Friday, May 27, 2011

“Alas, why must I be plagued by yammering magpies on the eve of battle?”

If you’re as big a fan of the cult classic His Kind of Woman (1951) as I am, you’ll no doubt recognize the title of this post as a line of dialogue spoken by ham actor Mark Cardigan, an over-the-top screen thesp who comes to the aid of Dan Milner (Robert Mitchum) when Milner is snatched by goons in the employ of mobster Nick Ferraro (Raymond Burr).  Ferraro plans to kill Milner and adopt his identity in order to sneak back into the United States (he was kicked out as a result of his naughty ol’ criminal activities) and even if Cardigan is often more bluff than action he does manage to help out Dan in his hour of desperation with the assistance of some reluctant guests vacationing on the same island as the two men.

Cardigan is played by Vincent Price, and though I’m a slavish devotee of many of the man’s film roles (LauraChampagne for Caesar, Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, Witchfinder General…this list could go on for days) I think Woman is my all-time favorite.  Price’s performance in the movie is both endearing and falling-down funny—I love how he reacts to the people who are reacting to his onscreen swashbuckling antics while being held captive watching one of his movies; the unbridled joy on his face makes him resemble a kid at Christmas.  I unspooled the movie the other night in preparation for an essay that you can read at Edward Copeland on Film…and More commemorating the actor’s centennial birthday—an occasion held in such high esteem by Price’s city of birth, St. Louis, MO, that they’ve been hosting a ten-day film festival (May 19-28) deliciously dubbed the “Vincentennial.”

One of the facets of Price’s amazing career that I judiciously left out of the Copeland piece (otherwise, I’d have nothing to talk about here) is that at the same time he was establishing himself as a force in films he also was a frequent fixture on radio.  His silver screen status landed him guest star spots on comedy-variety shows like The Jack Benny Program, The Sealtest Village Store and Duffy’s Tavern while he exercised his thespic chops on dramatic anthologies such as The Lux Radio Theatre, The Philip Morris Playhouse and The CBS Radio Workshop.  He also had memorable showcases on Suspense (“Fugue in C Minor,” “Hunting Trip”) and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar (“The Price of Fame Matter”) but some of his best work was done on radio’s Escape—a show not known for being as guest-star heavy as its sister series Suspense, but nevertheless producing such classic broadcasts as “Three Skeleton Key,” “Blood Bath” and “Present Tense” (all three of which were later re-dramatized on Suspense).  Even after radio drama was no longer the force it once was Price continued to actively perform in the medium, headlining such programs as The Sears Radio Theatre/Mutual Radio Theatre (he was the Wednesday night “mystery” host) and the BBC’s The Price of Fear.

Price’s most regular radio gig was playing Leslie Charteris’ famous sleuth Simon Templar on The Adventures of the Saint, which he joined as star in the summer of 1947 on CBS until the “stars’ address” cancelled the program in June 1948.  The show resurfaced on Mutual in July 1949 and then moved to NBC in June 1950; the show’s final broadcast was heard on October 21, 1951 but by that time Tom Conway had taken over as star—Price had bailed on the series in May of that year.(with Barry Sullivan filling on occasion as well).

The story of surviving copies of radio broadcasts being lost to neglect and the ravages of time is a familiar one but in the case of The Saint there was a happy ending: because Price, like so many celebrities headlining radio series, wanted the broadcasts recorded as a keepsake he had saved a goodly number of transcription discs from the show…and was about to chuck them out one day when he fortuitously called someone from the Society to Preserve and Encourage Radio Drama, Variety and Comedy (SPERDVAC) and asked if they would be interested in taking them off his hands.  The SPERDVAC rep broke all land speed records rushing over to Price’s house to collect the discs…and the broadcasts that survive today do so because of this phone call.  So happy 100th natal anniversary to you, Mr. Price!!!

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Caftan Woman said...

There was a point in my life (amended) where I had seen everything of Vincent's filmography that wasn't "Horror" because "The House of Seven Gables" frightened me out of the theatre one Saturday. At least, I think it was "The House of Seven Gables" and a portrait was bleeding.

The first time I showed my hubby "Champagne for Caesar" he said "S***, it's Ratigan!" At the time, our kids were watching "The Great Mouse Detective" on a never-ending loop, and the scene in "Caesar" where Vincent is exhorting his employees to do his bidding certainly was echoed in Ratigan's rant.

There is lots of interesting background on "His Kind of Woman" to be found in Richard Fleischer's memoir "Just Tell Me When to Cry".

I did not know about "The Saint" on radio. It sounds like a glorious way to spend time. Thanks.

Samuel Wilson said...

Ivan, I'm also a big fan of this one. The cool thing about it is that the Price character does walk the walk as well as talk the talk, though the odd thing about it is that along the way he seems to morph from Errol Flynn into John Barrymore. The film itself is probably the most successful attempt at a comedy noir because Price is so good while Mitchum, Raymond Burr et al still play their roles good and straight.

Kevin Deany said...

Ivan, this is my favorite Vincent Price performance as well. Just love it, especially the scene with him on the sinking rowboat. Still, its the kind of movie I would be careful about who I recommended it to.

In Chicago, the "Those Were the Days" golden age radio show on Saturday afternoons devoted the whole four hours to Mr Price last Saturday, including an episode of "The Saint." Great stuff!

DorianTB said...

Ivan, you clever boy, I was considering writing a blog post about HIS KIND OF WOMAN, but I'm glad you beat me to it, because you did a great job! Vincent Price was The Man! Several years ago, when I was doing research for author David Hajdu (we're still pals today), I had the opportunity to do five-minute mini-interviews with famous folks for VIDEO REVIEW, and Vincent Price was one of the folks I had the pleasure of interviewing. Among his favorites, Price included HIS KIND OF WOMAN, LAURA, and of all things, THE 13 GHOSTS OF SCOOBY-DOO. Good old Vincent Price -- he was one of those actors who know how to have fun with a role!

John said...

Now here's one to test the ole memory you remember the Mike Douglas talk show that was syndicated for years? The market I grew up in had it on in the late afternoon. One week, Mike had, I believe, Red Skelton as the co-host (!) and one afternoon, Vincent Price was a guest. (Or, it was the other way was over 30 years ago!) The two (Skelton and Price) were good friends, and the chemistry between the two was great fun.

Toby O'B said...

I'm having such a blast jumping around some of my favorite blogs, knowing which ones would be celebrating this wonderful man and I knew I wouldn't be disappointed at TDOY.

As you know, my bailiwick is the small screen and I never heard of "His Kind Of Woman" but just based on your say-so and that of your commenters, I think I have to track it down now!

Loved "Vincentennial"......

In The Mouth Of Dorkness said...

I just popped His Kind of Woman on my NetFlix queue. It sounds great. Not sure how I've gone this long without seeing it.

Amanda said...

What a wonderful story! I adore Vincent Price and The Saint. It would have been a tragedy his radio work had not survived.