Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Film, A Surprise ...

As I've been reading my way through the works of John O'Hara, I've also been viewing my way.  Like a number of his slightly older colleagues (Fitzgerald and Faulkner), O'Hara went to Hollywood a number of times to work on screenplays--and, in one case (The General Died at Dawn, 1936, starring Gary Cooper), to make a cameo appearance--he even delivered some lines and did pretty well. You can see him at the far right, just behind the blonde woman with the hat in the foreground.

The only film he received full screen credit for was Moontide, 1942, a film with lots of high hopes and a good cast.  But ... low-budget and (sad to say) bad writing doomed the film.

Several of his novels were converted into films--Ten North Frederick (1958), BUtterfield 8 (1960: Elizabeth Taylor won a best-actress Oscar), From the Terrace (also 1960--with young Paul Newman), and A Rage to Live (1965).

But O'Hara also contributed to a number of other films--either scenes or story ideas.  I just saw The Best Things in Life Are Free (1956), a musical that was nothing much more than strung-together production numbers.  But--hey--you haven't seen anything until you've seen--in this film--Ernest Borgnine sing and dance!  (Borgnine's last film appearance was in Red, that Bruce Willis thriller/comedy a year or so ago.)

Another one I recently watched--and really liked was On Our Merry Way, 1948 (I was four!), a film with a lot of surprises.  Burgess Meredith plays a young newspaper man who's been lying to his wife (Paulette Goddard, who had once married Charlie Chaplin, for real) about his position at the paper.  She thinks he's the popular "Roving Reporter"; actually, he does want ads for lost pets.

But he manages to get a day's assignment as the Roving Reporter and goes around asking people how their lives have been affected by a child--a question suggested by his wife.  And this device permits the film to feature stories within stories.  As Meredith asks his questions, he listens to the story--and we see it.  At times, too (and I really liked this), Meredith turns right to the camera and addresses the audience directly.  To add a little spice: He's being pursued throughout the day by a bookie's enforcer: He's been gambling and losing.

The first story--the one O'Hara wrote--involves some traveling impecunious musicians (O'Hara loved jazz), Henry Fonda and Jimmy Stewart.  (Trumpet legend Harry James makes a cameo.)  When their bus breaks down in a small town, they decide to sponsor a talent show in town to raise money for the repairs.  They figure if they let the mayor's son win, all will go well.  But ... there's a supremely gifted woman musician in town, a woman who can play every instrument like a prodigy. Harry James appoints himself judge ... and all forces collide at the contest.

The second story involves an aspiring actress (Dorothy Lamour) who gets her chance to perform because of a child star.  She has a pretty decent production number, too--singing, dancing, carrying on.

The third story is the weakest--and is a patent ripoff of the O. Henry tale many of my 8th grade students used to read--"The Ransom of Red Chief," the story about some kidnappers who grab a kid so bratty that they have to pay the parents to get rid of him.  Well, the kidnapping part is gone, but the bratty boy is there (Fred MacMurray is the man bedeviled by the boy)--and the ending is much the same.  (Here's a link to the original O. Henry story: Link)

Anyhow, On Our Merry Way is worth watching--available on Netflix (though not streaming)--and I just saw some reasonably priced copies to buy on eBay.

No comments:

Post a Comment