Scaramouche (1952) Stewart Granger Fest Day 5

As Scaramouche Stewart Granger was allowed the rare opportunity to play the “ass.” Admittedly while masked. A stark contrast to the brooding character he becomes due to the events that unfold in this colorful MGM production.

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Granger stars here as a poet, a Casanova of sorts who takes life’s pleasures as they come. He delivers a very lively performance in the films first half hour chasing his paramour Eleanor Parker. It’s an on again/off again love affair that is both playful and torrid. “I oughta be burned at the stake for loving you,” Parker purrs between kisses. “Burned to a cinder.”

Parker is part of an acting troupe touring around France with the leading character Scaramouche as it’s central figure. It’s during this carefree part of his life that Granger meets up with beautiful Janet Leigh and a hint of what is to come.

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The film’s tone and Granger’s character are about to take a sharp turn when his best friend Richard Anderson is “murdered” in a duel against pompous Mel Ferrer. Ferrer is an expert fencer leaving Anderson little chance of actually winning the contest let alone surviving it. Granger swears vengeance and makes himself an enemy to Ferrer and the aristocracy. During his escape he comically ends up behind the mask of the title character on stage opposite Parker. A star is born.

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On one hand the film maintains it’s serious tone with the arrogant Ferrer and Granger’s passion for revenge. On the other it’s comedy quotient remains at a high level while the troupe performs and Granger plays the ass against the extreme beauty of Parker.

While not on stage Granger is learning to master the sword despite the jealous nature of Parker. The adventure leads them to France where both Parker and Leigh vie for his affections while Ferrer condemns him. There’s swordplay coming and the climatic duel ranks with some of the greatest captured on film.

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While sounding like a straight forward plot there are a few twists and turns along the way and a few surprises for the first time viewer. This MGM technicolor production from director George Sidney is practically begging to be restored on blu ray. Should we be so lucky I’ll have to add it to my collection and replace my VHS version. Sidney directed a number of films including working with Granger the following year on Young Bess.

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Mel Ferrer is an actor I have never warmed to. Perhaps it’s because he plays the pompous villain so well and I have a hard time separating the actor from his character. That in itself should be a credit to the performer I suppose.

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Eleanor Parker is not only beautiful but could hold her own opposite stars like Granger and seemed to do best playing the feisty woman of their dreams. Dare I say mine too? Janet Leigh was just getting started and films like these gave her an opportunity to be seen as more than just a damsel in distress. She has a playfulness that comes through despite her mixed feelings for the two men at odds.

Lewis Stone appeared in the 1923 silent version opposite Ramon Novarro and here plays the father of Anderson. His final 3 films before his death are this, The Prisoner of Zenda and All the Brothers Were Valiant. All three were opposite Granger and remakes of silent films. Two of which Stone starred in.

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This was a role well suited for Granger’s talents at this point in his career. He’d come to MGM and along with Robert Taylor headlined many of their costume adventures in the fifties. Scaramouche allotted him a role that gave him a wide berth in playing it broadly in one scene and tightly knotted the next with vengeance on his mind. He’s both playful and brooding. While I haven’t seen Granger’s entire catalogue of titles I can’t recall him playing such a physical role in a comedy vein. The masked character of the title gives him that chance.

If for no other reason than Stewart Granger in fine form this is a title worth seeking out from MGM’s glorious years of costume adventures. Just don’t overlook the contribution of Eleanor Parker.

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Footsteps in the Fog (1955) Stewart Granger Fest Day 4

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Stewart Granger and then wife Jean Simmons journeyed to Shepperton Studios in England to star opposite each other in this cross between a Hitchcock murder mystery and a Hammer Films thriller. According to Granger it was “mulishly” directed by Arthur Lubin in reference to Lubin’s association with the Francis the Talking Mule series.

Both stars play against type in this fog shrouded tale of murder and blackmail. The film starts with Granger attending the funeral of his wife looking distraught and emotionally ravaged. Publicly at least.Things are about to take a severe turn when servant girl Jean Simmons implies she knows exactly how the mistress of the house died.

She’s quickly promoted to the job of head mistress within Granger’s high society home. He doesn’t exactly like the fact that she’s holding a dark secret over his head. It just might be time to get rid of her. Permanently.

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The plot takes a major twist when following Simmons through a deep fog Granger strikes. He leaves the body just as he’s discovered and returns home. He’s just dug his hole a little deeper when he finds he’s killed the wrong woman. It’s a tale of cat and mouse from here on out till the endings nice little twist of circumstances.

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Granger and Simmons were married for the decade of the fifties and this was their second film together during that time. The first being Young Bess. They work well together in this eerie tale where he’s downright villainous and she has a rather warped sense of adulation. Hang in for the ending as they both get what they deserve.

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There’s a really good thriller in here and at times it surfaces despite Lubin’s “mulishly” styled direction. This is one of those features that really could have been better had it been in the hands of the “master” himself. We then wouldn’t have to call it Hitchcockian. A little tightening of the script in a few spots could have gone a long way in making this lesser known thriller remembered more fondly if at all.

Considering the run of big budget extravaganzas Stewart Granger was on through this part of his career Footsteps in the Fog is a rather low budget affair. This shouldn’t really be much of a surprise as he was on loan out to Columbia studios where Harry Cohn was known to squeeze a buck. Despite being a technicolor film the fog doesn’t help the medium although Simmons looks gorgeous in a red dress at one point in the film. For me Simmons was quite possibly the most beautiful woman in films during this era. I am always joking that I first fell in love with her while watching Spartacus on television at an impressionable age.

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This title turns up occasionally on TCM if you’d like to get a look at it and see a real life married couple bringing out the dark side in the other.

 

 

The Crooked Road (1965) Stewart Granger Fest Day 3

Focusing in on Stewart Granger has allowed me to catch a Robert Ryan film for the first time as well during my run of Granger titles.

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It’s a black and white film made in Jugoslavia as the final screen credit points out at the film’s conclusion.

Ryan stars here as a tough newspaper man out to bring down a Duke with a shady background and corruption in both his past and foreseeable future.Granger is of course the Duke who is a man of means in his home country and appears to be ready to run for office.

When Ryan arrives in Granger’s homeland the stakes are going up. Not only is Ryan out to bring down our silver haired leading man but he was once passionately involved with Granger’s wife played by Nadia Gray. Granger would like nothing better than to have Ryan bought off and bury the evidence that Ryan is about to unleash through the media of Granger’s shady dealings.

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To ensure Ryan’s cooperation Granger arranges a murder where the implication is that the “American” is guilty. Perhaps if Mr. Ryan would surrender the documents the local police might be persuaded by Granger’s Duke to look for a suspect elsewhere.

Ryan isn’t one to back down and this will lead to the inevitable clash of wills between our two fading leading men whose prime years were the previous decade although Ryan had a couple of triumphs still to come like his role as Deke Thornton in The WIld Bunch.

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Stewart Granger was equally adept at playing both hero and pompous villain and dabbled in both. During his younger years he played the dashing  hero more often then not in a variety of genres. As age caught up to him he seemed to take on a meanness in his features that lent themselves to playing roles with a tinge of arrogance about them. His later film appearance in The Wild Geese is a perfect example of this.

For this role he’s slippery with money and a noble position to lend itself to his desire for power and being a law unto himself which comes forward in his discussion with Ryan over ethics and responsibilities of those in a position to better the world for others or selfishly use them for one’s own gain.

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There’s nothing overly wrong with this feature from director Don Chaffey but it’s strictly a B film. On the flip side Ryan and Granger make for an interesting combination on film. Going in I assumed that if there was to be a good guy vs. bad guy scenario I would have expected that Ryan was going to be our go to villain of the piece. So the fact that it turned out to be Granger gives it a bit of a twist.

No classic but definitely something a little different from our two leading men of whom I consider myself a fan.

The Prisoner of Zenda (1952) Day 2 of Stewart Granger fest.

“Fate doesn’t always make the right man King.”

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Stewart Granger takes on the dual role in this technicolor version of the famed story fifteen years after Ronald Colman essayed the role.

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MGM decorates this film with not only a wonderful palette of colors but a first rate cast to surround Granger as well. Our film starts with Granger arriving for a fishing trip one day before a coronation is about to take place crowning his lookalike to the throne. When he is approached by Louis Calhern and his double it is found he is a far distant relative and enjoys a night of drinking with the soon to be King. Problems arise when it is learned there are evil forces at work and our leading man must take the place of the real heir to keep the country in line and the throne from falling to the wrong hands.

The wrong hands belong to Robert Douglas who is the brother of the heir to the throne. The true highlight in this Richard Thorpe directed film is James Mason as Douglas’ right hand. Mason is in fine form here and chews the scenery quite nicely. He actually plays it as an arrogant SS officer in the German army. He’d like nothing more than to rule from behind the throne and capture Jane Greer as well. Trouble is she sees through him and loves Douglas despite his evil plotting.

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The romance angle thickens when Granger the impostor meets the Queen in waiting. It’s beautiful Deborah Kerr. She senses a change for the better in the man she knew and is swept off her feet by the wrong Granger. He in turn has fallen for her beauty and grace.

The plot really takes a turn towards adventure and swordplay when Mason and Douglas put the real King on ice. Granger the adventurer along with Calhern seek to find his whereabouts and end the charade by putting the correct man in his rightful place. Even if it goes against his heart and losing Miss Kerr.

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The scenes between Granger and Mason are what gives this film it’s drive. Their at odds from the beginning and will of course engage in an action packed duel towards the conclusion. Their banter both in the lead up and during the actual fight add that extra “something” to the spectacle. “Queen’s uniform and the old school tie,” Mason taunts when it comes to chivalry.

The screenplay here is credited to John L. Balderston who horror film fans should know as the writer of Universal’s Dracula, Mummy and Frankenstein originals that kick started the horror genre.

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Richard Thorpe is one of those directors that never gets mentioned despite having a long and successful career. He worked with many of the top tier stars of the day and helmed a few costume pieces including Ivanhoe, Knights of the Round Table and Quentin Durward. All with Robert Taylor. He also directed both Granger and Taylor in 1953’s All the Brothers Were Valiant.

Granger and leading lady Kerr had also previously appeared in the successful remake of King Solomon’s Mines in 1950. Aside from Kerr it’s Jane Greer who I thought had the better female role in this adventure. She has a little more to do than just look radiant and swoon at Granger’s touch. She is after all in love with one villain and desired by the other.

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And yes indeed that is Kathleen Freeman near the start of the film. The same lady who to my delight would one day be cast as The Penguin in The Blues Brothers bringing her yard stick down mightily on the boys.

Noteworthy is the casting of Lewis Stone as the Cardinal. Stone had played the Granger part in the 1923 silent. This was his second last film. The last being the Granger-Taylor teaming of 1953. Stone is of course widely known as Judge Hardy in the long running Mickey Rooney series.

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Where this version of the story ranks compared to the other versions (including a Peter Sellers spoof) isn’t the point here. It’s to encourage you to check this one out and see Granger at the top of his game right alongside James Mason.

Moonfleet (1955) Stewart Granger Day 1 of 5

“Moonfleet is a nest for smugglers.”

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Moonfleet was actually a novel that I had to read in Grade ten English class. At the time I had little interest in this Treasure Island style tale. I would have much preferred to finish my assignments on the novel by getting my hands on the Fritz Lang film version starring Stewart Granger. Not so easy back in the days before TCM and when the VHS market was emerging. Film titles were slowly being released by their rights holders but many like this fifties title were not exactly in high demand.

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Our tale begins in 1757 when a young Jon Whiteley is orphaned and sent to find Granger with a letter of introduction. Granger is to be his new Master. Taken by surprise this doesn’t sit well with Stewart as the boy might get in the way of his smuggling operation. Granger fronts for a gang of cutthroats. He’s a well to do man of the village who parties with the likes of George Sanders and takes women as they come. This includes Viveca Lindfors and even Sander’s wife Joan Greenwood.

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It isn’t long before Granger’s young charge gets in the way by discovering the gang of scurvy and the fact that Granger is their leader. Mixed in with these thieves is character favorite Jack Elam. It’s during these scenes of discovery that Lang successfully gives the film an eerie quality through the eyes of a young boy exploring an ancient graveyard filled with decaying crypts and rather scary statues. Tales of a Red Beard ghost and a lost diamond treasure add to the film’s period flavor.

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With the gang wanting the boy silenced for good and constable John Hoyt trying to figure out how Granger is involved in the smuggling our leading man has his hands full. There’s plenty of excitement and swordplay as Stewart and the boy try to find the location of the missing diamond and stay one step ahead of both the police and the smugglers that want their justice from being betrayed by Granger for the sake of the boy.

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This is Granger in his prime years as a matinee idol. He’s given plenty to do here with both sword and romance. Granger fit so well into the costume epics of the day when stars like Errol Flynn were a fading commodity in tinsel town. Women seemed to naturally swoon at his touch and kiss.

As for Fritz Lang, his best years were behind him and this was one of his final films in America before going overseas to direct a few features and even appear as himself in Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt.

While George Sanders can play a wonderful snob he doesn’t have too much to do this time out but does have a great line when describing the young boy in Granger’s care, “Vicious little chap. Spilled a glass of wine over me.”

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So while Lang directed this novel by J. Meade Falkner it was produced by John Houseman who at this time was known for producing but would of course move into acting in his senior years with much success.

Along with well known character actors Jack Elam and John Hoyt we also have Alan Napier as the local minister. Napier was another “face” who would eventually find fame as Alfred the butler on the Adam West Batman series of the sixties.

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While I don’t recall how I fared on my English assignment I do know that this is a fun film worth seeking out for fans of both Fritz Lang and leading man Stewart Granger.

 

Poor Devil (1973)

If this feels like a television show of some long forgotten series you’re not far too far off. It’s a failed series pilot that played as a 73 minute movie of the week in a ninety minute slot allowing for commercials,.

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What we really have here is a variation on the film Bedazzled which starred Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. This time we get Sammy Davis Jr. as Sammy a minion of Lucifer whose job is to get Jack Klugman’s name on a seven year contract that surrenders his soul at the contract’s termination. Sounds simple enough but Sammy is far too mild for the job and according to some of his brethren below belongs “up there” in reference to heaven.

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Klugman of Odd Couple fame is a twenty-five year veteran in the accounting division of a large department store that is run by Adam West. He’s tired of waiting for a promotion and kissing West’s rear end. “I’d sell my soul to get even.” The next thing he knows he has Sammy the salesman trying to enlist him in the Devil’s legion.

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The real highlight here is the actor portraying Lucifer. It’s none other than Christopher Lee. He’s perfect for the role of a desk bound dictator where everything surrounding him is either outright red or close to it. Lee’s baritone voice has his minions on edge and Sammy’s toothpick legs and knees a knocking. While Lee has an incredible amount of credits to his name the early seventies was an era where he turned up in everything from Hammer titles, a Billy Wilder film to Bond and this ABC movie of the week. For trivia buffs he had actually made a cameo appearance as Dracula in the Sammy Davis – Peter Lawford comedy One More Time in 1969.

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I for one have always like Sammy Davis Jr. His energy while performing is amazing and it’s too bad the script didn’t allow him to give us a song and dance number as it would have fit into the narrative with little trouble.

This series pilot was directed by long time veteran of series television Robert Scheerer. He was employed on what seems like a list of every show I can recall from the years when my parents controlled our viewing selections for the night. The Love Boat, Kolchak and Matlock to name just a few. I do recall seeing this years ago in rerun but as is the case with most made for tv films it’s all but disappeared.

So while this one’s pretty rare I was happy to recently snag a copy and can now mark it off my list of Lee films to acquire.

The King and Four Queens (1956)

If ever there was a gimmick film to match a MOVIE STAR”S presence and charisma, this may be near the top of the list. The title alone is a play on words as Clark Gable was “The King” of Hollywood.

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While this film isn’t mentioned in the same breath as many of Gable’s classics it shouldn’t be avoided. The script is tailored to having him play off the Gable image or product if you prefer and Gable delivers. Much to the delight of his female costars other than Jo Van Fleet.

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It’s a tall tale of four women living on a ranch with their mother-in-law Jo Van Fleet and a buried treasure in gold worth a 100 grand. It seems that their hubbies were a gang of bank robbers and three of the four got themselves killed in an explosion. They were burnt beyond recognition and the four women along with Van Fleet are hoping the remaining son returns for the loot and to claim his woman. Van Fleet has taken it upon herself to keep the women pure while waiting. It’s been a long two years. Enter Gable.

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Gable plays a conman who Van Fleet reluctantly lets stay on the property till a wound mends. While Gable is there he has to fend off while at the same time encourage the advances of three love starved women in the figures of Jean Willes who makes her presence felt and her intentions clear. Barbara Nichols who is a Marilyn Monroe wanna be. Sara Shane who pretends to be the girl next door and lastly the woman who is smart enough to meet Gable head to head. The gorgeous Eleanor Parker.

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Parker : “If I were you Mr. Kehoe I wouldn’t lie to her (Van Fleet) or try to play any games with me either.

Gable : “There’s a few I’d like to try Miss.”

Gable is in his element here fencing and flirting with the four queens of the title. He just has to figure out how to play Van Fleet and find where the money is buried. He’ll also have to figure out which woman he can hopefully take into his confidence and gain her trust as well. Paging Eleanor Parker please.

This Raoul Walsh directed film is pure entertainment. It’s setting is the west but that doesn’t make it a typical western. The script is geared towards giving both Gable a fun role that he seems to be truly enjoying and audiences of the day what they expect when shelling out their cash at the box office for a Gable picture.

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Eleanor Parker is one of the fifties best treasures on camera. She’s beautiful, sexy and I can’t help but love her husky voice either. Like Maureen O’Hara she paired well with physical leading men sparring on screen with the likes of Gable, Granger and Taylor quite successfully. Not to mention Charlton Heston………. cameo time.

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Along with legendary director Walsh behind the camera was Lucien Ballard as the credited photographer. His name jumps out at me for his work on countless westerns including The Wild Bunch and True Grit.

While mainly Gable and the ladies appear on screen we do get a couple of well known character actors for a few minutes screen time. Arthur Shields and Jay C. Flippen.

If this Gable film has eluded you over the years go find a copy and admire the man’s on screen appeal and movie star magnetism.