Sunday, September 23, 2012

Porter Hall - Medford Man

Porter Hall (1888-1953) in Double Indemnity


This post is in conjunction with the 'What a Character!' blogathon.

Wikipedia hilariously describes Porter Hall as 'Possessing a weak chin and shifty eyes....'  That description mostly cracks me up...but it is accurate.  I remember him mostly as his role in Double Indemnity where he plays the eyewitness in an insurance company's case against a claimant. 

Here's a list of four memorable films with Porter Hall (in chronological order.)  Each of them I would consider required viewing for the classic movie fan.  I'm sure many of you have seen each of these numerous times.


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington - Sen. Martin Monroe
There are two scenes I recall about his role in this movie.

The first is when Senator Monroe challenges the validity of Jefferson Smith as a senator after seeing the pictures and quotes of Smith in the newspaper.  This occurs immediately before Jefferson Smith is sworn in as a US Senator.

The second is that he's the one who 'ties' with Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart) for the request for the Senate floor.  The President of the Senate (played so well by Harry Carey, whose reactions are just so wonderful when he tries to hide his smiles) decides to give the floor to Senator Smith (after Smith leads him with "you were about to recognize me, sir" and Clarrisa Saunders--played by my favorite Jean Arthur--shouts from the gallery "let him speak!")

He then begins his filibuster.

Note that there are a handful of great character actors in this film.  Two others that come to mind are Guy Hibbee as the governor and the portly Eugene Pallette who plays Boss Jim Taylor's lieutenant.  It occurs to me thinking about these character actors that they usually have great, unique voices.


His Girl Friday - Reporter Murphy
This film was absolutely created for character actors.  Even though the headliners (Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell) are great in their own right, the team of courtroom reports--for me--makes this the special movie that it is.  It's downright hilarious watching these journalists alter the story to sensationalize it.  It seems that the more things change the more they stay the same.

Some of the great character actors in this film: Cliff Edwards, Roscoe Karns, and Frank Jenks.  I'm leaving out a lot of outstanding folks here, I'm sure...this movie is peppered with great small roles.


Double Indemnity - Mr. Jackson
Here our Mr. Hall plays a man who has a brief conversation with Fred MacMurray who's playing a stand-in for Barbara Stanwyck's husband before faking his death.  Since the insurance company doesn't want to pay out the claim for the death, they're investigating the death and Mr. Jackson is that last man to see the deceased alive.

When the insurance company asks him if he'll swear in court that the man he saw on the train is not the man in the pictures of the deceased, he says (famously--to me anyhow):

"I'm a Medford man. Medford, Oregon.  And if I say it, I mean it, and if I mean it, of course I'll swear it."
He's in just a handful of scenes...but they're memorable.


Miracle on 34th Street - Granville Sawyer
Playing the store psychiatrist who tries to convince a young clerk that he's got a psychological problem, and generally tries to throw his weight around as an 'authority figure.'  This is a great role and it's obvious that the psychiatrist himself is the one with the nervous tick.  When he's evaluating Kris Kringle (perhaps the best performance of Santa Clause by Edmund Gwenn,) Mr. Kringle immediately realizes this and points it out to him...something that does not go over well!

It's a small but memorable role.


I hope you have a chance to catch Porter Hall's fine ability as a character actor in this and many other films!




22 comments:

  1. Joel- great piece on a great character!I'm watching Double Indemnity RIGHT NOW as I post this. Just started on Encore Retro channel. Porter Hall was a memorable character, always stood out. His list of films is impressive. For me, my favorite role of his was as Mr. Sawyer in A MIRACLE ON 34th STREET. (Gee, can you imagine how much I love a classic Xmas film?!) My favorite bit was when he's interviewing Edmund Gwenn and nervously keeps pulling and twisting at his eye brow. Genius! Thanks again for participating in WAC- great piece, Joel!

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    1. Thanks so much, Kellee! I love 34th St. too! Love when Kris whacks Mr. Sawyer on the head.

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  2. Oh, I forgot about that Medford, Oregon man line! Ha. I also got a kick out of his "eyebrow" scene in Miracle on 34th Street. Funny how in the second to the last picture, he actually looks kind of "movie starish!" Thanks for the post!

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    1. I know...the 8x10 'head shot' complete with 'weak chin and shifty eyes' LOL!

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  3. Nice post, Joel! Very funny description about Porter in Wikipedia.
    At first I didn't remeber him, but the descriptions made his performances clearer to me. Now I'm convinced that I must rewatch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, it's an amazing film and now I will pay more attention to Porter!
    Don't forget to read my contribution to the blogathon! :)
    Greetings!

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    1. Le, I'm working my way through the WAC bloggers...I'm sure I'll read yours in the coming days. Yes, I rewatch Mr. Smith on a regular basis...it's a great film about the difference between perception and reality when it comes to politics. And it's great love story! Keep up the good blogging!

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  4. I also liked Hall as the kindly but deadpan newspaper editor/publisher in Billy Wilder's "Ace in the Hole", especially when he reacts to Kirk Douglas' reasons for being fired off of several papers (mentioning Douglas' fling with a publisher's wife, he mentions his wife is a grandmother three times over, and would be flattered by the attention). Nice write-up!

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    1. Thanks for you kind words. I just recently watched Ace in the Hole for the first time and loved it. A great portrayal of the press 'hype machine'...obviously to a lesser degree His Girl Friday fits that bill as well. See you in the funny papers!

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  5. Great post, Joel!! Miracle on 34th Street always comes to mind when I see his name. I remember reading that he was completely opposite his role of Mr. Sawyer; a good, kind, loving man. Glad to learn that because Mr. Sawyer was indeed quite a pickle!!

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    1. Thanks for reading, Tonya! I cherish your comments.

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  6. What a great tribute to this actor, another one that was a face mostly without a name for me until the last couple of years. I love all these but what would DOUBLE INDEMNITY be without him...he gives off that persnickety vibe, like "I'm going to ruin you" LOL

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    1. You nailed it, Paula...he has that touch of smugness. So funny. Thanks so much for reading and for your comments...it means a lot to me.

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  7. I agree with your assessment of Porter Hall's work in all these movies. He really is terrific and makes the movies just a bit better with his presence. He almost steals every scene in "Double Indemnity". He is always a joy to watch.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading and responding. For some reason Hall leapt off the page when I was thinking about who to write about. I guess I figured he was in a handful of very popular movies so it would be easy to do the write-ups! :)

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  8. Mr. Hall plays the Miles Archer character in "Satan Met a Lady", the second movie version of "The Maltese Falcon". His scenes with Warren William as the lead partner in the detective agency are a hoot. They would have been a great comedy team. It's a shame Hall's character has to be bumped off early to get the story going.

    A grand read on an all-time favourite.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comment! I haven't seen 'Satan Met A Lady' but now I'm curious.

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  9. Porter Hall is one of my absolute favorites. I love his performances in 'Ace in the Hole,' where he's the good-natured, wise, and decent newspaper editor who stands up to Kirk Douglas, and especially in 'Intruder in the Dust,' where he has an atypical serious part as the patriarch of a backwoods Southern family who seeks justice for his son's murder. Hall was one of Hollywood's best.

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    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! Glad to know there are other Porter Hall fans out there. I haven't seen Intruder in the Dust before...I'll have to add it to my watch list.

      Thanks again!

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  10. I never knew his name but when I started reading your post I thought to myself, "Oh! Him!" I must admit I don't remember him at all from His Girl Friday, even though I've seen it often, but the other roles you mention are so familiar to me -- even though I didn't realize they were all the same actor! I guess that's what the really good character actors do, fade into their supporting roles, right? I'm glad you gave him the notoriety he deserves.

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    1. Thanks so much for the comment! I know others have mentioned him in other movies that I didn't realize he was in as well. That what makes this Blogathon so great...these great actors who excel in fairly minor roles, but are memorable at the same time!

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  11. Dude, you forgot The Thin Man ;)

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    1. Ha! Well, I picked movies I was familiar with to discuss his work. I don't have a lot of 'Thin Man' working knowledge.

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