House of the Seven Hawks, 1959, Is Playing on TCM on January 30 (USA)

Set your DVRs for this quirky and satisfying film. House of the Seven Hawks, 1959, is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, January 30 at 4 a.m. (Actually January 31).  Not closed captioned.

The House of the Seven Hawks was a solid adventure story and it was well received by the New York Times. This is their review:

The House of the Seven Hawks (1959)
Mystery From Britain
December 17, 1959

by A. H. Weiler

ALTHOUGH producer David Rose and his skilled company obviously were not being imitative, they have flatteringly followed the format of the successful British mystery makers in fashioning “The House of Seven Hawks,” which landed yesterday at neighborhood theatres around town. For this suspense yarn filmed in England and in the Netherlands for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, is a neat package of economical dialogue, a satisfyingly labyrinthine plot and carefully paced direction and underplaying that adds up to a modest but truly taut and absorbing diversion.

Perhaps Jo Eisinger’s script does not explain why Robert Taylor, an American, happens to be the skipper of a charter boat in England taking a clandestine trip to the continent with a clandestine passenger. But enough interesting red herrings follow this voyage to the Netherlands to please the more demanding of the whodunit fans. He finds his passenger dead before arrival. He is a man who had been carrying a cryptic map and a dispatch case full of currency, and, it evolves eventually, had a record as a Dutch detective searching for a million-dollar cache of loot taken as far back as the Nazi invasion.

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As a hapless fugitive who is a prime suspect of The Hague’s police and a gent sought by the dastards anxious to lay covetous hands on this king-sized boodle, Mr. Taylor naturally is involved with sinister citizens, a couple of mysterious but highly decorative dames and, of course, the police. To the credit of Richard Thorpe, the director, and his crew, the mystery, search and chase are given added color by advantageous use of the natural locales of The Hague.

Except for the climactic set-to, which is a standard shoot-’em-up affair, Mr. Thorpe and his troupe are oblique but adroit in their approach to their story. Although he is a somewhat lean, gaunt and subdued hero, Mr. Taylor looks and acts the part of a beleaguered but tough citizen who can figure and fight his way out of a bizarre mess.

The British add their professional acting aid to Mr. Taylor and the film’s cause. Count among them Donald Wolfit, as a wily Dutch police chief; Eric Pohlmann and David Kossoff, as, respectively, a threatening and a timid villain, and Philo Hauser, as a humorous two-timer who loves to be involved in double dealing “because,” as he says, grinning, “it’s my nature.” As the ladies of this whodunit. Linda Christian, who plays a conniver, and Nicole Maurey, as Mr. Taylor’s romantic vis-à-vis, are, as noted, decorative.

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It is still a mystery why the title was changed from “The House of Seven Flies” to “The House of Seven Hawks,” but it is eminently clear that this is an unpretentious but satisfying entertainment.
THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN HAWKS; screen play by Jo Elsinger; from the novel. “The House of the Seven Flies” by Victor Canning; directed by Richard Thorpe; produced by David E. Rose for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. At neighborhood theatres. Running time: ninety-two minutes.
John Nordley . . . . . Robert Taylor
Constanta . . . . . Nicole Maurey
Elsa . . . . . Linda Christian
Hoff Commissar Van Der Stoor . . . . . Donald Wolfit
Wilheim Dekker . . . . . David Kossoff
Inspector Sluiter (Mr. Anselm) . . . . . Gerard Heinz
Captain Rohner . . . . . Eric Pohlmann
Charlie Ponz . . . . . Philo Hauser

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This is a review of House of the Seven Hawks I wrote for the IMDB.

Dutch Film Shoot

Robert Taylor and Richard Thorpe

House of the Seven Hawks was released in December 1959, when its star, Robert Taylor, was forty-eight years old. It is a mystery based on Victor Canning’s best selling book, House of the Seven Flies. The plot concerns John Nordley, an American ex-pat who lives in Britain and runs a charter boat. Captain Nordley is flung into a convoluted situation involving dead policemen, ex-Nazis, scheming women, creepy crooks and innocent daughters.

The New York Times called the movie “a satisfying labyrinthine plot and carefully placed direction and underplaying that adds up to a modest but truly taut and absorbing diversion.” The director is Richard Thorpe, who had worked with Taylor before in six other movies, including The Crowd Roars, Ivanhoe and Knights of the Round Table.

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Nicole Maurey and Robert Taylor

Despite being basically a suspense film House of the Seven Hawks has a considerable comic undertone. Robert Taylor plays Nordley as the only sane man in a nest of loonies. No one is what they are supposed to be, with people assuming false identities and numerous double-crosses.

Other than Taylor, the cast is European. Nicole Maurey plays the love interest. Linda Christian is a one of the double-crossers. Donald Wolfitt and Gerard Heinz are policemen. David Kossoff, Eric Pohlmann and Philo Hauser are villains. The story ends with a diving expedition to recover stolen treasure and a satisfying shoot-out.

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Nicole Maurey and Robert Taylor.

I’m not sure Robert Taylor took this movie terribly seriously. He wears the same costume throughout the film, including an Eisenhower jacket that he had made for himself. He does a little mugging, especially when Nordley is being asked to believe one fantastic lie after another. Far from being wooden, he displays considerable facial flexibility. Mr. Taylor does look as though he’s having fun.

MGM seems to be insisting that Mr. Taylor is much younger than his actual age. Nicole Maurey is too young for him. He is referred to in one scene as a young man. As in so many films the story gets him out of his clothes. The Taylor body is in good shape for a 48 year old, but it’s not the body he had twenty years earlier. Nonetheless this film provides good, undemanding and ultimately satisfying entertainment.

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Escape, 1940, Is Playing on TCM on January 22 (USA)

Escape, 1940, is playing on Wednesday, January 22 at 2:15 p.m. on Turner Classic Movies.  Not closed captioned.

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Robert Taylor and Norma Shearer in Escape, 1940.

This relatively unknown star vehicle is unusual for a number of different reasons. Although top billed, MGM Studio Queen, Norma Shearer’s role is substantially smaller than co-star Robert Taylor’s heroic turn as an American son desperately attempting to save his mother from a German Concentration camp. His mother is wonderfully played (and occasionally overplayed) by Nazimova, one of the great theatrical legends of the early 20th century. It’s an interesting footnote, that it was Irving Thalberg who helped cut short the meretricious Nazimova’s strange film career while his widow, Shearer, graciously allowed the former star to appear to great advantage in one of Shearer’s last screen appearances. Conrad Veidt plays Shearer’s Nazi lover and while he appears as icy and unyielding as he would two years later in “Casablanca”, his character is softened somewhat by his un-disclosed illness and by Shearer’s devotion to him. This film was one of the few made in Hollywood prior to the war which was openly critical of the Nazis (although they do hedge their bets by having a sympathetic German doctor, which gives the impression that more than a few intelligent German’s disagreed with the Nazis. Significantly, this character does appear in full Nazi drag towards the end of the picture). Robert Taylor is given a very tricky part to play as a man determined to save his mother against all odds. With his masculine demeanor and his controlled sensitivity he gives a performance of great passion and conviction. Norma Shearer, looking regally beautiful and every bit the Countess, manages to convey the situation of a woman who desperately wants to help Taylor and leave her adopted country, but realizes that she must stay out of duty to Veidt, in spite of her true feelings. Felix Bressart also appears as the Nazimova’s frightened but faithful servant, who helps Taylor escape. Bressart, who made a career of playing befuddled foreigners, is best known as one of the three Russian Communists in Ninotchka. Interesting casting was Bonita Granville, best known as the screen’s all-American girl detective, Nancy Drew, here playing the role of a pro-Nazi student at Miss Shearer’s finishing school (she would play a similar role in 1943’s wartime propaganda film, “Hitler’s Children”). The film was sumptuously mounted and stylishly directed by Mervyn Leroy the same year as he directed “Waterloo Bridge” also starring Taylor with Vivien Leigh. “Escape” is effective, at times shocking, but always vastly entertaining. Interesting footnote: Norma Shearer would turn down “Pride & Prejudice” and “Mrs. Miniver” both of which would turn Greer Garson into an MGM star much in the the same vein as Miss Shearer. Norma Shearer’s last film, “Her Cardboard Lover” would also be opposite Robert Taylor.  Review by brisky from Glendale, CA for the IMDB.

 

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Free 2020 Robert Taylor Calendar, “Portraits” Is Ready

The 2020 Robert Taylor Calendar is called “Portraits.”  The portraits range from the 1930s to the early 1960s.  They are downloadable for printing.  Access it from the home page in the black line at the top.  Comment here if you have any problems. Enjoy.

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Robert Taylor Movies on TCM (USA) in 2020

The first three months of 2020 look good for Robert Taylor films on Turner Classic Movies (USA), especially February. All information is from the TCM online monthly schedule.  So stay out of the cold and enjoy!

January on TCM will include Escape from 1940 and the quirky House of the Seven Hawks from 1959.


Escape and House of the Seven Hawks

In February TCM will show Quo Vadis, Broadway Melody of 1936, Camille, Above and Beyond, All the Brothers Were Valiant, Three Comrades, Ivanhoe, Waterloo Bridge, Knights of the Round Table and Johnny Eager.


Quo Vadis, Broadway Melody of 1936, Camille, Above and Beyond


All the Brothers Were Valiant, Three Comrades, Ivanhoe


Waterloo Bridge, Knights of the Round Table, Johnny Eager

March brings The Law and Jake Wade from 1958, Lucky Night from 1939 and one of my favorites, Valley  of the Kings, 1954.


The Law and Jake Wade, Valley of the Kings

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Waterloo Bridge, 1940, Is Playing on TCM on December 29 (USA)

Waterloo Bridge, 1940, is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Sunday, December 29 at 8:00 a.m. est. Closed captioned.

This was both Robert Taylor’s and Vivien Leigh’s favorite film.  Waterloo Bridge cost  $1,164,000.00 to make and made a profit of  $491,000.00.

????Robert Taylor was an inspired choice for the role… Not only does he have an imposing screen presence, but he brings the perfect mix of enlightenment, humor, compassion and emotion to the part…

Opposite him, Oscar Winner Vivien Leigh, perfect in her innocent lovely look, radiantly beautiful, specially that evening in a trailing white chiffon gown… Leigh floods her role with personal emotion giving her character a charismatic life of its own… As a great star, she delivers a heartfelt performance turning her character into a woman who undergoes an emotional awakening…

In this sensitive motion picture, Mervyn LeRoy captures all the tenderness and moving qualities… He makes every small thing eloquent, concentrating the highly skilled efforts of many technicians on the telling of a very simple bittersweet love story… Vivien Leigh paints a picture that few men will be able to resist… Her performance captures the audience to the point of complete absorption… Robert Taylor (carrying sympathy all the way) quietly throws all his vitality as an ambitious actor into the task… Their film, a credit to both, is a heavily sentimental tale about the vagaries of wartime…

Love is the only thing this movie is about… The story is simple: Myra Lester (Leigh) is a frail creature, an innocent young ballet dancer and Roy Cronin (Taylor) is an aristocratic British army officer… When their eyes met it took no time at all for their hearts to feel the loving call… They meet on London’s Waterloo Bridge during an air raid, and fall deeply in love… Their romance is sublime, and they soon agree to marry…

The lover’s marriage has to be postponed when the handsome officer is suddenly called to the front… Sadly, the sweet ballerina misses her performance to see her captain off at Waterloo Station… Fired from the troupe, she is joined by her loyal friend, Virginia Field (Kitty Meredith), and the two vainly try to find work, finally sinking into poverty and the threatening fear that goes with it…

The film is replete with beautiful and poignant scenes, specially the ‘Auld Lang Syne’ waltz scene in the Candlelight Club, before Taylor leaves for France…

Seen today, Waterloo Bridge has retained all its charm and power, all its rich sentiment, and tragic evocations…  Review by Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico for the IMDB.

RT7451Some behind the scenes photos:

circa 1940: British actors Vivien Leigh (1913-1967) and Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) entertaining millionaire Sir Victor Sassoon on the set of 'Waterloo Bridge', a Metro Goldwyn Mayer film in which Leigh is currently starring. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)RT6277RT3894
Left to right: Vivien Leigh, Sir Victor Sassoon, Laurence Olivier; Director Mervyn LeRoy, Ms. Leigh, Mr. Taylor: Mr. Taylor, Mr. LeRoy, Ms. Leigh

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Left to right: Robert Taylor, Vivien Leigh; Mr. Taylor; Ms. Leigh, Mr. LeRoy, Mr. Taylor

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Behind the Scenes of Party Girl, 1958

The information and quotations below come from Bernard Eisenschitz, Nicholas Ray: An American Journey, University of Minnesota Press, 1990.

In 1958 Nicholas Ray signed a contract with Euterpe, a Joe Pasternak company attached to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, to make Party Girl.  The script had undergone seven or eight revisions from a story by Leo Katcher.  Ray was presented with his two stars, Robert Taylor and Cyd Charisse and a complete group of sets, done in 1957 from an earlier version of the script.  Shooting began on March 10, 1958.

Unfortunately, things were delayed by Cyd Charisse’s lengthy illness, which cost the studio $26,681 (page 537).  Next was a musician’s strike:

“To get around the difficulties caused by the strike, choreographer Robert Sidney left for Mexico, where he rehearsed the two numbers with doubles.  They were finally shot without sound between 10 and 22 July, with fake trumpet players, a piano accompaniment, and bongo drummers, after which, once the strike was over, Andre Previn–uncredited–composed the score. (pages 341-342).

“Anxious to fit in with the studio style, Sidney did not get on well with Ray.  A natural alliance formed between producer, female lead and what Ray described as this ‘very efficient’ and ‘very dull’ choreography.” (page 342)

Filming took 42 days, six over schedule.  The initial budget was 1,648,616. The final cost was $1,695,491 plus $44,775 for post production work.

“The cast held some pleasant surprises for him.  He was unable to break through Cyd Charisse’s impassivity.  To justify his belief in her as an actress, he tried in vain to persuade the front office to let him do a confrontation between her and Lee J. Cobb.  Failing this, he invented images or bits of business for her: her red dress against a sofa of a different shade of red, droplets of water glistening on her face after she buries it in a bunch of roses, the moment when she drops her fur coat as she walks towards Taylor.” (pages 342-343).

Cyd Charisse, talking to Jean-Claude Missiaen (French writer and director), spoke about his (Ray’s) absences but also about his vulnerability and his strangeness, what she saw as unfathomable direction like ‘taking roses and inhaling deeply, as though you were inhaling a joint.'” (page 342)

Robert Taylor had been a star since the 1930s and proved his versatility in over sixty films. 1958 was a good year for him. He made Saddle the Wind and The Law and Jake Wade as well as Party Girl.

“Robert Taylor…is handled with sympathy, discreetly and intelligently directed so as to use both his strengths and his weaknesses.  The signs of aging (Taylor was born two days before Ray), an actor’s vanity, his tiredness, are evident.  ‘My first image of Taylor,’ Ray told Peter van Bagh, ‘dates from the 1930s. I was working in a mining area in southwest Pennsylvania, where most people had been laid off recently and nearly everyone lived in poverty. I went to a cinema in a town nearby and first saw  the favorite actor of the day, Paul Muni.  My impression was that he was always playing in front of a mirror.  Then came Camille and Robert Taylor, pale, handsome, remote.  Two decades later, I saw Taylor working for me like a true Method actor.’  Since childhood, Thomas Farrell has suffered from a crippled leg which he exploits theatrically.  ‘I wanted Taylor to feel the injury, so that he could be aware of what part of his body he pain was in at all times when he moved.’  Ray took him to see an osteologist from whom he had once received treatment and the actor won Ray’s admiration by the professional thoroughness with which he examined X-rays and questioned the specialist.  [Note: Mr. Taylor’s father was an osteopath.]  ‘After that, he needed no kind of aid to create his limping.  It is only very rarely that you find this kind of ambition, sensitivity and humbleness which Taylor stood for.” (page 343)

The following is from Linda Alexander: Reluctant Witness, Robert Taylor.Hollywood and Communism.  2nd edition, Bear Manor Media, 2016, page 342

“[Robert Taylor] had a formula to decide how to pick his projects.  ‘The play’s the thing,’ he stated. ‘The one thing I don’t look for is Robert Taylor stories.  I fit myself to the part, not the part to me.’ This became fully evident after twenty four years, he stepped out of MGM’s shadow…….one of the few remaining senior executives said, ‘In all the years he worked on this lot, he never once behaved like an actor.'”

Cyd Charisse enjoyed working with Robert Taylor.  The following is from Charles Tranberg, Robert Taylor, a Biography, Bear Manor Media, 2011, page 292.

“From Rock Hudson to Robert Taylor, I worked with two of the handsomest–and nicest–of men in successive pictures.  Party Girl, which I did with Bob, was a good role for me and a good picture…I had known Bob Taylor before because he was  good friend of Tony’s [her husband, singer Tony Martin].  He was a very pleasant man, but kept himself aloof on the set, just palling around with his own cronies.  He drank coffee all day long and chain smoked.  I have a hunch that, around four or five, there was something in the cup besides coffee. It didn’t affect him; he was always a gentleman on the set and a thoroughly professional artist.”

The film did well at the box office, earning MGM a profit of $454,000 ($3.83 million in 2017), according to studio records.  The film pulled in a higher gross overseas than in the USA and Canada, a rare event for the time. (IMDB)

Some promotional materials for Party Girl:

Some behind the scenes shots:

 

 

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Johnny Eager, 1942, Is Playing on TCM on November 9 and 10 (USA)

Johnny Eager, 1942, is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Saturday November 9 at midnight and on Sunday, November 10 at 10 a.m. November 9 is not closed captioned. November 10  captioned.  This is one of Mr. Taylor’s best. Don’t miss it.

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Robert Taylor and Lana Turner in “Johnny Eager.”

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Cast: Robert Taylor, Lana Turner, Edward Arnold, Van Heflin, Robert Sterling, Patricia Dane, Glenda Farrell, Barry Nelson. Slick MGM melodrama with convoluted plot about sociology student (and daughter of D.A. Arnold) Turner falling in love with unscrupulous racketeer Taylor. Heflin won Best Supporting Actor Oscar as Taylor’s alcoholic friend.(TCM)

Having only been familiar with Robert Taylor’s body of forgettable [humpf!] work from the thirties (The Broadway Melodies, Camille, etc), seeing him in the title role of Johnny Eager 1972425_924571320890637_3709082624071824968_nwas stunning. Tom Hanks’s 180 degree turn from silly comedies to Philadelphia might be a modern day equivalent. Taylor steps into a role that would seem tailor made for Bogart, Cagney or Robinson, and does an arguably better job than any of them could have. Yes, Lana Turner is present, and yes, Van Heflin won a supporting Oscar, but Taylor owns this film.

Johnny Eager is one of the best films of the 40s, as well as one of the all time greats.
(Taken from a review by Justin Behnke on the IMDB).

Some behind the scenes photos:

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Left to right: Robert Taylor and Meryn LeRoy; Mr. Taylor and Lana Turner; filming

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Left to right: Mr. Taylor and Director LeRoy; Mr. LeRoy directs Mr. Taylor and Ms. Turner; Mr. Taylor and Mr. LeRoy go over the script.

 

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