Monthly Archives: February 2013

Notable Claude Rains Pictures

The Adventures of Robin Hood

Rains as Prince John:  "Whoever would have thought my dear brother would be so considerate as to get him self captured & leave all England to my . . . tender . . . care?"

Claude Rains as Prince John: “Whoever would have thought my dear brother would be so considerate as to get himself captured and leave all England to my . . . tender . . . care?”

In “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” Claude Rains is not as subtle as he would soon become, but he’s awfully funny and adds mad frivolity to the stock villain he plays. Rains plays Prince John as a nattering swish. It would be interesting to know if he came up with the idea on his own, or if the strawberry blond whiskers and Prince Valiant wig made the choice for him. (Look at the picture below: Melville Cooper, Basil Rathbone and Claude Rains: as many silly looking wigs as on the 2013 Oscars.)

Claude Rains as Prince John: "By my faith, but you're a bold rascal . . . "

Love at first sight. Rains to Errol Flynn: “By my faith, but you’re a bold rascal . . . “

Rains camps it up to a fare-thee-well: he speaks his lines in the highest reaches of his tessitura, titters in a tinkling falsetto, and waves his scepter about with a limp wrist. If he weren’t so funny and incorrigible, the stereotypes he employs would be an insult to every pansy in America. And of course, he’s lecherous as a monkey, too. With his eyebrows aloft and his lids at half-mast, Rains rakes Errol Flynn up and down with his glittering eyes — boldly, outrageously — and leaves no doubt what this goatish little tyrant wants to do with his lissome nemesis. Every time I see Prince John mentally undress Robin, I half expect the score to go boiiinnnng! Rebuffed, he affects delight at “this saucy fellow”: “Ho, varlets, bring Sir Robin food! Such insolence must support a healthy appetite!”

[More to come]

Deception

Rains as Hollenius: "They call me a great man . . . that's the loneliest animal in the world . . . !"

Rains as Hollenius: “They call me a great man . . . that’s the loneliest animal in the world . . . !”

Bette Davis had little use for “Deception” (Warner Bros. 1946). She did allow, however, that Claude Rains was great in it. The picture is so stylish and witty that, until a friend straightened me out recently, I never understood why it’s not more celebrated than it is. I never even heard of it until the late 90s, and I had been watching old movies since the mid-sixties. The trouble, my friend assured me, was that there’s no character with whom we can wholly sympathize. He’s probably right about this. I failed to recognize the problem because I cannot see the picture as a whole, but rather as a series of acting lessons by the great Claude Rains, who gives one of his most accomplished performances. He dominates every scene he’s in and, for once, he’s speaking first-rate dialogue, rather than elevating lesser fare. In pictures like “Casablanca,” Rains made mediocre stuff sound first-rate, but in “Deception,” the dialogue he speaks (by John Collier) is worthy of his great talent.

Taken as a story, with beginning, middle and satisfying conclusion, “Deception” is not, technically speaking, a good picture: the machinery of the plot is creaky; the characters are cartoonish; aside from Rains, the acting ranges from not very good to quite terrible: the problems with it are many. But none of them matter to me: the vast operatic silliness of everything, including the two fabulous apartments — Christine’s (Bette Davis), in all its angles and shadows and rain falling on the slanted skylights (there’s a legend that it is based on one of Leonard Bernstein’s apartments); and Alexander Hollenius’ (Rains), with his throne and all the Gothic clutter — and all the over-ripe rococo dialogue and the mad conductor/composer temperament and classical music . . . It all conspires to act on me like an hallucinatory drug. I don’t even pay attention to the plot or take a word of it for true . . . it’s all style, technique, panache, wit and connoisseurship. It’s as if all the silliness were tailor-made ten years before I was born specifically to appeal my peculiar set of tastes and interests. It appeals to me in so many curious, obscure ways . . . even the cat and the parrot (who doesn’t turn a feather when a shot is fired) seem calculated to please me. My favorite cat looked exactly like Hollenius’ feline . . . and I spent several of the happiest months of my life living down on East 9th Street back in the eighties, with a great (now late) friend from college, who had a parrot that looked exactly like Hollenius’ bird. And then the Korngold Cello Concerto . . . I love it — it’s gorgeous; the slow movement wrings tears from my eyes. And what other picture ever featured a full radio commercial, complete with close-harmony jingle for a fictional product called “Draw-r-Off,” a kitchen pipe cleaner? “. . . Nothing WIPES/Or cleans your PIPES/Like double-action Draw-r-Off!” “Remember, folks, when you spell ‘Draw-roff’ backwards, it spells ‘forward’.” Hunh? How am I NOT gonna love that? But who else in the world cares about such nonsense? It’s really as if John Collier knew ten years before I was born what would make me — and perhaps no one else on earth — laugh.

Hollenius orders dinner: "Mmm-hmm, I think so, don't you?"

Hollenius orders dinner: “Mmm-hmm, I think so, don’t you?”

“You might think about getting three of these little fellows ready. And you know what I think would go well with them? A trout. A nice brook trout. Not too large . . . ! . . . from a good stream.” My God! I’ve seen that picture maybe 200 times, and I hardly know how it ends. I watch Claude go at it hot and heavy, then skip over the scenes between Henreid and Davis, then I listen to the Cello Cone-see-ayr-toe (as Henreid pronounces it), and don’t bother with the rest of it. It’s like a form of Trekkie-style geekdom, my affection for that picture. I just never realized it before now. Rains’ entrance is unforgettable: “A party indeed!” My God!


“Champagne, caviar . . . all very fitting . . . I infer a husband . . . Make me acquainted with him. My dear sir: I wish you all the joy we less fortunate men must be content to imagine.” “You know, I require only one thing of a meal: that it be excellent.” The list is not endless, but every time Alexander Hollenius opens his mouth, another quotable line is added to it.

Rains: "Extraordinary, isn’t it, that music can exist in the same world as the basest treachery and ingratitude?"

Rains: Extraordinary, isn’t it, that music can exist in the same world as the basest treachery and ingratitude?

Now that my friend has explained what prevented him from enjoying the picture as much as I do, it occurs to me that the people I know who love “Deception” — most of them musicians — understand that it’s not intended to be an accurate portrayal of the world of classical music: we accept it as something akin to an inside joke, a curiosity, a collection of hilarious bits . . . just as “Citizen Kane” is a collection of preposterous bits. It has all the ostentation of “Citizen Kane,” but none of its pretension. No, “Deception” is not really a very good picture, taken as a picture. Taken as a repository of hilarious lines and hamming at the very highest level, well, it’s in a class of its own . . . And that’s all I care about when the subject matter, temperament, atmosphere and sense of humor are so weirdly and perfectly tailored to my tastes.

And there’s another thing, too. My affection for the picture was strongly influenced by how I first saw it. I came in late that first time, and had no idea what I was watching. This was in the early days of TCM — in the mid- to late-nineties. I came home from work on a Friday evening, turned on TCM and it was smack in the middle of Claude’s maddening ordering of dinner at the very point where he pulls out a cigarette and suddenly there’s a forest fire of matches, all waiting to light him up. It was love at first sight . . . and I had absolutely no idea what I was seeing. Though I was already a big fan of his, I had never heard of this picture. It was all so demented and hilarious and stylized I was fascinated by it. And I had a wild suspicion that the script was the work of mad, wonderful John Collier. More than a year passed before TCM showed it again, and it did not disappoint. It had been at least ten years since I’d read anything by John Collier (“His Monkey Wife,” “Defy the Foul Fiend,” “Fancies and Goodnights”) — and I had no idea he’d ever written a screenplay — but to my ear, his ornate style is as unmistakable as, say, Odets’ ornate ghetto lingo is. John Collier is definitely not for all markets, but he suits me right down to the ground. His brand of humor slays me. There’s not another Hollywood picture I can think of — including the few others by Collier himself — that sound anything like “Deception.” It’s the weirdest form of wit I ever saw in a major motion picture . . . or for that matter in any picture. Hollenius wears his leather gloves at dinner and takes them off ONLY to handle the poultry carcasses that are brought for his inspection, then pulls them back on again . . . ! That kills me. “From now on, you’re MY cellist!” says an infatuated college reporter from “The Bugler” in an early scene . . . Who else would write such a line? Or take Hollenius’ first exit line: “Like all women: white as a sheet at the sight of a couple of scratches. . . But calm and smiling like a hospital nurse . . . in the presence of a mortal wound . . . Good night!” Who else could write such a line?

Collier wrote a lot of very strange fiction, full of weird, unsettling paranormal incidents, usually set in dark, decaying, overheated mansions where gigantic exotic plants swallow up visitors and where unhappily married couples (the only kind that exist in his fiction) go to fantastic lengths to bump each other off. His style was extravagant and ornate, full of lurid metaphors and rococo similes. I doubt he’s an acquired taste: you either love his stuff at once or not at all. “Deception” is one of his few screenplays, and the dialogue he wrote for Alexander Hollenius (Rains) is echt Collier: droll, menacing, contemptuous, politely hostile, freighted with more innuendo than actual substance. Not many actors can handle such ornamental, filigreed language; Bette Davis is not at home in such turbid waters, while Paul Henreid (who completes the love triangle) is utterly hopeless as a genius cellist with war-shattered nerves. Rains disliked Henreid intensely, and had no respect for his talent. He referred to him as “Paul Hemorrhoid.” John Abbott fares rather better — he’s the hilarious, cringing Bertram Gribble, a thin-skinned cellist. Abbott is an actor who pops up in all sorts of unusual places and he always puts on a good show. He plays Chevalier’s valet in “Gigi.” A very witty performance, so perfect that it, like a great movie score, is almost invisible in its perfect appropriateness.

When Bette Davis appeared on the Dick Cavett Show back in 1971, she was particularly complimentary of Rains’ handling of one scene from “Deception,” in which he drives her and Paul Henreid out of their minds while ordering dinner at a French restaurant. You can see what she means.

The Unsuspected

Claude Rains: Your genial host.

Claude Rains: Your genial host.

Claude Rains gives a fabulous performance as a suave and slippery radio personality, whom his announcer introduces as “Your genial host: renowed writer, art collector and teller of strange tales, Victor Grandison.” (That should give you an idea of the ludicrous over-ripeness of the picture — written by Ranald MacDougall (“Mildred Pierce”).) That queen of the noirs, Audrey Totter,* is in it and very funny indeed. As is another actress I like a lot: Constance Bennett. There’s also a peculiar leading man, who gets a credit that reads “Introducing Michael North,” even though it was hardly his first picture — he’d been in several pictures before this one, including “The Ox-Bow Incident,” billed as Ted North. A very handsome fellow with a nice manner, but stiff as a board and he has trouble with the letter R. So does Rains, which makes for some amusing dialogue (Rains masked his R problems quite well, but not always). North is one of those rare actors who can convey thought: you can actually see him think — and you can see that he’s an idiot. I often watch his scenes just to see the thoughts come into his head one at a time, slow and hard. “Introducing” was an ironic title card for North: “The Unsuspected” was his last picture. Nothing after 1947, and I can find nothing about what happened to him, other than he was divorced that same year. Whether he died or simply got out of pictures is a mystery to me. Hurd Hatfield, who plays Totter’s dipso husband, once again looks as if he’s just come from a chemical peel. The imperiled heroine is played by an actress named Joan Caulfield; whether she’s good or bad in the part is beside the point: she makes no impression at all . . . she’s amnesia on a pair of legs. What other pictures she appeared in, I couldn’t say. I can never remember to look up her credits. Michael Curtiz directed the picture with a lot of style, and there’s at least one shot early in this one — a panning shot from a moving train to a hotel window that’s quite remarkable. I don’t mind saying the picture is poppycock, but it’s a lot of fun and is told in a way that keeps you guessing for a long time. The first time I saw it, I didn’t know WHERE it was heading. Unfortunately, when you learn what in fact is going on, it doesn’t add up to much: “The Unsuspected” has more dead herrings than red ones, but Rains’ performance elevates the material to just above sub-par. Franz Waxman did the intrusive, amusingly creepy score.

*About Audrey Totter: It was while watching this picture for the first time that I came up with the following: If Audrey Totter gave birth to a girl who grew up to be a slut, she’d be Audrey Totter’s tawdry daughter.

Audrey Totter, Michael North: "You see, Matilda & I were mawwied."

Audrey Totter, Michael North: “You see, Matilda and I were mawwied.”

Other Notable Movies (for Better or Worse)

Mildred Pierce

Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott, Joan Crawford -- Toxic Triangle:  "How long has this been going on?"

Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott, Joan Crawford — Toxic Triangle: “How long has this been going on?”

“Mildred Pierce” is a superbly balanced blend of Woman’s Picture conventions (single mother struggling to find success, love and happiness in a man’s world), Film Noir elements (e.g., flashbacks, Dutch-tilt angles, dark shadows and silhouettes) and Camp (e.g., Ann Blyth as the Daughter from Hell: the nastiest, cattiest, most quotable little bitch of all time; Eve Arden at her most Ardenesque (i.e., a proto-drag queen), cracking wise and lighting matches off the sole of her shoe). Michael Curtiz somehow makes these three seemingly antagonistic styles work together to create a completely satisfying whole.  It’s quite amazing, when you think about it:  Camp and film noir in the same picture?  Shouldn’t they cancel each other out?  But they don’t — they invigorate each other.  It’s not the greatest picture I ever saw, but it’s one of the most fun.  If I happen across it when it’s on TV, I find it quite impossible to change the channel or leave the room before the end.

Alice Faye (in “The Gang’s All Here”)

Alice Faye:  Round the block, but not through the mill.

Alice Faye: Round the block, but not through the mill.

I confess to having a fondness for “The Gang’s All Here,” which many people I respect abominate.  It’s a terrible picture — terrible.  And it’s ugly.  And there’s a lot of music in it that I don’t like.  But I love the ingenious staging of the opening number (even though I’ve never liked the song “Brazil” and don’t like Carmen Miranda), and I like the bizarro stuff that pops up every 15 minutes or so.  In fact, it was one of my younger brothers who first called the picture to my attention — specifically, the last number, called “The Polka Dot Polka.”  It is damned strange — almost nightmarish, in a way that Busby Berkeley’s black and white pictures weren’t.  (By the way, “The Gang’s All Here” is the first color picture — and the last big-budget picture — that Berkeley ever was allowed to direct.  One can see why.)  I like the picture because of its awfulness.  I wouldn’t dream of trying to talk anyone into sharing my enjoyment of a picture that is inferior in so many ways.  Oh, but there is one song smack in the middle of it — Chapter 15 on the DVD — that, for my money, is one of the two or three best songs that Alice Faye ever sang.  It’s “No Love, No Nothin’ ” and she sings it beautifully.  (I think the only other song of hers I like more is “You’ll Never Know,” which she sang so exquisitely that it seems foolish for anyone else to bother singing it.  She owns that song the way Garland owned “Over the Rainbow” and Streisand owns “People.”)

I love Alice Faye’s deep, caressing voice and her perfect intonation — she’s always in the exact middle of the note (no wobble, no scooping); she phrases beautifully and serves the lyrics as faithfully as she serves the melodic line; there’s never any straining or phony sentimentality.  She was born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen — she didn’t have a noticeable New York accent, but her demeanor makes it clear that she was nobody’s patsy.  And I’m a sucker for the contralto voice!  Faye’s complete absence of the movie star’s need to be worshiped by her adoring fans makes her unique:  she always gives me the impression that the song she’s singing is more important than anything else, including her fans’ approval.  She wasn’t a show-off; she never overwhelmed a tune with ostentatious virtuosity; she trusted the melody and the lyrics to do the work for her, her choices about what to emphasize and what to underplay always made perfect sense and suited the songs perfectly.  (Gershwin and Berlin always said Fred Astaire was their favorite intepreter of their work, since he never “improved” their songs with his own unwelcome liberties:  he sang the songs exactly as written, and you could understand every word.  I see their point, but Astaire’s voice was thin and unappealing — unmusical.  Alice Faye did what Astaire did, but also produced a beautiful, luscious sound while she did it.)  As a screen presence, she conveyed friendliness and decency without seeming insipid or naive.  She was never the girl next door; she was the girl from the tenement down the street and she knew the score.  Yet, remarkably, for all her streetwise savvy, she wasn’t hard or jaded — just smart and in the know.  She’d been round the block, but not through the mill.  In my book, that’s a killer combination, and it’s at the heart of what makes her such a great singer:  no tricks, no fussiness, no self-aggrandizement, only beautiful diction, warmth, intelligence and emotional candor.  Whenever I hear Alice Faye sing, I think of how homesick her honey voice must have made the GIs overseas.  I haven’t seen many of her pictures, and the ones I’ve seen have been terrible.  But no matter how bad the pictures are, I always like her.  She was a good actress, and by all accounts, she was a very shrewd broad — she was one of the highest paid women in Hollywood (on many of those Jack Benny programs, you hear jokes at Phil Harris’s expense about how much more money his wife earns), and when Betty Grable came along (whom Faye liked), she knew her days were numbered and got out before her star faded.  She once said, “Six pictures I made with Don Ameche and, in every one of them, my voice was deeper than the plot.”  (SIX with Ameche!  No wonder I haven’t seen more of her pictures!)

I often wonder what her career would have been like had she been signed at Metro instead of Fox.  She radiated too much intelligence and self-respect to be a sex bomb, but at Fox, Darryl F. Zanuck made sure that she was a sexually desirable presence.  At Metro, her sex appeal would have been ignored — certainly not enhanced — but she probably would have been in better pictures.  Metro’s studio head, Louis B. Mayer, was the only mogul (perhaps the only man in America) who never understood that sex sells.  All the studios were expected to obey the crazy rules of the Production Code set down by the Hays Office, and all of them complied — more or less.  But that didn’t stop Harry Cohn over at Columbia from making Rita Hayworth as sexually vibrant as the law would allow.  Warner Bros. tended to focus on gangster pictures and “important” Bette Davis woman’s pictures, but Ann Sheridan (the Oomph Girl) was under contract at Warner’s, and she, too, was an out-and-out sex bomb.  Paramount had Marlene Dietrich, who was all about sex — and not even “normal” sex; she was the personification of Old World sexual decadence.  And Darryl F. Zanuck at Fox saw to it that his female stars were sexy — Fox produced more sex kittens than any other studio (Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, etc.).  So Alice Faye, who was beautiful but not kittenish, was costumed and photographed to look as alluring as possible (though not, alas, in “The Gang’s All Here,” in which she’s costumed in one hideous ensemble after another:  in “No Love, No Nothin’,” she’s dressed like a milkmaid from a Ruritanian operetta).

Mayer was the only studio head who slavishly complied with the Production Code; he made it his business to see that no hint of sexual innuendo or naughtiness polluted the pictures from his studio.  (And that’s why so many Metro pictures look so dopey nowadays:  they’re exasperatingly asexual.)  Common wisdom says that Mayer knew if he didn’t willingly comply with the Code, the government would interfere in his affairs.  This theory has never made sense to me — all the other studios complied, but, knowing that sex sells, found ways to subvert the rules even as they obeyed them.  I sincerely doubt Mayer feared government intervention — he had closer connections with Washington power brokers than anyone else in Hollywood.  No, I think he was simply afraid of sex.  That’s why he didn’t trade in sexbombs.

Mayer’s female stars tended to be matrons and grande dames.  The only real bombshell at Metro in the 30s was Harlow — but her most of career as a bombshell was in the pre-Code years.  Garbo was certainly alluring and mysterious, but sexy?  Maybe in the silents, but after the talkies came in, even when she played Camille, she was more glamorous than sexual — and the whole business of how Camille earned enough dough to keep herself in stockings and fans was completely left out of the script.  For most of the 40’s, Metro had but one resident sexbomb:  Lana Turner, who wasn’t nearly as sexy as the studio press agents wanted audiences to believe.  Her reputation for sex appeal and her nickname “the Sweater Girl” (which she hated) came from a small part she played in a Warner Bros. picture, “They Won’t Forget” — before she signed with Metro.  At Metro, she was often cast against Clark Gable, and since he was the reigning male sex symbol, she became a sex goddess by default, even though by the early 40s, she was already beginning to put on weight and age badly.  (She was a party girl:  she went out every night, drank and smoked too much and never got enough sleep.)  Her career has always bewildered me:  she was the most incompetent major star in Hollywood.  She couldn’t act, she couldn’t dance, she couldn’t sing.  A triple threat.  Hell, she couldn’t even cross a room gracefully.  If Turner had been at Fox, Zanuck would have put her on a diet, made her exercise more and wear a tighter girdle.  So what sort of actresses did Mayer employ?  Katharine Hepburn (sexless and in her mid 30s), Greer Garson (sexless and effete), Myrna Loy (who began as a siren in the silents, but quickly became Wm. Powell’s favorite wife, whereupon sex went out of her career), Norma Shearer (Irving Thalberg’s lumpen, cross-eyed wife), Joan Crawford (who started as a flapper, but soon was typecast as truculent working girls), and a host of elderly British character actresses.  In the late 40s/early 50s, Mayer promoted Ann Miller as a sex symbol (mainly because he was infatuated with her and tried unsuccessfully to have an affair with her), but I don’t think anyone ever bought Miller as anything but a hoofer with alarmingly fast feet.  The only genuine sex bomb to work at Metro in the 40s was Ava Gardner, and she was wasted there.  She was undeniably sexy, but every time I see her in a Metro picture, I think of how Zanuck at Fox would have presented her.  He surely would have given her bigger parts and made her show more skin.  Elizabeth Taylor eventually became a sexbomb, but not until Mayer had been fired.

The Best Years of Our Lives

Post-war blues for a bunch of schnooks:
Banker, soda-jerk, & the one with hooks.
Harold Russell, Dana Andrews, Fredric March:  Down in the dumps in a B-24.

Harold Russell, Dana Andrews, Fredric March: Down in the dumps in a B-24.

I’m not crazy about “Best Years of Our Lives,” for a couple of good reasons and plenty of bad ones.  For starters, I can’t get past the name of that fictional town:  Boone City.  I like Teresa Wright and Myrna Loy; late in the picture, there’s a devastating performance by a character actor named Roman Bohnen.  As for the rest, it’s three hours of “We will now pause for the liberal message” with a special emphasis on the amazing variety of things that can be done with prosthetic hooks.  I know it’s meant to raise public awareness, but honest to Pete, it borders on the pornographic when William Wyler spends five minutes showing us how Harold Russell uses his crooked pincers to light a match.  I remember thinking, “Well, at least we don’t have to see him play ‘Chopsticks’ . . . Oh, wait!  We DO have to see him play ‘Chopsticks’ . . . !”  It is the only time I’ve disliked a scene that featured the redoubtable Hoagy Carmichael.  The picture was produced by Sam Goldwyn, who made several high quality pictures, but never a good looking one.  The interiors in nearly every picture he produced are of almost unimaginable hideousness.  “Dodsworth” (1936) had a number of attractive deco sets (Richard Day won the Oscar that year for his work), but that seems to be the exception that proves the rule.

From the very first frame of the credits, the Hugo Friedhofer score alone is enough to tell you you’re in for it.  Then the credits tell you the screenplay is by onetime Algonquin wit Robert E. Sherwood, who had been the US propaganda minister all through the war and had come to take himself  v e r y  seriously indeed.  He’s like a nagging, neglected wife in bathrobe and curlers waiting for you to tiptoe in at three in the morning.  Big Ideas are his rolling pin.  And then there’s that first scene, in which the camera lingers over Harold Russell’s hooks as he writes his name and lights his cigarette.  Willy Wyler is gonna force us to gaze upon those hooks long and hard before he’s done with us.  That shows how honest and serious he is.  Every time Harold Russell shows up, it’s like a bad vaudeville act played in reverse:  the hooks start the act, instead of stop it.  Robert Warshow, the great critic of popular culture in the 1940s and 50s, titled his review of the picture “The Anatomy of Falsehood,” which should give you some idea of his opinion of this self-congratulatory piece of shit, but there’s no mean-spiritedness in what he wrote; I don’t know how he did it.

Harold Russell, Hoagy Carmichael:  'Chopsticks' & steel hooks

Harold Russell, Hoagy Carmichael: ‘Chopsticks’ and steel hooks

Harold Russell is the only man to win two Oscars for a single performance.  Nobody expected him, a non-actor, to win the Best Supporting Actor award, so they gave him a special Oscar for being a good role model.  Then he made a monkey of bookmakers everywhere by winning the competitive award, too.  Clifton Webb, who was nominated that year for “The Razor’s Edge,” uncharacteristically, took the loss in his stride — not so his aged mother, a termagant known as Mabelle, with whom he lived until the day she died.  She delivered a harangue to a crowd of reporters, in which she denounced the Academy for snubbing her son AGAIN:  this time, he had the Oscar in the bag, “. . . and at the last moment, along comes the man with the HOOKS!”

(Two anecdotes about Webb and his mother.  He went into deep mourning when she finally kicked off at 91.  More than a year after she died, Webb called Noël Coward long distance and blubbered so much that Coward finally snapped, “Clifton!  If you don’t stop weeping, I shall reverse the charges!”  Another, somewhat crueller anecdote about Mrs Webb goes like this:  Bogart invited Webb to a party, and said, “But I’m warning you:  bring your fucking mother, and she cleans up her own vomit.”)