Category Archives: Joel McCrea

Blu-Ray Review: Hollywood Story (1951).

Directed by William Castle
Produced by Leonard Goldstein
Story and Screenplay by Frederick Kohner and Fred Brady
Cinematography: Carl E. Guthrie
Film Editor: Virgil Vogel

Cast: Richard Conte (Larry O’Brien), Julie Adams (Sally/Amanda Rousseauz), Richard Egan (Police Lt. Bud Lennox), Henry Hull (Vincent St. Clair), Fred Clark (Sam Collyer), Jim Backus (Mitch Davis), Houseley Stevenson (John Miller), Paul Cavanagh (Roland Paul), Katherline Meskill (Mary), Louis Lettieri (Jimmy Davis), Francis X. Bushman, Betty Blythe, William Farnum, Helen Gibson, Joel McCrea

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Art imitates life here. Hollywood Story (1951) concerns a producer (Richard Conte) solving an old Hollywood murder mystery, while prepping a movie about that mystery. It was based on the actual 1922 murder of director William Desmond Taylor. This scandalous crime, which created a media circus and plenty of completely fabricated news stories, was never solved.

Conte buys an old movie studio and learns of the murder that took place there. Intrigued, he decides to use it as the basis for his next picture, and he reaches out to a number of people who were working at the studio at the time — from a writer (Henry Hull) to the daughter of one of the studio’s biggest stars (Julie Adams). With that framework, the picture manages to follow the Taylor case fairly closely as Conte pieces together what happened.

L-R: Richard Conte, Francis X. Bushman, Helen Gibson, William Farnum, Betty Blythe.

William Castle directed several entries in Columbia’s The Whistler series, moody mini-noirs starring Richard Dix. They were excellent, and Castle’s same no-nonsense approach can be found here. Hollywood Story was done before Castle went gimmick crazy with his late 5os horror movies, but there’s a gimmick anyway, bringing in a few silent stars — Betty Blythe, Francis X. Bushman, William Farnum and Helen Gibson. Their parts mean nothing to the movie, but their names look good in the ads. (They were paid peanuts.)

This was one of a handful of pictures Castle did at Universal International. He did some cool stuff there — this one, Undertow (1949) and Cave Of Outlaws (1951) — before returning to Columbia, where he’d start working for producer Sam Katzman.

Hollywood Story gives us a great look at early 50s moviemaking, particularly at Universal International. Joel McCrea has a cameo in one of the on-the-set scenes. Judging from his costume, he might’ve been shooting Frenchie (1950) when his brief scene was done. We also visit a number of Hollywood points of interest — such as Jack’s At The Beach, Ciro’s, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Ocean Park Pier and the old Chaplin Studio (as the scene of the crime).

The cinematography from Carl E. Guthrie is terrific, adding plenty of mood when it’s needed and playing up the bright lights of Hollywood. Universal’s movies from the 50s, whether they were in Technicolor or black and white, have a real sparkle to them, thanks to masters like Guthrie. And that’s what makes this Blu-Ray such a great thing. It presents Guthrie’s work flawlessly. It’s much better than the old DVD. Brighter, with better contrast. It adds a level of depth you don’t see very often, which is really effective in the darker, scenes. 

Hollywood Story is a solid movie, and it’s been given a sterling transfer for Blu-Ray. Mill Creek has paired it with Castle’s New Orleans Uncensored (1955). It looks great, too, and since each picture is on its own disc, the bit rates are quite high. They’re priced right, too. For William Castle fans, this set is an absolute must. More, please!

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Filed under 1951, DVD/Blu-ray Reviews, Joel McCrea, Julie Adams, Mill Creek, Universal (-International), William Castle

The Joel McCrea Blogathon: The Most Dangerous Game (1932) By Guest Blogger Jerry Entract.

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Directed by Irving Pichel and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Produced by Merian C. Cooper and David O. Selznick
Screenplay by Richard Connell and James Ashmore Creelman
Based on the story by Richard Connell
Cinematography: Henry Gerrard
Film Editior: Archie Marshek
Music by Max Steiner

Cast: Joel McCrea (Robert Rainsford), Fay Wray (Eve Trowbridge), Leslie Banks (Count Zaroff), Robert Armstrong (Martin Trowbridge), Noble Johnson (Ivan), Steve Clemente (Tartar)

joel-mccrea-blogathon-badgeI am delighted to be able to take part in the Joel McCrea Blogathon and would like to thank our host, Toby, for making it possible.

In 1932 Joel McCrea was a coming star. He had done well in The Lost Squadron and had a considerable success with Bird Of Paradise earlier in the year. Tall and very handsome with a pleasing personality.

Merian C. Cooper had already secured RKO’s agreement to shoot King Kong (1933) and wanted to make a film of Richard Connell’s short novel The Most Dangerous Game. The two films were shot concurrently and shared many of the sets, thus saving budget. Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong starred in both — and Max Steiner scored both.

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The story is a great idea of the hunter becoming the hunted. McCrea is shipwrecked and ends up the only survivor on a remote jungle island. He becomes a guest of an exiled Russian aristocrat Count Zaroff and it becomes fairly obvious early on that Zaroff is mad. He sees a wonderful chance at the ultimate ‘game’ – to set a man loose only to be hunted down and torn apart by Zaroff’s pack of hounds. It becomes a game of nerves as McCrea tries to keep ahead of the hounds and their masters, accompanied by Wray, whose dress gets more tattered and revealing as they go (getting in training for King Kong!!).

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I have not yet mentioned the English actor Leslie Banks who played Zaroff. Because it was apparent Zaroff was mad, Banks played it up quite a bit. I have seen him many times in other films, and his playing was generally subtle and underplayed. He certainly added to the tension with his portrayal though. McCrea was just fine in the central role, as one would expect. There were many more fine films ahead for him – Primrose Path (1940), Foreign Correspondent (1940), These Three (1936), Sullivan’s Travels (1941), to name only a few – before he decided to dedicate his career to the Western in 1946.

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Producer Schoedsack directed the jungle scenes whilst Pichel directed the interiors. RKO remade the story in 1946 (A Game Of Death) and again in 1956 (Run For The Sun).

The 1932 original is an enjoyable and gripping little film that still entertains 84 years on! The film has been available on DVD in several releases. Quality unknown to me.

Please feel free to view my other contribution to this Blogathon over at Toby’s other blog 50 Westerns From The 50s.

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Jerry Entract does not run his own blog or have any involvement in the film industry but is an English lifelong movie fan and amateur student of classic cinema (American and British). Main passions are the Western and detective/mystery/film noir. Enjoys seeking out lesser-known (even downright obscure) old movies.

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Filed under Fay Wray, Joel McCrea, Pre-Code, RKO