William Cameron Menzies movies on TCM: Murderous Joan Fontaine, deadly Nazi Communists
Best known as an art director/production designer, William Cameron Menzies was a jack-of-all-trades. It seems like the only things Menzies didn’t do was act and tap dance in front of the camera. He designed and/or wrote, directed, produced, etc., dozens of films – titles ranged from The Thief of Bagdad to Invaders from Mars – from the late 1910s all the way to the mid-1950s.
Among Menzies’ most notable efforts as an art director/production designer are:
- Ernst Lubitsch’s first Hollywood movie, the Mary Pickford star vehicle Rosita (1923).
- Herbert Brenon’s British-set father-son drama Sorrell and Son (1927).
- David O. Selznick’s mammoth production of Gone with the Wind, which earned Menzies an Honorary Oscar.
- The Sam Wood movies Our Town (1940), Kings Row (1942), and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943).
- H.C. Potter’s Mr. Lucky (1943), a romantic comedy starring Cary Grant and Laraine Day.
Mr. Lucky is one of the films being aired tonight, Jan. 28 ’16, on Turner Classic Movies, as TCM wraps up its monthlong celebration of William Cameron Menzies’ oeuvre.
Another noteworthy TCM presentation is Sam Wood’s Ivy (1947), which was produced by Menzies. This dark Joan Fontaine star vehicle – gone is the sweet and innocent young thing from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Suspicion – is only rarely shown on television.
Patric Knowles, Richard Ney, and veteran Herbert Marshall (The Letter 1929 and 1940, The Little Foxes) are Fontaine’s co-stars.
Keeping up to date with your enemies
And finally, the little-known, William Cameron Menzies-directed The Whip Hand (1951) sounds like a must-see. In this low-budget Cold War thriller, Nazis-turned-Communist allies (!!) set up a lab to produce germ warfare in, of all places, rural Wisconsin.
See, you can’t feel safe anywhere – though, of course, things are usually more dangerous if you’re poor and a member of a disenfranchised group, as the people of Flint, Michigan, surely know despite the absence of Nazi Communists in their vicinity.
The Whip Hand features a mostly little-known cast, including Carla Balenda (formerly billed as Sally Bliss), Elliott Reid, and Edgar Barrier.
The Hughes Touch
Ah, in case you’re wondering how far-right Nazis became far-left Communists in a Hollywood B movie … Well, blame it on Howard Hughes.
The “eccentric” (i.e., totally insane) RKO boss decided that Nazis were old news; Reds were the hip new menace. Parts of the The Whip Hand had to be reshot, while several plot elements – including the appearance of Adolf Hitler alive and well (in the person of Bobby Watson) – were discarded.
Had the visionary Howard Hughes (anyone seen Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s dreary The Aviator?) been around today as the head of a Hollywood studio, his remake of The Whip Hand would likely have Nazi Communists allied with Muslim Mexicans. The movie would have been a huge hit with the millions of Donald Trump followers out there – ironically, most of whom would have fitted right into 1930s Germany.
William Cameron Menzies Academy Award nominations
For the record, for his work on The Dove (1927) and Tempest (1928) William Cameron Menzies won the very first Academy Award for Best Art Direction (for the period 1927-28). Surprisingly, he would be shortlisted only three more times (two of which, “unofficially”), all in the Best Art Direction category:
- Bulldog Drummond (1929). For the period 1929-30.
Director: F. Richard Jones.
Cast: Ronald Colman. Joan Bennett. Lilyan Tashman. Lawrence Grant.
Winner: Herman Rosse for King of Jazz.
- Alibi (1929). For the period 1928-29, when there were no official nominations; according to Academy documents, however, a handful of names/titles were “considered” for the award.
Director: Roland West.
Cast: Chester Morris. Mae Busch. Eleanor Griffith.
Winner: Cedric Gibbons for The Bridge of San Luis Rey.
- The Awakening (1928). For the period 1928-29, see above.
Director: Victor Fleming.
Cast: Vilma Banky. Walter Byron. Louis Wolheim.
William Cameron Menzies movies: TCM schedule (PT)
5:00 PM IVY (1947). Director: Sam Wood. Cast: Joan Fontaine. Patric Knowles. Herbert Marshall. Richard Ney. B&W. 99 mins.
6:45 PM THE BLACK BOOK (1949). Director: Anthony Mann. Cast: Robert Cummings. Richard Basehart. Richard Hart. B&W. 89 mins.
8:30 PM THE WHIP HAND (1951). Director: William Cameron Menzies. Cast: Carla Balenda. Elliott Reid. Edgar Barrier. B&W. 82 mins.
10:00 PM AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS (1956). Director: Michael Anderson. Cast: David Niven. Cantinflas. Shirley MacLaine. Finlay Currie. Robert Morley. Ronald Squire. Basil Sydney. John Gielgud. Trevor Howard. Harcourt Williams. Martine Carol. Fernandel. Charles Boyer. Evelyn Keyes. José Greco. Luis Miguel Dominguín. Gilbert Roland. Cesar Romero. Alan Mowbray. Robert Newton. Cedric Hardwicke. Reginald Denny. Ronald Colman. Melville Cooper. Peter Lorre. Charles Coburn. George Raft. Red Skelton. Marlene Dietrich. Frank Sinatra. Buster Keaton. John Carradine. Tim McCoy. Joe E. Brown. Andy Devine. Edmund Lowe. Victor McLaglen. Beatrice Lillie. Jack Oakie. Hermione Gingold. Glynis Johns. John Mills. A.E. Matthews. Mike Mazurki. Color. 182 mins. Letterbox Format.
1:03 AM AROUND THE WORLD UNDER THE SEA (promotional short, 1966). Color. 8 mins.
1:15 AM DEADLINE AT DAWN (1946). Director: Harold Clurman. Cast: Susan Hayward. Paul Lukas. Bill Williams. Osa Massen. Joseph Calleia. Jerome Cowan. B&W. 83 mins.
2:45 AM MR. LUCKY (1943). Director: H.C. Potter. Cast: Cary Grant. Laraine Day. Charles Bickford. B&W. 100 mins.
4:30 AM THE NORTH STAR (1943). Director: Lewis Milestone. Cast: Anne Baxter. Dana Andrews. Walter Brennan. Walter Huston. Ann Harding. Farley Granger. Erich von Stroheim. Jane Withers. Dean Jagger. Eric Roberts. Carl Benton Reid. B&W. 106 mins.
William Cameron Menzies movies’ schedule via the TCM website.
William Cameron Menzies’ Academy Award nominations via the IMDb.
Joan Fontaine Ivy image: Universal Pictures, via filmnoirfoundation.tumblr.com.