James Ellison

Vivacious Lady (1938)

After his cousin Keith (James Ellison) runs off to Manhattan, Peter Morgan, Jr. (James Stewart) is sent after him to bring him home again.  Peter finds Keith, all right, but he also finds Francey (Ginger Rogers), a night club singer.  It’s love at first sight for Francey and Peter and after knowing each other for one whole day, they get married before getting on a train with Keith to Old Sharon, Peter’s hometown.  Peter’s parents, Peter Morgan, Sr. (Charles Coburn) and Martha (Beulah Bondi), have no idea about Francey and they’re pretty conservative, so they wouldn’t be too wild about Peter having eloped with a nightclub singer.

When Peter’s parents meet them at the train station, they assume that Francey came with Keith.  Peter really wants to tell his parents, but every time his father starts going on about Francey, his mother feels weak from a heart condition.  So then he decides to tell his parents during the prom held at the university where Peter teaches and Peter, Sr. is president.  There’s one other person Peter needs to break the news to: his first fiancée Helen (Frances Mercer).  Francey poses as a new student and Keith’s date to get into the prom.  She even meets Martha and hits it off with her.  But just as Peter is ready to tell everyone the news, Francey and Helen get into a fistfight that ends with Francey accidentally punching Peter, Sr.

Francey moves into an apartment and continues posing as a student so she can see Peter during his classes.  Peter does eventually manage to break the news to his father by blurting it out right before Peter, Sr. has to make a speech.  As expected, Peter, Sr. is not happy and Martha’s heart problems suddenly flare up again.  Except Martha missed the part where Peter said he was married to Francey and Peter, Sr. orders Peter to not tell Martha so she won’t get upset.  By now, Francey is getting frustrated with the situation and starts considering going back to Manhattan.  But when Helen catches Peter sneaking out of Francey’s apartment one night, she decides to tell Martha that Peter and Francey are together.  Martha goes to Francey’s apartment to investigate further and Francey accidentally admits to being married to Peter.  But rather than be upset, she’s happy.  She likes Francey and we quickly find out she’s not as uptight as Peter, Sr.  When Peter, Sr. insists that Francey and Peter divorce, Martha decides she’s fed up with his controlling behavior and leaves him.  Francey also reluctantly decides to leave Peter.  Martha and Francey unintentionally get on the same train together, but while they’re headed out of town, Peter and his father are trying to chase the train down and get their wives back.

I loved Vivacious Lady!  It instantly became one of my favorite Ginger Rogers movies, she was hilarious in it.  This was a perfect vehicle to show off Ginger’s comedic skills and she had wonderful chemistry with Jimmy Stewart.  Actually, this had a fantastic cast all around.  Jimmy was excellent, Beulah Bondi’s scenes with Ginger were so much fun, James Ellison made a great playboy type, and of course, if you want a stuffy, rich, older guy with good comedic timing, you can’t go wrong with Charles Coburn.  A wonderful bit of purely cheerful entertainment!

I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

When Besty Connell (Frances Dee) agreed to take a nursing job in the Caribbean, little did she know she would soon find herself caring for the living dead.  When she finds out Paul Holland (Tom Conway), a sugar plantation owner in Saint Sebastian, needs a nurse for his wife Jessica, she is eager to trade Canada for the Caribbean and takes the job.  When she arrives, she lives on the plantation with Paul, his half-brother Wesley Rand (James Ellison), their mother Mrs. Rand (Edith Barrett), and Jessica.  During her first night at the plantation, Betsy hears some mysterious crying, and when she goes to investigate, she finds herself backed into a corner by a sleepwalking Jessica.  Not realizing who Jessica was, she screams and wakes up the whole house.  The next day, she talks to Jessica’s doctor who explains that Jessica suffered from a severe fever that caused permanent damage and there is no cure.

After spending some time in the Caribbean, Betsy begins to fall in love with Paul and becomes determined to get Jessica to walk again to make him happy.  After insulin shock treatments don’t work to bring Jessica back, Betsy decides to bring Jessica to see a local Voodoo priest.  When they arrive at the houmfort, Betsy is shocked to discover that the Voodoo priest is none other than Mrs. Rand!  Mrs. Rand (who is also a doctor) explains that she’s using Voodoo as a way to make typical medicine more accepted among the natives.  Meanwhile, the natives begin to suspect Jessica is a zombie.  After Betsy takes Jessica home again, the natives become quite insistent that Jessica be returned so they can determine whether or not she’s a zombie.  Tensions rise to the point that an official investigation into Jessica’s condition was started.  When Mrs. Rand finds out about this, she claims that Jessica really is a zombie after all.  She says that when she found out Jessica had fallen in love with Wesley and was planning to leave Paul, she put a curse on Jessica to turn her into a zombie.  Wesley suddenly becomes determined to get Jessica out of her perpetual zombie state any way he can.

What fascinates me about I Walked with a Zombie is that for a horror movie, there’s very little violence, blood, or even screaming involved.  The one really violent act takes place off-screen, you never actually see any blood, and there’s only one scream in the whole movie.  And even though it’s a movie about zombies, this zombie isn’t like anything you see in Night of the Living Dead.  But it still manages to be quite eerie.  Jacques Tourneur worked the scenery, cinematography, and the music for all their worth.  Even though I typically only watch this one around Halloween, I always kind of feel like I should be watching it in the summer because the atmosphere is created so well that I can almost feel the warm breeze when I watch it.  The character Carrefour also adds a lot of creepiness, especially when he shows up at the house to get Jessica.  I Walked with a Zombie truly is a testament to Val Lewton’s ability to turn out outstanding low-budget movies.  Nothing about this movie looks low-budget or like it was made in only a few weeks.  Overall, it’s a very solid horror film, very worthy of being a classic Halloween flick.  And best of all, it’s only 70 minutes long!  I always love a movie that manages to get so much wonderful stuff into such a short timeframe!  With such a short runtime, there’s no reason to not give it a chance.