Monday, August 15, 2016

Roddy McDowall- A Star Under the Summer Sky

Summer Under the Stars- Roddy McDowall

This article is for the Summer Under the Stars blogathon event.  On August 15th, Turner Classic Movies will be devoting 24 hours to Roddy McDowall.   He has had a career that spanned over 40 years with making the transition from child actor to adult actor.  This article will focus on the movie that put Roddy McDowall on the map and brought the world to his attention: How Green Was My Valley.

How Green Was My Valley (1941) was a John Ford masterpiece set in a poor Welsh mining town. It centers around the Morgan family.  Donald Crisp played the patriarch of the family. Sara Allgood played the matriarch of the family. Maureen O'Hara played the only daughter, Angharad.  And Roddy McDowall played the youngest son, Huw.  Walter Pidgeon also starred as the new town Preacher.

The movie is narrated by older Huw, and he tells the story of essentially becoming a man in the midst of a village dying and a changing family. Roddy McDowall was 12 years old when he played  the role of Huw Morgan, and he gave a brilliant performance full of sensitivity.    

Roddy McDowall is one of my favorite child actors of the classic film period, and his performance as Huw is the reason for it.  In the beginning of the film, Huw is treated as and seen as the baby of the family. He has no experience outside of life in his village. He has to be a bystander, an observer, as his family struggles and changes due to dangers of working in the mine and lack of fair pay by the mine owners.  Things start to change for Huw, when he attends a school in a different village. This school is full of more upper class children. At this school, Huw has to deal with a bullying classmate and a bullying teacher. The way Huw handles these situations has his family starting to see that he is becoming a man.

One of my favorite scenes with Roddy McDowall is when two of his elder brothers decided to leave for America for better prospects. Their mother leaves the dinner table heartbroken. It is only Huw and his father at the table. His father sits in silence with his head downcast. Huw gives a little cough, and his father says "Yes, my son. I know you are there." Huw smiles and continues eating his dinner.  His father's acknowledgement meant so much. It is a great scene between them.

Another scene was when Huw and his mother falls through ice into the freezing water.  After they are rescued, Huw overhears that his legs are frozen solid and he may never walk again. The look on that young boy's face, the look in his eyes....that was good acting from young McDowall.

Then there is the very last scene of the film.  Huw holds his father in his arms. There were no words spoken, and yet much was conveyed in McDowell's eyes.

His eyes. So much emotion, so much sensitivity and understanding seemed to be expressed in his eyes. That is what drew you to Roddy McDowell's performance as Huw Morgan and many other
performances.  He was a joy to watch as a child and he grew up continuing to be a fine actor and even
a great photographer.

On August 15, I hope people enjoy his performances that airs on TCM, and may newcomers come to
know of him.

2016 Summer Under the Stars Blogathon

Friday, August 5, 2016

Karl Malden- The Dependable One

This article is part of the 2016 Summer Under the Stars Blogathon.  For the month of August, Turner Classic Movies will devote a day to a particular star.  Friday August 5 is Karl Malden's Day.

 The subtitle of this article is "The Dependable One."  An apt description for Malden.  When you watch a movie that starred Karl Malden, there is little doubt that you will see a performance that grabs your attention and won't let go.  There is little doubt that he will stand toe to toe with some of the best actors of that time and still command the scene. There are many films that one can choose to highlight when talking about Karl Malden: On the Waterfront, Streetcar Named Desire, Gypsy, Baby Doll are just a few.    This blog post will focus his performance in On the Waterfront.

On the Waterfront (1954) was directed by Elia Kazan and is considered one of the best movies ever made.  There were many variables that has made On the Waterfront a classic not to be missed: the directing, the music, the film's atmosphere, the writing, and of course the acting.  The acting which included a memorable performance by Karl Malden.

On the Waterfront is about life on the docks.  It's about secrets. Loyalty. Snitching.  Standing up for your rights. Marlon Brando plays Terry.  He's a fairly simple, easy going dock worker who loves his pigeons and his brother, Charley (Rod Steiger).  The docks are run by a local thug, Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb), who isn't afraid to resort to murder to keep control of those docks.  Terry has information on a murder that could help put Johnny away. His new girlfriend, Edie ( Eva Marie Saint),  happens to be the sister of the victim and wants him to speak out. However, in that neighborhood speaking up and out is snitching.  No one snitches.  No one wants to be a rat, especially Terry.  So  on one hand, Terry has his brother Charley, who works for Johnny, imploring him to keep his head down and his mouth shut. No surprise he also has Johnny Friendly stressing that it is important to his health to remain quiet.     And on the other hand he has his conscience and Edie telling him he has to do the right thing and tell on Johnny.  Not only does he have his conscience and Edie, he also has a Priest on his case.  Father Barry has made it his duty to help the dock workers find justice and have their God-given rights enforced.  The Father knows Terry  has something to say against Johnny Friendly, and he pushes Terry and shows Terry that he has a duty and a responsibility to speak. It's his job as a man to speak up.  So who plays this Priest?  None other than Karl Malden.

Karl Malden's Father Barry is a tough Priest. He doesn't do his job only in a church.  He goes out on the streets. He goes to the docks. Father Barry once said in regards to the Waterfront and Docks: "This is my church!"  He is committed to rallying the dock workers to stand up for themselves.  Testify against Johnny Friendly. He stands in a room with people booing him and throwing things at him, but he keeps speaking for what he knows is right.  He keeps standing up for the little guys.  In that memorable scene , Malden showed such passion and righteous anger as Father Barry. He portrayed that Priest to perfection.  He truly is  fantastic in this movie and absolutely commands the screen.  
 There is also a scene where he confronts Terry in a bar. He is telling Terry that if he truly wants to get Johnny Friendly, then the best way to do it is in a courtroom.  Terry says something derogatory and Father Barry knocks him to the ground.  Malden was so great in that scene!  He wasn't overshadowed.  He had such a strong presence. There was strength in his voice and in his body language in both scenes mentioned. 

Now it should be said, there are some extenuating circumstances connected to those scenes.  However, I won't share them, because  I don't want to spoil too much.  If you haven't seen this movie, then I recommend it to the highest degree. It is truly a brilliant film and Karl Malden is one of the reasons.

To go back to the beginning; you know to expect a great performance when you see Karl Malden is in a film. He didn't have the classical good look but he didn't need it.  There was power in his performances, and  he could do both drama and comedy.  He was a tremendously talented actor.  Truly one of the greats and definitely deserving of a day dedicated to him on Turner Classic Movies.