The Last Hurrah, 1958 – Based on The Book By Edwin O’Connor

 

“Politics is not the most diplomatic thing to discuss.” – Frank Skeffington

I first noticed The Last Hurrah on iMDb when I was looking for Frank McHugh movies I hadn’t seen yet. (Oh how I love Frank) This was one of them. At the time, this movie was tagged as a comedy on iMDb, (with Frank McHugh starring as Fetus Garvey) so I jumped in with both feet. I mean, Spencer Tracy AND my buddy Frank? Of course I’m in! It didn’t take long to realize that this is not a funny movie. It’s a dark, old-fashioned, political drama. Politics was the last thing I was in the mood for, but I gave it a shot anyway…

…I know now that I needed this time with Spencer Tracy. He made the movie for me.

The Last Hurrah was directed by John Ford for Columbia pictures in 1958…

Frank Nugent wrote the screenplay that was based on the book written by Edwin O’Connor in 1955. The book won the Pulitzer Prize and spent 20 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list in 1956. I hate to say it, but I liked it better than the movie. In the book we were allowed to get to know the characters better and the story dug deeper and was more detailed.

The plot of both the book and movie follows Mayor Frank Skeffington (Spencer Tracy), a devoted, life-long politician as he embarks on what he thinks will be his final campaign to be re-elected mayor (of a city that’s never named). He knows he’s “on his way out” and calls this campaign his Last Hurrah. Frank Skeffington is down-to-earth and genuinely (we think) cares about the individuals in his city. Oh, it’s obvious he’s corrupt around the edges…he is a politician, after all. And he clearly knows his way around a campaign like this one. He’s shrewd but likeable, political but reliable. In the book, Skeffington was the former governor of the state they’re in (it’s never named in either), but there’s no mention of him ever being governor in the movie. There are those that claim the city never named in the movie is based on Boston and that Frank Skeffington is a loose caricature of Boston’s Mayor James Curley.

Frank’s son, Frank Skeffington, Jr. (Arthur Walsh) is, shall we say, worthless. He’s a playboy that could care less about politics, let alone his father’s campaign. Instead, Frank, Sr., bonds with his nephew, Adam Caufield (Jeffrey Hunter) which adds a level of ‘interesting’ for me. Adam writes about sports for the local newspaper. It’s Adam’s publisher, Amos Force (John Carradine), that asks him to cover Skeffington’s Last Hurrah. The story brings uncle and nephew together at a good time in both of their lives. The thing is, Force hates Skeffington. As history would have it, Frank Skeffington’s immigrant mother was fired for stealing left-over food when she was a maid in the home of Amos Force’s father. Oh boy. The tension! (And not all that believable) Force believes Frank, Sr. is the worthless one and he backs his unimpressive rival, Kevin McCluskey (Charles Fitzsimmons). Annnnd this causes more tension between Force and his writer, Adam.

Director John Ford was a Westerns guy, as we all know, and I kind of felt like maybe he didn’t care a lot about the subject of this one? Something wasn’t clicking here for me. Spencer Tracy grabbed me and kept me with the story, but I found myself wishing the director would have made more of an attempt to explain some things. (no spoilers). It was a watchable, even enjoyable, movie most of the time, but it wasn’t as good as it could have been. Even though it’s chock-full of Ford’s usual troupe like – Donald Crisp, Wallace FordJames Gleason, Ricardo Cortez, Basil Rathbone, Pat O’Brien AND FRANK MCHUGH! They just weren’t around…..enough.

As Frank Skeffington maneuvers his way through opposing view points we get a glimpse into the story of one city’s mid-century American political climate. It’s not pretty, and it sure isn’t funny. Spencer Tracy made it a decent movie for me. Without him, he, not so much.

Sources:

A Tribute to Jeffrey Hunter
Wikipedia – New York Times Fiction Best Sellers, 1956

Perry Mason – The Warren William Years, 1934 – 1936

First, let me just say that I think we owe Erle Stanley Gardner a big thank you for the 52 Perry Mason books he wrote between 1933 and 1973.

Those books, about lawyer Perry Mason’s cases, have been stretched and pulled into over 271 TV episodes from 1957-1966, over 100 hundred more movies and TV episodes in the 1970s, 80s and 90s and now, another Perry Mason series in 2020 on HBO, currently running on Sunday nights at 9 p.m.

I’m addicted to all of them (except the HBO series but only because I haven’t seen it yet. Fingers crossed!). I love Perry Mason.

I admit, it’s the Raymond Burr Perry Mason episodes from the 50s and 60s that I love the most. But, these first four movies from the 1930s starring Warren William are a close second. They’re all short and satisfying with engaging plots and an attractive chemistry between Warren William…..and most of the other actors on screen. These movies are fun.

Warren William Krech was born December 2, 1894 in Aikin, Minnesota. His career started in the theater before he ended up in silent movies. He made three of those before taking on the new “talkies.” Warren William was a leading man in the pre-code days of Hollywood, and wound up as Perry Mason from 1934-36 for Warner Brothers. He’s  a terrific Perry – suave, smart and he has a subdued kind of confidence that fits Perry’s persona perfectly. I wish there were more Warren William Perry Mason movies.

Mr. William passed away on September 24, 1948 in Hollywood from multiple Myeloma.

Warner Brothers did six Perry Mason movies. Warren William starred in the first four:

The Case of the Howling Dog, 1934

The Case of the Howling Dog was directed by Alan Crosland and written by Ben Markson. This is the first movie in the Warner Brothers Perry Mason series.

The howling of the dog means a death has occurred…according to millionaire Arthur Cartright (Gordon Westcott) anyway. He insists that Perry help him draw up his will in response. Yeah. It gets complicated, but it’s an engaging plot from start to finish. Bonus! Mary Astor plays a significant role here as Bessie Foley.

The Case of the Curious Bride, 1935

The Case of the Curious Bride was directed by Michael Curtiz (director of Casablanca, 1942) and written by Tom Reed.

Perry’s ex-girlfriend comes to him for help when she learns that her first husband is still alive. That’s a problem because she remarried after she thought he was dead. Perry goes to talk to the first husband about it, but finds that now he really is dead. Murder AND Bigamy. In just 80 minutes, they resolve the whole thing. Due in part to the introduction of Spudsy Drake (Allen Jenkins) to the mix no doubt.

The Case of the Lucky Legs, 1935

Do you see that on the poster? “1935’s Thin Man” ??? Let’s not get crazy here Warner Brothers…..

As the owner of the Mrs. Charles blog that’s named after Nora Charles of The Thin Man movies, I object! Get Perry Mason on the line, dammit!

The Case of the Lucky Legs was directed by Archie Mayo and written by Brown Holmes and Ben Markson.

No, it is NOT 1935’s Thin Man. Not even close. But it tries. And that makes it tiring for me.

The Case of the Lucky Legs involves a murder of the con man who promotes the Lucky Legs contest. This guy always leaves town before paying the prize money to the winner of his contests. He does it again here. But, in this case he winds up dead. Seems someone has stabbed him with a surgeon’s scalpel. No worries, Perry and Spudsy Drake are on it.

By now, I’m missing the courtroom drama I’m so used to (and love) in the 50s and 60s TV show. There’s hardly any courtroom scenes here, BUT, the banter is entertaining and smart…

…but NOT The Thin Man. There is only one Thin Man. Ugh.

The Case of the Velvet Claws, 1936

Directed by William Clemens and written by Tom Reed, The Case of the Velvet Claws is Warren William’s final Perry Mason movie before moving on to early movies in The Lone Wolf series of at MGM. Perry and Della get married in this one! Of course the honeymoon was, um, postponed by a murder.

You got it, Perry and Spudsy Drake (Eddie Acuff this time) will get this taken care of over the course of 63 minutes. It’s amazing.

Sources:

WarrenWilliam.com –  A wonderful, comprehensive website devoted to Warren William.
iMDB
Perry Mason on HBO in 2020
Wikipedia

Four New To Me Classic Movies This Week

Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, 1952

Well? Have you?

I finally have and she’s a great gal in a meaningful, fun movie. Of course I watched Has Anybody Seen My Gal? for Rock Hudson, but it’s Charles Coburn that made this my favorite movie this week. He’s good, isn’t he? I’ll definitely pull this one out again when I want a feel-good movie.

The movie begins with Samuel Fulton (Charles Coburn) presumably laying on his death bed (it’s really not) and writing his last will and testament with his attorneys. You see, Fulton is a successful businessman, very rich and sure he’s going to die soon. He’s lonely, unhappy and longing for the love of his life that got away years ago. He never got over her. Now, he’s heirless and wants to find her heirs to leave his money to. He truly believes hers is the family he would have had if only she would have married him. But, Fulton is no dummy. Before he writes and signs his last will that leaves them his fortune, he decides to “test” them first. When his friend and attorney pushes him to get out of the house and relax, under the premise that it will heal him (he doesn’t believe Fulton’s really sick), he decides to find them. When he does, he pretends to be a boarder so he can stay in their house to be closer to them while performing his “test.”  The Blaisdell family doesn’t want him there, but needs the money ($8/week) so badly that they let him stay. They have no idea he’s rich, or their grandmother’s former love. In the process Fulton teaches drug store owner, Charles Blaisdell (Larry Gates) a few things about business and teaches the Blaisdell children (he thinks could have been his grandchildren) some good life lessons too. He realizes there’s no hope for Mrs. Blaisdell (Gigi Perreau), she’s clearly obsessed with how and what people will think of them. She makes quite a spectacle of a poor person pretending to be rich. It’s unclear whether he expected to love this family as much as he does, but he adores them. Except for Mrs. Blaisdell, he just feels sorry for her. The trouble comes when the family is so desperate for money that Fulton sends them an anonymous $100,000 gift. At the direction of Mrs. Blaisdell, they go crazy trying to become the head of  high society in their town. The money immediately turns them into even bigger fakes and phonies than before. In spite of the fact that he’s developed meaningful relationships with the children (he’s sure they would have been his grandchildren), Fulton feels the deep sadness he now sees in every aspect of the Blaisdell’s life.  He knows they were better off before they received the money. He can’t help them any longer because he wants them to see that too. Having money couldn’t make them happy.

The ending, while satisfying, is predictable. The journey through the story to get to it is what makes this a meaningful movie for me.

Oh yeah, Rock Hudson is in it! He plays a clerk and soda jerk in the Blaisdell’s store. He doesn’t even come close to starring in this, as the poster would have you believe. But, he plays a great love interest for Millicent Blaisdell (Piper Laurie). Speaking of her, the first time I saw Piper Laurie in a movie was in The Hustler. I wish it had been Has Anyboy Seen My Gal?

One more quick thing! This was James Dean’s first movie appearance. He’s only there a second and has one line as a customer at the Blaisdell’s store, but it is his first role in a movie. Unaccredited, but it counts.

Gigi, 1958

Gigi was the winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1958. It’s a musical, romantic comedy that Arthur Freed produced and Vincente Minnelli directed for MGM. It was Minnelli’s only Academy Award for Best Director. It also won seven other Academy Awards that year in a sweep over movies like Aunti Mame, The Defiant Ones, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Whew!

Gigi takes place around the turn of the 20th century Paris. A young girl, Gigi, (Leslie Caron) is being groomed by her grandmother and aunt to be a courtesan (well-dressed woman ready to engage and participate in a variety of topics ranging from art to music to politics) and she’s miserable about it. Meanwhile, her rich, playboy friend, Gaston Lachaille (Louis Jourdan) is bored with his own well-to-do lifestyle. You can guess the plot from here, it’s a typical romantic comedy. The bonus to this story is that it’s narrated by Gaston’s Uncle Honoré Lachaille (Maurice Chevalier). He’s a pleasure to listen to….singing OR speaking. He made the movie for me.

The movie is something to look at. I’ve never seen colors so rich and deep in a movie before. I’m sure the Technicolor process has a lot to do with that, but wow. Those colors, along with all of that velour and velvet, the antiques and the costumes filled up every inch of my 55″ TV screen. What a sight!

I just wish all of this would have made Gigi a better time for me. It’s possible I’m just in a lousy mood and I vow to try again, but I’m a tad disappointed with this one.

The Alphabet Murders, 1965

I wanted to love this and didn’t. I watched it mainly for the Tony Randall starring role, but even that wasn’t satisfying. I found myself cringing too much during those moments that were meant to be funny, but were cheesy at best. Damn, I wanted this one! It’s an Agatha Christie story for Pete’s sake!

Strange Bedfellows, 1965

Eh.

Side note: I watched both Has Anyone Seen My Gal? (my favorite “new to me” classic movie this week) and Strange Bedfellows (my least favorite of the week) from my copy of:

I haven’t watched A Very Special Favor or Blindfold yet. Other than Strange Bedfellows, the others have been pretty darn good. I LOVE watching Rock Hudson act.

Who Was That Lady? 1960

Who Was That Lady? 1960. Directed by George Sidney for Columbia Pictures.

I’ve been surprised by a lot of movies lately that I’ve never heard of. Who Was That Lady? is another one. Man, is this one fun. Busy, but I think that’s what made it so enjoyable to watch. It was Tony Curtis that brought my attention to it (I really have a thing for him lately), and Dean Martin who demanded I sit down and watch it (I could listen to him sing all night and he does sing a couple of songs here!). How could I lose with those two starring in it? I couldn’t and I didn’t.

Add Janet Leigh (Mrs. Tony Curtis at the time) to the mix and, voilá! Romantic comedy paradise and a great way to spend a couple of hours.

Who Was That Lady? is another comedy that I didn’t know I needed to see until I watched it. It’s a fun, light-hearted movie with some great Sammy Cahn music and a plot that’s complicated, yet interesting. Mostly. The very last minute of it bugged me, but by then it didn’t matter, I had already had a good time and was completely satisfied with the whole thing.

Professor of Chemistry, David Wilson (Curtis) at Columbia University.

Who Was That Lady? was based on a play by humorist, Norman Krasna, who also wrote the movie script. George Sidney directed it for Columbia Pictures in 1960.

David Wilson (Curtis) is a Professor of Chemistry at Columbia University when one day his wife Ann (Leigh) caught him in his lab kissing a student. Her demand for a divorce was angry and swift: she gave him just three hours to get out of their apartment. Meanwhile, she made a reservation to fly to Reno right after he left to get her quickie divorce.

David is destroyed. He loves his wife and can’t believe he would let a student kiss him at all!

Uh huh.

As soon as Ann demanded a divorce, he knew he had made a mistake. He realized right then just how much he loved his wife and had to make things in their marriage right. The desperation was damn near heartwarming. He called in his friend, Michael Haney (Martin), who is a TV writer. David begs for his help and the two finally come up with a plan to make it all look like an FBI job. That’s right. Haney creates an entire FBI Special Agent character for David to use to cover up why he was kissing the student Ann caught him with. She was a spy! Of course! And he was tasked by the FBI with bringing her to justice! [cue the eye roll emoji].

David and Michael wind up at the CBS prop room where they procure a revolver and an FBI Special Agent identification card from the prop foreman. (It’s cute that Jack Benny makes a cameo appearance in this scene. Even David thinks that’s cool).

David’s a nervous wreck, clearly afraid of Ann’s reaction to all of this, but can’t think of anything else to get her back. Michael, on the other hand,  is having a ball creating the story.  It takes some effort, but Ann finally falls for it. In fact, she gets really involved in it all because she’s so proud of David being an FBI agent. She’s never loved him more.

The Google Sisters (Barbara Nichols and Joi Lansing)

Meanwhile, Michael is also using the story to cover up more shenanigans, like a date for them with the Google Sisters.  Poor David is left uncomfortable and afraid of how out of control everything has gotten. He just wants Ann back.

Then, the real FBI catches wind of the Special Agent ID card the TV network made and didn’t use. They’re wondering where it is and why it was requested. Hmmmmmm. Enter the REAL FBI….

Michael Haney (Dean Martin) and Agent Harry Powell (James Whitmore)

….and Agent Harry Powell (James Whitmore). The search is on and all hell breaks loose. It’s a lot of fun.

These actors are great together and play off each other in such a way that everything keeps moving in an ever-increasing complicated mess. It’s interesting. It’s funny. Dean Martin sings a few times (yay!). And Tony Curtis is Tony Curtis. I can’t quite put my finger on him yet. Currently I feel like he’s a cross between Cary Grant, Elvis Presley and…..Wally Cleaver? Maybe it’s those eyes…..I don’t know. I’ve been in lockdown for four months and am getting a little punchy I guess……. Thank goodness for movies like THIS one!

Four New To Me Classic Movies This week

Viva Las Vegas, 1964

Viva Las Vegas. Directed by George Sydney for MGM in 1964.

The pandemic has me doing things I wouldn’t normally do. Like watch Elvis movies. I’m surprised that, so far, I’ve enjoyed what simple fun they can be when I give them my undivided attention.

Viva Las Vegas opens with us being introduced to race car driver, Lucky Jackson (Elvis Presley) at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Seems he’s trying to qualify for the Las Vegas Grand Prix there, but he needs a new engine in his car to do it. I assumed that would be the plot. Wrong! We lose sight of that story line pretty early in the movie. Too bad, it might have been interesting. Lucky does spend the rest of the movie at jobs that are supposed to pay him enough money to buy that engine, but it seems like no one really cares about that anymore. Writers and director anyway. Instead, the whole movie now focuses on Lucky’s relationship with Rusty Martin (Ann-Margret). It’s the typical boy gets girl, loses girl, gets girl back, plot. But, for me anyway, it’s filled with mid-century eye candy and stellar acting (just kidding, there’s no stellar acting), that I can’t stop watching. Even I’m surprised I enjoyed spending 85 minutes with Viva Las Vegas. The 1960’s Las Vegas style  that fills up my eyes in every single scene feels magical after three months of quarantine. The lights, decor, hotel swimming pools and dance floors, wardrobes, etc., etc……it’s all beautiful, colorful and pleasing. Elvis and Ann-Margret are beautiful too. I love that in some scenes they are the only two people onscreen dressed in yellow while all the others wear darker, drabber colors. I get it, they shine through this way, but they would have without it. They’re singing and dancing makes sure of that. If you like Elvis music, there’s a lot of it here. Ann-Margret’s dancing made the movie for me. Even though the plot was a yawn, and the script less than worthy, it was still a fun trip into 1960’s Las Vegas. And boy oh boy does it look like fun.

Elevator to the Gallows, 1958

Elevator to the Gallows. Directed by Louis Malle for Rialto Pictures

Julien Tavernier (Maurice Ronet) is in love with his boss’s wife, Florence Carala (Jeanne Moreau). Simon Carala (Jean Wall) is in their way of a life together, so they’ve concocted a plan to murder him, making it look like a suicide. Julien uses a grappling hook and rope to climb to the upper floor where Mr. Carala’s office is in the building they work in. No one saw him and he murdered his boss. It worked. Instead of using the grappling hook and rope to get back down to street level, he takes the elevator instead. As he’s getting into his car in front of the building, he notices that he forgot to take down the grappling hook and rope. So in a panic, he leaves the car running and rushes back in to take the elevator to go up and retrieve it. While he’s in the elevator, the superintendent of the building, who doesn’t notice him, shuts the power off to the building for the night.  Tavernier is stuck in the elevator and can’t escape. He realizes he left his car running in front of the building and fades into the reality of his situation. In the meantime, his car, along with his gun, is stolen.

We’re just getting started.

This is the best new movie I’ve seen this week. Honestly, it’s the best new to me classic movie I’ve seen in a while. Elevator to the Gallows is a French film that tells its story, in this case, with English subtitles. This unique suspenseful drama, coupled with terrific writing and acting, kept my mind busy from the first scene. I keep telling myself for some reason that good, light-hearted comedies are what the doctor ordered for me right now, but this movie proves that spending time with a riveting, engaging, dark, dramatic movie can be just as helpful. An escape is an escape, right? This movie is that and so much more. Bonus: the Miles Davis soundtrack is fantastic.

I loved this one!

The Doughgirls, 1944

The Doughgirls, 1944. Directed by James Kern for Warner Brothers.

I don’t care how many years it was on stage or how many laughs were on screen. With this cast, (and I sincerely I love them all!), I expected so much more. Like a plot.

I don’t even want to talk about it……

Fifth Avenue Girl, 1939

Fifth Avenue Girl, 1939 – Directed by Gregory LaCava for RKO

Fifth Avenue Girl is that light-hearted comedy I’m drawn to right now. It stars Ginger Rogers and Walter Connolly, and reminds me an awful lot of Easy Living, 1937, with Jean Arthur and Edward Arnold, (the other well-to-do businessman and father that shows up in so many late 1930s comedies).

In the opening scene of Fifth Avenue Girl, Millionaire Timothy Borden (Connolly) meets unemployed and hungry Mary Grey (Rogers) in a park. Borden is distraught. His business has problems, his wife, Martha (Verree Teasdale) is out with a playboy, his kids ignore him…and, it’s his birthday. He’s lonely and depressed and somehow convinces Mary to help him celebrate his birthday at a nightclub. The next morning, everyone’s surprised that Mary has slept in the guest room for the night. Timothy notices that this piques Martha’s interest in him again so he hires Mary to stay at the house as an employee so they can go out on the town every night to hopefully gain Martha’s affections again. Meanwhile, Mary, though not thrilled with the situation, has a positive effect on other members of the household too. But not before complications arise with various family members and love interest struggles. Of course, Mary gets caught in the middle of it all. It’s funny and fun to watch. Ginger Rogers as Mary is terrific. I still like Easy Living better, but this one will do too.