Tag Archives: Spencer Tracy

Boys Town

Directed by Norman Taurog
Produced by John W. Considine Jr.
Written by Dore Schary, Eleanore Griffin & John Meehan
Starring Spencer Tracy
Mickey Rooney
Henry Hull
Music by Edward Ward
Cinematography Sidney Wagner
Editing by Elmo Veron
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date 9 September 1938
Running time 96 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Boys Town is a hard film to review for me because although I thought it was a great story, and Spencer Tracy’s fine portrayal of Father Flannigan was pretty good, there was one element that almost ruined the film for me. I am talking about Mickey Rooney’s performance as Whitey Marsh.

I have seen a few Mickey Rooney films and know that he can be quite a ham, but here his over-acting really affected my enjoyment of the film. The part really could have used a little subtlety instead of Mickey trying to steal every scene when he really didn’t have to. Perhaps I could put it down to him just being 18 at the time he made this film BUT… he had been acting in vaudeville and movies all his life so there shouldn’t be an excuse. Perhaps because Tracy’s  portrayal of Father Flannigan is very understated the director wanted to have the Mickster play his part way OTT.

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The Nutty Professor

Directed by Jerry Lewis
Produced by Ernest D. Glucksman,  Arthur P. Schmidt & Jerry Lewis
Written by Robert Louis Stevenson (story)
Jerry Lewis & Bill Richmond (screenplay)
Starring Jerry Lewis
Stella Stevens
Del Moore
Kathleen Freeman
Music by Walter Scharf, Les Brown and His Band of Renown
Cinematography W. Wallace Kelley
Editing by John Woodcock
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date June 4, 1963
Running time 107 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Nutty Professor is Jerry Lewis’ masterpiece and undoubtedly his best known work. Many people think that the film and specifically the character of Buddy Love, is a stab at Dean Martin but Jerry has denied this vehemently. Instead he says that Buddy is a conglomeration of every nasty son of a bitch he’d ever met and that he loved Dino like a brother and would never do anything negative against him. Besides, Dean was a genuinely nice guy according to Jerry.

It is easy to forget just how brilliant that Jerry Lewis is. We take for granted the goofy, funny characters that he created as he made it all look so easy. He perhaps does not receive the acclaim that other screen comedians have received but he has always taken his comedy seriously. In fact this ambition to be a better comedian is the reason, partly, why he and Dean Martin broke up their successful partnership. Dino was happy just to turn up and for the two of them to do their thing whilst Jerry always wanted to do things better. Dean in fact apparently asked Jerry why he wanted to concentrate on that “Chaplin shit”, in that he thought that Jerry took his comedy a bit too seriously. That is not to say that Dean was not a professional, rather that he just wanted to turn up, do what was asked of him and then go home or to a party while Jerry wanted to be creative. This is the difference I suppose between an actor and a comedian.

One interesting scene is the transformation scene which takes its cues from the Frederic March version of Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hyde, although Jerry said that he was inspired by the Spencer Tracy version.

One of the things that I found striking about watching The Nutty Professor is the bright, vibrant colours that were used. There is quite a liberal use of purples, greens, reds and other colours that you don’t usually see in films. It showcases the Technicolor film process effectively and is one reason why I prefer films that have been made in Technicolor as opposed to the now standard Eastmancolor.

The Professor Kelp character that Lewis created for his film is iconic and has been imitated by The SimpsonsProfessor Frink. Unlike Eddie Murphy in the 1996 remake Jerry didn’t just put on a fat suit to play Kelp. Apparently Kelp is based on a real person that Jerry met one day. That this one character has become so memorable, like Sellers’ Clouseau or Chaplin’s Tramp, despite featuring in just one film, is a testament to Lewis’ work here. It may be a little dated now, but it is a fine piece of 60s film making.


Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde

Directed by Rouben Mamoulian
Produced by Rouben Mamoulian
Written by Novel: Robert Louis Stevenson
Screenplay: Samuel Hoffenstein & Percy Heath
Starring Fredric March
Miriam Hopkins
Rose Hobart
Music by Herman Hand
Cinematography Karl Struss
Editing by William Shea
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date(s) December 31, 1931
Running time 98 minutes
Country United States
Language English

This is for the 1931 version of the film, which was hidden away for a number of years from the 1940s after it was bought by MGM and buried so as to not over-shadow the 1941 Spencer Tracy version.

It is a pretty good 1930s horror film that was on par with the A-grade monster movies that Universal was making. This was made before the movie code came in, so the film’s plot heavily focuses on S.E.X., whether it be Dr. Jekyll wanting to get married to his fiance so that they can finally do it, or the overt sexuality of prostitute Ivy Pearson. Then there is also Mr. Hyde, who is a sex craved pervert of the lowest order.

There are a couple of other things to mention in relation to the film too. The transformation scenes where Frederic March‘s Jekyll becomes Hyde are really great and I suspect may have inspired Universal when they created their werewolf films. The make-up too is quite iconic and effective, better than that used in the 1941 version where Hyde looks like Spencer Tracy with messed up hair.

The only thing that I find annoying is the pronunciation of the word Jekyll. They are constantly calling the good doctor Jay-kill which is completely different to the way the name has been pronounced since then. It is just a minor quibble but it is something that I thought that I needed to mention.


Bad Day At Black Rock

Directed by John Sturges
Produced by Dore Schary
Written by Story: Howard Breslin
Screenplay: Don McGuire & Millard Kaufman
Starring Spencer Tracy
Robert Ryan
Anne Francis
Dean Jagger
Walter Brennan
Ernest Borgnine
Lee Marvin
Music by André Previn
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) January 7, 1955 (United States)
Running time 81 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Bad Day At Black Rock is one of those movies that always seems to be shown on Foxtel, usually at about 1am on Fox Classics. It’s a movie that I have always been curious about but could never actually be bothered watching until today, after the book A Rough Guide To Westerns recommended it. I am glad that I watched it.

The film has an all-star cast headed by Spencer Tracy as Macreedy, a one-armed stranger who one day gets off the train at the sleepy town of Black Rock looking for Komoko. This get the members of the small town into an uproar for reasons that become apparent as the movie progresses. It doesn’t take long for Macreedy to realise that he is not welcome in Black Rock.

We find out that there is a dark secret in Black Rock that Macreedy’s snooping around will eventually bring to light. This secret involves Komoko, who was a Japanese farmer living near Black Rock on land sold to him by the film’s villain Reno Smith. The land that Smith sold Komoko was useless but that Smith became enraged that Komoko was able to grow food on the land. The day after Pearl Harbour Smith and his cronies attacked and murdered Komoko. Now they are afraid that four years later Macreedy will uncover this.

Tracy gives a great performance filled with quiet dignity as Macreedy. Despite the fact that the whole town is against him and have planned to murder him Macreedy does not stop in his quest to find out about what happened to Komoko. The villains featuring Ryan, Borgnine and Marvin are menacing as they harass Tracy and await darkness to fall so that they can kill him. It is only after one of the posse hears why Macreedy is searching for Komoko that the tables start to turn. Komoko’s son was a GI who gave his life in Italy to save Macreedy. Macreedy wanted to take the medal that Komoko’s son received to Komoko Sr.The film comes to a head when Macreedy is double-crossed by Liz Wirth, which culminates in Macreedy being ambushed by Smith.

There is a lot of tension in the film as we all know what Macreedy’s fate will ultimately be, but as he is the film’s hero we hope that he will find a way out. It is a really good film to watch.


Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo

Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Produced by Sam Zimbalist
Written by Dalton Trumbo
Book: Ted W. Lawson & Robert Considine
Starring Van Johnson
Robert Walker
Robert Mitchum
Spencer Tracy
Phyllis Thaxter
Stephen McNally
Music by Herbert Stothart
Cinematography Robert Surtees, ASC
Harold Rosson, ASC
Editing by Frank Sullivan
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) November 15, 1944
Running time 138 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Anyone who has seen the terrible Disney film Pearl Harbour from a few years back will be familiar with the premise of thirty Seconds Over Tokyo as the events of this film were featured in the second half of Pearl Harbour. This is about the Doolittle Raid where a squadron of B-25 Mitchell Bombers took off from an aircraft carrier to hit Japan as a retaliation over Pearl Harbour.

The acting, especially from Van Johnson, is a little over the top as Ted Lawson, whose story this is based upon, while we don’t see that much of Spencer Tracy who plays Lt. Col. Doolittle. Robert Mitchum is featured in the film too in one of his earliest roles.

Johnson, who died in December 2008 at age 92, is a little hammy in his portrayal of Lawson, whose plane crashed on the Chinese coast after bombing Tokyo and had to have his leg amputated. During the films ending Lawson does not want to see his wife until he has an artificial leg and has learnt how to dance, whilst his wife, played by Phyliss Thaxter, does not want him to see her because she has put on a little weight. Oy Vey!!! Such melodrama. In the end they embrace because they are both glad that Lawson has survived.

However despite the over acting this is a fine film with great scenes of the hulking bomber taking off on their dangerous mission from the confines of the aircraft carrier. Whenever Spence is on-screen he gives the audience a reassuring feeling that he is in control and that everything will be alright in the end. The film is even quite even handed about their portrayal of the Japanese, which is quite surprising since the war in the Pacific was still raging when the movie was released.