Thursday, September 16, 2021

Barbara Stanwyck and Gary Cooper in “Meet John Doe”

Meet John Doe (1941) is a comedy-drama directed by Frank Capra and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. The screenplay is by frequent Capra collaborator, Robert Riskin. The cinematography is by George Barnes (Rebecca) and the music is by Dimitri Tiomkin (It’s a Wonderful Life).

Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwcyk


When Ann Mitchell (Stanwyck) gets fired from her job as a newspaper columnist, her final column focuses on “John Doe” who threatens to commit suicide on Christmas Eve because of all the injustice in the world. Ann parlays this fictional column into a sensation for the newspaper, as well as a financial boon to herself. In order to keep the stunt going and circulation rising, Ann and the new editor, Henry Connell (James Gleason) hire John Willoughby (Cooper), a minor league ballplayer who is down on his luck to portray John Doe.

As John Doe, Willoughby makes speeches and personal appearances, causing a sensation whenever he goes out in public. Doe’s love your neighbor philosophy spreads and John Doe clubs pop up all over the country, attracting the attention of the paper’s owner D. B. Norton (Edward Arnold), who has political ambitions. Norton plans on using the John Doe clubs to help elect him president! 

Will his scheme be successful? Will the John Doe movement survive?


Frank Capra (1897 - 1991) was an American film director, producer, and writer. During the 1930s and 1940s, Capra’s films were among the most popular and awarded films. By 1938, Capra has won three Best Director Academy Awards. Born in Italy, Capra immigrated to the United States with his family when he was five years old. By sheer determination and his self-described cockiness, Capra talked his way into the movie business. He found a great home at “Poverty Row” studio, Columbia Pictures. At Columbia he had a major success with It Happened One Night (1934), which swept all the major categories at the Academy Awards that year. This helped turn Columbia Pictures from a Poverty Row studio into a major one. Other Capra successes include You Can’t Take It with You (1938), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Gary Cooper (1901 - 1961) was an American film actor who was known for his down-to-earth, understated acting style. He was a major star for almost four decades until his untimely death at age 60. Cooper got his start in silent film but easily made the transition to sound. During the early 1930s, he became a major star in films like A Farewell to Arms (1932), The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). Other popular Cooper films include Meet John Doe (1941), Sergeant York (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1952). Cooper won two Best Actor Academy Awards: Sergeant York and High Noon (1952).

Barbara Stanwyck (1907 – 1990) was an American film star who got her acting start with a supporting role on Broadway in a play called The Noose (1926). The next year she had the lead in another Broadway production, Burlesque which was a huge hit. She eventually made it to Hollywood where her success was not immediate. Director Frank Capra saw something in Stanwyck and he educated her in filmmaking and film acting and the rest is history. Stanwyck was nominated four times for the Best Actress Oscar—Stella Dallas (1937), Ball of Fire (1941), Double Indemnity (1945), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)—and remains one of the most beloved movie stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The amazing supporting cast includes Edward Arnold, Walter Brennan, Spring Byington, James Gleason, Gene Lockhart, Irving Bacon, and Regis Toomey.



Why watch this film?
  • It’s considered one of director Frank Capra’s classic films, featuring two of his favorite actors (Stanwyck and Cooper).
  • The film has a timeless appeal and seems relevant no matter the era in which it is viewed.
  • It features great performances from Stanwyck and Cooper who were somewhat ubiquitous in 1941.
  • Along with the stars, the film features some of the best supporting players working in film at the time.


To watch the film on YouTube, click the link below.



Meet John Doe trivia:
  • Gary Cooper agreed to star in the film without reading a script. He enjoyed working with Capra on Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, and he wanted to work with Barbara Stanwyck.
  • This was the first film that Cooper and Stanwyck starred in in 1941, the second one was Ball of Fire.
  • It was the first independent film produced by Frank Capra.
  • Ann Sheridan was Capra’s first choice to play Ann Mitchell but Warner Bros. wouldn’t let her take the role because she was in a dispute with the studio.
  • Olivia de Havilland was also considered but she too was in dispute with Warner Bros.

To join the discussion on September 20, 2021, at 6:30 p.m, Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and a link to the discussion on Zoom.

Discussion questions:
  1. How would you compare and contrast Ann Mitchell and Hildy Johnson? They are both women journalists working in a predominately male working environment. Was one more successful than the other?
  2. How would you compare Professor Potts with Long John Willoughby?
  3. What did you think of the chemistry between Cooper and Stanwyck? Better than Ball of Fire?
  4. As far as your knowledge of Capra movies goes, where do you think this one ranks? Top ten? Top five?
  5. Did anything about the film surprise you?








Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Rosalind Russell and Cary Grant in “His Girl Friday”

His Girl Friday (1940) is an American screwball comedy directed by Howard Hawks and starring Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. Based on the play The Front Page (1928) by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, Hawks decided to turn Hildy Johnson, played by a man in the original, into a woman, changing the dynamics of the story and according to many critics, an improvement. The supporting cast includes Ralph Bellamy, Gene Lockhart, Porter Hall, Roscoe Karns, John Qualen, Helen Mack, and Alma Kruger.

Hildy Johnson (Russell) has left newspaper journalism behind to marry insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Bellamy), much to the dismay of her former editor and ex-husband Walter Burns (Grant). Walter does his level best to convince Hildy that she return to her career and to him! What ensues is one of the smartest, fast-talking screwball comedies ever made.


Cary Grant, Ralph Bellamy, and Rosalind Russell


Howard Hawks (1896 - 1977) was an American director, producer, and screenwriter. He is considered one of the great directors from the classic Hollywood era. Hawks excelled in directing films in all genres. His films were famous for featuring strong women characters. These tough-talking “Hawksian women” helped to define the director’s work. Some of Hawks’ popular films include Scarface (1932) Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Gary Cooper won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in Sergeant York (1941) under Hawks’ direction.

Cary Grant (1904 - 1986) was an English-born American actor who became one of the most popular leading men in film history. Grant started his career in vaudeville before heading to Hollywood. He became a superstar in the late 1930s in a series of screwball comedies including The Awful Truth (1937) with Irene Dunne. He was a memorable C. K. Dexter Haven in The Philadelphia Story (1940) opposite Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart. He received two Best Actor nominations for Penny Serenade (1941) and None but the Lonely Hearts (1944). Other classic Grant films include Gunga Din (1939), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), and Arsenic and Old Lace (1944). He made four popular films with Alfred Hitchcock: Suspicion (1941), Notorious (1946), To Catch a Thief (1955), and North by Northwest (1959). He was presented with an Honorary Oscar at the 42nd Academy Awards in 1970.

Rosalind Russell (1907 - 1976) was an American film and stage actress. She was nominated for four Best Actress Academy Awards throughout her career. She won five Golden Globe Awards and a Tony for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance as Ruth in Wonderful Town. Russell was a versatile actress who excelled at both comedy and drama. She was also one of the few actresses of her day to portray lawyers, judges, and psychiatrists. Some of her famous films include The Women (1939), My Sister Eileen (1942), Sister Kenny (1946), Picnic (1955), Auntie Mame (1958), Gypsy (1962), and The Trouble with Angels (1966).


To watch this film on YouTube, click on the link below.



Why watch this film?
  • It is considered one of the best screwball comedies of all time.
  • The overlapping dialogue throughout the film was unique when released and copied ever since.
  • Rosalind Russell had one of the best roles of her career as Hildy Johnson.
  • It showcases Cary Grant’s ease at playing comedy like no one else could.
  • The cast features a supporting cast of some of the best and most popular character actors of the day.

To join the discussion on September 13, 2021, at 6:30 p.m., click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and link to the discussion on Zoom.


His Girl Friday trivia
  • Rosalind Russell was literally the last choice to play Hildy Johnson?! Carole Lombard was the director’s first choice but deemed too expensive. Katharine Hepburn, Claudette Colbert, Margaret Sullivan, Ginger Rogers, Jean Arthur, and Irene Dunne were all offered the role but turned it down. Supposedly, even Joan Crawford was considered.
  • Russell hired a writer to help her ad-lib some of her dialog to better compete with Grant who was ad-libbing like crazy.
  • The film contains several inside jokes that audiences in 1940 would have picked up on immediately.
  • Russell was loaned to Columbia from M-G-M where she had just completed The Women (1939).
  • The film was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress in 1993.
  • It premiered at Radio City Music Hall before it went into wide release where it was universally praised by the critics and public.


Discussion questions:
  1. What did you think of the relationship between Walter (Grant) and Hildy (Russell)?
  2. Did the character of Hildy Johnson surprise you in any way?
  3. Did you have a favorite line or interaction between Hildy and Walter?
  4. What about the character actors? Any favorites?
  5. The film moves at break-neck speed; were you able to keep up with it?
  6. Did anything surprise you about the film?
  7. Was the ending satisfying? Was it what you expected?

Friday, September 3, 2021

John Garfield reaches “The Breaking Point”

The Breaking Point (1950) is an American crime drama directed by Michael Curtiz and starring John Garfield and Patricia Neal. The excellent supporting cast includes Phyllis Thaxter and Juano Hernandez.



John Garfield plays Harry Morgan, a sports-fishing boat captain whose business is not going very well. In an effort to keep his business afloat (no pun intended) and to support his wife and two young daughters, he hooks up with a shady lawyer named Duncan (Wallace Ford). Duncan gets him involved with human smuggling and before he knows it, he’s involved with more criminal activity.

Harry’s life Lucy, (Phyllis Thaxter) begs him to give up the boat and start over with a new job with her father and move away from California. Harry refuses his wife’s plea and instead, risks losing his family, and the respect of his partner Wesley Park (Juano Hernandez).

Will Harry come to his senses or will his fear of failure distort his judgment and destroy his chance at happiness.


To watch the film on YouTube, click the link below.

 


To join our discussion on September 6, 2021, at 6 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an email with an invitation to the meetup and a link to the meeting on Zoom.


The Breaking Point trivia

  • Michael Curtiz directed three films in 1950, two of them starred Patricia Neal. The other film was Bright Leaf which also starred Gary Cooper and Lauren Bacall.
  • Actress Phyllis Thaxter dyed her hair blond for the film, opting not to wear a wing.
  • Wallace Ford (Duncan) had a long career in Hollywood going back to the days of the silents and working as late as 1965 in A Patch of Blue.
  • Juano Hernandez made this film after starring in Intruder in the Dust at M-G-M.


Why watch this film?

  • This was John Garfield’s second-to-last film role and the one he was most proud of.
  • It’s a much grittier version of Howard Hawks’s To Have and Have Not (1944) starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
  • The film features some great supporting performances including those by Phyllis Thaxter (a standout) and Juano Hernandez.
  • The film features the Warner Bros. A-Team with director Michael Curtiz, cinematographer Ted D. McCord, music by Max Steiner, and producer Jerry Wald.
  • New York Times curmudgeon Bosley Crowther said the film had “All of the character, color and cynicism of Mr. Hemingway’s lean and hungry tale are wrapped up in this realistic picture, and John Garfield is tops in the principal role...”

John Garfield and Phyllis Thaxter


Discussion questions:

  1. Noir or not? Does this film fit with your understanding of what makes a movie a film noir?
  2. What did you think of the on-screen relationship between John Garfield and Phyllis Thaxter and Garfield and Patricia Neal?
  3. Was Patricia Neal’s role necessary? What did her characterization add to the plot?
  4. Did the friendship/business partnership between Garfield and Juano Hernandez surprise you?
  5. Was the film title fitting?
  6. The film had a brutal ending; was it the ending you expected?

 




Thursday, August 26, 2021

Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck are an unlikely pair in Howard Hawks’s “Ball of Fire”

Ball of Fire (1941) is an American romantic comedy directed by Howard Hawks and starring Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. The screenplay was wirtten by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. The cinematography was by Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane), the music by Alfred Newman.




The plot concerns a group of professors developing and writing an encyclopedia who encounter a nightclub entertainer who is an expert on American slang. Cooper plays Professor Bertram Potts who is an expert on English and grammar. Seven other professors are experts in science, geography, physiology, law, philosophy, botany, and history. All of the professors are bachelors, with the exception of Professor Oddley who is a widower. 

When Professor Potts realizes that their entry on slang is terribly out of date, he goes out into the world to do some research. He encourages nightclub singer Sugarpuss O’Shea to help him. She ignores him at first but when her boyfriend, gangster Joe Lilac (Dana Andrews) is under scrutiny for murder, she decides to hide out with the professors.


The seven professors and Mrs. Bragg



Howard Hawks (1896 - 1977) was an American director, producer, and screenwriter. He is considered one of the great directors from the classic Hollywood era. Hawks excelled in directing films in all genres. His films were famous for featuring strong women characters. These tough-talking “Hawksian women” helped to define the director’s work. Some of Hawks’ popular films include Scarface (1932) Bringing Up Baby (1938), Only Angels Have Wings (1939), His Girl Friday (1940), To Have and Have Not (1944), The Big Sleep (1946), Red River (1948), and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953). Gary Cooper won a Best Actor Academy Award for his performance in Sergeant York (1941) under Hawks’ direction.

Gary Cooper (1901 - 1961) was an American film actor who was known for his down-to-earth, understated acting style. He was a major star for almost four decades until his untimely death at age 60. Cooper got his start in silent film but easily made the transition to sound. During the early 1930s, he became a major star in films like A Farewell to Arms (1932), The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). Other popular Cooper films include Meet John Doe (1941), Sergeant York (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1952). Cooper won two Best Actor Academy Awards: Sergeant York and High Noon (1952).

Barbara Stanwyck (1907 – 1990) was an American film star who got her acting start with a supporting role on Broadway in a play called The Noose (1926). The next year she had the lead in another Broadway production, Burlesque which was a huge hit. She eventually made it to Hollywood where her success was not immediate. Director Frank Capra saw something in Stanwyck and he educated her in filmmaking and film acting and the rest is history. Stanwyck was nominated four times for the Best Actress Oscar—Stella Dallas (1937), Ball of Fire (1941), Double Indemnity (1945), Sorry, Wrong Number (1948)—and remains one of the most beloved movie stars from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Dana Andrews (1909 – 1992) was an American stage and film actor. During the 1940s, Andrews was a major star and leading man starring in Laura (1944), State Fair (1945), A Walk in the Sun (1945), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), Canyon Passage (1946), Boomerang! (1947), and Daisy Kenyon (1947) co-starring Joan Crawford and Henry Fonda. During the 1950s, film roles were harder to come by, but he had success in Elephant Walk (1954) co-starring Elizabeth Taylor and Peter Finch, While the City Sleeps (1956), and Curse of the Demon (1957). In 1958 he replaced Henry Fonda on Broadway in Two for the Seesaw.

Dana Andrews on “the Ameche”



The amazing supporting cast includes Oscar Homolka, Henry Travers, S.Z. Sakall, Tully Marshall, Leonid Kinskey, Richard Haydn, Aubrey Mather, Allen Jenkins, Dan Duryea, Kathleen Howard, Mary Field, and Charles Lane.


Ball of Fire trivia:
  • Ginger Rogers turned down the role of Sugarpuss, something she regretted.
  • Lucille Ball was going to play Sugarpuss but once producer Samuel Goldwyn found out that Gary Cooper had suggested Stanwyck and that she was available, he gave her the part instead.
  • Leonid Kinskey (Professor Quintana) and Richard Haydn (Professor Oddley) were both under 40 years old and younger than Gary Cooper.
  • Dana Andrews based his character (Joe Lilac) on real-life gangster Bugsy Siegel. Siegel owned the Formosa, a club across the street from Goldwyn Studios.
  • Gary Cooper was paid $150,000 for his role, while Barbara Stanwyck earned the odd salary of $68,133.
  • Don’t feel too sorry for Stanwyck though. By 1944, she was the highest-paid woman in the United States.
  • Barbara Stanwyck received her second Best Actress (out of a total of four) for this film.

To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.



To join the discussion on August 30, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and a link for the discussion on Zoom.


Why watch this film?
  • For the terrific script by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett.
  • The great performances and chemistry between Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck.
  • The amazing group of character actors assembled for this film.
  • To see Dana Andrews as Joe Lilac, three years before his star turn in Laura.
  • This is a great example of director Howard Hawks’s versatility.
  • To hear the great American 1940s slang that your parents and grandparents spoke.

Gary Cooper shares a laugh with Robert Taylor while he visits his wife, Barbara Stanwyck on the set of Ball of Fire.


Discussion questions:
  1. What did you think of the pairing of Cooper and Stanwyck?
  2. Billy Wilder said this was a modern version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Do you agree with that comparison?
  3. Did you have a favorite professor/character actor?
  4. What do you think changed Sugarpuss’s opinion of Bertram? Do they have a chance at happiness?
  5. Did this film remind you of any other movies you have seen?
  6. Do you think this fits the category of screwball comedy?

Backstory
1941 was a great year for both Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck. 

Stanwyck films released in 1941:
The Lady Eve, directed by Preston Sturges
Meet John Doe, directed by Frank Capra
You Belong to Me, directed by Wesley Ruggles
Ball of Fire, directed by Howard Hawks**

Four films, two costars. Henry Fonda starred with Stany in The Lady Eve and You Belong to Me.

Cooper films released in 1941:
Meet John Doe, directed by Frank Capra
Sergeant York, directed by Howard Hawks*
Ball of Fire, directed by Howard Hawks

**Stanwyck was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress; she lost to Joan Fontaine (Suspicion).
*Cooper won the Academy Award for Best Actor. 

Henry Fonda, Preston Sturges, and Barbara (Stany) Stanwyck on 
the set of The Lady Eve


 





Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Deborah Kerr leads an order of nuns in the dazzling “Black Narcissus”

Black Narcissus (1947) is a psychological drama directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and starring Deborah Kerr, Sabu, David Farrar, and Flora Robson. The film was written and produced by Powell and Pressburger. The cinematography is by Jack Cardiff (The African Queen, The Red Shoes).

The plot concerns a group of Anglican nuns who set up a school and hospital in the Himalayas. General Toda Rai invited the nuns and he has given them an old palace on a high cliff to set up their ministry. The location is a challenging one with the high altitude and the never-ceasing wind. A group of monks tried to establish their order in the palace but were unsuccessful. Sister Clodagh (Kerr) is determined to be a success in her order’s mission. The British general agent, Mr. Dean (Farrar) doubts the sisters will make it past the monsoon season.

Sister Clodagh’s job is complicated by the differing personalities of the nuns in her charge including Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) who is unsure of her calling and seems fixated on gaining the attention of Mr. Dean.


Michael Powell (1905 - 1990) and Emeric Pressburger (1902 - 1988) were English filmmakers who wrote, produced, and directed their films through their film production company The Archers. The two produced and directed such classics as The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943),  I Know Where I’m Going! (1945),  A Matter of Life and Death (1946), and The Red Shoes (1948). Powell and Pressburger have influenced generations of filmmakers including Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.

Deborah Kerr (1921 - 2007) was a British actress who had a long career in film, theatre, and television. Kerr was nominated six times for the Academy Award for Best Actress; she holds the record for the most nominations in that category without a win. Some of Kerr’s classic films include From Here to Eternity (1953), The King and I (1956), An Affair to Remember (1957), and The Night of the Iguana (1964). Although Kerr did not win a competitive Academy Award, she was awarded an Academy Honorary Award in recognition of her body of work in film.

Sabu (born Selar Sabu) (1924 - 1963) was an Indian actor who later became an American citizen. Throughout his career in film, he went by the name Sabu. He starred in films during the 1930s - 1940s in Britain and the U.S. His first important film role was in Elephant Boy (1937) which was an adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling story Toomai of the Elephants. Other films he starred in include Drum (1938), The Thief of Bagdad (1940), and Jungle Book (1942).

David Farrar (1908 - 1995) was an English stage and film actor. He starred in several Powell and Pressburger films including The Small Back Room (1949), Gone to Earth (1950), and probably his most famous role as Mr. Dean in Black Narcissus (1947), the role that made him a star. Hollywood came calling and during the 1950s, he starred alongside Ann Blyth, Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, John Wayne, and Virginia Mayo.

Flora Robson (1902 - 1984) was an English actress who was a star on stage and in film. Robson starred on both the London and Broadway stages. In London, she starred in Desire Under the Elms (1931), and on Broadway, she starred in Ladies in Retirement (1940). Some of her famous films include Wuthering Heights (1939), Saratoga Trunk (1945), 55 Days at Peking (1963), Clash of the Titans (1981).

Jean Simmons (1929 - 2010) was a British actress film actress who had tremendous success in Hollywood. She got her start in English films like Caesar and Cleopatra (1945), Great Expectations (1946), and Black Narcissus. She became an international star with her role as Ophelia in Laurence Olivier’s production of Hamlet (1948), for which she received an Oscar nomination. In the U.S. she was under contract to Howard Hughes who refused to loan her out to Paramount to star in Roman Holiday (1953). Simmons was director William Wyler’s first choice for the role. Other films followed including Young Bess (1953) where she played a young Queen Elizabeth I, The Robe (1953), the first film released in the CinemaScope widescreen process. She co-starred with Marlon Brando in Desiree (1954) and Guys and Dolls (1955).  Other important films include The Big Country (1958), Home Before Dark (1958), and Elmer Gantry (1960).

Deborah Kerr, Kathleen Byron, and David Farrar

Black Narcissus trivia

  • The film did not film any scenes in Asia; the entire movie was filmed on movie sound stages.
  • Director of Photography Jack Cardiff said his lighting palette was inspired by the Dutch painter Vermeer.
  • The actresses playing nuns wore flesh-colored lipstick because not wearing any lipstick showed up as if they did with the Technicolor process.
  • Director Michael Powell thought Deborah Kerr was too young (25 years old at the time) but Emeric Pressburger campaigned to have her cast in the film. 
  • Kerr, Jean Simmons, and Kathleen Byron appeared together in Young Bess (1953).


Why watch this film?

It's a wonder in Technicolor. The colors are so vibrant and the photography is among the best you will ever see.

The film features Deborah Kerr’s breakout performance and features a young Jean Simmons, just a few years from being a star in her own right.

You’ll almost believe you’re in the Himalayas due to the magnificent matte paintings.

The psychological aspect of the film is hypnotic; it will instantly draw you in.

One of the finest examples of the Powell Pressburger partnership.


To watch this film on YouTube, click on the link below.



To join the discussion on August 24, 2021, at 6:30 p.m., click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation and link to join the discussion on Zoom.


Discussion questions:

  1. What was your overall impression of the film?
  2. Did you think that the nuns were doomed to failure?
  3. What did you think of Deborah Kerr as Sister Clodagh? Was she believable?
  4. What are the main conflicts in the film?
  5. Do you think Sister Clodagh will remain a nun?
  6. What did you make of the Young General?
  7. Was Mr. Dean attracted to Sister Clodagh?
  8. Did anything about the movie surprise you?



Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Walter Pidgeon is the subject of a “Man Hunt”

Man Hunt (1941) is an American political thriller directed by Fritz Lang and starring Walter Pidgeon and Joan Bennett. The film is based on the novel Rogue Male (1939) by Geoffrey Household. The screenplay was written by Dudley Nichols and Lamar Trotti. The cinematography was by Arthur C. Miller and the music was by Alfred Newman.

The film takes place in 1939 with renowned British big-game hunter Captain Alan Thorndike (Pidgeon) attempting to assassinate Adolph Hitler close to his residence near Berchtesgaden. Thorndike is captured at brought before Major Quive-Smith (George Sanders). Thorndike tells the major he wasn’t really going to kill Hitler but just wanted to see if he could just for sport. Through a strange course of events, Thorndike escapes the Nazis and goes on the run. He meets Jerry (Bennett) a young woman who hides him in her apartment. Jerry acts as a go-between for Thorndike and his diplomat brother, Lord Risborough (Frederick Worlock).

Will Thorndike be able to allude the Nazis and return to the sporting life he once knew?



Fritz Lang (1890 – 1976) was an Austrian-German-American director. Lang is the director of the silent film classic Metropolis (1927). After serving in World War I, Lang worked for a time as an actor in the theater and then worked as a writer at Decla Film in Berlin. Lang’s first talking picture was M (1931) a story about a child murderer. Due to his growing renown, Joseph Goebbels offered him the position of head of the German film studio UFA in 1933. Lang emigrated to Paris and then to the United States in 1936. Lang worked for all the major studios, making twenty-three feature films in the United States. Some of Lang’s films include Scarlet Street (1945), The Big Heat (1953), and While the City Sleeps (1956).

Walter Pidgeon (1897 - 1984) was a Canadian-American actor. During his long career, he was nominated for two Best Actor Academy Awards—Mrs. Miniver (1942) and Madame Curie (1943). Pidgeon worked on the stage before he entered films, making his Broadway debut in 1925. When he starting working in film, he starred in musicals. Once the interest in musicals declined, he began making a name for himself in dramas and comedies during the mid-1930s. His lead role in How Green Was My Valley restored his popularity. He was first paired with Greer Garson in Blossoms in the Dust (1941). They made a total of eight films together, making them one of the screens most popular acting teams. Some of their other films include Mrs. Miniver (1942), Mrs. Parkington (1944), Julia Misbehaves (1948), and That Forsyte Woman (1949). Pidgeon has success on his own in films like Week-End at the Waldorf (1945), The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), and the science fiction classic, Forbidden Planet (1956). One of Pidgeon’s last film roles was Funny Girl (1968) where he portrayed Florenz Ziegfeld.

Joan Bennett and Walter Pidgeon

Joan Bennett (1910–1990) began her film career during the early sound era. A natural blonde, Bennett dyed her hair as a plot device in the film Trade Winds (1938). As a brunette, Bennett projected a sultry persona that had her compared to the brunette beauty, Hedy Lamarr. During this period she starred in two costume epics. She played Princess Maria Theresa in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) and Grand Duchess Zona of Lichtenburg in The Son of Monte Cristo (1940). Bennett was one of two finalists for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), along with Paulette Goddard. She had a very successful collaboration with the director Fritz Lang. With Lang, she starred in the classics Man Hunt (1940), The Woman in the Window (1944), and Scarlet Street (1945). Bennett acted on stage and on television where she became a pop culture icon playing Elizabeth Collins Stoddard on the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971).

George Sanders (1906 – 1972) was a British film and stage actor who also had a fine singing voice. Hollywood was looking for a villain to star opposite a young Tyrone Power in Lloyd’s of London (1936) and Sanders more than fit the bill. His performance in that film would forever stamp him as a sophisticated bad guy. Before his acting career, he worked in the textile industry, which must have helped him with his role in The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry. In the 1960s, Sanders played Mr. Freeze in the Batman (1966) television series.


Man Hunt trivia

  • The film was made before America entered World War II. It was considered propaganda, encouraging American involvement in the war.
  • Director John Ford was approached to direct but he turned the project down.
  • 20th Century-Fox built a replica of the London tube station with the aid of actual blueprints.
  • This was Roddy McDowall’s American film debut. He would go on to work with Walter Pidgeon that same year in How Green Was My Valley.


To watch the movie on YouTube, click below.


To join the discussion on August 16, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you’ll receive an invitation and link to join the discussion on Zoom.

Why watch this film?

  • The director Fritz Lang is considered one of the great directors who emigrated from Europe to the United States.
  • It is the first of Lang’s four anti-Nazi films, which also include Hangmen also Die! (1943), Ministry of Fear (1944), and Cloak and Dagger (1946).
  • This was Lang’s first collaboration with Joan Bennett. Other Lang-directed films that Bennett starred in include The Woman in the Window (1944), Scarlet Street (1945), and Secret Beyond the Door (1947).



Discussion questions:

What did you think of Walther Pidgeon as the hero?

Before the film was released, the studio was concerned that it was promoting U.S. involvement in World War II. Did you see that promotion in the film?

Does the film remind you of other similar films you’ve seen?

What did you think of Joan Bennett’s performance? Did you think she and Pidgeon had good chemistry on screen? Does the romance work or would the film have been better without it?

Publicity photo of Bennett for Man Hunt


Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur star in “Mr. Deeds Goes to Town”

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936) is an American comedy directed by Frank Capra and starring Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur. The screenplay was by frequent Capra collaborator, Robert Riskin. The screenplay was based on a short story Opera Hat by Clarence Budington Kelland. The short story was serialized in The American Magazine.



The film features an impressive supporting cast that includes George Bancroft, Lionel Stander, Douglass Dumbrille, Raymond Walburn, Ruth Donnelly, and Charles Lane, a veteran of many Capra films.

The plot concerns one Longfellow Deeds (Cooper), co-owner of a business, greeting card poet, and tuba-playing musician. Deeds lives in the peaceful town of Mandrake Falls, Vermont, during the Great Depression. Due to the accidental death of his uncle Martin Semple, Deeds inherits 20 million dollars. Semple’s shady lawyer John Cedar (Dumbrille) tries to control Deeds’s fortune by scheming to give him power of attorney.

Enter Louise “Babe” Bennett (Arthur), star reporter for a New York City newspaper. She gains Deeds’s confidence by masquerading herself as a poor worker named Mary Dawson. By doing this, Babe writes a series of popular articles on Deeds, portraying him as a simple-minded hick who just happened to inherit 20 million dollars. She gives him the nickname “Cinderella Man” and a legend is born.


Mr. Deeds Goes to Town trivia:

  • Gary Cooper was always Frank Capra’s choice to play Longfellow Deeds, but Carole Lombard had originally signed on to play Babe. Lombard dropped out when she was offered the female lead in My Man Godfrey (1936).
  • This was one of Capra’s most financially successful films.
  • The verb doodle was introduced in the movie. Screenwriter Robert Riskin coined the word for the movie.
  • This was the first film in which Frank Capra’s name appears above the title. The Name above the Title was the name of Capra’s autobiography published in 1997.
  • Capra won his second Best Director Academy Award; he won a total of three for Best Director.
  • To watch the movie on YouTube, click on the link below.


Why watch this film?

  • This was the director’s first film with Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur, two of the director’s favorites.
  • Arthur’s on-screen persona is perfected in this film. After Deeds, she was one of the biggest female stars in Hollywood.
  • Capra’s talent as a director is on full display and illustrates why he is one of the most awarded directors of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
  • Graham Greene thought that the film was Capra’s finest to date.


To join the discussion on August 9, 2021, at 6:30 p.m. On August 9, 2021, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation with a zoom link to the discussion.

Gary Cooper and Jean Arthur

Discussion questions:

  1. What genre would you categorize this film? Comedy-drama, screwball comedy, romantic comedy? Something else?
  2. Where do you think this ranks among Capra’s films? Top-ten, top-five?
  3. What did you think of Gary Cooper as Longfellow Deeds? Can you see another actor in the role?
  4. This was Jean Arthur’s breakout role. What do you think of her performance? Would it have been a different movie with Carole Lombard in the role?
  5. Some critics thought the film was likable but not too important as films go. What do you think about that assessment?




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