Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Poseidon Quickies: Betting on "The Gambler"

Another in a string of movies I've taken a chance on for decompression viewing during this year is 1954's The Gambler from Natchez. I opted to record it because it stars one of our hunks from movies and TV, Dale Robertson and had an interesting supporting cast as well. I'll be pointing out a few tidbits of interest about it, though my plans for a "big reveal" fell completely flat as I had to confront the fact that my memory is not what it used to be... Ha ha!

Our handsome hero is Dale Robertson, freshly returned to New Orleans from a military tour of duty. (If you haven't already, you must see the beautiful man here!)

As he departs the riverboat which has brought him home, he hears a local girl singing as she sweeps the deck of her own family boat. Debra Paget has her attributes out where they can be spotted!

Sorry this one turned out so blurry. On Paget's boat is her father, Thomas Gomez, and a helpful deckhand played by the imposing Woody Strode.

Robertson is nearly offed in a dispute over a card game, but Paget saves his life. He likes what he sees, but she is a good girl who refuses to accept any sort of gift from a man unless they are engaged and he's hardly in that position at the moment.

On the road home, he comes upon a carriage with a lame horse and a stranded female passenger. Lisa Daniels surely likes what she sees, too, but tries to maintain a level of decorum as he uses his own steed to see her safely home. A bumpy ride and some rain soon sees them becoming a little more familiar with one another on their trip.

Arriving at her large estate, she introduces Robertson to her elegant brother, Kevin McCarthy.

McCarthy has company of his own, one Douglas Dick.

It's not hard to see that in spite of his slick charm, McCarthy is going to be the villain of the piece. His whole manner changes when he discovers that Robertson's father is a local landowner himself, one who has amassed much of his fortune from extensive gambling.

Dick is clearly not in the best condition. Under the influence of alcohol, he can barely stay with the conversation, though he does give Robertson a bit of attention. McCarthy paints him as a man suffering from unrequited love, ostensibly for the blonde Daniels.

However, my own gaydar tells me that Dick is far more captivated by McCarthy. Subtle glances, placement of props, etc... do nothing to divert me from my suspicions...

Dick also wields an ever-present handkerchief which I have often found is a symbol of effeminacy in classic movies where some things just could not be properly addressed. In any case, these two have definitely been up to something. It seems they have done in Robertson's father while making it seem justified and are none too happy to see the son come rolling home.

In fact, on his way from McCarthy's, Robertson is stabbed in the back and winds up floating down the river unconscious! Paget spots him and the athletic Strode is able to fish him out and get him into their boat.

Paget is understandably interested in Robertson's recovery and starts off the healing process with a kiss on his prettily chiseled face.

The back-stabbing and journey down the river (not to mention a night's sleep!) have done nothing to mar his pompadour hairstyle!

His bandages can't seem to decide if they want to cover up his nipple or not. We prefer not, ourselves...

This is now the second time Paget has saved Robertson's life, though there still is no significant romance brewing. Two years after this movie, Paget would costar with (and grab the attention of) Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender. It is said that Priscilla Beaulieu (later Presley!) decided to completely overhaul her hair and makeup scheme in order to look as much like Paget as possible to land Presley for good herself. Whether that happened or not, she did win him for a period of time.

Now realizing that his father was set up to be killed, Robertson decides to go after the men who committed the act. He heads to the hotel where his papa was murdered.

Here, we meet the third corner of a deadly trio, John Wengraf (a onetime matinee idol of Austria) who is spending his own quality time upstairs with Dick when he finds out Robertson is on the premises.

In a "blink and you'll miss her" moment, Juanita Moore appears as Lisa Daniels' maid, trying to prevent Robertson from bursting in to see her. Moore couldn't have imagined that within 5 years she'd be costarring with Lana Turner in Imitation of Life (1959) and gleaning an Oscar nomination! The award went to Shelley Winters for The Diary of Anne Frank.

We're not 100% sure where Daniels' loyalty lies, but she seems to be aligned with her brother for the time being. Note how he wields his knife at waist level before the reclining Dick.

Having learned that a waiter at the hotel has squealed on them to Robertson, they put another dastardly plan in motion.

Things ultimately come to a head on McCarthy's glitzy riverboat, giving Paget and Gomez a chance to change out of their grungy duds and doll up a bit.

Now I know I can sometimes be guilty of projecting, but all this time McCarthy has really only had eyes for Dick. Suddenly, he seems somewhat taken by pretty Paget.

Upon meeting her, his walking stick is standing at attention...

I love the way McCarthy looks in this film with his long sideburns and natty clothing. Remember when Beverly Hills 90210 came on in the 1990s and Luke Perry brought these sort of sideburns back for a whole new generation?!

He kept reminding me of someone until it finally dawned on me. McCarthy seemed to be channeling the look of one of his very close comrades.

There's more than a passing similarity to Montgomery Clift in The Heiress, released 5 years prior. Look at the nose, mouth and jawline (and sideburns.) Now I know we have to consider the source, but Truman Capote was quoted on the subject of McCarthy and Clift. (McCarthy was at Michael Wilding and Elizabeth Taylor's home on the 1956 night when Clift was nearly killed - and was facially disfigured - in a nasty car accident, an accident McCarthy witnessed.) "In the two books about Monty, they have things about him and what a great friend he was to Monty. And in the books, McCarthy says he had no idea that Monty Clift was homosexual and was absolutely amazed...Why, he said, it never crossed his mind. Well, it had crossed the mind of every single trolley-car conductor in Hollywood, so it was very difficult to believe that it hadn't crossed the mind of his best friend for seven and a half years. I mean, how far can hypocrisy go?" Incidentally, Tennessee Williams also believed that Clift and McCarthy were more than friends... I'm not one to repeat gossip, so be sure and read it carefully this once. Ha ha!

Now, on to what was going to be my big pay-off regarding this movie, which was diminished by my feeble memory banks. The waiter who snitched on McCarthy and Dick - Jay Novello - found himself caught between a rock and a hard place. Robertson forced him to come clean about the murder plot, but that left him at the mercy of the two evildoers.

Dick and McCarthy come to the hotel to check into their room and are accompanied by a large, heavy chest. They have one of the bellmen bring the chest up to their suite.

But what's inside?

Turns out to be the deceased body of Novello!

They plan to dump the corpse in Robertson's room and frame him for the killing of the waiter.

These two conspirators, and possible lovers, bickering over a chest which contained a dead body reminded me of something I'd seen once before long ago.

And the name Douglas Dick did ring a bell (well, it certainly isn't forgettable!)
Dick had come onto the movie scene (following a career in the coast guard and a stint as a print model) in the mid-1940s. In 1948, he worked for Alfred Hitchcock in the movie Rope. As I had not scene Rope since the late-1980s, I had recalled him as the murder victim (a young blond man strangled and placed in a chest!)

Perhaps you can understand my mistake. The men aren't all that dissimilar.

Anyway, Rope concerned two college-age friends (implied lovers) who decided to kill a person just for the enthralling experience of it. Gay actors John Dall and Farley Granger portrayed the lethal twosome.

They pile the young man's body into a chest...

...then perversely have the guy's parents and fiancee over for dinner, the food for which will be served atop the chest!! I was so excited that Dick might have had a hand in both of these sequences, but as you can see, I hadn't remembered him correctly.

He is IN Rope, however. He plays the former lover of the dead man's fiancee, adding to the awkward kink of the party as set up by the killers.

Seeing Rope again for the first time in ages, I was stunned by the endless rubber-faced mugging of Dall as the more dominant half of the killing duo. He seemed to be projecting every expression to the back row of the movie house across the street!

Anyway, there's still that vague connection between the movies, such as it is. I'll do better next time. LOL Mr. Dick, by the way, retired from acting in 1971 to pursue psychology and lived to be 95. Also, as this is surely my final post of 2020, I'd like to take a moment to wish all of you a very Happy New Year! Here's hoping for a far, far better 2021 than what many of us have had to endure this last year. Thanks so much to those of you who have been so kind to comment, e-mail or otherwise share your genial and encouraging thoughts, compliments, etc... It means a great deal to me. Stay safe and be healthy!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

PRE-United: And then there's Stan...!

Among our very favorite TV sitcoms is the 1980s wonder The Golden Girls. (I'm hardly alone. The show has been in constant rotation on several channels for decades now, though I prefer watching the DVDs over the heavily-edited renditions that are currently shown. Sometimes entire scenes are cut out!) Bea Arthur as Dorothy Zbornak had a hate-love relationship with her ex-husband Stan through the course of the series, with comedy veteran Herb Edelman making two-dozen appearances along the way. The couple, having split after "38 years of marriage," went through varying degrees of antagonism, affection, alienation and even a near trip back down the altar once more! The chemistry between Arthur and Edelman was palpable and Edelman's 6'5" stature went a long way in making them a visually compatible couple as well. (Likewise, this lent comic leverage when he was put in his place by the diminutive Estelle Getty as Dorothy's mother Sophia.)

Arthur was a Broadway vet who parlayed a thunderous guest appearance on All in the Family into a series all her own. Called Maude, she was a force of nature, espousing socio- political viewpoints at the polar opposite of Carroll O'Connor's Archie Bunker. And while Maude wasn't the runaway success that All in the Family was, it was a considerable hit and ran for six seasons. 

During the third season of Maude, Arthur was promoted to office manager at her real estate company. This was at a time (1974) of the women's movement for equality in the workplace, when it was common- place for females to be overlooked for promotions, not to mention comparable wages, raises, etc... Having accomplished the impossible in winning the spot, Arthur is distraught at the prospect of overseeing her male coworkers. Faint reassurance comes from her family as well as from best friend Vivian (who was played by Arthur's future Golden Girls costar Rue McClanahan.) 

Congratulations are in order, along with a new briefcase!
Arthur's employees, Tony, Woody and Bud, are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the newly-crowned boss lady.

If the rear view of that balding pate seemed familiar, it should...

...It belongs to Mr. Herb Edelman, playing the sexist, uncooperative Woody. (By the way, check those candles...! Disney thought they had trouble with the artwork for the VHS of The Little Mermaid, 1989?? Ouch! Ha ha ha!!)

As one might expect, Arthur meets with a fair amount of resistance upon her arrival. The other guys are a little awkward, yet respectful.

Naturally, Edelman is a royal jerk to her.

Not exactly a shrinking violet, Arthur attempts to get through to Edelman, "man to man."

With one foot propped on a chair, she takes on the office bully.

Unfortunately, when he tells her to move her boobs out of the way so that he can get back to his desk, it kicks off a mini-meltdown which sends her careening out the door and back home.

Following a pep talk and some much-needed affection from her husband Walter (Bill Macy), she heads back to the office with cigars as a peace offering and an apparent handle on the situation.

Now firmly in charge of Edelman and the office, she's not going to let him get away with his shenanigans any longer.

In what would later be a motif on The Golden Girls, tough guy Edelman breaks down in tears. (One can almost here him wailing, "Dorothy...!" in this shot.

Having finally come to an understanding, things are about to work out fine when suddenly Arthur finds out that, despite her promotion, she's still being grossly underpaid simply because she is female. With that, she heads out the door for an extended lunch hour and into the arms of her husband, who's waiting at home in their master bedroom! Remarkably, in this one, sole, instance of working with one another as actors, Edelman and Arthur had already achieved the dynamics which would later lead to a far more involved pairing on The Golden Girls. Edelman scored big as the "schmuck" Stanley Zbornak and gave Arthur plenty to work with as the alternately wounded and acerbic Dorothy.

You can read a bit more about Miss Bea Arthur here. After Maude ended in 1978, she took some time away from the grueling work of a regular series until attempting Amanda's in 1983. That was finished after just 13 episodes, but in 1985 she accepted the role of Dorothy, which was to be her greatest television success, ending only when she decided to opt out in 1992 (with a two-part appearance on the ill-fated spin off The Golden Palace the season after that marking her final turn in the role.)

As for Edelman, he too had done some work on Broadway and then proceeded to multiple guest roles on television. He also popped up in movies such as Barefoot in the Park (1967), repeating his stage role as the telephone man, The Odd Couple (1968) and The Way We Were (1973) with a moderately successful sitcom, The Good Guys, along the way. It may surprise you to know that he had a 6-year marriage to prolific actress Louise Sorel from 1964-1970. Always busy, his role as Stan arguably stood out as his most notable amid many other parts. He essayed the role one final time on a 1993 episode of The Golden Palace. In 1996, he was taken from us far too early at only age 62 from emphysema, though his work can be seen continuously through reruns of the many shows and movies he worked on.   

Stanley Zbornak has his own place in the pop culture firmament along with the ever popular Golden Girls foursome.