …Life took audiences quite a while to get into film fans’ hearts. I won’t lie to you, folks: we of Team Bartilucci have always found It’s a Wonderful Life infuriating for myriad reasons!  But I digress again; sorry about that!). The action is set in both New York City and upstate New York, which is a plus for a native New Yorker like me.  Furthermore, keep in mind that 1939 was a banner year for great movies all around!  With all that going for It’s A Wonderful World, the resulting collaboration should be a real crowd-pleaser, right?
Dig that crazy Coke bottle Boy Scout disguise!
Good thing Edwina has good "Guy" sight!

Well…almost!  It’s A Wonderful World was watchable enough, but for much of its 86-minute running time, I found it more amiable than actually wonderful, or laugh-out-loud funny, or nail-bitingly suspenseful.  Sure, the film has its moments, but as a whole, it didn’t truly grab my undivided attention until about the last 40 minutes  , when the joint was jumpin' with shooting, tension, and clever scheming to unmask the villains. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

Stewart plays a NYC private eye with the manly-man name of Guy Johnson.  Showing his range just as he did in After the Thin Man (1936), Stewart’s Guy is no folksy charmer here, but a cynical tough guy who thinks dames are dopes, and isn’t afraid to cuff ’em one if they start squawking. If Guy tried that today, he’d be in for a lawsuit!  Come to think of it, the role of Guy was probably good practice for the darker, more emotionally-complicated roles Stewart played under the direction of Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Mann in the 1950s!

Guy Kibbee as “Cap” Streeter is sapped by Edwina,
who thinks she’s helping and thinks she killed Cap! Oy!

Guy works with his older, more seasoned partner Fred “Cap” Streeter (Guy Kibbee from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; 42nd Street; Babbitt) for a private investigation firm called, appropriately enough, Private Inquiries. Their biggest client is the much-married souse and tobacco heir Willie Heyward, a.k.a. “Willie the Pooh” (played by Ernest Truex, great as put-upon milquetoast types in His Girl Friday; Whistling in the Dark; and TV’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents). Having previously worked demonstrating electric belts in drugstore windows for all to see before he became a private eye, cynical Guy is determined to hang onto his meal ticket: “Willie the Pooh’s my dream man, and I’m gonna keep fishing him out of manholes just as long as he keeps paying off.”

Too bad Willie gets himself framed for the murder of Dolores Gonzales (Cecilia Callejo from Blood and Sand; The Falcon in Mexico), a “Broadway nymph” and bubble dancer in the Sally Rand mold, who’d been all set to sue Willie for allegedly jilting her—until Guy and New York’s Finest find Dolores murdered on the floor with the ever-drunken Willie not knowing which end is up.

“Willie the Pooh,” found at one of the
places he's been seen going around.
But he brings his troubles on himself, considering he keeps demanding to kill “wops” when he’s “snoozled,” especially when he’s in public.  Where are Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man and/or its other sequels when you need them?  The only clue to Dolores’ killer is a dime mysteriously cut in half.  Our perplexed P.I. finds him
self framed by Vivian Tarbel, a.k.a. the newly-minted Mrs. Heyward (Frances Drake of Mad Love and the 1935 version of Les Miserables) and her honey, Al Mallon (Sidney Blackmer, the great character actor who’s graced everything from Charlie Chan in Monte Carlo to Rosemary’s Baby).  Before you can say “Philo Vance,” Guy is charged with conspiracy and sentenced to a year in Sing Sing.

On the train to prison, Guy is handcuffed to Sergeant Koretz (Nat Pendleton, Thin Man alumnus and one of Team Bartilucci’s favorite wrestlers-turned-actors), accompanied by Lieutenant Miller (Edgar Kennedy, Mr. Slow Burn himself) as they pass the time playing poker. Guy notices a personal ad in a nearby newspaper: “Why don’t you come to Saugerties Theater Wednesday evening, and see your long-lost husband? HALF-A-DIME.” (For you readers unfamiliar with upstate New York, yes, Saugerties is a real town.)  Guy tricks Koretz into leaving their compartment for a smoke, and *SPLASH!* Guy manages a watery escape under cover of night (shouldn’t Edwina be in bed at that hour?  Surely she’d lose too much of her beauty sleep).

But our perky poetess happens to see the whole thing. Before you can say “I swear by my eyes,” which Edwina says all through the picture, Guy takes Edwina hostage, and wacky hijinks ensue. Elsewhere, in one of my favorite bits, Sgt. Koretz tries to convince the local police that he was jumped by a mob instead of Guy tricking him and knocking him out singlehandedly. If you ask me, Guy could be so obnoxious sometimes, I wouldn’t have minded if someone had punched his lights out!  For that matter, I’d love to see where Edwina got the notion that criminals are gallant.  Maybe she’s been reading and writing too much poetry?  Then again, Guy isn’t always as smart as he thinks he is, either!  For instance, Edwina actually gets Guy out of a jam when they’re lost in the woods.  Boy Scout Stanley Cavendish pretends to go for help, but Edwina realizes just in time that the scout is about to sic John Law on him!  The kid isn’t even honest about his name; it’s really Herman Plotka!  If you ask me, Guy needs to brush up his P.I. skills.  Where’s Sam Spade when you need him?  Stewart’s Coke-bottle glasses disguise cracked me up!  (Fun Fact: Herman’s name comes from Mildred Plotka, a.k.a. Lily Garland in the 1934 comedy Twentieth Century.)

How do you like them apples?
Isn't this how Stockholm Syndrome starts?
Bit by bit, the comedy starts to percolate as Guy and Edwina find themselves obliged to join forces out in the wilds of upstate New York, with Edwina alternately helping and unwittingly hindering Guy as he tries to prove his innocence and save Willie from the electric chair.  As I said, the first two-thirds of It’s A Wonderful World is watchable, if not exactly full-tilt hilarious.


As our dear friend and fellow blogger R.A. Kerr might say, a miracle happens, as described by my husband Vinnie: “Suddenly Claudette Colbert shifted the plot into reverse psychology!”

A guy, a poetess...romance?
By some miracle, comedy and suspense suddenly blend together beautifully at the Saugerties County Theatre’s production of the Maxwell Anderson/Laurence Stallings play What Price Glory?  Slowly but surely, Guy warms up to Edwina , who’s already falling in love with Guy despite the bickering that always seems to be expected in such situations; just ask Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll in The 39 Steps.  Our heroes infiltrate the theater when scene-stealing grand-dame theater director Madame J. L. Chambers (Cecil Cunningham from the 1931 Monkey Business; The Awful Truth) hires Guy as the play’s new Southern-accented actor, “Cyril Hemingway.”

"Do you-all have shootin' in this play?"
"Nothing but. It's the noisiest backstage since Ben Hur".
Cap comes to help Guy, only to become a human Whack-A-Mole as Edwina’s well-meant attempts to help both men keep backfiring. I was worried that poor Cap would be brain-damaged before this dizzy tale was over!  What’s more, Vivian’s Aussie ex turns up, unaware he’s got a target on his back, poor fella! The stage cast within the movie’s cast (is there a scorecard in the house?) includes Team Bartilucci favorite Hans Conried (The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T.; TV’s Make Room For Daddy; Fractured Flickers); as well as George Chandler (Bogart fans will remember Chandler as nervous bartender Louis Ord in Dead Reckoning); as well as Anchors Aweigh; and Grady Sutton, who I always remember from TV’s Odd Couple episode “The Flying Felix” as Tony Randall tries lip-reading: “I sense…much…trouble…in…the…fuselage…Frederick!”

 All kidding aside, there’s genuine suspense in the urgently-whispered conversation between Cap and Guy as we’re reminded that Willie’s life is at stake. There’s even a nifty little catfight between Edwina and Vivian at the end!
 Leading man Stewart was under contract to MGM at the time, but the studio never seemed to know how to exploit his talents until other studios led the way for them. A 1937 loan-out to Columbia for Frank Capra's You Can't Take It With You had proven his skill at folksy comedy, which explains Stewart’s casting in this screwball farce. But his fans at the time were horrified to see him playing a cynical, chauvinistic private eye who at one point even slugs his leading lady!

As Frank Miller explains in his article on the TCM Web site, “Claudette Colbert had looked forward to getting MGM’s legendary glamour treatment. However, her hopes “were dashed when director W.S. Van Dyke was assigned to the picture. Although he had helped create the screwball genre as director of The Thin Man in 1934, he was popular with studio head Louis B. Mayer mainly because he worked quickly, earning the nickname ‘One-Take Woody.’ His female star was appalled at how quickly he threw the film together, being used to the more leisurely pace at her home studio, Paramount, where great care was always taken to showcase her beauty.” Anyway, Colbert got more opportunities for glamour roles at MGM in films like The Secret Heart (1946).
 Although It's a Wonderful World got some good reviews, particularly from Hecht fan Otis Ferguson in The New Republic, it was mostly dismissed by critics for having too many cheap laughs. Writing for the New York Times, Frank Nugent complained, “Ben Hecht must have sent out native beaters with tom-toms and slapsticks to drive stray gags from miles around into the Metro corral for It's a Wonderful World....The comedy is almost too strenuous for relaxation." After only three years as an MGM producer, Frank Davis would return to writing after this picture, scoring some of his biggest successes with his scripts for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1945) and The Train (1964). Before that, however, he would issue his own rather prophetic assessment of the production: “The studio should have known that Jimmy Stewart would never do any of those unconvincing things. However, I predict that his next film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington [1939], will more than make up.”  And how!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Witness for the Prosecution: Jury of the Peerless!

This revised version of Witness for the Prosecution is hosted by the Diamond & Gold Blogathon, hosted by Caftan Woman and Wide Screen World.  Enjoy!

Witness for the Prosecution (WftP), another one of my all-time favorite movies, sizzles, sparkles, and surprises from its opening credits in the Old Bailey, to its rollercoaster twists and turns, to its jaw-dropping climax. In fact, one of the things I love about the plot twists of this 1957 thriller is that they play fair with the audience, unlike so many films that don’t care if a twist doesn’t make a lick of sense as long as viewers get a momentary shock, however cheap and sloppily executed. The Billy Wilder Touch adds cynical wit to his sparkling adaptation of Dame Agatha Christie's suspenseful, internationally-beloved courtroom drama with some of the best lines in a Wilder movie since Double Indemnity, thanks to writers Wilder, Harry Kurnitz, and Larry Marcus.  Sir Wilfrid’s query about the features of defendant Leonard Vole’s eggbeater, "Is that really desirable?" has become a catchphrase in our household, as well as the title of one of Team Bartilucci's blogs.  Indeed, the only thing keeping me from putting WftP on my list of “Best Alfred Hitchcock Movies That Hitchcock Never Made” is the fact that even Hitchcock himself admitted that courtroom dramas weren’t among his considerable strengths or interests.
Miss Plimsoll, won't you join me
in a duet of "Baby, It's Cold Outside"?

Not sure you can trust your client? 
Sir Wilfrid's Monocole Test Never fails!
Sir Wilfrid Robarts comes home, recovering from his "teeny-weeny heart attack" as nurse Miss Plimsoll reveals he wasn't released, he was expelled -- conduct unbecoming a cardiac patient!
(Sir Wilfrid to Miss Plimsoll: "Put these in water, blabbermouth")
Talk about powerhouse stars!  The versatile Charles Laughton (his many great roles include his Oscar-winning The Private Life of Henry VIII; Hobson’s Choice; The Big Clock) plays Sir Wilfrid Robarts, a.k.a. “Wilfrid the Fox,” a brilliant veteran barrister who won’t let his cardiac health issues stand in the way of helping a client beat a murder rap riddled with circumstantial evidence. This adds extra suspense during the trial as we in the audience nervously wonder if Sir Wilfrid will keel over with a heart attack from the strain of it all!  Laughton’s real-life wife Elsa Lanchester is a delightful foil for him as chipper yet no-nonsense nurse Miss Plimsoll.  Laughton and Lanchester shine in the most engaging performances of their careers, garnering well-deserved Oscar nominations! (WftP also earned nominations for Best Picture, Billy Wilder’s direction, Daniel Mandell’s editing, and Gordon Sawyer’s sound recording, but it was The Bridge on the River Kwai’s year; sorry, guys!)  The comic sparring chemistry between Sir Wilfrid and Miss Plimsoll, and the playful warmth and understanding that grows between them by movie’s end, had my husband Vinnie opining that if another movie was made featuring these characters, Miss Plimsoll would probably end up as Mrs. Robarts before it was over. What a delightful series that could have been, kind of like a British Thin Man (okay, so Laughton was chubby; it makes him cuddly!) with Sir Wilfrid being the eager crime-stopper and Miss Plimsoll making a show of tut-tutting until she finally goes along with Wilfrid the Fox’s schemes with a smile!

Back to the plot:  Even though Sir Wilfrid’s friends and colleagues keep telling him to relax and take it easy after his heart attack, he can’t resist taking the case of a new client who needs help, but quick!  Sir Wilfrid’s new client is Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power of The Razor’s Edge; The Black Swan; Nightmare Alley).  Look up “Vole” in the dictionary, and you’ll see how clever his name is.)  Leonard is an unemployed but affable inventor, the kind of fella you can’t help liking, especially when a lonely widow like Mrs. French needs a friend, especially if he’s younger than Mrs. French and they’ve both got time on their hands—a real lady-killer, perhaps?  Leonard has been accused of murdering Emily Jane French, the kind of older woman who often has too much time on her hands, or as the French say, “Women of a certain age.” Was Mrs. French killed by a burglar, as Leonard insists?  Or was it, as Mr. Meyers (Torin Thatcher from The Fallen Idol; Major Barbara) sardonically suggests the culprits are all random burglars and/or burglaresses.  The luckless Mrs. French is played by one of Team Bartilucci's  favorite character actresses, Norma Varden (from The Glass Key; Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train).  Varden and Power work together beautifully in their scenes, portraying Mrs. French’s sweet-natured longing as funny and poignant at the same time.

Christine Vole: Hostile Hottie Witness!

Busted! Sir Wilfrid's nurse,, Miss Plimsoll
already knows where the bodies, er, cigars, are hidden!

Speaking of beautiful, Marlene Dietrich is absolutely mesmerizing in both looks and acting talent as Leonard’s war bride Christine, she of the duplicitous tactics, malleable marriage contract, and unshakable alibi against the gobsmacked Leonard!  Is Christine truly the ultimate bitch, or is there more to her agenda? The entertaining flashbacks that Wilder and company deftly weave throughout the film to give it more verve and movement works beautifully, especially in Christine and Leonard’s sexy meet-cute/fall-in-love/dig-those-legs scenes, in and out of flashbacks. Dietrich and Power are dynamic in their scenes, whether it’s love or hate or payback time!  It's a shame Dietrich’s brilliant, multifaceted performance wasn't nominated for an Oscar as well, on account of the producers not wanting to spoil a certain crucial surprise twist!  Tyrone Power's usual ever-so-slightly wooden delivery actually serves him well as defendant Leonard Vole; somehow it adds to his air of feckless innocence. Veteran character actors Henry Daniell (The Great Dictator), John Williams (Dial M for Murder), Ian Wolfe (Rebel Without A Cause; Red , and Torin Thatcher provide able support, too, with original Broadway cast member Una O'Connor (The Invisible Man; Bride of Frankenstein) stealing her scenes as Mrs. French's loyal Scottish housekeeper Janet MacKenzie, who’s suspicious and “antag’nistic” to the beleaguered Leonard.  Sadly, WftP was O’Connor’s final film  before her death in 1959, but what a memorable swansong it was. In our household, "Is that really desirable?" has become a catchphrase (as well as the title of one of Team Bartilucci’s blogs: ), along with many other gems from the mouths of star Laughton and the rest of the sterling cast! :-)

Another satisfied customer from Leonard Vole, Inventor!

What kind of person was the late Mrs. Emily Jane French?
What breed?   A lady with a perky hat on, thanks to her new best buddy Leonard Vole!
Just make sure she doesn't go to dinner parties with Alfred Hitchcock!
Maybe it’s a British thing, but I was struck by how people took Sir Wilfrid’s cantankerous side in stride.  It’s a refreshing change from what my husband Vinnie calls “gas-permeable people” whose overly-fragile feelings are crushed by any response that’s less than 100% sweet and sensitive. I love how nobody takes Sir Wilfrid’s cranky pronouncements to heart, including Miss Plimsoll, who gives as good as she gets, like when she reveals she knows all about the cigars hidden in his cane (not to mention the brandy he’s squirreled away).

No disrespect to Mrs. French, but Christine Vole rocks that hat way better!

I promised Vinnie I’d carry on the tradition of not revealing the surprise ending of WftP (I won’t blab!)  Here’s the filmmakers word of warning:

  “Notice! To preserve the secret of the surprise ending, patrons are advised NOT to take their seats during the last few minutes of Witness for the Prosecution.”

While you’re at it, don’t blab to your friends, either!  I’ll only say I'd have paid good money to see the sequel that the ending implies. The film’s suspenseful surprises were so zealously guarded that when WftP was shown in London for a Royal Command Performance, even the Royal Family had to promise beforehand not to reveal the surprise ending to anyone else!

Looks like Leonard doesn't have a leg to stand on,
but Christine sure does!

 Hear Sir Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester in their romantic duet,
Baby, It's Cold Outside"!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Big Clock (1948): Beware the Boss from HELL!

This post is part of the Sleuthathon,  hosted by Fritzi Kramer of Movies, Silently, from March 16th through March 17th, 2014.  Don your deerstalkers and have a great time!

Ironically, this is NOT a scene from The Lost Weekend!

Paramount’s 1948 thriller The Big Clock (TBC), based on poet/novelist Kenneth Fearing’s 1946 suspense novel, is not only a riveting hunted-man story with a fresh twist, but also a cautionary tale about what can happen if you let your job dictate your life:
  1. You’ll miss your own honeymoon, as well as every family vacation.
  2. Your marriage will suffer as your loving, understanding wife and child start to lose faith in you, along with your endless excuses, as your family life erodes.
  3. What am I saying?  Family life?  What family life?  Kiss it goodbye!
  4. Worst of all, when your obsessive, uber-controlling Boss From Hell kills someone in a fit of rage, you just might find yourself suspected of the crime!

Happily, in real life, TBC was a family affair, with director John Farrow (Five Came Back; His Kind of Woman) working with his real-life wife Maureen O’Sullivan (The Thin Man; Tarzan the Ape Man and its many sequels).  Last but far from least, Farrow cast the real-life husband-and-wife team of Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchester, who also teamed up for Witness for the Prosecution, the latter earning Oscar nominations for both Charles and Elsa!  It’s even a reunion of sorts for star Ray Milland and composer Victor Young, who brought us the 1944 chiller The Uninvited, also starring Milland; who could forget the beautiful “Stella by Starlight,” as well as the delightful Road to Morocco? 

Poor George!  Maybe he can give his pursuers
the slip by pretending to be a light display! 
Stop the presses!
Overworked George
tells boss where to get off: Wheeling, West Virginia!
Noel Neill of The Adventures of Superman wishes
she could fly up, up, and away from fresh elevator operators!
Janoth Publication's big clock: The Hands of Fate!
"Georgette, it's not what you think! 
We're singing along with Pauline to "Do-Re-Me!"

Set in NYC (in 1948,that was present-day), TBC introduces us to George Stroud (Milland), letting us in on our anxious hero’s innermost thoughts as he hides in the giant clock in the Janoth Publications lobby at night.  George works for a huge Time-Warner/Henry Luce-style publishing company.  Director of Photography John F.Seitz (Double Indemnity; The Lost Weekend) works superbly in the film’s “docu-noir” style, with Edith Head’s costume design always a pleasure to see.  In flashbacks, we see that despite being married for seven years, George and his lovely and charming wife Georgette (O’Sullivan) have never had a honeymoon. We also learn  that the head man at Janoth Publications, Earl Janoth  (Laughton), hired George after he cracked a major murder case on his old newspaper in Wheeling, WV, and control-freak Janoth hasn’t given George a day off since, always snatching the Stroud family’s vacations from under them at the very last minute.  Adorably enough, George and Georgette have a young son, George Jr.  With the prestige and great salary Crimeways  affords him, George has always been reluctant to say “No” to Janoth, especially since Janoth does NOT take “No!” for an answer.  However, our hero is getting fed up, big-time!  So is Georgette, who sadly notes, “Sometimes I think you married that magazine instead of me…Little George hardly knows you...We’re like two strangers sharing an apartment.”  George and Georgette do their best to get as much family time as possible under the circumstances; perhaps that’s why the Stroud family’s names are all in various versions of the name “George”— papa George, mama Georgette, and son George Jr., sometimes even just calling each other “George” just for the heck of it.  At least it helps the family to keep track of each other!  You have to wonder how George and Georgette even got time to start a family!  

Louise Paterson tries to get her painting back, only to find she's in a bidding war!

Meet Pauline York, Janoth's mistress, an aspiring singer.
 Is she tired of singing for her supper, or does she have a veiled agenda?

Time really is money in Earl Janoth’s tight, suffocating world; for instance, this phone conversation between Janoth’s right-hand man Steve Hagen (George Macready from Gilda; Paths of Glory; My Name is Julia Ross): “On the fourth floor, in the broom closet, a bulb has been burning for several days.  Find the man responsible, dock his pay.”  I know we’re all trying to conserve energy (even back in the 1940s), but Janoth doesn’t have to be a tyrant about it!  In this sharp, twisty manhunt thriller, the renowned mystery writer Jonathan Latimer (The Glass Key; They Won’t Believe Me; TV’s Perry Mason) had ably adapted Fearing’s novel for the silver screen, with its blend of suspense, urban cynicism, and smart, snappy dialogue virtually intact.  I also find it intriguing that everything at Janoth Publications seems to be carved in stone, all cold and unyielding.   George does make big money at Janoth Publications,and it’s always cool to work in the big city, but I’ve also known people like George, who have grueling hours and no time to themselves, to the detriment of their family lives, with some co-workers even getting divorces from the pressure.

Check out the Crimeways Clue Chart!  That'll fix those no-goodniks!
I happen to love both the novel and the Paramount movie version of The Big Clock.  The book is more gritty and complex, but there’s also plenty of wry humor in it, too.  For example, in Kenneth Fearing’s novel, the Strouds actually have a little daughter, Georgia.  My husband Vinnie and I always get a kick out of the scenes with the Stroud family at breakfast; they always crack us up, because they remind us of our own goofy yet loving family life (not to put the whammy on it!  We’re great believers in not taking our happiness for granted).  For instance, here’s the Stroud family at breakfast in the novel, starting with papa George:

“Orange juice,” I said, drinking mine.  “These oranges just told me they came from Florida. 

My daughter gave me a glance of startled faith.  “I didn’t hear anything,” she said.”

“You didn’t?  One of them said they all came from a big ranch near Jacksonville….”

Here’s my own favorite Georgia Breakfast Bit Breakfast scene from the novel, where George regales us with The Adventures of Cynthia!  She’s…

“…about five, I think.  Or maybe it was seven… (she) also had a habit of kicking her feet against  the table whenever she ate.  Day after day, week in and week out, year after year, she kicked it and kicked it.  Then one fine day the table said, ‘I’m getting pretty tired of this, and with that it pulled back its leg, and whango, it booted Cynthia clear out of the window.  Was she surprised.”

This one was a complete success.  Georgia’s feet pounded in double-time, and she upset what was left of her milk…”

Some of the film’s grittier elements were softened a bit in the 1948 film version, probably for the Breen Office’s sake.  For instance, Janoth and Pauline’s fight in the film results from infidelity between Janoth and his mistress and possible aspiring blackmailer Pauline York (played by radio actor-turned-film star Rita Johnson from Here Comes Mr. Jordan; Sleep, My Love; Billy Wilder’s The Major and the Minor.  The film is as gripping as the book, sometimes more so.  In Fearing’s novel, our hero George Stroud talks about the “big clock” which inevitably runs our lives no matter what:

“Sometimes the hands of the clock actually raced, and at other times they hardly moved at all. But that made no difference to the big clock…all other watches have to be set by the big one, which is even more powerful than the calendar, and to which one automatically adjusts his entire life…” 

Keeping in mind that film is, of course, a visual medium, the “big clock” metaphor becomes a literal big clock — a huge clock/globe that can tell you the time anywhere in the world — and lots of little clocks sprinkled all over the headquarters of Janoth Publications, a Henry Luce/Time-Warner style magazine empire whose periodicals include ace editor George’s magazine Crimeways , as well as Airways; Newsways; Sportways; Styleways; etc. in the 1948 film version.  Janoth and Pauline’s fight in the film was the result of infidelity, but in the novel, their affair ends in murder when each accuses the other of being a closeted gay (keep in mind this was 1946).
"Georgette, darling, I was desolate!  Thank goodness
this was the film version so I couldn't get into worse trouble!"

George and Georgette better enjoy his firing while they can,
before George has to clear himself, by George!
Henchman Bill doesn't talk much, but I bet he's thinking:
"Life is too short to massage this jerk! I'm joining the Army"!

What's this? A sundial, used for a shady purpose!
It’s not all family fun and games when Earl Janoth’s mistress, Pauline York (Rita Johnson of The Major and the Minor; Sleep, My Love; Susan Slept Here) overhears George justifiably bellyaching to Janoth’s right hand man, Steve Hagen (George Macready from Gilda; Paths of Glory; My Name is Julia Ross) about his treatment at Janoth’s hands. At the Van Barth bar, Pauline tries to involve George in a blackmail scheme targeting Janoth, but George isn’t interested, though he does finally stand up to Janoth, getting himself fired and blackballed, and drowns his sorrows at the bar with Pauline, only to realize too late that he missed his train, with his disappointed family already heading to West Virginia without him. It’s The Lost Weekend time as the tipsy George and Pauline go on a bar crawl all over the East Side of Manhattan, hunting for green clocks to spite Janoth on behalf of a colleague who was fired for wanting to use red ink.  Sheesh, Ray Milland’s characters really need to knock off the booze!  Didn’t Ray Milland learn anything from The Lost Weekend?  George and Pauline drop by Burt’s Place (Frank Orth from; Lady in the Lake; Wonder Man, and of course, The Lost Weekend), where you can find anything from a bubble to a sundial, in keeping with the time theme.  The tipsy George and Pauline keep the sundial as a souvenir.  George is also lucky enough to get a painting by George’s favorite artist, Louise Patterson (Lanchester) .  Of course, she’d probably appreciate it more if George hadn’t taken it from her in an impromptu auction, as she huffs, “It’s a pity the wrong people have money!”

In Fearing’s novel, Janoth’s mistress is Pauline Delos.  Janoth and Pauline have a far more heated quarrel in this version, starting with sex between George and Pauline, which they’d apparently been doing for some time!  For people who are always swamped, they always seem to find time to be frisky!  Anyway, one night,  after a visit to Pauline’s pad, Janoth spots George in the shadows; fortunately, he couldn’t  actually see George clearly.   This time, Janoth and Pauline have a far more heated argument in the novel as they each draw first blood.  Compare and contrast each version:

The Movie Version:
Janoth: “At least this time he wears a clean shirt.”

Pauline: “Are you bringing that up again?  Throwing that cab driver in my face?  You never forget him, do you?”
Janoth: “No.  Do you?”
Pauline:  “No, you cheap imitation Napolean! 
Janoth:  “And you don’t forget the bellboy or the lifeguard  last summer, or the tout at Saratoga, and who knows how many others?  You don’t forget any of them, including the one to come.”

George leads the Crimeways manhunt for "Jefferson Randolph," with ace investigator Bert Finch!
He saved us all from The Thing from Another World, for goodness' sake!
Pauline: “Do you think you could make any woman happy?  Have you  lived this long without knowing that everybody laughs at ya behind your back?  You’d be  You’d be pathetic if you weren’t so disgusting!” (Ouch!)

The Novel’s Version
(Prepare for swear words and adult situations!)

“At least this time, it’s a man.” 

“Are you bringing that thing up again?  Throwing Alice in my face?...You talk.  You, of all people….What about you and Steve Hagen?...Do you think I’m blind?  Did I ever see you two together when you weren’t camping?...As if you weren’t married to that guy, all your life…Go on, you son of a bitch, try to act surprised.”

Well, Pauline is surprised, all right—dead surprised when Janoth loses it, killing  Pauline in a fit of rage!  Whango—was Pauline ever surprised!  Which just goes to show that booze, adultery, and vicious insults are no way to go through life, kids!  In the film version, George and Pauline’s relationship in the film ends as fast as it starts, with him waking up fully-clothed on her couch after their pub crawl.  Seeing Janoth’s car on the street, Pauline hustles the dazed George out the door. Alas, Janoth is outside waiting for his turn with the sly blonde. Though he doesn’t see George’s face as he slips out of sight, Janoth still suspects the worst. He lets Pauline have it, bludgeoning her with the heavy sundial, killing her instantly. The tight close-ups on the quarreling lovers’ angry faces, especially Janoth’s; nobody’s jowls quiver like Charles Laughton’s!   In any case, these scene adds enough intensity to make up for the bowdlerized argument before the murder.

The desperate but wily Janoth gets a brainwave: he’ll have Steve rig the clues to misdirect suspicion, and he’ll recruit the crack staff of Crimeways to track down the culprit, catching a killer and boosting magazine sales at the same time—and who better to lead the manhunt than our own George Stroud!  George can’t turn Janoth down this time; by leading the investigation, he can help to save himself do with some clever misdirection, buying time for our hero to find the real killer as the tension mounts ; George is actually doing double duty as both cat and mouse!  If George doesn’t deserve a huge bonus if he escapes this nightmare, I don’t know who does!  Fans of TV’s Harry Morgan of  M*A*S*H  fame will get a swell change of pace as a superbly sinister henchman!

On a bittersweet note, Rita Johnson didn’t quite live happily ever after.  In a twist of fate, Rita was seriously injured at a beauty parlor when a 40-pound hood which apparently frequently fell to the floor frequently.  Nowadays, she’d lawyer up and sue those dopes!  There were also rumors that Rita’s then-beau, Broderick Crawford (who went on to win an Oscar for All The King’s Men) had roughed her up, but there was no proof.  Rita managed to get supporting roles, but she was never really the same, and she died at the age of 52.To borrow a line from North by Northwest, it’s so horribly sad, how is it I feel like laughing?

R.I.P. to Pauline York, would-be blackmailer.  The cleaning lady isn't gonna like this!

Louise Patterson: "I think I've captured this mood rather successfully, don't you?
(Actual dialogue from the film as George is aided and abbetted by Louise!)
Check out The Los Angeles Review of Books for more on “The Booby-Trapped Life of Rita Johnson” by Matt Weinstock (August 13, 2013).” 

Leave it to a radio actor to help George save his bacon!
(Lloyd Corrigan is one of Team Bartilucci's favorite character actors!)

Baby, you're the greatest!  Wheeling, West Virginia,
we're going home, for keeps!

Milland’s superb performance balances suavity, sympathy, and desperation. He and O’Sullivan ring true as a loving couple whose relationship is being sorely tested. Laughton is marvelously odious and sadistic with a pathetic undercurrent. Macready makes a stylishly devious right-hand man. The supporting cast includes a silent, sinister young Harry Morgan as a masseur-cum-henchman.  I was delighted to see one of our favorite character actors, Douglas Spencer of Double Indemnity and The Thing from Another World as Crimeways  reporter Bert Finch (not to be confused with Burt from Burt’s Place, played by Frank Orth); and the ever-jolly Lloyd Corrigan (the Boston Blackie films;  It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World;  The Manchurian Candidate)  played Burt’s pal, a radio actor of a thousand  guises,  including the faux suspect known only as “Jefferson Randolph.”  TBC has been reworked twice, as 1987’s No Way Out and 2003’s Out of Time. They’re both fun movies, but TBC is still my favorite version of the story.