When ‘The Bat’ flies, murder is in the air

Murder is deadly, but it can be entertaining, too.

That describes “The Bat,” a 1959 film written and directed by Crane Wilbur that’s a charming diversion with the bonus of a noteworthy – albeit almost forgotten – legacy in movies, books and theater. Still you may not know the film even though it stars Vincent Price.

That’s right – we’ve got a film named “The Bat” with Vincent Price, but it’s not about a blood-sucking vampire nor is it a horror movie. It’s a murder mystery thriller with a dash of humor and a “spinster” female writer/sleuth who works to solve a murder. If you’re thinking that sounds like Miss Marple or Jessica Fletcher, you’re right: the movie’s 1907 source material, “The Circular Staircase” by Mary Roberts Rinehart, is credited with inspiring that genre. More on that later.

As her maid sleeps behind her, Cornelia Van Gorder (played by Agnes Moorehead) calls the police from inside her locked bedroom when she realizes they’re not in the house alone in “The Bat.” (Courtesy The Film Detective)

The plot: A mystery writer rents a summer home in a town where a mysterious killer known as The Bat has returned. There’s also a bank robbery and several murders that may or may not be committed by the same killer or even related in any way. Multiple suspects will keep you guessing about whodunit as it did to me the first time I saw the film only a few years ago and fell for this old-fashioned yarn.

That’s why “The Bat” is my pick for the Classic Movie Blog Association’s fall blogathon called “Movies are Murder.”

* * * *

Vincent Price is his reliable self in a film that showcases Agnes Moorehead in her first feature film starring role. (Though her previous work was noteworthy, even “The Magnificent Ambersons” was considered a supporting role, hence her Oscar nomination as best supporting actress.) Moorehead is wonderful as mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder (love that name) who has rented a country mansion called The Oaks from bank president John Fleming. She’s there to write and has brought along her trusty long-time maid Lizzie (Lenita Lane) plus a few other servants from her city home.

It’s perfect timing for a mystery writer to arrive. The town is on edge with the return of a faceless killer who has been nicknamed The Bat for ripping out the throats of his female victims. He’s also being blamed for rabid bats that are on the loose.

While at the bank, Cornelia and Lizzie learn that $1 million in securities have been stolen, but no one can reach bank president Fleming who is on a remote fishing trip with Dr. Malcolm Wells (Price).

Cut to the cabin and meet Fleming and Wells. This is an economic film that doesn’t waste time so the mystery of who robbed the bank is shared within the first 7 minutes, quickly followed by a murder.

This scene is our first look at Price as Wells. He’s wearing a flannel shirt with a towel tied around his waist as an apron and washing dishes with hot water from a tea kettle – it’s a sight to behold. But Fleming casually drops a bombshell: He ripped off the bank and he’s got a plan. Fleming will give the good doctor half a million if he helps him fake his death. Wells scoffs, there are threats and suddenly a forest fire is ablaze around them. Before they can escape the cabin, we learn Wells is just as devious as Fleming when he literally takes his shot at all the money.

Mystery writer Cornelia Van Gorder (played by Agnes Moorehead, left) and her longtime maid Lizzie (Lenita Lane) get a scare in the big old drafty mansion they’re staying in just in time for a mad killer to return in “The Bat.” (Courtesy The Film Detective)

Back in town, an unfortunate young cashier has been arrested for the bank theft and Cornelia, always looking for book material, gets involved. Her overactive imagination, which has transferred to Lizzie in the 20 years they have worked together, makes for some entertaining moments.

“All his victims died like their throats had been ripped open with steel claws,” Lizzie says with wide-eyed trepidation as she reads the paper.

“That’s a charming little caper, I’ll have to try it sometime – in a book,” Cornelia replies to Lizzie’s horror.

Cue the atmosphere. There’s thunder, wind howling, doors slamming, shutters shuttering, strange noises throughout the big, old house. The women are freaked out but put on brave faces. “That sounds as if there’s someone on the stairs, but I know there isn’t – at least there shouldn’t be,” Cornelia says.

It’s the perfect backdrop for the arrival of The Bat, a striking figure in his dapper suit, fedora, black mask (hence the “man without a face” description) and glove with long metal claws. He’s often in silhouette or standing still outside windows and behind doors. It’s OK if you snicker at some of these shots since they can look a bit posed and silly. And that’s OK, too, because we’re along for the ride.

The title character in “The Bat” is seen in silhouette as he terrorizes women in the house.

He breaks in and though Cornelia and Lizzie are unnerved and call the cops, they won’t leave (and neither does he). This is the charming dichotomy of the film’s female characters who may be frightened, but stand their ground against unknown terror and male authority figures. Just lock the bedroom door and we’ll be safe, they think but Lizzie is bitten by a bat let in by, well, The Bat. A call is made to Dr. Wells who is in his garage laboratory researching live bats (gulp).

When Wells leaves to help Lizzie, Lt. Andy Anderson (character actor Gavin Gordon), who we’ve seen skulking about, breaks into the laboratory. Clearly, he suspects Wells of something, but what? It could be for multiple wrongs: Stealing from the bank, killing Fleming or for being The Bat. (He did have bats in this laboratory, after all.)

The tension is palpable between the two men. They don’t like or trust each other, but they do enjoy throwing gentlemanly barbs.

“There are many ways for a bat to get into a house,” Wells says to which Anderson replies: “You ought to know.” The men shoot daggers at each other with their eyes. This is fun.

Why is Lt. Andy Anderson (played by Gavin Gordon) skulking about the laboratory of Dr. Wells in “The Bat”? (Courtesy The Film Detective)

In the manner of society in a 1950s film, Cornelia and Lizzie are joined for the weekend by Dale Bailey (actress Elaine Edwards), whose husband, Victor, has been arrested for the theft, and Judy Hollander (played by Darla Hood of “Our Gang”), a bank worker who has information that can clear Victor. Surely, there’s safety in numbers.

Wells arrives briefly for coffee and parlor talk. The ever-inquisitive Cornelia talks through how she would write the murder mystery that is unfolding in real time around her. As she concludes that the money must be hidden in a spot created when the house was built, watch for the almost imperceptible tick on the doctor’s face as he realizes he must move fast to find the money. It’s an  impressively underplayed but important moment by Price.

To find the hidden space, they call Mark Fleming, a leasing agent and the nephew/heir to the now-dead bank president. Of course, he says he doesn’t know where the blueprints are, yet there he goes sneaking into the house to get them. He’s not alone.

Mark’s appearance gives us another name to add to the suspect list that includes Warner, the chauffeur who has been promoted to butler; Wells, who we know is guilty of at least one murder; and some of the officers hanging around the house.

These ladies in bathrobes won’t let a masked killer scare them out of the old dark house in “The Bat.” From left are Lizzie the maid (played by Lenita Lane), Cornelia (Agnes Moorehead), Dale (Elaine Edwards) and Judy (Darla Hood, from “Our Gang”).

The four women are about to have an eventful and dangerous evening where they’ll discover a dead body with its throat torn open, be terrorized by The Bat and find hidden passageways and rooms as they work to outsmart the killer or killers. They’ve all taken a page out of Cornelia’s book to stand their ground, no matter how afraid they are. As Dale bravely – and perhaps foolishly – leaves the safety of her room to explore strange noises, she tells Judy that she doesn’t want Cornelia to think “we’re a couple of hysterical women.”

The final quarter of the film has a lot going on and for the viewer it’s much like a haunted house attraction where it’s not all scary, but has its moments so you willingly go along for the ride.

Film scholar and professor Jason A. Ney, who contributes to the new home video release from The Film Detective of “The Bat” describes this moment as “leaning in” to a film when it starts to become ridiculous. “The more it does that, the more you enjoy it if you’re able to judge it on a different meter,” Ney says. “You can either lean in to that type of nonsense or shut the movie off. I think it’s much more fun to lean in.”

So do I.

* * * *

The legacy

The long history of this film goes back to 1907 with the publication of “The Circular Staircase” by Mary Roberts Rinehart.

As part of The Film Detective release, Ney provides an essay in the accompanying booklet and a commentary that gives much insight into the complex yet interesting background of the original story by Rinehart, how it made its way from book to stage and film multiple times, the changes among the versions, and how it led the way for other female authors such as Agatha Christie to write their own female sleuths and helped create the old dark house film genre. All of that could fill multiple chapters in a book, so I’ll give you the ToniNotes version of the background.

In 1915, a silent film version of “The Circular Staircase” was directed by Edward LeSaint.

The lobby card from the 1926 silent version of “The Bat” from Roland West.

Rinehart and Avery Hopwood began adapting a play under the new title “The Bat,” in 1917, which made it to the stage in 1920. It was so successful – its initial Broadway run lasted nearly 900 performances and it was performed in London – that it spawned imitators including “The Cat and the Canary” and “The Monster” which both hit the stage in 1922. “The Monster” was written by Crane Wilbur, the same director of the 1959 film of “The Bat.” (The play would also be revived in 1937 and ’53.)

The 1917 play was made into the 1926 silent film “The Bat” starring Jack Pickford, brother of Mary, and directed by Roland West. With the advent of the sound era, West remade the film under the title of “The Bat Whispers” (1930) starring Chester Morris and Una Merkel. This film has significant importance in pop culture since “Batman” co-creator Bob Kane said it helped inspire the creation of the superhero.

Nearly 30 years after “The Bat Whispers,” Wilbur would write and direct his 1959 film, adding more of a horror element including the claw (in previous versions, the killer shot his victims).

The home video release

The Film Detective presents a great restoration of “The Bat” from an original 35mm print. It comes with bonus features that share the accomplishments of author Mary Roberts Rinehart and writer/director Crane Wilbur, who both deserve more attention.

The Film Detective has released a special edition DVD and Blu-ray of “The Bat.”

In addition to the commentary by Ney, it includes a fascinating featurette on Wilbur from Ballyhoo Motion Pictures that explores his multifaceted career that started as a handsome young actor in “The Perils of Pauline” through his writing and directing in film noir (“He Walked by Night”) and horror/sci-fi (“House of Wax” and “Mysterious Island”).

It also includes nine archival radio episodes starring Vincent Price and they are worth the price of the disc on their own. Episodes – dated from 1943 to ’56 – are from such radio dramas as “Suspense,” “Escape,” “CBS Radio Workshop” and “Hollywood Star Time.” I was especially eager to hear the 30-minute 1946 version of “The Lodger,” and it didn’t disappoint. Wait until you listen to a jaded Price and a romantic Lurene Tuttle each tell their version of the Cinderella story in the 1956 radio program “If the Shoe Fits.” It’s wonderful.

Movies are Murder” blogathon

Many more entries in the “Movies are Murder” blogathon hosted by the Classic Movie Blog Association can be found here.

In praise of Roger Corman’s glorious ‘Sharktopus’

They had me at “Sharktopus.”

It wasn’t going to matter if the film was good or bad or laughable. With a name like that, I was in. All in.

After years of horror movies that were shrouded in the mystery of bland titles like “It,” “They” or “Them,” here was a film with a bold commitment to itself that was as clear as its name: “Sharktopus.”

The title was screaming that this was going to be a movie devoted entirely to jumping the shark with its outlandish idea of a creature that was part shark, part octopus.

To learn that the 2010 film was produced by the great Roger Corman only added to the anticipation and ultimate enjoyment. Like the movie’s title, you know what you are getting with Corman. There will be B-movie special effects, a basic plot with crazy ideas, babes in bikinis, blood and a lot of fun.

I am obsessed with “Sharktopus” and that’s why I chose it as my film to feature as part of Corman-Verse, the Roger Corman celebratory blogathon hosted by Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews.

Yes, “Sharktopus” is a stretch. Even Corman – the man behind the films “She Gods of Shark Reef,” “Attack of the Crab Monsters,” “The Wasp Woman” (twice) and “Carnosaur” – thought it was ridiculous.

So when he was initially approached to make “Sharktopus,” he turned it down. To understand why, let’s go back to the start of his partnership with the network that was then known as Sci-Fi Channel. (In 2009, it rebranded under its current name Syfy – same pronunciation, different spelling.)

* * * * *

From 2004 to 2015, Corman produced a series of films for the network that all had self-explanatory titles starting with “Dinocroc” about a – well, you already guessed.

After the success of “Dinocroc,” Corman understandably wanted to produce a sequel simply called “Dinocroc 2.” But at that point, sequels weren’t working for Sci-Fi and the network said no. (Things have since changed with the network, hence movies like “Sharknado 5: Global Swarming.”)

Undeterred, Corman made “Dinocroc 2” on his own under the title “Supergator” (2007). Sci-Fi quickly realized the error of its ways and Corman produced the sequels “Dinoshark” and “Dinocroc vs. Supergator,” both made in 2010, for the network.

He was then offered “Sharktopus,” but declined. He had his standards and was “not enthusiastic about that title,” as he shared later in multiple interviews to promote “Sharktopus.”

Now you’re probably asking the same question I did after learning this information: Why would Corman make films named “Dinocroc” and “Dinoshark,” but draw the line at “Sharktopus”?

Let Corman explain.

Roger Corman hesitated to make “Sharktopus,” but eventually produced it and appeared in a cameo on the beach.

“My theory is, you can go up to a certain level of insanity, and the audience is with you,” Corman told writer Clark Collis in a 2010 interview for Entertainment Weekly. “And ‘Dinocroc’ and ‘Dinoshark’ are within that level. But in my opinion, ‘Sharktopus’ goes beyond that feeling, and the audience turns and says, ‘Who wants to see this?’ ”

Well, I wanted to see it – and clearly so did plenty of others judging by the popularity of “Sharktopus” and its sequels.

Corman thought there was some science to back up creatures like a Dinocroc. Once he came up with a concept for the film and creature, “Sharktopus” was born. And it’s a beauty.

* * * * *

Sharktopus is genetically engineered with a shiny metal head, shark gills with spikes and long pinkish tentacles with sharp daggers at their tips. Those colorings and its long, graceful tentacles can look almost pretty at times in the water. But Sharktopus will wrap you up in those tentacles, stab you with its daggers, then bite you with razor-sharp shark teeth. And that’s not pretty.

It can get you on land, in water or through the air. It swims, has the prowess of a gymnast (watch it wrap its tentacles around hard surfaces and swing its body) and, in one glorious scene, walk on land. Oh, and you might want to think twice about bungee jumping or participating in other outdoor activities.

Sharktopus has the skills of a gymnast on a high bar.

The movie also hearkens back to the classic creature feature movies of the 1950s and Corman’s B-movies of the same time. Our title monster was created in a lab by an initially well-meaning scientist. In this case it’s Dr. Nathan Sands (played by Eric Roberts) whose company, Blue Water, won a Navy contract to create a war weapon.

But something goes wrong, as it does in these films (otherwise why would they be made?). The creature, adoringly nicknamed S-11, discards an electromagnetic device that helps scientists control its actions, and swims to a Mexican resort where it feeds on humans.

The Navy is willing to destroy its expensive experiment. Sands wants it back unharmed as he spouts Dr. Frankenstein-worthy lines like “What’s your life compared to a miracle of science?”

Another group of sensibly minded smart people, led by his daughter and a former employee, hunt the creature (via computer) to find it before it kills again. (They are split, for a time, on whether it should be destroyed or saved.)

And there’s the obligatory person – in this case an “investigative journalist” in a skimpy top – who wants it for fame and fortune. A slightly lecherous fisherman helps her out.

The action cuts between those multiple groups as they cross paths seeking Sharktopus while he goes about his business doing what he has been programmed to do.

Sit back and enjoy. Laugh often – you are supposed to. Close your eyes if you must. (I do.) Just make sure to catch Corman’s cameo as the guy on the beach who watches as one of the film’s many bikini-clad beauties meets her fate.

The Pteracuda was a worthy – and colorful – adversary for Sharktopus in the aptly titled “Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda.”

The sequels

Two more “Sharktopus” (or is it Sharktopi?) movies followed. “Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda” (2014) celebrated the spirit of the original film, but “Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf” (2015) was sadly not worthy of either.

“Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda.” This sequel’s opening montage sets the scene with clips from “Sharktopus” including that tiny little thing we saw at the end of the original film. It’s discovered by marine biologist Lorena (Katie Savoy) who can pick up the adorable baby Sharktopus in her fingers. Their bond is immediate.

Some time later, she’s working with the now-grown Sharktopus at her uncle’s amusement park/aquarium where he’s planning a new attraction to make money off the creature. (We’ve seen this before; it will not go well.)

Look at the cute Baby Sharktopus – too bad they grow up so fast.

Meanwhile in a laboratory somewhere …

Dr. Rico Symes (Robert Carradine) has been harvesting prehistoric DNA to create a “living, breathing” creature that could fly, be amphibious and “just plain mean” as a replacement for military drones. His head of security Hamilton (Rib Hillis) isn’t happy about this mix of a pterodactyl and barracuda and his fears win out when a saboteur named Vladimir Futon (really) sets the Pteracuda loose.

Here we go again.

To make matters worse, Symes learns about the Sharktopus and figures that’s the answer to his problems with the Pteracuda.

For the rest of the film, the humans fight to either control or destroy the two monsters, while the colorful creatures duke it out repeatedly in fights that are like bloody ballets in the sea and air. There are moments where the swirling bodies and colors are strangely beautiful.  

It would be almost relaxing watching Sharktopus and Pteracuda twirl and dance through the water – if they weren’t trying to kill each other.

This film has a great sense of humor as evidence in the Sharktopus attraction, a Sharktopus kite and a cameo by Conan O’Brien.

Sharktopus vs. Whalewolf” (2015). Casper van Dien and his then-wife Catherine Oxenberg star in a film that is so bad – not in a good way – that at times it feels like a parody. Then you realize it’s not. Oxenberg is difficult to watch in an over-the-top performance and bad German accent.

The film opens promisingly enough with our pal Sharktopus interrupting a funeral on a boat that’s owned by a drunken, washed-up captain played by Van Dien. When he is arrested on charges of murder (no one believes his story about the Sharktopus), a voodoo priest offers to pay his bail if the captain will find him the heart of Sharktopus. (I could not make this up myself.)

Meanwhile, Oxenberg is a bizarre mad scientist (nothing “well-meaning” here) who injects a former baseball player with the genes of a killer whale and wolf, turning him into the odd looking Whalewolf.

It’s only a matter of time before the two creatures go at it.

Roger Corman’s “Dinocroc” series finished with “Dinocroc vs. Supergator.”

Roger Corman on Sci-Fi/Syfy

Here are the other films made in this time period.

“Dinocroc” (2004). A doctor (Bruce Weitz) experiments with the DNA of a dinosaur ancestor of the crocodile. With Costas Mandylor, Charlies Napier, Joanna Pacula.

“Supergator” (2007). Although this is the one Corman made on its own, it’s all part of the same film family. The title creature, created from fossilized DNA, is tracked by a geologist (Brad Johnson), scientist (Kelly McGillis) and alligator hunter (John Colton) after it escapes from a secret bio-engineering research lab.

Dinoshark (2010). Blame global warming. A baby prehistoric shark breaks free from an Arctic glacier and grows into a killer terrorizing tourists in Mexico. Eric Balfour is the guy who can’t convince anyone that it’s real. It is considered a remake to “Up from the Depths,” a 1979 release from Corman’s New World Pictures.

“Dinocroc vs. Supergator” (2010). David Carradine plays the head of a research lab in Hawaii where two creatures break free and go on a human-eating rampage.

The blogathon

Roger Corman made close to 500 films – some uncredited – in a multitude of roles. The Corman-Verse Blogathon celebrates that lengthy career. Please read posts about his other films through the hosting websites, Cinematic Catharsis and Realweegiemidget Reviews.

The joys of watching ‘Picnic’ for the umpteenth time

We all have that movie that gets us every time.

The one we can’t stop watching no matter how many times we’ve seen it.

The one we own on DVD or have in a streaming queue, but don’t think twice about watching it when it pops up on TV.

It’s so irresistible that we don’t even know how many times we’ve watched it. Ten times? Twenty? No, we’ll have to go with “umpteen” times. And the best part is that during every one of those umpteen times, we still laugh or cry or fall in love all over again. It’s something to be celebrated and that’s what we’re doing with the aptly titled “The Umpteenth Blogathon” hosted by Theresa Brown of “CineMaven’s Essays from the Couch.”

Like many of you, I have a few films that fit into this category. I melt at the music and romance of “Laura” and “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” I revel in the ghostly poetry of “The Uninvited.” Even with my fear of spiders, I’m there for “Tarantula.” I watch each of those films every chance I get and yes, I own copies of them, too.

But there is one film above all that has the biggest pull on me – one with a train horn that might as well be a dog whistle since I come, sit and stay for another viewing of “Picnic.”

OK, that’s not why I keep watching “Picnic” of course – that would be for the sheer beauty of William Holden and Kim Novak (and to watch that romantic dance again and again). But I still remember that sound from the first time I saw the film as a kid.

The train at the opening of “Picnic” brings a handsome stranger and the promise of adventure.

It was time for the Sunday afternoon TV movie, a weekly ritual I watched whether I knew the “old” movie it was showing or not. I didn’t know anything about “Picnic,” but it had my attention as soon as the iconic Columbia Pictures logo appeared with the unexpected sound of the train whistle.

It signaled that we were going on a journey and as a kid living in a city neighborhood, trains brought romanticized thoughts of travel to faraway places. Then William Holden jumped out of a freight car and, despite his dirty face and bare feet, I was a goner.

By the end of “Picnic,” I had fallen in love with the film’s romance and nostalgia. (As well as Holden and Novak.) I yearned for that bygone era of 1955 Kansas that I had never experienced with its porch swings, picket fences and a community picnic where people wore their Sunday best. It was a place where there was a “prettiest girl in town” (that would be Madge, played by Novak) and the arrival of a handsome stranger was news.

And I learned that a dance could be truly life changing.

The romantic dance between Hal (William Holden) and Madge (Kim Novak) is an iconic moment in film history.

Shot in Technicolor and Cinemascope, it’s gorgeous to look at. And the score by George Duning – especially the main “Picnic” theme – is swoon worthy. (I’m hearing it in my head right now and I’m sighing.)

What I didn’t understand at the time – but have appreciated in the umpteen viewings since – is that the slice of heaven in small-town Kansas was filled with as much longing, broken hearts and disappointment as anywhere else. With each viewing, I am drawn deeper into the characters, who all live lives of quiet desperation.

Drifter Hal Carter (Holden) rides into town on that freight train to find a job through his old college buddy Alan Benson (Cliff Robertson), whose dad owns grain elevators.

Mrs. Potts (Verna Felton) realizes Hal (William Holden) is hungry and feeds him cherry pie for breakfast in “Picnic.”

But in a scant 24 hours on Labor Day, the boisterous but vulnerable Hal upends the lives of seven townsfolk as well as his own. There’s the sweet Mrs. Potts (Verna Felton), who feeds the hungry Hal pie for breakfast in exchange for doing some chores. Her neighbors are Mrs. Owens (Betty Field) and her daughters Madge (Kim Novak) and Millie (Susan Strasberg), plus their boarder, schoolteacher Rosemary Sydney (Rosaline Russell). Also around are Rosemary’s unappreciated beau Howard Bevans (Arthur O’Connell), and Alan, who “visits” with Madge.

As Hal meets each of them, their reactions are distinct. He’s welcomed with open arms by dear Mrs. Potts but with hostility by the cautious Mrs. Owens who sees him as the same type of man as the husband who abandoned her. Both Madge and Millie (with her schoolgirl crush), fall for him. Rosemary, who tries valiantly to hide her loneliness, sees him as everything she will never have and will lash out. Alan, who understands that Hal’s swagger comes from his rough upbringing, still loses patience especially as he watches Madge fall for him. (“Same old Hal,” he angrily says at one point.)

Alan (Cliff Robertson), left, introduces Hal (William Holden) to schoolteacher Rosemary (Rosalind Russell) right before Labor Day festivities in “Picnic.”

By that afternoon at the big Labor Day picnic, emotions erupt, decisions are made and lives are forever changed.

As the years go by, I’ve found a deeper respect for “Picnic” beyond the romance and nostalgia. While I love Hal and Madge and their newfound love, I feel for everyone in the film (even the crying baby who keeps popping up during the picnic scenes).

The characters are all more than they appear on the surface. As the layers are peeled away, our feelings evolve for them even when they’re at their worst. Credit the writing in William Inge’s original Pulitzer Prize-winning play and the screenplay by Daniel Taradash, as well as the outstanding performances by all. (O’Connell, the only actor to have also appeared in the play, was nominated for an Oscar.)

Hal (William Holden) affectionately hugs Mrs. Potts (Verna Felton) after she tells him she’s going to the picnic. Alan (Cliff Robertson) and Millie (Susan Strasberg) look on in “Picnic.”

With each viewing, I get more emotional about Mrs. Potts. I wish she had a different life than just caring for others, including her invalid mother, and never thinking of her own happiness. My heart tugs in the scene where they are preparing for the picnic and she tells each person that she’s “going too.” Going to the picnic is the highlight of her year. Her friends are her true family and that’s never more apparent than when she tells Mrs. Owens that watching her girls grow up helped her “get through.”

[To learn more about Verna Felton, read my story for the “What a Character” blogathon.]

I feel the desperation of Mrs. Owens who wants Madge to marry Alan so she never wants for anything, and I can understand her misguided fear of Hal. Poor Rosemary may jokingly refer to herself as an “old maid schoolteacher,” but it’s as if she’s saying it before anyone else can.

Madge (Kim Novak), left, and her mother (Betty Field) disagree over love and life in “Picnic,” but they do love each other.

Sisters Madge and Millie, separated in age by a few years, want to be more like each other. Madge is tired of just being pretty, while Millie wants to be seen for more than her smarts. “All I hear is poor Millie,” Madge says. Millie’s repeated cry of “Madge is the pretty one” will change in emotional tone as the movie progresses.

The men also have their own challenges. Though Alan comes from a well-to-do family and seems to have it all, he feels he can never please his father. Hal’s braggadocio is used to hide his pain which we see when he opens up to Madge. “I gotta get somewhere in this world. I just gotta.”

But enough with the sadness! “Picnic” is complex, but there is happiness and humor as well and that’s why I watch so often.

* I love to experience that immediate, but quiet spark between Hal and Madge and their stolen glances throughout the movie.

* The film’s modesty makes me chuckle in the scene where the actors are shown only from the knees down as they change bathing suits, but also bothers me when an embarrassed Hal covers his bare chest while working outdoors after a disapproving look from Mrs. Owens.

*Howard’s pride in his one-room apartment above his store – complete with his 21-inch television – is endearing. He’s a good man and a calming presence. O’Connell deserved his Oscar nomination for the role.

The gorgeous pink dress that Kim Novak wears for the picnic scenes in “Picnic.”

* I can’t take my eyes off that pink dress that Madge wears to the picnic, much to her mother’s chagrin. It’s lovely and innocent, yet sexy, too. (Couldn’t I look like that just once?)

*Finally, but always at the top of the list for watching “Picnic,” is that iconic dance scene. The one where “Moonglow” morphs into the “Picnic” theme as Hal and Madge – in that pink dress – dance under the moonlight. (OK, everyone at the same time: “big sigh.”) It’s just a few blissful moments, cut short by bitterness, but it never loses its beauty.

Neither does “Picnic.”

The train whistle opening the film now acts as a signal for everything that is to come and I can never get enough of any of it: Beautiful Kim Novak and handsome William Holden; their blossoming romance; a dance of a lifetime; the nostalgia for a time and place I’ll never know; the hope for a better life, and all the wonderfully complicated people in this small Kansas town.

Yes, I’m ready to watch “Picnic” again for the umpteenth time.

To read more

Follow this link to see what other movies people keep watching for the umpteenth time in the “Umpteenth Blogathon.”

Beyond Festus: The career of Ken Curtis

For more than a decade, actor Ken Curtis played Festus Haggen, the loyal sidekick to Marshal Matt Dillion (star James Arness) on the long-running television series “Gunsmoke.”

Curtis fully inhabited the role of the perennially disheveled and unshaven Festus, a man with a unique hillbilly accent who could be curmudgeonly and comical at the same time.

Festus remains a memorable character in TV history today, nearly 50 years after the show ended, to the point that even people who aren’t fans of Westerns – like me – know Festus. The actor behind the character is a different story.

Like many character actors, Ken Curtis is one of those familiar faces whose names may not be well known, but whose presence is an integral part of the fabric of film and television.

That’s why he is my choice for the 10th annual “What a Character Blogathon” hosted by Kellee of Outspoken & Freckled and @Irishjayhawk66, Paula of Paula’s Cinema Club and @Paula_Guthat, and Aurora of Once Upon a Screen and and @CitizenScreen.

Who was the man behind Festus?

Two years ago, I couldn’t have told you the name of the actor playing Festus. That changed after spending months of Sunday afternoons recently watching “Gunsmoke,” Westerns and John Wayne films in general with my dad.

A clean-shaven and quite handsome Ken Curtis is pictured alongside John Wayne in “The Wings of Eagles,” one of seven movies they appeared in together.

The thin face of Curtis, nearly masked under a heavy layer of whiskers as Festus, was becoming familiar enough to notice in films like “The Searchers,” “The Wings of Eagles” and “Conagher,” leading to the question: “Hey dad, is that Festus?” (That’s a real quote – I said “Festus.”)

“It kinda looks like him, but doesn’t sound like him,” I naively said, believing Ken Curtis really talked with that heavy Southern accent. (He was born in Colorado.)

Sure enough, it was Curtis. Now I’m seeing his familiar face more often, even in unexpected places like the 1959 B-horror movie “The Killer Shrews.”

Ken Curtis was hard to recognize at first in “The Killer Shrews,” a horror film he produced.

There was Curtis as Jerry, a cowardly researcher willing to sacrifice others to save himself from the giant man-eating killer shrews. As Jerry, Curtis was lean, good looking, clean shaven and spoke in a quiet, steady cadence, the opposite of Festus in almost every way.

Intrigued and wanting to know more, I discovered Ken Curtis had a full-bodied career that included appearances in more than 60 movies and television shows with a few surprises along the way. Not only did he act in “The Killer Shrews,” for example, it was one of two horror movies he produced. (The other is “The Giant Gila Monster.”) Add singer and songwriter to his talents as well.

From the beginning

Ken Curtis was born July 2, 1916 as Curtis Wain Gates in 1916 in Colorado. In an interesting twist of fate, he grew up living below a jail in Bent County, Colo. where his father served as sheriff from 1926 to 1931. His mom cooked for the prisoners, one of whom was a harmless guy named Cedar Jack who Curtis later credited for inspiring his vocal portrayal of Festus.

In high school he played football and clarinet. He served in the U.S. Army for two years during World War II and studied pre-med at Colorado College. By 1940, he moved to New York City to start his entertainment career – as a singer.

Ken Curtis, at left, leads a romantic ballad to John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in “Rio Grande.”

OK, get that nasally Festus voice out of your head – Curtis had a wonderful singing voice. It was smooth, easy on the ears and romantic. If you doubt that, watch “Rio Grande” and pay attention to the tall soldier singing lead on “I’ll Take You Home, Kathleen.” Yes, that is Curtis serenading John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.

Curtis was with the Tommy Dorsey Band where he followed – are you sitting down? – Frank Sinatra for a short time until Dick Haymes officially took over for Old Blue Eyes. He became a singer and host of the country music program WWVA Jamboree and lead vocalist of the Sons of the Pioneers in 1949, a Western singing group who previously worked with Roy Rogers. With Curtis, the band had such hits as “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” and “Room Full of Roses.”

His passions for music and acting quickly merged in the movies. He was signed to a contract with Columbia Pictures to perform in a series of musical Westerns, even playing the romantic cowboy lead in such films as “That Texas Jamboree” (1946) where he sang the ballad “Prairie Serenade,” and “Cowboy Blues” (1946) that featured a particularly sweet rendition of “Little Cowgirl” that will melt your heart. Curtis also co-wrote both songs.

In “Call of the Forest” (1949) Curtis is a loving single father and rancher who still finds time for a calming little song. With the Sons of Pioneers, Curtis sang in films like “Everybody’s Dancin’” (1950) and “Fighting Coast Guard” (1951).

And yes, he did sing in “Gunsmoke” on a few occasions. It must have been a shock to audiences at the time to hear the Festus twang transformed into such a tender singing voice. In the video clip above, Curtis sings a song he wrote called “Six Shiny Black Horses.” That’s Slim Pickens on harmonica. You’ll see in the video that his plaintive rendition of the song even touches Marshal Dillon.

Curtis was perfect for films that needed a musical moment such as “The Quiet Man” (1952) where, as Dermot Fahy, he played accordion and spoke with a brogue. (Now that is something to hear.)

Ken Curtis, left, with a brogue and accordion in “The Quiet Man.”

“The Quiet Man” was one of 11 films Curtis appeared in directed by the great John Ford including “Mr. Roberts” (1955), “The Searchers” (1956), “The Wings of Eagles” (1957), “The Horse Soldiers” (1959) and “Cheyenne Autumn” (1964). He was also Ford’s son-in-law, married to his daughter, Barbara from 1952 to 1964.

Among his film roles, Curtis played Captain Dickinson who quietly stands by the snobbish Colonel Travis (Laurence Harvey) in “The Alamo” (1960). Look for his comic timing during a “fight” scene with his on-screen brother (played by Harry Carey Jr.) for the affections of Shirley Jones in “Two Rode Together” (1961). It’s chilling to see his dark side as the murderous Joe in “Cheyenne Autumn” who likes to kill Indians for sport.

We’re not used to seeing Ken Curtis, left, playing bad guys as he did in “Cheyenne Autumn.”

During his “Gunsmoke” tenure, he spent his time off performing in fairs and rodeos. In 1981, he was inducted into the Western Performers Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma.

His television appearances also included episodes of “Wagon Train,” “Perry Mason,” “Death Valley Days,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “The Yellow Rose” and the made-for-TV movie “Conagher” (1991), his final role completed only months before his death.

Curtis and his second wife, Torrie, had retired to Clovis, Calif. (near Fresno) in 1980 where they were active within the community and with the Clovis Rodeo Association. The couple took part in the rodeo’s parade the day before Curtis died in his sleep from natural causes in 1991.

Courtesy visitclovis.com

In 1992, his memory was honored with a life-sized statue of Curtis as Festus. With his cowboy hat, heavy beard and deputy badge, it stands today outside the Educational Employees Credit Union in Clovis. Though he was much more than Festus as an actor, it’s only fitting that this celebration of his life and career immortalizes his most famous and enduring character.

The blogathon

Please be sure to check out all of the wonderful posts about other characters actors during the 10th annual “What a Character Blogathon” via the websites Once Upon a Screen,  Outspoken & Freckled and Paula’s Cinema Club.

The elegant humor of ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’

How do you like your comedy? You can have it with the broad strokes of slapstick, the fast-paced dialogue of screwball, a slash of darkness with a black comedy and a dash of romance with a rom-com.

Or you could enjoy the subtle laughter of a subdued, elegant comedy like “How to Marry a Millionaire.” While the plot doesn’t sound like a comedy – three ambitious gold diggers set their sights on bagging a rich hubby in New York City –  in the capable hands of screenwriter Nunnally Johnson and a great ensemble cast, the movie will keep you smiling and laughing from start to finish.

That’s why this 1953 film is a favorite film of mine and my choice for “Laughter is the Best Medicine,” the theme of the 2021 fall blogathon from the Classic Movie Blog Association.

Setting the scene

Our female trio played by Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe and Lauren Bacall aren’t shallow and underhanded as they appear on the surface, but insecure and hurt. They each have distinct personalities with endearing qualities that bring comedic elements to their roles whether it’s Bacall as the cool and collected Mrs. Page, Monroe as the daffy Pola or Grable as the unfiltered Loco.

After a more than 5-minute musical prelude, we meet the resourceful and sophisticated Mrs. Page (Lauren Bacall) as she’s renting a gorgeous Sutton Place penthouse fully furnished with a gilded grand piano and a patio with stunning Manhattan views.

Although it’s a deal at $1,000 a month (that’s about $10,000 today) because the owner is having income tax “problems,” it’s more than they can afford.  (The owner is Freddie Denmark, played by the wonderful David Wayne.)

But they need the penthouse. Mrs. Page – call her Schatze – is joined by Pola Debevoise (Marilyn Monroe) and “Loco” Dempsey (Betty Grable) in a plan to attract rich gentlemen by living the part in a swanky penthouse, gorgeous gowns and luxurious furs. (They are all upscale models which is the only explanation for their fantastic wardrobes.) The ladies even arrive in fancy cars by taking test drives in Chryslers (with gold trim) when they don’t have taxi fare.

They dream of marrying a Rockefeller or Vanderbilt. Is there a Mr. Cadillac or Mr. Texaco, they wonder? Schatze, burned by a quick marriage to a “gas-pump jockey,” still hopes to wed again but asks her friends what they would choose if they had their pick between marrying for love or money.

“It’s your head you’ve got to use, not your heart,” she tells them.

Schatze (Lauren Bacall, right) judges Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell) by the patches on his elbow and lack of necktie despite him helping Loco (Betty Grable) buy groceries.

So when Loco (or Lo for short) arrives with four bags of groceries paid for by a stranger at the deli counter, the handsome Tom Brookman (Cameron Mitchell), Schatze won’t have any of it. She marks him as one of those poor gas-pump jockeys and sends him away. (Viewers quickly learn the truth about Tom, so we can knowingly smirk each time Schatze declines his invitations.)

Skip ahead three months. They’re still single – not yet even engaged – and have hocked most of their furniture to pay bills. Only a tiny table, folding chairs and cots for sleeping remain, leaving Schatze to quip, “Where are we going to sit next week?” (The sight of the empty luxury penthouse is funny on its own.)

But their luck is about to change. When Schatze told her friends that you “don’t meet rich guys at the deli counter, but in the fur department at Bergdorf,” Loco listened. That’s where she met the kindly, older gentleman from Texas, J.D. Hanley (William Powell) who carries her packages back to the penthouse.

Do nice guy J.D. Hanley (William Powell) and Schatzy (Lauren Bacall) have a shot at happiness in “How to Marry a Millionaire?”

He invites the ladies to an Oil Institute reception that night and it’s payday. Pola meets mysterious oil tycoon J. Stewart Merrill (Alex D’Arcy) and Loco meets grumpy rich guy Waldo Brewster (Fred Clark). Meanwhile Schatze and J.D. hit it off.

The men are all loaded, but complications arise.

Waldo turns out to be married. While Loco doesn’t date married men (she’s not that type of girl), she naively goes to his lodge in Maine which she has mistaken for a convention of eligible single rich guys. Instead, she finds a shack, a handsome park ranger (Rory Calhoun) and a case of the measles.

Pola, who refuses to wear her glasses (“You know what they say about women who wears glasses.”), knows little about her smooth-talking guy. She can’t even see his phony eye patch which is a big clue. He talks big multi-million dollar deals and wants her to meet his mother – who lives in Jersey.

How blind is Pola (Marilyn Monroe) without her glasses? She doesn’t know she’s reading a book upside down as she sits next to Freddie Denmark (David Wayne) on a plane.

Poor J.D. is a sweet and charming widower who sees through the ladies. He grows to love Schatze but thinks their age difference isn’t fair to her. Meanwhile, Tom continues to call the seemingly uninterested Schatze.

As Schatze, Bacall is cool and collected, confident in her plan to marry for money after she was left with a broken heart. She stands tall and firm as she keeps her friends in check with the plan, but we can see the cracks in her armor.  There is humor each time she denies her feelings for time, telling him “After tonight, I never want to see you again.” Sure, Schatze, sure.

Marilyn Monroe’s natural comic abilities shine in “How to Marry a Millionaire.” Here, she sheepishly looks at her oil-tycoon date (Alex D’Arcy) after she walks into the back of the maitre’d because she’s not wearing her glasses.

Monroe, as we know, is a gifted comic actress. Pola’s refusal to wear her glasses sets up numerous comedic moments for Monroe as she walks into walls, bumps into people and doesn’t always know who she is talking to. The embarrassed smile she gives after her gaffes is endearingly funny. Her insecurities in wearing her glasses – which she looks beautiful in – also sets up my favorite sequence as she blindly boards an airplane to New Jersey.

As the extravert Loco, Grable portrays the energetic life of the party who wears her heart on her sleeve and can’t help but tell you how she feels. Her description of Waldo: “Mine is loaded, but he’s a real yawner.” She’s also the only who raises her voice, but it’s usually in frustration with herself as she knows what’s really in her heart.

In another funny scene, Walter Brewster (Fred Clark) makes Loco (Betty Grable) sit apart from him in an empty train car to protect “his” reputation in “How to Marry a Millionaire.”

Humor is even found in cranky Waldo. Played by familiar face Fred Clark who does charmingly grouchy as good as anyone, he makes it easy to laugh at his character. Waldo is a hapless chap in a miserable marriage who is afraid of getting caught and goes to extremes so he isn’t. An unhappy Loco and nervous Waldo sitting rows apart in an empty train car so one thinks they are together is one of those understated humorous moments the film does well.

“How to Marry a Millionaire” is a winning film in many ways. It is funny, irresistibly charming and an entertaining feel-good film that looks fantastic in vibrant Technicolor and Cinemascope.

It’s my movie prescription in the “Laughter is the Best Medicine” blogathon.

Trivia

The costume design is by Travilla who dressed Monroe in eight films including her iconic ivory pleated dress in “The Seven Year Itch” and the red sparkly gown in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”

Other versions:
Nunally Johnson adapted two stage plays for this movie, “The Greeks Had a Word for It” by Zoe Akins  (1930), which was made into the 1932 film of the same name,  and “Loco” by Dale Eunson and Katherine Albert. (1946)

The film was adapted into a 1957 TV series starring Barbara Eden, Merry Anders and Lori Nelson. It ran for two seasons.

A made-for-TV remake 2000 “How to Marry a Billionaire: A Christmas Tale” turned the tables as a trio of guys – John Stamos, Joshua Malina and Shemar Moore – looked for rich women.

The blogathon

You can find links to other stories in the Classic Movie Blog Association‘s “Laughter is the Best Medicine” blogathon here.

A scary October: TCM’s schedule of classic horror films

The annual month-long Halloween horror film celebration hosted by Turner Classic Movies has returned with a packed schedule from Karloff to Kong, mad scientists to Satanists, and plenty of films starring guys named Lee, Cushing and Price. Multiple days have themes including the poetic horror of Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton (Oct. 4), Hammer films (Oct. 21) and killer animals (Oct. 26).

Here is the schedule of horror films airing on TCM in October 2021 with descriptions.

Friday, Oct. 1

6 a.m.: “King Kong” (1933). The original beauty and beast story.

8 a.m. “The Most Dangerous Game” (1932). Joel McCrea, Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong are targeted by a big-game hunter who preys on humans. Directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack.

9:15 a.m. “The Vampire Bat” (1933). A village is terrorized with thoughts of vampires when bodies show up drained of blood in this film with frequent co-stars Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill.

12:45 p.m. “White Zombie” (1932). Bela Lugosi is a witch doctor who menaces a newlywed in what is considered the first zombie film.

The two faces of Frederic March in his Oscar-winning role(s) as “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

2 p.m. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (1932). Fredric March won an Oscar for playing the dual roles in Rouben Mamoulian’s version of the Robert Louis Stevenson tale.

3:45 p.m. “Mystery of the Wax Museum” (1933). Michael Curtiz directs Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill in one of his three horror films.

Fay Wray and Lionell Atwill star in “Doctor X,” one of their multiple films being shown on Turner Classic Movies.

5:15 p.m. “Doctor X” (1932). Curtiz-Wray-Atwill team up again in this story of murders at a medical college. Curtiz made the film compellingly tense, yet it has a comic flair thanks to Lee Tracy as the journalist on the case.

6:45 p.m. “Freaks” (1932). Tod Browning’s landmark 1932 film starring real people with disabilities resonates today with its statement about the idea of physical perfection.

Sunday Oct. 3

2:45 p.m. “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (1945). Hurd Hatfield makes a deal with the devil to stay young. Co-starring George Sanders, Donna Reed and Angela Lansbury.

8 p.m. “The Birds” (1963). Birds attack for no apparent reason in this taut Alfred Hitchcock horror thriller starring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor.

10:15 p.m. “Little Shop of Horrors” (1986). Musical remake of the film about a carnivorous plant named Audrey II. With Rick Moranis, Steve Martin.

Monday Oct. 4

8 a.m. “Bedlam” (1946). Boris Karloff commits Anna Lee when she tries to reform the asylum he rules over in this film produced and co-written by Val Lewton.

9:30 a.m. “The Body Snatcher” (1945). Karloff and Lugosi star in this early Robert Wise film about a doctor who buys corpses from a grave robber. Based on a short story by Robert Lewis Stevenson.

11 a.m. “Isle of the Dead” (1945). People are quarantined by a plague on a Greek Island where there also may be a vampiric demon.

12:30 p.m. “The Curse of the Cat People” (1944). This sequel finds the only child of Oliver and Alice from the original film in danger after befriending the ghost of Irena (Simone Simon), her father’s dead first wife.

2 p.m. “The Ghost Ship” (1943). Strange deaths follow a young sailor who joins a new ship. The fifth of Val Lewton’s films for RKO.

3:15 p.m. “I Walked with a Zombie” (1943). When zombie films were poetic – thanks to director Jacques Tourneur.

Kim Hunter, sitting on the floor, discovers a Satanic cult in “The Seventh Victim.”

4:30 p.m. “The Seventh Victim” (1943). A student (Kim Hunter in her film debut) looks for her missing sister and stumbles upon Satanists in this intriguing horror mystery noir.

6 p.m. “Cat People” (1942). Simone Simon as the innocent newlywed haunted by a family curse in this gorgeous film by Jacques Tourneur.

Wednesday, Oct. 6

12:45 p.m. “Forbidden Planet” (1956). More sci-fi than horror, this adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” stars Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis and Leslie Nielsen.

2:30 p.m. “The Invisible Boy” (1957). Robby the Robot makes his second film appearance as he helps a 10-year-old try to save the world from a super computer.

4:15 p.m. “The Terminal Man” (1974). George Segal undergoes surgery to stop violent seizures – but the implanted microchips have an unexpected side effect. Based on the Michael Critchton novel.

6:15 p.m. “Deadly Friend” (1986). Another film about implanted microchips gone wrong, this time a lovestruck teen tries to bring his pretty neighbor back to life. Wes Craven directs.

Saturday, Oct. 9

4:45 a.m. “Schizoid” (1980). A woman must figure out who is killing fellow members of her therapy group.

6:15 a.m. “Dementia 13” (1963). A scheming widow trying to get the inheritance from her husband’s death is stalked by a killer in this first feature directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

11:30 p.m. “A Look at the World of ‘Soylent Green’ ” (1973). Short 10-minute documentary goes behind the scenes of sci-fi film.

Sunday, Oct. 10

10:15 p.m. “It’s Alive” (1974). Larry Cohen’s cult classic about a murderous infant. Yes, you read that right.

Vincent Price and his beloved Marie Antoinette in “House of Wax.”

Thursday, Oct. 14

4:45 p.m. “Eyes Without a Face” (1959). Influential films about a brilliant doctor who sacrifices others to graft a new face onto his disfigured daughter.

6:30 p.m. “House of Wax” (1953). Vincent Price stars as a gifted sculptor whose hands were burned in a fire. Look for Charles Bronson as lab assistant Igor.

Friday, Oct. 15

6:15 p.m. “Carnival of Souls” (1962). A woman who survives a car crash is haunted by the dead.

Saturday, Oct. 16

6 a.m. “Ghosts Italian Style” (1969). For something lighter, watch Sophia Loren and Vittorio Gassman as  husband-and-wife caretakers of a haunted castle in this ghostly farce.

Sunday, Oct. 17

8 p.m. “Poltergeist” (1982). A family terrorized by malevolent spirits who kidnap their daughter calls in paranormal experts. One of the best ghost stories on film.

10 p.m. “Burnt Offerings” (1976). Supernatural forces target a family that moves into a countryside mansion. Directed by Dan Curtis with Karen Black, Oliver Reed and Bette Davis.

Christopher Lee makes multiple appearances as Dracula throughout October on TCM.

Thursday, Oct. 21

7:45 a.m. “Dracula – Prince of Darkness” (1966). The second of seven times Christopher Lee played Dracula. This time he doesn’t speak and he’s without Peter Cushing but it’s still very much worth watching. Directed by Terence Fisher for Hammer.

9:30 a.m. “Frankenstein Created Woman” (1967). Baron Frankenstein (Peter Cushing) puts the soul of a murdered man into the body of his lover who then seeks vengeance for his death.

11:15 a.m. “Dracula Has Risen from the Grave” (1969). Dracula may have died in “Dracula: Prince of Darkness,” but he’s accidentally brought back to life here. Directed by Freddie Francis.

1 p.m. “Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed” (1970). Baron Frankenstein (Cushing) blackmails a young couple into a kidnapping to help him perform a brain transplant.

2:45 p.m. “Taste the Blood of Dracula” (1970). Once again Dracula is accidentally resurrected. This time it’s by three businessmen who kill one of his followers and he’s not happy. Christopher Lee returns for the fourth time in the title role.

4:30 p.m. “Crescendo” (1972). Stefanie Powers plays a young music student whose life is in danger when she travels to France to research a dead composer.

6:15 p.m. “Dracula A.D. 1972” (1972). Lee and Cushing together again. In 1972 London, Dracula feeds off a group of devil-worshiping swingers including the granddaughter (Stephanie Beacham) of Dr. Van Helsing (Peter Cushing).

Vincent Price is caught up in murder in “The Bat.”

Friday, Oct. 22

4:45 p.m. “The Bat” (1959). Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead star in a horror mystery set in a big old house that was once the scene of murders.

6:15 p.m. “House on Haunted Hill” (1958). A millionaire tempts five strangers with a big payday if they stay overnight in a mansion in this William Castle film. Vincent Price and Carol Ohmart are entertaining as the bickering rich couple who set it up.

Saturday, Oct. 23

6 a.m. “The Mummy’s Shroud” (1967). Hammer Studio’s third “Mummy” film finds a team of archaeologists yet again ignoring warnings as they mess with the tomb of a boy pharaoh.

Noon, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941). Victor Fleming directs Spencer Tracy, Ingrid Berman and Lana Turner in this remake of the 1931 film adaptation.

Sunday, Oct. 24

8 p.m. “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane” (1962). The only film pairing of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford works off their off-screen rivalry. An actress torments her wheelchair-bound sister in this acclaimed film that is part thriller, part black comedy from Robert Aldrich.

10:30 p.m. “Strait-Jacket” (1964). Joan Crawford is released from a mental hospital for committing a double murder, only to be the prime suspect in a series of axe murders. William Castle ramps us the suspense.

Monday, Oct. 25

12:15 a.m. “The Monster” (1925). Silent horror comedy about a meek amateur detective who investigates strange happenings in a mental asylum run by Lon Chaney.

Giant ants attack in the first of the big-bug movies “Them!”

Tuesday, Oct. 26

6:30 a.m. “Razorback” (1984). A giant wild boar is killing people, including a child, in the Australian Outback.

8:30 a.m. “The Swarm” (1978). Disaster king Irwin Allen turned his sights on nature for this killer bee film. Another great cast including Michael Caine, Richard Chamberlain, Olivia de Havilland, Katharine Ross and Patty Duke.

11:15 a.m. “The Pack” (1977). Packs of dogs abandoned on a vacation island terrorize visitors.

1 p.m. “Rattlers” (1976). Rattlesnakes go on a killing spree in the Mojave Desert.

Giant killer bunnies go on the attack in “Night of the Lepus.”

2:45 p.m. “Night of the Lepus” (1972). The greatest film ever about killer rabbits must be seen to be believed.

4:30 p.m. “Killer Shrews” (1959). Giant rat-like creatures attack a group of people stranded on an island during a hurricane.

6:15 p.m. “Them!” (1954). The first – and still best – of the big-bug movies stars James Arness and James Whitmore who track giant killer ants.

Wednesday, Oct. 27

8 p.m. Carl Laemmle (2019). Documentary about the film pioneer who not only founded Universal Studios and brought us the Universal Monsters, but also helped save 300 families from Nazi Germany.

9:45 p.m. “Dracula” (1931). Bela Lugosi in his most famous role.

Thursday, Oct. 28

1:45 a.m. Carl Laemmle (2019). See Oct. 27.

3:30 a.m. “The Phantom of the Opera” (1925). Universal’s silent version with Lon Chaney features the greatest unmasking in film.

5 a.m. “Frankenstein” (1931). Colin Clive is the title character – Dr. Frankenstein – and Boris Karloff is his unholy creation.

Friday, Oct. 29

8 p.m. “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” (1971). Vincent Price is wonderful in this glorious mashup of horror genres.

10 p.m. “Night of the Living Dead” (1968). If you love zombie movies, thank George A. Romero for the original classic zombie thriller.

Saturday, Oct. 30

Midnight, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978). Director Philip Kaufman’s remake of the alien invaders taking over human bodies stars Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams.

2 a.m. “Hell Night” (1981). Slasher film about four college pledges who spend the night in a mansion where a family was massacred years earlier.

3:45 a.m. “Exorcist II: The Heretic” (1977). John Boorman directs this sequel to one of the most terrifying films ever made. Linda Blair reprises her role, Richard Burton co-stars.

5:45 a.m. “Creature from the Haunted Sea” (1961). A criminal bumps off his cohorts and blames it on a legendary sea creature – that may really exist. Roger Corman directs.

6:45 a.m. “The Hypnotic Eye” (1960). Authorities try to figure out why beautiful young women are disfiguring themselves. A chance to see Allison Hayes in something other than “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”

8:15 a.m. “Chamber of Horrors” (1966). A killer seek vengeance after he cuts off his hand to escape hanging.

Lon Chaney Jr., right, looks out for three siblings in “Spider Baby.”

10 a.m. “Spider Baby” (1964). Lon Chaney Jr. takes care of three siblings who suffer from a family curse.

11:30 a.m. “The Devil’s Own” (1966). Joan Fontaine stars in this Hammer film about teacher traumatized by a witch doctor who moves to a small English village.

1:15 p.m. “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957). Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee star in the first of seven Frankenstein films from Hammer.

2:45 p.m. “The Haunting” (1963). My vote for the most terrifying “strangers spend the night in a haunted mansion” film.

4:45 p.m. “The Tomb of Ligeia” (1965). Vincent Price mourns his dead wife in Roger Corman’s take on the Edgar Allan Poe story.

6:15 p.m. “The Fly” (1958). Things go terribly wrong for a well-meaning scientist. With Al Hedison, Vincent Price.

8 p.m. “Frankenstein” (1931). See Oct. 28

9:30 p.m. “Young Frankenstein” (1974). Mel Brooks honors the spirit of the original Universal films with this genius comedic homage.

11:30 p.m. “Who’s Superstitious?” (1943). Short film on superstitions.

11:45 p.m. “Black Cats and Broomsticks” (1955). Short documentary (8 minutes) examines 20th century superstitions.

The lovely Simone Simon is haunted by a family secret in “Cat People.”

Sunday, Oct. 31

Midnight: “Cat People” (1942). See Oct. 4.

1:30 a.m. “The Leopard Man” (1943). Bodies are discovered around a town after a black leopard escapes. From Tourneur and Lewton.

2:45 a.m. “Let’s Scare Jessica to Death” (1971). Strange occurrences happen when a former mental patient moves into a farmhouse that may be haunted.

4:30 a.m. “Carnival of Souls” (1962). See Oct. 15.

6 a.m. “Phantom of the Rue Morgue” (1954). Paris police are baffled in a search for a serial killer in adaptation of another Edgar Allan Poe short story.

7:30 a.m. “Macabre” (1958). A doctor has only hours to find his daughter who has been kidnapped and buried alive in this film produced by William Castle.

8:45 a.m. “White Zombie” (1932). See Oct. 1.

10 a.m. “Cat People” (1942). See Oct. 4.

11:30 a.m. “The Leopard Man” (1943).

12:45 p.m. “Mad Love” (1935). Peter Lorre plays a surgeon whose demented obsession with an actress leads to him to replace her husband’s mangled hands with those of a killer.

2 p.m. “Horror of Dracula (1958). The one that started it all for Hammer Film, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and director Terence Fisher.

One of the chilling scenes in “The Pit and the Pendulum” with Vincent Price.

3:30 p.m. “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1961). Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay for this film loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short story. Starring Vincent Price, Barbara Steele, John Kerr.

5 p.m. “Curse of the Demon” (1958). An American professor (Dana Andrews) visiting London investigates a devil worshipping cult. Directed by Jacques Tourneur.

6:30 p.m. “Horror Hotel” (1960). A college student studying witchcraft is lured to a New England town where witchcraft isn’t relegated to history books. With Christopher Lee, Venetia Stevenson.

8 p.m. “Psycho” (1960). A secretary on the run for embezzling money makes an ill-fated stop at a roadside motel in one of Alfred Hitchcock’s greatest films.

Capitolfest: the return of the friendliest classic film festival

In August, classic movie fans are fond of saying “all roads lead to Rome.”

That’s because Rome, N.Y., a small town of about 32,000 people about 45 miles from Syracuse, hosts the Capitolfest film festival at the historic Capitol Theatre.

It’s an intimate and friendly weekend-long event where classic movie fans from across the country – and even as far away as England – gather to watch movies from morning to night inside the single-screen Capitol Theatre. It’s a relaxed affair with time to talk between blocks of movies or to make a quick trip to the nearby Dealer’s Room.

The annual festival debuted in 2003 with a focus on movies from the 1910s, ’20s and ’30s, only missing 2020 because of the pandemic. It returns from Aug. 13 to 15.

A spotlight star is chosen each year with Gary Cooper, Fay Wray and Ronald Colman among recent honorees. For 2021, the films of sisters Constance and Joan Bennett are highlighted. The festival’s nearly 40 features and shorts also star the likes of Una Merkel, Clara Bow, Victor McLaglen and Laurel & Hardy.

Many selections are silent and as an extra treat will be accompanied by well-known silent movie accompanists David Peckham (on Aug. 13), Dr. Philip C. Carli (Aug. 14) and Ben Model (Aug. 15) who will perform on the Capitol Theatre’s 1928 original installation Möller organ.

Capitolfest is a film festival in the truest sense of the phrase as it strives to screen movies from 35mm film prints so they are seen as they were on their original release. (A few selections are digital, only if necessary.)

Canisters of 35mm films from a previous Capitolfest.

The 35mm films come from such archives as the Library of Congress, the Eastman Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. The arrival of the film canisters is always a cause for photos and celebration.

Capitolfest also prides itself on showing movies that aren’t easy to see on television or elsewhere. Yes, there will be a few familiar titles – for example, this year includes the delightful comedy “Topper” – but the festival focuses on rarely shown movies. I can vouch for the fact that you’ll be watching many things for the first time at Capitolfest.

A special bonus at the 2021 Capitolfest: attendees will be among the first to see the restoration work recently finished at the Capitol Theatre thanks to $2.5 million from Rome’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative. A grand reopening was held on July 17.

Here is a quick look at the movies starring the Bennett sisters. There are many other things to watch as well. The full schedule, plus other information and updates, is online at romecapitol.com and on its Facebook page.

Joan Bennett is the title character in “The Trial of Vivienne Ware.”

JOAN BENNETT

11:10 a.m.  Aug. 13, “The Trial of Vivienne Ware” (1932).  Joan plays the title character in this murder-mystery starring Donald Cook and ZaSu Pitts.

4:10 p.m. Aug. 13, “She Wanted A Millionaire” (1932). A beauty contest winner leaves her sweetheart to marry a millionaire judge who turns out to be mentally unbalanced. With Spencer Tracy and Una Merkel.

9:55 a.m. Aug. 14, “The Pursuit of Happiness” (1934). A restored 35mm print. A soldier who deserts the British Army during the Revolutionary War falls in love when he defects to America. Also starring Francis Lederer and Charles Ruggles.

9:15 a.m. Aug. 15, “Artists and Models Abroad.” (1938). Jack Benny plays an entertainer stuck in Paris who mistakes Joan Bennett, the daughter of a millionaire, for a pauper. 

1:50 p.m. Aug. 15, “Week Ends Only” (1931). A “good” girl who hostesses at a club and at private parties to make ends meet, falls for a poor artist. With Ben Lyon.

The silent version of “Rich People” starring Constance Bennett will be shown at Capitolfest.

CONSTANCE BENNETT

12:30 p.m. Aug. 13, “Madame Spy” (1942). Espionage thriller about a war correspondent who suspects his wife is a Nazi agent. With Don Porter.

7:35 p.m. Aug. 13, “Rich People” (1929). This film with Regis Toomey was made as a silent and talkie. The silent will be shown; the talkie is presumed lost.

9:20 p.m. Aug. 13, “Topper” (1937). Hal Roach comedy with Constance Bennett and Cary Grant as ghosts who help a henpecked banker played by Roland Young. Restored 35 mm print from the UCLA Film and Television Archive.

8:15 p.m. Aug. 14, “Wandering Fires” (1925). A woman’s past catches up to her after she confesses to her fiancée about an incident with another man before the war. Silent.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Capitolfest runs Aug. 13-15 in the Capitol Theatre, 220 W. Dominick St., Rome. Call (315) 337-6277.

Registration begins at 8:45 on Friday, Aug. 13 in the Capitol lobby and continues throughout the weekend. The box office opens one hour before the first scheduled movie each day. Here is a link for hotel information.

COVID-19 precautions

Since this is so important, I am quoting directly from the Capitol Theatre: “Persons who have not been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 must wear a mask whenever they are in any part of the Capitol Arts Complex; those who have been fully vaccinated are not required to wear masks. Social distancing seating areas comprise the entire right and left sections of the orchestra (downstairs) area and the entire balcony area (second section of the upstairs seating area). Parties sitting in these areas are asked to remain at least six feet apart from other parties.”

Singing praises for ‘Night Song’

How can a film starring Dana Andrews, Merle Oberon, Ethel Barrymore and Hoagy Carmichael be considered forgotten and hidden away?

Add in director John Cromwell and appearances by esteemed pianist Artur Rubinstein and conductor Eugene Ormandy and I ask the same question.

But it appears the 1948 romantic drama “Night Song” is not familiar to many classic movie fans. That’s understandable because it’s not usually shown on television or in repertory, although I was introduced to it on Turner Classic Movies.

On its original release, “Night Song” was panned by critics and lost $1 million, a huge sum in the late ‘40s. That’s most likely because of some eye-rolling moments in the plot. In brief: A rich young woman falls for a poor and bitter blind pianist, feigns her own blindness to get close to him, then sets up a composition contest with her own money to give him a chance for sight-restoring surgery.

Yes, it does sound contrived. But I have a soft spot for this melodrama and I love to recommend it which I’m doing as part of the Classic Movie Blog Association “Hidden Classics” blogathon.

 You’ll have to suspend your disbelief at some of the plot points, but the elegance of this classic Hollywood film, the tender love story at its heart and the wonderful piano concerto that is its own character make me fall for “Night Song” every time.

* * * *

First the plot in more detail, then I’ll share more of why this is a favorite.

Oberon plays Cathy Mallory, a socialite out with her stuffy rich friends after a night at the San Francisco Symphony. They go slumming in their furs and diamonds to a quaint jazz club called Chez Mamie where Chick and His Swing Six are playing. Cathy is clearly bored until she hears the soft strains of piano and approaches the broad-shouldered, dark-haired pianist.

Realizing he is blind, Cathy (Merle Oberon) lights a cigarette and puts it near the mouth of Dan (Dana Andrews) in “Night Song.”

“Light me a torch, will you chum?” he says to Cathy, not quite the greeting she was expecting.

He’s Dan Evans (Andrews), a man with a chip on his shoulders the size of a piano after being blinded in an accident by a drunk driver. He wants nothing to do with Cathy or anyone else. “I’m exhibit A here: I’m a blind piano player,” Dan says, with the bitterness he has used to build a protective wall around himself. The only person he lets in is Chick (Carmichael), his best friend, roommate, caregiver and boss in the band.

He’s a proud man but Cathy is stubborn. She returns to the elegant home she shares with her aunt, Miss Willey (Barrymore, who is my favorite part of this film). A voracious reader of detective novels, she doesn’t miss anything. Listening to Cathy play an unfamiliar tune on her concert grand piano with a far-off look on her face, Aunt Willey  knows what’s going on.

“You went somewhere after the symphony and someone played this nice music for you. Describe him.” (The relationship between these two feels very real, giving the film a rare sense of authenticity.)

Clearly smitten, Cathy returns to the club where Chick tells her Dan has quit – again. “He’s Mr. Blind Man and nobody with eyes can tell him anything,” he tells her.

“How about someone without eyes?,” she replies, clearly with an idea in mind and it’s a bit far-fetched.

Cathy (Merle Oberon) stages her first meeting as blind girl Mary with Dan (Dana Andrews, left) and Chick (Hoagy Carmichael).

She’ll pretend she is a blind woman named Mary Willey and goes so far as to rent a small, “rundown” apartment near the ocean where she’ll live with her caretaker and aunt (that’s true, at least). She softens her voice a bit and shrugs off her formal upper-class mannerisms when she “accidentally” runs into Dan and Chick on the beach.

But Dan is tough. As Chick says, “when he went blind, he went sour.” It takes a few meetings, some piano playing and the help of Chick and Aunt Willey to pull it off, but Mary starts to break through Dan’s wall. The more his heart opens, the more it releases his creativity. That lovely piano concerto starts to take form.

But that’s not enough for Mary when she learns there’s a chance Dan could regain his sight with surgery. It will take money he doesn’t have and that’s where she can help. She concocts a well-meaning ruse to sponsor a contest and puts up her own $5,000 as the grand prize. So much has to go right for Dan to win, but Cathy and Aunt Willey have the musical knowledge to understand that what Dan has written is great and deserves to win such a prize. Even Chick sees her deep understanding of classical music when he tells Dan after that first night in the club that “She went for the music, so she has brains as well as diamonds.”

After pretending to be a blind poor girl to get close to Dan (Dana Andrews),
circumstances lead Cathy (Merle Oberon) to meet him as the socialite she really is.

You can see where this is going, but it takes a detour when she runs into Dan again – this time as herself, the socialite Cathy Mallory. Dan doesn’t “recognize” Cathy is Mary for a few reasons. Like Clark Kent putting on his glasses so he’s not recognizable as Superman, Cathy raises the pitch in her voice and fools Dan though occasionally he does the old “I feel like I know you.”

That sets up the love triangle of Dan, blind Mary Willey in San Francisco, and the sophisticated Cathy Mallory in New York City. To say more about how they got to this point or where it goes would spoil the movie.

* * * *

I can remember the first time I saw “Night Song” and falling for it within seconds by the same music that wooed Cathy to Dan. Piano Concerto in C Minor by Leith Stevens was playing over the film’s opening credits and it’s magnificent – one of the best pieces of music written for a film. It’s featured in a nearly 9-minute sequence that I find spellbinding.

I originally watched “Night Song” for Dana Andrews, then for the love story. But it was Barrymore and Carmichael who hooked me. Though they were playing second fiddle to the lovebirds, they subtly stole the show.

Despite some of the illogical plot points, the dialogue flows so naturally and understated from Barrymore and Carmichael that the roles seem to have been written for them. They are well-defined to the point you don’t even need to see them to know they are in the room. In one scene, the camera is fixed on a radio with a dainty coffee cup on a saucer in front, and light smoke billowing across the screen. You know Aunt Willey is just off camera and she is.

Chick (Hoagy Carmichael) and Aunt Willey (Ethel Barrymore) become fast friends as they help Dan and Cathy/Mary.

The relationships between the characters are well done, too, whether it’s Dan and Chick, Mary and Aunt Willey or Chick and Aunt Willey. Chick is a steadfast friend who won’t let Dan wallow in self-pity and truly believes in him. “I think you’re a genius, he tells Dan. “So you’re blind, but Shubert’s dead.”

“Night Song” is elevated by little character moments. My favorite is Aunt Willey sitting in a comfy chair all happy to be reading a detective novel while smoking and drinking coffee. When she drops her book, she starts to bend over, then turns to the stack of paperbacks beside her and takes the one off the top.

“Night Song” has my favorite qualities of classic Hollywood movies like romance, star power, lovely music and a coziness you can sink in to. Besides any movie that stars just one of the four main actors – Andrews, Oberon, Barrymore, Carmichael – is worth a watch. A movie with all four? That’s a can’t-miss and a reason to give this hidden gem a chance.

* * * *

The blogathon

The Classic Movie Blog Association’s four-day “Hidden Classics” blogathon features stories on many other films that aren’t as well known as they could – and should – be. Here’s the link to read more stories on these hidden film gems.

How to get Turner Classic Movies in time to watch the film festival

It’s almost time for the TCM Classic Film Festival and you’re a bit out of sorts because you don’t have Turner Classic Movies to watch the festival at home. Maybe you just moved, switched services or cut the cord: the bottom line is that you need to watch TCM fast!

Relax – you’ve got options and they are quicker and easier than you think.

First off: you can’t get TCM for free. Sorry. Nor is there a standalone app you can buy. The Watch TCM app is linked to paid accounts with a cable provider or streaming service that provides TCM.

Basically here are your choices to watch TCM:

  • An account with either a cable or satellite provider.
  • A Live TV streaming service.

What’s the difference? A cable or satellite provider – think Spectrum, Comcast, X-Finity, DirecTV or Dish – is the traditional way to watch live television through a cable box or satellite dish. You can find TCM on most of these services, although it often comes on a higher tier at a higher price.

A Live TV streaming service is an app that lets you watch live television like you would with cable. It is not, however the same as an on-demand streaming service such as Netflix, Amazon Prime or Apple TV+ where you pick what you want to watch from a library without the option for live TV. (This is where it should be noted that additional programming for the TCM Classic Film Festival will also be available to watch on the streaming service HBO Max, although you won’t be able to watch TCM live.)

The bonus: you don’t need to rent equipment. Instead, you most likely already have everything you need to get started: an internet connection plus a Smart TV or a device like Roku, Amazon Firestick or Apple TV. If you can use Netflix, you can use this.

Live TV streaming services that offer TCM include AT&T TV, Sling TV, Hulu with Live TV and Youtube TV. Full channel lineups, packages and prices are on all of their websites. As soon as you sign up online, you have service. Service is month-to-month so if you don’t like it, you can switch to another without penalty. If local channels are important to you, be sure to see what these services offer in your area.

GETTING STARTED

Cable/satellite

If you have cable or a dish but don’t get TCM, call to see if you can get it on another package. Most providers let you change tiers without an extra fee and they can do it on the phone for instant TCM. If you want to get cable or satellite, do an internet search to see what is available in your area. I won’t list prices because services and packages vary greatly depending on where you live and if you package TV with other services.

Streaming

This may be the easiest way to get TCM. Here are four available services.

Sling TV is the least expensive service that offers TCM. First you have to purchase one of Sling’s two basic packages: Orange Sling (recommended for sports/entertainment) or Blue (entertainment/news). Each is $35 regularly. This is important: To get TCM, you’ll need to add the “Hollywood Extra” package for $6 a month. (It has eight channels including SundanceTV, Reelz, StartTV, GRIT, Cinemoi.) The total cost, then, for Sling Blue and “Hollywood Extra” would be $41 with 50 hours of free DVR storage. Look for free trials and discounts. (If you’re lucky, you may still be able to get the $10 for the first month special.) Sling almost always offers free gifts by prepaying for two or more months such as getting a free TV antenna.

AT&T TV is the new live TV streaming service from AT&T (it replaces ATT U-Verse). TCM is available on all three packages starting with the “Entertainment” package that comes with more than 65 channels and 20 hours of free Cloud DVR service to record that late-night programming. Cost starts at $69.99 a month.

Hulu + Live TV. Packages start at $64.99 with TCM and 50 hours of free Cloud DVR storage. Current offer is a free one-week trial. Be sure to look at this live streaming option, not the regular Hulu streaming service.

YouTube TV. Packages start at $64.99 with TCM and come with unlimited DVR storage.

All of these options are constantly changing but this will give you a start. I’m not a tech expert, but I’ve done a lot of research looking for options for myself. I hope this is helpful.

TO WATCH TCMFF

The TCM Classic Film Festival starts at 8 p.m. May 6 on both TCM and HBO Max.

For the full schedule of live festival programming on TCM, visit filmfestival.tcm.com/schedule.

For the full list of on-demand festival programming on HBO Max, visit filmfestival.tcm.com/on-hbomax.

For the regular TCM website, visit tcm.com.

From book to screen: The haunting beauty of ‘The Ghost and Mrs. Muir’

The sublime beauty of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” can fill your heart and break it at the same time.

It’s in the faces of the equally lovely Rex Harrison and Gene Tierney, perfectly paired as the title characters. It’s in the Oscar-nominated cinematography by Charles Lang who paints the screen with hauntingly beautiful shades of shadow and light. And it’s in voices often so tender that a hushed utterance of a single word like “Lucia” can send goosebumps up your arms.

We’re drawn into this universally beloved film even before the opening credits roll. In an unusual move, the 20th Century Fox logo is not accompanied by the stately Fox fanfare, but by music from Bernard Herrmann that starts with a deep, swirling rumble and opens into an almost painfully sweet crescendo. It will repeat throughout the film, never losing its emotional power.

Everywhere you look or listen, this 1947 supernatural romance from director Joseph L. Mankiewicz wraps itself around you in a comforting cocoon.

That’s why “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” always felt like it existed only in movie form to me – and one that was nearly as perfect as any could be. The film about a sheltered widow moving into a British seaside cottage inhabited by the ghost of its owner holds a magic all its own. Somehow, I kept skipping over the opening credit that read “From the Novel by R.A. Dick.” I’ll blame that on the fact that I was too wrapped up in the splendor of Herrmann’s music and the scenery to read the credits.

I was always too busy listening to Bernard Herrmann’s haunting score and watching the crashing waves to see that “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” was based on a novel.

It wasn’t until a few years back that I stumbled on “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” by R.A. Dick while looking for books adapted into classic movies to read on a cross-country trip to the Turner Classic Movie Film Festival. “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” is one of the offerings in the very cool Vintage Movie Classics book series launched in 2014 by Random House under its Vintage Books imprint. (“The Night of the Hunter,” “Back Street” and “Cimarron” are among others.)

Because of this embarrassing gap in my film history knowledge, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” seemed a good choice for me to explore for the Classic Literature on Film Blogathon hosted by Paul Batters of Silver Screen Classics. It’s not Great Classic Literature with capital letters in the sense of Bronte, Austen, Dickens or Twain, yet this slim novel deserves credit as the basis for one of the most universally beloved classic films.

Setting the film’s atmospheric mood was the Oscar-nominated black and white cinematography by Charles Lang.

Often with classic movies based on literature we have either read the original novel – “Frankenstein,” “Pride & Prejudice,” “Rebecca,” “A Tale of Two Cities” – or at least have a CliffsNotes familiarity with it. You may not have read “Wuthering Heights,” but you know Heathcliff and Catherine.

But, I knew nothing about the book form of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” or its author so there was a lot to be excited about: Tierney and Harrison were perfect on screen, but did they fit the author’s original vision? How did the romance – so chaste in the movie – develop in the book? Would there be deep words of love between them or would it be hidden behind a softly uttered “Me, dear” as in the movie? Were R.A. Dick’s other stories equally mesmerizing?

The answers were surprising.

Author Josephine Leslie wrote “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” under the pen name of R.A. Dick.

“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” was published in 1945 under the pseudonym of R.A. Dick by Irish author Josephine Leslie. There’s not much out there about her other than she wrote two, possibly three other books over 20 years or so including “The Devil and Mrs. Devine.” She wrote barely any description of the lead characters other than their size (“Little Lucy Muir” and that the Captain was tall with broad shoulders) and there were no additional proclamations of love.

Think of the book this way: If it was published today, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” would be on a summer reading list or labeled a beach read  – those easy-to-read books that sweep you away for a relaxing few hours. It is a slim novel written with an economy of words that speak volumes. Leslie (as we’ll call the author from here) also has a way with descriptive, poetic dialogue. “The wallpaper had gone past fading into death,” is a wonderful visual of Gull Cottage. Lucy’s words in trying to make sense of unexplained happenings could be a poem: “There aren’t any ghosts really. They always turn out to be the wind in the chimney, or shadows on the wall, or branches tapping on the window.” The best of Leslie’s dialogue is used in the movie.

* * * *

As the novel opens, the author helps the reader understand in only a page that Lucy Muir has led an oppressed life, and that the young widow and mother is yearning for a life that is her own – not her late husband’s, nor his family’s.

She has finally found the courage to leave the house she lives in with her husband’s mother and sister for a fresh start by the sea. Arriving in Whitecliff, she fixates on the one property the house agent doesn’t want to show her: Gull Cottage. Very inexpensive, fully furnished and with a gorgeous sea view, Gull Cottage has been uninhabitable for the 10 years it has been on the market. Previous tenants haven’t lasted 24 hours, yet Lucy stubbornly insists on seeing it. The twinkling of the eyes in a portrait, the discarded lunch in the kitchen of someone was “called away in a hurry” and Lucy’s delight in seeing the clean telescope in the otherwise dusty house are the first signs that the house is haunted.

“Haunted! How perfectly fascinating,” she says with a big smile in the film and we know this haunted house story veers from traditional ghostly encounters. It is not interested in terrifying its audience, but rather wants to explore a woman’s fight for her independence as well as as the deepening relationship based on mutual respect of two characters that grows in the most unexpected way.

The ghostly inhabitant is Captain Daniel Gregg whose much talked about suicide was really an accident caused when he kicked over the gas heater as he slept.

Though it’s easy to assume Lucy fell under a ghostly spell, it worked both ways as our ornery sea captain was no match for the newly independent and determined Lucy Muir. Their bond formed almost immediately. Formalities are dropped – they become Lucy and Daniel to each other – and they make peace. She’ll take care of the cottage he built and he’ll stop his ghostly shenanigans (as long as no one messes with his “Lucia,” the swoon-worthy name he gives her). The story is sprinkled with light moments of humor such as when Lucy picks up the captain’s salty language such as “blasted.”

When she gets into financial difficulty and fears she’ll have to leave Gull Cottage, Daniel has her write out his life stories in a book on the “unvarnished life of a sea captain.” It’s a success.

Coming into their comfortable existence is the handsome and charming Miles Fairley Blane who sweeps her off her feet while hiding his own secrets. Though his portrayal in the book is different than the movie, the final effect is the same.

Actors Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison were perfectly matched on screen as Lucy and Daniel.

Adapting a book into film

Screenwiter Philip Dunne was brought in to turn Leslie’s efficient novel into a film. He had previously adapted such works as “The Count of Monte Cristo” (1934), “Magnificent Obsession” (1935), “The Last of the Mohicans” (1936) and “How Green Was My Valley” (1941).

In her forward to the Vintage Books edition of “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” author and filmmaker Adriana Trigiani does a wonderful job in explaining Dunne’s talents. “Mr. Dunne was a master dramatist, keen and spare in his process. He would take apart a novel, pulling threads from it like a lacemaker. Mr. Dunne would hold on to some characters, discard others, restructure timelines, winnow down scenes, remove some altogether, and add new ones to create the most powerful screen narrative from the source material.”

That’s what Dunne did here. Let’s take Miles as an example.

Miles Blane (George Sanders) is a charming man with secrets who becomes a love interest for the naive Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney).

In the novel, Lucy meets Miles after he moves into a nearby cottage and saves her dog (with the “help” of the Daniel). He doesn’t have an occupation but he does a bit of “this and that.” For the film, Dunne turns Miles into a popular author of children’s books (he writes under the pen name of Uncle Neddy) who meets Lucy at the publisher’s office where she is trying to sell “Blood and Swash” by Captain X. Clearly attracted to her, Miles gets Lucy in to meet the publisher. Her gratitude and naivety combine to make her gullible and she falls for Miles, who is played with an unsettling mix of charm and scoundrel by George Sanders.

Another change by Dunne that works in the film’s favor is that Lucy has one child, not two as in the book. It was a good choice to focus on Anna (played by an adorable 8-year-old Natalie Wood), and thereby also focusing on Lucy instead of splitting attention with another child.

The big change, and one I am eternally grateful for, is that while Lucy never sees Daniel in the book – he comes to her only in her thoughts, like a voice in her head – he is a commanding presence in the film as played by Rex Harrison. Can you imagine the film without him? No, you can’t.

Through it all, there is a question of how a relationship caught between two worlds can be played out. We get a hint early watching Daniel’s reaction when Lucy asks “What is to become of us, you and me?” with a mix of yearning and pain in her voice. His subtle facial expressions help us understand he will do what he needs for her, whatever the sacrifice.

In this shattering scene, Daniel (Rex Harrison) softly tells the sleeping Lucia (Gene Tierney) that he was just a dream.

Dunne answers Lucy’s questions by adding one of the most romantically heartbreaking scenes on film as Daniel realizes he needs to allow his Lucia to live her human life. Visiting her as she sleeps with dawn pouring in the windows, he speaks to her with great tenderness of making her life among the living. “It’s been a dream, Lucia. In the morning and the years after, you’ll only remember it as a dream.”

He has kept his composure to this point but then his grief can’t be held back anymore. “What we missed, Lucia. What we’ve both missed,” he says with inescapable pain in his voice.

In another book or film, that could be the end, but not here. Instead, it starts another chapter. There is still more life for both Lucy Muir and Captain Daniel Gregg to live.

Other adaptations beyond the movie

Radio plays: About seven months after the film’s release in 1947, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” became an hour-long radio play for Lux Radio Theatre starring Charles Boyer (yes, with his heavy French accent) and Madeleine Carroll.

A 1951 production from Screen Directors Playhouse also starred Boyer, this time playing opposite Jane Wyatt. The opening statement credits Joseph L. Mankiewicz as the director.

Television: For the 1968 family comedy series, the story was moved to Maine and Lucy’s name was changed to Carolyn Muir. Carolyn was played by Hope Lang who won two Emmy Awards for Lead Actress in a Comedy. Edward Mulhare starred as Captain Daniel Gregg.

For an idea of how light a touch they were going for in the series, it also starred Reta Shaw as the housekeeper and comedian Charles Nelson Reilly as the captain’s great-nephew.

NBC ran the first season before canceling the series which was then picked up by ABC for its second and final season.

More about the Classic Literature on Film Blogathon

The second annual Classic Literature on Film Blogathon is hosted by Paul Batters of Silver Screen Classics. About 20 classic film writers from around the world are taking part and posting their stories from April 2-4. Please take the time to read these stories on a wonderfully diverse selection of books and movies. Here is the link.