The Kentuckian (1955) Burt Lancaster in the Fifties

Like many stars experiencing their peak years at the box-office, Burt Lancaster felt the need to get behind the camera and direct himself. He chose to do so in the comfortable surroundings of an outdoor adventure and wisely hired a solid cast of character players to surround himself with. While the results are not in the class of some of his other fifties efforts like The Sweet Smell of Success or The Crimson Pirate, The Kentuckian makes for an enjoyable adventure with Burt front and center.


Burt and Donald MacDonald play widowed father and son. Big Eli and Little Eli. The duo are chasing their dreams while making their way across the wild frontier to Texas. Burt is a true outdoorsman and not exactly housebroken. When the pair come across a settlement, Lancaster quickly runs afoul of Sheriff Rhys Williams finding himself locked up. Enter Dianne Foster as a bound girl who looks after Little Eli. She soon learns that Rhys and her owner Will Wright have evil plans for Burt. Taking her chances she steals away in the night and helps Burt and his son make off in the wilderness.

Things don’t quite go as planned leading Burt to buy his way out of trouble and to pay off Foster’s debt to Wright. Thus he has given up his “Texas money” and perhaps his dream.


The film picks up when Burt and company arrive at the next town. He finds a home with his businessman brother played by John McIntire and his wife, Una Merkel. They want Burt to settle down and begin a new family. They even have a bride lined up played by the town school teacher, Diana Lynn. Little Eli has other ideas and wants to continue on the journey to Texas and bring along Miss Foster in the hopes that she will find romance with Burt.

More of a mountain village than a town, Burt quickly finds enemies with the likes of tavern owner Walter Matthau and the long, skinny John Carradine. They continually ride Burt for his backwoods education and ignorance of things common to most men. Things are bound to come to a head between Burt and Matthau, master of the bullwhip.


Walter Matthau made his film debut here as the heavy and looking at him in this, who would think that someday he’d excel as a light comedian when called upon. He carries within him a nasty streak and a foul sense of humor and fair play.  Carradine plays his role of a travelling salesman as if he were performing Shakespeare, “Hitting a poor scholar isn’t going to cure your ignorance, my friend.” It’s always fun to watch John do his thing.

Amidst the romantic triangle, longing for the wilderness though losing his way and a backwoods family feud, Burt turns out an admirable adventure film though a might heavy at times on the family sentiment. Clearly present is the larger than life Lancaster smile and his dominating physical presence. This he puts to good use in the final on screen battle.

burt in kentuckian2

There won’t be any surprises for the viewer along the way but Lancaster gives us just what we would want to see when paying our entrance fee. An old fashioned popcorn adventure with the ending we expect befitting a star of Burt’s magnitude.

Though Burt’s character may be easily picked upon by city folk he isn’t entirely without street smarts and his scene on a riverboat where he is set upon by gamblers looking to take his bankroll is worth the effort to seek out this title that was produced by Burt’s long time business partner Harold Hecht. Burt also employed top notch cinematographer Ernest Laszlo and Bernard Herrmann for the musical score.

burt in kentuckian

As for directing, Burt’s first go around wasn’t all that successful personally and it would be 1974 before he attempted double duty again with a rather rare title, The Midnight Man.

The Kentuckian, I like it. It may not be the best of his films but it gives us enough of the Lancaster strengths to make it an enjoyable old fashioned afternoon adventure.

Rope of Sand (1949) Burt Lancaster in the Forties

As the 1940’s drew to a close, Burt Lancaster finished up the decade in a film that sought to re-team the cast of Casablanca. Producer Hal Wallis who had done the earlier title almost succeeded. Peter Lorre, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains turned up but Burt stepped in for Bogie and Corinne Calvet filled in for Bergman.

rope of sand one sheet

Burt stars as an adventurer out for revenge. He has a powerful hatred on for sadistic Paul Henreid. Taking place in Africa, Henreid runs the day to day operations of a diamond field overseen by the polished Claude Rains. Burt has returned to a flea ridden town that borders the diamond operation. Upon his arrival he renews hostilities with Henreid and bumps into bar fly Peter Lorre. Lorre conveniently places Burt from the past and tells us a supposed fairy tale of an American who was wronged but left a fortune in diamonds stashed in a secret hideaway somewhere across the barrier protecting the diamond field.

lancaster and lorre

Lorre is quick to remind Burt, ” I am here, free as the wind, fountain of extraordinary knowledge, splendidly corrupt and eager to be of profitable service. ”

Slippery Rains enlists the lovely Calvet to extract from Burt the location of the hidden gems that everyone in the screenplay assumes he has returned for. Better still, Calvet is used to attract both Henreid and Lancaster for Rains’ amusement. Could it be just possible that our lovely lady might actually fall for one of the leading men? Care to guess which one?


During the course of this Paramount picture, Burt is a sucker for both physical punishment and of the heartbreak type. Before the final fade out, Henreid is going to get his hooks into Burt though each does get the upper hand at various times during the proceedings. This includes a cutthroat game of poker for high stakes. There is plenty of action packed into this tale of diamonds and deceit from director William Dieterle. We’ll even get the benefit of seeing the likes of Sam Jaffe, Mike Mazurki and John Bromfield putting in appearances.

Lancaster is pretty much all action and brooding this time out as he takes on the supposed Bogart role. His physical presence is towering when he takes on Henreid during a late night sand storm encounter. Henreid really takes to the vicious role assigned him here. He adapts well to the sadism that the script allows his character to employ when extracting information form those in his way or the women who spurn him.


It should come as no surprise that Claude Rains steals every scene he’s in. He toys with Calvet upon their first encounter as she tries to blackmail him. He quickly turns the tables in his favor. He spars with Lancaster throughout and he keeps Henreid at arm’s length controlling his puppet strings with the promise of wealth.

Rains practically winks at the camera with lines like, “I never know what to think anymore. I’m being constantly disillusioned. Has money completely lost its power? Is everyone motivated now by love? ”


Considering Burt Lancaster made his film debut just three years prior to this films release he holds his own as an action hero while surrounded by the three Casablanca alumni. Sure at this time they could act circles around him. Mainly because they didn’t look to be trying so hard. Still, Lancaster was up to the challenge and full marks have to be given to him for wanting to become more then just a he-man star of violent action movies. After all, history will prove that he’s the only member of this cast that would some day hold an acting Oscar though I don’t mean to diminish the record of the other men. Especially Rains.


Rope of Sand could easily have morphed into a Bogart showcase but as it is, it’s an above par effort that helped to establish the Burt Lancaster persona for the decade ahead.

Decade By Decade Spotlight Featuring Burt Lancaster

burt in professionals

Burt Lancaster is one of those actors that I began to follow at an early age once I was old enough to connect the dots. He was Wyatt Earp to this young fan of westerns on Saturday afternoon television while growing up. A trapeze artist, a pirate, a soldier and so much more as I got older and tuned in to films like The Swimmer or The Sweet Smell of Success. I thought it wonderful that at an advanced age he was at the top of his craft in Atlantic City and back in a popcorn movie with Kirk Douglas in Tough Guys that I caught on opening night of it’s release.

So the point is that many of my favorite actors had very long film careers. Burt began in 1946 and never really stopped until a stroke delivered the final blow to his career. He acted all the way into the 90’s and went out on the big screen in a memorable role with Field of Dreams following that up with some movies for the small screen before his forced retirement.


So I’ve hit upon the idea to feature actors like Burt who had a long run in film by featuring one of their films from each decade that they blessed us with over the length of their career.

Not too long ago I recently heard that someone had just discovered Lancaster and looked forward to seeing more of his films. Boy was I jealous. Can you imagine getting the opportunity to start all over again and see his films for the first time?

What better way to kick start this idea then with one of cinema’s all time greats. An actor who grew old gracefully right before our eyes and demanded our respect right up until the end.

Any favorites of your own? Do tell.



It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movie Challenge….. Bombshell (1933)

Back to a pre-code assignment from blogger pal Kristina over at the Speakeasy. It’s time for our monthly challenge when we give each other a title we haven’t yet seen to help broaden our movie going experiences. Kristina loves the pre-code era of Hollywood and has given me an MGM title featuring one of the most famous actresses of the early days of talking motion pictures, Jean Harlow.

bombshell one sheet

It’s practically art imitating life for this Harlow role as she is essentially playing a thinly veiled persona of Harlow the commodity while trying to maintain her sanity and still be herself behind all the glitter and fame. Screwball style.

Harlow as Lola Burns is the toast of Hollywood and the desire of most men as her face is splashed across the covers of Photoplay and other movie magazines. There’s even a glimpse of her taking on heavyweight champ Primo Carnera. When the publicity agent for Harlow’s studio Monarch Films Inc. continually gets her featured in one news article after another she begins to rebel, tired of the constant limelight.

With Lee Tracy as a rather unscrupulous publicity hound who can blame her. He just won’t let up on his scheming and when Harlow swears off her next picture he’s resorting to any means possible to keep her under the studio’s thumb.


Harlow is besieged with scalawags all about. Her father is played by Frank Morgan who hasn’t held a bottle he couldn’t empty in one gulp. Her no-count brother is played by Ted Healy, unfortunately minus his Three Stooges. These two leaches fit right in with Tracy and his never ending attempts to hold court over Harlow.

The film includes some real life in-jokes with Harlow (known as Baby to Clark Gable) who has to do some retakes for the famous Red Dust bath in a barrel scene. Harlow and Gable lit up the screen in this this 1932 release from Victor Fleming. Fleming it turned out also directed this comedy take on Harlow’s off screen troubles. Troubles that include rabid fans and one that today we would lock up as a confirmed stalker.

Poor Jean is going to go through a rapid succession of crazed scenes including a call to Motherhood which doesn’t work out to well. Her attempts to secure a child at the local adoption agency are hampered due to an ex-lover and the annoying presence of the always scheming Tracy.

Jean Harlow - Bombshell

Harlow then flees to a hotel getaway and luckily runs right into heartthrob Franchot Tone. It’s love at first sight and even Tracy who shows up with his usual self serving intentions can’t sway Harlow from the smooth romantic lines coming from her new beau.

“Your hair is like a field of silver daisies. I’d like to run barefoot through your hair! ”

Franchot Tone & Jean Harlow

Things may not go to smoothly for poor Jean when Tone’s wealthy father played by C. Aubrey Smith isn’t exactly enamored of a movie star’s lifestyle. Troubles are only compounded when Jean’s drunken father Morgan turns up doing his best at putting on airs of his own to no success.

All the while we have the annoying Tracy and his plotting schemes going on behind poor Jean’s back to lure her back to the limelight of tinsel town.

lee tracy and harlow

This is generally a light hearted romp though I suspect there’s some truth hidden in here as to Harlow’s real life which sadly was all too short. It’s not a stretch to see that Lola Burns is really a mirror image of what Harlow’s day to day life may have been like around the studio and the mobs of fans awaiting her at every turn.

Apparently this story was at one time linked to Clara Bow. The “It Girl.” The script even retains a line where Jean refers to being fed up with being just another “It Girl”.

Hoping to spot a scene that probably wouldn’t make the cut after 1934 when the new “code” was ushered into cinema you’ll see a bare shouldered Jean being attended to with her make up artists. It’s more than obvious during the scene that she isn’t wearing a bra either. Sinful!

lombard in action

Thankfully Mr. Hays would prevent such outright acts of impropriety in movie houses across the nation shortly thereafter.

Miss Harlow once again shines on camera and it’s easy to see how she captivated audiences during the early thirties. Beautiful and sassy. A great combination during any era.

Lee Tracy as the press agent hasn’t aged well. It’s a rather annoying character that just grates on the nerves. Perhaps I wouldn’t be so hard on him if had of been a fast talking Gable or a young Cary Grant assigned to the role. Also filling out the cast is a loud and quick tempered Pat O’Brien as a director/ex-lover of Jean’s and Una Merkel as her go getter around the house and studio.

Jean Harlow + Pat O'Brien Bombshell Lola in Red Dust

There are plenty of Gable references within the script by John Lee Mahin. Mahin had also penned the popular Red Dust which was one of six films Harlow teamed up with Gable in. China Seas and her final film Saratoga among them.

A good time to be had here where the focus is clearly centered on the Queen of platinum blondes.


Be sure to head over and have a rowdy time and a pint of beer with a couple of good old boys at Kristina’s Speakeasy where she’s been challenged to watch a movie with one of her favorite actors and mine that had somehow slipped past her. I’m not sure what’s more sinful. Kristina not already seeing this engaging comedy or Harlow’s bare shoulders on camera!

First Monday In October (1981)

Can you see Walter Matthau as a rather grumpy member of the supreme court justice system?

matthau as judge

Not really much of a stretch to see Walter play anything with a grumpy, sarcastic slant to it. Especially as we have the benefit of looking back and seeing him actually play a Grumpy Old Man in a couple of surprise hits at the box office.

Walter Matthau’s character here of Dan Snow was originated on stage by Henry Fonda who by this time was in rather frail condition so Matthau stepped into the role of a cantankerous Judge ( “You’re not bothering me, you’re interrupting me, but you’re not bothering me. “) who isn’t at all happy when Jill Clayburgh is assigned to take the seat of a recently deceased member of the Court.

The days of the old boys club have come to an end with changing times.

“Would you like tea or whiskey?” Walter’s response, “Both. No, skip the tea, I don’t want to overdo it. ”


For her part, Jill has to get tough but remain smart to swim in D.C. with the constant references to her sexuality when standing before the senate as they grill her about the job she has been appointed to and then the other seven Judges of the Supreme Court where Walter seems to carry much of the weight.

There are two cases that the pair will preside over and of course bicker about. First off is a pornographic movie titled The Naked Nymphomaniac and whether or not it can be shown theatrically. Things sure have changed as we look back to 1981 from our vantage point today so this actually forces the film into a time capsule through no fault of it’s own.


The other issue happens to be about an invention that has been stymied that could have been considered an alternative fuel thus putting the gas companies out of business. The status of this case is that Jill may be somehow connected to it thus disqualifying her from the bench.

There’s really not much more to this Ronald Neame film that I must admit to thinking was a battle of the sexes that led into an outright romantic comedy. Not the case.

first monday half sheet

Matthau is actually married to Jan Sterling in this one and though they have a rocky relationship it isn’t used as a catalyst to Walter and Jill getting together. The implication is there that it could happen but the film like a stage play mainly keeps them in the courts and their offices behind the courtroom.

Walter astutely points out to Jill that she has a male secretary thus completing the role reversal.

Not as laugh out loud funny as I expected though as a Matthau fan I can’t help but smile as he gives us some of his lines through a grimace.

FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER, Walter Matthau, Jill Clayburgh, 1981, (c)Paramount Pictures

“To you it’s a mess, to me it’s a wilderness of free association. Don’t ever straighten up my desk Mason, I’d never be able to find anything. I’ve always been suspicious of neatness. If there is nothing on top of a man’s desk, he probably shoved all the clutter in the drawers and if his drawers are empty, what the hell does he need a desk for? ”

Generally speaking a two part film with good work by the leads but yes, I wish it played out a bit differently and morphed into the rom-com which it threatened to do but couldn’t quite bring itself around to committing itself to.

Anthony Caruso : More Than The Henchman

This article on Mr. Caruso was kindly featured in the September 2014 issue of The Dark Pages put forth by Karen of Shadows and Satin.

caruso in star trek

My first recollection of Anthony Caruso would have to be from his appearance as Bela opposite Vic Tayback’s Krako on Star Trek’s fondly remembered episode titled “A Piece of the Action.” For Caruso, it seems very fitting that he would be portraying a gangster, having come from so many crime dramas and noir-themed films from the genre’s glory days. The world lost Anthony Caruso in April of 2003. For film and television fans, he left more than 250 acting credits to remember him by.

Tony was born in Frankfort, Indiana in April 1916. Following high school in Long Beach, California, he found himself in a tent show stock company that ultimately led him to the Pasadena Playhouse. It was here that he received his classical training, which included performing Shakespeare.

When Tony bought a down-on-his-luck actor a meal while at the playhouse, it would turn out to be a wise investment, both personally and financially in the years ahead. That young actor was Alan Ladd, who never forgot Tony’s act of kindness and went out of his way to include him on a cast list whenever possible. Tony would turn up in no fewer than ten Ladd films throughout Alan’s career.

caruso head shot

Fittingly, Tony made his screen debut billed simply as “Henchman” opposite Tyrone Power in the 1940 film Johnny Apollo. That same year Tony married  Tonia Valente and the marriage endured until Tony’s death 63 years later.

Throughout the 1940’s, Tony logged numerous credits that more often than not were characters of dubious ethics. His name must have been prominently displayed on local casting director’s lists whenever a gunman or two-bit gangster was needed to flesh out a story.

Tony found himself in a wide variety of films, ranging from “B” programmers like Tall, Dark and Handsome to “A” budget films with major stars like Watch on The Rhine, Objective Burma, The Blue Dahlia or To Each His Own. This allowed Tony to be seen with screen idols of the day like Ladd, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland. He also turned up in comedy showcases for Bob Hope and Red Skelton. Always flirting with the gangster genre, Tony found the size of those roles varied. He’d play cameo bits with no billing, to meatier co-starring roles like Salvatore Rocco, the bookkeeper who holds the key to bringing down an extortion ring in the Glenn Ford film The Undercover Man.

caruso in fedora

It was in 1950 that John Huston cast Tony in what is probably his most widely seen film, The Asphalt Jungle. Appearing in an ensemble piece with the likes of Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore, Louis Calhern and Marilyn Monroe, Tony’s part perhaps elicited the most sympathy from the viewing audience. His portrayal of Louis Ciavelli, the safe blower who is trying to better his family’s living conditions allowed him to hold his own with the well known cast in what has become one of Noir’s more memorable films. One year later, he appeared in another popular feature staring Noir poster boy Robert Mitchum, His Kind of Woman, where he played a vicious thug who has it in for Mitch.

In real life Tony and Mitchum were friends going back to their teenage years in high school. They maintained a friendship until Mitchum passed away in 1997. Along the way Tony appeared in a number of Mitchum’s films including the Robert Parrish western, The Wonderful Country.

Like many character actors of the day, Tony moved into the western as that genre hit it’s stride in the 1950’s. He made appearances in Cattle Queen of Montana, The Oklahoman and alongside Alan Ladd once again in a western remake of The Asphalt Jungle titled The Badlanders. With Tony’s ethnic looks, he was equally at home playing a gunman or an Indian.


In between roles, Tony found work in the new medium of television. Early appearances included guesting on The Lone Ranger, The Adventures of Jim Bowie and Ethel Barrymore Theater. The Jim Bowie appearance is amusing as he had appeared in the Alan Ladd movie version of the Jim Bowie story, The Iron Mistress. There, Tony carried a menacing presence that led to a colorful knife fight.

As television picked up steam in the next decade, Tony appeared on practically every show one can recall from Thriller to Sea Hunt and Perry Mason. Then of course he continued with TV westerns that had reached a crescendo with Bonanza and Have Gun Will Travel. He also logged a total of 14 appearances on Gunsmoke.

Tony remained active in the 1970’s with numerous credits. He guested on Policewoman, Baretta and Fantasy Island before slowing down in the 1980’s, where he even turned up opposite Bill Bixby on an episode of The Incredible Hulk. His final screen appearance was in 1990 in The Legend of Grizzly Adams.

caruso older

Anthony Caruso is one of those “faces” that you know you’ve seen a hundred times before but, more often than not, cannot quite put a name to. One never knows where Caruso will pop up next, be it a 1940’s “B” movie or a classic show from television’s golden years. Either way, stop and give that face a look because there’s a real pro there acting for your viewing pleasure.

The Boris Karloff Poster Gallery


When the calendar hits the 23rd of November it’s time to celebrate.

Meaning it’s time to celebrate the birthday of an actor who is not only one of cinema’s great horror stars but by most accounts also one of it’s most gracious gentleman. Boris’ birthday is one I can never forget as I am fortunate enough to share mine with his. That’s pretty cool considering I’ve been a Karloff fan since I was old enough to connect the actor to the monster beneath the grease paint.

I have a few of his posters in my collection but sadly none of the early ones. The Haunted Strangler, The Crimson Cult and this 1963 North American release of his 1958 title filmed in England.


Boris and his life long friend…”The Monster.”

frankenstein one sheet

The high camp of Fu Manchu. “This serum, distilled from dragon’s blood, my own blood, the organs of different reptiles, and mixed with the magic brew of the sacred seven herbs, will temporarily change you into the living instrument of my will. You will do as I command! ”

1932 mask of fu manchu a

“Leave the dead to their makers.”

walking dead one sheet

Moving into the Mad Doctor phase of Dear Boris’ career.


Aside from the “Monster”,  I do believe that Gray the coachman is his finest role. If only we could go back and redo the Oscars! “You’ve made a disease of me, eh, Toddy? ”


Having fun with the boys and seeing his name in the actual title of the film.


Re-uniting with some old friends for a top notch spook satire.


Teaming with Italy’s Mario Bava proved Boris was still at the top of his game when given the chance.


Working up until the end in this underrated effort from Michael Reeves.


Even children the world over will always know the sound of his voice. I take comfort in that.