Clearing the DVR & Current Kick: Ralph Meeker- “Something Wild (1961).”

Ralph Meeker in “Something Wild” (1961)

When deciding what movie to watch, I often find myself deciding upon a film based on a specific actor, a specific director, certain genre… whatever I happen to be obsessed with at the moment. It’s probably because of these kicks that many of the classic era’s biggest classics, e.g. Gone With the Wind have not yet made it to my DVD/Blu Ray player. Anyway, right now, I’ve been watching and seeking out Ralph Meeker.

I discovered Ralph Meeker as the antagonist in Jeopardy (1953) with Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan. In Jeopardy, Stanwyck plays a woman who is racing against time (and the tide) to try and find help for her husband played by Sullivan. Sullivan ends up becoming trapped under a wooden piling when he tries to save his and Stanwyck’s son from being seriously injured on a collapsing, dilapidated jetty. Sullivan cannot free his leg, and neither Stanwyck nor their young son are strong enough to move the piling. To make matters worse, the tide is coming in. If Sullivan isn’t saved soon, he will drown.

Ralph Meeker and Barbara Stanwyck in “Jeopardy” (1953)

Stanwyck leaves Sullivan at the beach in search of someone who can help. She comes across Lawson, played by Meeker, a man who seemingly wants to help her and her husband. However, it is revealed that Lawson is an escaped convict and basically uses Stanwyck as a way to escape the police. Meeker’s Lawson is terrifying, but also really hot, in that dangerous kind of way. He’s the type of dangerous that only seems sexy in the movies–in real life, you’d be scared to death and calling 911.

Anyway, after seeing Jeopardy, I started seeking out more Ralph Meeker films. Unfortunately Meeker seems like he had more success on television and on the stage than in film; but he does have a good sized filmography to keep me going for awhile.

One such film that I watched recently was Something Wild (1961) starring Meeker and Carroll Baker. This is a film that I’d seen on the Criterion shelves often, but had never seen it. I’d actually recorded it on TCM back when Baker was honored one day during TCM’s Summer Under the Stars. After getting on my Ralph Meeker kick, I was ready to watch this film. I’d also heard that this film was somewhat bleak and stressful at times. It seemed like a film that you’d have to be in the mood for and one that you’d watch at night.

Anyway, I loved Something Wild. I thought it was a fantastic film. In this movie, Baker plays Mary Ann, a college student who is attacked and raped by an unknown assailant. Normally, I do not like films that feature rape. Fortunately however, the rape scene was not graphic and the director chose to use specific close-ups and shots to get the idea across as to what was happening, but did not actually show anything. Anyway, Mary Ann is understandably traumatized and terrified.

Mary Ann tries to get her life back together and put her trauma behind her. She even goes as far as to destroy every piece of clothing that she was wearing the night she was attacked. Mary Ann doesn’t tell her mother or stepfather what happened. I get the sense that she felt shame, embarrassment and also was traumatized to the point that she just wanted to put it past her. While trying to ride the subway to get to school, Mary Ann faints when a large mob of people rush on and squeeze her into other people. Her PTSD would affect her later when her co-workers do the same thing to her and she has to go home and vomit. The police end up bringing Mary Ann home, much to the horror of her prim and proper mother. Mary Ann’s mother, instead of asking why the police are bringing her home, chooses instead to go on a tirade about what the neighbors will think. It’s obvious that if Mary Ann were to reveal to her mother the true source of her anxiety, her mother would make it about herself and make Mary Ann feel even worse.

Mary Ann ends up leaving home (without telling her mother or anyone else, causing her to be a “Missing Person” for much of the film) and finds a gross apartment in a tenement for $5/week. Her neighbor is Jean Stapleton (aka Edith Bunker) whose constant drinking and carousing with men brings Mary Ann much stress. Mary Ann’s job at the five and dime isn’t much better, as her co-worker, Doris Roberts (grandma from “Everybody Loves Raymond”) is very abrasive and gossips behind Mary Ann’s back about her aloofness and quiet nature.

Carroll Baker and Ralph Meeker in “Something Wild.”

One day, Mary Ann decides to end everything and prepares to jump off a bridge. She is saved right before jumping by Mike (played by Meeker), a mechanic. Mike takes Mary Ann to his home so that she can relax and rest. Mike’s home isn’t much better than Mary Ann’s. It’s sparsely decorated with only the basic essentials. Mary Ann at first is hesitant to go to Mike’s home (because duh, he’s a stranger), but acquiesces when he assures her that he’ll be at work all day. Mike at first seems like a sweet man, but it becomes clear that he’s troubled when he arrives home from the bar completely trashed. He’s so drunk that he can barely walk. He sees Mary Ann and tries to force himself on her. She is able to fight him off and he passes out. She spends the rest of the evening understandably terrified.

For most of the remainder of the film, Mike will not allow Mary Ann to leave. He is able to lock the door from the inside and outside and always has the key on his person. At the beginning, one might think that Mike’s just keeping her inside so that he can make sure she won’t harm herself. However, it becomes apparent that Mike has other motives for keeping Mary Ann at his house. As the audience, I should be upset and turned off that Mike is holding Mary Ann hostage; but it becomes clear that this man is troubled. He is lonely. No, he shouldn’t be keeping her hostage, but he is afraid of being alone. He doesn’t want to be alone.

Both Ralph Meeker and Carroll Baker bring a lot of emotion and complexity to their portrayals of their characters. Meeker is a troubled man, who seemingly only wants someone to love and take care of him. Baker is trying to overcome emotional trauma caused by a stranger, and is basically forced to trust a strange man that he won’t bring her harm. I really enjoyed this film and would watch it again. I loved the gritty setting, the great music and the performances of Meeker and Baker.

Reel Infatuation Blogathon- Greg Brady, “The Brady Bunch”

Reel Infatuation 2019

I’ve been on a bit of a ‘Brady Bunch’ kick lately.  I don’t know why I’m saying “lately,” I’ve been on a ‘Brady Bunch’ kick for probably 20-25 years now.  I used to watch it back in the day when it aired on TBS.  I remember when it moved to Nick at Nite back in 1998, I was so excited.  Along with I Love Lucy and The Mary Tyler Moore ShowThe Brady Bunch became one of my “must-see” shows every evening.

greg
Greg in the beginning of the series.

I always thought that Greg Brady (and to some extent, Peter as well) was kind of cute which is why I selected him for this year’s “Reel Infatuation” Blogathon. The Greg and Marcia-centric episodes were always my favorite, mainly because as the oldest child, they’re the characters who I identified with the most.  The episodes centered around Greg are some of the funniest ones in the series, especially one of my favorites, “Getting Greg’s Goat.”

Greg has always been my favorite Brady.  He’s attractive (nice eyes!), a great singer, an athlete, a photographer and he “fits the suit.” He’s a bit of a ladies’ man (he isn’t called “The Casanova of Clinton Avenue” for nothing) even though he can be a bit blinded by the opposite sex.  When he was the head of the committee to select the head cheerleader, contender Jennifer Nichols attempted to use “Greggy” for his vote.  In this instance, Greg demonstrated that he had character by not being swayed by his hormones or by nepotism (sister Marcia was a contender as well).  He selected Pat Conway, the contestant whom he felt did the best.  In another demonstration of character, when he finds himself running against sister Marcia for Student Body President, Greg fires his campaign manager when he announces his intent to spread false rumors about Marcia.

greg2
Greg in the final season.

I find Greg’s self-confidence attractive, such as when he thinks he’ll be the next Don Drysdale or when he thinks he’s written the next hit song (“We Can Make the World a Whole Lot Brighter”).  He’s musically inclined and has performed on local television multiple times.  His talent did not go unnoticed.  While singing “You’ve Got to be in Love (to Love a Love Song),” Greg was discovered by music agent Tammy Cutler.  She was planning to groom him into the next pop star, under the moniker “Johnny Bravo.”  After hearing his sweetened up vocals, Greg demonstrated that he had pride when he declined the offer of a contract, as he did not want to be a sell-out.  However, he showed a questionable understanding of the legalities of a contract, as merely ripping up a contract does NOT relieve you of legal obligation.

greg1
Greg’s groovy threads

Greg also demonstrates a great sense of fashion.  I loved his “man” outfit which consisted of a fringe vest, a blue shirt with a floral print, glasses with green-tinted lenses, headband, and striped pants.  He also sports a great suede fringe jacket when they record “Time to Change” at Mr. Dimsdale’s record studio.  I even loved his plaid pants in “Adios, Johnny Bravo.”

Greg did have some questionable hairstyles at times.  As an 8th-9th grader, he wore his hair short on the sides and back, longer on top.  Frankly, this is the style I prefer, but Greg was a bit young.  As he matured, his hair took on a questionable look and texture.  There is a period where he is decidedly older, his hair longer, but it is this weird straight-ish mop on his head.  I read that Greg’s portrayer, Barry Williams, experimented with a chemical straightener and it did not go well.  I’ll assume that this is the period of Greg’s awful hair.  I don’t know what happened in Hawaii, but the Brady men’s hair did not fare well.  The men went over to the Island State with straight hair and returned with permed hair.  There was also a period where Greg seemed to be attempting to grow a ‘fro.  I was not into this era either.  By the end of the series, he’s got his hair under control and is rocking some great sideburns.  This is the Greg I like the best.

gregmarcia
One of Greg’s faults is his sometimes sexist attitudes.

Since nobody is infallible, Greg did have his faults.  He seemed to regress into “men are superior than women” attitude on occasion.  Such as when the Brady men took their new female family members on their first camping trip.  The gang fails to catch fish for dinner.  Greg and his brothers attribute the lack of fish to their sisters’ lack of fishing ability.  Thankfully, the women thought ahead and packed fried chicken and cold cuts.  Who can forget Greg’s immortal words, “That’s sissy food!” He also gets into a battle of the sexes when the boys and girls argue over the use of the trading stamps and the clubhouse.  Then there was the time when Marcia wanted to be in Greg’s Frontier Scout troop.  Despite his efforts to prove that men were superior in the wild than women, he failed.  Finally, in a last ditch attempt to assert men’s dominance, he resorted to challenging Marcia in a driving contest.  Perhaps he’ll reconsider his stance as he irons Marcia’s clothes for the next year.

greg
Despite having questionable hair at times, I still think Greg Brady is pretty hip! *Yes, I know that the orange hair was an accident in the last episode of the series.

Despite his bravado, I still find Greg to be pretty groovy.  He sings, he plays guitar, he surfs, he plays football, baseball and basketball.  I love that he sticks up for his siblings while also providing guidance and advice.  Finally, Greg was able to escape from Vincent Price’s clutches while imprisoned.  If that doesn’t make someone great, I don’t know what does!

If anyone doesn’t like Greg Brady or The Brady Bunch for that matter, all I can do is quote the great Greg Brady: “Kids.  What do they know about life?”

Happy National Classic Movie Day!

Once again I’ve fallen off the posting train.  I need to make it more of a habit, but I struggle to find time.  Then, I had trouble with my WordPress account and I couldn’t post.  I finally got that fixed.  I didn’t want to miss posting on National Classic Movie Day.  I also plan to post about the late, great Doris Day soon.

classicmovie

For this year’s National Classic Movie Day, the Classic Film and TV Cafe are asking participants to post his or her top 5 favorite films from the 1950s.

Without further adieu, here are mine:

longlong

The Long, Long Trailer (1954)

This is my absolute favorite movie of all time.  I have probably seen it a hundred times (no exaggeration). I’m a big fan of I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball.  The Long, Long Trailer is basically a 90-minute I Love Lucy episode.  Ball and Desi Arnaz’ (aka Lucy and Ricky Ricardo on I Love Lucy) character’s first names in ‘Trailer’ are very similar to those of their Ricardo counterparts– Tacy and Nicky, respectively.  This MGM comedy is hilarious and I never tire of it, even though I’m at the point where I can recite the dialogue.  Quotes from this film regularly make it into everyday conversations I have with friends and family (only those who have seen this film of course).  My favorite quote to use, while driving, is “Turn right here, left.”

The Long, Long Trailer tells the story of Tacy and Nicky Collini, newlyweds who are embarking on a road-trip for their honeymoon: Los Angeles to Colorado.  The Collinis decide to purchase a 40′ New Moon trailer for their journey.  The film depicts the Collinis trying to handle trailer life and all the trials and tribulations that come with it: noisy trailer parks, parking on uneven surfaces, getting stuck in the mud, spending the night on a noisy highway, weight limits, cooking, parking, backing in, and more.  Will the newlyweds’ marriage survive the trip?

My favorite part of the movie is when Tacy and Nicky decide to go off-roading and end up stuck in the mud.  The trailer is all whopperjawed. Tacy and Nicky get through dinner and go to bed.  Nicky is on the downhill side.  He has no issues getting into bed.  Tacy on the other hand, is on the uphill side and can’t stay in bed.  One may ask why she doesn’t make her husband move over and she can share his bed.  Well that would be the logical solution, but since this is Lucy, that isn’t going to happen.  After a couple of feeble attempts to get into bed, the jack holding the trailer up (kind of) collapses in the mud and Tacy goes flying out the door.  Nicky, awoken by his wife’s blood-curdling scream, comes to the door and says: “What’s the matter honey? Can’t you sleep?”  While sitting in a 5′ deep mud puddle, Tacy gives him a look that could only convey “[expletive] you.”

gidget

Gidget (1959)

I’ve mentioned Gidget many times on this blog, but it’s worth mentioning again.  I love this movie.  I’ve seen it dozens of times and I never tire of it.  Sandra Dee is adorable.  James Darren is hunky.  The story is relatable. Gidget was the start of the 1950s-1960s teen surf movie craze and I’m all in for teen surf movies.  Of all the teen surf movies (the ‘Beach Party’ films, For Those Who Think Young, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, etc.) the original Gidget film is the best.

In this coming of age story, Sandra Dee plays the titular character, Frances “Gidget” Lawrence, a seventeen year old tomboy who is uneasy about her girlfriends’ new hobby: manhunting.  Frances is more interested in snorkeling than finding a boyfriend.  Her friends on the other hand, act like they’ll be old maids if they aren’t “pinned” by the end of the summer aka the beginning of their senior year of high school.  The girls (except Frances) try posturing and flaunting themselves in front of a group of male surfers, but fail to catch their attention.  Frances clumsily tries to play along, but gets frustrated and goes snorkeling instead.  Her friends ditch her.  Frances, swimming in the ocean, gets stuck in kelp.

In the first of a couple kelp episodes, Frances is saved by one of the surfer boys, “Moondoggie,” played by James Darren.  Frances is infatuated with him from the get-go.  And frankly, who wouldn’t be? Frances is nicknamed “Gidget” by the boys (a portmanteau of “girl” and “midget”).  She also takes an interest in surfing and is soon hanging out with the boys everyday.  Her surfing skills steadily improve and pretty soon, she’s good enough to really “hang” with the boys.  Throughout all the surfing scenes, Gidget and Moondoggie grow closer, culminating with a kiss at the luau.  However, Gidget’s awkwardness threatens to keep them apart.

My favorite part of this film is probably Moondoggie serenading Gidget at the luau and planting the kiss on her.  I also love the scene with the fight at Kahuna’s beach shack and the elderly neighbor’s witness statement to the police: “When I saw that other one (Moondoggie) run in there (the beach shack). I knew there’d be trouble. I can spot trouble through a crack in the blinds.”

eve

All About Eve (1950)

One of the best known classics in Hollywood, I never tire of this film.  The cast.  The dialogue.  The story.  Everything about this film is perfect–except Thelma Ritter’s abrupt exit during the first half of the film.  What happened to Birdie? She went to get the guest’s coat and never came back! This story is timeless, even in real life.  No matter how great and indispensable you think you may be, there’s always someone waiting in the wings who is better than you are.

All About Eve begins at the Sarah Siddons Award ceremony.  Rising star Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is slated to receive the prestigious Sarah Siddons award, the highest honor given to persons in the theater community.  As acerbic critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) introduces the cast of characters, us as the audience knows that there is a story behind Eve’s rise to stardom.  Huge star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) looks like she wants to shoot Eve.  The playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) and director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) of Eve’s award-winning play do not look proud or happy in the slightest.  Lloyd’s wife, Karen (Celeste Holm) takes over the narration and lets the audience in on the true story about Eve Harrington.

On a rainy night, after another performance of Margo’s hit play, “Aged in Wood,” Karen comes across Eve, a young woman she’s repeatedly spotted waiting outside the backstage exit.  Thinking she’s doing the young woman a favor, Karen invites the young woman inside to meet her idol, Margo Channing.  Little does Karen know what lurks ahead.  As the story progresses, we see Eve slowly insinuate herself into Margo’s personal and professional life.  Perhaps this is why Birdie disappears! Eve’s goal is to star in Lloyd’s next play, Footsteps on the Ceiling.

What I love about this film is how slowly Eve’s scheme unfolds.  It is not obvious that Eve is taking over Margo’s life.  It’s only through the music, Birdie’s “I told you so” face, and Margo’s growing frustration that we figure out what Eve is doing.  As Eve gets away with more and more, the more brazen she becomes–such as calling Lloyd to her apartment in the middle of the night.  My favorite part of the film is Addison’s take-down of Eve and Eve’s comeuppance at the end when she meets #1 fan, Phoebe (Barbara Bates).

pillow

Pillow Talk (1959)

Starring the recently departed Doris Day, this film is her first of three films with co-star Rock Hudson.  Of their three films together, the others being Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964)Pillow Talk is my favorite.  I love the catchy theme song, Doris and Rock’s undeniable chemistry, Tony Randall, and Doris’ gorgeous wardrobe.  The film is funny, romantic and a little sexy.

In Pillow Talk, Doris stars as Jan Morrow, an interior decorator.  She’s a successful career woman who’s driven up the wall by the romantic escapades of her party line partner Brad Allen, played by Rock Hudson.  Tony Randall portrays Jonathan Forbes, a mutual friend of Jan and Brad’s.  Jan and Brad bicker constantly on the party line.  Jan tries to offer a compromise over the use of the line, but Brad is unwilling to participate.  Jan ends up (unsuccessfully) filing a complaint against Brad with the phone company.

One night, Brad and Jan just happen to be at the same nightclub.  Brad sees her and learns her name, figuring out that she’s the one who he bickers with on the party line.  He concocts the fake persona of “Rex Stetson” a Texas cattle rancher.  Using a Texas drawl, Rex successfully picks up Jan and takes her home.  Soon they are seeing each other regularly.  Jan finds herself falling for “Rex.”  Brad/Rex finds himself falling for Jan.

My favorite part of this film is watching 6’5 Rock Hudson try to squeeze himself into a tiny sports car, Jan’s maid Alma (Thelma Ritter) drinking Hudson under the table, and every scene with Tony Randall.  He is hilarious.  Pillow Talk set the pace for the sexy 1960s sex comedies.  Watch 2003’s Down With Love (with Renee Zelwegger and Ewan McGregor) for a fun send-up of Pillow Talk and the other sex comedy tropes.

rear

Rear Window (1954)

This is my favorite Hitchock film.  Everything about this film is fantastic: the story, the dialogue, the cast, the sets, everything.  I absolutely love the set of this film.  Hitchcock’s courtyard set is amazing.  The attention to detail is fantastic.  I love how the other neighbors all have storylines, even though they never set foot in James Stewart’s apartment.  Miss Torso, Miss Lonelyhearts, The Songwriter, all the neighbors are fantastic.  The only fault in this film is the cheesy way the ending looks, but I’ll chalk that up to 1950s technology.

In Rear Window, James Stewart plays photographer LB “Jeff” Jeffries, who is homebound after breaking his leg.  He is bored and spends most of his days watching the goings on of his neighbors in the courtyard.  He devises names for the neighbors and keeps up on their lives.  One neighbor in particular, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), catches his attention.  It seems that Thorwald had an invalid wife, until all of a sudden, he didn’t. Curious about what happened to Mrs. Thorwald, Jeff begins watching him more intently with a large telephoto lens.

Jeff sees Thorwald engaged in all kinds of suspicious activity and is determined that he was behind his wife’s disappearance.  Using his binoculars and camera lenses, Jeff basically engages in a stakeout.  Throughout all his investigation work, Jeff’s girlfriend, Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly, and his nurse Stella, played by Thelma Ritter come and go.  At first the ladies are dismissive of Jeff’s interest in Thorwald and his determination to prove him a murderer.  However, after seeing Thorwald’s behavior first-hand, the ladies are hooked and soon join Jeff in his stakeout.  Lisa and Stella become further involved in Jeff’s independent investigation when they leave the apartment to gather evidence from Thorwald’s garden and home.

My favorite part of this film is the scene with Jeff, Lisa and Stella watching Thorwald scrub his walls.  “Must’ve splattered a lot,” Stella says matter of factly.  Lisa and Jeff look at her disgusted.  She then defends her position, saying “Come on. That’s what we’re all thinkin’. He killed her in there, now he has to clean up those stains before he leaves.” I also love Grace Kelly’s wardrobe.  If there was ever an actress who epitomized Hollywood glamor, it’s Grace Kelly.

 

The First Annual Valentine’s Day “Meet-Cute” Blogathon- “That Funny Feeling” (1965)

blogathon1

One of my favorite eras of film is the early to mid-1960s.  The Production Code was on  its way out and filmmakers were allowed to get away with racier content than they would have, had the film been made ten years prior.  However, films made between 1960-1968ish were not yet allowed to go whole-hog and usually did not feature expletives or nudity.  The early to mid 1960s seemed to be the era of the lighthearted, goofy comedy.  Many of these films aren’t smart comedy, but they’re fun.  And at the end of the day, after a rough day in the warehouse (maybe that’s just me), a fluffy, fun comedy is all you need–it isn’t in you at that moment to watch Marlon Brando give the performance of his life in On the Waterfront.

 thatfunnyOne of my favorite stars of the 1950s and 1960s is Sandra Dee.  Sure, she’s no Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn, but not everyone needs to be either.  She’s fun, charismatic, and a natural comedienne.  One of my favorite qualities about Dee are her eyes.  No matter the circumstance, whether she’s fawning over Moondoggie in Gidget or trying to train Bobby Darin using a dog training manual (If a Man Answers), she’s always got an underlying vulnerability.  One of my favorite Sandra Dee films is That Funny Feeling, co-starring real life husband, Bobby Darin.  I love Bobby Darin’s singing.  Sandra Dee + Bobby Darin = winning movie in my book.

That Funny Feeling tells the story of Joan Howell (Sandra Dee), an aspiring actress who works as a maid to make ends meet.  She is not a live-in maid, but rather she visits her clients while they’re out and cleans their homes.  One of her clients is Tom Milford (Bobby Darin), a wealthy, playboy businessman.  Tom leaves a note for Joan on his door stating that he will be in California for two weeks.  His trip falls through, but Joan is unaware of the change in plans.  Joan and Tom’s “meet-cute” moment occurs three times in the beginning of the film.  The first time, Joan is bent down fixing a run in her stocking and Tom trips over her cleaning equipment (encased in a small round suitcase) and consequently over her as well.  The second time, Joan is stopped at the same newsstand and Tom again trips over her suitcase and onto her.  The third and final time, Joan and Tom’s respective cabs hit each other.  They decide that this must be fate trying to tell them to meet and get together so they opt to have drinks together at a neighborhood bar.  What Joan doesn’t know is that Tom is one of her clients whose apartment she cleans.  Tom doesn’t know that Joan is his maid.

bobbydarin
Bobby Darin puts the moves on Sandra Dee in “That Funny Feeling.”

After they finish their drinks, Tom insists on bringing Joan home.  Joan is embarrassed by the small, derelict hovel that she shares with her roommate, Audrey.  The girls live in a tiny apartment, complete with beds that they have to shift out of the way to get into the bathroom, the neighbor’s alarm clock that they use for their own, an elaborate routine of moving stuff out of the way just to open the front door, and having to share their water pressure with the neighbor and his shower.  They also have insect and noise issues.  To keep Tom from seeing her real apartment, she has him take her to his apartment that she’s pretending is hers.

sandradee
Sandra Dee and Nita Talbot sleep in their tiny apartment in “That Funny Feeling.”

Amused (and confused) at the scheme that Joan is pulling over on him, Tom decides to play along.  Tom enlists his boss Harvey (Donald O’Connor) to allow him to use his swingin’ bachelor pad to masquerade as his apartment.  In exchange, Tom promises Harvey that he’ll help him hide his expensive art collection from his estranged wife who is looking to take all of his assets in their divorce settlement.

As Joan’s scheme continues, her deception gets more and more elaborate.  She and her roommate, not wanting to return to their crummy apartment, and thinking that the owner will be out of town for two weeks, essentially move in.  They even go as far as to bring all their clothes with them and re-decorate Tom’s apartment to feminize it.  Joan takes to pawning Tom’s clothing to get money for the decor.  When Tom picks Joan up for their date, he is shocked to see what has become of his home.

Of course, like how all these movies featuring deception go, Joan and Tom eventually find out each other’s true identities.  Misunderstandings ensue and some hilarious scene will take place.  In this instance, Joan ends up inviting all of Tom’s ex-flames to the same party, under the guise that it’s a costume party, where the theme is essentially Parisian courtesans.  All the ladies come dressed as streetwalkers.  The party is eventually raided and everyone in the movie is picked up as part of a suspected prostitution ring. And as all these movies go, they will eventually work everything out and live happily ever after.

ladies
The ladies dressed as their “favorite women from the boulevard” arrive at Tom Milford’s party in “That Funny Feeling.”

I really enjoy this film.  Sandra Dee, more confident and grown-up than her 17-year old self in Gidget is adorable.  Bobby Darin has such swagger and I love his voice.  Like Frank, Dean and Sammy, he’s just so cool.  He sings the title song over imagery of the universe.  The opening doesn’t really make any sense, but it’s fun in a retro way.  I love Nita Talbot, who plays roommate Audrey is funny as Dee’s sarcastic, get a grip friend–who inevitably follows along with the scheme.  She is the Ethel to Dee’s Lucy.  I love Donald O’Connor, so his appearance in any film is always welcome.  Too bad he wasn’t able to perform a tap dance number or something.  He could dance while Darin sings.

That Funny Feeling, not groundbreaking cinema by any means, is a fun diversion.  It serves as a portal into life in 1965 and features a great cast of performers.  There is a funny scene where Talbot ruins Dee’s Duck a l’Orange by pouring tons of Cointreau on it and lighting it on fire while lighting a cigarette.  Dee and Darin are adorable together.  This film would be a great one to watch with your Valentine, or in my case, a parrot*.

duck
Nita Talbot and Sandra Dee ruin Duck a’l Orange in “That Funny Feeling.”

*-My Valentine is a chef and consequently is spending Valentine’s Day cooking for other Valentines.

 

Favorite 50’s-60’s Teen Beach Movies

I love a good fluff film.  And you can’t get much fluffier than 1950s-1960s teen beach movies.  These films are never going to rank on the top of any “Greatest Movie of All Time” list (except for mine probably), but they’re a fun insight into a nicer, gentler time.  A time when teenagers weren’t grinding each other in clubs or at school dances, or doing stupid “challenges” like eating detergent (I’m sorry that’s NOT a challenge, that’s just dumb) but rather are doing “The swim” and goofy dances at beach luaus.  These are films where the biggest worry is whether the surf is good, or whether someone has a date to a luau.  There’s usually a romantic element.  These films have so much charm (and usually a little eye candy), I love them.  The music, the silliness, the dancing, everything that I want in a film.  Not everything needs to be Citizen Kane.

kiss

Gidget and Moondoggie embrace on the beach in 1959’s “Gidget.”

My favorites:

Gidget (1959).  I covered this film earlier when I participated in the “Reel Infatuation” blogathon last summer.  I covered the object of Gidget’s affection–Moondoggie.  To give a short recap, Gidget is the coming of age story of 17-year old Frances “Gidget” Lawrence, portrayed by 50s-60s teen queen, Sandra Dee.  Gidget is at an age where her friends are boy-crazy and want to find boyfriends.  The beginning of the film finds Gidget being coerced into going to the beach to go “man-hunting.”  Gidget is self-conscious (she isn’t as well developed as her friends) and doesn’t feel that urge to partner off with a boy.  At the beach, she befriends a group of surfers and quickly discovers how much she loves surfing.  The surfers, all boys, quickly take Gidget under their wing.

While surfing with the boys, Gidget meets super-hot college student Moondoggie, played by teen idol James Darren.  At first, Moondoggie is indifferent to Gidget and gives her the cold shoulder.  Moondoggie it seems is determined to strike out on his own and get out from under his father’s thumb (and wallet), and decides that he wants to shirk the responsibility of college and take up the occupation of beach bum.  Under the tutelage of older friend Kahuna aka Burt Vail, played by Cliff Robertson, Moondoggie is determined to live life on his own terms.  To him, Gidget seems like some kid who is perpetually in the way.

surf
James Darren (Moondoggie) and Sandra Dee (Gidget) in “Gidget” (1959).

However, it soon becomes apparent that Moondoggie is putting up a big facade.  He doesn’t really want to be a beach bum (neither does Kahuna either, it turns out).  He also displays a protectiveness toward Gidget (as evidenced by him intervening in Gidget’s “surf lesson” with the handsy surfer “Loverboy”).  Later, he finds himself enamored of her and they have their first kiss at the luau.  At the end of the film, “the Gidg” and “Moondoggie” are going steady, he’s given her his pin!  As Gidget would say, “this [film] is the ultimate!”

Where the Boys Are (1960) This film, while it takes place at the beach and features teenagers, has a different vibe and feel than the typical teen beach movies of the era.  While it has some silly scenes and characters, the film overall has a more serious tone.  Where the Boys Are is the coming of age story for four teenage girls, Merritt (Dolores Hart), Tuttle (Paula Prentiss), Melanie (Yvette Mimieux) and Angie (Connie Francis).

The four girls decide to escape their snowy college campus in the midwest (don’t blame them there) and head to spring break in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  While in Florida, each girl meets a man who indirectly teaches them something about themselves.  Merritt puts up a facade as being sexually progressive, an attitude which she expresses in her relationships class (much to the chagrin of the prudish teacher).  Melanie, inspired by her best friend’s attitude towards sex decides to jump headfirst into dating boys when she gets to Florida.  Tuggle is more traditional and wants marriage and children, in that order.  She’s looking for a man who not only shares her values, but is also taller than her.  She’s 5’10.5″ tall.  Angie is the “plain one” of the group (every teen movie seems to have one) and she’d just be happy to have someone be interested in her.  She is the most down to earth member of the group.

Boys
The ladies in “Where the Boys Are” (1960) from left to right: Dolores Hart (Merritt), Connie Francis (Angie), Yvette Mimieux (Melanie) and Paula Prentiss (Tuggle)

Merritt ends up meeting Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), an older, rich college student who is experienced.  He tries to ply her with alcohol and tries to get her to spend the night, but she refuses.  Ryder soon discovers that Merritt talks a good game, but she’s really a virgin who isn’t ready for sex.  Tuggle meets tall “TV” Thompson (Jim Hutton).  He is goofy, but Tuggle finds that she likes him.  He doesn’t drop her instantly when she tells him that she won’t have sex before marriage.  However, he seems to have a roving eye which casts doubt on him being a suitable, long term partner.  Angie meets the goofy musician, Basil (Frank Gorshin), who she loves.  She’s able to show off her singing abilities in his “dialectic jazz” band.  Finally, Melanie has the worst wake-up call when she meets some Ivy leaguers, namely Franklin and Dill.  She genuinely feels something for Franklin but is taken advantage of by Dill after Franklin gives him the scoop that Melanie will be an easy score.

This film has a great theme song (sung by Connie Francis) and features a great cast.  I love the more realistic storylines and the vibe of the film.  Melanie’s storyline is a bummer, but I think it was needed to balance out the other characters’ storylines.  Unfortunately, Melanie’s situation is all too relatable.  Each girl features a different facet of relationships and I felt that all were portrayed very realistically.

Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961).  I’m not going to lie, this film isn’t nearly as good as Gidget (1959).  In this film, Gidget is portrayed by Deborah Walley.  Sandra Dee unfortunately was under contract to Universal and they wouldn’t release her to reprise her role in this Columbia film.  Gidget’s parents are recast as well.  Carl Reiner and Jeff Donnell portray Gidget’s parents Russell and Dorothy Lawrence.  James Darren, thankfully, reprises his role as Jeffrey “Moondoggie” Matthews.

I’ll admit that when I first saw this film, I didn’t like it.  Deborah Walley got on my nerves.  However, I rewatched it, and now it has kind of grown on me.  While Walley’s Gidget is different than Dee’s, I find her entertaining and it’s a fun take on the Gidget character.  I did like Reiner and Donnell’s portrayal of Gidget’s parents more than Arthur O’Connell and Mary LaRoche’s in the original film.  My criticism with this film is that I wish the costume designers had done service to Walley’s figure.  While Dee was very petite (not necessarily short though, she seems to be of average height), her costumes were flattering and chic.  Walley, while a little more curvy than Dee, but not fat by any means, was outfitted in some very twee looking costumes.  Assuming that the Gidget character is supposed to be at least 18, she’s dressed like she’s 12.  Unfortunately, these costumes gave Walley a short, squatty appearance.

gidget
James Darren (Moondoggie) and Deborah Walley (Gidget) dancing in “Gidget Goes Hawaiian” (1961).

Gidget Goes Hawaiian is meant to be a sequel to the original Gidget.  We’ll forget about the fact that every character is portrayed by a different actor except for Moondoggie.  The film even goes as far as to present “flashbacks” from the original film with Walley outfitted in Dee’s costumes and re-creating scenes from the original film.  One error I found however, is that Moondoggie gives Gidget his pin at the beginning of the film.  He gave his pin to Gidget at the end of the first film.  In the second film however, Gidget treats him giving her his pin as an engagement ring, or an “engaged to be engaged” type symbol.

In this film, Moondoggie is home from college for summer vacation. Continuing with the timeline established in the first film, we can assume that Moondoggie has probably just completed his sophomore (maybe junior) year of college and Gidget has graduated high school.  He and Gidget are inseparable.  Their love for one another is continuing to grow, we see a montage of them at the beach, on a date, and dancing closely.  There is a funny scene toward the end of the film where Gidget basically hints at sex, or at least asking Moondoggie if he’s experienced, to which he refuses to supply an answer.  I will presume that Moondoggie has some experience with the ladies prior to Gidget, and why wouldn’t he? He’s a fox!

Russell surprises his wife and daughter with a two week trip to Hawaii.  Dorothy is overjoyed (of course) and Gidget is less so.  Moondoggie will be home from school for only two more weeks.  Gidget refuses to go because she doesn’t want to lose their last two weeks together.  At first Russell is upset, but then he and Dorothy make peace with the idea of a two week romantic Hawaiian vacation sans Gidget.  Gidget tells Moondoggie of this injustice of having to go to Hawaii and he tells her to go, saying that it’s a great opportunity (because duh! it is).  Gidget ridiculously assumes that Moondoggie doesn’t love her anymore.

The remainder of this film involves the Lawrence’s trip to Hawaii, friends that Gidget meets along the way, including a new boy, and a misunderstanding between Gidget and her parents.  It’s ridiculous, dumb at times and doesn’t make any sense.  But I really enjoy this film.  I think it deserves its own post.

For Those Who Think Young (1964).  This film (based on a 1960s Pepsi ad campaign slogan) also features James “Moondoggie” Darren.  In this film, he plays Gardner “Ding” Pruitt III, a rich college boy who is constantly on the prowl for a new flavor of the week.  He keeps a fancy rolodex of his dates with comments about each.  His car has two (!) phones in it.  Bob Denver plays his sidekick, “Kelp.”  Another thing to love about these surfer movies, the absurd nicknames! Anyway, Ding has his sights set on Sandy Palmer, played by Pamela Tiffin. Sandy is the niece of Woody Woodbury, a comic who works at the dive bar, the Silver Palms.  The Silver Palms is located next to the college campus and is well known as an establishment that serves alcohol to minors.  This club also features a burlesque dancer named Topaz McQueen (Tina Louise).

forthose
Pamela Tiffin (Sandy) and James Darren (Ding) in the 1964 COLOR film, “For Those Who Think Young.”

One day, Woody and his comic partner, Sid Hoyt (Paul Lynde) find themselves out of work.  It seems that their act at the Silver Palms is not that great.  Woody, performing the last show, decides to just perform a stand-up routine instead of the usual song.  His stand-up act is a massive success and soon the Silver Palms is rebranded into “Surf’s Up,” a brand-new college hangout that actually cards the patrons and brands them with a black-light stamp that says “No booze for youse” if you’re under 21.

Of course, the neighboring university thinks that nothing but debauchery happens at this club and want it shut down.  The main ringleader behind this movement is Burford Cronin (Robert Middleton) who just happens to be Ding’s grandfather.  The university even goes as far as to send their Professor of Sociology (Ellen Burstyn, billed in this film as “Ellen McRae”) to observe.  She gets drunk on two spiked “fruit juices” but ends up giving her seal of approval to the establishment anyway.

Aside from Surf’s Up, the main conflict in this film is the relationship between Ding and Sandy.  Ding actually finds himself genuinely liking Sandy and Sandy feels the same for him.  However, Ding’s grandfather, Burford, thinks that Sandy is too “low class” for his family.  It seems that his daughter, Ding’s mother, married a man whom Burford thought brought some “bad blood” into the family.  To further anger him, Ding announces that he and Sandy intend to marry when they graduate college.  Of course, Grandpa Cronin is upset, but like how these movies always turn out, his viewpoint does a 180 in 5 minutes and he’s welcoming Sandy into his family and embracing Surf’s Up, the club he wanted to close down 10 minutes ago.

Nancy Sinatra (Frank’s daughter) and Claudia Martin (Dean’s daughter) provide additional support in this film.  There is a bizarre musical number in this film that features Bob Denver’s chin.

Beach Party (1963). I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention at least one of the Frankie and Annette “Beach Party” films.  I’ll admit that I haven’t seen all of them, but I do own the box set.  I’m going to go with the first film in the series.  What I love about these films is that they have the most random co-stars.  Aside from Frankie and Annette, these films often have old Hollywood stars like Robert Cummings, Dorothy Malone, Keenan Wynn, Boris Karloff, Buster Keaton, Mickey Rooney or people like Paul Lynde, Don Rickles, and Stevie Wonder, everyone whom you wouldn’t expect to pop-up in a teen beach movie. These movies usually have a common theme, the main one being that Annette is mad at Frankie and Frankie being too clueless to know what he did.  In Frankie’s defense, sometimes Annette is being ridiculous.

In Beach Party, Robert Cummings stars as an anthropologist who, along with his secretary Dorothy Malone, is studying the sex habits of teenagers.  He comes across a clan of surfer kids, led by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. Frankie and Annette aren’t “Frankie and Annette” in this movie, they’re “Frankie and Dolores.”  In most of the films, Frankie is “Frankie.”  Annette usually plays “Dee Dee,” but in Beach Party, she’s Dolores.  In the Beach Party series, Frankie always seems to be frustrated by Annette’s tendency towards being a cold fish.  This film is no different.  Frankie invites Annette aka Dolores, to a beach house for some alone time.  Annette, not trusting herself (or Frankie) with Frankie, has invited everyone to the beach house to chaperone.  Because this is a “Beach Party” movie, Frankie is mad at Annette and she’s mad at him.

frankie
Annette Funicello (Dolores) and Frankie Avalon (Frankie) in “Beach Party” (1963).

In true Frankie and Annette fashion, they spend a bulk of the film jealous of one another.  Annette decides to flirt with Cummings, who is too dense to see what’s going on.  His secretary, Malone, who is in love with him (and closer to his own age), sees exactly what is happening.  Frankie hooks up with some floozy that he meets in an effort to retaliate against Annette.  There’s also a motorcycle gang, led by Eric Von Zipper who terrorizes the gang.

I enjoy these movies because, while they’re pretty dumb at times, the teenagers are cool.  They sing fun songs, wear cool bathing suits and hang out in some pretty neat looking clubs.

I’m back!

I’m back after a much too long hiatus.  Things got busy, and I’ll admit, I probably got a little lazy.  I signed up for too many blogathons as well (can’t help it, they all sound so wonderful!), and I think I overwhelmed myself.  I feel bad when I don’t complete my blogathon entries, it’s akin to not doing my homework.  Anyway, I need to scale back and not overcommit myself.  Since my last entry back in July, I have since traveled to the Oregon Coast and Austin, Texas.  Work has been busy.  We had an alleged major snowstorm (I hate snow, blech!) which fortunately turned out to be nothing.

I want to work on my blog. I’ve been trying to figure out its place in the internet world. I need a niche. Or something to stand out. I don’t know. All I know is that I love classic movies and television and watch both frequently.  I also want to work on my banner graphic.

The Astaire & Rogers Blogathon–“Post Astaire and Rogers”


astaire

By 1939, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers had made nine films together at RKO studios.  Their first film together, Flying Down to Rio (1933), featured the duo in supporting roles.  This wasn’t even supposed to be a vehicle for Fred and Ginger, the film starred Dolores Del Rio and Gene Raymond.  However, they excited audiences so much in “The Carioca,” that RKO was quick to re-team the duo in their second vehicle, The Gay Divorcee.  When ‘Rio’ was made, Ginger was the bigger star.  She had already appeared in almost two dozen films, including: 42nd Street and Gold Diggers of 1933.  Fred on the other hand, was primarily a Broadway performer and had only appeared in one other film (Dancing Lady, where we’re treated to Joan Crawford’s awful dancing), where he played a fictionalized version of himself.

The Gay Divorcee was a huge hit and RKO was quick to keep teaming Fred and Ginger up in picture after picture.  Between 1933 and 1939, the duo had appeared in nine films: The Gay Divorcee (1934), Roberta (1935), Top Hat (1935), Follow the Fleet (1936), Swing Time (1936), Shall We Dance (1937), Carefree (1938), and The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939).  By this point, both Fred and Ginger were ready to move onto other projects.  Ginger, especially, was ready to prove herself as more than just a dancer in fluffy romantic films.  She had achieved some success in the ensemble dramatic film, Stage Door (1937), and wanted to do more in this realm.

fredandginger
Fred and Ginger in “Swing Time.”

Fred, I don’t believe had acting aspirations as lofty as Ginger, but I believe he did want to try some more inventive dance routines.  Not that Ginger held him back, but seeing his performances where he dances solo, Fred seems to have more fun dancing–perhaps because he can do a more technical routine. After his initial partnership with Ginger ended, Fred appeared in a few more musicals with a variety of dancers: Broadway Melody of 1940 (w/ Eleanor Powell), You’ll Never Get Rich (w/ Rita Hayworth), You Were Never Lovelier (also w/ Rita Hayworth), and Yolanda and the Thief (with Lucille Bremer).  By 1946, Fred was tired of making films and retired.

Meanwhile, Ginger’s career was only getting bigger and bigger.  In 1940, Ginger appeared in one of her first major dramatic roles, Primrose Path with Joel McCrea.  I really like this film.  In this film, Ginger plays a woman who hails from a family whose tradition is prostitution.  Both Ginger’s grandmother and mother are prostitutes.  Ginger, understandably, does not want to follow in the family business.  She ends up meeting and marrying McCrea who is unaware of her family’s history.  Later in 1940, Ginger gets the role of a lifetime, the title role in Kitty Foyle.

When Ginger was first given the book for Kitty Foyle (for which RKO had just purchased the film rights), she was not impressed.  As she says in her 1991 autobiography, Ginger: My Story:

“As Howard [Hughes] and I were driving toward his residence, I glanced at my copy of Kitty Foyle.  There were explicit love scenes in it that were quite disturbing to me.  As I read these passages, I found myself passing judgement on them.  “That could never pass the censor board.  So what good is it for me to spend time reading it?” I was really embarrassed that RKO would send me something like this.  I snapped the book shut and quite deliberately, through it in the corner of Howard’s car.”

Ginger spoke to her mother, Lela, about the trashy book.  Lela very matter of factly, told Ginger that the studio would obviously have to tone down the sexual content as it would be impossible to film it.  The entire story would essentially have to be re-written.  After speaking with Lela, the producer and writer Dalton Trumbo (who was hired to write the script), Ginger’s qualms about accepting the part had been squashed.  Kitty Foyle ended up being a major hit, winning Ginger the Best Actress Oscar.

dennis
Dennis Morgan and Ginger Rogers in “Kitty Foyle.”

After Kitty Foyle, Ginger continued to act in dramatic films but also dabbled in comedic and noir roles as well.  Ginger even went back to her roots and appeared in more musicals.  One of my personal favorites of Ginger’s 1940s career is her turn in Billy Wilder’s directorial debut–The Major and the Minor.  This film is hilarious.  However, you really have to suspend your disbelief when it comes to the premise.  If you can accept co-star Ray Milland believing that Ginger’s character is “eleven, twelve next week” then you will enjoy this film.

The Major and the Minor gave Ginger the opportunity to show off her broad comedy skills.  The premise of this film is that Ginger has been trying to make a-go in New York City for a year but to no avail.  She decides to return home (to Stevenson, Iowa) via train.  However, she finds out that she doesn’t have enough money to pay an adult fare.  She does however have enough money to purchase a children’s ticket.  She gives herself a “makeunder” by removing her makeup and putting her hair in pigtails.  She modifies her clothing to make it look like something a child would wear.  She purchases her ticket.

major
Ray Milland and “12 year old” Ginger Rogers in “The Major and the Minor.”

On the train ride, Ginger attracts much attention from the conductor and train staff who are not buying her story that she’s “eleven, twelve next week” and that she’s tall because she’s “from Swedish stock.” Ginger has some very funny scenes trying to rationalize her grown-up appearance to the adults.  Ginger does take her child shtick a little far as she’s supposed to be 12 but she acts 5.  On the train, Ginger meets Ray Milland, a major who teaches at an all boys’ military school.  Milland can not see out of one eye.  With his blurred vision, he buys Ginger’s story that she’s 12.  Ginger ends up staying with Milland, Milland’s fiance and her sister for a few days.  Complications ensue when Ginger attracts the attention of the male cadets at the military academy and Milland’s fiance who is just not buying Ginger’s story.

I gave The Major and the Minor a lot of space in my article about Fred and Ginger, because it is probably my favorite of all of Ginger’s post-Fred films.  She also made one of my favorite Christmas-time films, I’ll Be Seeing You, where she plays a woman convicted of involuntary manslaughter and is serving time in prison.  She is given an eight-day furlough so that she can spend Christmas with her family.  During this furlough, she meets and falls in love with Joseph Cotten who is on a 10-day leave from the military hospital he’s been staying at.  I’ll Be Seeing You is a sweet, romantic film and is perfect for the holiday season.

In 1948, Gene Kelly was all set to appear opposite Judy Garland in Irving Berlin’s Easter Parade. However, right before filming was to begin, Gene broke his ankle playing volleyball.  Feeling bad, Gene coaxed Fred into coming out of retirement and replacing him in Easter Parade.   Fred agreed and this began a renaissance of some sorts of Fred’s career.  Easter Parade is one of my favorite films and as much as I love Gene, I cannot picture anyone else in this film other than Fred.

easter
Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in “Easter Parade.”

Easter Parade takes place in 1912-1913 New York City.  Fred plays a dancer who is part of a popular dance team.  His partner, Ann Miller, casually drops a bombshell on Fred: she’s been offered a solo show and has accepted.  Ann it seems, wants to be thought of as more than just Fred’s dance partner (Sound familiar?).  Upset, Fred goes down to a restaurant/bar to figure out a game-plan for his career.  While at the restaurant, Fred spots Judy, a singing waitress.  He makes a “My Fair Lady” type bet with the bartender.  He will pick Judy out of the lineup and turn her into his next dance partner.  The problem is Judy can’t dance.

Fred tries to teach Judy how to dance and she does okay, but is struggling.  It finally occurs to Fred that perhaps they should base their act around their respective talents.  Fred will dance and Judy will sing.  Perfect! With this change, Fred and Judy are a sensation and are soon auditioning for the famed Florenz Ziegfeld’s Ziegfeld Follies revue.  There is some drama between Ann and Fred and Judy and Fred that threatens to break up the act.  However, like all these films go, the drama is resolved and all is well by the end.

Easter Parade was a smash hit and MGM was eager to re-team Fred and Judy for another film: The Barkleys of Broadway.  However, by this point in her life, Judy was in bad shape and ended up being fired from production.  In perhaps a bit of a publicity coup for the film, MGM hired Ginger to take Judy’s place.  It had been ten years since their last pairing.  I don’t know if this is true, but I read somewhere that Judy, upset at being replaced, sent Ginger a shaving kit as a passive aggressive “congratulations” gift.  It seems that Ginger had a lot of peach fuzz on her face and used makeup and filters to hide it on screen. I hope this story is true, because it is hilarious.

barkelys
Ginger and Fred reunited for “The Barkleys of Broadway.”

The Barkleys of Broadway very much resembled Fred and Ginger’s real professional relationship: except in the film, they played a married couple.  In the film, Fred and Ginger are at the peak of their popularity, a sensation.  While at one of their shows, Ginger meets a playwright who suggests she take up dramatic acting.  Ginger tries to keep it a secret, but Fred finds out and the couple separate.  The Barkleys of Broadway was a big hit and continued to revitalize Fred’s career.  Curiously enough, Ginger’s career was starting to wind down.  She didn’t really make many big films in the 1950s, except for one of my favorites, Monkey Business with Cary Grant and a young Marilyn Monroe.

Starting with Easter Parade, Fred was becoming more innovative in his dance routines.  In Easter Parade, Fred used trick photography in “Steppin’ Out with my Baby” to make it appear like he was dancing in slow-motion.  In Royal Wedding, Fred again uses trick photography to make it look like he was dancing on the ceiling.  The Barkleys of Broadway features Fred’s “Shoes with Wings” routine where he dances with a bunch of shoes.

My other absolute favorite film from the later part of Fred’s career is Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn.  In this film, Fred plays Dick Avery, a fashion photographer for Quality magazine.  He is tired of photographing the same vapid models, who are pretty, but don’t really bring anything to his photograph.  His editor, Maggie Prescott (hilariously played by Kay Thompson, whom I wished had made more films), agrees that the magazine needs a new look.  They want to find someone who is as smart as they are beautiful.  They end up barging into (and destroying) the Manhattan bookstore: Embryo Concepts.  While at the bookstore, they find Audrey Hepburn, the shy shop clerk.

funnyface
Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Thompson at Embryo Concepts bookstore in “Funny Face.”

Fred and Kay photograph the comic book reading model, Marion, but she’s just blah.  All beauty but no substance.  Fred ends up getting a photo of Audrey during the shoot.  Back at the magazine office, Fred is developing his photo of Audrey and sees that she has that je ne sais quoi that he and Kay have been looking for.  Kay calls up Audrey’s shop and orders some random books as a pretense to get her to come down to their office.  Audrey shows up and before she knows it, she’s been swept up in the world of modeling.  Audrey accepts the modeling work, as she’s informed that she’ll get to go to Paris.  Paris is where the renowned philosopher, Emile Flostre, regularly holds lectures about empathicalism–a philosophy that Audrey is very interested in.  Complications ensue when Audrey prioritizes her personal interests above those of her employer’s.  One of my favorite scenes of Funny Face is Fred and Kay’s dance at the beatnik hangout–“Clap Yo’ Hands.”

By the 1960s, both Fred and Ginger appeared infrequently in films but kept busy pursuing other interests.  Fred had his own television show for awhile and Ginger was a hit in theater, even appearing on London’s famed West End for a period.  Fred’s television career was very successful, his programs won numerous Emmys and revived an interest in dance.  In 1985, Ginger realized a lifelong ambition–to direct a play.  She directed an off-Broadway production of Babes in Arms.  Fred passed away in 1987 and Ginger in 1995.