ReelJewels Collective

Reviews from blossoming film historians in the making from all over the world.

The Jungle Princess (1936)

lamour1I’ve been looking forward to seeing The Jungle Princess with as much joy as I’ve been lazy about getting back to my reviews, apparently.  I really have.  I’ve been wanting to get back to the reviews, but I just didn’t do it.  As soon as I received The Jungle Princess in the mail though, it went straight into my laptop.

Dorothy Lamour was a genuinely fine human being.  You can see her child-like playfulness and honesty as an orphaned Malaysian native show right through The Jungle Princess and that’s what makes a story that is the women’s version of Tarzan watchable–well, Dottie with quite a dash of Ray Milland.

The other thing that plays in favor of the film is that in regular circumstances with the plot taken out of the jungle, it would have walked a very, very fine line with the censors.  Since the film was placed in a jungle setting, there appears to have been a magical rule that meant things could be a bit more wild without getting in the censor’s hair–my new dream is to see the drafts of the script for this film and the censor’s comments on each scene.  I can’t even imagine the cuts they might have made in other circumstances.  Especially given the fact that a white fellow fancied a native. In Tarzan, at least the jungle boy was free, white, and over twenty-one.  Surely the film wouldn’t have been made in any other setting. As it was, the risque-interracial material went as unnoticed as the film did to a great deal of reviewers at the time. There’s no doubt the film bolstered Lamour into instant stardom, but surprisingly made little splash outside of grandiose billing. The Tarzan films certainly set a precedent that was evident from everything from the staging to the publicity for the film, but the The Jungle Princess carried it just that much farther.

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The story is fairly simple.  Boy wants to complete a novel and tries to dissolve his writer’s block by finding inspiration in Malaysia jungle–a small jungle town that boasts a mysterious laughing tiger.  Boy gets attacked by tiger and finds the laughter really comes from a native girl who knows nothing of civilized ways.

Dorothy Lamour did several of these films, all with plots that deviated little, but this was the first and it was the first role she had where she had not only a substantial part, but also played the lead.  Lamour had been groomed by Paramount, but found the process too slow and decided to speed things up by getting her own agent.  She had a bit parts in Footlight Parade (1933) and College Holiday (1936), but other than that she had no screen time. It’s amazing that her personality alone would have been able to carry this film alone, but she really did have the talent to make it work. She was formerly a singer in Herbie Kay’s band. She was also married to Herbie Kay at the time, but that didn’t last very long.

The chemistry between Lamour and Milland is what really makes the film work though. In Lamour’s Autobiography, she said Milland taught her more about acting than anyone else she worked with. During the filming, there was an incident on set where he saved her life.

Dorothy Lamour’s 30-inch head of hair is getting her into trouble out at Malibu Lake, where she’s working in “Jungle Princess.”… One scene called for her to dive into the water, hair streaming behind her… in the first take her hair caught on a snag and might have drowned her had not Ray Milland dived in like a true hero and extricated her.

vlcsnap-2011-01-11-01h44m19s161They made two more ‘sarong’ films together, but the two that followed could never match the original. Milland was at the turn of his career as well. Unlike Lamour, Milland had been in many small parts in the early 30s in both British and American films. He finally got his break in We’re Not Dressing (1934) and was signed by Paramount. He had a memorable role in Big Broadcast of 1937 (1936), but for the most part he was well below second billing status. It’s interesting to note that even though Dorothy Lamour was a complete novice compared to Ray Milland by years, she had top billing in the film. It must have been clear to Paramount that Lamour would be an instant star.

The “Seattle Daily Times” said of Lamour:

Johnny Weissmueller must look to his laurels, he has a feminine rival, Dorothy Lamour, radio singer…she is now a screen star by virtue of her appearance in The Jungle Princess…and if her performance counts for anything she has the acting gifts to go with her physical charm and appealing singing voice.

Lamour’s home paper, the “Times-Picayune” of New Orleans noted:

It is to be hoped that Lamour isn’t detained too long in the jungle. She is pretty, has a good voice, and seems completely at ease in front of the camera, three qualifications for a better role than she has here. Those movie moguls know their business, and no doubt one of their main objectives in “The Jungle Princess” was to introduce Lamour to the public.

Paramount had a hit–a film that looked rather like an ‘A’ movie which was often shown as a ‘B’ movie. It may have been considered a B movie, but the only song Lamour sings, “Moonlight and Shadows” was number one on The Hit Parade. The film may or may not have been overlooked and it’s certainly rare today–not commercially available anywhere, but one of the most notable things about the film may not have been that it’s Lamour’s debut or that it helped propel Ray Milland’s career, but that it featured a couple of mixed race in an unlikely year to do so.

For Me and My Gal (1942)

I could almost single-handedly blame For Me and My Gal for getting me as obsessed, shall we say, with classic films as I am today. It started on a fall day in 1996. I couldn’t tell you the day, but I remember it so well. I was 14-years-old. I had already been raiding Blockbuster shelves in search for Judy Garland films as well as other musicals, so I was familiar with other Judy films, but on this particular night I think I just had For Me and My Gal. It only took the opening lines and the following Judy quip to catch my attention and hold it there for the whole film:

Jo: Who’s the want ad with the squirrel around his neck?
Jimmy: Single act, name of Palmer.
Jo: His act can’t be as funny as that coat.

I watched “For Me and My Gal” over and over again until morning. I had school the next day, but I didn’t care. I watched the “For Me and My Gal” number just about on repeat–if only DVD existed at the time, but we’re dealing with VHS. Along with “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” and “Ball in the Jack,” the tape got a lot of wear repeating the entire film again and again, but most certainly for certain numbers as well. It wasn’t abnormal for me to watch the same film back to back, but for whatever reason I was so emotionally drawn to this film at that specific moment in time more than any of the others I had seen to date (I suspect it might be the heightened sense of drama that is even attractive to the mildest of teenagers, such as I). I felt somehow connected to Jo Hayden and I really had nothing in common with her character other than a love of belting. I was taken on her roller coaster though and I empathized with her situation.

Jo Hayden (Judy Garland) plays a young vaudeville player who is in a troupe with Jimmy Metcalfe (George Murphy). They’re on the lowest rung of the vaudeville circuit and share the bill with hoofer Joe Palmer (Gene Kelly) who sees promise in a song that Jimmy had bought from the local music director and steals it right from under him. That song, “For Me and My Gal,” marks the beginning of the teaming of Palmer and Hayden. Throw in a brother who isn’t quite ready to be a doctor, World War I, and a champion draft dodger and you’ve got a complicated, compelling story.

Garland’s above title billing marked the first time she acknowledged as the top draw to a film. She played her part beautifully. One of her strongest moments in the film is when she sings “After You’ve Gone.” There’s a moment in the song where she breaks down just a little. Without missing a beat, you can see the recovery from that moment, see and feel exactly what she’s thinking, and that she culled the strength to go on–all within a few frames of film. Garland is completely underrated as an actress and there are several moments in this film where she is able to showcase how gifted an actress she was. Not only that, Judy was able to keep up with Gene Kelly in several dance routines astonishingly well, being the perfectionist Kelly was, that was something in itself.

This was Gene Kelly’s first motion picture. He always credited Judy to showing him the ropes in this film and was forever grateful to her. He met Judy while on Broadway in Pal Joey. Gene plays the part of arrogant showman with the best of them. As his character becomes more depraved while he tries to scratch his way to a Palace engagement, Kelly becomes less and less likable which is why audiences who screened the film believed that George Murphy should have gotten the girl. That was almost a requirement for a Murphy character in the late 30s, early 40s, though his character is so much more lovable. Instead of softening Kelly’s character, they gave him an extended scene that was supposed to be heroic and instead he comes off worse after lying to a commander—potentially he could have killed more people without specific training—essentially he gets lucky.

I am completely biased when it comes to George Murphy, so I am completely with audiences who believe he should have won the girl in the end. Love is blind, yes? Murphy turns in another charming performance as good friend with unrequited love. His character is always around at the right time. It’s a shame that he was also cut out as part of the trio in the last scene as well. It makes me bitter, actually. To share with you how it should be, here’s an original outtake of the finale.

 

 

See, it’s much lovelier. I say so. And it plays up the love triangle a little more and leaves you to guessing instead of knowing right away who she chooses.

At any rate, the dialog in this film is fairly fast-paced in a Stage Door sort of way. The cast is wonderful including Martha Eggerth, Ben Blue, and Richard Quine. Richard Quine is one of my favorites in these roles, I must confess this. I won’t speak more of this, because I’ve already given too much of the plot away.

I will say though, this film is not to be missed. It will frustrate you at times, you’ll be caught within melodies at others. The film runs through every color of emotion. I think my little 14-year-old self felt more alive when she watched this movie. There was something real about it even with all of it’s flourishes and I think Judy is the culprit for that. She is the heart and the center of the film. She takes us with her on the journey and does so unknowingly—over and over again on an old VCR at the command of a teenager.

Jo may have been relieved of her VHS tape (which I quickly gained a copy of), but she was then purchased and re-run on DVD, then brought to her computer desktop, but she’s still on demand. It’s amazing that we have these films at our fingertips and it’s a credit to those who restore and release classic films to realize their importance to history and younger generations such as mine who see them in a whole knew framework.

Oklahoma (1955)

I had Oklahoma on my original list of films to profile this summer, but it didn’t happen because I found out that I didn’t own the DVD. How this happened I do not know. I have now remedied this knowing full well that I will have to eventually buy a high definition copy. It’s just one of those films that should be as pristine as possible upon viewing.

Following the farmers and the cowboys of Oklahoma just prior to statehood, Oklahoma! weaves story, song, and dance into a mosaic of lightness against darkness and everything in between. The story centers around the niece of a on old maid who owns a farm. She finds herself caught in the middle of two men who battle for her affections–the cowboy she takes a shine to and the farm laborer who worships her from afar and whom she uses to exact her revenge on the callow cowboy who she deems more than little too sure of himself.

Oklahoma! hit Broadway like a tsunami. Hollywood clamored for the rights and when that failed, the bigger studios attempted to build musicals that could compete with it, but few could even come close. From the time the show opened on Broadway until the release of the film, 12 years had passed. Had the film been released much earlier, it would have competed with the original production which ran 2,212 performances and went on tour across the country and around the world.

Not only has Oklahoma! enjoyed continuous success since it’s original stage debut, but it has crossed generations and sprouts interest in upcoming generations and surely those to come. When I was little, my mom would sing, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” to me out of the blue and in doing so she helped plant the corn seed, so to speak, of my love of classic movies. It was one of my first memories of watching musicals to see Oklahoma! for the first time on television. Oklahoma! is definitely part of that well-known family of musicals including Rogers and Hammerstein productions like Carousel, The Sound of Music, and State Fair–as well as My Fair Lady and Oliver!, etc. It’s almost perfect, but there’s nothing sterile about it. Oklahoma has an edge that threatens to overtake the film, but never does–it has a balance that the Warner Bros. films of the 30s share with the added brilliance of Todd-AO color.

Rogers and Hammerstein had their hands in every aspect of production on the film and by the end Oklahoma! was the most expensive movie musical made to date. It was a huge risk to put an unknown in the lead role, but that’s what they did with Shirley Jones. Rogers and Hammerstein quickly helped Shirley build experience–from her first audition to a small chorus role in “South Pacific”–her rise was fast, but calculated. Shirley Jones under personal contract to Rogers and Hammerstein and as she says, she was the only person they ever held under personal contract. The producers auditioned hundreds of other girls for the role of Laurey Williams, but kept Jones in mind–she was just the age for the role, she looked the part, and most importantly she had natural talent that they saw could carry the motion picture version of their beloved production.

Gordon MacRae was familiar with Rogers and Hammerstein, he lobbied for the role of Curly and again with Billy Bigelow. I’m always struck every time by MacRae’s entrance with “Oh, What A Beautiful Morning” through the cornfields–almost as iconic as Julie Andrews’ entrance in The Sound of Music. It’s easy to dismiss Gordon MacRae when you see his films with Doris Day, still lovable, but often a little too purdy–that is, until you sit down and watch Oklahoma! or Carousel and get carried away into scenes beyond your control. That is–if you’re me. I can imagine that others are not easily swayed by MacRae’s charms much in the way that I’d rather leave than take Howard Keel.

The supporting actors are marvelous. It is no secret that I love Eddie Albert and to be quite honest, I didn’t realize until recently that the peddler man was Eddie Albert. Not sure how that made it past the radar, but there you are. Charlotte Greenwood is my hero. All she has to do is her high kicks and I’m in, but she plays Aunt Eller brilliantly. I know Rod Steiger was hesitant about certain scenes, in particular “Pore Jud is Daid,” but honestly he and Gordon MacRae appear to be having so much fun in that scene that it almost takes you out of it. I can’t help but smile prior to the first gun shot ringing out. He really is brilliant considering his background is hardly that of musical comedy. Gloria Grahame was an awkward choice for Ado Annie–I think even more awkward than Eddie Albert was as a Hungarian Peddler man, but it works. It truly does. It gives film a more earthy appeal and matches the slightly more sophisticated performance of Gene Nelson. At any rate, I’ve grown to accept her character–there’s more to that about me maturing than it is her performance. Oklahoma! also boasts James Whitmore, Jay C. Flippen as well as dancers Bambi Linn and James Mitchell. The ensemble of dancers was hand-picked by choreographer Agnes de Mille.

Rogers and Hammerstein stayed faithful to the original stage show with slight changes–all perfect for the film version, making the plot clip along just a little faster especially in the beginning, but the running time of the film is still 145 minutes. Surely if a studio had control of the production, a lot more cuts would have been made–specifically the ballet sequence. I admit to forwarding through said sequence. I’m terrible, however, when you do give it the time it is quite a beautiful piece of work, but it really adds little to the plot accept color and foreshadows a bit more than is necessary.

The songs are beautiful. The original cast album included Alfred Drake, Joan Roberts, Celeste Holm and Lee Dixon. Nelson Eddy also recorded an album in 1952. While Afred Drake had a wonderful voice, Joan Roberts hardly had the purity of Shirley Jones’ vocals. Nelson Eddy recorded a wonderful in album, too, but it hardly can compare to the fullness of the film soundtrack with well-rounded vocals of Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae–the loveliness of “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “Many A New Day,”–it’s wonderful. The music builds in all the right moments. Although it seems to verge on the side of saccharine, I never feel it ever gets there–it all melds together to create lightness against the more insidious climax of the film and lilts the plot softly down again to an all American type of camaraderie.

Oklahoma! is the all-American musical. Shortly after the publicity ended for the film and seas were calm again, Shirley was given the option to go on tour with one of Rogers and Hammerstein’s companies. She ended up doing “Oklahoma!” in Europe with future husband Jack Cassidy in MacRae’s role. The appeal of “Oklahoma!” Jones said, is in the promise of the west, in the cowboys and taming one’s own territory. Rogers and Hammerstein capitalized on this theme and made it real, they dissected a slice of Americana as simple as apple pie and made it rich and complex with layers that are just that–deceptively simple. Seems one can never get their fill of it.

The First Traveling Saleslady (1956)

four-daughters01028It’s been a long time–a very long time. The last time I saw The First Traveling Saleslady was probably in 1996. A few years have passed since then. And there’s probably a reason for that, in fact, there are a couple reasons for that.

The first being that this film isn’t shown a whole lot on television. I remember watching it for the first time on American Movie Classics, the formally brilliant channel which has probably been mentioned a time or two before. Not sure if Turner Classic Movies has played the film recently, they probably have, but AMC used to show films several times a month and though it led to fewer films being shown, it gave those a chance in a pre-DVR world to view the films. A search of TCM’s website reveals that it was shown in 2004 as part of a Clint Eastwood schedule. Perhaps I’ll start with Clint.

four-daughters01022Clint Eastwood started in bit parts in 1955, a year before this film was released. He was 26 years old, young, dashing, I suppose. He fit into the western mold, though there is little notion of the hard-edged figure that Clint would soon become. I’m quite sure that when I first saw The First Traveling Saleslady I wouldn’t have known it was him. I was new to classic movies, though I had seen Clint Eastwood films throughout my young years, just wouldn’t have happened. I did a double-take when he appeared in the film in my viewing last night. Bit of a shock to the system to see him as a young man.

Ginger Rogers plays the lead. She plays a young career woman who wants to show men that woman should have equality through selling corsets and barbed wire with every available man attempting to tie her down. By 1956 Ginger was in her 40s, she doesn’t quite fit the working girl roles she played in her 20s and 30s. I’ve commented on Ginger’s mock ‘youthful’ voice before and it makes an appearance here, too. It would be more irritating if not for the presence of Carol Channing, who trumps her in frightening vocal gymnastics.

four-daughters01019The First Traveling Saleslady marked Channing’s first feature role. She’s fresh, she’s different, but her character is written in such a way that leaves a performance that is mediocre and ordinary. Channing plays a Bob Hope type character who plays buddy and runs from her own shadow, but the griping and hollering doesn’t have the quality and sense of fun that Bob Hope characters have. Her talent isn’t exploited as it should have been.

In fact, there are many areas where this film falls short. It’s of little fault of the actors. RKO was falling apart. It went through a series of owners including Howard Hughs. When this film was made, it was run by it’s last owners, the General Tire and Rubber Company, who knew nothing about filmmaking and made no notable films from 1955-1957. Ginger Rogers said in My Story that the film was RKO’s last–that she started at the beginning of RKO and saw the end of it as well. Essentially that rings true, but she wasn’t quite exact. The film was not the last that RKO produced. That came a year later.

four-daughters01032Because it is Ginger’s last film at RKO, because it includes a young Carol Channing and Clint Eastwood, and a host of other recognizable faces, this film is grand to watch on a cloudy day when nothing is on. To own, perhaps not. It’s a shame it’s not given more air time though, because it was fun to catch on AMC all those years ago and it was exactly as I remembered it.

Four Daughters (1938)

four-daughters00742Like Random Harvest, Little Nellie Kelly, and a handful of others, Four Daughters is a film that I’ve found myself identifying strongly with. Surely, we all imagine ourselves or tie our lives into every film plot we meet, but some films allow us to come away with just a little more understanding of ourselves and force us to think a little more about who we want to be. Four Daughters is one of those films for me.

The film centers around the Lemp family–daughters of musician Adam Lemp (Claude Rains): Emma (Gale Page), Thea (Lola Lane), Kay (Rosemary Lane), and Ann (Priscilla Lane). Into their lives, comes charming Felix Dietz (Jeffrey Lynn) who turns the girls’ lives upside down when they all believe they’re in love with him. Problem for three of the Lemp girls is that Felix has a preference toward gate swingers. The lives of the girls are complicated even further when Felix hires a moody fellow, Mickey Borden (John Garfield), to help him with a composition he’s entering in a contest. The film’s mood turns on a single glance from Mickey to Felix and therein lies the beauty and depth that Four Daughters takes on.

four-daughters00715There’s something about seeing how real sisters interact that is hard to duplicate. Rosemary and Priscilla might not have gotten along in later years for whatever reason, but you can see the real affection between sisters in this film. Same can be said for Loretta Young with her sisters in The Story of Alexander Graham Bell. That something might just be life experience and relationships built throughout an entire lifetime and it probably is, but Gale Page fits right in the mold as well.

I’m not the only fan who truly adores the Lemp Sisters, Adam Lemp, Dietz, Aunt Etta and Mickey Borden, there are many out there who have come across this trilogy of films and have taken bits and pieces of it claiming them as our own. Most people love Ann Lemp best (I’ve got a handful of Anns in my posse), but I’ve claimed Kay Lemp with her love of chocolates, yen for being lazy, lack of ambition and love of song, as well as fondness for living in daydreams. Lola, Rosemary, and Priscilla actually had two more sisters: one who didn’t go into show business and another, Leota, who had success on Broadway, but after Gale Page stepped into the role of Emma for the film and was often referred to as “the other Lane Sister.” These characters are so rich that we all can find a piece of ourselves swinging on the doors of a white picket fence.

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Gate swinging and white picket fences—the proverbial American dream was rarely dissected on film though Warner Brothers had a history of making the most of the effort to question the norm, to question good and evil and to draw a nice grey area. It’s quite apt that James Garfield made his debut in a Warner Brothers film. The world had never seen anyone like Garfield on film. He was smoldering, he was a rebel (often described as the pre-cursor to James Dean), he stole scenes—he was dangerous intellectually and emotionally. His characters questioned everything that was status quo and then turned all of his observations on their heads once he mingled with the rainbow’s end or some semblance of happiness. Garfield’s fanbase is why Warner Brothers placed his pan on the cover of the DVD and all subsequent contemporary advertising for the sequel (Four Wives) and similar spin-off (Daughters Courageous) released the same year. [The former is an interesting use of a character who shall we say—disappears? More on that later. Surely audiences were ready for a fellow like Garfield to come along and take all clichés for a spin.

four-daughters00532Priscilla Lane is engaging and youthful as Ann. It’s hard to imagine anyone who didn’t find her infectious—certainly not I. Matched with John Garfield, she’s immense. She could take on scenes with him without losing her presence and challenge his crazy ideas with equally philosophical quips. It’s Priscilla that carries the film and subsequent films. Ann’s relationship with Felix Dietz and the drama that unfolds is beautifully done at every turn. The characters are introduced in such subtle ways and yet you really feel like you have a handle on every one of them regardless of Mickey Borden’s observations. For instance, Felix dictating how one should swing on a gate immediately gives you a solid picture of his leading trait, the ability to jump into situations and micromanage them in the most delightful and charming way. The script was beautifully adapted and altered from an odd short story written by Fannie Hurst.

four-daughters00203Claude Rains is lovable in this film. Prior to Four Daughters, I had identified Claude with darker roles. It’s a lovely change to see him as the incorrigible Beethoven-loving family man who loves all of his daughters. Along with him, his sister Etta (May Robson) is charming and perfect in her role as well.

Fashion is another element in this film that I love. There are few clothes on the girls that I don’t love except maybe one thing that Rosemary wears. It’s all lovely. I’ve been looking for ages for a wrap like the lace one Priscilla wears during the birthday party. It’s lovely. I will find something some day, but for anyone that knows me well, the idea of me actually considering fashion is generally laughable, but after watching Four Daughters and Four Wives, I find myself envying clothes.

The screen captures included in this review are from the Warner Brothers Archive edition of Four Daughters. I’m so glad that Warner Brothers released the film on DVD. Don’t get me wrong, but it really could use some restoration and because it’s Garfield’s screen debut. I would have rather seen a box set of Four Daughters, Daughters Courageous, Four Wives, four-daughters00323and Four Mothers just given how many of my own friends love the series. It’s unfortunate that more time and attention wasn’t given to this film and the films to follow. There’s about a whole reel where there’s a line midway through the left portion of the screen and that’s more than a bit irritating.

Though my favorite film in the series is Four Wives, I adore Four Daughters just about as much. The film starts off seemingly ordinary, but suddenly packs an emotional punch. It’s rare when a script is tight and deep enough to send you through every major emotion without becoming too convoluted or taking itself too seriously, but Four Daughters does so and how.

The Story of Alexander Graham Bell (1939)

alexandergraham00048Been a while since I’ve seen The Story of Alexander Graham Bell and I’ve always loved it, so when I saw it was going to be on Fox Movie Channel again, I couldn’t help but record a fresh copy on my DVR. It occurred to me only a few minutes into the film that I incorrectly named my iPhone and decided after nearly a year that it should be named Ameche. [Really, I’m not obsessed at all.] The film opens with a fellow who walked ten miles to give a lady a message. She says he shouldn’t have walked all the way over and he assures it was no problem as it was only a two hour walk. Only a two hour walk–hits home now, especially as we don’t even need to walk over to a telephone wire to receive a call. In 1939, the telephone was well-used but still fairly new–really didn’t catch on in the United States until the 1920s. After this film’s release, Ameche became a household name for telephone. Now his name is but a memory when attached to the telephone except to the faithful few fans who love this film.

alexandergraham00125Alexander Graham Bell (Don Ameche) is in the process of inventing a more efficient telegraph. He has trouble getting backing and decides to go to dinner at the home of a man who has the means and the leverage to potentially back his project if Graham worked with his daughter (Loretta Young) who lost her hearing when she was only a little girl with Scarlet Fever. Ameche plays Bell as an absent-minded professor–always living in his mind with his leading trait running his hand through his hair when he gets into a spot. When he tries to convey ideas, Alexander speaks with so much enthusiasm that you would think that Ameche would become lost in the lines the way they trip eloquently off the tongue. The following dialogue is from testimony given by Bell to protect his patent:

“…shall the lonely scientist, the man who dreams, and out of his dreams benefits the world, is he, that often half-starved, lonely little man, to be told the world has no need of him the moment his work is done? Is he to be told that others, less gifted, but stronger, men with money and power behind them, are waiting to take the product of his genius and turn it to their own uses–leaving him with liar and thief branded on his brow as his only reward? Do that, and you stop the clock of progress. You smother the spark of genius that lies hidden here and there throughout the world. Do that, and the world stands still.”

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Bell’s plea really brings the plot around to a lovely end. It’s lovely, progressive, and idealistic. In fact, through Alexander Graham Bell, the film itself mocks points of view outside of science a bit. Hollywood also gave Don Ameche back his baby-face, when he left his trademark mustache behind. History and Hollywood took many liberties with the film. It’s a little ironic in the historical time frame that someone who was half Italian played a Alexander Graham Bell, a Scotchman.

There has been much debate well over the past 100 years about who really invented the telephone. The United States government acknowledged Italy’s Antonio Meucci’s early work on the telephone in 2002 after a long battle by Italy for recognition. That didn’t end the debate by historians though. Like Bell in the film, Meucci didn’t have any tangible evidence of his invention, so the battle rages on. Hollywood played around a bit with events, though it follows Bell’s life a bit closer than many biographical pictures did at the time.

Darryl F. Zanuck, as head of Fox, was quite interested in these biopics. Within three years, they made many films based on inventors, politicians and entertainers including: In Old Chicago (1937, the O’Leary family in Chicago), Lillian Russell (1940), Swanee River (Don Ameche also starred in this film, also released in 1939 as Stephen Foster), Young Mr. Lincoln (1939, Henry Fonda), and Jesse James (1939, Henry Fonda). That’s only the beginning. Could rattle off Tyrone Power films and others made by Fox at the same time.

alexandergraham00068Loretta Young’s three sisters who were actresses appeared in this film as Loretta’s sisters. It was the first and only time this happened for Loretta.  She is beautiful in this film, just radiant and enchanting–very sympathetic character, indeed. She could have played the role for sympathy though the dialogue clearly dismisses any urge to feel pity for her character. She provides ‘Alec’ the friendly ear to bounce ideas off of and inspiration when he’s ready to give up. (Incidentally, Young rivals Alice Faye for the most film appearances with Don Ameche, she was just one short of Faye–unless you count Clive of India where Don Ameche had a bit part–still haven’t spotted him). The film also sports a great supporting cast that includes Henry Fonda (just coming into recognition), Spring Byington, Charles Coburn, Gene Lockhart, and the lovely Henry Davenport who must have played a judge in at least 10 films. Spring’s character is not so easily flustered in this film, which is a nice change of pace for one of her roles. Gene Lockhart has beautifully acted scenes with child star Bobs Watson. Henry Fonda is charming with the gift of timing and wit you generally don’t see in his roles. Over all, the film is magnificently, if not masterfully done. Though it had no recognition by Oscar, it might have had it been released in another year, perhaps the film would have garnered more awards. Oakland Times reviewer H. M. Levy said this of Alexander:

On occasion, the motion picture becomes a radiant and perfect thing, fulfilling its emotional and intellectual mission with a completeness that defies the cynic’s sneer and the fool’s ridicule. Such a play is “The Story of Alexander Graham Bell,” which started what should become a long and useful career at the Paramount yesterday—one destined to reach the dizzy heights, perhaps, of 1939’s “big” films. The excellence of this biography lies in the careful fusing of incident and characterization; of inspired acting and masterful direction; of gentility and conflict; of realism and the stuff of dreams. Each element would have made an acceptable drama; all of them together form a monumental and beautiful work. H. M. Levy, Oakland Tribune, April 7, 1939

alexandergraham00038A stunning contemporary tribute to the film, Levy speaks to the importance the film may have had in another year. Don Ameche had been panned a bit for earlier roles as invoked again by Levy who says Don Ameche gave a “surprising” performance. He called Loretta Young’s performance “delightfully different.” All of the performances were wonderful, however, and it all gels together with just the right dose of emotional charge.

Well, must charge up my wireless Ameche and perhaps watch The Story of Alexander Graham Bell once again in honor of the iPhone re-christening.

Once Upon a Honeymoon (1942)

onceupon00100Once Upon a Honeymoon is a wonderful comedy about the Nazi deluge of Europe. Sounds hideous, right? Not so much. Not when you add Ginger Rogers and Cary Grant to the mix. Not when you have witty dialogue and sensitivity to the subject matter. This is a comedy, make no bones about it and the dialogue is highly quotable. In fact, I got carried away on the filmography page for the film.

Baroness Katherine Von Luber (Ginger Rogers) meets newspaper reporter Patrick O’Toole (Cary Grant) while he is under the guise of being a tailor. O’Toole believes his way into what goes on with the Nazis is through the Baroness and her husband, Baron Von Luber (Walter Slezak). O’Toole follows the Honeymooners while each country visited seems to fall. At the same time, he tries to convince Katherine Von Luber that the Baron isn’t the man she thinks he is.

Though there were several films in the 1940s such as The Great Dictator (1940) which included plot lines involved with the Nazi party, this film is unique in both being a comedy and taking the locales and the tension into the mix with the sensitivity it should be dealt with–a task one can really only do by walking a fine line with upmost care. To Be or Not To Be (1942) took a view of the Nazi party that made them look highly incapable of doing anything. Once Upon a Honeymoon, which also premiered in late 1942, gives us a better look into the successes of human element of both side and the unfortunate success of the Nazi party up until that point in time.

onceupon00319The film also gives us a look at concentration camps and tugs on our heartstrings as we follow the story of Katherine Von Luber’s Jewish maid and her children. This is really the first humanistic look that I can recall of the inner workings of the Nazi party–and one of the few Americans got during the war, especially the scene where Katherine talks to the Young Nazi who says he is to be married after the war only to find out he had been gunned down only hours later. At least for a space of a moment, you see this fellow as a human being rather than ‘the other.’ Mrs. Miniver is probably the best known film for stirring pro-war favor and giving the allies a human face, but there’s an edge and a dehumanizing element given to the Nazi that needs help you don’t find in Once Upon a Honeymoon. Baron Von Luber, even as Nazi number 5, is given frailties, onceupon00467which is more than a bit shocking considering the scope of the Nazi party and the damage they did in the extermination of millions and the structural damage to large cities and small villages that in some places in Europe still haven’t been repaired.

Ginger Rogers was at her prime when this film was released. Every review I’ve found in this era suggested Ginger should have received an Academy Award nomination had she not received one for Kitty Foyle. The following comes from the Fresno Bee, “As for Miss Rogers’ own performance, many a Hollywood previewer came out of the projection room calling it the best of her career.” Though Ginger had to play her character as naive in the beginning of the film, it didn’t come off as goofy as some of her other characters which grate on my nerves just a little, little bit (Tom, Dick and Harry for once). There was a lovely character arc as her character learns more about what goes on.

onceupon00288Cary Grant, despite what the reviewer from the Fresno Bee said, was lovely in the film. He’s the charming Cary we all come to know and love, with the wit and dead pan that can keep ’em rolling in the isles. He takes on the role of ‘der fitter’ in order to get a news story out of Katherine. Instead of bringing a soft measuring tape, he brings a plastic one and much fun ensues out of the scene. The chemistry between Grant and Rogers is pretty lovely, too.

And then we have Walter Slezak, who has the difficult task of playing the Nazi whose honeymoon we follow. Somehow, I don’t know if it’s Walter himself or his role in the film, the man comes off as charming in his own right. He’s someone you love to hate.

This film has been overlooked and under-appreciated by film historians simply as a glimpse of how Hollywood viewed the war and the inner-workings of the Nazi party. Sometimes it’s easier to look at the fluff on the surface. At the time, there was more than a bit of controversy over the concentration camp scene. I think it’s just more important that it was mentioned and that there is a strain of the despair therein.

Having Wonderful Time (1938)

havingwonderfultime00048Big Bear Lake as the stand-in for the Adirondacks has never been so much fun as it is in Having Wonderful Time.

Teddy Shaw (Ginger Rogers) only gets two weeks vacation every year. Her friend Kitty suggests she go to camp Kare-Free, which is advertised as a luscious retreat with luxurious private cabanas and loads of fresh air and lovely scenery. When Teddy arrives, after we see her fighting through loads of family all bunched up in a small New York flat, she finds herself surrounded by people and escorted by a frustrated waiter (Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.) to a small cabin with three other girls (Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and Peggy Conklin). Teddy wants to go home, but a talk in the light of a full moon convinces her to stay around.

Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. said in his autobiography, The Salad Days, that originally when they filmed the movie Fairbanks and Rogers did Brooklyn-Bronx accents. When they screened the film in the midwest nobody could understand them, so they had to redub the entire film much to the chagrin of the executives. This was Fairbanks’ third film of four released in 1938. The others were Joy of Living, The Rage of Paris, and The Young in Heart. The years just before the war had promise of a great career ahead of him, which he just didn’t quite achieve after the war.

havingwonderfultime00071When Having Wonderful Time was released, Holiday and The Joy of Living were playing as well–both films also look at whether wealth is important and whether or not society should intrude on living life with substance and quality rather than by the dictates of class or family. The film was panned by critics. The review from the Oakland Tribune said that the B picture was far superior and despite the acting skills of Rogers and Fairbanks, the plot was so inferior to the original play that not even the best actors could dredge it from the depths.

Being completely unfamiliar with the play, I think the only thing wrong with the film is that it actually comes off a little heavy-handed at times. Would have been a little more fun intellectually if Teddy and Chick delved a little farther into why society has forced them into this little corner of the earth in the Catskills to forge for fresh air and a good time without bringing the moon so far into the equation. Then again, we might not have gotten Ginger Rogers’ backgammon insanity and that is necessary, because it makes me happy. Although, it always drives me a little batty when a Ginger Rogers character acts naive. Ginger is great playing that character, but because she’s so quick with the quips and so able to deliver great turns of phrase I always expect more from her characters than they deliver in certain films.

havingwonderfultime00046One possible cause of the film’s holes may be Red Skelton. He made his debut in this film, though the powers that be didn’t particularly care for his antics and left a lot of his screen time on the cutting room floor. This could be why the film is a little on the short side at 70 minutes and why some substance is lost. Perhaps if his character were a little more fleshed out and involved with the rest of the cast in some fashion, he would be less of a novelty and more of a fixture for the film.  That’s a lot to ask of a script that doesn’t quite meet it’s predecessor, but it may explain the gaps better than I’m able to articulate.

Although, I must say, the title of this film is always altered out of telegram form and I’ve fought hard throughout this review not to add the ‘a’.  Perhaps it was obvious at the time, but there’s no reference to the title in the movie. Might have helped if she sent a telegram with “Having Wonderful Time” to her ex-boyfriend in New York, at least that would give a reason for why he just seems to show up out of the blue.

havingwonderfultime00079Overall, the film works, but it doesn’t quite gel together as it may have been intended to. And I can’t help but be pleased to see Ginger and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. together. Fairbanks does well at portraying characters who are analytical and self-aware, simply because he was both fairly insecure and self-aware himself. Ginger is excellent at just about anything. The film is a pleasure to watch, eccentricities and all.

The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947)

shocking00042The suffrage movement is rarely documented on film. I can only think of a handful of films where the movement makes a dominant appearance and The Shocking Miss Pilgrim is one of them. A theme close to my heart, with the proper viewpoint, The Shocking Miss Pilgrim has always been a favorite of mine.

Miss Pilgrim (Betty Grable) appears to Bostonians to lack all propriety. You see, Miss Pilgrim is from New York. She just graduated top of her class from Packard Business College which started a program to get typewriters–male and female–trained so that a typewriter company could actually makes some sales. Miss Pilgrim finds herself on a train to Boston after she draws Prichard Shipping Company in Boston. When she arrives, she is odds with Mr. Prichard (Dick Haymes) and just about fifty percent of Boston as well. Miss Pilgrim finds lodging with a group of outcasts who aid her with confidence in changing the minds of prim and proper Bostonians, including Mr. Prichard.

shocking00140Betty Grable shows very little skin as Mrs. Pilgrim which is why critics say it tanked in box office. It’s unfortunate, because it’s a lovely little film and Betty gets to be a bit more subdued in it and that, frankly, makes me happy. She does some lovely numbers like “Changing My Tune,” “For You, For Me, Forevermore,” “Waltz Me No Waltzes Sitting Down,” and “Aren’t You Kind of Glad We Did?” No big dance numbers, unless you count a couple twirls around her bedroom during “Changing My Tune” and it’s reprise. Just a lovely battle for knife against scissors–a strong argument and solution for women’s rights.

Now, I must admit a little bias. All my feminist views are dashed when it comes to Dick Haymes. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. Like Nelson Eddy and Bing Crosby, he could sing the phonebook and it would make me deliriously happy. This is by far my favorite film of his. Mr. Prichard’s life is controlled by women–his aunt who owns shocking00328an interest in his company, his deep affection that he clearly has for his mother in a relationship that appears to be on an even keel, now he has the first woman typewriter in Boston on his hands–he clearly has affection and respect for women and yet he refuses to bend on women’s rights. While defending male dominance, he shares the screen beautifully with Betty Grable singing duets of every song mentioned above except “Changing My Tune.” Oh, he has beautiful solo parts of the songs, too, but he does share his screen time nicely.

I just took a glance at the filmography of Elisabeth Risdon who played Mr. Prichard’s mother. She has 149 credits on IMDb and yet her biography is only a line long stating that she was a silent star in the UK and made many films during the 30s and 40s in the US. While watching the film again, I thought to myself that I hadn’t recognized her from other films. I’m sad that I never recognized her before. She’s been in many films I have seen, but many more that I haven’t, however, looking back at a couple films–specifically shocking00388Random Harvest and Theodora Goes Wild, I wouldn’t have recognized her for the life of me. She makes very short screen appearances in these two films, but in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim she has an ever so slightly longer, more memorable role. She’s so elegant, too–her character is sensitive and just plain lovely.

Anne Revere is wonderful as Aunt Alice, too. Aunt Alice, the woman who has a tendency to get things done and does so with a whole lot of repetition. It’s charming. This may have been the first film I noticed Anne in come to think of it, but my favorite film of hers by far is her role as Mrs. Brown in National Velvet for which she won an Oscar–such strong women she played.

The supporting eccentrics are genuinely a pleasure to watch. We have Allyn Joslyn as a poet (also in Heaven Can Wait). Arthur Shields plays Michael, a painter who only wants to paint in bright colors. Lillian Bronson is Viola Simmons, a woman who shocking00362wants to completely re-write the dictionary using common words in new ways–“Balloon is used for full, because the double ‘O’ gives it a fuller sound.” It’s grand. Charles Kemper plays a fellow who wants to change the way people read music–music by color. Last but not least, we have the den mother of the establishment, Catharine Dennison, play by Elizabeth Patterson, who was in many, many films, but is probably best known for being on “I Love Lucy.”

This film has many strong points–the plot, the songs are lovely (they were also recorded on Decca’s label by Dick Haymes and Judy Garland), oh–everything is very happy-making. The only thing that’s troubling is that it couldn’t pull in higher numbers at the box office.

Summer Stock (1950)

dorojaneIt’s somehow both twisted and touching that Judy Garland’s last film for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer is set on a farm. Garland’s first feature film appearance was for Fox and she debuted as Sairy Dodd, catching watermelons heaved like footballs from her backwards brother on the family farm. Then, of course, there is Garland’s iconic role as Dorothy. Never noticed it until just now, but the outfit Jane wears in the beginning of the film is oddly reminiscent of Dorothy Gale’s gingham dress–a 50s update, perhaps? Intentional or not (and I would wager not), it’s one of many elements of Summer Stock that can be way over-analyzed. For instance, Jane pulling off a page of her calendar to June 22, the date of Garland’s untimely death. Never ceases to be a bit spooky to see that scene.

Summer Stock centers on Jane Falbury (Judy Garland) trying to keep her family farm after losing workers that had been with the family for years. She gets a tractor on loan from her fiancee’s father to try to do the work herself. This seems perfect for Jane, vowing to pay down the tractor so she brings no debts to the marriage. Unfortunately, Jane’s plans go awry when her little sister (Gloria DeHaven) promises a troop of summerstock120actors that they can rehearse on the farm. Jane lets them stay if they can help with the farm work, but one of the actors (Phil Silvers) spins out of control while using the tractor. Everything seems at a loss.

This is the last of the dubbed ‘barnyard musicals’ that Garland appeared in. Mickey Rooney was no longer a fraction of the box office draw he once was. Gene Kelly was then called in for the role much to his chagrin. Gene always said he did the film for Judy in thanks for what she had taught him during the filming of For Me and My Gal. He appreciated Judy’s talent and you can see in the dance numbers he really played to her strengths. She really seems comfortable in her dance routines with him. They really didn’t dance together in their second film, The Pirate, but they did have a couple short dance numbers as well as two charming knock-out routines in For Me and My Gal. Summer Stock, because of the simple way it was scripted, gave them both the opportunity to revisit the basics.

summerstock058Despite the low expectations for the film and the flimsy script, Kelly and Garland did salvage a lot of lovely moments in the film to make it pleasant to watch. Gene Kelly took on the philosophy of his character,

“Look, the way I see it, the farm needs a tractor–me, I don’t need a station wagon. It got us up here, that’s all that matters. When the show’s a hit, I’ll buy two to take us home in.”

The script provided a station wagon. It was a means to an end. Kelly could help Judy Garland and make opportunities for himself to do numbers that brought the simple story line a bit more substance. Not only was Kelly in a position to humble himself to the task, his character was humble, too. Kelly’s Joe Ross may have been his most humble screen persona.

As Jane Falbury, Judy Garland does a lot of yelling, a lot of hoofing, and a lot of pondering under the harvest moon. She has five dance numbers, quite a lot for a Judy Garland film. She sings six numbers as well. The highlights though are when she dances “The Portland Fancy” along with Gene Kelly, plays the love interest summerstock208and does a bit of a soft shoe in “You Wonderful You,” sings a ballad seeking a “Friendly Star,” and last but not least there is “Get Happy” which feels out of place for many reasons, but couldn’t possibly be replaced in the film or omitted. It wouldn’t be Summer Stock without it.

Gloria DeHaven is deliciously annoying as Jane’s little sister. One feels the need to slap her. I’ve never figured out why her hair had to be dyed. Were they trying to make her less appealing to give Judy a little more gloss in comparison? It’s hard to say. DeHaven sings “Mem’ry Island” and sadly doesn’t appear in any more numbers. Her character has the job of leaving Joe’s show and apparently that was enough to satisfy director Chuck Walters or the powers that be.

Marjorie Main makes her third and final screen appearance with Garland–the other two films were Meet Me in St. Louis and The Harvey Girls. She’s so much fun in this film. She’s a little more like Ma Kettle in this one than the two previous films with Garland. Main said she loved working with Judy and it shows in the chemistry between the two of them.

With a grand supporting cast, Garland and Kelly make the best of a dull premise. Summer Stock is one of those films that grows on you.  You may not like it the first time, second time–fifth time, but eventually it sneaks up on you and becomes lovely and familiar like an old friend.

Heaven Can Wait (1943)

heavencanwait00007What if you could choose whether or not you belong in heaven or hell and had to interview either above or below for the opportunity of the lodgings? A New York playboy who loves chorus girls as much as he does avoiding work chooses hell without reservations for a string of life long misdemeanors–literally, which gives him the opportunity to share his life story with the figure he  politely calls His Excellency.

Heaven Can Wait boasts ‘The Lubitsch Touch,” making the playful roaming eye of Henry Van Cleve seem absolutely reasonable for his character and the understandable nature of the devil himself quite logical in the world he spun. The film is a feast for the viewer in technicolor, gorgeous sets, and period settings. Everything feels realistic, but at the same time with the narration of Henry Van Cleve you’re transported to another place and time. A place that’s a little simpler, a little more sincere, and often more colorful than our everyday mundane world.

heavencanwait00163Don Ameche plays the man who is sure of his place, Henry Van Cleve. This is by far one of Don Ameche’s most endearing film roles. Through his narration, the film takes us through his life from infancy to death allowing us to see the relationships he had with the women in his life as well as that of his grandfather and son. Like His Excellency, Henry Van Cleve doesn’t seem to have many redeeming qualities except for his charm, but he’s lovable because of the things he does and the high regard he has for people even if he doesn’t always do the right thing.

Henry’s personality is contrasted with that of his cousin Albert (Allyn Joslyn). Cousin Albert can do nothing wrong. He plays by the book, finds and becomes engaged to the girl of Henry’s dreams, and is a genuine stuffed-shirt tattle tale. It drives home the issue of how one should live their life–conform as Albert was perfectly comfortable with doing often at the expense of others or make the most life trying to keep those who love you happy. And by bringing Strable family into the Van Cleve family, Heaven Can Wait delves into how one makes their fortune. Martha Strable (Gene Tierney) is considered a good match for Albert by his parents because she comes from a well-made respectable family. His grandfather

heavencanwait00085(Charles Coburn), on the other hand, can’t help but pick on the Kansas-based in-laws. Henry changes everything when he falls in love with Martha Strable caring little about where her family came from. The contrast makes for many amusing scenes in the film with Grandfather Van Cleve always choosing to help Henry over Albert.

Laird Cregar does a brilliant job as the devilish lord of the underworld. He’s lovable. He truly is. And that smile and the flash of his eyes seal the deal. He is a devil. It’s extremely unfortunate that his career was cut short by his untimely death, because he really could have mastered many more character roles.

And of course there is Gene Tierney, the lovely Martha (Strable) Van Cleve, the girl Henry takes away from his cousin.  Tierney is particularly strong in her portrayal of the later years of their marriage. She plays a lovely, wistful mature old woman for her 22 years of life. Her film career picked up fairly quickly, starting in 1940 when she was fresh off Broadway.

heavencanwait00135Other stand out performances came from Spring Byington as Henry’s mother and Mr. and Mrs. Strable played by Eugene Pallette and Marjorie Main. Spring nearly steals every scene, but it’s Main and Pallette who quickly gain validity to their characters over a long dining table, a bit of silent treatment, and curiosity about how the hero of a comic manages to get out of a barrel. It’s brilliantly done. You see within a few seconds exactly how the relationship works–and not only do you see the dysfunction, you see the dysfunction as advertised by Martha. It says so much about how wealth may buy an extraordinarily long dinner table and a butler, but it won’t buy you peace of mind.

A classic, an essential, Heaven Can Wait is a grand film with lovable characters, beautiful backdrops, and a lot of heart. A must watch for any film fan.

Stage Door (1937)

stagedoor00226The calla lilies are in bloom again–such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day and now I place them here in memory of something that has died.

Perhaps Katharine Hepburn’s most famous lines, taken from a failed play in which she played the lead in 1933. Stage Door follows aspiring actresses into the world of grease paint and heartache. One actress tries to find success through important connections (Gail Patrick), another wants to go about it through hard work and persistence even though she begins to fall short (Ginger Rogers), still another had success and her star has already fallen after one great run (Andrea Leads). We are to follow one aspiring actress specifically, one who has never worked in the theatre, who seems to have the world as her oyster and who has the confidence to pull strings, but is short on talent and the heartbreak to allow her to give a mature performance (Katharine Hepburn).

Hepburn delivers the calla lilies lines with so much heart and sensitivity it really feels like she broke out of the Hepburn mold and has become Terry Randall channeling the character of Kay Hamilton. On occasion, especially in her earlier films, Katharine Hepburn was melodramatic and disconnected from her roles a bit. This was Hepburn’s only bright spot of the mid-thirties as far as the critics were concerned prior to 1940 with The Philadelphia Story. Most of her successful films had a balance of lightness in large doses to the melodrama. It’s clear from Stage Door that she could carry a film if she didn’t take herself too seriously.

stagedoor00059Hepburn is not the center of Stage Door, however. The ensemble cast includes a 14 -year-old-who-forged-her-age-as-17- year-old Ann Miller, the on-top-of-her-game Lucille Ball, the always amusing Eve Arden, Adolph Menjou as the producer who sets everything a-flurry, a very young Jack Carson who was just getting his start in films in minor roles (he had 14 film credits in 1937–most uncredited), Gail Patrick who I always think of in her role in My Favorite Wife, Andrea Leeds who is wonderful in the role of Kay, and finally the one and only one that shares the title billing with Katharine Hepburn–Miss Ginger Rogers.

Ginger Rogers was every ounce more the star than everyone else in the film and yet she doesn’t take it as her own. She delivers wise-cracks like no other. It was not exactly the first film where she played the wise-cracking dame looking for success, but Stage Door did showcase her talents as a comedienne and led to more screwball comedy roles like Carefree. It’s also a little bit meatier than the roles she played against Fred Astaire–more of an emotional range for her to play and she does seem to go through the gambit of emotions. She’s at her best in locked battles of wits, but her performance clearly delivers the level of sophistication for the top billing.

stagedoor00255Incidentally, quite a bit of the dialogue that takes place between the tenets of the Footlights Club was ad-libbed. It was a brilliant choice to make, because it adds more depth to the film than canned dialogue would. You really feel like you’re in the midst of what goes on outside of the theater and rehearsal halls. It gels the relationships between the girls and heightens emotions in the scenes to come.

As one of the girls, Eve Arden adds to the color of the film by engaging in snuggles with the love of her life–a cat she lovingly calls Henry. She dangles Henry around her neck as if he were sable. It’s beautiful. Though Arden’s role is limited, all she has to do is be present in a scene to make it amusing–the beauty of her delivery being the monotone delivery of her lines. Stage Door marked her fourth screen appearance. She appeared in Song of Love when she was just sixteen years old. Arden a long break from film until appearing uncredited in Dancing Lady. She had a plummier role in Oh Doctor, which was the fuel which led her to be cast in Stage Door.

This film also tackles social issues like wealth and security. Katharine Hepburn’s character ‘comes from the so-called upper class and Ginger’s the lower.’ Much like The Philadelphia Story and Holiday there’s this moral struggle in the female lead over whether or not you should do what you want to in life rather doing what society dictates is your place. The beautiful thing is that the character has a choice, the problem is that in each of these films the dominant male figure tries to sabotage and take control of what form this choice comes in.

stagedoor00088There’s an even darker element involved with Kay Hamilton–the star of last year who is unable to get another lead role. I won’t give things away, but her role is the emotional hinge that the film turns on, it’s the heart of the film and Andrea Leads lends great depth to the character’s inner turmoil, aided by the music and periodic voices. She delivered the Calla Lilies to Katharine Hepburn’s Terry Randall. The hand-off of the role and the torch is tear-inducing and appropriate to the energy that builds from the climax of the film.

If you’ve never seen Stage Door, you must find a copy immediately, because it’s a film that shouldn’t be missing from your collection. The ensemble cast and stellar performances make this film, though sometimes a weighty emotional roller coaster, one that you’ll want to watch many times over.

Dancing Lady (1933)

dancing-lady00005Usually the chorus girl to Broadway star includes a little less dignity and a little more scratching up from the bottom. Not so with Dancing Lady. Sometimes you get the starlet (Joan Crawford) who wants to do things the right way, though unbeknownst to her she’s sabotaged by a Park Avenue Playboy Tod Newton (Franchot Tone).

Clark Gable is director Patch Gallagher. He has ideals, too. He puts everything on the line when his producers stop backing the show. Though he tries to keep a cool appearance, his heart gets in the way and he comes to the rescue of our damsel in distress with the truth.

Fred Astaire makes his screen debut as Joan Crawford’s dancing partner in one of the production numbers to end all production numbers. In A Star is Born with Judy Garland, Garland plays with the whole concept of a production number gone global. Watching the scene with Fred dancing-lady00089Astaire again reminded me of that and both grand scale production numbers from this film were probably under target with like numbers in “Someone At Last” from A Star is Born. Of Course, Fred Astaire couldn’t make his film debut with a simple routine. He goes from dancing with Crawford on solid ground to the heavens, and from there oddly end up in Bavaria. Don’t ask. I have no idea.

Joan Crawford did consider herself a hoofer and did dance in the early days of her career even though she didn’t do a whole lot of it on film. Her style is much like Ruby Keeler’s. She pounds every step into the ground, is a bit stiff through the wingspan, and has a seemingly insatiable love of her own feet. It was probably fairly impressive for audiences at the time to see her sing and dance.

dancing-lady00126Nelson Eddy also makes his screen debut, though it is true that it wasn’t the first film released that he was in. He made this film first, but the others were released sooner. His part is fascinating compared to the parts he played with brief appearances he made on other films (Broadway to Hollywood and Student Tour which were released respectively in 1933 and 1934. Dancing Lady was actually released on January 1, 1934 for the consumption of general American audiences). In his prior screen appearances, Eddy sang concert songs. In Dancing Lady, he sings a “modern” number called “Rhythm of the Day.” It’s ironic given the parts Eddy would have in the future, mostly period pieces–in this film, he sings for those who are not with the rhythm of the day to transport themselves into modern times. I must confess, when the song gets into my head it stays there for far too long.

Also of small note is an appearance by The Three Stooges. I’m not sure why, but for some reason in 30s films, there had to be the side-talent as side-talent to the director and/or the director’s sidekick. Am I missing something? Unlike The Ritz Brothers in You Can’t Have Everything, dancing-lady00064they only make a short appearance and aren’t part of the main show. They don’t even overpower and upstage the stars. It’s amazing. Joan Crawford holds her own against them.

And then of course there is the charming Franchot Tone, who does his bit as the playboy and Clark Gable as the director. A restrained, slightly vulnerable Clark Gable can be pretty appealing and Franchot Tone is fairly charming in whatever he does. The love triangle doesn’t take over the film as one would think it would. Definitely gives the plot a twist on an old story. Sure, you know the chorus girl turned star is going to go with the director rather than the swell from Park Avenue, but I feel like there’s more substance and respect in their relationship. Gable’s character is a little more fleshed out than your average Joe (Comparable to Cover Girl now that I think of it, except no Ersters, errr–oysters).

The print on the DVD is pretty-near flawless. Only qualm would be the sound. Never fails to amaze me how lovely the print has been preserved over 76 years. A definite must-watch for any fan of Nelson Eddy and Fred Astaire just to see their big screen debuts. The plot is not really original, not even for the era. There really aren’t any stand-out performances (other than Fred and Nelson, of course), but it’s a lovely way to spend a couple hours.

Going My Way (1944)

goingmyway00017A story of a priest (Barry Fitzgerald) getting on in years and his trials and tribulations with his new assistant (Bing Crosby), a young, progressive upstart that seems to him to be tearing up every bit of the church he had built over 45 years prior.

Father O’Malley’s philosophy of how life should be is lovely. The lighter side of religion, the side this film covers, makes a heathen like me want to Hail Mary and carry a Rosary. The film is so infectious and positive, that until reviewing the film again tonight, I completely forgot O’Malley’s cracks to the atheist in the beginning. These make me sad, but director and writer of Going My Way, Leo McCarey, like Bing Crosby was a devout Catholic. He clearly had a good time of it to be able to create a character like Father O’Malley.

goingmyway00153The songs are beautiful. Crosby sings “Hail Alma Mater,” “The Day After Forever,” “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra,” “Ave Maria,” “Going My Way,” “Swingin’ On A Star,” and “Silent Night.” Risë Stevens also makes her second film appearance singing “Habanera,” “Ave Maria,” and “Going My Way.” Everything about these numbers, except perhaps “Habanera” is simple and heartfelt.  “Habanera” is stunningly dressed for the screen with Risë Stevens in her most famous operatic role. It’s a gift that her “Habanera” was preserved on the screen for generations to come.

I always thought the subplot with the young couple a little awkward though, even though we get “The Day After Forever” with goofy hand motions with Bing doing a bit of mocking. That’s pure goingmyway00281loveliness, but all the same the subplot sometimes bogs down the speed of the film a bit.  I would have rather seen a little more Risë Stevens, only because there could never be enough of her.  It’s interesting that she is clearly in love with Father O’Malley and McCarey (I presume) was a little coy and sensitive in approaching their relationship.

Another heartwarming subplot in the film is Father O’Malley’s attempt to get a rowdy group of boys off the streets and into the church choir. The boys are skeptical of the plan at first until they hear themselves sing as a group and become completely engaged and willing to help Father O’Malley any way they can. As a choir they can do no wrong.

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Father O’Malley is persuasive though, not only to the audience, and to the boys he brings into the choir, but to Father Fitzgibbon (Fitzgerald). He gets the old man out and about–in the rain, on the golf course. While trying to figure out his new place within his own church, Father Fitzgibbon is certainly

taken out of his element. His character arc takes us for a 180 degree turn.

Father O’Malley, on the other hand, seems to end up drifting and being put on a sort of Groundhog Day routine where he has to wake up every few months and start all over again. It’s interesting that the film ends with him leaving Father Fitzgibbon and there’s a definite sadness as Father O’Malley steps out of frame. Will he be lonely or will he find some sort of happiness? We learn a bit more in the sequel to the film, The Bells of St. Marys, where Father O’Malley saves a school from closing down.

goingmyway00049Whether you’re religious or not, the spirit of the film will capture your heart. A tear or two may be shed by a surprise visit at the end of the film. A lot of spirits were raised in 1944 when this film was released. War was raging in Europe and this was the biggest box office draw of 1944. Crosby was the biggest drawing star of the year. Everything was going Bing Crosby’s way for certain, especially when he took home Oscar for Best Actor. A beautiful film, deserving of it’s ten Oscar nominations and seven Oscar wins: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Original Song, Best Writing, Best Screenplay.

Balalaika (1939)

Revolutionaries, Princes, and Cossacks, oh my!

balalaika00002Our story starts and ends with the Balalaika Cafe–a place full of music and gaiety. The movie is full of music, certainly shades of gaiety, but doesn’t quite capture the complexities and the intrigue of the political goings on.

Full disclosure up front: Ilona Massey bores me to tears. I don’t find her a particularly good vocalist and her acting leaves me cold. Her character should hold on to her cause. Instead she just lets it go, even when her brother dies at the hand of the Cossacks. Nelson Eddy, on the other hand, is one of my favorite singers and personalities on film. This also causes problems, because I really don’t like Nelson Eddy’s character at all. I feel his Prince Karagin has few to no redeeming values. The plot skims the surface of the political issues of the time–a delicate balance indeed, but it would have made the film a lot richer to have kept the plot of the stage version where there was a little more substance.

balalaika00034A review from the Oakland Tribune points to the musical highlights as great interest to fans of Nelson Eddy and then the reviewer notes the following:

For those who can take Eddy in their stride or leave him astride his faithful Cossack pony, “Balalaika” will prove to be a pretty dull operetta.

– Wood Soames, Oakland Tribune, December 28, 1939

Indeed, as a Nelson Eddy fan, the Nelson Eddy songs are rousing and since it’s the most positive aspect of the film, I have to place my focus on the music. The film opens with “Ride Cossack ride” a marching song typical of most Nelson Eddy opening scenes (Naughty Marietta, Rose-Marie, Rosalie, and Girl of the Golden West just to start). This is followed directly by “At the Balalaika” and then an Ilona Massey solo. Lets just skip that.

balalaika00052Eddy delivers a powerful version of “The Song of the Volga Boatman” at the residence of Lydia Pavlovna (Ilona Massey). First on his own without music and then he is accompanied by the piano and then several instruments until the music swells with the voices of several men in the room along with Eddy’s voice. It ends with a soft violin and then Eddy finishes the note. It’s a beautiful piece of work. Eddy has rarely sounded better. The recording should be my ringtone.

Then we’re taken to the opera house where the duo takes us through pieces of “Carmen.” We skip over Ilona to Eddy’s rendition of “The Toreador Song,” which in all ways is perfect. The scene plays out beautifully until Ilona comes back into full frame.

balalaika00071We get a long break from the vocals. Secret identities are unveiled. All the manipulation from Eddy’s character comes to a climax. Lydia’s ties to the revolutionaries quickly come into play and she tries to warn the Prince of what is to come.

We then find Lydia at the opera. Thus, we shall skip that part. Emotions are heightened. Lydia suddenly has convictions, but she doesn’t display them simply because she believes them, she does so out of shame and for a little bit of show. And so we find our characters at war.

It’s Christmastime, the Prince is still pining for Lydia. To complete a touching scene, fraught with happy and sad old memories of the Balalaika, the Prince sings “Silent Night” along with the Germans they’re at war with in a moment of unity.

balalaika00117The war ends and the nobility has been successfully thrown out of power. Nelson Eddy sings a reprise of “At the Balalaika.” Then finally we have one more number that has always, always disturbed me. I shall say no more or I’ll spoil the ending, suffice it to say what is reflected and illuminated is not well reflected or illuminated.

A film with great music, but definitely not among my favorites (who’d of thunk it?).

You Were Never Lovelier (1942)

stanfordI’m old fashioned
I love the moonlight
I love the old fashioned things

I love You Were Never Lovelier, perhaps beyond reason. I’ve seen it at the Stanford Theatre at least once and hope it’s on again during the summer film festival, because really it’s too much fun. It’s one of those films that makes me tremendously happy in the viewing process and leaves me bouncing off walls toward the end.

A traditional family man (Adolph Menjou) who owns a nightclub in South America wants his second eldest daughter (Rita Hayworth) to marry before he allows his two younger daughters to be wed. He writes love letters to his daughter under the guise of a secret admirer. His plan works out until the fellow (Fred Astaire) that delivers one of the letters is suspected to be the suitor.

As one of my favorite films, I wrote a slightly over-enthusiastic journal entry after the first time I saw the film on the big screen, an excerpt follows:

“You have never seen Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire dance unless you’ve seen them on the big screen. I decided this tonight.

Throughout the film and for the good of one of my [essay] revisions… I was wondering exactly what draws me to classic film and these movies in particular.  I know the reasons pretty much, but at the same time it’s difficult to articulate. With this film and so many other favorites, it doesn’t take itself as seriously as films do today. Even a film like Legally Blonde takes itself seriously. I just can’t abide that.”

– November 24, 2004

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Rita and Fred have so much energy in their dance numbers, particularly “The Shorty George.” They’re absolutely brilliant. The songs aren’t legendary, but they’re memorable with the title song, “You Were Never Lovelier,” “I’m Old Fashioned,” and “Dearly Beloved,” led by Fred Astaire along with “The Shorty George” and great Cugat numbers like “Chiu, Chiu.” It’s all very upbeat and exciting with more than just a sampling of South American flavor.

The cast of You Were Never Lovelier seem to have enjoyed themselves greatly. There’s no melodrama. It’s all hearts and flowers. Adolph Menjou has always been one of my favorite film personalities and he balances the role of overbearing father beautifully against Barbara Brown’s submissive mother. If the co-stars took themselves too seriously, the plot would fail. It’s a fun, mistaken identify film from Columbia–the second of two films Astaire and Hayworth made together (their first was You’ll Never Get Rich).

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Rita Hayworth is sometimes overlooked as a dancer and that’s unfortunate, because she really was one of Fred Astaire’s best dancing partners. Sometimes you have to look beyond the stereotypes to enjoy a film and this is definitely one of those films that just needs you sitting down before the screen and you’ll be caught up in the goofiness of the plot and the charm of it’s leads.

The Glenn Miller Story (1953)

glennmiller001171“Little Brown Jug” has become a staple of ReelCast from it’s inception. It’s also the emotional hinge that The Glenn Miller Story turns on.

Bandleader Glenn Miller (James Stewart) looks for his sound. He finds it and strikes a chord with an old college sweetheart (June Allyson) to boot.

One of the highlights of the film is Louis Armstrong playing and scatting “Basin Street Blues.” The music sells the film, the story isn’t quite as compelling as the big band music and cameo appearances by band singers and bandleaders of Miller’s era. What the film does brilliantly is feature the music and makes you want to take out 78 recordings of the originals and melt alongside the clarinet lead, perhaps on the arm of your favorite dancing partner.

By focusing on the romance between Glenn Miller and his wife, the screen tribute may be a little sweeter, but probably not as interesting as it would be to reach a little deeper and really take a look at the relationships between the musicians and the band singers were like, because although it catches bits of the lifestyle and makes reference to it when Allyson’s character is sick, it doesn’t quite have that smokey jam session flavor that could make the film a little more edgy–and a little more real.

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It’s by far the most cheerful of the three Stewart-Allyson films. A lovely film with a brilliant soundtrack, an easy and lovable plot, and happy-go-lucky end that may bring a few tears, The Glenn Miller Story is a tribute with a bit of artistic license to it’s namesake in both tenor and content.

Little Women (1949)

littlewomen00103Christopher Columbus!

Little Women, much like Anne of Green Gables, is a rite of passage for many a young girl who loves to delve into literary worlds or dreams of creating her own someday. I did not escape the love of the tales of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.

June Allyson becomes Jo March. She’s perfect in the role with her deep, laryngitis-ridden voice and boyish gestures, her cheekiness and enthusiasm. Allyson is never over-dramatic or understated in the role. She keeps the character balanced and real, hardly contrived and superficial as Professor Bhaer says of Jo’s fictional characters.

littlewomen00037Margaret O’Brien steals scenes as Beth. A lot of the dialogue rings true to the bit part O’Brien had in Babes on Broadway–the sincerity in which she delivers lines should seem over the top, but almost always rings true. The relationship between Beth and Jo is underscored by the respect and admiration that June Allyson and Margaret O’Brien had for each other.  They played sisters 5 years before in Music for Millions and according to both had competitions to see who could cry on cue faster as both were known for their crying scenes.

Peter Lawford could probably be interchanged with several of his contemporaries and it wouldn’t matter, but he’s Peter Lawford and it makes for much happiness. The role of Laurie isn’t fleshed out a whole lot. Nor are the feminist issues that the novel goes into, however, the film is still strong and is really focused family and change with light romance thrown in.

littlewomen00239Elizabeth Taylor is suited to the role of Amy, although it always bothers me to see Taylor with blonde hair. Mary Astor makes a wonderful, strong Mrs. March. And Janet Leigh is fine as Meg, though her part isn’t very fleshed out either and really could have been played by anyone.

The sets are lavish and so detailed. It feels so iconic that it the film seems like a Vincent Minnelli film at times, many of the transitions are held in frame and faded out as if stepping in and out of vignettes.

Though it may not be the best version of Little Women to come out of Hollywood, it’s charming all the same. To quote Professor Baehr once again, “It has such truth, such simple beauty–I cannot tell you what it gives me, my heart.”

Ship Ahoy (1942)

shipahoy00022An author of dime novels (Red Skelton) gets caught in an international conspiracy when he writes a piece that inspires fellows not of the allied persuasion to involve a musical star (Eleanor Powell) in carrying a magnetic mine to Puerto Rico.

Somehow I managed to avoid watching this film until tonight. I saw I Dood It long before it and I wasn’t so fond of it, so I guess I just didn’t want to be disappointed by another Eleanor Powell-Red Skelton title.

The film opens with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra playing the “Hawaiian War Chant (Ta-Hu-Wa-Ha-Hai).” The number is perfection, it’s Tommy Dorsey at his best. It’s just a shame that Eleanor Powell didn’t make her part in the number a bit longer. We’re not short in Powell dance numbers in Ship Ahoy, however, she has a grand total of 5 production numbers–even a number where a portion is in morse code.

shipahoy00074Ship Ahoy speaks the language of jive, it’s hep to the reet beat. 27 minutes into the film, I noticed an Italian fellow walk up to the mic. I thought it could potentially be Frank Sinatra being that it was Tommy Dorsey’s band and the right time period for Frank to take the lead, but he was looking down and it just didn’t look like Frank to me. Once he got up to the mic, I burst into laughter. I called the Italian correctly. It was indeed a very young Ol’ Blue Eyes singing “The Last Call for Love” in his second film appearance with Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra (and no doubt in a costume that was used for Balalaika with Nelson Eddy 3 years prior). The first Sinatra film appearance was in Las Vegas Nights which was released the year before.

For the most part, the slang and the gags don’t get in the way or stretch for too long–a bit of a problem for Red Skelton films in general. There’s a couple bits toward the end that seem a little unnecessary. Same goes for Bert Lahr who manages to tone it down enough to be quite watchable, although he may not have fared so well on the big screen, but for my tiny little window he’s a joy to watch until the rare times the punch lines get carried away.

shipahoy00044The plot itself seems to me to be a bit too familiar to Skelton’s Whistling in the Dark (1941), where he played Wally Benton (he revisited the role twice more–the second time during the same year and the third in 1943). This film must have seen modest success, because MGM teamed Powell and Skelton again in I Dood It which was released the following year.

Ship Ahoy is a fun film with great music and where it’s short on a solid plot, it’s long on great swing numbers danced by Eleanor Powell and vocals from a budding Francis Albert Sinatra.

Love Affair (1939)

loveaffair1Love Affair is iconic, yet almost unknown to modern audiences. The plot is best known through it’s remakes An Affair to Remember (1957), and Love Affair (1994).

Irene Dunne plays Terry McKay, a woman who is engaged to her boss and sailing back home from a business trip to Europe. Charles Boyer is Michel Marnet, a French playboy looking for amusement and excitement before his impending marriage. They find each other grand company over pink champagne and promise by the end of the voyage that if they can both make a go of things with real jobs that they will meet on top of the Empire State Building in six months.

My favorite part of the film is when Terry and Michel go to see Michel’s ‘leetle’ grandmother (Maria Ouspenskaya). In just a short amount of time, so much is learned about the characters, where they see themselves in the future, and a bit of the past.

carefree00474The serenity of the grandmother’s home comes across so well over celluloid. There are lovely moments between McKay and Marnet when they’re in her family chapel. The music is a beautiful compliment to the pathos and silence restrained only by it’s walls. Michel asks his grandmother to play the piano and Terry accompanies her by singing a lovely lilting rendition of Plaisir d’Amour. The conversation the two women have while Michel is gone reminds me of fleeting moments of quality conversations I’ve had with people whether it be a stranger or a relation before they somehow vanish–be it because of death or paths that never cross again.

Irene Dune sings two other songs as well–“Wishing Will Make it So” by Buddy G. DeSylva and “Sing My Heart” by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. The songs are placed seemlessly into the plot line. They never seem intrusive, it never feels a bit like a musical. It just naturally heightens the scenes and always thrusts the progression of Terry McKay’s character forward.

loveaffair3An Affair to Remember crosses well over the line to over-dramatic and saccharine in true 50s fashion. It takes itself far too seriously. The film feels a bit more tawdry than it’s predecessor. The 1994 film with Katharine Hepburn in the role of the grandmother falls flat, she’s really the only saving grace. Irene Dunne’s Terry McKay is strong. She makes light of the darkness and is perfectly willing to make sacrifices even though she really doesn’t have to.

As the building block for every related film to follow, it distresses me that if you look at reviews for the films to succeed it that there is rarely a mention of the film. It’s hard to believe this is so when Love Affair is public domain and readily available. It’s unfortunate that so many of Dunne’s films were remade in the 50s and 60s and hers were lost out of fear by the studios of competition–clearly Irene’s films were far superior to the remakes. As I’ve said, Love Affair is no exception to the rule. t’s a beautiful, witty, elegant film that I shall give you no excuse for missing.

You can watch the entire film hosted by Archive.org below.

 

Carefree (1938)

carefree00324Psychoanalysis has rarely been so fun as it is in Carefree. The film boasts a mixture of dance, slapstick, screwball comedy, Freudian slips, and lobster with gobs of mayonnaise. All elements that make this film unique in the Astaire and Rogers filmography.

If you love the glitz and glamour of Top Hat and The Gay Divorcee, you may not be so keen on Carefree, but if you love a heavy dose of Ginger Rogers it may be your favorite Astaire-Rogers film. I fall in the latter category. This is Ginger’s film more so than Fred Astaire’s. Usually, the roles are on a pretty even keel with Fred taking the lead occasionally. Carefree is driven by Ginger Rogers’ character. Every action is determined by her emotions–in or out of a trance.

carefree00092A fellow (Ralph Bellamy) is in love with a girl (Ginger Rogers) who can’t seem to decide whether or not she’s in love with him, so the fellow brings in his Psychoanalysist best friend (Fred Astaire) to try to get to her subconscious and help her make up her mind. The girl in question, Amanda Cooper, is induced into having a dream by Dr. Flagg in which the pair dance to an Irving Berlin tune (“I Used to Be Colorblind”) that has curiously colorful lyrics (it was intended to be filmed in color). Miss Cooper sets her sights on her doctor, who in the end finds he has to psychoanalyze himself in a mirror (pictured above) to figure out his own feelings for the girl.

Carefree has witty dialogue, a great supporting cast including a subdued Jack Carson and Luella Gear, and unlike audiences of the day the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. Rogers has a great scene where she’s given anesthetic in an attempt to reduce her down to her inhibitions–she goes on a rampage, always polite in her antics, shattering glass with a wrench and pulling pranks on everyone she passes. Ginger plays it to perfection.

carefree00150This glimpse into the then modern psychoanalysis was both playful and satiric in nature. Surely, anyone packing a punch can get to the subconscious mind, right? Even though the science is far from accurate and the principles used appear highly can be viewed as highly manipulative, there’s something at work under the surface, intended or not that gives both a slap and a nod to the practices of the day. The only other films that I can think of that even indulge themselves in a dab of Freud from the 1930s is Four Wives. In the 40s, there were a scant few that popped up like Random HarvestKing’s Row, and Now Voyager all from 1942 and Spellbound (1945).

Speaking of playfulness, my favorite number from the film is “The Yam.” It’s insane, it’s fun, it’s inventive. It’s all the best of Fred and Ginger put in a completely random context and situation.

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Another dance routine that is a little awkward is the reprise of “Change Partners.” It’s an inventive number, but it involves Dr. Flagg trying to dance Amanda Cooper into a trance to change the thoughts he had put into her head earlier–“Dr. Flagg is a horrible monster, he should be shot down like a dog.” Ralph Bellamy’s character fights to get her back and tries to play these new thoughts in Amanda’s head to his advantage. Seems Amanda has no choice, as she’s being tossed back and forth by the two men.

Quips aside, this is a wonderful film that is overlooked and under-appreciated except perhaps by those who love Ginger Rogers comedies–indeed, my favorite. Despite how the two male leads manipulate Amanda Cooper, she comes off as a strong woman who is not at all maladjusted to her world at all. She has equal footing with Fred Astaire and the male characters in the film, cutting nearly every one of them down to size at some point in the plot. It’s a delightful little venture into screwball comedy.

San Francisco (1936)

chaplin01008To really appreciate and experience San Francisco you must see the film in it’s original form on a large screen with an audience. I’ve done so more than once and every single time it’s an emotional experience, however, even on your home television San Francisco packs an emotional wallop.

I’m a Californian, one of those rare creatures born and raised in the Bay Area. I experienced the Loma Prieta earthquake and I have vicarious memories of my great grandma living through the 1906 earthquake when she was only a year old. She always claimed to remember the whole thing as just a baby. It’s in my blood–I freely admit that I’m one of those Californians that normally can’t help ridicule people who fear earthquakes more than hurricanes or tornados, however, San Francisco always reminds me that the big one is always just an hour and 55 minutes closer by the end of the film.

chaplin00889The film starts off on New Years of 1906 with trained opera singer Mary Blake (Jeanette MacDonald) looking for work after her residence was caught on fire. She bungles her way into the Paradise, a nightspot on the Barbary Coast owned by self-proclaimed heathen Blackie Norton (Clark Gable) who wasn’t accustomed to girls whose fathers were preachers. Behind Blackie is childhood friend Father Tim Mullin (Spencer Tracy) who attempts to guide Mary through the seemingly ill-fated romance.

This was Jeanette MacDonald’s pet project. She pushed for the film to be made. Gable wanted no part of it–in so much as he didn’t want to be overshadowed by a singer. He felt all there was for him to do was look on and watch. The script was beefed up a bit with more Blackie scenes and he relented and took the film.

Although Clark Gable does a lot of fast talking before the earthquake, the last twenty minutes of film are almost completely void of dialogue. It’s a amazing to watch Gable walk through the ruins, you can actually see when he realizes that he doesn’t know where Mary is and the intense panic that radiates his profile. In a sense, the last stretch of the film affords Gable the opportunity to try on the pathos of the silent area. His performance is rarely over-stated in the film and probably overlooked.

chaplin01033Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time researching the quake and the fire that followed, looking at pictures and as I just viewed the film again it seems the research department really did their job by matching some of the scenes quite precisely to the photographs. Copious attention to detail was paid to the film, it makes the action sequences even more believable. If there had been a category for special effects at the Academy Awards, San Francisco would have won without question, although the film did pick up an Oscar for Best Sound. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Spencer Tracy), Best Director, Best Assistant Director, and Best Original Story.

Though typical of the era, it is a little grating that Blackie Norton had to find redemption through a Christian God. Blackie had almost all the great markings of a good heathen, Father Mullin says of Blackie, “But he has a could, he’s always had every since he was a kid. He never lied, he never cheated, and I’m sure he never took an underhanded advantage of anyone.” There’s nothing wrong with that. He only jumps off course because of his inexperience with a woman like Mary.

The focus on religion can be disconcerting depending on where you fall on faith and prayer. Especially when it’s reinforced by Mary Blake’s potential mother-in-law, Mrs. Burley who says that San Francisco “can’t go on like this–sinful and blasphemous, with no fear for God in our hearts.”  It’s a little over the top to go that far, especially for today’s viewers now given the current cultural climate of San Francisco.

chaplin00951Despite the morality tale undertone of the film, the richness of the cinematography, special effects, the lovely bits of “Faust” and “La Traviata” handled so beautifully by Jeanette MacDonald along with “San Francisco” itself, now the official theme song of San Francisco. MacDonald’s ‘hot’ rendition of “San Francisco” never fails to entertain.

The big screen experience brings audiences together. A movie can be a hit or a miss depending on the audience reaction and this one always hits hard. Both times I viewed San Francisco at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto, California, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house–except mine, I am sad to say–I was just so taken aback that the film hit a cord with everyone. Every age, every race, men and women alike. Yes, part of it is living in the area the great quake of 1906 hit, another is that pathos–watching desolate Blackie Norton trying to find Mary Blake. There are few communal experiences that we get these days. Home video doesn’t always present a film as it should be seen.

Little Nellie Kelly (1940)

nellie00741From the strains of “The Irish Washwoman” in the opening credits, to the final bars of “It’s A Great Day for the Irish”–I’ve always been oddly drawn to Little Nellie Kelly. Perhaps it’s because I’m about a quarter Irish and I’ve a bit of the blarney myself, but this film has always held a special place on my list of favorite films.

Little Nellie Kelly is often overlooked simply because it’s barely in circulation. Turner Classic Movies plays itonce or twice a year and it’s been out of print for a number of years. It’s a shame, because although it doesn’t have the polish of the Mickey-Judy vehicles and The Wizard of Oz which have ensemble casts, it does have grand character actors and a lot more story line than the other roles she was given. Nellie also allows Garland to play a character who may not be as worldly-wise as Patsy Barton or Betsy Booth, but the emotional range she contends in the dual role is a bit more substantial.

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Looking back at Garland’s career as a whole, one would probably not consider the film of any note except for her first and last death scene, however, it was a substantial film for Garland at the time. MGM placed a lot of responsibility on Garland to carry the plot–the dual roles of mother and daughter. It was the first film where Garland had solo billing under the title (there wouldn’t be another until For Me and My Gal two years later where she had above title billing). There was a lot riding on the success of the film.

The love of Ireland is the setting and backdrop of the beginning of the film. Nellie (Judy Garland) falls for Jerry Kelly (George Murphy), a man of ambition and hope who wants to leave Ireland to make a better life in America. Torn between her father and the man she loves, Nellie must make the decision to marry Jerry or stay in Ireland with her shiftless father (Charles Winniger). So starts the pull between the two men, as all of them immigrate to America to find a better life.

nellie00856Garland carried the film beautifully and kept the cast and crew amazed and amused. In his autobiography, George Murphy described the set during the death scene of Nellie Kelly, Sr. saying there wasn’t a dry eye in the sound stage.

Despitethe film’s darker elements, like the death scene, the tone of the rest of the film is consistently joyful. Garland sings “A Pretty Girl Milking Her Cow” as a ballad with the joyfulness and maturity of a woman many times Garland’s years. Though it’s legendary that Garland was the ‘little girl with the big voice’ from her early years, the reprise of the song allows for a grand contrast and marked swing into the youthful, contemporary version Garland sings as little Nellie Kelly. The scene is touching–she takes the scarf her mother once wore, slips onto the piano bench beside George Murphy and takes the song up in tempo when she notices how far off and lonely he appears. Garland singlehandedly changes the tone of the film within a few frames. The song was so beloved by fans, that it was one of the few film songs Judy Garland consistently kept in her concert programs.

The original George M. Cohan play took place entirely in New York. Instead of a love triangle between family and young Irish callers, the play had Nellie torn between a millionaire and a boy from her home in the Bronx. Throw in a stolen necklace and you have a completely different entity. Like many successors of Broadway shows, the film was of little resemblance to the play. The Broadway show introduced “Nellie Kelly, I Love You,” the sole song that survived in the film.

Little Nellie Kelly keeps in line with director Norman Taurog’s other juvenile films, specifically the early films of Deanna Durbin. In the same year, Taurog directed Young Tom Edison with Mickey Rooney and Broadway Melody of 1940 which co-starred George Murphy as well.

nellie00252One of the historical highlights of the film is the rare appearance of the Pledge of Allegiance without “under God.” We also get a glimpse into a Naturalization ceremony. And–we get to see Garland sing “Singin’ in the Rain” long before Gene Kelly did–made a bit iconic by the introduction to That’s Entertainment.

Sweet, goofy, heart-wrenching–Little Nellie Kelly may be overlooked, but it has all the qualities and the richness of Irish Americans. It also more than manages to overflow with the patriotism of George M. Cohan. It’s a happy journey that I can’t help but take over and over again.

Ziegfeld Follies (1946)

Ahh, the 1940s. Such a great time to be working in the movie musical business. Especially if you worked with feathers or sequins. Ziegfeld Follies has oodles of both. In fact, it’s fun just to watch this movie for the costumes. Who doesn’t get a kick out of Fred Astaire wearing red Chinese pyjamas with white pom poms, Lucille Ball with an enormous tuft of pink feathers sticking out of her head or chorus girls with butterfly bustles?

No? Just me?

It’s safe to say that ZF is a hit and miss affair. It falls into one of the most illustrious and oddest musical sub-genres – the musical revue. Around the time of the advent of talking pictures, most studios churned at least one out to show off the talents of their stable of performers. They quickly learnt that the revue format doesn’t work half as well on screen as it does on the stage. ZF was a splashy and ambitious attempt by MGM at the height of their powers to try revive that tradition.

Perhaps the most stunning feature of ZF is its use of colour – not surprising with Vincente Minnelli directing most segments. The opening musical number is a riot of pink and white (And feathers. And sequins. And hula hoops.), and is one of the highlights of the film. Fred Astaire sings, Cyd Charisse dances, Virginia O’Brien sings an hilarious parody of the number (while sitting on the most unnervingly fake horse I’ve ever seen), and Lucille Ball whips a bunch of catwoman chorus girls into submission. It’s camp, it’s fabulous and it’s a great start to the film.

(Well, really, the film starts with a bunch of creepy puppets re-enacting the history of the Ziegfeld Follies on Broadway. It’s rather disturbing. Then there’s William Powell, playing Florenz Ziegfeld in heaven, tossing up the idea of putting on another show. But he’s dead, of course, so he decides he’ll just have to get Fred Astaire to put it together for him. This makes no sense at all, but we’re in musical revue land now, where the logic is even more convoluted than regular musical land. We’ve just got to roll with it from here on in.)

Following that, in no particular order, is a segment featuring Esther Williams floating around in the water for a while, an extract from La Traviata with the chorus almost collapsing under the weight of their outrageous dresses, and a comedy skit featuring Keenan Wynn trying and failing to place a call through an operator. Listen carefully to the voices he talks to, and you might just hear Audrey Totter and Peter Lawford making their uncredited appearances.

The comedy skits are what really drag this film down. Maybe it’s the fact they haven’t dated well, or maybe they just weren’t funny in the first place. I recommend that you keep the fast forward button handy. Apart from the telephone sketch, keep an eye out for Victor Moore in “Pay The Two Dollars”, Fanny Brice fretting over a lottery ticket, and Red Skelton with his famous gin skit. Of these, I find the Victor Moore sketch the funniest. The appearance of Fanny Brice is a nice link to the original Follies on Broadway, and fans of Red Skelton will adore how he progressively gets drunker and drunker throughout his segment.

Returning to the musical segments, make sure you catch the two dances with Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer, “This Heart of Mine” and “Limehouse Blues.” The first is probably the best, with Fred playing a jewel thief taking the rich Lucille for a ride. It could have become a classic number if it had just let Fred and Lucille dance by themselves, but someone thought it was a good idea to involve a chorus dancer or twelve. On moving platforms. With sparkly tree branches for decoration. At least Lucille’s costume is pretty, which is more than can be said for “Limehouse Blues.” Both she and Fred are subjected to playing Chinese characters, with makeup that makes poor Freddy look like ET, and red pyjamas that make one giggle and recoil in horror simulataneously.

That said, I love “Limehouse Blues.” Its mini storyline and dream ballet device make it a precursor to later MGM ballets in “Yolanda and the Thief” and “An American in Paris”, so if you’re interested in the development of ballet in musicals, it’s definitely worth your while to watch this one. The ballet here takes place on a huge soundstage decked out to resemble a Chinese painting. There is a gorgeous sequence before the whole set is revealed to us where Fred chases Lucille’s fan through the dark – a wonderfully beautiful and surreal image. A choreographic high point would be the fan dancing, where Fred and Lucille move across the set opening and closing their fans around each other. And if you ever wanted to see Fred Astaire do a cartwheel, this number is for you.

Apart from Fred Astaire, other great MGM performers of the period make an appearance. Lene Horne is at her best in “Love”, overcoming the tacky set, costumes and narrative introduction to the number. It’s definitely a must see, as is Judy Garland’s Interview segment. You don’t want to miss the hand-clapping chorus boys or Judy’s “rap.” It’s a little odd, and most people either hate it or love it, but Judy looks absolutely beautiful and it’s a completely unique musical number.

Then, of course, there’s “The Babbit and the Bromide”, famous for being the only time Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire danced together at the height of their careers (they did perform a few token steps together in That’s Entertainment II in the 70s). The number favours Fred, adapted as it is from the same number he performed with his sister Adele in the 1920s. Still, both dancers get to show off their skills in a challenge dance that also lightly sends up their supposed rivalry. This number should be required viewing for any musical fan. Let me stress that again – even if you have no desire to see this movie at all, you still must watch this number. You absolutely must.

The finale features a few of the usual Minnelli touches we’ve come to expect – beautiful girls lounging around in stylised positions and a stunning use of colour in the sets and costumes. But then there’s THE BUBBLES. When people say Ziegfeld Follies is over the top and overblown, all they have to do is refer to the BUBBLES to prove their point. What we see in the film is Cyd Charisse dancing thourgh a mountain of bubbles, while more bubbles almost engulf the camera. It’s bubble-rama. It’s bubble-icious. It’s bubble-tastic. What we don’t get to see is the attempted dance between Fred Astaire and Lucille Bremer in the bubbles. They came so close to being suffocated by bubbles while shooting that they couldn’t complete the number. Poor Cyd as it is almost loses her way through them. Nevertheless, it’s absolutely stunning. It’s almost a pity to end the finale with Kathryn Grayson warbling out a song about beauty while a sign lights up the title of the film behind her. Because, really, it just can’t compare to the bubbles.

Up until now, most of us have only been able to see Ziegfeld Follies on faded video copies, meaning the full brilliance of the colour has been missing. Hopefully, the upcoming DVD release will rectify this. If you’re a fan of the MGM musicals, it’s definitely worth your while to take a look at Ziegfeld Follies, if only to marvel at the heavyweight star power. Oh yes, and the sequins. And the feathers.

Escape (1940)

Norma Shearer has first billing in this movie, but it really belongs to Robert Taylor. He plays Mark Preysing, who is on a desperate search for his mother, Emmy Ritter, in Hitler’s Germany. Mark is given the run around by the government, and finally tries to track down a friend of the family, Fritz Keller (Felix Bressart). Tension keeps mounting as everyone Mark turns to simply cowers in fear. No one can help him for the simple fact that it would put their lives in danger, as well. He happens upon Countess Ruby von Treck (Norma Shearer), an American widow, who becomes the first person to actually give Mark the time of day. She tells him that she will report back to him if she hears any word about his mother. Later in the evening, we find the Countess at home (which she now uses as a finishing school) with her pupils and a Nazi officer. Soon it is revealed that the Countess and the officer have quite the past together, though it seems to me that the Countess is disenchanted by his utter disregard for human life. She questions him about Emmy Ritter, and becomes even more disgusted by his nonchalant answer.

Strangely enough, this film was made a full two years before the U.S. got involved in the war in Germany. It is something one might expect as a propaganda piece during the war, one which demonizes the Nazi party, and rightfully so. I’ve not done my research on the topic, but I can only imagine that the entire cast ended up on Hitler’s blacklist (which included Myrna Loy, who attained the status after calling Hitler out for the mad man he was). As I said before, it is really Robert Taylor’s film, and not only because of on screen time. He did a magnificent job of conveying his frustration to the audience without looking goofy. By that I mean there were no overdramatics, rather it was an unsaid, almost underplayed feeling. This technique also uncovers a theme to the piece, the need to hide all animosity or disagreeance for the sake of one’s own life. As always, Norma Shearer is fabulous. Having been a silent star for so many years, you can read her every emotion in her facial expressions. This works greatly to our advantage, knowing that she cannot speak out against these criminal actions.

This film goes highly recommended, not because it’s a pet favorite of mine. It is truly amazing on all grounds.

–Kayla

Alice Adams (1935)

This adaption from Booth Tarkington’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel contains one of Katharine Hepburn’s best performances IMHO, and the direction by George Stevens to the supporting cast shines. The plot follows the attempts of Alice’s (Hepburn) to break into small-town society, and falling in love with rich girl Mildred Palmer’s (Evelyn Venable) intended Arthur Russell (Fred MacMurray).

While many critics say Kate only played herself, this role proves them wrong, at least to some extent–the trademark dry wit and intelligence are absent, replaced by a simple, almost wistful outlook and awkward chatter in her character’s attempt to impress the “upscale” class. In another actress’s hands Alice could be maddening, but Hepburn pulls it off genuinely, her youthful radiance improving things, too.

George Steven’s direction balances heartbreaking moments with comedy; the two can often be found not too far from each other: a prime example being the well-known dinner scene–despite Hattie McDaniel’s (billed here with an “s” at the end of her name) disturbingly stereotyped maid, it’s still very funny and quietly sad at the same time.

MacMurray’s part is skimpy and doesn’t give him an opportunity to do anything remotely interesting–he doesn’t give any indication of what made him a star here. Fred Stone, the vaudevillian, plays Alice’s father, hounded by Alice and her mother (Ann Shoemaker) into setting up a factory with his and his boss’ formula for glue–without asking his boss first, a decision that costs something in the end. Frank Albertson plays Alice’s brother, whose presence seems to have been invented simply to provide another hindrance to the Adams’. Hedda Hopper, who at the end of the thirties was to become one of Hollywood’s leading gossip columnists plays a small role as Mrs. Palmer.

Even though a more realistic (and IMO, probably better) ending that Stevens and Hepburn wanted wasn’t used, it’s still worth checking out for the direction and performances, which elevate the dated material into the realm of Hepburn’s best.

Her Twelve Men (1954)

I’ve been on a quest to see all of Greer Garson’s films and I finally caught Her Twelve Men on Turner Classic Movies the other day. The film was directed by Robert Z. Leonard in 1954. Garson plays Jan Stewart, a widow who decides to teach and is hired by Joe Hargrave (Robert Ryan).

In a lot of ways, it reminded me of a happy-go-lucky version of Judy Garland’s, A Child Is Waiting, which does seem like a stretch, but at the core it’s the same story. A woman wants to figure out what she should do with her life. She becomes a little too close to the kids she’s watching over (in Garland’s case it’s really only one child) and finds herself too involved, tries to get out of the situation–and well, in the end she finds where she belongs.

The story is heartwarming, the kids are relatable; their stories universal for the boarding school experience, and it’s a lot of fun to get internal thoughts from Garson’s character. It’s a light and lovely film.

Two For The Seesaw (1962)

Robert Mitchum and Shirley Maclaine star in this wonderful but emotionally heart-breaking romantic comedy.

Mitchum plays lawyer “Jerry Ryan” from Nebraska who arrives in New York after the break up of his marriage. At a party he meets the lovely independent, care-free and fun “Gittel Mosca” a dance teacher played by Maclaine.

After getting to know each other very quickly and learning about their very different personalities and lifestyles they fall in love and begin an affair.

But of course not all relationships run smoothly and they encounter plenty of up’s and down’s along the way.

I was very surprised at how the film ended but it was great and I really loved watching it.

I loved the emotional rollercoaster of their relationship from being in love, having a laugh together to arguing and not trusting one another.

Has anyone else seen it

Nina

Twelve O’ Clock High (1949)

This 1949 film was one of the first to attempt a realistic look at WWII, and it focuses on just how much “maximum effort” men can take. After Col. Davenport (Gary Merrill) cracks under the strain of managing a low-morale Air Force squadron, General Savage (Gregory Peck) takes over, whipping the group into shape, but running himself and those around him into the ground as well with his brusque, disciplinarian tactics. While there isn’t much action, the nuanced, taut acting and direction of the psychological drama makes for a compelling watch. Definitely recommended!

Stage Door (1937)

Well, I just got finished watching this film for the first time. I have to say I was very impressed. I’d like to say a few words about it.

It happens to be a 1937 film, so it goes along with the reviews I’ve been giving on ReelCast. *grin* I tell you… it seems every new movie I’ve watched lately has been from 1937.

I’ve heard a lot about this movie and how great it is, so I really was looking forward to seeing it. Katharine Hepburn is a great favourite of mine, and it’s so fun to see Lucille Ball in obscure little parts in her pre-Lucy days where she often doesn’t even look like the Lucy we all know and love.

This movie had a good solid story backing it, which was great. I love the way it came full circle, and it had a really powerful climax. What a performance Kate gave! It was really moving, and if I had been alone I probably would have shed tears.

It has its lightness and humour, but at the same time there’s a definite edge to the picture. There’s always that feeling that something could go wrong, after all. You worry about the poor girl whose whole heart is wrapped up in playing a part that is hers in a special way. In some ways, it reminds me of Grand Hotel, because “People come, people go, nothing ever happens,” and yet while “nothing” is happening, people’s lives are being dramatically changed.

Definitely give this one a watch. It’s an excellent piece, thought-provoking without being overly heavy.

Call Me Madam (1953)

A delightful little musical that’s become somewhat forgotten in the past 20 years due to copyrights and such, but still remains as beautiful and fresh as the day it premiered.

Call Me Madam stars Ethel Merman (re-playing her role here from the stage version), Donald O’Connor, Vera-Ellen and George Sanders. The basic plot line is that Sally Adams (Ethel Merman), a rich lady who throws parties in Washington for the upper-class society has been put as the Ambassador for America to a small country in Europe called Litchenburg. She’s supposed to secure a loan to them from America, and ends up bringing her new Press Attache Kenneth (Donald O’Connor) along for the ride. While in Litchenburg, Sally falls for the Forgein Minister, Cosmo (George Sanders) and Kenneth ends up in love with the Princess of Litchenburg, Maria (Vera-Ellen) who is already engaged in a pre-arranged marriage. Cahoots follow as Sally suspects Cosmo’s intentions towards her are purely business and Kenneth and Maria try to dodge her Husbund-to-be while falling in love.

It’s no wonder Call Me Madam won the 1954 Oscar for Best scoring of a Musical – Call Me Madam features some of the most delightful and fun numbers you’ll ever see, and the background music used during some scenes does just the right trick. You’ll love Ethel’s “1913” number at the Litchenburg Ball as she tries to liven up the party, but the stand-out number (I think) in the film is Vera-Ellen’s solo number, “Dance to the Orcerena”, a cute little folk dance done at the Country Fair. Although the costumes are a little gaudy in this number, it’s scored so beautifully and lively that you’ll want to get up and dance right along to it! Vera is simply wonderful and her dancing could never have been better.

The other musical numbers in the film are 2 versions of “it’s a lovely day today”, one sung by Vera and Donald, and the other is them doing a very Fred and Ginger dance to it out in a beautiful, broken-down castle at the Litchenburg ball. Donald also gets a great solo number called “What chance have I? (with love)” in which he drunkenly dances and sings about being in love with Princess Maria, and directly after he and Vera dance and sing to “Something to dance about”, a fast paced tap-number. There’s also a wide selection of songs sung by Ethel and George, but most of the them are pretty forgettable.

Over all, Call Me Madam is a cute and fun musical, but it does have it’s down points (namely Ethel and George’s loooong scenes). You’ll love it for the great numbers and lovely story line, and really, it’s a Musical that deserves more attention from the public.

Man’s Favourite Sport (1964)

Brought this yesterday on dvd and watched it last night.

Directed by Howard Hawks it stars Rock Hudson and Paula Prentis in this light-hearted fun romantic comedy with plenty of laughs.

Based around a Fishing Tournament Hudson plays Angling expert “Roger Willoughby” who is asked to participate in the tournament by “Abigail Page” a press agent played by Prentis.

But there is one problem Roger has never been fishing in his life so it’s up to Abigail to teach him.

There is a scene with Roger and Abigail’s friend that is taken from Howard Hawks screwball comedy “Bringing Up Baby” when “Susan rips the back of her dress and “David” has to walk behind her to cover her.

Has anyone else seen it?

Daddy Long Legs (1955)

I just borrowed this film from the library and just absolutely adored it! This musical romance that stars Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron is somewhat like a dream that you wish would happen to you. It’s much more closer to a musical romance than a musical comedy and has a great many tears but, it’s very beautiful and cute!

Jervis Pendleton (Fred Astaire) plays a rich ‘playboy’ who falls in love with a French orphan girl, Julie Andre, who he placed in a college in America. Julie Andre had never seen the face that put her in college and starts writing letters to “Daddy Long Legs” asking if he can write back or respond or give some idea of what he looks like. Jervis wants to see how well Julie is doing in college so he goes to the spring dance at the college and takes a visit to his neice who is roomates with Julie. Jervis dances with Julie and soon he finds he is in love with her. Julie doesn’t discover that Jervis is daddy long legs until the end of the film and personally, I think that’s the best part!

I think that any musical fan would love this film, it’s got some really great music and songs like Somethin’s Gotta Give (which won an academy award). Fred’s dancing is wonderful and as always, enjoyable to watch. Leslie certainly shows her talent too, she dances quite a lot in this film and she has never been more beautiful and wonderful than in this. I do warn you that if you watch this film, don’t forget the tissue box! You can order this on DVD at amazon.com or of course check out the used and new DVDs. I really recommend this to all and I hope you take a glance at it!

Anastasia (1956)

I thought that it was a really great film. A very tense, dramatic and mysterious drama based on the story of “Anastasia” the Russian Grand Duchess played by the very talented Ingrid Bergman. Yul Brynner plays courtier “Bounine” staff member of the Royal Family.

Anastasia and her family were imprisoned and killed but there were rumours that she was still alive and had escaped. 10 years on she still had not be found even though there were many women who claimed that they were her. Bounine was the one who for the last 10 years had been looking for her or someone who resembled her as he was after 10 million pounds and needed her to get it.

Then they found a very vulunerable, troubled, sick and lonely homeless young woman by the name of Anna Anderson who greatly resembled Anastasia. Bounine asked her questions about her life to try to find out if she was Anastasia but she can’t remember much and doesn’t believe that she is her. Convinced that she maybe is Anastasia or looks closely like her Bounine gets Anna to become her. He teaches her about her life, family, personality, mannerism and interests and hopes that this will persuade her Grandmother the Empress that she is in fact her Grandaugher.

Ingrid Bergman was great and the way she played the part with all those different emotions and feelings her character had was just superb.

It was difficult to tell if Anna was Anastasia because you didn’t know if she mad but started to believed what Bounine was telling her or if she just blocked out the killing and torture of her family and truly had forgotten who she was.

Cover Girl (1944)

This is a very enjoyable and good romantic, comedy musical starring Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth.

Rita Hayworth plays Rusty Parker a dancer in a club who auditions as the new “Cover Girl” and wins the competition. She attracts publicity to the club and meets new people who can enhance her job prospects and make her rich and famous.

Gene Kelly plays the owner of the Club and Rusty’s boyfriend who does not want her to leave the dance group but does not try to stop her when she does.

It also has a very good supporting cast especially Phil Silvers who is very funny and some great song and dance routines

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Some Like it Hot is one of the funniest films and greatest comedies ever made. A Billy Wilder Production that is shot in black and white with Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in the three lead roles with an excellent supporting cast of George Raft, Pat O’Brien and Joe E. Brown.

Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon play two Musicians named Joe and Jerry from Chicago who witness a shooting involving a mob boss played by George Raft. They decide to go on the run and disguise themselves as two female members named Josephine and Daphne of an all girl jazz band who are headed to a hotel in Florida. Marilyn Monroe plays Sugar a member of the Jazz Band who falls for Joe/Josephine’s other alter ego. Joe E. Brown plays Osgood Fielding III, an older and very rich playboy who takes a liking to Jerry/Daphne and says one of the best movie quotes ever written at the end of the film.

A great laugh for all the family to enjoy, action packed, funny and entertaining you don’t want to miss it.