Character Actors: Ward Bond


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There are character actors that you’ve seen in maybe ten movies. And then…there’s Ward Bond. One of the most ubiquitous talents to ever grace the large or small screen, Bond amassed over 100 movie and television credits by the time all was said and done. While he reached great heights of fame on the hit western Wagon Train, Ward Bond’s film career was prolific to put it mildly.

Picking just a few roles of his to write about is an undertaking. So I went with the first ones that popped immediately into my mind when I thought of him. The first role of Ward Bond’s that came to mind was his role of Father Lonegran in The Quiet Man. Appearing opposite his frequent co-star John Wayne, Bond brought heart and levity to the role of the preacher. We also get to enjoy Bond as the narrator. You wouldn’t think a man with such a gruff voice would be such a good guide to the action of the movie. But he has a laid back tone that makes you feel like a friend is telling you a story. Another element of Bond’s performance in The Quiet Man that I enjoy is that he’s a holy man that has a bit of a dark sense of humor. When a fight breaks out in the village between John Wayne and Victor McLaglen, rather than jumping in to be peace maker, Father Lonegran joins the rest of the village as a spectator to enjoy the entertainment value.

Another favorite Ward Bond role for me is as Detective Polhaus in one of the quintessential noir films The Maltese Falcon. Bond is part of a stellar supporting cast that includes the likes of Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, Elisha Cook Jr. and John Hamilton. But Bond shines as one of the lawmen who gets sucked into the twisted plot to obtain the valuable black bird of the film’s title. He’s fun to watch as the partner of Barton MacLane’s Detective Dundy. Ward Bond is just as convincing in a mystery as he is in a western. Very few people can jump between genres so effortlessly.

And no tribute to Ward Bond would be complete without mentioning his role in It’s A Wonderful Life. Initially a flop at the box office, the film went on to become a Christmas classic. Bond plays Bert, a cop who is a best friend to George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart). Bert proves to be a loyal friend to George through good times and bad. Bert is the person that finds George when the whole town of Bedford Falls is out looking for him when he storms out of his house after losing all his money on Christmas Eve. Bert brings George back to reality after George sees what the town would be like had he never been born at all. Their reunion is heartfelt and funny. It’s a highlight in a movie that is one of Frank Capra’s many masterpieces.

Ward Bond appeared in everything from The Quiet Man to The Searchers, and was even in the Joan Crawford cult classic Johnny Guitar. Whether he was on television or in the movies, Ward Bond made his roles impossible to forget.

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Character Actors: Marjorie Main

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This week I’m continuing my spotlight on character actors. This week I’m highlighting a character actress who made a name for herself playing Ma Kettle in the Ma and Pa Kettle movies. Yes, this week’s scene stealer is the sweet and quirky Marjorie Main. While she is mostly known as Ma Kettle (and those movies are certainly worth seeing), Main had a number of wonderful supporting roles in other films that you should check out as well.

Perhaps my favorite role of hers is as the maid Katie in Meet Me In St. Louis. In a cast that includes the likes of Judy Garland and Mary Astor, Main shines as the no nonsense maid that keeps things together. Katie is not only a good housekeeper and cook, but she fits right in with the household’s inhabitants and feels like a member of the family. Some of my favorite scenes are when she lovingly throws shade at Mr. Smith (Leon Ames). Main doesn’t have a huge amount of screen time in the movie. But every second you see her is absolutely golden.

A close second in my favorite Marjorie Main roles is the owner of the dude ranch in 1939’s The Women. As Lucy, Main brings real charm to the role and holds her own with the other members of the all female ensemble cast. Lucy runs a tight ship. But she also enjoys sitting back and watching all the drama unfold between Rosalind Russell and company.

The final role of hers I’ll touch on is that of Sonora Cassidy in an often overlooked musical called The Harvey Girls. Re-teaming with her Meet Me In St. Louis co-star Judy Garland, Main is one of the Harvey Girls of the title. She instructs the newcomers in cooking and hospitality at the restaurant that is a stop for railway travelers. One of my favorite scenes is when she teaches everyone how to waltz. It’s not crucial to the plot. But there’s something about seeing Ma Kettle teaching a refined dance that just makes me smile.

Marjorie Main is often overlooked as a comedic actress. But if you watch any of the Ma and Pa Kettle films, or any of her other films for that matter, you’ll see she is a comedic treasure. Any time she’s on the screen is cause for celebration.

Character Actors: Claude Rains

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It’s week two of my look at my favorite character actors. This week I’ve chosen someone who’s a marvelous chameleon and also happens to have good looks and a magnificent voice. Yes, this week I’m spotlighting Claude Rains. Likely most famous for his role as Captain Renault in Casablanca, Rains proved one of the most versatile supporting players in Hollywood history. It’s hard to pick just a few roles from his filmography, but I’ll give you the ones that stayed with me the most.

It’s no secret that my favorite movie of all time is Casablanca. And Rains shined in that movie, which was no small feat given the richness of its cast: Bogie, Bergman, Paul Henreid, Peter Lorre, Sydney Greenstreet… The list goes on. What’s fascinating on repeat viewings is that Rains delivers some of the best lines. And Casablanca has barely a line in its screenplay that isn’t memorable. It’s hard to pick just one passage of dialogue from Casablanca. But perhaps my favorite is this one:

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

Captain Renault: I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.

Croupier: Your winnings, sir.

Captain Renault: Oh, thank you very much.

Iconic! But it’s not just his ability to rattle of great dialogue that makes Rains great in Casablanca. He holds his own with the likes of Bogart, Bergman and Henreid. He also keeps us guessing up until the end where Renault really stands. The character of Renault is duplicitous in many respects. His motives are never spelled out with blunt dialogue. It isn’t until the end when Renault decides to not turn Rick in for shooting Maj. Strasser that we know he’s really on the side of the good guys. There’s a little silent pause when he makes that decision and Rains’ face tells the whole story. Rains would be nominated for an Oscar but shockingly not win.

While Rains played a wisecracking good guy in Casablanca, another favorite Rains role for me goes in the opposite direction. In Alfred Hitchock’s masterpiece Notorious, Rains plays a Nazi (quite a change from his role in Casablanca). He plays Alexander Sebastian, a German businessman. Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman) is the government agent sent down to Rio de Janeiro to infiltrate the world of Sebastian and his world of Nazi scientists. When Alexander realizes that Alicia is a US spy, you can feel the betrayal just by Rains’ body language. What’s fascinating is that even though we know he’s a bad guy, he really does love Alicia. He did marry her against the wishes of his mother after all. And when Alexander’s mother sets out to eliminate Alicia, you can tell that it’s tearing him apart. He almost makes you feel sympathy for a Nazi. That takes serious acting chops.

The last role I want to highlight is that of Dr. Jaquith in Now, Voyager. It is here where Claude Rains has one of his best good guy roles. He plays the psychiatrist of Charlotte Vale (Bette Davis). Charlotte is having a nervous breakdown due to being bullied by her domineering mother (Gladys Cooper). It would be easy to play the psychiatrist as a one note white knight who rides in to save the day and free Charlotte from a toxic family relationship. Dr. Jaquith does give the mother an earful after diagnosing Charlotte. But in the letters he writes to Charlotte after her stay at his psychiatric facility, Dr. Jaquith cautions Charlotte to remember to be cautious when reintroducing herself to her mother. After all, the woman is still her mother. He tells Charlotte to stand her ground, but be mindful that her transformation will be an adjustment for both of them. It’s a fascinating and complex performance that really lets the gifted character actor shine.

There are a plethora of Claude Rains roles I didn’t even get to explore. Just look at the rest of his resume: Mr. Smith Goes To WashingtonThe Adventures of Robin HoodLawrence of Arabia, Mr. SkeffingtonKings RowHere Comes Mr. JordanThe Invisible Man…and that doesn’t even scratch the surface! Rains was one of the greatest chameleons Hollywood ever had. And he had a voice that could melt butter. Claude Rains left a rich legacy of memorable supporting characters behind. It’s impossible to imagine the golden age of Hollywood without him.

Character Actors: Thelma Ritter

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Greetings readers! Apologies for the hiatus in May. But I’m back. In June I’m going to be writing about some of my favorite character actors. While the leads get the spotlight and glamorous roles, it’s the supporting players that often steal scenes and make an already great film even greater. My first star definitely fits into that category. I’m talking about the sublime Thelma Ritter.

Ritter holds the distinction of holding the record for most Oscar nominations in the Supporting Actress category. While the Academy failed to recognize her talents with a statue, there’s no denying what a versatile supporting player she was. Ritter is probably best known for her supporting role as Birdie opposite Bette Davis in All About Eve. It’s Birdie who sees straight through Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), not buying her hard luck story for one minute. After Eve tells her life story to Margo (Bette Davis), Birdie is unmoved. “What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.” In the hands of a lesser actress that line would have been forgettable. But Ritter delivers it in such a way that it’s an epic burn.

Another supporting role that made Thelma Ritter famous was as Jimmy Stewart’s nurse Stella in the Hitchcock classic Rear Window. Stella is not only an excellent nurse. She also enjoys doling out life advice. When Jeff (Stewart) tells Stella that Lisa (Grace Kelly) wants to marry him, but he doesn’t want to marry her, Stella isn’t shy about expressing her opinion. “When two people love each other, they come together – WHAM – like two taxis on Broadway.” Stella gets involved when Jeff suspects a neighbor in one of the apartments across the courtyard from his has murdered his wife. Ritter is fun as an amateur gumshoe along with Stewart and Kelly. Rear Window is an ensemble piece for sure. And Ritter is part of what makes it stand out.

The final role of Ritter’s I want to discuss is Alma, Doris Day’s maid in the romantic comedy Pillow Talk. Ritter is part housekeeper and part wisecracking best friend. While it’s her scenes in the apartment with Day that people remember the most, it’s a scene she shares with Tony Randall that’s my favorite. Randall plays Rock Hudson’s best friend. And he ends up going out to commiserate with Alma about what’s going on in his life. Alma shares a bottle of wine and drinks him under the table. It’s so simple, and yet it’s one of the funniest scenes in the iconic romantic comedy.

There are many more Thelma Ritter performances worth writing about. But those three are my favorites. What are your favorite Thelma Ritter performances? Discuss in the comments!

Movies For Foodies: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

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It’s the last week of my look at great films for foodies. And my last pick is a documentary. It’s the 2011 Japanese film Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I found myself completely absorbed by it. That’s a testament to what a great film it is, especially considering I’m not a fan of sushi.

The focus of the documentary is Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master. He owns the restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro. The Tokyo restaurant serves only sushi, The documenatary also profiles the chef’s two sons. Both are sushi chefs themselves. Younger son Takashi leaves Sukiyabashi Jiro to open his own restaurant. Older son Yoskikazu stays at his father’s restaurant and will likely succeed Jiro as the owner.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi sounds on the surface like it should be boring. What could possibly be compelling about one chef’s quest to make the perfect piece of sushi? But we get to know Jiro through his passion for fine cuisine. Through his eyes we also learn about the people that work in his famous restaurant. They’re not just background characters in a documentary about a famous chef. Jiro tells little anecdotes about them as the film goes along. That allows us as viewers to appreciate the hard work that goes into running a restaurant.

Another thing that sets this documentary apart is that we get insight into not just Jiro Ono the chef, but Jiro Ono the man, particularly as a caring and complicated father figure. His two sons have a lot to live up to. But that part never feels added in for melodrama.

This is a thoroughly compelling documentary about making great sushi as well as an involving character study. It’s a film that was a thoroughly pleasant surprise for me. Even if sushi isn’t your favorite food, I would definitely recommend Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Movies For Foodies: Ratatouille

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My selection this week in my spotlight on movies for foodies is Ratatouille. Released back in 2007, it’s a PIXAR film that I’ve come to appreciate more upon repeat viewings. When I saw it in the theater, I found the visuals colorful and enjoyed it mostly on that level. A story about a rat that wants to become a chef? Come on! But over the years I’ve discovered that’s a much deeper film than I initially thought.

The protagonist of Ratatouille is Remy (Patton Oswalt). He’s a rat. But he has a very refined sense of taste. While other rats are content to eat the scraps from garbage cans, Remy gets his sustenance from fine restaurants. Remy longs to be like his idol, chef Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett). One night, Remy’s family is forced to flee their home. In the chaos, Remy gets separated from them and ends up on a skylight that happens to overlook the kitchen of Gusteau’s restaurant in Paris.

Remy witnesses kitchen garbage boy Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano) accidentally spill a pot of soup. Linguini tries to recreate the soup with disastrous results. Remy attempts to fix the mistakes, much to Linguini’s horror. Restaurant owner Skinner (Ian Holm) chews Linguini out for tampering with the soup. While the two men argue, the soup is accidentally served. The soup turns out to be a surprising success. It’s assumed by Skinner that Linguini is the soup’s creator. So Linguini is hired on as a cook. But since Remy is the true chef, the two develop a marionette act with Remy hiding under Linguini’s chef’s hat giving him instructions.

But Remy isn’t Linguini’s only teacher. Skinner assigns chef Colette (Janeane Garofalo) to teach Linguini. An unlikely romance develops between Colette and Linguini as the film progresses. It is later discovered that Linguini is Gusteau’s illegitimate son. He is the restaurant’s rightful owner. Skinner is then forced to step down. The restaurant takes off. As Linguini and Colette grow closer, Remy feels like a third wheel. Remy then goes home. But he and his father have a falling out when Remy reveals his admiration for humans. But things grow tense between Remy and Linguini. They have a fight, and Remy leads his fellow rats to the restaurant to raid its pantry in retaliation. Linguini scares them off. Linguini and Remy make peace. But then Linguini is forced to reveal the truth to his staff. Most walk out in disgust.

But Colette comes back. She believes Gusteau’s motto. “Anyone can cook.” Remy’s father and the other rats are impressed by his determination. The other rats offer to help Remy and Linguini when renowned food critic Anton Ego (Peter O’ Toole) announces he will be visiting the restaurant. Ego is notoriously harsh. It takes a true team effort to pull off a satisfying meal for the critic. But pull it off they do. But not with a culinary creation you would expect.

Ratatouille‘s charm comes from its rich look. But we’ve come to expect that from PIXAR. The film was directed by Brad Bird, who also directed The Incredibles. He brings that same level of energy and imagination to this film. It also benefits from its voiceover actors. My favorite is actually Peter O’ Toole as the snobby food critic. O’ Toole brings the same level of skill to Ratatouille as he does to all of his great live action roles. He has fun being cruel. But then he has an unexpected revelation towards the end.

Ratatouille centers around food. But it’s about much more than that. It’s about pursuing your dreams, no matter what others may think of them. I’ll leave you with one of the film’s best lines, spoken but Gusteau.

You must be imaginative, strong-hearted. You must try things that may not work, and you must not let anyone define your limits because of where you come from. Your only limit is your soul. What I say is true – anyone can cook… but only the fearless can be great.

Movies For Foodies: Waitress

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Greetings film/food lovers! It’s week two of my spotlight on movies for foodies. This week’s selection is a small gem that was released in 2007 called Waitress. It follows the trials and tribulations of a woman in a difficult  marriage and how she uses what’s going on in her life to inspire her pie creations at the diner she works in.

The waitress of the film’s title is Jenna Hunterson (Keri Russell, who many know from her TV series Felicity). Stuck in a small town down South, Jenna struggles working a dead-end job and dealing with controlling/abusive husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto). Jenna works at Joe’s Pie Diner, making creative pies based on her life experiences. One is called Bad Baby Pie. She comes up with that one when her unwanted pregnancy is confirmed. Jenna decides reluctantly to keep the baby. But she wants to get out of the town and her abusive marriage. Her ticket out is a pie contest in a nearby town. The prize for the winner is $25,000. Husband Earl won’t let her partake in the contest.

Jenna does at least have the support of her co-workers Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly, who also directed the film). There’s also the diner’s owner Joe. He’s lovable curmudgeon played by Andy Griffith. Joe encourages Jenna to pursue her dreams and get out of her toxic marriage.

But wait. There’s more! As the pregnancy progresses, Jenna grows close to her physician Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). The doctor is filling in for Jenna’s doctor, who she has been seeing since childhood. We also find out that Pomatter moved to the small town partially to accommodate his wife, completing her residency at a local hospital.

Later co-worker Dawn gets married at the diner. The ceremony is interrupted by an irate Early, who demands Jenna come home with him. At the house, he confronts her about the stashes of cash around the house. Jenna tells him the money is for the baby. She is then forced to spend that money for her new life away from Earl on things for the baby.

Jenna gives birth to her baby girl Lulu. The fact that it’s a girl disappoints Earl. And Earl reminds Jenna of a promise she made never to love the baby more than him. It is here where Jenna finally sticks up for herself, telling Early she won’t take his abuse anymore and wants a divorce. Earl tries to attack her, but is escorted from the hospital by security.

As Becky and Dawn help Jenna prepare to leave the hospital, we learn Joe has collapsed and slipped into a coma. Jenna then remembers an envelope Joe gave her before the baby was born. In it there’s a card with a hand drawn sketch of Jenna. Plus, Joe left her a check for $270,450 to start a new life for herself. There’s a message of friendship in the card that is one of the film’s most touching moments. Jenna then sees Dr. Pomatter one last time, breaking off their relationship.

Waitress no doubt sounds like a soap opera. And it sort of is. But it’s a very entertaining one. A major reason for that is the screen presence of Keri Russell as Jenna. She is warm, sympathetic and an easy character to root for. Jenna isn’t perfect. It’s heartbreaking watching Jenna put up with Earl so long. But it’s also very effective and true to life. Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelly turn in solid performances as supportive co-workers Becky and Dawn. Nathan Fillion is delightful as Dr, Pomatter. But my favorite supporting performance is Andy Griffith as Joe, the diner’s owner. He’s cantankerous but also has a big heart under all his bluster. He’s Jenna’s biggest supporter and the relationship between them is handled beautifully by the actors and the film’s screenplay.

What’s sad about Waitress is director Adrienne Shelly was killed shortly after filming was completed. Shelly also wrote the screenplay. The film showed that Shelly had so much potential as a director. But the last film she made was touching, funny and a great slice of life. While watching it, don’t be surprised if you end of coming up with pie ideas of your own.