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!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Liebster Award

I've been blessed to be awarded the Liebster Award by two of my classic film Twitter friends--Paula Guthat of Paula's Cinema Club (who also hosts the amazing #TCMParty tweet-along parties) and Kellee Pratt of Outspoken and Freckled (what a great descriptive blog name...Kellee's just an all-around great friend on Twitter.)

Here's how all of this works:

  • Describe eleven things about yourself
  • Answer the eleven questions proposed by your nominator
  • Choose eleven people to nominate for a Liebster Award
  • Give these new folks eleven questions to answer

First, eleven things about me:

  1. I've never broken a bone.
  2. I carry around a key chain lanyard to help me remember my mom. You know that line in the movie 'Sleepless in Seattle' where the kid says he's afraid that he's starting to forget his mom? Same I carry it as a token to remind myself to think about her.  (She passed away on 7/12/1997 from non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.)
  3. I've been married twice in my life, the first time was when I was in college.
  4. I have a long list of places I want to visit in the world, a lot of them are in southeast Asia.
  5. Favorite professional sport is ice hockey.
  6. In high school and college I was about a 2.0 GPA (right in the meaty part of the curve...not showin' off, not fallin' behind.)
  7. Too frequently quote from movies and TV shows (really bad with Seinfeld, see above.)
  8. No tatoos.
  9. I like to be early everywhere I go. Movie theater? 30 minutes before film. Airport? at least an hour before the flight.
  10. I love walking in snow at night (wish we had more snow around here.)
  11. I'm an emotional person and cry easily at a variety of things: poetry, movies, song lyrics, NPR StoryCorp, etc.

Next, answering the eleven questions proposed to me:

First from Paula-

  1. What is your guilty movie pleasure? Talladega Nights, The Ballad of Ricky Bobby or Napoleon Dynamite.
  2. What mediocre classic-era film would you like to see remade?  Not that Captains Courageous is mediocre, but that would be a fun adventure film to see remade.
  3. Are there are any modern actors you think could have held their own in the classic era?  Maybe Natalie Portman...she has a certain elegance.
  4. What movie(s) do you always, without fail, stop to watch if you happen upon it/them while flipping channels?  Lawrence of Arabia, West Side Story, Stalag 17.
  5. Which actor’s or director’s work do you like in spite of yourself?  Russ Meyer, haha! Just kidding.
  6. Who would play you in the movie of your life story (classic or modern)?  Maybe Gary Cooper.
  7. Mac or PC?  PC, but I own an iPhone and iPad.
  8. What’s your (astrological, not traffic!) sign?  Cancer
  9. What five people (living or dead) connected with film (modern or classic) would you invite to dinner?  Martin Scorsese, Marilyn Monroe, Bill Murray, Jean Arthur, Judy Holliday
  10. Favorite movie snack.  Ferrera Pan Atomic Fireballs
  11. Craziest G/PG-rated thing that ever happened to you at a movie theater.  Nothing really odd...when watching Rear Window at our local art-house theater, the technology used to project the film broke with about 15 minutes of the movie to go.  The theater had to apologize and give everyone a free pass to a future show...torture!

Next from Kellee-

  1. What is your earliest classic film memory?  Most likely watching The Wizard of Oz.
  2. Who are your top favorite directors (modern or classic)?  Martin Scorsese, Frank Capra
  3. How has your love of movies (classic or modern) influenced other areas of your life?  I've got a more diverse vocabulary...trying to use 'swell' and other such phrases in regular conversation.  Also I think trying to live more simply...a lot of movies water down real life to the essentials...the unnecessary details fall away because, well...they're unnecessary.
  4. What film/s (classic or modern) do you think has the best music score?  West Side Story, Amadeus, Moonstruck, Out of Africa, Raiders of the Lost Ark, On the Waterfront, 2001: A Space Odyssey
  5. Who are your favorite character actors (modern or classic) and why? Walter Brennan (I am watching Bad Day at Black Rock right now.)  That voice and his mannerisms are just the best.  Thelma Ritter..."like a couple of taxis coming together on Broadway."  Eugene Pallette..."Quit havin' kittens."  The supporting cast of His Girl Friday.
  6. Which films have made the most impact from a fashion perspective in your opinion and/or are simply your favorite/s from a fashion/style/design perspective (modern or classic)?  (Being a dude, I kind of struggled with this answer.) Well, anything with Cary Grant...he can wear a suit like no other.  In addition to that, I would lean on period pieces like Amadeus, Sense & Sensibility and the like. 
  7. Who are your favorite villains (modern or classic)?  Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men was absolutely evil (and delightful!)  And who can resist James Cagney in White Heat?!
  8. If you were in a classic film, who would play you, your best pal and your significant other?  Me=Gary Cooper, pal=Walter Brennan, girl=Jean Arthur.
  9. If you could choose any television show (modern or classic), which show would you do a remake of and feel free to add who would star (modern or classic/dead or alive) in it.  Bob Newhart show with Will Farrell as Bob and Tina Fey as Emily.
  10. What's your favorite sassy/snarky come-back line from any film?  Probably Mammy from Gone With The Wind "What gentlemen says and what they thinks is two different things, and I ain't noticed Mr. Ashley askin' for to marry you."  The look that Mammy gives Scarlett is absolutely great!
  11. Who are your favorite comedy actors?  The Marx Brothers, Bill Murray

Other award nominees TBA (I gotta get to bed!)