Single Mission Team Players

One of the most exciting “plot devices” in movies is the agglomeration of a select team that embarks on a hazardous mission whose members generally expect to return in one piece.  Until the 1960s this phenomenon was rare.  The films in question cross genres.  Not included here are heist films (that began in earnest in 1950 with The Asphalt Jungle and Armored Car Robbery), which can be construed as a subgenre of film noir which itself is a subgenre of Crime, Mystery and Suspense.  Nor are superhero outings examined.  The Avengers, for instance, are always on hazardous missions, their skills well-known in advance. 

Perhaps the first example of the “single mission” team adventure is Northwest Passage (1940).  During the French and Indian War, Major Robert Rogers (Spencer Tracy) leads his wilderness savvy Rangers through the Maine wilderness and into Canada to destroy the St. Francis Indian encampment from which marauders have been despoiling Colonial homesteads.  The specialty of Langdon Towne (Robert Young) is map-making.  The mission accomplished, the Rangers split up to avoid capture by surviving tribesmen and French regulars.  (A “hidden” remake is 1945’s Objective, Burma!  One of the best combat movies made during World War II features Errol Flynn as leader of parachutists who land behind Japanese lines, blow up a radar station, and try to escape with minimal casualties.  As in Northwest Passage, the soldiers disperse during their return to Allied lines and half of them perish.)

A lengthy gap for this trope ensues but returns with a vengeance in 1960 with The Magnificent Seven, which was inspired by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai (1954).  Poor Mexican villagers hire American gunslingers to protect them from the imminent arrival of Calvera (Eli Wallach) and his numerous bandidos.  Chris (Yul Brynner) convinces six other gunmen down on their luck to join him and stop Calvera’s depredations.  Most do not survive.  (There are two sequels of lesser worth, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, 1969, and The Magnificent Seven Ride, 1972.  A major remake appeared in 2016, and as has become typical, adds high explosives plus a Gatling gun to cause carnage.)

Following on the heels of Magnificent Seven came The Guns of Navarone (1961), a monster hit and Academy Award nominee for Best Picture.  (West Side Story was the winner that year.)  After Major Franklin (Anthony Quayle) is injured, the small group of British commandos and Greeks are led by Captain Keith Mallory (Gregory Peck), expert mountaineer who helps them scale forbidding cliffs on their way to destroy two gigantic German guns preventing approach by ships tasked with rescuing British forces on the island of Kheros.  Taking a cue from Magnificent Sevens knife-wielding expert played by James Coburn, Stanley Baker is the blade virtuoso.  David Niven’s forte is explosives.  (Force 10 from Navarone was a 1978 sequel.  Peck and Niven teamed for a somewhat similar mission in 1980’s The Sea Wolves, with a German ship targeted for destruction.)

The Secret Invasion (1964) was a low-budget but entertaining harbinger as the plot is eerily similar to both The Dirty Dozen (1967) and Where Eagles Dare (1968).  Stewart Granger leads convicts with special skills (forgery, murder, explosives) into Yugoslavia during World War II to rescue from German captivity an Italian general sympathetic to the Allied cause. 

Another large and hugely enjoyable western used the team approach in 1966’s aptly titled The Professionals.  Lee Marvin leads a quartet into Mexico to rescue Maria (Claudia Cardinale), wife of rancher J. W. Grant (Ralph Bellamy).  Maria has been ostensibly kidnapped by Jesus Raza (Jack Palance).  Burt Lancaster plays the demolition expert.  Robert Ryan is master of equines.  Woody Strode is a scout and archer who facilitates explosives ignition.  On the strength of his Academy Award-winning dual role in 1965’s Cat Ballou and National Board of Review win for the same year’s Ship of Fools, Marvin was now far from his apprenticeship as the fifties’ and early sixties’ greatest screen villain (Bad Day at Black Rock, The Big Heat, The Wild One, Violent Saturday, Seven Men from Now, The Comancheros, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).          

Like The Professionals, The Dirty Dozen (1967) are trained and led by Major Reisman (Lee Marvin), training a diverse but highly dangerous group of army convicts whose mission is to parachute into France before D-Day and blow up a chateau full of German officers.  This they do but like The Magnificent Seven, only a few survive.  (The Devil’s Brigade, 1968, seems unashamedly beholden to The Dirty Dozen but was released not long after the 1967 movie and was based on a 1966 book.)

Where Eagles Dare (1968, U.K.).  Ubiquitous today on TV, this high-powered WW II saga (like The Guns of Navarone, from writer Alastair MacLean) stars Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood.  The latter, after his “spaghetti western” trilogy, plus Hang ‘Em High and Coogan’s Bluff (both 1968)was on the cusp of superstardom.  As Lt. Schaffer, a sometimes demolition expert, he and Major Smith (Burton) infiltrate a German castle holding an Allied general with secrets to the forthcoming D-Day invasion.  One could argue this is not much of a team, but they are assisted by Mary Ure and Ingrid Pitt, who facilitate ingress and egress from the eyrie and make their escape with the men.  (Although she caused the screaming, in 1970 Pitt would claim title as Hammer Films’ signature scream queen in The Vampire Lovers.)  

Predator (1987).  Major “Dutch” Schaffer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and an elite extraction team enter the Central American jungle to rescue a cabinet minister held by insurgents.  Unknown to them, a space alien hunter lurks in the forest canopy and is soon picking off the humans and taking trophies.  At first glance the team members might seem like ordinary mercenaries but as the story progresses we see Blain (Jesse Ventura) operating a monstrous hand-held minigun that can sever small tree trunks and the scout Billy (Sonny Landham) choosing to confront the predator with a machete.  Richard Chaves plays a demolition man. 

The Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).  The wizard Gandalf the Grey visits Hobbiton to inform young Frodo that he has a highly dangerous mission to perform with the fate of Middle Earth hanging in the balance:  return the “One Ring” to the volcanic pit of Mount Doom, thus foiling the evil Sauron’s quest for ultimate power.    Accompanying Frodo are three friends, a “Ranger,” an axe-wielding dwarf, an expert Elf archer, and the Gondor warrior Boromir.  Frodo’s perilous adventure continues in The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003).

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003).  Retired adventurer Allan Quatermain (Sean Connery) leads a coterie of disparate entities against the “Fantom,” aka “M” and “Moriarty” (Richard Roxburgh), one-time nemesis of Sherlock Holmes now bent on starting a world war.  Quatermain’s crew includes the ageless Dorian Gray, Captain Nemo, Henry Jekyll/Edward Hyde, Mina Harker and Tom Sawyer.  The film made a bit of money despite being roundly criticized as an incoherent mishmash.   

Inception (2010)  Leonardo DiCaprio is a thief enlisted to form a team, invade an industrialist’s subconscious, and convince him to dissolve a company.  That’s the short synopsis of this heady science fiction action adventure, a sort of futuristic “magnificent seven.”

Films that some might include in this survey but I did not are The Wild Geese (1978; aging, no longer elite mercenaries), Aliens (1986; overconfident squad of Marines), Saving Private Ryan (1998; regular soldiers undertaking rescue mission). An outlier that could be construed as a Single Mission Player is the French classic of 1953, The Wages of Fear.  Four down-and-out men of disparate backgrounds marooned in South America drive—carefully—two trucks loaded with nitroglycerine to a distant oil well that is aflame and must be capped.  (Director William Friedkin’s 1977 movie Sorcerer is an unacknowledged remake.)

By Kim

The League of Alternate Superstars: Dana Andrews

Carver Dana Andrews was one of 13 children born on a Mississippi farm in 1909.  (Actor Steve Forrest was his brother.)  In 1931 he tried his hand at singing in Los Angeles.  His film career began when given a contract with Samuel Goldwyn Productions but he became more of a fixture at 20th Century-Fox.  He was versatile, playing detectives, westerners, soldiers and sailors.  He came in for some small praise in David Shipman’s The Great Movie Stars:  The International Years:  “…he never got in anybody’s way, his sober-citizen appearance made its own mild contribution to the texture of the films in which he appeared.  He projected a certain authority, grave-faced and grave-voiced, a certain masculine concern and an air of restrained heroism—all qualities used well in his two best films, The Ox-Bow Incident and A Walk in the Sun.”  (At least Andrews made the book.  Shipman was often unusually harsh in his examination of many actors’ careers.  In his short analysis of Andrews in The Best Years of Our Lives, he said he was “good” under director William Wyler but that his co-star, Virginia Mayo, soon to be a frequent Danny Kaye partner, as Andrews’ trampish spouse, gave “her one good screen portrayal….”—despite dozens of star outings!)  In The Hollywood Story, Joel Finler ranked Andrews an “important star” in his 20th Century-Fox star pantheon chart.   

The Ox-Bow Incident

Andrews rose through the ranks and early on, as Shipman observed, received his best early notices as a lynching victim in 20th Century-Fox’s The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) with Henry Fonda in the lead.  Back at Goldwyn that same year, he was directed by Lewis Milestone, heralded helmsman of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and frequent future combat films, including The North Star, a propaganda film extolling Ukrainian resistance to the German invasion of the Soviet Union.  Andrews was in that, too, as well as Milestone’s The Purple Heart (1944).   

Then came Laura (1944), one of the most universally praised noir films.


Eddie Muller, host of TCM’s series Noir Alley, considers Andrews the finest exemplar of the ubiquitous fedora worn by cops and hoods alike.    

Andrews never stopped acting, in film and on stage.  He was a fixture as military officers in the 1960s.  See The Satan Bug (1965), In Harm’s Way (1965), Battle of the Bulge (1965), and The Devil’s Brigade (1967).  Andrews was dogged by alcoholism for many years but finally licked it and spoke on behalf of the National Council of Alcoholism in 1976.  Andrews died in 1992 at age 83. 

Dana Andrews’ Most Significant Movies

The Ox-Bow Incident (20th Century-Fox, 1943)  A vigilante posse rounds up three men (Andrews, Anthony Quinn, Harry Morgan) they think are cattle rustlers.  The well-taken arguments against a lynching by Gil (Henry Fonda, who himself witnessed mob violence and the ensuing lynching of an African-American in Omaha in 1919) are disregarded.

The Purple Heart (20th Century-Fox, 1944)  Downed U.S. airmen are put on trial by the Japanese.  It’s a “kangaroo court” and they are tortured and scheduled for execution.  Andrews is the officer in charge of the prisoners.

Laura (20th Century Fox, 1944)  In probably one of the top six of the crime subgenre known as “film noir,” Andrews begins his era as a fedora-wearing detective, here investigating the presumed murder of the beautiful Laura (Gene Tierney), whose portrait haunts him.  The Los Angeles Times reviewer was much impressed by individual scenes:  “There is one that is outstandingly enacted by Andrews, while he is alone in the apartment of the murdered woman.  A portrait hanging on the wall reveals the magic that she exerts and is a symbol of this spell.  It is action carried out without a single word being spoken, yet it is remarkably compelling.  The audience at the Fox Wilshire last night quite evidently fell under the hypnotic influence of the scene, for under ordinary circumstances it would have appeared too protracted.  But its force was fully conveyed.”  The Film Noir Encyclopedia extolled Andrews’ performance:  “Overshadowed by Clifton Webb’s marvelously idiosyncratic performance as Lydecker, Andrews’ quieter portrayal deserves more attention. With his haunted eyes, taut yet sensitive mouth, and softly insinuating voice, Andrews is a highly evocative screen presence, conveying more with a look than many actors do with a soliloquy.  As the pragmatic, unromantic cop who, when asked by Lydecker if he’s ever been in love, replies, ‘A doll in Washington Heights got a fox fur out of me once,’ he is only able to love the perfumed ghost of a woman he believes is dead, and who becomes a dream expressed in a work of art.”  

State Fair (Fox, 1945)  Andrews could sing a little, but the studio forgot and he was dubbed.  Wearing a straw fedora, he squires Jeanne Crain around the Iowa State Fair in this famous piece of Americana featuring two Rodgers and Hammerstein songs that became standards:  “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” and “It Might As Well Be Spring.” 

A Walk in the Sun

A Walk in the Sun (Fox, 1945)  One of the best and most realistic U.S. combat movies made during the war is not openly propagandistic.  (Others in this small fraternity include Sahara; The Story of G. I. Joe; Destination Tokyo; They Were Expendable; Objective, Burma!)  Once more it’s Lewis Milestone in the director’s chair.  Leaving the Salerno beachhead in Italy, a U.S. platoon is entailed with rousting Germans from an isolated farmhouse.  Casualties inflicted by air and ground cause command to devolve onto Andrews’ Sergeant Tyne.  War Movies called it “memorable” and gave special praise to Andrews and Richard Conte. 

The Best Years of Our Lives (Samuel Goldwyn, 1946)  The multi-Academy Award winning masterpiece from director William Wyler about returning veterans features Andrews as a Fred Derry, former bombardier, seeking something more than a soda jerk job and finding that his wife has been no paragon of virtue during his absence.  Andrews is center stage in one of the great scenes in cinema history:  walking dumbfounded through a bomber graveyard, a multitude of planes rolled straight from the factory to these broad fields outside Boone City.  Destination:  scrap heap.    

Canyon Passage (Universal/Walter Wanger Productions, 1947)  Relatively unsung and rather unique Technicolor western was filmed on location in the Pacific Northwest where settlers try to co-exist peacefully with the indigenous tribe.  The fly in the ointment is the brutish Honey Bragg (Ward Bond), who kills a female tribe member, inciting a war.  (The late radio DJ and movie maven Ken Garland said that if you are asked to name a character actor in a particular old movie and must guess, guess Ward Bond.)  Andrews plays a freight transporter and Bragg’s nemesis.  Susan Hayward’s flaming red hair vies with the scenery for accolades.  “Dana Andrews’ work may be the best of his career, as the steady-nerved, pipe-smoking Logan Stuart,” wrote Brian Garfield in Western Films:  A Complete Guide.

Boomerang (Fox, 1947)  Director Elia Kazan’s third film—before classics like Gentleman’s Agreement, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront and Viva Zapata—was termed a “docu-noir” by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini, whose commentary on the DVD is exceptional.  Based on the real-life murder of a clergyman in a Connecticut town, vagrant John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy) is given short shrift by the legal establishment and townsfolk until State’s Attorney Henry Harvey (Andrews) realizes that the so-called evidence is shaky at best and dismisses charges.    

My Foolish Heart

My Foolish Heart (Samuel Goldwyn/RKO, 1949)  The accidental demise of her new beau, Walt Dreiser (Andrews) leaves Eloise Winters (Susan Hayward) with an unexpected child, no husband and the potential for ostracism.  Based on J. D. Salinger’s “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut,” this film version was hated by the author, but it’s an affecting tearjerker with one of composer Victor Young’s greatest tunes.  Andrews makes the most of his screen time.   

Where the Sidewalk Ends (Fox, 1950)  A well-regarded (“dialogue is consistently pungent,” said The New York Times Guide to Movies on TV), Otto Preminger-directed noir features Andrews as detective Mark Dixon, so angry his father was a hood that he metes out his own justice on the criminals with whom he comes into contact.  Ironically, he accidentally kills a miscreant and decides to lay the blame on mob boss Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill).  It’s a recipe for personal disaster. 

Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon; Columbia, 1957)  Scoring 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, this terror tale is based on M.R. James’ classic 1911 short story, “Casting the Runes.”  Arriving in England to participate in a parapsychology conference, the skeptical Dr. John Holden (Andrews) finds himself confronting the seemingly benign Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), unaware that the man is a satanist capable of summoning a noxious demon whose horrific mission of murder cannot be thwarted once the spell is cast.  Incredibly unsettling horror from Jacques Tourneur, a master of all genres (I Walked with a Zombie, Cat People, Out of the Past, The Flame and the Arrow) who’d directed Andrews in Canyon Passage.  You will see the demon, which irked some critics, but the most perspicacious realized that not showing it would provide no fun at all. 

By Kim


Christy, Marian.  “Andrews Conquers Drinking Problem.”  South Florida Sun-Sentinel (June 21,1985).

Finler, Joel.  The Hollywood Story.  1988.

Garfield, Brian.  Western Films:  A Complete Guide.  1982.

Garland, Brock.  War Movies.  1987.

Morella, Joe.  The Films of World War II.  1973.

Schallert, Edwin.  Los Angeles Times (November 17, 1944).

Shipman, David.  The Great Movie Stars:  The Golden Years.  1970. 

Silver, Alain, and Ward, Elizabeth.  The Film Noir Encyclopedia.  3rd ed.  1993.  Julie Kirgo on Laura.

Thompson, Howard, ed.  The New York Times Guide to Movies on TV.  1970. Vieira, Mark A.  Into the Dark:  The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950.  2016.

Postwar NYC on Film:  Comedy and (Mostly) Crime

Until I revisited The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) a few years ago, I did not realize that my memory regarding the locale for this movie was faulty.  I recalled Danny Kaye bopping along the streets of New York City in sunny, broad daylight amongst a bustling throng of equally jaunty New Yorkers.  It was uplifting, suggestive of prosperity and optimism.  The U.S., after all, was one of the few belligerents to come out of World War II with its terrain and cities intact.  It had been the “arsenal of democracy” and reaped the benefits of victory.  However, my recollection that Mitty was filmed on the actual streets of New York was in error.  Except for some long shots of Times Square and various avenues, it was obviously not.  For instance, when Kaye exits a taxi and leaves his multi-film costar Virginia Mayo behind, the action takes place against a studio backdrop.  (I wonder if my recollection of a decades’ old Peter O’Toole TV interview is also in error?  I’d like to think he did tell the host that when he came to New York after the war he was astounded that he could buy a hotdog on every street corner.  No such delicacies could be had by Londoners.)   

There was indeed postwar on-location filming in New York City by major Hollywood studios:  crime movies.  Unlike Mitty, whose main through story is actually of a criminal mien involving Dutch crown jewels hidden from the Nazis and now in the U.S., these films were most definitely not cheery.  Nor were they in color.  However, much of the filming was done on location. 

Made during the war but released shortly thereafter, The House on 92nd Street detailed the efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to break a German spy ring.  According to The Hollywood Professionals, actual footage of espionage agents was supplied by the FBI:  “material which had been secretly filmed by their own agents, and that had been top secret information during the War.”  FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover was enlisted to provide verisimilitude.

House was not only noir, but perhaps the first “police procedural,” a crime movie filmed in semi-documentary fashion and based on real cases “torn from the headlines!”  Often there was a narrator, like an actor with an authoritative voice such as Reed Hadley.  Audiences became privy to FBI labs and all the methods our crime fighters employed to bring to justice veterans unable to adjust to peacetime and used to killing in the biggest criminal activity of all, war.  (As late as 1968 reviewers commented not only on Bullitt‘s now iconic car chase sequence, but the fascinating look behind the scenes of crime-solving, as in Steve McQueen’s detective hanging out in the San Francisco city morgue to confer with a doctor, and the use of telecopiers to solicit passport applications from Chicago almost in the blink of an eye.)   

Looking back, one sees that daytime filming was necessary to show monumental government buildings wherein law enforcement worked tirelessly to stymie gangsters and racketeers, Nazis, and as time went by, Commie spies. (Terry Moore’s hash-slinger in 1955’s Shack Out on 101 exemplified this mindset in a barely disguised piece of propaganda or, if you will, hokum:  “Just you wait until I pass that examination.  Instead of coming to see me in this broken-down beanery, you’ll, you’ll walk into a great big beautiful government building, and I’ll be sitting behind a big desk doing….”) 

According to The Film Noir Encyclopedia, many of the actors in The House on 92nd Street were nonprofessionals.  Some were true blue FBI personnel.  The director was Hollywood veteran Henry Hathaway.  Audiences would see his handiwork again.

The same year as Walter Mitty but very much on the opposite side of the coin was Kiss of Death, the famous noir starring Victor Mature and in his film debut, Richard Widmark as the psychopathic Tommy Udo, who pushes the wheelchair-bound Mildred Dunnock down the stairs.  As he had done with The House on 92nd Street, director Henry Hathaway did much on-location shooting.  Oddly, according to The Film Noir Encyclopedia, cinematographer Norbert Brodine made “a row house in Queens look like a soundstage set.”  Other locations included the Sing Sing Correctional Facility (formerly Ossining Correctional Facility) and the Tombs (Manhattan Detention Complex). 

In The Hollywood Professionals:  Producer Louis De Rochemont used the director’s on-location work experience to convince 20th Century-Fox’s studio head Darryl Zanuck that “semi-documentary crime films would be perfect for postwar audiences because of the factual or apparently factual basis of the material created with the assistance of official bodies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

Hathaway acknowledged crowd control as a drawback.  Spectators had the habit of mingling with actors.  Incidental secondary noises like dogs barking or shouting children had to be ignored.  A big problem was transportation via six large equipment trucks shuttling between 76 sets.    

The Naked City

Most famous for on-location shooting in NYC in this period was The Naked City (1948).  This truly exemplified the police procedural.  Said The Film Noir Encyclopedia:  “The real star of the film becomes the city, which can take on a variety of personalities.  It is truly a mysterious entity imbued with all sorts of stories and affectations.  The Naked City is unlike most of [director Jules] Dassin’s other films, as it is a vision of the world that forsakes subtlety and deals almost exclusively with black and white absolute truths.”

To sum up, to my chagrin the close-ups and medium shots in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty were not, as I’d misremembered, filmed in the skyscrapers and deli’s and on the streets of New York City.  The comic potential inherent in on-location urban shooting was there but a longer gestation period was needed before it flowered.  The good news was that the exploration of postwar on-location filming in NYC identified some very influential crime films:  The House on 92nd Street, Kiss of Death, and The Naked City.

By Kim


Canham, Kingsley.  The Hollywood Professionals:  Volume 1:  Michael Curtiz, Raoul Walsh, Henry Hathaway.  1973.  Includes quotes on Kiss of Death from publicity handout.

Ursini, James, and Ward, Elizabeth.  The Film Noir Encyclopedia.  rev. ed.  1992.

The League of Alternate Superstars:  Fredric March (1897 – 1975)

Any cinephile will scoff at designating Fredric March an “alternate super star.”  After all, he won two Academy Awards for Best Actor and was ranked the equal of his unofficial rival, Spencer Tracy, who also won two Oscars.  Both had the chance to spar with one another in Inherit the Wind (1960).  However, because there is no The Films of Fredric March, I summarize his sterling career here.

Inherit the Wind

March was born in Racine, Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  During World War I he was an artillery lieutenant in the army.  After the war he became a banker but by 1920 was a movie “extra” in New York City-based films.  This was followed by a contract with Paramount Pictures. 

March won his first Best Actor Academy Award for director Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932).  In Hollywood in the Thirties, author John Baxter wrote, “Mamoulian’s inventions for the scenes showing Fredric March’s change from Jekyll to Hyde would alone have made this film memorable.  Determined to engineer the transformations without resorting to cuts or opticals, Mamoulian conceived on the spur of the moment a system in which specially toned makeup, coloured lights and coloured filters were used to change the look of March’s face.”  There was more to it than that.  Makeup turned him into a veritable ape-man in tux and cape.    

In the following year’s World War I film, The Eagle and the Hawk, March gave another superb performance.  According to Thomas Doherty in Projections of War, March was “extraordinary…as the burnt-out pilot (with what was not then called the thousand-yard stare).” 

Death Takes a Holiday

Like Cary Grant, March never tied himself to a long-term studio contract, which necessitated taking any role you were given or else be suspended.  Also like Grant, he was adept at screwball comedy and successfully traded bon mots with Carole Lombard in Nothing Sacred (1937).  Nor did he seem out of place in historical epics, playing Marcus Superbus (!) in The Sign of the Cross (1932).  Fantasy was also up his alley, and he played the title character in the still amusing Death Takes a Holiday (1934).  He did very well in large-scale films based on huge historical novels.  Think Garbo’s Anna Karenina (1935), as Jean Valjean in the estimable 1935 production of Les Miserables, and Anthony Adverse (1936).  He was the doomed Norman Maine opposite Janet Gaynor in the first version of A Star is Born (1937).  High-octane films were inter-mixed with prestigious stage roles in The Skin of Our Teeth, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, and An Enemy of the People

Les Miserables

In 1946 he was the lead in The Best Years of Our Lives, the Best Picture Academy Award winner for which he won his second Oscar.  A movie that never fails to touch viewers’ heartstrings, especially those who participated in World War II or whose parents did, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die called it “one of the best American movies about returning soldiers ever made—certainly the most moving and deeply felt.  It bears witness to its times and contemporaries like few other Hollywood features, and Gregg Toland’s deep-focus cinematography is incredible.”  The Essentials called it “A deeply beloved American film from the moment it opened in December 1946, The Best Years of Our Lives spoke to a generation affected by World War II on the battlefield and on the home front.”

The Best Years of Our Lives

In the 1950s March played his age:  Willy Loman in the 1951 film version of Death of a Salesman, furniture manufacturer controller in Executive Suite (1954), admiral in The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), television network president in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956), widowed clothing manufacturer conducting an affair with a young receptionist (Kim Novak) in Middle of the Night (1959).

Like Henry Fonda, in the 1960s March had the maturity and gravitas to play the President of the U.S.  Curiously, both had that opportunity in 1964:  Fonda in Fail-Safe, March in Seven Days in May.     

To summarize, Fredric March’s career was second to none.  He chose his roles wisely and deserves to be ranked among the “great stars.” 

By Kim


Arnold, Jeremy.  The Essentials:  52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter.  2016.

Baxter, John.  Hollywood in the Thirties.  1970, c1968.

Doherty, Thomas.  Projections of War:  Hollywood, American Culture, and World War II.  1993.

Schneider, Steven Jay, ed.  1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.  2019. 

Hidden Cinema Gems, 1970-71

For one reason or another, oftentimes studio executives’ befuddlement over the nature of a movie they green-lighted but have no affinity for or understanding of when it is finished, a film enters limbo.  In the past it might become the second entry on a double-feature bill.  Reviews might be scanty or nil.  It will in short become lost.  Today, if it’s an “international” picture, it might not even reach DVD status in North America. 

The five movies discussed below are examples of such films from 1970 or 1971, depending on the actual release date.  Some U.S. Army personnel in West Germany were privileged to see them on base theaters and did not forget what was surely a unique “moviegoing experience.”         

The Blood on Satan’s Claw (aka Satan’s Skin, U.K.)

In early 18th century England, as crows caw spookily, a young farmer unearths a disgusting visage in a furrow, but when he returns with others it has disappeared.  Soon enough, however, young folk go missing.  Some are victims, others in thrall of something not fully formed but obviously intent on contaminating the countryside, including the parson. A witchfinder is summoned.  This is folk horror at its finest and would make a great bookend with The Wicker Man (1973).  It was once on VHS but is not on DVD for viewing in North America despite increasing coverage in outre film magazines.  Elaine Macintyre said it “provides a microcosm of a world in the grip of mass hysteria, in which witches and deviltry lurk round every corner.”  (     

Darker Than Amber (U.S.)

Rod Taylor (The Time Machine, Hotel) is John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, “salvage” expert, aka private eye, when he needs some cash, who lives aboard a houseboat named the Busted Flush in Ft. Lauderdale.  In this outing Travis helps Vangie (Suzy Kendall) survive the depredations of sociopathic Terry (William Smith).  The climactic bare-knuckle fracas between Taylor and Smith (TV westerns, Hawaii 5-O, Chrome and Hot Leather, Any Which Way You Can) that rockets from a cruise ship cabin out onto the dock is worth the price of admission.  In a 2010 interview, Smith said, “Fight choreography and staging went out the window when Rod [Taylor] decided to really hit me.  And so the fight was on.  That was a real fight with real blood and real broken bones.  Rod is a skilled fighter, and, at the same time a real scrapper.  Now that was a good fight!”  (Tim Tal, “William Smith:  My fight with Clint Eastwood was longest two-man fight scene on screen,” BZFilm, April 1, 2010.)  William Lustig called it “A truly great overlooked 70s detective thriller,” and William Smith “expressed disappointment that it had become a legendary lost film.”  (William Lustig, “Anthology Film Archives Screens The Seventies—Buried Treasures Series,” August 14, 2009). 

Road to Salina (France)

Road was directed by George Lautner, a notable French filmmaker, but it’s in English and the four prime performers are American:  Mimsy Farmer (Spencer’s Mountain, Riot on Sunset Strip), Robert Walker (Jr.), son of notable film stars Jennifer Jones (The Song of Bernadette, Duel in the Sun) and Robert Walker (The Clock, Strangers on a Train), Rita Hayworth (Gilda, The Lady from Shanghai), and oddest of all, venerable character actor Ed Begley (Twelve Angry Men, Sweet Bird of Youth).  The story:  A young drifter named Jonas (Walker) finds himself at a gas station cum café in a remote venue (the sun-drenched but haunting moonscape of the Canary Islands) run by Mara (Hayworth).  She proclaims him “Rocky,” the son who ran off four years before.  Jonas plays along just for the heck of it.  It doesn’t hurt that Mara has an alluring daughter, Billee (Farmer).  Warren (Begley) goes along with the deception to keep Mara happy. This is a multi-layered and quite mesmerizing film of mystery, suspense and forbidden romance.  The audio commentary on the new DVD release is enlightening and thought-provoking.  Occasionally it did get some notice in the past:  “The movie has a grainy look and an existentialist bend, befitting of a film made by a Frenchman.  It contains suspense elements…, free love sexuality, exotic scenery, generation gap disconnects, and does-a-number-on-your-head oddness.”  (Brian Greene,, April 25, 2014.)     

Scream and Scream Again (U.K.)

Scream is a distinctly odd sci-fi/horror film starring Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and, briefly, Peter Cushing.  At the time of release most critics deemed it incomprehensible.  Roger Ebert called it “absurd” and “engagingly ridiculous.”  (Roger Ebert, “Scream and Scream Again,”, February 18, 1970.)  The commentators for this newly issued DVD make a case for planned surrealism and also believe the police chase involving a kind of cyborg the longest in cinema history.  Price’s scientist maintains that what he is creating will be great, “but not an evil super race.”  Acid baths hide evidence of misdoing.    

The Vampire Lovers (U.K.)

This Hammer Studios film was the first of the commonly designated “Karnstein Trilogy” that was followed by Twins of Evil and Lust for a Vampire and was the initial Hammer outing for the actress generally considered the studio’s greatest femme fatale (not a scream queen because she caused the screaming), Ingrid Pitt, concentration camp survivor who knew all about human-sponsored horror.  It is based on J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s famous novella, Carmilla.  Pitt played Carmilla,/Mircalla/Marcilla and visited sex and death upon young ladies whose mansions she infiltrated as a kind of governess.  Even more so than other Hammer films, it was beautifully filmed.  Played straight, there are nevertheless moments of sly humor.  Back in 1970, The Philadelphia Daily News‘ film reviewer Joe Baltake called it “Campy, literate, witty and dead-straight vampire movie.”

Black Lives Matter: Community Reads


By targeting black men through the War on Drugs and decimating communities of color, the U.S. criminal justice system functions as a contemporary system of racial control–relegating millions to a permanent second-class status–even as it formally adheres to the principle of colorblindness.

Based on the viral Instagram challenge that captivated participants worldwide, Me and White Supremacy takes readers on a 28-day journey of how to dismantle the privilege within themselves so that they can stop (often unconsciously) inflicting damage on people of color, and in turn, help other white people do better, too.

  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, is available as an ebook and eAudiobook through July 19, 2020.

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

A current, constructive, and actionable exploration of today’s racial landscape, offering straightforward clarity that readers of all races need to contribute to the dismantling of the racial divide.

Book summaries taken from

No Wait, These Books Are Great!

RRN_FictionYAWe have new collections of kids and teen eBooks, eAudiobooks, and Read-Alongs that are available without holds! These books are from Rosen Publishing, Lerner Publishing Group, Britannica Digital Learning, Orca Book Publishers, Triangle Interactive, and other participating publishers.  More titles will be added in the future!

Looking for Read-Alongs?  Here are some of the ones in the kids collection:

goldy luckmy heart

Are you missing sports?  Maybe these books from Britannica will help:


Check out the rest of the 100 + titles available with no holds!  Here is the kids collectionHere is the teen collection.

Golden Voice: Julia Whelan

educatedAudioFile Magazine’s Golden Voices list is like a Hall of Fame of Audiobook narrators.  One of this year’s Golden Voices is Julia Whelan.  Here are some of our favorite Audiobooks that she has narrated:

Educated by Tara Westover
This Audiobook won two 2019 Audie Awards (like the Oscars of the Audiobook industry) – Best Female Narrator and Memoir.

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway
Winner of AudioFile Magazine’s Earphones Award

Girl in Pieces by Kathleen Glasgowwife between us
This Audiobook made AudioFile Magazine’s Best of 2016 Young Adult list

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker

Since We Fell by Dennis Lehane

Here are more titles that she has narrated.


Libby Picks

There are ways to enjoy a good book, even if you can’t browse the shelves—this month’s Multimedia Department staff picks are all available on the Libby app.  With Libby you can read or listen to a huge selection of books from any mobile device, without ever needing to leave your home. For more information on Libby, click here.

Emily’s Picks

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Grown-up fans of Harry Potter will love this tale of English magic set in an alternate strangeRegency era. Featuring captivating characters and a meticulously researched and carefully-built world, this Hugo-winning debut novel will have you turning page after page, unable to put it down. At the height of England’s war against Napoleonic France, when magic seems to be merely a topic of study and theory but never of practice, to practicing magicians of very different temperaments—Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell—emerge and, through their initial partnership and eventual rivalry, change the course of history forever.

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett

Although it’s the 14th book in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, there’s no need to read the first 13 books to enjoy this hilarious tale of magic and mischief (although you could if lordsyou wanted to!). Lords and Ladies is set in the small, sleepy Kingdom of Lancre, a kingdom run by a king who was once a court jester and protected by three witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick. When it seems that the elves are returning to Lancre, the kingdom’s young people are confused as to what all the fuss is about—after all, elves are supposed to be nice. But the witches know better. Elves aren’t nice, elves are bad, and it’s up to the witches to stop them before they ruin the King’s wedding and possibly much more. Loaded with Pratchett’s trademark whimsical wit, colorful characters, and a few winks and nods to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this is a must-read for fantasy lovers.

Jessie’s Picks

Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

etiquetteLooking for a book that will transport you out of this reality? Then give Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series a try! Set in an alternate Victorian England, this humorous steampunk series follows Sophronia through her many adventures at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Moira Quirk does a great job of narrating this Young Adult series.

A Death of No Importance by Mariah Fredericksdeath

This mystery series starter is set in New York City circa 1910. Jane Prescott is a ladies’ maid to the daughters of the wealthy Benchley family. Jane becomes involved in a complex mystery when Charlotte Benchley’s fiancée is murdered. Jane discovers that her position allows her to learn important details. This mystery series is a good choice for fans of Laurie R. King and Anne Perry.

John’s Picks

A Storm of Swords by George R. R. Martin
Fans of HBO’s A Game of Thrones will certainly enjoy George Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, but the third book of this epic fantasy is particularly exciting. So many of the television series’ most pivotal moments unfold within these 1000+ pages, but there are plenty of nuances to make the 48-hour-long audiobook exciting for all. Listen along as giants roam north of the Wall, four kings wage a devastating war across the Seven Kingdoms, and dragons fly high above the continent of Essos.

The Great Courses: Foundations of Western Civilizationgreat

Thomas F. X. Noble is Professor Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame. This offering by the Great Courses invites you into the award-winning historian’s classroom for 48 unique lectures on topics ranging from the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia to the cusp of the modern world around 1600. Noble has published dozens of scholarly books and articles on the history of Western civilization, and he shares his research and expertise in this incredibly insightful audiobook.

Kim’s Picks

Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews

Picking up where Home: A Memoir of My Early Years (2009) left off, stage and screen icon homeworkAndrews begins with a summary of her young life that included bizarre family secrets, performance in vaudeville, and the epic stage successes My Fair Lady and Camelot. Home Work continues with her introduction to major films courtesy of Walt Disney. She is candid about everything, including her amicable divorce from esteemed production designer Tony Walton and marriage to the equally famous and hypochondriac Blake Edwards (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Pink Panther, and Victor, Victoria). She praises Disney, James Garner, Dick Van Dyke, Carol Burnett, Robert Preston, and many others who helped her and became life-long pals. Like Home, Home Work is everything you’d want in a star biography. There is much to amuse the reader, e.g., being smashed to the stage when the wires helping her fly in Mary Poppins (1964) snapped, and in The Sound of Music (1965) when the lights installed in the gazebo made horrible sounds each time she and co-star Christopher Plummer looked deeply into each other’s eyes. Breaking into uncontrollable laughter, it forced director Robert Wise to give and shoot them in silhouette which of course worked wonderfully well.

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

This famous 1922 novel by the Nobel-prize winning author of Main Street, Arrowsmith, babbittDodsworth, and Elmer Gantry describes the culture of the fictional Zenith, a growing midwestern metropolis with streetcars, automobiles, banks, caterers, clubs and more clubs, theaters, tall buildings, and humming factories—ultimate examples of American progress. The focus is on middle-aged George Babbitt and his household. Despite his success in real estate and pride at belonging to a coterie of men on the make (he’s a realtor, not a real estate man, thank you very much), he does experience episodes causing him to question his life choices. Yet conformity is impossible to buck. “Babbitt” became a synonym for those hustling for material gain to the detriment of a fully realized, ethical, and honest society.

Mary’s Picks

Becoming by Michelle Obama
An inspirational autobiography showing that anything can be accomplished with hard work and perseverance. This audiobook is read by the author which makes it that much more enjoyable. She tells her extraordinary story in a very down-to-earth way that everyone can connect with. Warm, thoughtful, educational, and inspiring.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahamewind

This is my all-time favorite childhood book. Beautifully written and enjoyable for both children and adults. The descriptions are so rich that you feel you are right there in the story with the most beloved characters. A true classic and feel-good book that everyone should read.

Stephanie’s Picks

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
In the fourth volume of the Cormoran Strike series, Galbraith interweaves a complex plot involving murder, politics, and blackmail. It’s filled with captivating dialogue with wonderfully flawed characters. The first few chapters are a little slow going, but if you put your faith in the gruff narration from Robert Glenister, he will lead you through a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (narrated by Anthony Bourdain)
I was extremely hesitant to read this book, as I always thought of Bourdain as an arrogant, unpleasant man, who had no problem voicing his opinion of those he deemed beneath him. However, a good friend assured me I would really like this book. He was right! In this unexpectedly humorous memoir, Bourdain tells his story with a quick wit that is as offensive as it is poignant. His passion for food comes through unboundedly, and I appreciate his fierce advocacy for under-appreciated chefs, specifically those in the Latino community. His disdain for vegetarians aside, I found this book very enjoyable.