PITFALL ( 1948 )

PITFALL ( I )PITFALL ( III )PITFALL ( II )PITFALL ( IV )Husband                     Wife                         Mistress                   Creep

PITFALL is taut tense quiet drama and I like how it plays out. You think it’s going to go one way and director André De Toth takes you in a different direction.  For Dick Powell who plays John Forbes, your average, postwar, 9-to-5, Everyman, Insurance man, what happens outside his marriage comes crashing into his suburban home like a tsunami. (Gosh, insurance guys sure lead fascinating lives; remember Walter Neff?) Powell’s a hero to his son, a good provider to his wife, but his life is in a rut. Then Lizabeth Scott falls into his lap.

PITFALL ( V )RAYMOND BURR is Mac, the private investigator Dick Powell sends out on Lizabeth Scott’s case and he’s developed a hankering for her, to put it mildly. He’s just a guy who can’t take “No.” Basically he’s a one-track minded terminator, obsessed with Scott beyond all rhyme and reason. He’s having that relationship with her all by himself. In fact, Burr spends much of the late 40’s and 50’s not getting the girl. Scott wants no part of this hulking brute. Any girl would take a ten-foot pole and vault as far away from him as possi-ble. Visiting her in the shop where she works, he has free rein to sit and watch her model clothes for him as long as his cash holds out. All perfectly legal. All perfectly “Eeeeew!” I told you he was a creep.


I like DICK POWELL as John Forbes. He gets all caught up in a web of his own making but I do feel sorry for him. It’s not that he does not love his wife; he does. He’s just frustrated and bored with the routine and predic-tability of his own life. He did not look for this; doesn’t initiate it. Yes, lying by omission is still lying. Yes, he should have gotten a hobby. Yes, he could have said no, but…c’mon.

“I guess I’m a little out of practice. I never quoted anything but statistics. I’m a little unsure of  myself whenever I crawl out of my briefcase.”



Forbes takes inventory of the items Mona Stevens received from her ex-boyfriend who’s now in jail for embezzlement. LIZA-BETH SCOTT plays Mona and if you know anything about Lizabeth in the 40’s, you know she rarely caught a break! As Forbes investigates her, he is strictly about business. Says Mona about her ex:

“He was just too much in love with me. He wanted to do things for me and he didn’t have the money. So he went out and got some…I liked him mostly because he was nice to me. Very few men are. That means a lot.”  


Forbes warms up to her when he sees she’s not a bad egg; she is not a femme fatale in the strictest sense of the word. She just got caught up in something herself. It’s the begin-ning of getting-to-know-you. Mona offers Forbes a life raft out of his sea of boredom. She lets him have a ride on her ill-gotten gains of a boat before he confiscates it, and he gets a brief glimpse of how the other half lives; a respite from his ordinary existence. I think they recognize they’re each caught up in life’s circumstances. She invites him to a home-cooked meal where one thing leads to another. See…he just falls into it.


Maybe moguls got JANE WYATT confused with Jane Wyman due the similarity of their last names. Wyatt did not get all the meaty roles Wyman or Dorothy McGuire were offered, but she was a fine actress as well – ( I love her voice ) and it shows here in “Pitfall” as Sue Forbes, John’s wife. As Sue she is pretty, competent and has a sense of humor; she tries to sensibly cajole him out of his doldrums. She seems like a true partner in that marriage; someone who can go to a PTA meeting or country club, and is probably a good bridge partner. ‘The Wife’ usually is a thankless role in movies, painted as nag, shrew, harpy. But not here. ( Anne Archer in “Fatal Attraction” comes to mind. )  As Sue, she’s not too busy for her husband and accepts her adult responsibility. Yes he strays, but we can see there’s nothing really wrong with Sue.




After she accidentally discovers he’s married, he breaks off the affair.


JOHN: “I’ve done something I’m terribly ashamed of. I’d like to make it up to you.”

MONA: “Well if you think I’m going to stand in competition with a wife and child…even I’ve got more sense than that.”

JOHN: “What’s going to happen to you?”

MONA: “What do you care, really. Honestly Johnny, aren’t you a little relieved to get out of it this easily. This is the set up Johnny. This is the kind of girl you’ve always dreamed about. I’m going to let you off without an angle. I could be nasty. But I’m not going to be.”

JOHN: “Why?”

MONA:  “I don’t know. But I’m not going to be…what happens to men like you, Johnny? If I had a nice home like you did Johnny, I wouldn’t take a chance with it for anything in the world.”

JOHN: “I’ll do anything I can.”

MONA:  “Will you really? Alright. Then go home. Stay there.”

JOHN:  “Alright. If that’s the way you want it.”

MONA:  “If that’s the way I want it? Have you got any other ideas?”


It’s a clean break. A sad one. Hurtful. John gets away “scott”-free. He’s learned his lesson and is now back in the fold, content with what he has at home.

Uhmmm…not so fast.


PITFALL ( XII )What intrigues me about this film is that it’s not just your usual married-man-cheats-and-slinks-back-home-feeling-guilty sort of thing. There are tangible consequences, not just emotional ones. His outside actions intrude on his home life ( again, like in Fatal Attraction” ) and in a big way. Big as in RAYMOND BURRThe conflict between the two men is an in-teresting dynamic and it puts Forbes in a pickle. They both like Mona. One offers protection, the other – his obsession. How can John protect Mona against Mac without his wife finding out about the affair? And if pounding  Forbes to a pulp won’t keep him from Mona, ( John has to lie to Sue about why he was beat up… )  Mac decides to create a human heat-seeking missile out of Mona’s ex, Smiley, ( Byron Barr. ) And Smiley heads straight to Forbes’ house after being released from prison. It all comes to a head.


Sue tells John:

Conscience? You make it sound like a dirty word. You worrying about your filthy little conscience… you’re not going to the police. You lied once. It came to you easily enough then. You’ve got to lie now. I mean this Johnny, if you drag this family through the dirt I’ll never forgive you!

Lots of compromises in “Pitfall.” Everything is not tied up in a nice tidy bow. That only hap-pens in the movies.

CineMoral: If your husband gets a beat-down and doesn’t report it to the cops…he’s having an affair.

You can read a more in depth look at Raymond Burr in “Pitfall” here: at the Caftan Woman blog that covered his performance in this movie for last April’s GREAT VILLAIN BLOGATHON hosted by Speakeasy, Silver Screenings and Shadows and Satin.



How would you like a little film noir in your adultery?  Yes…there will be SPOILERS:

NORA PRENTISS ( I )Nora Prentiss kneels before the ashes of her dreams of  home, hearth and a husband of her own

NORA PRENTISS is really a showcase for Ann Sheridan. Director Vincent Sherman gloriously holds the camera on her many times, to which I, as a Sheridan fan say “Yay!” She’s excellent. As Nora Prentiss, she hadnt sign up for this. Shes not a bad guy; no vixen or femme fatale or Vamp. She wants to be married, have kids, live out in the open. It gets increasingly dark for her too. She soon sees hes not any closer to divorce and this is not working out for her in an open way.


The He is played by Kent Smith. At first I was upset with him, the husband character ( Dr. Richard Talbott ). I thought he was a coward. He wanted to have his cake and eat it too. I almost couldn’t believe why she even fell for him in the first place. ( Dry, boring, dull. ) But then something clicked in me. (Like first hating reading Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” and then loving reading “My Antonia” in the tenth grade). A switch flipped, a lightbulb went off and I thought “0hhhhhhh, this is a movie about what happens when a man spirals down a devastating path…” Got it. Nora is the object of affection…but the movie is about him; THAT was the examination. Like Tyrone Power in “Nightmare Alley” Kent Smith’s character reached for something, going about it the wrong way…and down down down he goes.


Dr. Talbott’s not fun-loving anymore. He has them hiding in dingy hotel rooms, not going dancing or being seen in public. He’s living like a fugitive; he is a fugitive. Kent Smith does a grand job in the movie. I feel his desperation. He’s like Ray Milland in “The Lost Weekend.” Tattered, torn, unshaven, unkempt; looking like a wild man… irrational. “Don’t leave me!”but not letting her go; making every mistake in the book to do what he has to do to keep her. Getting deeper and deeper into the mess he’s made of his life. Car crash, fire, disfigurement and a murder trial. Kent does a very good job of showing us The Descent. Isn’t that what film noir is about?

There must be something about confessing to an extra-marital fling that is a fate worse than death. In Nora Prentiss” adultery is film noir. The Husband in this drama has much in common with our boy from DETOUR”.  Neon lights, rain-soaked streets, living in the shadows. I don’t mean to constantly compare this film to other movies; it’s just that the journey, the fall is so similar. The look of this film? Awww hell… all praises belong to Master Cinematographer: JAMES WONG HOWE. ( Look him up…you’ll faint at his credits ).

NORA PRENTISS ( James Wong Howe )     James Wong Howe and Vincent Sherman

Vincent Sherman and Ann Sheridan…yeh

 Just a couple of points to get off my chest:

*  Why do Movie Wives ( Rosemary DeCamp in this case ) act like cold fish and then are surprised when their husbands lose interest and get attracted to another woman.


*  I love the montage of their affair progressing. Who knew Kent had it in him. I liked that the movie didn’t make Sheridan out to be a gold-digger.

*  I loved Robert Alda waiting in the wings for Sheridan. He plays a nice guy.  Hes on the sidelines falling for Nora as well.

*  John Ridgely is in the movie…as he is in every movie ever made in every studio ever existed.

*  Sheridan puts a lot of emotion into that second song she sings. I love her close-ups. Tears, emotion-choked voice. ( I want to believe that’s Sheridan singing. Does anyone know? )

*  And back at the ranch…Kent’s not eating…pacing around..drinking. It reminds me of Carmen Jones ( here I go again ) when Dandridge is out hotfooting it around town and Belafonte has to stay cooped up in a hotel less the MPs find him. Kent even starts to look like the Geek Tyrone Power played in “Nightmare Alley.” Kent’s downward spiral is a sad fall from grace to see. He doesn’t help keep a girl. He becomes jealous, possessive. No body signed up for this.


*  Great car crash.

*  I love 1940’s fashion. ( Whaddya want…I’m a girl ).

*  I love Rosemary DeCamp at the trial.

*  The last shot of Kent Smith in this movie is truly disturbing.

*  FRANZ WAXMANFranz Waxman’s music – dark…doleful…mournful, moving. But that music at the end of the movie is particularly poignant as she walks down the courthouse steps knowing she was leaving her love in the hands of fate. The music’s dirge-like melancholy is beautiful and creates and fits the mood of the film perfectly.

Okay ohkaaaaaaaay…so John Ridgely wasn’t in every movie ever made. But it seems so.

See the movie trailer here:


CineMoral: If you need a doctor and he says he’s married…change doctors. And fellas…if you can’t handle the Ooomph, get outta the kitchen.


(   H O M E   )





I gave this movie a chance and I enjoyed it. Yes….there will be tears.

I have to admit A FAREWELL TO ARMS is equal parts Gary Cooper’s performance along with Helen Hayes’ because without Fredric there’s no Catherine and vice~versa. No doubt he is a tall quenching glass of water, but in general I feel Hayes acts rings around Cooper’s halting/hesitant/stilted delivery. I lean towards her, but I believe working with Hayes upped Coop’s acting game.


[ Parting…is such sweet sorrow, and how the heck tall ARE you?  ]



Maybe it was the “First Lady of the Theatre” moniker that put me off her initially; you know…all that “AHHKTING” and stodgy theatrical hijinks I imagined she had. 0R it could have been my first memories of Hayes as that little cotton-topped older lady in “AIRPORT” 1970. But a light switch finally turned on in my brain and out of the darkness of my blindness, entered Helen Hayes.

My silly biases have disappeared watching Hayes play Catherine Barkley, the Nurse in Frank Borzage’s romantic “A Farewell to Arms.” I thought she was very subtle in her acting~style; probably moreso than some of my pre-code faves ( who shall remain nameless in light of Hayes brilliance ). She’s as cute as a button and though she doesn’t have the, shall we say “sensual bling” of a Bow, Harlow or Louise Brooks, still waters do run very deep.


~ Florence Nightingale never covered THIS in the Nurses’ Manual ~

Catherine represents those young women a decade-plus into the 20th century’s beginnings who will bob their hair, seek The Vote and want just a touch more autonomy in their lives. ( Dont worry, they’re still a million and a half light years from burning their bras. ) She’s a little more interesting for me to watch. She’s left her small-town and is out in the world at large. Catherine leaves her provincial thinking back home, too. After all, she’s mending and healing war’s broken bodies. No, it’s not a pre-requisite to throw caution to the wind; but ‘saving’ herself for marriage is something she now questions as she speaks of her dead fiancee:

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d marry him. Or… anything.”

It’s those ‘…or anythings’ that’ll get you every time, girls.

As in Cinderella, the Lieutenant ambulance driver ( Gary Cooper ) and the nurse meet “cute”…during an air raid – Fredric with a veritable “slipper” in his hand.


May I show you something in a Size 3?


When next they meet, the Lieutenant steals the nurse from his buddy, Major Rinaldi (played by Adolphe Menjou) who had his “eyes” on her first. Neither mens intentions were quite honorable toward Nurse Catherine. But Fredric wins out. His gentle, insistent, full court press muffles the cries of protest from Catherine. Resistance is futile. ( Resist… really? A FAREWELL TO ARMS ( II )It’s Gary Cooper for cornsakes…and besides there’s a war going on; it’s practically a girl’s sacred patriotic duty to make hay. ) Afterwards, Fredric is concerned about her “afterwards”, but she is surprisingly resigned to having given up the “coin of the realm”. He seems more concerned than she, though I think she feigns her carpe-diem attitude. ( Note: his concern comes “after.” ) Sent to the front, he drives his ambulance BACK to see her to make sure she understands that this was not a mere one-nite stand. It’s his coming back to her that I think their emotional tale starts.

The young lovers both have BFFs who are adamantly opposed to their relationships. ( Makes me think of Rob Lowe’s and Demi Moore’s best friends in “About Last Night” yes, a decidedly un-classic film which has no business in this post.  )


Cooper, Menjou, Philips and Hayes


When I first saw Adolphe Menjou as the Italian Major and head doctor in charge, I scratched my head. Huh??? Wha’?? What in the name of Central Casting is this? But I must say he did grow on me by the end of the movie, even with his phony baloney Italian accent. And I loved how he called Fredric “bebe.” Rinaldi can’t believe he’s losing his ol’ running buddy to love. When he tries to cheapen Catherine in Fredric’s eyes to get him back, the lieutenant will have none of that. Menjou’s Captain Rinaldi is instrumental in separating the lovers. Sheesh, with friends like this… He later comes to understand their love is true and deep. But Catherine’s good friend is fellow nurse Ferguson never seems to understand. Shes played by Bogie’s ex-wife Mary Philips…who also played Gene Tierney’s mother in “Leave Her to Heaven.” ( How’s THAT for bits of trivia from the CineMaven. ) Ferguson seems so stuck up from the get-go.  She’s deeply opposed to Catherine’s relationship even more vehemently than Rinaldi. ( When Fredric looks for Catherine later in the film, Fergie is of no help at all. Can’t she see that he came back for Catherine? Ack! ) Why is Fergie sitting on the sidelines while “hook-ups” are happening all around her. Is there more beneath her friendship?


It’s interesting to see Catherine and Fredric travel their individual paths on that same road of love. 

Catherine and Fredric are sweet and loving and tender to each other ~ friends and conventions be damned. They’re just so plain cute together without being saccharine. ( Maybe it’s that living-together-thing. ) And when they have to part, even if Fredric has only twenty minutes before train time, he spends it with her. They live a lifetime in their little room. They live a lifetime in each other’s company. “I wish we could do something sinful. Eveything we do is simple and right,” says Catherine. How could loving each
( 1932 ) FAREWELL TO ARMSother be sinful? It’s pre~code. And in whose eyes? ACK! Beats me. But they’re going to pay a terrrrible price for this love. One of the Hayes moments I really enjoyed was her merely reading aloud a letter she’s writing him. She paints a beautiful picture of a house she’s rented and we hear her voice-over while director Borzage pans around the squalid little room. Hayes reads the letter so matter-of-factly without the least bit of an actress-y hint she’s already memorized what she’s supposed to be ‘reading’ to the audience. That small moment caught me. It’s a small thing I know, but it shows something to me of Hayes’ gift.

As Catherine, she’s going to rough it alone, wait for him to come back from the front. When she finds out her letters have never even reached him…

Fredric’s worried about not hearing from her. He knows something’s wrong. What initially started out as just a conquest, quickly turned into love for him. And truth be told, it turns out to be more than just love. It’s some kind of symbiotic oneness they have for each other. Fredric risking every-
farewell-ithing to leave his post to go back to her astounds me. He was like, “I’m leaving the Army and I’m going home.” Huh? What the… Yup, he was just going to leave and go home. See, this is the SECOND time he’s going back to her; he doesn’t care how far away he is from her…he has to get back to her. Simple. And that just plain kills me. Today, girls are wondering why he hasn’t called, texted, Instagrammed or FaceBook’d her, where “A Farewell to Arms” has the Lieutenant going through battle in, literally, the opposite direction of the war, just to get back to her…

Director Frank Borzage has some fantastic camera work, rather unexpected for me to see in the 1930’s when many were just doing long shot ~ medium shot ~ close-up. He also has his finger on the pulse of what is romantic…what is love, viscerally making us feel its ache. He’s well~practiced in it if you‘re familiar with his work. ( Moonrise, History Is Made At Night, 7th Heaven really just to name a few ).  If you read my friend’s thoughts on why this film is one of her favorites for 1932 ( scroll down and read —> here <— ) she gives a nice account of what Borzage captures. 

 farewell-iv farewell-v

“Please don’t die.” 

Here is where IMHO Gary Cooper shines. The praying against all hope that his little prayers would be answered in that big, wide, war-crazed world. A simple request. I was stunned by his tears and the unseeing look in his eyes as he ate his bread in the little bistro. All around him celebrated war’s end, while Catherine lie in a hospital. I can’t truthfully say Cooper touched me like this for the rest of his career.

I wanted a happy ending here so badly, it hurt. My throat was burning. Fate and Hemingway had different ideas.


(   H  O  M  E   )  




“Sir, I don’t want to intrude. But a United States Senator is news. I’m the editor of a newspaper with a state~wide circulation. I’ve got a responsibility to know why you came all the way down here to bury a man. You can’t just say ‘his name was Tom Doniphon,’ and leave it at that. Who was Tom Doniphon?!”

“He was a friend, Mr. Scott. And we’d like to be left alone.”


I had resisted seeing THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE almost all my movie-going life. John Ford...hes a’ight.. Westerns…meh.

I finally saw the movie.

…and on the big screen.

A few years ago I went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music ( BAM we New Yorkers call it ) as part of their feature of films made in 1962.  The casting of John Wayne opposite James Stewart  was inspired. It brought together two acting styles and two screen personas for the only time in their careers. I’ve seen Jimmy tough ‘n grizzled in those Mann westerns. He tamps down that toughness in this film. He’s all about Law & Order. Cerebral. Books. The Dude Out West. Then there’s the Duke. A Man’s Man. Physical. Thinks With His Fists. It was kind of wild seeing these two icons meet, two different acting styles meshing. Would it work? Yep. You could see the respect each actor had for the other. And in terms of the film, you could see the growing respect each character had for the other.

OMG! What took me so long?! DUH!! This is an incredibly rich film.

There were some wonderful archetypal Old West characters in this movie. And everyone played their part to the HILT:

andy-devineANDY DEVINE ~ (Link Appleyard~  a very hungry, very ineffectual Marshal…afraid of his own shadow but he’s not afraid of making babies. He’s all fluttery and nervous, a coward basically. Ford shows how ineffectual The Law can be. 

EDMOND O’BRIEN ~ (Dutton Peabody~  the newspaper editor. Bombastic and town drunk. Ultimately a man of principle…but he’s gotta have a drink.  I loved his blustering. He does a great job as a reluctant hero, and is proud as punch to get praised by Stoddard. O’Brien should have won or at least, hopefully, was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance as the soused, but conscious conscience of what’s right.


JOHN CARRADINE ~ (Major Cassius Starbuckle~  has a small role as a politician. He makes the most of this part as the self-important blow-hard politico who speaks for the cattle ranchers who want to keep the status quo: an open territory for their own specific use instead of Statehood, a place for all to benefit from.


LEE VAN CLEEF & STROTHER MARTIN are Valance’s henchmen. Van Cleef, strong and silent. Strother…just a sick puppy. He gets off on Valance’s cruelty. Eeeeew!

WOODY STRODEwoody-iv ~ (Pompey~ works for John Wayne and is his right-hand man. He sees all, says very little. A man couldnt have a better friend. He’s a student in Stewart’s one-room schoolhouse and sits on the sidelines while the men of the town are allowed to go inside to vote. He sits outside with his rifle protecting their right to vote in case the bad guys try to stop the democratic process hes unable to participate in himself. When he goes to get Tom Doniphon out of the bar to come back to the ranch after Libertys been shot dead, Tom wants Pompey to drink with him. The bartender is about to tell Pompey he cant be served but Tom shouts: “Who says he cant???!!!” and offers him a drink. Pompey doesnt drink, but I wish hed at least have taken a swig. Its sadly great how Ford shows Pompeys place in the West.

The Marshall and Pompey take secrets to the grave


VERA MILESvera-ii ~ (Hallie Stoddard) ~ Miles is usually so sophisticated in films, I was wondering if she could she pull off being a Western gal. She could. She’s a waitress in the town eatery. She’s loud and bossy and has control over the men in the restaurant. When she’s outed that she cannot read or write the hurt and embarrassment was palpable. Her hopefulness that maybe she could learn is wonderful. She is the object of the affection of both men (East & West). She does a lovely job of transitioning her feelings from Westerner Tom Doniphon (Wayne) to the Easterner ( Tom calls ‘Pilgrim’ ) Ransom Stoddard (Stewart).  Perhaps for her to move forward in life, to make progress, she needs to transition.


LEE MARVIN ~ (Liberty Valance~  is despicably and psychotically hateful. There is not one redeemable quality about him. The whip he uses to beat people with is almost more deadly than his gun…and much more personal. He gets a sensual pleasure beating people with it. There was nothing Cat Ballou~cutesy in Marvin’s portrayal. How ironic his name is Liberty in this movie because there is none while hes around. He truly is a menace to society. He would beat down the law, the farmers, the press just b’cuz he could. He beats ANYthing in his way except John Wayne. The only man Valance would back down for would be Wayne’s Tom Doniphon.

JOHN WAYNEwayne-i (Tom DoniphonI’ve known John Wayne all my whole movie~going memory. But he’s never really touched me emotionally until this movie. He gets scary angry in this film; his eyes like two ice-cold slits when he faces Vance. But he’s full of love for Hallie. I liked the heartfelt way he tells Hallie she looked pretty when she was angry. But the poor galoot doesn’t make his move quick enough with her. Faint heart never won fair maiden. She would have been his…but he allowed too much time to pass without putting his claim on her, and her heart was open for someone else. To see his abject heartache when he loses his girl is a tough watch. I think he represents the passing of the West. He doesn’t care about the credit Ransom Stoddard gets for killing that very bad man, he had just wanted the girl. Tom saves the life of the man Hallie loves. And becomes undone by the end of the film.
JAMES STEWART ~ (Ransom Stoddard) ~ When we first see Ranse hes a big~time Senator. Carries himself with the self~confidence of a man in power. But he was not always so. In the beginning of the flashback, its a little tough buying the “young” Stewart but as the movie unfolds, I accepted him. He plays another man of principle. Represents the future of the West, of the United States. He gets beat up, but he was determined… hard~headed. He doesn’t like getting pushed around, had an unwavering faith in The Law…in being Civilized. But he does come to terms with the idea a gun is a necessary evil. Or at the very least, a means to an end.

“…Liberty Valance” has a melancholy wistfulness of looking at the past. Hallie leads the way as she and Ranse pay their last respects to friend Tom Doniphon. The old Marshall is there. As Ranse goes to talk to reporters,  the Marshall takes Hallie on a buggy ride to the past. He knows a truth, and is sensitive to her. He takes her to a burnt out old house with cactus roses growing all around. Back at the makeshift funeral parlor awaits faithful gray~haired Pompey. I like how Hallie takes his 19th century hand as they both sit before the coffin. Ranse tells the reporters the true story of who this friend was. John Ford takes us through Ranse’s… ‘confession’ [?] in flashback. 


marvin-iiRanse is brutally whipped by the evil Liberty Valance during a stage coach robbery. If I cared to ponder, I’d say Liberty was probably beaten within an inch of his own life as a child. But Ford doesn’t take us into his story ( even though his name is in the title. ) Liberty Valance is just a dark blot on humanity, who serves as a springboard for different world~views. The flashback is helpful because we get the significant meaning of things we see, not knowing what they initially mean. When we see these things again ( in flashback ), it makes their meaning all the more significant. (I haven’t totally confused you, have I? Good. I’ll continue.)

There are a couple of threads John Ford weaves through this tale.

Guns vs. Civilization:

When do we put guns aside and use laws to settle our differences? Can we back those beliefs with action? Easy now, Man of Principle. This is the Old West. Everybody was packin’:


“Well I know those law books mean a lot to you, but not out here. Out here a man settles his own problems.”

“Do you know what you’re saying to me? You know, you’re saying just exactly what Liberty Valance said. What kind of a community have I come to here? You all seem to know about this fella Liberty Valance. He’s a no good, gun packing, murdering thief but the only advice you can give to me is to carry a gun.”

Education / Good Citizenship:

Education is the key to progress. Teaching people how to read and write and think critically is the key to uplifting civilization. Inside that little one room school house sat Black, white, Mexican, men, women and children, citizens and Immigrants alike, all there to learn. Actress Jeanette Nolan in the center of the photo below, so sophisticated and evil in “The Big Heat” with her mink on, plays the Swedish Nora who tells us what she’s learned:


“The United States is a republic. And a republic is a state in which the people are the boss. That means us. And if the big shots in Washington don’t do like we want, we don’t vote for them, by golly, no more!”

( Her husband is played by the perennial Scandanavian~in~Classic Moves:  John Qualen )

Electing Progress ~ No Thugs or Bullies Allowed:


Instead of just being a territory, these good people want to become a State. We see the townspeople conduct a meeting to elect delegates and how a bully and thug tries to take over the process ( sound familiar? ) with not~so~veiled threats. Only his stooges to back him up. The townsfolk fight back…with their votes. And make note to look at Doniphon sitting on the side, beaming with pride at Ranse. He is also the arbiter of keeping things on the up and up. ( “The bar is closed!” ) And look at Ranse come into his own here when he’s asked to take over the meeting to elect delegates.

“You know the issue. The cattle interests want to keep this territory an open range. Ruled by their high~minded ideas, whatever they are.  And we, and that means everybody in this room, we’re for Statehood. We want Statehood because Statehood means the protection of our farms and our fences. That means schools for our children and it means progress for the future.”

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And because Liberty is    voted down, because Ranse has shown up Liberty in front of the whole town, Liberty calls him out to a gun fight. Ranse can no longer avoid not using a gun. ( He’s even been practicing when noone’s looking, and doesn’t cotten to being made fun of by Tom either ).  He has to face Liberty knowing he’d never 


win in a fight against the gunman. But he’s got to fight or die for his principles. Liberty uses Ranse for target practice, and when he’s ready to take the final shot, Ranse guns him down. Oh he’s shot up, but he vanquishes the Evil Bad Guy. And after a swig of whiskey, Doc Willoughby puts a period on Liberty Valance’s life:

“He’s dead!”

This brave act spearheads Ranse’s notoriety. Ford takes us to this 19th century convention, full of whooping and hollering and roping and yelling. The Cattle Ranchers vs the Townsfolk both yelling and spinning their points of view to make their case. A look into The Future in electing representatives for the People.

Two Men + One Woman = Heartache:

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Both Tom and Ranse woo Hallie in their own way. Tom is a bit brusque, aggressive. He softens when he tells her how pretty she is. Dresses up for her. Brings her a cactus flower. She knows he will protect her. But he’s waited a little bit too long to ‘claim’ her as his own. Ranse on the other hand is gentler. He can help her learn to read and write and open her world that way. He’s been beaten up a couple of times where Hallie’s had to nurse and mend him. Was it a bit of oneupsmanship he asks her if she’s ever seen a “real” rose. Or 

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does he offer her more authenticity? He needs her. She leans towards him to protect him. But she keeps going back to Tom to get him to bail out Ranse. How fair is what she asks of him. When she does make a definitive decision…poor Tom. Poor poor Tom. This is the heartache of the movie for me. 


He puts an end to the idea of being together with Hallie in a heartwrenching way. And by his side, as always, is Pompey. It was startling the cut Ford makes from the house on fire to the political convention. Tom shows up at the convention grizzled and worse for the wear.


I love Ford’s reveal of the flashback within the flashback; the change in the p.o.vl. of the gunfight. Upon looking at the film again, I notice the Marshall.  As everyone runs towards Ranse and the dead Liberty, check it out…the Marshall is looking down the dark alley:


Tom: “Cold~blooded murder. And I can live with it. Hallie’s happy. She wanted you alive.”

Ranse: “You saved my life.”

Tom: “I wish I hadn’t. Hallie’s your girl now.”

I can not imagine what his life was like once Hallie left Shinbone with Ranse. 

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” has an ironic sadness that coats the film…from its title, from the bad guy being named Liberty when he was anything but…from Tom’s self~sacrifice where he practically hands Ranse his career as a Statesman based on his killing a bad man. This movie makes me emotional. John Ford puts it all together wonderfully. Is there any doubt, that one hundred years from now his name will still be known, not just for this film but for his other masterpieces: How Green Was My Valley” The Searchers” “The Quiet Man” “Stagecoach” just to name a scant few. He gets his messages across (racism, immigration, politics, journalism, the ironic film title ) without bopping US over the head with that whip Liberty uses. He doesn’t let the story get lost in the fabulous vistas of the west. He lets our hearts get lost in the entire story. The sad train ride back to Washington, D.C. for Hallie and Ransom Stoddard will be full of unspoken truths. But you know, there are all kinds of truths. 

“This is the West. When the legend becomes fact, print
the legend.”


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HISPANIC HERITAGE MONTH is here once more ( Sept. 15th ~ Oct. 15th ) and in Hollywood’s Golden Era, Hispanics have been represented in a variety of ways. This month, the world of classic film blogs will feature the talents of many Hispanics in films. Two popular bloggers: ( Aurora ) ONCE UPON A SCREEN  and ( Raquel ) OUT OF THE PAST will use all platforms of social media to feature the Latino experience in films. Look for the hashtag #DePelicula on Twitter, FaceBook, Tumblr and Instagram and peruse to your heart’s content.

In Film Noir, there is nothing better than to see a man engineer his own destruction. Maybe that’s why I love the genre. Arturo de Córdova is handsome enough and believable enough to fit that bill nicely. I made several trips to the Museum of Modern Art here in NYC to see their collection of Mexican films noir last summer during their Mexico At Midnight programming. Boy did I get an education in just how Mexico handled films from their golden age of cinema, and got an eye-fullllll! ( But more about María Félix another time. )  In “En La Palma De Tu Mano” ( “In the Palm Of Your Hand” ) directed by Roberto Gavaldónde Córdova is cocksure and confident…the perfect mark.


He plays a psychic. A dyed-in-the-wool, crystal ball-gazing, palm-reading, sooth-saying, phony baloney. This film brings “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “Nightmare Alley” to mind. I enjoy the chockful of plot “In the Palm Of Your Hand” has. De Córdova is a smooth operator.  He has a long-term girlfriend who he:

  • Sleeps with
  • Takes for granted
  • Uses to get her to funnel clients to him from her beauty salon


It’s an ingenious idea using salon customers; after all, a beauty salon is fraught with women letting their hair down < a-hem > and revealing all sorts of secrets, which in turn Psychic de Córdova pretends he knows. Why she does this for him is anybody’s guess in film noir; love, I suppose. Actress Carmen Montejo makes us sympathize with her for loving this cad. She’s a nice girl. Love. Obsession. You know how it goes. The girlfriend lets de Córdova know of a customer who has just come into a lot of pesos thanks to a conveniently deceased wealthy husband. This is de Córdova’s “victim” who’ll pay off big.  A black widow. Ev’ry Noir needs one. 


He’s not above lying, manipulating, bamboozling, blackmailing or sweet pillow-talking his way to get her money. This will be his last score because with her money, he can quit the phony sooth-sayer business and start anew with his girlfriend.


…And if you know film noir like I know film noir, you know that ain’t never gonna happen!

He calls the shots as he wades deeper and deeper into the Black Widow’s quicksand. The Widow is played by Leticia Palma. She’s cruelly beautiful and laughs in his face. But she has to play the game too if she wants de Córdova’s help. She gets him to:

  • Dump his girlfriend ( Cad! Bastido! )
  • Kill her nephew-in-law / lover
  • Bury him and
  • Dig him up again.

Ha!…And de Córdova thinks  he’s calling the shots.

In film noir, bad decisions dig a hole for the hero. He’s not all bad. de Córdova does show an iota of compassion to an illiterate newspaper stand lady, whose son is in the military. Director Gavaldón has good command of suspense. He crafts a wonderfully tense moment when a pesky traffic cop offers to help the runaway couple ( Palma and de Córdova ) with a flat tire…while there’s a corpse in the trunk. 

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De Córdova is put through the ringer in this film. He goes from cocksure to frazzled to defeated. The hunter gets captured by the game. I will not spoil the ending for you. It is pure genius. It actually shows you fate doesn’t have to trip you up. It can stand in the corner and watch you hoist yourself on your own petard. 

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If you wish to play catch~up to explore Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage click on these banner for 2014 and 2015.


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 It’s so hard for me sometimes to explain exactly why I love these ‘old’ movies as I do. I have such a visceral and emotional response to these shimmering ( or murky ) B&W films whether they be “A” pictures or “B” that it’s hard to explain intellectually. Maybe words aren’t needed among us.


I love THE DEVIL COMMANDS.” I love the low-budgetness of its production though well-done. It has a succinctly executed plot thanx to Edward Dymytryk. Once again, BORIS KARLOFF owns the movie he stars in. I find him compelling to watch: the sonorous resonance of his voice, its soft accent, his dark handsome looks. I can picture him with a white dinner jacket against his swarthy complexion dancing at the Mocambo, though I am romanticizing him. He probably was a stay-at-home-bookworm. Also he’s just a darned good actor. I think becuz he mostly starred in the horror genre, he might be over-looked and under-rated as an actor; Karloff has the pathos of Frankenstein’s monster, a kindly scientist and a terrifying, sadistic grave~robber. He can be soft or crazed. Hell…he’s every bit as good as Spencer Tracy.

His pathos as the grieving Dr. Julian Blair in “The Devil Commands” touches my heart. He’s rather the avuncular absent-minded professor in the beginning of this movie. We see his comfortably happy marriage to wife Helen played by Shirley Warde. She’d have certainly done Moms like Henry Aldrich’s and Andrew Hardy’s proud. She made an impression with me…very sweet. She helps him with his experiments and playfully chides him for working so hard. During Karloff’s demonstration before fellow scientists, I just loved the way he quietly asks his wife if her hair is wet when he’s about to strap her to one of his experiments. He was so soft, quiet and tender with her.

This is the hypothesis he intends to prove:


“You will be the first people…to see the proof that the human brain gives off an impulse that can be recorded.”

But you know what else we see…we see a man spiraling down…down…down; a man turning his scientific experiments for the good of mankind…into using Science as a coping mechanism for his grief, as his wife has been killed by an out of control car.

With what, at first, could be a scientific possibility, has now gone awry as Karloff discovers that he has heard his dead wife’s voice:

“Well now I know there is a way for the dead to talk to the living.”

Skepticism hits Karloff between the eyes when his fellow scientists begin to scoff and question his sanity:

KARLOFF: “Well I believe that the human brain, the brain that invented radio, is itself the most perfect sending and receiving medium on earth.”

SCIENTIST #1: “But what if you do find a way to pierce the veil between us and them.”
SCIENTIST #2: “And let the world of the dead back in upon the living?”

SCIENTIST #1: “We don’t know what evil may be lurking behind that veil waiting to get through.”

SCIENTIST #2: “What if you let loose on humanity something much more terrible than any fear that haunts us now?”


Karloff’s goose is cooked and his daughter ( played by Amanda Duff though I longed to see Anne Gwynne in this) and science assistant ( played by * Richard Fiske ) witness his discretization.


Faithful man-servant Karl ( played by Ralph Penney ) suggests Karloff visit the medium he uses to talk to his dead mom. ( Wha’? ) Now it’s Karloff’s turn to play skeptic but he humors poor dumb Karl. Karloff meets up with Mrs. Walters, played by the great Anne Revere. Now I might be alone in this, but I find Revere majestic in every role she plays; Mom or Mean. Even as the mother of Elizabeth Taylor, Gregory Peck or Monty Clift, I find her sternly beautiful with a Puritan/MidWestern look and a grand speaking voice. I could listen to her all day. I think Revere would have made a good Mrs. Danvers…or Lady MacBeth. As the Medium, she is debunked by Karloff but he does experience an electrical sensation from her that is the only real part of her act. Could this be love? Hardly.

“This is science Mrs. Walters. There’s nothing of the occult about it!”

Karloff has shunted his daughter aside and adopts Revere as confidante/co-conspirator in his scientific exploits. He uses her for her energy, but Karloff’s motives though pure are wacky. Revere has different ideas in mind; and they have a purely financial bent. Please note the look on her face as Karloff talks of his plan to communicate with the dead. I don’t think I exaggerate that she has a look that is exalted, rapturous and down right ecstacy-filled. But her voice is cold…cold…cold when she says ( in her perfect enunciation ):


“If you can do what you’re trying to do, you’ll own the world. You know that don’t you?”

Whew! Her face was intense, her eyes unblinking. I’m telling you, I watched her.

Revere is driving the bus now, taking the reins of the household. And I did think of Lady MacBeth with her control over Karloff, moving him out of town, making things easy for him to just concentrate on completing his experiments…bringing her that much closer to riches she believes await. She doesn’t allow Karloff to get medical care for Karl…now a shell-shocked victim of Karloff’s single-minded determination and experimentation. Revere pulls poor Karloff away from all he knows. When we see him two years later, his hair is unkempt and unruly. He looks disheveled. Bodies are now missing from the town.

His housekeeper Mrs. Marcy is played by the ubiquitous Dorothy Adams. Oh you’d know her if you saw  “LAURA.”  She is prompted by the town’s sheriff to investigate what’s going on in Karloff’s laboratory. ( The whole town’s talkin’. ) It will be the last thing she ever does. That whole scene with her in the lab was great; the music, her fear. Why’d she go inside that room. What the heck is under that tarp?


Poor Karloff…his single-mindedness endangers his own daughter and puts him back in Frankenstein monster mode where townspeople with torches are after him. What an eerie sight in his laboratory,  to see the bodies of the missing dead trussed up in Diver Dan helmets…the noisy whirlwind of energy centrifically forcing the bodies to lean forward. Revere is eventually and justly hoisted on her own petard, and so is Karloff as it all comes crashing down around their ears.

ISLE OF THE DEAD ( II )The Walking Dead” “The Raven” “The Mummy” “The Black Cat and “Black Friday” are among my favorite Karloff films. And you can read my guest blogger at Fernando’s Corner talk about:  “Isle of the Dead.”



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Journeys In Classic Film is hosting the blogathon of TCM’s SUMMER UNDER THE STARS. ‘SUTS’ is TCM’s annual event where each day they celebrate a different movie star by showing a day of their films. Please click the banner above to see the other entries in this great event hosted by Kristen Lopez. There’s a smorgasbord of films to fill the end to summer.


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