Peter Lawford, Gentleman Jewel Thief in The Hour of 13 (1952)

In 1890 on the gaslit, foggy streets of London, policemen are being targeted by a murderous madman known as “The Terror.” High class jewel thief Nicholas Revel (Peter Lawford) coincidentally steals a famous emerald the same night and location of the last attack. Nicholas, now a prime suspect of the murders, must clear his name and find the real murderer, using himself as bait.

Here’s our anti-hero — the charming, sophisticated gentleman thief, Nicholas Revel. When we first meet Nicholas, he is practicing stealing a necklace from around a bust’s neck. With a flick of the wrist he displays his skill, boldness, and precision, thus setting the tone and enjoyment of our movie – watching Nicholas weave in and out of situations in his inimitable way.

Whether entering a society event through a mirrored door, or teaming up with the police commissioner’s daughter (Dawn Addams) to plant suspicions in any direction but his, Nicholas confirms his adage – “The safest place is in a crowd.”

Though this is a little known film, The Hour of 13 has noteworthy folk on its production team. Let’s take a look at some of them…

The Hour of 13 was made at MGM’s British studios and was adapted from X v. Rex, a novel by Philip MacDonald. MacDonald’s most famous screenwriting credit is for his adaptation of Rebecca (1940). The screenplay by playwright Leon Gordon and Howard Emmett Rogers (Libeled Lady, 1936) is delightfully witty and smooth. This film is a remake of The Mystery of Mr. X (1934) with Robert Montgomery in the lead.

The production designer on The Hour of 13 was Alfred Junge – arguably the most influential art director of his time. Junge had been a collaborator with Powell and Pressburger on eight of their films, starting in 1939 and ending in 1947 with Black Narcissus, for which he won an Oscar. Junge worked on everything from Alfred Hitchcock’s early films (The Man Who Knew Too Much, Young and Innocent) to Technicolor spectacles — Knights of the Round Table and Mogambo (1953). The sets are indeed lush and pleasant to the eye in The Hour of 13. Junge brings Victorian England to life with detailed sets, luxurious decor and his recreation of the city of London is brimming with atmosphere and mystery.

Admittedly, I had never heard of the director Harold French before seeing The Hour of 13. I learned that French was a British stage actor and director who caught the film bug. During his twenty year movie career, he was known for comedies but proved his versatility with war films, thrillers, musicals, and dramas. Although he is not as celebrated among British film directors, French has some interesting credits to his name including Disney’s Rob Roy: The Highland Rogue (1953). I am so impressed with The Hour of 13 that I want to see more of his work. Any recommendations? Please leave them in the comments!

On to the cast…

I was curious how Lawford would fare within a period mystery. I love him in Easter Parade and Good News, but those delightful, fluffy musicals are a horse of a different color to a dramatic crime story. I shouldn’t have doubted. Lawford fit so well into the period mystery scene that I wish he had done more of them. Victorian England was the perfect setting for his refined speaking voice, elegant manners, and aristocratic bearing.

I loved seeing Lawford play an ambiguous character. The signature Lawford charm was evident, but he gave Nicholas an extra bit of edge that made him a compelling character and one of his most interesting roles and performances during this stage in his career.

The rest of the cast is assembled with excellent British actors. Dawn Addams is innocent, lovely and provides a nice contrast to the enigmatic Lawford. Roland Culver (Thunderball) earnestly plays Scotland Yard inspector Connor, the man determined to frame Lawford. Leslie Dwyer and Colin Gordon provide light comic relief as Lawford’s accomplices. Michael Hordern, Heather Thatcher (Beau Geste, 1939) and Richard Shaw round out the cast.

In a way, this movie reminds me of To Catch a Thief (1955) with our suave jewel thief on the run from the police, while trying to track down the real thief, or in this case, the real murderer. And in the same vein, our sympathies lie with our anti-hero.

The Hour of 13 is not pretentious – it knows its bounds and stays within them, while the able cast provides a solid piece of entertainment for those willing to descend into its world of dark alleys and urbane thievery.

This post is my contribution to The 2nd Annual Peter Lawford Blogathon given by Kristen of Hoofers & Honeys in honor of Peter’s birthday, September 7th, 1923! Thanks for letting me participate, Kristen!

CLICK HERE to read the other entries about the talented Mr. Lawford.

The Enchanting Cyd Charisse in Brigadoon (1954)

Gill over at Realweedgiemidget Reviews is hosting The No True Scotsman Blogathon which asks us to bring to light thespians playing Scots who are not Scottish themselves. For this unique look at the movies, I’m turning my sights to the Scottish Highlands of Lerner and Loewe’s musical, Brigadoon (1954), and more specifically Cyd Charisse as the film’s heroine, Fiona Campbell.

In our story, New Yorkers Tommy Albright (Gene Kelly) and Jeff Douglas (Van Johnson) take a hunting trip to Scotland where they stumble upon a quaint, mysterious village. Tommy is unsatisfied with his life back in New York and finds what he’s looking for in Brigadoon, including love with Fiona Campbell (Cyd Charisse); however, if he’s to keep what he’s found, he will need to turn his back on all he’s ever known.

Vincente Minnelli and Gene Kelly

Unfortunately for MGM, their production of the Broadway hit Brigadoon was not as idyllic as the village it portrays. Gene Kelly and director Vincente Minnelli were excited by the idea of providing audiences with a film that was shot on location in Scotland. This realism had been denied Broadway theatregoers who flocked to see Brigadoon and the creative team was itching to see it come to fruition; however, their hopes were dashed by the prospect of unseemly weather and extensive cuts to the budget.

In addition to being confined to the sound stages, Minnelli was tasked with shooting the film in Cinemascope (which he disliked) as well as the standard widescreen format. With all of these drawbacks Kelly and Minnelli felt stifled, but still managed to give us a film to appreciate.

The stars of Brigadoon (1954) with producer Arthur Freed

Originally, Kathryn Grayson was chosen for the part of Fiona; but by the time production began Grayson was no longer under contract to the studio. The next choice – Moira Shearer (a Scot) – was unavailable, giving former Ballet Russe dancer Cyd Charisse her second leading role in a musical.

Cyd was American as apple pie, but this didn’t seem to hinder her performance. Cyd’s Scottish accent in the film is light and charming, although I’m pretty sure it’s not entirely accurate. On top of her refined speaking voice, she added a slight lilt and rolling of her “r’s.” Under all this, one would never guess that she was born in Texas and lived there till her teenage years. Lest ye think Cyd sprang some vocal chords overnight, she was dubbed by Carol Richards who carried the accent through as well.

Cyd Charisse’s star had risen by dancing with Gene Kelly in Singin in the Rain (1952) and Fred Astaire in The Bandwagon (1953), but in Brigadoon her graceful beauty shines through like never before. Cyd plays Fiona with passion and dignity. A brave woman who knows her heart and is honest with herself and others. Her ladylike bearing and poise is perfectly attuned to the character of Fiona. Just like Tommy, we, the audience, fall for her on sight.

The chemistry between Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly is palpable and is never more apparent than in “The Heather On the Hill.” Kelly’s choreography reaches the peak of romance as the two playfully run across the hills gathering heather and break into dance with some of the most beautiful lifts I’ve ever seen on screen.

The reprise is equally stirring as the passion between the lovers has fully bloomed and Tommy must make his decision.

For some reason I’ve always thought of this film as Tommy’s story. Upon further examination, I’ve realized that Fiona deserves more than I was giving her credit for. After all, when she falls for Tommy she is fully aware of the village’s secret and what she could lose if she puts her heart on the line, yet she does so anyway. Tommy hasn’t a clue what he’s getting into when he falls for the Scottish lass, but he does know what they have is real and true.

Brigadoon might go down in history as the MGM film that should have been shot on location, but to me the hand painted backdrops and studio sets add to the film’s magical quality (not unlike The Wizard of Oz, 1939). Also, as much as I love Moira Shearer, I can’t picture anyone else in the part of Fiona. In my book, Gene Kelly plus Cyd Charisse equals dynamite.

Fun bit of trivia: According to Imdb, Cyd Charisse said that of the several films she made with Gene Kelly, Brigadoon was her favorite.

This post is my contribution to The No True Scotsman Blogathon hosted by Gill at Realweedgiemidget Reviews. Thanks for letting me participate, Gill! Grab yer’ kilt head over to her blog for Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.

Celebrating Esther Williams’ Centennial with 10 Favorite Swim Spectaculars

Michaela of Love Letters to Old Hollywood is hosting a blogathon in honor of one of my favorite stars and people, the Million Dollar Mermaid, Miss Esther Williams.

August 8, 2021 will mark the Centennial of Esther’s birth and while she is no longer with us, what she left behind is an incredible legacy full of cinematic treasures and a life story that continues to delight and inspire.

I could write endlessly about Esther because she means so much to me, but today I decided to talk about my favorite swim spectaculars. Summer is in full swing here and I can’t think of a better way to cool off than taking a dip with Esther, especially on her birthday.

1. Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949) – Title song

This film is near and dear to my heart because it was my first Esther Williams movie. As a little girl I imitated this scene whenever I went swimming and Esther became a role model for me from then on. You can read more about my admiration for Esther here.

2. Bathing Beauty (1944) – The finale

If there ever was a definition for showstopper – this is it. Fountains, fire, a bevy of swimmers, dancers and Esther like Venus rising from the water. The result? Over the top beauty on screen in the film which made Esther a star.

3. Neptune’s Daughter (1949) – The finale

The finale of this fun movie is colorful colorful and creative. I believe there is a Greek theme going on (correct me if I’m wrong, her headdress certainly gives me that vibe), and some impressive underwater choreography, but my favorite part is Esther’s intro as she gleams and shines in the spotlight. Absolutely stunning.

4. Bathing Beauty (1944) – “Magic is the Moonlight”

Esther’s opening routine in Bathing Beauty is special because this was her first foray into the Technicolor dream world that she became well known for. I love it because the number appears to be so natural, not in the least bit staged. It’s as if you had a pool party at your house and invited Esther Williams – these are the moves i imagine she would be doing. As it turns out Esther wrote in her autobiography that she choreographed this charming routine herself.

Fun fact: “Magic is the Moonlight” became Esther’s trademark song that nightclub orchestras would play upon her arrival.

5. Pagan Love Song (1950) – “Pagan Love Song”

I could watch this water ballet on repeat. Esther glides elegantly through the underwater landscape as fish swim calmly around her. Beautiful colors fill the eye as Howard Keel serenades us with the hypnotic title song. Ultimate escapism in the tropics with Esther and Howard.

6. Dangerous When Wet (1953) -“Ain’t Nature Grand”

Esther and future husband Fernando Lamas take to the water for a breezy duet in Dangerous When Wet. Like Esther, Lamas was a champion swimmer and as such he was able to match her stroke for stroke (a feat not usually accomplished by her leading men).

Fun fact: Lamas kept this a secret while at MGM for fear of being cast in all of Esther’s movies.

Many factors contribute to this making my list of favorites. The catchy song, the wonderful chemistry between the swimmers, and the light romantic mood that permeates the scene.

7. This Time for Keeps (1947) – “Ten Percent Off”

Esther and Jimmy Durante made an unlikely, but adorable team. They would star together again the following year in On An Island With You (1948), but in this film they performed a song and dance routine which ended with Esther diving in. The clever choreography (both dance and water ballet) for the film was done by Stanley Donen.

If Esther doesn’t look like a Mermaid Princess in this ensemble, then I don’t know what does. The sparkly silver suit and crown is gorgeous and is my favorite of her swim costumes.

8. Dangerous When Wet (1953) – Tom and Jerry Sequence

Talk about iconic. Esther’s dip with the famous cat and mouse is a pure delight to watch and even today with all our technical wizardry the effects hold up marvelously.

Esther recalled in her autobiography that upon previewing the film the audience didn’t believe she was underwater. The animators Hanna and Barbera proceeded to draw bubbles around her costing the studio $50,000. Upon hearing this Esther said, “I could have blown those bubbles for free. All you had to do was ask.”

9. Jupiter’s Darling (1955) – “I Have a Dream”

At first glance this appears to be an underwater noir where Esther gets kidnapped by some creepy dudes disguised in white. Nope. Try again.

This time Esther is in ancient Rome dreaming of her true love when suddenly she is startled by a series of statues that come to life and playfully flirt with her in her pool.

I have a fascination for all things Greek and Roman so I was bound to love this one. Once again Esther’s costume and crown are lovely. Her pool, surrounded by statues, pillars, and Greek key is to die for and the water ballet is completely over the top and a whole lot of fun.

Filming the “I Have a Dream” Water Ballet

10. Duchess of Idaho (1950) – “Melody in Swimtime” finale

Don’t you just love that cheeky play on words? Like the title says, Esther gets plenty of swim time in this number. Lucky for us because nothing is worse than a too short swim scene starring Esther Williams. Dancers surround the pool as Esther leisurely floats with male swimmers in this relaxing, romantic number. You can watch this sequence above. 

Esther was a natural. Her success was based on talent, hard work, and determination – the traits she learned as a champion swimmer. She had the right combination of sincerity and appeal that continued to capture the hearts of the public even after her career in movies ended.

Esther Williams was completely unique. Perhaps that’s why watching her is so special – because you know you’ll never see anything or anyone like her ever again.

This post is my contribution to the 100 Years of Esther Williams Blogathon hosted by Michaela at Love Letters to Hollywood. Thanks for hosting and letting me participate, Michaela! Grab your swimsuit and dive in to the rest of the posts celebrating Esther by clicking here.

Happy 100th Birthday to America’s Mermaid!

Thank you for reading!

5 Reasons Why I Admire Esther Williams

My love for Esther Williams began when I was about ten years old while watching Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949), the one movie my family owned starring Esther. Although Esther had only one very short and simple swimming sequence, I was enraptured by her. As a girl who loved everything to do with mermaids (and to be honest, still does), I would then pretend I was Esther in our family swimming pool, mimicking her routine as best I could.

Esther was everything my ten year old self wanted to be – talented, beautiful, intelligent, and strong.

As a teenager I had the opportunity to rent more of scoured the shelves for Esther’s movies from my local library. Dangerous When Wet (1953) particularly stands out in my mind with the unforgettable Tom and Jerry sequence. Others included Neptune’s Daughter (1949), Pagan Love Song (1950), and Bathing Beauty (1944).

A few years ago I purchased a set of Esther’s movies distributed by TCM. Upon viewing these films again I discovered the magic had not faded. I was still captivated by Esther – her grace, style, and the amazing ballets. Wanting to to learn more about the making of these films led me to Esther’s delightful and eye-opening autobiography, Million Dollar Mermaid.

In these pages I discovered that Esther was not only an athletic, glamorous movie star who exemplified an unshakable work ethic, she also had the courage to match it.

5 Reasons Why I Admire Esther Williams

1. Her ability to find a constant in times of trouble

In Esther’s book she recounts a time in her teenage years when she was sexually abused by a trusted, adopted member of the family. Frightened to reveal his identity because of his threats, she kept this to herself for two years. Having been chosen to be part of a prestigious athletic club, she used her practice and training time to escape from reality. In the water, she found her source of comfort. Dominating the water also gave her a sense of control and a semblance of strength.

Here, at least in the pool, knifing through the water, I could be in control, I would be safe – for the moment.”

2. She was the catalyst for the creation of a genre

The Aquacade at the 1939 New York World’s Fair

In the 30’s and 40’s, synchronized swimming gained popularity due to Billy Rose’s Aquacade, a water show that drew in huge crowds and dazzled the public (in which Esther once was the lead female swimmer).

In the movies, a few musicals featured synchronized swimming, such as the Busby Berkeley sequences in The Kid from Spain (1932) and Footlight Parade (1933). But with Esther came the addition of Technicolor and the birth of the aqua musical.

Bathing Beauty (1944)

When Esther Williams signed a contract with MGM in 1941, the studio welcomed their new star with her own stage, Stage 30, and a twenty foot deep swimming pool equipped with a hydraulic lift. Little did Esther know that during her career at MGM she would become a top box office attraction in the 40’s and 50’s, earning the title America’s Mermaid.

3. She loved what she did

Although her job was not an easy one and required hours upon hours of being in the water, insane preparations to make her “waterproof,” and dangerous on-screen stunts, you would never know it for Esther always had a huge smile on her face. Despite the difficulties, she wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

I genuinely loved swimming and being underwater. It appeared as if I had invited the audience into the water with me, and it conveyed the sensation that being in there was absolutely delicious.”

4. She became an advocate for her sport

Bathing Beauty (1944)

According to Esther, “a year after Bathing Beauty (1944), the first synchronized swimming meet was held in Chicago. Then, in 1955, synchronized swimming became a recognized event, and was named a demonstration sport in 1956.” After that it was a struggle for the sport to be accepted into the Olympics. For years it was looked on as nothing more than a showbiz act.

Finally, in 1984, synchronized swimming made it to the Olympic games, and NBC called upon Esther to be a commentator.

I was touched to realize how these girls had seen those movies and gotten together in their little groups and wanted to swim pretty and not fast. They created a sport and went all over the world to teach it and sell it. I was proud to be there when it came into the Olympics. I was proud to be an inspiration, a godmother to a sport.”

5. She never quit the race

While her onscreen persona was one of scrupulous perfection, her real life was far from it. Despite troubled marriages, several on-set life threatening incidents, and criticism from those who did not appreciate Esther’s hard work and dedication to her art and sport, she never gave up.

During some periods in her life she doubted her own importance and abilities. To be a respected actress was something she craved as she was constantly berated about her acting. Over time she realized her unique talent, embraced it, and looked back fondly on all the life experiences she had been given as a result.

I guess that’s what I was trying to tell those Olympic champions when I told them that when they ran into life’s problems, they should never despair, even after temporary discouragement or defeat. I told them they should call upon their inner spirit to see them through. We can’t all win Olympic gold medals. Even I never won one. But the message applies to all of us because each of us in our own way has races to run or swim. And with sufficient endurance and courage, we all can achieve some kind of victory in our lives.”

Please forgive the awful quality of the video, otherwise it is simply delightful!

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!

Rose Marie (1954): Love Amidst the Rockies

Tomboy meets manly man, falls for his charm, and becomes a “lady” for him. Sound familiar?

Rose Marie has shades of two other highly esteemed musicals of the 50’s – MGM’s Annie Get Your Gun (1950) and Warner Brothers’ Calamity Jane (1953), in which a tomboy gets transformed into a lady. Interestingly, these films also share the same leading man, Howard Keel. What makes Rose Marie unique however, is the style of the music, the casting of the heroine, and the ending of the story.

This 1954 adaptation of Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart’s operetta, Rose-Marie, was MGM’s third time bringing this story to the big screen. The first film, now considered to be lost, (1928) was a silent with Joan Crawford playing the lead. The second and best-known version, (1936) starring Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald, gave the team their signature song, “Indian Love Call.” Each time the film has been re-made, the story has changed, but the 1954 version bears close resemblance to the original operetta. While the film only retained three of the songs from the original operetta, it did add five others. The duet “I Have the Love” is exceptionally lovely.

Taking us on this journey into the Canadian wilderness and into the heart of Rose Marie is the lovely Ann Blyth. As the titular character, Ann is sassy and independent, while still retaining her feminine charm. She is the perfect blend of innocence and fire. Unlike Betty Hutton’s Annie Oakley and Doris Day’s Calamity Jane, Ann Blyth’s Rose Marie is not larger than life; quite the contrary. Ann plays the part in an understated fashion. She brings out Rose Marie’s naivety, and her plight to find her proper place in the world. I think this is what made her so wonderful in Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid (1948) – her ability to portray a character who is innocent and naive about certain things, but also very vulnerable and emotionally intelligent at the same time. And to play that character in a likable way that does not come across as fake, contrived, or cloying.

Note: I enjoy Betty’s Annie and Doris’s Jane as well; however, I like to note different acting styles and character interpretations. I love the individual qualities each one possesses and appreciate each of them for what they are. The differences are what makes each special, unique, and exciting to watch. We move on… 🙂

Rounding out the cast is Howard Keel, Fernando Lamas, Bert Lahr, and Marjorie Main. The most notable for me was Bert Lahr. I believe this is the second film I’ve seen him in. The first, of course, as the incomparable Cowardly Lion in Oz. He does have a number which is fun to see and makes some of his lion grunts and sounds.

Howard Keel and Fernando Lamas add their rich baritone voices to the mix while vying for the hand of Rose Marie. Keel is well cast as the good-hearted Mountie and Lamas as the ambiguous trapper. In my eyes, these two couldn’t be more opposite – all the more fitting for the story.

MGM pulled out the stops by filming Rose Marie in the Canadian Rockies, and it is simply breathtaking. The gorgeous scenery filmed in eye-popping color enhances the realism of the story and the plight of the Mounties. In addition, the cinematography by Paul Vogel (High Society, 1956) is beautiful and engaging. The film is also the first movie musical to be released in the new widescreen format at that time, CinemaScope.

I had to watch this film twice to fully appreciate it because it took me be surprise. All in all, Rose Marie (1954) is very enjoyable, featuring one of the most beautiful duets, talented singers, nature’s beauty, and produced by the most prestigious studio of Hollywood’s Golden Age. If any of those mentioned above make your heart skip a beat, this film is calling you…

This post is my contribution to the O Canada! Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings and Speakeasy. Thanks, ladies, for letting me participate! Head over here to read the rest of the posts honoring this vast and beautiful country.

Thanks for reading and for visiting The Classic Movie Muse!