Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Old Movie House is closing for now


Things are not going too well. It’s going to take a lot longer for my throat to heal. I just do not have the energy to continue posting with any regularity.

So…to make a long story short The Old Movie House is closed. The site will remain up, but the site will not be updated until further notice.


Monday, May 04, 2015

A Night To Remember (1958)

4. blog title

The film A Night To Remember is based on the book A Night To Remember by Walter Lord. His book was the first written about the Royal Mail Ship Titanic in forty years. Producer William MacQuitty had originally planned with Shaw, Savill & Albion Line to use the Dominion Monarch to shoot scenes for the film, but the company pulled out of the production at the last minute, citing that they did not want to use one of their liners to recreate the Titanic sinking. However, according to MacQuitty, the Shaw Savill Line at the time was managed by Basil Sanderson, son of Harold Sanderson, the White Star Line's director in the U.S. at the time of the sinking. Harold Sanderson would later succeed J. Bruce Ismay as president of the International Mercantile Marine Company, J.P. Morgan's shipping conglomerate that owned the White Star Line. This connection to White Star, according to MacQuitty, is what actually led the Shaw Savill Line to pull out of the film. The Royal Mail Ship Austurias was then utilized to portray the RMS Titanic. Since the RMS Austuris was already in the process of being scrapped (the port side had already been demolished) MacQuitty used the starboard side and mirrors to replicate activity on the port side. Since scenes involving the RMS Asturius were filmed in Scotland students from the University of Glasgow were employed to paint the ship White Star line colors.


A Night To Remember came out to rave reviews in 1958. Produced by William MacQuitty who actually saw the great ship when he was a boy in Ireland, the film was the culmination of a life long dream. The screenwriter Eric Ambler saw the RMS Titanic was he was a boy. The film was popular in England where the film was made, but its introduction to American audiences was far from easy. It didn’t have the “stars” American audiences had come to expect. And to make things worse the film was released in the middle of a newspaper strike. So publicity via that medium was to a certain respect restricted. The lack of “stars” bothered many theater owners so MacQuitty went to the theater owners, one by one, to convince them that the star of the film was the ship itself. Slowly, very slowly, theater owners decided to take a risk and run the film. The popularity of the film gathered steam as its primary method of publicity was word of mouth.

But the “star” really is the ship. Today, more than one hundred years after the Titanic sank, and 57 years since the film debuted, people still talk about the ship and the film. But the one aspect that caught everybody's eye was the attention to detail. The sets were constructed using the actual blueprints that were located in the Harland and Wolff shipyards. Photos provided a view of the finished product. And when photos of certain aspects were not available photos from the RMS Titanic photos from the Titanic's sister ship Olympic (in this case the Olympic was almost a twin) filled the gap. Survivors, and former crew members provided details that were not in any books or pamphlets. While watching the film I felt I was on the RMS Titanic. When the camera was filming the crew quarters or those in third class (sometimes referred to as steerage) cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth had the camera on a gimbal which showed the viewer there was an almost imperceptible rolling motion. When the camera showed life in first or second class the view was as steady as a rock.


While it may be tempting to compare this film with James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster film called Titanic, I think the end result would be unfair, and maybe even a little insulting. I feel the story told in the film A Night To Remember is about a ship, and the people on it. Titanic is a story about two people very much in love who happen to be on a doomed ship. The fact that the ship is the Titanic is secondary. I feel you have two very different films here, and A Night To Remember tells you a good deal more about the ships last night.

Titanic is hardly an original film. A great deal of the dialog used in the script was first used in the film A Night To Remember. Sure, its sets were constructed to resemble 1912 architecture, and it was in color. But there was also a lot of computer generated imagery. Aside from the love story ask yourself this one simple question:  Did I learn anything new about the passengers or the ship ? The answer is nothing. A Night to Remember told you far more about about the ship and its passengers than Titanic ever did.

In my mind A Night To Remember is a far better film than Titanic was.

I first saw the film it the mid-seventies. It was shown on TV. Digital television was a lifetime away. At that time all that existed was analog television. So any film that was a wide screen film, such as A Night To Remember, was panned and scanned. No other option existed.

I read the book some ten years earlier, and when I closed the covers I came down with a raging case of Titanic-phobia fever. Still have it. I collected what I could, and generally drove my parents nuts. Anniversaries of the sinking were gold mines of information. Sometimes survivor accounts were reprinted in the newspapers. Survivor Major Arthur Peuchen came from Toronto, and was a member of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club. Major Peuchen was the fellow who went down a rope and into history when the irrepressible Molly Brown discovered there was only one seaman in boat #6. He would have the distinction for the remainder of his life of being the only male passenger Second Officer Lightoller would allow in a lifeboat. Major Peuchen was portrayed by Robert Ayres Maj. Peuchen.


 Kenneth More portrayed Second Officer Charles Lightoller. More tried to

907a. Kenneth More as Lightoller                                              907. Charles_Lightoller

       Kenneth More                        played                  Second Officer Charles Lightoller

join the Royal Air Force in 1931 at 17, but failed the medical exam. He was able to secure a commission and served as lieutenant in the Royal Navy. He served on the HMS Aurora (a cruiser) and on the HMS Victorious. After the war he was offered a small role in the film Scott Of The Antarctic. He claimed to have learned a great deal of stage technique from Ronald Squire. The two appeared together in the film No Highway (called No Highway In The Sky in the United States). In 1956 he portrayed Douglas Bader, the British fighter ace of World War II. The film was called Reach For The Sky and was very popular. By this time he could command forty thousand pounds a film. He turned down an offer to play a German POW in the film The One That Got Away, but he agreed to play Charles Lightoller.

His star started to wane in the sixties when he left his wife, and started living with with Angela Douglas. The two were married in 1968. More was unhappy when he felt things “were not quite right”. He and Angela separated for a short time, but reunited when More was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease. He passed away on July 12 1982.

908a. E.J.Smith                                                     908. Edward_J__Smith

Laurence Naismith                                                                 Captain E.J. Smith

When Captain Smiths daughter visited the set of A Night To Remember she was so startled by the physical resemblance of Naismith to her late father that she required medical assistance. He portrayed just the right amount of shock when he played Captain Smith. Author Walter Lord, and screenwriter Eric Ambler were more than pleased with Nasmiths portrayal.

Others who played memorable roles were Michael Goodlife as Thomas Andrews, the man who designed the Titanic, and Frank Lawton who was perfect as the chairman of the White Star Line. His portrayal of J. Bruce Ismay was perfect. The levels of greed, arrogance, and ignorance were just right.

905. Thomas Andrews                                                          905a.Michael Goodlife

      Thomas Andrews                  played by                                    Michael Goodlife

906. 220px-J__Bruce_Ismay                                                     906a. J. Bruce Ismay

      J. Bruce Ismay                         played by                                   Frank Lawton


ANTR book 

                                            (My own copy – 40 years old)

Normally I enjoy the audio commentaries on DVDs. They usually impart some information that allow the viewer to enjoy the movie a little bit more. But I really disliked the commentary on the DVD. Don Lynch and Ken Marschall chatted like a couple of kids seeing a Star Wars film for the umpteenth time, and I found it quite difficult to watch the DVD and listen to them. It was one or the other.

There was an unintended James Bond connection. Sean Connery supposedly played a third class Irishman (I couldn’t see him in the film) and Desmond Llewelyn, the first “Q” of Q branch makes a brief appearance as a crew member.

Others with significant or important roles are Bernard Fox. He’s the fellow who played Doctor Bombay on the television series “Bewitched”. He played lookout Frederick Fleet, the very first person to see the iceberg. In the film Titanic he played Col. Archibald Gracie. Norm Rossington, the fellow John Lennon loved to mentally torture in the film “A Hard Day’s Night”, portrayed a steward who loses his temper with non-English speaking passengers. In the television show S.O.S Titanic he portrays the Sergeant–at–arms. And a very young David McCallum played wireless operator Harold Bride. But in my opinion the actor with the most difficult part was not Kenneth More, but John Merivale. Firstly he confronts Thomas Andrews (Michael Goodlife) only to learn the ship is mortally wounded. Then he has to reword what he has learned in order to save his wife (Honor Blackman), his two daughters, and his only son. To make the situation even tougher for him he has to shepherd them to life boats while maintaining an “It’s all right” attitude for his family. To learn you're about to die, and to do all that, takes more bravery than I can muster in a life time.

49. American dad asks Andrews how bad things are

  John Merivale (right) learns the Titanic is going to sink

A Night To Remember tells you more about what happened that horrid night than any other film. Granted a lot of what’s in the film are educated guesses. There are some things we will never know as all of the crew and all of the passengers on board in 1912 are dead. But the story lives on…on in this film and in others. We know some of the things that we thought of as “facts” are exactly the opposite. We learned after this film was released, after the book was published, that the ship did indeed break in two. And there are dozens of other unanswered questions. But they won’t be answered in our lifetimes. It is estimated that the hulk of the RMS Titanic will completely decay in about 70 years. Then the great ship will exist only in lore, legend, and in great films such as A Night To Remember.


Personal Note…

I recently had an operation where there was a very real possibility of cancer. Consequently it taken a massive toll on my wife, and a helluva toll on me. I have decided to take a sabbatical from The Old Movie House.

At present I quite simply do not have the energy to do blogs on a regular or semi regular basis. I have no choice but to close the doors of The Old Movie House on a temporary basis. I will be back, but when that will be I cannot say at present.

An 8 month cancer scare is not something you can bounce back from easily.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Escape Of The Birdmen-Made For TV Movie-Ep. 5

Everyone is now really upset. When Harry first proposed the glider project he said that the men to fly would be chosen at the last minute. Tanker thought it was a good idea as everyone would work at their peak. But when Harrys says that he and Olav are going to fly, and that was the plan all along, Crawford crashes though the door. Apparently Crawford was released early because Schiller was in a good mood. Through all the yelling Davies (the blind POW) asks what Olav’s real name is. “Is it Brevik ?” Harry says his full name.

31. Is His name Brevik

 Is his name Brevik ?

 Crawford interrupts and asks him how he knew that. “Because I was on the bloody team to get him out”. Olav/ Brevik gets closer to Davies when he gives the pass code. When Olav gives the correct response Davies, who has said precious little in the film, almost explodes. “I don’t know what he does, but I gave up my bloody eyes trying to get him out. This man has got to go !”. With that Tanker gets everyone to assemble the glider in record time. They put the struts on the starboard wing. Fitz and Sparrow start assembling the portside wing. While they do that Harry and Tanker maneuver the bath tub into place. All of a sudden the rope in the block slips out of place and the tub crashes down on Harry’s leg.

33. struts in34. the tub lands on Harrys leg

Fitz checks Harrys leg and determines that its broken, and that Harry will not be doing any flying for the foreseeable future. Col. Crawford is the only person with a significant flying record. Harry hands the goggles Olav gave him to Crawford and says “get him out please !”.

Schiller is waiting in the courtyard for the Gestapo. As he salutes the car carrying the Gestapo officer a man emerges wearing typical Nazi garb – a dark colored leather coat/raincoat. Schiller looks around the courtyard hoping Harry will make a last minute appearance, and he won’t have to deal with the Gestapo officer right away. He’d love to snub or irritate the Gestapo officer. While salutes and greetings are being exchanged in the courtyard the portside wing and strut have been installed. As Schiller calls a roll call he notices the end of an airplane wing sticking out past the chapel roof. Now we have a rather sizeable continuity error. Schiller was wounded by a cannon burst from a P-51 plane and one of his knees was shattered. Consequently he can only bend one of his knees. Yet at times Schiller is able to negotiate a flight or several flight of stairs with lightening speed. With Harry out of commission Crawford and Olav climb into the home made glider. Tanker cuts the rope holding the tub in place. As it plummets to the ground it pulls the glider forward. Crawford gives Olav the thumbs up sign, and before they know it they are in the air heading for Switzerland, a neutral country. Fitz is surprised and amazed “what do you know…the damn thing actually flies”. Schiller arrives just in time to see the glider soar away. “I think we are both in a great deal of trouble” he says to Harry. Trouble is the last thing on Harrys mind, the pain in his leg being uppermost. Schiller has repeatedly offered Harry a drink. “I think I’ll take that drink now commandant. My leg is killing me” he says in response.

36. lets go home37. it flies

I said in episode 1 this film is based in fact. After this film was released it came to light that a great many of the details involved in the construction of the glider are true. A glider was indeed built but at Colditz Castle. It was a two man glider. It too used a metal bathtub for a gravity assisted launch. German rations, yes it was porridge, helped make the airplane “dope”. It wasn’t called “Das Dodo”. It was known as the “Colditz Cock”. It was almost complete at the end of the war. The area of Colditz Castle was controlled by Russia, and some Russian soldiers broke it up for kindling. But before that happened two photos of the Colditz Cock were taken. This is one of them.


You may notice it has a checker board pattern. The skin was was made from the blue and white prison issue sleeping bags and not from bed sheets.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Escape Of The Birdmen-Made For TV Movie-Ep. 4

20. Harry rats on Crawford

Harry is faced with a dilemma. He has to choose between completing a job he was given by the President of the United States, and informing on a fellow officer and flier. Deciding he must do something he pays a visit to Commandant Schillers’ office. When Harry arrives the commandants face is grim. But when Harry asks for a drink the commandants face becomes a smile. Because he knows he has won.

As Harry walks back to the officers quarters Col. Crawford is being led

22. unhappy camperacross the compound and into solitary confinement. Col. Crawford looks at Harry and Harry knows what’s coming. But Harry knows he had a job to do, and that Col. Crawford was in the way of a presidential order being executed. When the doors to solitary confinement close Harry is back in the barracks telling the others what he did. Some are upset, some are depressed that one officer would knowingly inform on another officer. Olav is impressed that a man he barely knows would do something like that for him. He tries to tell him that he works in a new field called nuclear physics, and that it’s very important to the war effort, but it’s way over Harrys head. When Harrys eyes

23. I work in a new field

I work in a new field

start to glaze over at the very mention of the word “physics” he simply hands him a him a set of goggles he stole from a German motorcycle messenger for him to wear when flying. Harry thanks him, surprised that someone so timid would steal anything.

21. Olav steals goggles

When Harry and Olav stop talking they discover everyone else has gone back to work on the glider. Evidently they understood why Harry did what he did. The skin of the glider is made from bed sheets, and everyone in the barracks has to contribute. Tanker is in charge of creating airplane “dope”. The skin will be covered in this substance. But every concoction they try doesn’t do what they need it to do. Its got to seal any pours in the sheets, its got to shrink just a fraction of an inch so the sheets will be taut, and it has to dry rigid. Harry remembers that soon after he arrived he saw Sparrow ironing the shirts of the guards. The collars of the shirts of the guards are supposed to be starched. But real starch is in short supply. Sparrow used porridge to produce a stiff fabric. This is the “secret ingredient” for the airplane “dope”. The following morning every man gets a gigantic portion from the camp cook who

25. mystified cook

is more than puzzled at the sudden popularity of his porridge. When the porridge is added to the other ingredients it works out that its just the right consistency. It’s slathered all over the skin of the glider with the desired results. Harry has yet to get the counter weight he needs. He needs something that weigh five hundred pounds that when dropped thirty feet, or three stories, will provide him with enough speed to launch the glider. Unfortunately the only object with that amount of weight is the prisoners only form of bathing. It’s a cast iron claw foot bath tub. Up till now every prisoner could take a bath once every five months. But once Harry appropriates the tub the time duration between baths will be somewhat longer. It’s hauled up into the attic

27. the tub

with a block and tackle. As the tub is being wrestled into it standby position Flaherty is painting the name on its side. Again the name is “Das Dodo” but this time the letters are so large everyone will be able to see them. Word reaches them that Commandant Schiller wants to see Harry. The commandant is a rather good mood. He’s not fond of the Gestapo, or they’re tactics so he does Harry a favor. He informs Harry that the Gestapo will be at the castle in one hour, but he has arranged to have Harry transferred to another camp “where you could put your talents to better use”.  Harry asks about his friend Olav. Schiller says that Olav did not do him any favors (tell him about Col. Crawford) so he won’t be doing any favors for him. Besides, the Gestapo is coming to see him. Harry is informed that if he wants to take advantage of the commandants offer he must be ready in five minutes. He rushes back to the barracks where he tells everyone he’s an OSS agent tasked with getting Olav Valda out of Germany. Before he can tell anybody Olav’s real name Col. Crawford bursts in. And he wants Harry’s head and blood.

30. I want your head