Sunday, November 24, 2019

Behave Yourself

Behave Yourself(1951)
Directed by
George Beck
Written by George Beck from a story by Beck and Frank Tarloff
Starring Farley Granger, Shelley Winters, William Demarest, Francis L. Sullivan, Margalo Gillmore, Lon Chaney Jr., Hans Conreid, Elisha Cook, Jr., Sheldon Leonard, Alan Jenkins, Marvin Kaplan
IMDB Entry

Character actors are the bread-and-butter of old time Hollywood, coming on for small roles and making them memorable. When I spotted the cast list for Behave Yourself, I knew I had to see it for the actors alone.

In the film, Bill Denny (Farley Granger) is desperate for an anniversary gift for his wife Kate (Shelley Winters) to prove to his mother in law (Margolo Gillmore) that he hasn’t forgotten.* A stray dog follows him home. Due to a mixup (this movie’s stock in trade), Kate thinks the dog is the gift. The problem is that the dog Archie is specially trained to deliver some sort of contraband to a couple of buyers, Shortwave Bert (Sheldon Leonard) and Max the Umbrella (Marvin Kaplan). Other criminals also want the package, including Gillie the Blade (Hans Conreid), and Pinky (Lon Cheney Jr.) and Albert Jonas (Elisha Cook Jr). Denny tries to return the dog, but after Jonas is murdered, the police, led by office O’Ryan (William Demarest) get involved.

The cast here is filled with great character actors. If the mere mention of their name doesn’t ring a bell, here’s a rundown.
  • Farley Granger starred in two Hitchcock classics, Rope and Strangers on a Train. it’s odd to see him doing comedy.
  • Shelly Winters won two Oscars after this and is best known today for her role in The Poseidon Adventure. In this early part of her career, she was cast as a blonde bombshell,** but she got away from it in order for people to recognize she was more than just a sex symbol.
  • William Demarest was memorable in The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek and other Preston Sturges films, but he’s better known as Uncle Charlie in My Three Sons.
  • Margolo Gillmore had a solid Hollywood career but was a major Broadway star in the 20s and 30s.
  • Sheldon Leonard is best known for his small role in It’s a Wonderful Life (“Look at me.  I’m making angels.”) but was even more successful as a TV producer, with shows like I Spy, Andy Griffith, Dick van Dyke, and Gomer Pyle.
  • Lon Cheney, Jr.  The Wolf Man,et. al.
  • Elisha J. Cook, Jr. Wilmer in The Maltese Falcon, et al.
  • Hans Conreid.  Voice of Snidley Whiplash and many others. In this, he puts on an English accent!
  • Marvin Kaplan. Longtime TV character actor and voice of Choo Choo in Top Cat.
You can also spot King Donovan (50s horror movie icon) and Herb Vigran (a busy TV character actor).

The movie is fun, if sitcom-like. Plenty is made of the fact that Bill always shows up when someone is murdered.

This was director George Beck’s only film, though he did continue on as writer for TV and movies. The movie seems to have been successful at the box office, thought not a smash, and seems to be overlooked in lists of films of the year. It’s in the public domain now, and is available at
*Of course, he has.
**Indeed, there are many indications in the film that Bill is frustrated by Archie because the dog prevent him from getting time alone with his wife.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Ariel (music)

Written and performed by
Dean Friedman
Wikipedia Page

Being a one-hit wonder is no disgrace. It takes a lot of talent to get a recording contract and both talent and luck to have a hit. Dean Friedman only had one song that made it on the US charts,* but it was a delight.

“Ariel” is a song about meeting a girl and becoming lovers, but it’s filled with charm and clever lyrics.

Part of its charm was that it was set in Paramus, NJ, where Friedman grew up, and there are many references to it and to the NYC area. Indeed, there are several lines in the song that only someone from the area would understand.** Plus there is some clever wordplay, like in the line “I said ‘Hi,’ she said, ‘Yeah, I guess I am.’" Or “I was messing around with the vertical hold.”***

The song got a lot of FM airplay, and reached 26 on the charts. One issue was that the record company was new and hadn’t pressed enough copies to meet the demand.****

Freidman was not able to duplicate that success, but continued to record and perform and also wrote some music for TV.

*Though he continued to record and is still performing today.

**For instance, there’s a line about the “Friends of BAI,” a reference to WBAI, a listener supported station in the area.

***A control on TVs of the era, unneeded now. But in the context of the song, it also meant he was holding her.

****See what I said about luck.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing

(1987)Written and Directed by Patricia Rozema
Starring Sheila McCarthy, Paule Baillargeon, Ann-Marie MacDonald
IMDB Entry
Image result for i've heard the mermaids singingOne of the nice things in the days of video stores was the ability to find oddball movies that you never heard of. You could glance at the boxes on the walls and find things that were obscure, or old, or too independent for the big studios. That’s where I stumbled upon I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing.

Poly Vandersma (Sheila McCarthy) is a klutzy young woman who ekes out a living doing temporary secretarial work, her job choices hindered by the fact she’s a lousy typist.  But she is hired for a permanent position by Gabrielle (Paule Baillargeon), the owner of a private art gallery.  When Gabrielle ex-lover Mary (Ann-Marie MacDonald), things start to get complicated.

This is not a plot-driven movie. Most of its joys are from McCarthy’s performance, which is utterly charming. As the movie progresses, she learns to be just a bit more competent.

The film was Canadian, and has often been listed among the greatest Canadian films of all time.

McCarthy went on to have a long career in TV and film. Most recently, she appeared in The Umbrella Academy as Agnes, the owner of a diner.