High Wall, 1947, Is Playing on TCM on January 22 (USA)

1947

High Wall, 1947, is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, January 22 at 3 p.m. est. I highly recommend this film.  Robert Taylor is playing totally against type as an injured war veteran who has a haematoma on his brain that is causing him to act irrationally.  This is so far from the glamorous Taylor we know and love and demonstrates his amazing range as an actor.

High Wall is a departure for Robert Taylor. In the 30’s he portrayed mostly handsome society boys. In 1941 he toughened up his image with Johnny Eager. This is an entirely different path. The lead character, Steven Kenet, has returned from a job flying freight in Asia after his service in WW II. He’s eager to see his wife and displeased to find out she has a job. Kenet is even more displeased when he discovers she is having an affair with her boss. To complicate matters, he has a brain injury and is suffering blackouts and other symptoms. Seeing his wife in her lover’s apartment triggers rage and violence. The wife is dead and Kenet is the only suspect. He confesses and is committed to a mental institution for psychiatric evaluation. The unique thing about the film to me is Taylor’s ability to play vulnerability. Kenet is neither a pretty boy nor a villain. He is a man in torment.

Taylor uses his shoulders beautifully to portray hopelessness. They droop in the scenes where the character is locked in solitary confinement. After his operation they are straight. The confusion on his face when he’s offered an opportunity to see his son at the hospital is masterful as he passes through a range of emotions moving from delight to doubt to anger to confusion. There is a remarkable sequence in which Kenet is dragged off after attacking a visitor. Taylor’s body positions change constantly–this is hardly the “wooden” acting for which he is so often condemned. Another great sequence is his walk up the stairs at the end to see his son. Kenet’s face radiates joy. The camera work is stylish and the chiaroscuro is masterful. This movie was apparently not well received in its time probably because it isn’t the “Robert Taylor” people expected and it is largely forgotten now. It deserves to be remembered. Review by me for the IMDb.

Some behind-the-scenes photos:

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Camille, 1936, Is Playing on TCM on January 19 (USA)

Camille, 1936, is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Tuesday, January 19 at 6:00 p.m. est.  Closed Captioned. This is the love story of all love stories and shouldn’t be missed.

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This film further proves that the assembly-line system of Hollywood studios back then should also be taken seriously in terms of artistry. Just because movies were produced run-of-the-mill doesn’t mean that they weren’t paid critical attention to by their makers. The usual impression on studio-era Hollywood is: take a formulaic narrative style, maybe adapt a stage play for the screen, blend in a handful of stars from the stable and the films rake in the profit at the box office. Not quite, that’s the easy perception. George Cukor, another of those versatile directors, made it apparent with Camille that filmmaking as an art may still flourish despite (and even within) certain parameters. Camille is beautiful, in so many respects. And it’s not just because of Greta Garbo.

Sure, the acting is amazing, the casting is perfect. Garbo is luminous, mysterious, cruel, and weak at the same time. Robert Taylor surrenders himself to be the heartbreakingly young and vulnerable Armand. Henry Daniell’s coldness and sadism is utterly human and familiar. The others are just plain wonderful. The writing contains so much wit and humor, devotion and pain – but it never overstates anything. The rapport and tensions between lovers, friends, and enemies are palpable and consistent. The actions flow so naturally, just like every scene, that checking for historical inconsistencies seem far beside the point.

There is so much that I love about Camille that it’s hard to enumerate them all, but with every little discovery comes the realization that this is “but” a studio production, so it makes the experience more exquisite. Camille is a gentle, poignant romantic movie that, like Garbo, takes its place delicately and self-effacingly in the history of American cinema, but makes itself indelible in the heart and mind of the lovelorn individual viewer. Review by tsarevna for the IMDb.

Some behind-the scenes photos from Camille.

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He also plays baseball-in costume on the set.
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Camille-behind-the-scenes
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1936; original caption--time out for movie idols
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Greta Garbo Pointing at George Cukor

Making Marguerite’s Dresses:

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936: A dressmaker working on one of Greta Garbo's dresses for the MGM film 'Camille' which were designed by Adrian. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
circa 1936: Seamstresses working on a dress to

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Escape, 1940, Is Playing on TCM on January 7 (USA)

Escape, 1940, is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, January 7 at 5:45 p.m. est. Very suspenseful movie.

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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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Knights of the Round Table Is Playing on TCM Dec. 26 (USA)

Knights of the Round Table, 1953, played today on TCM at 2:00 est today. I believe you can still watch it on TCM on Demand for the next week.

The film was highly successful costing $2,616,000.00 and making a profit of $1,641,000.00 or $14,536,985.95 in today’s money.

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Mel Ferrer, Ava Gardner, Stanley Baker, Anne Crawford, Felix Aylmer, Robert Taylor and Maureen Swanson.

This is a fine example of ’50’s style epics. Big name cast, colorful costumes,flashy swordplay, beautiful damsels and wild inaccuracies. The great Robert Taylor, who starred in several historical movies, is the honorable Sir Lancelot, a far more noble and pure portrayal than was recorded in all the legends, Ava Gardner is the stunningly beautiful Queen Guinevere, the ever dependable Felix Aylmer is the mysterious Merlin, Mel Ferer is a somewhat subdued and less than charismatic King Arthur. See it for the spectacle, costumes, word-play filled dialog and over the top Stanley Baker as Sir Mordred. Lancelot’s joust with Niall Mac Ginnis is very well done. 8 stars for pure eye filling entertainment value. Review by Wayner50 (United States) for the IMDB.


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A Robert Taylor Christmas

I am rerunning this post because it’s a good look at Mr. Taylor and his family at Christmas.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year to all the readers of this blog.

The following excerpt is from …but I have promises to keep, My Life Before, With & After Robert Taylor, by Ursula Thiess, Xlibris Corporation, 2007, pages 154 & 155.

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German Christmas Tree

My German heritage of celebrating Christmas rather dominated my family, and my husband was beginning to see it through my eyes.  Until the introduction of what this season really meant to me, he had looked at it as commercialism rather than a holiday to be enjoyed. But once he appointed himself Santa Claus to his children, his whole attitude changed.

Beatrice Nebraska airport in front of his Beechcraft plane.(Gage County Historical Society)
Robert and Ursula Taylor and Ruth Brugh (his mother) ca. 1953.

As was my tradition, in the early evening of the 24th, we had our big Christmas dinner, usually surrounded by family and close friends, which was sometimes enhanced by neighborhood caroling.  This whole, loving procedure of Santa-deception was carefully rehearsed and orchestrated.  With the full support of our guests, we imagined the sound of tiny hooves and Santa’s happy face smiling down at us.  The Christmas tree was always put up the day before and stayed behind locked doors until our meal was finished and Mr. Claus appeared.

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Terry, Robert, Tessa and Ursula Taylor in 1961.

I don’t know long it took our two, smaller children before they started why Daddy excused himself and disappeared just before dessert each year. Santa Robert would run down to the gate, a considerable distance from the house, ring the bell, and, through the intercom, deliver his first “ho-ho-ho” message.  He then had conversations concerning general behavior with his young audience, who seemed slightly intimidated by the rumbly voice on the other end.  This meant happy entertainment for the rest of the diners, which always included some of our friends, Art and Barbara, and sometimes Bob’s mother and mine when she was visiting from Germany during the holidays.  Even though our two mothers spoke different languages, there was definite communication between them, as we observed them laughing quite a lot.

Robert and Ursula Taylor in 1954, the year they married.
Robert and Ursula Taylor in 1954, the year they married.

Michael and Manuela were great Christmas-boosters for their smaller siblings–but also the first to tell Terry that Santa was fake.  He had a hard time dealing with that initially, but once he came to terms with the disappointment of having lost out to cold realism, he effectively guided his younger sister through that period with imagination and suspense.

While we all sat down to visit our dessert, Dad returned, usually rubbing his hands, saying, “It’s cold here. Do you think it’s snowing outside? Maybe Santa is due for a visit.”

a mid-seventies shotof Bob's family: Manuela, Tessa, Ursula and Terry; courtesy of Terry Taylor
Manuela Thiess, Tessa, Ursula and Terry Taylor in the mid 1970s. (Photo property of Terry Taylor).

“Oh, no,” the children would excitedly tell him, “you missed him again, Daddy.  He was already here! He talked to us and he said he put a sack of toys by the door.  Can we go now and see?  With great effort, they pulled the fragrant sack (courtesy of the horse grain company) into the living room and came face-to-face for the first time with the glittering tree.

Our giant, fieldstone fireplace threw out waves of warmth and comfort.  Holiday songs were heard throughout the house and the small of fresh pine was everywhere.  It was a time of magic and hopefully will be remembered by my children as such.

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