Alfred Hitchcock is primarily known for his Hollywood films starring many of the golden age’s biggest stars. He made his American film debut in 1940 with Rebecca starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, and Judith Anderson. Rebecca was a huge success and set the tone for the next few decades. However, prior to this, Hitchcock had made a name for himself as a filmmaker in his native England.
From 1929 through 1939, Hitchcock made many remarkable and brilliant films, starring many of the era’s biggest British stars. One of his best films is The Lady Vanishes (1938), starring Margaret Lockwood, Michael Redgrave, Paul Lukas, and Dame Mae Whitty.
In The Lady Vanishes, Margaret Lockwood stars as Iris Henderson, a young British tourist who is vacationing in the fictional European country of Bandrika. Iris is with friends, celebrating her upcoming marriage. In fact, she is on her way back to England to marry her fiance. However, an avalanche has occurred and is blocking the railway line. Iris and all the other passengers are forced to spend the night in the hotel.
Also staying at the hotel are English cricket enthusiasts, Charters (Nauton Wayne) and Caldicott (Basil Radford), and Miss Froy (Dame Mae Whitty), a governess and music teacher who is on her way home. As Miss Froy listens to a folk singer in the street, he is strangled to death by an unknown assailant.
Later that evening, Iris hears loud, obnoxious noise coming from the room above hers. She complains to the hotel manager who investigates the loud noise. He discovers Gilbert Redman (Michael Redgrave), a musician playing a clarinet and working on transcribing the local music. Adding to the noise are the three locals who are dancing to the music that Gilbert is playing. The hotel manager throws Gilbert out of his room. To retaliate, Gilbert forces himself into Iris’ room and refuses to leave. Eventually Iris relents and asks the hotel manager to allow Gilbert back into his room.
There is an interesting scene in the hotel where Charters and Caldicott share a pair of pajamas. One man dons the pants, while and share a bed! This is very risque for a 1930s movie and implies a gay relationship between the two men.
The next morning, the railway is cleared and the passengers are ready to depart. As Iris walks to the train, she is hit on the head by a planter. Miss Froy, who was nearby and witnessed the incident helps Iris onto the train. On board, Iris and Miss Froy come across Charters and Caldicott, Eric Todhunter (a lawyer) and his mistress who is pretending to be “Mrs. Todhunter.” Iris ends up fainting from the concussion she probably suffered.
When Iris comes to, she finds herself sharing a compartment with Miss Froy and several strangers. Later, Iris and Miss Froy have tea together and return to the compartment. Iris ends up falling asleep. When she wakes up, Miss Froy is nowhere to be found. Iris begins asking the other passengers in the compartment as to Miss Froy’s whereabouts. The passengers deny ever having seen her.
Iris speaks with Eric Todhunter and “Mrs. Todhunter” about Miss Froy, and Eric, not wanting to draw attention to his illicit relationship with his mistress, denies having ever interacted or seen Miss Froy. Iris then ends up coming across Gilbert, who volunteers to help her find Miss Froy. Other potential witnesses, such as Charters and Caldicott, also deny having seen Miss Froy because they don’t want to miss their cricket match and fear that any acknowledgement of the woman’s existence would cause them to be late or miss the match. A brain surgeon on board, Dr. Hartz, suggests that Iris’ possible concussion might be causing her to hallucinate Miss Froy’s existence.
Despite all the gaslighting attempts, Iris is determined that something bad has happened to Miss Froy. She and Gilbert continue to investigate the train. As they get more into the mystery of Miss Froy’s whereabouts, it is obvious that something is up as they come across a bandaged man, a nun, a knife-wielding magician, and another Miss Froy!
Where did Miss Froy go? She couldn’t have just vanished!
This is such a great movie. When I saw it the first time, I was glued to the edge of my seat. What did happen to Miss Froy? What is going on. I also really liked Michael Redgrave. He reminded me very much of Errol Flynn. In fact, I could hear Errol Flynn’s voice reciting Redgrave’s dialogue. Margaret Lockwood was gorgeous and I am interested in seeing her films. She had a very short career in American films, preferring to stay in her native England. I was also very surprised that both the words “damn” and “hell” are used in their modern context in this film.
August 8th would have been Esther Williams’ 99th birthday. I’ll admit that in the past, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Williams. Not that I thought she was bad or anything, but I hadn’t been impressed by her in the films of hers that I’d seen (Take Me Out to the Ball Game and Easy to Wed). I unfairly dismissed her “aqua-musicals” as ridiculous.
Then, it all changed when I saw Williams in Neptune’s Daughter. I watched this film and found that I really enjoyed it. Williams looked beautiful and there was a great aqua-musical number towards the end. Leading man, Ricardo Montalban was handsome, and supporting players, Red Skelton and Betty Garrett were funny.
Art imitates life in Neptune’s Daughter, where Esther Williams portrays Eve Barrett, an aquatic ballet dancer and then swimsuit fashion designer. After retiring from movie-making in the mid-1960s, Williams started her own line of fashionable swimwear. In Neptune’s Daughter however, Williams’ character, Eve, is an aquatic ballet dancer, who is asked to become a business partner at the Neptune swimwear company. She is reluctant at first, but then agrees when she realizes the publicity value of the position.
Williams’ role as a swimsuit designer allows a foray into one of my favorite things about classic movies, the mini-fashion show. Singin’ in the Rain, The Women, How to Marry a Millionaire, Cover Girl, Easter Parade, Designing Woman… all feature fashion shows.
Back to Neptune’s Daughter… Eve’s business partner, Joe, learns that the South American polo team will be in town for a big match. He and Eve decide that this event would be the perfect opportunity to market their swimwear via a big swimming spectacle. Eve informs her man-crazy sister, Betty (Betty Garrett) about the South American team’s upcoming visit, and she decides that she needs to score a date with one of the players.
During polo practice, the captain of the South American team, Jose O’Rourke (Ricardo Montalban) is injured and seeks relief from the club’s masseur, Jack Spratt (Red Skelton). Jack is awkward and clumsy. He laments his lack of success with women to Jose. Jose gives Jack advice on how to attract women, including this gem: speaking to women in Spanish because it is the “language of love.”
Because when you think Spanish lover, you instantly think of Red Skelton.
A comedy of errors occurs when Betty, looking for the famous team captain, mistakes Jack for Jose and pursues him, aggressively. Jack decides not to tell Betty her mistake and accepts her invitation to visit her at home. He brings along a Spanish instruction record so that he can pretend to speak romantic Spanish phrases to Betty. Betty excitedly tells Eve about her date and Eve tries to encourage her to date outside of the visiting polo team.
Meanwhile, the real Jose is interested in Eve, however, at first, Eve isn’t aware that he isn’t the man whom Betty dated the night prior. Eve tells Jose to stay away from Betty, and he is understandably confused as he did not date Betty. But, he pretends to agree (because why not) and then asks Eve out. Eve reluctantly agrees to the date, because she thinks she’s keeping Jose away from Betty. On the date, Eve tries to ruin the date by being standoffish and disinterested, but ultimately Jose wins her over and they have a wonderful date.
The next morning, the mistaken identity motif persists when Eve’s maid advises her that Betty and “Jose” (i.e. Jack) have gone on another date. Furious, she goes down to Jose’s hotel room and is confused when Betty is nowhere to be found. At the same time, a crooked nightclub owner plots a scheme to kidnap Jose when he learns that he is the team’s most valuable player. He has money on the game–removing the opposing team’s best player will surely help him win the bet. However, he kidnaps “Jose” rather than the actual Jose.
Then, as classic Hollywood films typically go, the main characters have known each other for a week, so obviously a marriage proposal and subsequent engagement is the most realistic next step. Jose proposes to Eve and she accepts.
Further hijinks ensue when Eve tries to share her engagement to Jose with Betty, who tells her of her engagement to “Jose.” Meanwhile, the real Jose is kidnapped as “Jose” escapes.
The film ends with Eve and Jose and Betty and “Jose” reunited. We see the big water spectacle that Eve and her business partner have planned. Dozens of girls dive into the water from varying heights. Eve and Jose “dance” in the water. Obviously, you had to be a good swimmer to be Esther Williams’ leading man in her aqua-musicals.
This is an absurd but fun film. You have to look past the ridiculous plot points (e.g. anyone mistaking Red Skelton for a South American polo star) and roll with it. This is also the film that introduced the annual Christmas classic (despite not having anything to do with Christmas), “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” Despite popular (and uninformed) opinion, this song is not about date rape.
I liked how the lyrics of the song were presented in two fashions: In the duet between Montalban and Williams, Montalban takes on the male part of the song and pursues Williams. In the Garrett and Skelton duet, Garrett takes on the role of the male pursuer with Skelton on the defense. The version between the two leads plays out more traditionally and romantically; whereas the duet between the supporting leads is more comical.
Mel Blanc (aka Bugs Bunny, Speedy Gonzales, Porky Pig, etc.) appears as “Pancho” one of the assistants to the polo team. His face might not be recognizable, but when he speaks, he’s instantly recognizable–it’s Speedy Gonzales! Ricky Ricardo’s nemesis, Xavier Cugat, also appears in the film at Casa Cugat, Xavier Cugat’s Mexican restaurant. Apparently, he also provides the live entertainment!
Esther Williams’ aqua-musicals aren’t the greatest films in the world, they are no Singin’ in the Rain, but they’re fun. The plots can be contrived at times, especially when they have to figure out how to insert a swimming musical number. Her films can also be repetitive, again, how to insert a swimming musical number and have it make sense within the context of the film, but they’re fun to watch. The thing I like about Williams’ films is the spectacle. The aqua-musicals are so elaborate. Williams wears such gorgeous bathing suits and her hair and makeup are never out of place. Obviously in real life, when swimming, you look like a mess!
The best thing about Neptune’s Daughter and Esther Williams’ other films is that they serve as a fun diversion from the monotony of day-to-day life–especially now. These films allow you to escape from the world and relieve a little stress. And honestly, I think we could all go for a stress reliever.
Just a few weeks ago, I participated in the Olivia de Havilland blogathon, celebrating her 104th birthday on July 1. In that post, I discussed her nine films with her most frequent co-star, the gorgeous Errol Flynn. It brings me great sadness to have to write a memorial post about Olivia. Last weekend, she passed away in her sleep of natural causes in her Paris townhouse at the age of 104.
While this news is not unexpected, I cannot help but feel sorrow over Olivia’s passing. She was the last surviving major Hollywood star from the golden age. When I was growing up in the mid-80s through early-00s, many of the classic Hollywood stars were still alive. Some were even still working! While I am too young to remember the passings of Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth in 1987 (I was in preschool then), and thank god I wasn’t aware of Lucille Ball at the age of 5 when she passed in 1989 (if that had happened just a few years later, or even now, I would have been devastated). I remember being in middle school when Gene Kelly, Ginger Rogers, Robert Mitchum, and James Stewart passed.
People like Katharine Hepburn and Bob Hope were old when I was born, they were still old throughout all of my formative years. When they both died within a month of one another, I was sad as they were enduring symbols of old Hollywood, immortal as far as I was concerned. Kirk Douglas was always there. Doris Day was too. Joan Fontaine seemed like she would last forever. Shirley Temple was just a child! Surely she would be around forever. Then, there was my queen, Olivia de Havilland.
Now, they’re all gone.
It is moments like this when people start making lists of people from the Golden Age who are still alive. I cannot bring myself to make such a list. To me, that seems like bad luck. It seems like chronicling those who are blessed with longevity is just asking to have a hex placed on them. So I will refrain.
Olivia de Havilland’s death represents the final door closing on the Golden Era. She was the last tangible link to this amazing period of filmmaking where everything was in its infancy, numerous techniques, camera angles, acting styles, etc. were pioneered every day during this period of great innovation. Olivia de Havilland was a woman who could recall working with people like: my boyfriend Errol Flynn, Montgomery Clift, Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, the amazing Hattie McDaniel, James Cagney, Rita Hayworth, Rosalind Russell, Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, Bette Davis… legendary Hollywood personalities who had long since passed.
Olivia had an infamous feud with her sister, Joan Fontaine. It’s a shame that the two ladies could not get along and share their respective good fortunes with one another, but that isn’t anyone’s business but Olivia and Joan’s. What was the feud about? Who knows? Both ladies must have had their reasons.
Can you imagine if What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? had been made with Olivia and Joan instead?
Olivia was also not afraid to put herself on the line to speak out about perceived injustices both she and her peers faced. In 1943, Olivia sued Warner Brothers for violating California Labor Codes. During the early days of the studio system, contract players were signed to seven-year contracts. The studios viewed actors as employees, they were no different than the cameraman, the set designer, the electricians, or the propmen. The actors would be assigned to specific projects and were expected to fulfill their end of the contract and make the film.
However, many of the performers believed that they should have a say over their projects–especially if their appearance in a film was proven to make money for the studio. Many actors, such as Bette Davis, were trying to hone their craft and also take on challenging parts. These performers didn’t want to hurt their box office clout and essentially, their marketability by taking on crappy parts. The studios believed that they were allowed to suspend actors for refusing parts. Then, after the film was completed with a different actor, the length of the production time would be added to the actor’s existing contract.
In 1943, Olivia reached the end of her 7-year contract at Warner Brothers. She was then informed that she owed them an additional 6 months time to make up for the parts she refused. Olivia sued Warner Brothers to be released from her contract and won the lawsuit! Warner Brothers tried to appeal, but lost. The California Superior Court upheld the “seven-year contract” labor ruling and named this law the “de Havilland Law,” a law that is still in place today. Even sister Joan Fontaine gave Olivia kudos stating “Hollywood owes Olivia a great deal.”
Of course, Warner Brothers, being petty, managed to get Olivia blacklisted in Hollywood for two years.
In 1945, Olivia signed a two-picture deal with Paramount. She immediately went to work on To Each Her Own.
She won the Best Actress Oscar.
In 1949, Olivia made The Heiress with Montgomery Clift. I just watched this film the other day. I’d seen it once prior, but didn’t really remember much about it, except for the ending. Olivia’s performance in this film is nothing but fantastic. Her transformation from meek, proper, shy Catherine to a cynical, bitter, hardened woman is nothing short of remarkable. Not only does Olivia’s portrayal change, but her entire look, her voice, the way she carries herself, everything changes. I absolutely loved it.
Olivia won a second Best Actress Oscar for her performance in The Heiress.
In the 1950s, Olivia moved to Paris, married, had two children, and continued her film career and started appearing in the theater and on television. Her career continued until 1988 when she retired. From then on, Olivia stayed active appearing in various career and film retrospectives. As the last surviving major cast member (since 1967, with the death of Vivien Leigh) of Gone With the Wind, Olivia served as an ambassador for that film. She also received numerous accolades and honors, including being appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
I will miss Olivia immensely. Knowing that she was still alive, healthy, and active was such a consolation–the Golden Age of Hollywood was alive and well. Now, another piece of it is gone. However, Olivia has achieved immortality. Her films, along with everyone else’s, will live on forever.
Full disclosure, I’ve been known to be on simultaneous kicks at a time. Some are short-lived, others go on for awhile. Last year, I was on an Edmond O’Brien kick and watched a ton of his films. Then, I briefly moved onto a Burt Lancaster kick. Then, I moved onto Robert Ryan. More recently, I was obsessed with Ralph Meeker, then I moved onto Joel McCrea.
With my recent purchase during the Kino Lorber Summer sale (still going on, through August 3), I may have reignited my Edmond O’Brien kick. during the Kino sale, I purchased the Ida Lupino Filmmakers 4-movie set for $29.95 (regular retail price $79.98). In this collection, there are two O’Brien films: The Hitch-Hiker and The Bigamist, both from 1953. I’ve seen both films and they are excellent. Not everyone can make you sympathize with a man who knowingly commits bigamy, but O’Brien manages to do so.
I don’t know what it is about Edmond O’Brien that I like. He’s nowhere near Errol Flynn when it comes to looks and charm. He doesn’t have extraordinary dancing ability like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly. He isn’t an amazing singer like Judy Garland. He isn’t adorable like Sandra Dee (ridiculous comparison, I know). Perhaps it has something to do with his everyman persona (displayed to perfection in 1949’s D.O.A.). Whatever it is, O’Brien is definitely underrated and deserves to be better known.
The Hitch-Hiker definitely served as the catalyst to my kick. From there, I pretty much watched a different O’Brien film each night for weeks. Prior to seeing The Hitch-Hiker, I’d seen O’Brien in A Girl, A Guy, and A Gob (1941). And the only reason I watched that film was because it stars my girl, Lucille Ball. I didn’t think much of him in this film, only that I thought he was more attractive than George Murphy and I wanted Lucy to end up with him. I recently just watched this film again–okay, I watched it today–and I just love him. I think I may embark on another O’Brien kick.
A Girl, A Guy and A Gob (produced by Harold Lloyd) stars Lucille Ball, George Murphy and Edmond O’Brien. Lucy plays Dorothy ‘Dot’ Duncan, a secretary who hails from an eccentric family. One night, Dot treats her parents to an anniversary present–box seats at the opera. However, her box seats actually belong to the affluent Stephen Herrick (O’Brien), his fiancee and her mother. It seems that Stephen accidentally dropped his tickets and Dot’s brother (who was sent to the box office by Dot) picked them up. He fails to tell Dot how he obtained the box seats, he let her pretend that these were the seats he’d purchased with the money she gave him.
Stephen and his guests are understandably upset by the guests sitting in their seats. However, not wanting to make a scene or be conspicuous, Stephen drops the matter and relinquishes the seats to Dot and her family. Stephen’s fiancee, Cecilia, is furious.
The next day, Stephen discovers that his secretary, Miss Comstock, has eloped with her fiance and has quit her job. Dot enters the room and is introduced to Stephen as his new secretary. He is furious and tries to fire her, but Dot pleads her case and explains the previous night’s ticket mishap. Stephen agrees to put the night behind him and agrees to hire her as his secretary.
Stephen soon finds himself enamored of Dot and charmed by her eccentric friends and family. He also meets Dot’s beau, “Coffee Cup” (George Murphy) a sailor who returns to town after his latest stint in the Navy. He makes it known that he is planning on settling down and marrying Dot.
One day, Stephen awakens to find himself lying, trouser-less, in the Duncan’s living room. It seems that he was knocked out in the fracas in front of the pet shop after getting involved in the brawl that erupted after Coffee Cup bet onlookers $5/a piece that his friend Eddie couldn’t make himself grow 4-inches. Eddie’s talent for faking elongation and the money-making con that ensues is a running gag throughout the film.
Stephen finds himself completely charmed by Dot and her family and later accompanies her and Coffee Cup to a dance hall. He completely loses all sense of time and congas the night away, much to the chagrin of his fiancee, with whom he had a date. Oops! It’s okay though, because she sucks anyway.
As the film progresses, Stephen and Dot find their feelings for one another growing, all while Coffee Cup blissfully plans a life together for himself and Dot. This film features one of my favorite themes: the love triangle. It is obvious that Dot more than likely needs a man who is a little more serious and a little more dependable. Coffee Cup seems a bit flakey and truly loves the Navy. Whether or not he would truly be happy on land is questionable.
I actually thought that Edmond O’Brien was very attractive in this film. This is only his second film, he was only 26 when it was made. Unfortunately, bad habits led to him aging prematurely and affected his health. He had a heart attack at 45. He won the 1954 Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for his performance in The Barefoot Contessa (which I haven’t watched yet. It’s on my DVR though).
Edmond O’Brien films that I’ve watched and recommend:
A Girl, A Guy, and A Gob (1941)
The Killers (1946)
A Double Life (1947)
Another Part of the Forest (1948)
White Heat (1949)
The Hitch-Hiker (1953)
The Bigamist (1953)
Birdman of Alcatraz (1962)
I’ll probably end up re-watching all of these and hopefully more.
Ruby Catherine Stevens (aka “Barbara Stanwyck”) was born 113 years ago, on July 16, 1907. She had a very difficult childhood. At the age of 4, Ruby lost her mother to a streetcar accident. A drunk pushed her mother, then pregnant, off a moving streetcar. She subsequently miscarried, and died from the complications. Two weeks after Ruby’s mother’s funeral, her father joined a work crew digging the Panama Canal, bailed on his children, and was never seen again.
Ruby and her older brother, Byron, were taken in and raised by their eldest sister, Mildred. When Mildred obtained a job as a showgirl, Ruby and Byron were placed in foster care. Ruby ran away often from the multitude of foster homes she was placed in. In 1916 and 1917, when she was 9 and 10, Ruby spent her summers touring with her sister Mildred. It was this period in her life that influenced Ruby’s decision to pursue acting. At the age of 14, Ruby dropped out of school and started working.
In 1923, Ruby started her career as a chorus girl at the Strand Roof, the club on top of the Strand Theater in Times Square. She also spent two seasons as a dancer in the Ziegfeld Follies. In 1926, through her chorus girl work, Ruby was discovered and asked to play a chorus girl in the upcoming Broadway play, The Noose. The Noose was very successful, running for over nine months! It was during this period when Ruby Catherine Stevens received her new stage name: Barbara Stanwyck.
After a couple years being a star on Broadway, Barbara screen-tested for the 1927 silent film, Broadway Nights. She did not win the leading part, but did make her screen debut, as a fan dancer, in the film. In 1929, Stanwyck appeared in her first sound film, The Locked Door. In 1930, Frank Capra selected Barbara for the lead in his film, Ladies of Leisure. This film served as the catalyst for Barbara’s film career. Between 1930 and 1933, Barbara starred in many memorable pre-code* films: Night Nurse (1931), So Big! (1932), and The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933).
*Pre-Code refers to the period between the advent of sound pictures (1929) and the implementation of the Hayes Production Code (mid-1934). Pre-Code films are known for their racy, controversial themes. Many of these films deal with premarital sex, abortion, promiscuity, violence, homosexuality, and many other themes.
In 1933, Barbara was on a roll, careerwise. This is the year she would make her star-making film, Baby Face. Just before Baby Face, however, Barbara appeared in one of my favorite pre-code films: Ladies They Talk About.
Full disclosure, I love movies about ladies in prison. Well, actually I should amend that to I love seeing older films about ladies in prison. Some of the newer, more exploitative women in prison films, I wouldn’t have an interest in. In Ladies They Talk About, Barbara plays Nan Taylor, the sole female member of a gang of bank robbers. At the beginning of the film, Nan poses as a regular customer and distracts the security guard while her accomplices rob the bank. She ends up being arrested by a cop who recognizes her from a previous arrest. Nan is sentenced to prison and placed in the San Quentin State Prison.
San Quentin State Prison is an interesting place. The women are housed on one side, the men on the other. There is only a wall separating the two groups. On the ladies’ side of the prison, the women are given cute uniforms. Nan’s prison uniform is of course tailored to her perfectly and shows off her great figure. The prison also gives each woman her own cell, which she’s allowed to decorate to her liking.
The ladies play cards, do each others’ hair, and pursue other activities to pass the time. Meanwhile, Nan’s accomplices, the men, are housed on the other side of the prison, directly on the other side of the wall. Lefty, one of the members of Nan’s gang managed to avoid arrest. Through their weekly visits, Lefty and Nan scheme to break herself and Don (housed in the men’s prison) out. Nan is tasked with drawing a map of the layout of the women’s prison and making an impression of the matron key.
Getting the impression of the matron’s key is absurdly easy, as the matron (Ruth Donnelly) basically does everything but make the impression herself. Nan talks the Matron up about her key ring and the Matron lets her see each and every key, and provides details as to which key goes to which lock. With all the necessary tools in place, Nan and Don are ready to make their escape.
This movie is a lot of fun. Besides the ridiculous women’s prison, you can’t go wrong with an escape from prison plot. Stanwyck is fantastic as are the supporting cast members. I also love the Matron’s cockatoo. This film isn’t nearly as stressful or sadistic as Caged! (1950), which I also loved. Donnelly’s Matron is an absolute saint compared to Hope Emerson’s portrayal that will come 17 years later. There is a scene where a woman prisoner sings a love song to a photograph of Joe E. Brown. Joe E. Brown!
This movie has a strange ending. I won’t divulge it here. After watching it though, you’ll think: “What was that ending?”
So far, this film only seems to be available on the 5th volume of the Forbidden Hollywood collection.
Lately, I’ve been on a Joel McCrea kick. It started when I decided to watch a Criterion that I had purchased a while back–it was a blind buy. The film? Foreign Correspondent.
Joel McCrea stars in Alfred Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent (1940) as Johnny Jones, aka “Huntley Haverstock.” It’s 1939 and Johnny is a crime reporter at the local New York Morning Globe. His employer, Mr. Powers (Harry Davenport) is concerned about the situation in Europe and Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime’s growing power. He is searching for someone who is tough and could report the situation in Europe with a fresh take.
When Johnny arrives in London, his first assignment is to interview Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall), the leader of the Universal Peace Party. He is supposed to interview Fisher at an event honoring the Dutch diplomat, Van Meer (Albert Bassermann). At the event, Johnny meets Fisher’s daughter, Carol (Laraine Day).
At first, Johnny and Carol don’t get along, but as the film progresses, they fall in love. Johnny meets Van Meer through a chance encounter, enroute to the event. While at the event, Van Meer disappears and does not make his planned appearance. Later, Johnny witnesses Van Meer’s assassination and commandeers a car and chases the culprit to a windmill farm outside of Amsterdam. The car he commandeers just happens to have another reporter inside–Scott ffolliott (George Sanders).
The remainder of the film involves Johnny trying to find out the truth about Van Meer and later, trying to figure out Stephen Fisher–as it becomes clear that he isn’t what he seems.
This was a fantastic film. I absolutely loved it. It definitely was worth the blind buy. Joel McCrea is fantastic at playing an everyday guy who just seems to be fed up with everyone. He’s a very attractive man as well, which makes him even more fun to watch.
On July 1, 2020, Dame Olivia de Havilland celebrated her 104th (!) birthday in Paris, France. Aside from being the last surviving cast member from Gone With the Wind, she is also one of the last surviving figures from the Golden Age of Hollywood. Olivia is a two-time Oscar winner, having won the Best Actress Academy Award for her roles in Hold Back the Dawn (1941) and The Heiress (1949). However, aside from being known for her age and status as an Oscar-winner, Olivia is probably best known for her nine (!) collaborations with the incomparable Errol Flynn.
Full Disclosure: I LOVE Errol Flynn.
In his autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways*, Errol admits that he fell in love with Olivia during the making of his (and her) first big studio film, Captain Blood. However, despite his infamous reputation as a panty-dropping ladies man, Errol does not kiss and tell. In fact, he states that his propensity for playing juvenile pranks on Olivia probably lost him his chance at a relationship with her. Olivia on the other hand, admits that the two of them had some sort of passionate romance, however, their relationship was never consummated. What is the real truth? The only people who know that for sure are Errol and Olivia. Errol unfortunately is no longer around (passed in 1959) and Olivia is remaining tight-lipped on the subject.
*My Wicked, Wicked Ways is an amazing book. It, along with Desi Arnaz’ A Book, is the most entertaining book I have ever read. During my first read, when I got toward the end, I actually read just one page a night because I didn’t want it to stop!
What we do know is that on-screen, Errol and Olivia’s chemistry is off the charts.
Errol and Olivia appeared in the following films together:
Captain Blood (1935). Errol and Olivia’s big break. This film made an overnight matinee idol out of Errol and opened the doors for Olivia. Errol appears as the title character, Dr. Peter Blood aka “Captain Blood.” Peter is arrested for treason while treating a patient who participated in the recent rebellion. Peter is given a break (maybe?) and instead of execution (after being sentenced to death), he is sold into slavery. Peter, along with other future slaves, are shipped off to the West Indies.
Olivia appears as Arabella Bishop, the niece of the local military commander, Colonel Bishop. Arabella fulfills every woman’s fantasy and purchases Errol… err… Peter for 10 pounds to be her slave. You got one heck of a deal, Arabella. You will not be unhappy. Peter of course, resents being sold into slavery and is cold to Arabella. Eventually Peter and the other men revolt, seize a Spanish ship and become pirates.
Peter and Arabella’s relationship follows a similar trajectory that many film romances share. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl don’t get along. Boy or girl spend much of the movie trying to get the other to like them. They fall in love at the end. However, unlike most of the romantic fluff out there, Captain Blood is exciting, entertaining, and fun. Errol and Olivia’s playful flirtation and rapport is one of the big reasons for this film’s success.
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
I’ll admit that I’ve only seen this film once. It features Errol and Patric Knowles as brothers living in India during the mid-19th century. Errol is a Major and Patric is a Captain with the 27th Lancers of the British Army. The main conflict is that Patric has betrayed Errol by taking up with his fiancee, Elsa, played by Olivia.
Much of this film features battles (blah) and the love triangle between Errol, Patric, and Olivia (ooh I love love triangles). However, the animal abuse by the film production crew, and Errol’s subsequent outrage is my biggest takeaway from this film.
In his autobiography, Errol details in length the cruel tactics used to make the horses trip for the battle scenes. An animal lover and accomplished horseman, Errol was disgusted and outraged by what he saw on set. He was further incensed by director Michael Curtiz’ nonchalant attitude toward the numbers of horses injured and killed by his stunts. Errol reported the production to the ASPCA. This action led to the US Congress implementing measures to ensure that animals used in film production were not injured or killed–thus the “no animals were harmed in making this motion picture” statement that is featured in most movies today.
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
This is probably Errol and Olivia’s best known film collaboration, as well it should be. This film is perfect from start to finish. It is exciting, funny, has a great cast, fun characters, beautiful costumes, everything that one wants in a film. And this film, in its glorious Technicolor, is absolutely gorgeous.
I don’t think much plot is necessary, as most people, I imagine, are familiar with the Robin Hood legend. Errol plays the titular character, Robin Hood. Robin and his gang of merrymen have been banished to Sherwood Forest after opposing Prince John (Claude Rains)’s tax raise and voicing his opposition to Prince John’s usurping his brother, King Richard the Lionheart (Ian Hunter)’s throne and his intention to restore Richard’s place in the kingdom when he returns from fighting in the Crusades. Olivia plays Maid Marian and she’s disgusted by Robin’s insolence and vigilante behavior. She also doesn’t like that Robin and his gang regularly rob the rich to pay the poor.
However, as the film progresses, Marian begins to see Prince John for who he truly is, and also realizes that Robin is a good guy and begins to fall in love with him–much to the chagrin of Sir Guy of Gisbourne (Basil Rathbone).
Four’s a Crowd (1938)
This is one of Olivia and Errol’s lighter fare. After appearing in back to back swashbucklers, Flynn was eager to do something else. Warner Brothers appeased their star by placing him in this light comedy. Honestly, this isn’t the greatest film, but it has a fantastic cast, Errol looks great, it’s amusing, and it’s fun to see Errol in a comedic part. He shows a flair for comedy. It’s a shame that he wasn’t given more opportunities.
Olivia in this film is adorable, but honestly, her character is annoying. The best pairing in this film is Errol and Rosalind Russell.
In this film, Errol plays Bob Lansford, the former editor-in-chief of the local newspaper where Jean Christy (Russell) works as a reporter. Jean is concerned that her new boss, Pat Buckley (Patric Knowles) is running the newspaper into the ground. Since leaving the paper, Bob has formed a new PR firm. Jean appeals to Bob to return to the helm of the newspaper. While initially uninterested, Bob becomes interested in this prospect when he learns that Pat’s fiancee is Lori Dillingwell (Olivia). Lori is the granddaughter to John P. Dillingwell (Walter Connolly), a millionaire who has developed a poor reputation. Bob hopes to use Lori to gain access to John P. so that he can obtain his business for his PR film.
Errol is his usual charming self in this film. Olivia on the other hand, while pretty and adorable, acts like a giggly airhead and has an irritating laugh. Patric Knowles’ character isn’t much better. The two of them together can be a little annoying at times. However, if you love Errol and love Rosalind Russell (like I do), then they are worth the time spent watching this film. I’ve watched this film numerous times, so obviously Olivia and Patric’s characters don’t keep me away from this film too much.
Dodge City (1939)
I’m not a big Westerns fan, but I love this movie. In this film, Errol plays Wade Hatton, an Irish cowboy who has ties to Dodge City is enlisted by Colonel Dodge to clean up the town. It has been overrun by Jeff Surrett (Bruce Cabot) and his gang. Wade brings his friends, Rusty (Alan Hale) and Tex (Guinn “Big Boy” Williams) to assist. Olivia plays Abbie Irving, a settler who is traveling to Dodge City with Wade and his companions. She is planning on living with her aunt and uncle who reside in Dodge City.
After initially turning down the sheriff job, Wade agrees after witnessing the tragic death of a young boy in town. Wade, Rusty and Tex are doing a good job of clearing out the riff raff, but obviously are met with opposition by Surrett and his cronies. Abbie, meanwhile, has taken a job writing for the local newspaper, headed up by Joe Clemons (Frank McHugh).
Despite being a Western, I think this is a really fun film and Olivia and Errol once again light up the screen. Alan Hale is hilarious, especially when he inadvertently joins a temperance movement. Frank McHugh is always a delight.
Ann Sheridan’s talents and personality are wasted in this film. She appears in a small part as a saloon girl. Someone of Sheridan’s caliber was not needed for this role.
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
At this point in her career, Olivia was tired of playing Errol’s girlfriend in all her films (there are worse things you could be, imo). She wanted a chance to play more challenging parts and stretch her acting chops. She had just completed one of her most famous roles, Melanie in Gone With the Wind, and hoped that this was her chance for more meaty parts. However, Jack Warner, the bigwig at Warner Brothers was afraid that this experience would go to her head. To keep her grounded, he cast her in a small part in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex starring Errol and Bette Davis.
‘Elizabeth and Essex’ is Bette’s film. Olivia’s part is so insignificant, that it could have been given to anyone and not made much of a difference. Olivia is completely lost in this film, especially in the shadow of Bette’s performance as Queen Elizabeth I. This film details Elizabeth I’s relationship with the much younger Lord Essex, played by Errol. While in love with Elizabeth I, Essex also yearns for power and is frequently at odds with his lover/Queen when he defies her orders. Elizabeth I struggles with her age, vanity, and her love for Essex, but also wants to retain her power.
Olivia plays Lady Penelope, Elizabeth I’s lady in waiting. The main conflict with her character is that she’s in love with Essex as well. Elizabeth I fears losing Essex to the much younger and prettier Penelope. Penelope also schemes to break Elizabeth I and Essex up so that she can pursue him. This could possibly be a meaty part, but Bette’s performance as Elizabeth I is so intense and, frankly, it’s A LOT, that one almost forgets that Olivia is even in the film until she’s seen again.
While I love Bette, I cannot decide if I like this performance. Sometimes I think it’s amazing and other times, I can’t get past Bette’s constant fidgeting. What does make this film worth watching are the gorgeous costumes, a young Nanette Fabray in her film debut, and Errol’s thigh-high boots.
Santa Fe Trail (1940)
This film must be Errol and Olivia’s least popular. I only say that because this film is in public domain. As far as I know, it’s never received a proper studio release. I’ve only seen it a couple times, it’s not bad, but it’s not my favorite either.
In this film, Errol plays Jeb Stuart, a recent West Point graduate. He, along with his friend George Custer, played by Ronald Reagan, are sent to Fort Leavenworth, the most dangerous assignment in the Army. Both Jeb and George relish this assignment. On the way to Kansas, Jeb and George meet Cyrus Holliday who is building the railroad to Santa Fe, NM. His daughter, Kit, played by Olivia, is also accompanying him. Both Jeb and George are smitten.
Most of the remainder of the film features Raymond Massey as the villain, John Brown, and lots of battles and such. I don’t really remember the particulars.
They Died With Their Boots On (1941)
This is technically Olivia and Errol’s last film together. They have a very fitting goodbye scene toward the end of the film. While Errol’s dialogue is given within the context of a husband (who knows he will most likely die) saying a final goodbye to his wife (who knows deep-down that she won’t see her husband again), the words could apply to Errol and Olivia as well.
“Walking through life with you, ma’am, has been a very gracious thing.”
George Custer (Errol Flynn) to wife, Elizabeth Bacon Custer (Olivia de Havilland)
In this film, Errol plays General George Custer. At the beginning of the film, he is arriving at West Point in a ridiculous uniform that he designed himself, with the intention of looking like a visiting foreign general. While at West Point, George racks up a series of demerits for pranks and general disregard for any protocol and rules. Despite being at the bottom of his class, George and his class graduate early so that they can report immediately to Washington, D.C. at the onset of the Civil War.
Prior to graduation, George had met Libbie Bacon (Olivia) when she approached him, asking for directions. He asks her out on a date, but is unable to meet up with her when he is forced to report to DC for his war assignment. When they finally meet up again, George has made himself very unpopular, after making a joke at Libbie’s father’s expense. Libbie and George have to meet up in secret. Libbie’s maid, Callie (Hattie McDaniel), helps the couple keep their secret.
Through a miscommunication with the War Department, George is mistakenly promoted to Brigadier General. Despite this however, his regiment, the Michigan Brigade, wins at Gettysburg.
The remainder of the film features George and Libbie’s lives leading up to that fateful day at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, where the audience knows George will meet his fate.
This is a very sweet film, though not one that I re-watch very often. War and Westerns aren’t my favorite genres, but Errol and Olivia and Hattie make this film very re-watchable. Errol’s appearance at he beginning in his outlandish military garb is hilarious.
Thank Your Lucky Stars (1942)
Errol and Olivia appeared in this film together, but they weren’t together. Both appeared as themselves in separate numbers. Thank Your Lucky Stars was made during WWII and created to serve as a fundraiser for the war effort. Every star who appeared in the film donated his or her salary to the Hollywood Canteen.
The Hollywood Canteen was an organization opened by Bette Davis and John Garfield. It was intended to serve as a club that catered only to servicemen fighting in WWII. In addition to the US servicemen, servicemen of Allied forces and women in any branch of service were invited to attend. The idea of the Hollywood Canteen was that servicemen (and servicewomen) could enter the club using their uniform as a ticket. All amenities within the club were free. The club was staffed by countless members of the entertainment industry. Everyone from the big A-list stars down to the key grips volunteered to work at the Hollywood Canteen. A serviceman could enter the canteen and have Rita Hayworth serve him lunch, only to dance with Betty Grable afterwards.
The plot of Thank Your Lucky Stars is very thin. Basically, Edward Everett Horton and SZ Sakall are trying to stage a “Cavalcade of Stars” wartime charity show, but star Eddie Cantor’s ego is threatening to take over the production. Aspiring singer Tommy (Dennis Morgan) and his songwriter girlfriend, Pat (Joan Leslie), conspire to join the production by coaxing Horton and Sakall into replacing Cantor with their look-a-like friend, Joe.
Throughout the initial part of the plot, Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart make non-musical appearances. At the end of the film, we’re treated to what is presumably Horton and Sakall’s “Cavalcade of Stars.” It is in this section where we’re treated to Olivia and Errol’s only on-screen musical performances. They do not appear in the same production number. Olivia is paired with Ida Lupino. Honestly, their number isn’t really that great. Errol on the other hand, has a solo number and his song is one of the best in the show. His natural charisma and good looks are on full display, despite the silliness of the number.
This year’s CLAMBA (CLAssic Movie Blog Association) Spring blogathon is dedicated to classic films that people may turn to in times of crisis, emotional distress, stress, or any other time when they might feel a little weary from the drudgery of day to day life. Right now, during these trying times, having something comforting to turn to, whether it be a movie, a pet, a hobby, etc. is more important than ever.
I find movies, especially classic movies, to be comforting. Not every film has positive subject matter, and not every film is uplifting, but they allow you to escape into a different world. Full disclosure: This is coming from someone who watches “Forensic Files” and “Unsolved Mysteries” to relax before bed. I have my “pet” movies that I revisit over and over again (The Long Long Trailer, Gidget, Gidget Goes Hawaiian, The Brady Bunch Movie, Singin’ in the Rain… ) but I’ve already written about those–sometimes multiple times. I will try to branch out and share my Top 5 favorite comfort films.
One of my favorite types of films is a tried and true romance. Not necessarily a rom-com (though occasionally those can hit the spot, depending on what it is), or a overly sappy romance (e.g. Nicholas Sparks), or some generic, non-offensive, completely predictable film (Hallmark Movies, I’m looking at you), but a real romantic film–“happily ever after” not guaranteed.
1) Summertime (1955). David Lean’s romantic drama is aesthetically a gorgeous film. Shot on location in Venice, Italy, the scenery and color is beautiful and very fun to watch. Katharine Hepburn stars as Jane Hudson (not that Jane Hudson), a single (gasp!) middle-aged secretary from Akron, Ohio. She has had a lifelong dream of going to Venice and has saved money for many years. Finally, she has enough money and travels abroad for her summer vacation.
Upon arriving in Venice, Jane boards the local vaporetto (e.g. a waterbus that transports the public down the canals) where she meets two fellow American tourists. Jane and the three tourists are all staying at the same pensione (e.g. a boarding house that includes meals). At the pensione, Jane meets another American tourist, Eddie Yaeger (Darren McGavin), and his wife.
On her first night out, Jane goes out to dinner and spots an Italian man, Renato de Rossi, (Rossano Brazzi) watching her. The next day, Jane is window-shopping at an antique store and spots a red goblet. Interested in obtaining more information (and possibly purchasing) the goblet, Jane enters the store and discovers that the owner of the shop is Renato, the same man who was watching her the night before. Later that night, Renato finds Jane at her pensione and confesses that he finds her very attractive. She tries to ward off his advances, but ultimately agrees to attend a concert with him.
Renato and Jane’s romance grows and soon find themselves completely enamored with one another. However, like so many romantic films, they reach an impasse when Jane finds out more about Renato’s past.
I love this film because Jane and Renato’s passion for one another is evident and who doesn’t love the idea of falling in love with a handsome stranger while on vacation? See Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun for another example of this storyline. I also liked the idea that Hepburn was playing a woman who was not only single, but didn’t seem to regret being single. She wasn’t a miserable “can’t find a man” spinster. This film is also where Hepburn picked up her lifelong eye infection after performing a stunt where she falls into one of the fabled (and notoriously polluted) Venice canals.
Another type of movie that I find comforting is an over-the-top melodrama. For me, over-the-top is something so outrageous, so absurd, that it seems like it could never possibly happen. But at the same time, with the right mix of people and the right situation, it could definitely happen. One of my favorite melodramas also combines another of my favorites: 50s-60s teen movies.
2) A Summer Place (1959) has everything one could possibly want in a good melodrama: racism, bigotry, xenophobia, adultery, alcoholism, teen pregnancy, a catchy title theme tune, love, the use of the word “convenience” for toilet… this movie has it all. And if that was not enough, the movie is photographed using the most beautiful color. Every scene is seemingly shot with gauze over the lens, giving everything a slightly hazy, ethereal look. This film also features two of my all-time favorite stars: Sandra Dee and Dorothy McGuire.
At the beginning of the film, we meet the Hunter family. Patriarch Bart (Arthur Kennedy), his long-suffering wife, Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire), and their teenage son, Johnny (Troy Donahue). It is quickly apparent that not all is well with the Hunter household. Bart, despite having been born to a wealthy family and seemingly had it all, has allowed his family’s Pine Island, ME estate to fall into disarray. Most of the blame for the family’s decline falls squarely into the lap of Bart’s alcoholism. To make ends meet, the Hunter family is forced to transform their private family home into an inn and rent rooms out to paying guests.
One day, the Hunters receive a telegram from Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan) who along with his wife, Helen (Constance Ford) and teenaged daughter Molly (Sandra Dee), wants to rent out a room at the “inn” for the summer. The only hitch? Ken and Sylvia used to date twenty years ago, prior to their respective marriages and children. Ken at the time was a lifeguard on the island whereas, it is presumed that Sylvia must have come from “better stock.” However, the tables have turned and now Sylvia is seemingly lower class, whereas Ken is successful millionaire research chemist.
When the Jorgenson family is seen, it is obvious that Helen has some issues. “Some issues” is putting it lightly. Helen is one of the most prudish (even for 1950s standards), hateful women that I have ever seen in a film. She seemingly has an issue with everyone and anything that isn’t American, straight, puritan, and most importantly, White. Ken has an amazing scene where he rips his wife a new one. It is obvious that the Jorgenson union is going to be kaput by the end of the film.
Upon arrival at Pine Island, Johnny immediately spots Molly. They are instantly smitten with one another, much to the chagrin of Helen. As a parallel to the budding union between the children, something is rekindled between Sylvia and Ken. Both are stuck in unhappy marriages and both want a new start. Sylvia and Ken find themselves confiding in one another, until their flame is reignited. At the same time, Molly and Johnny are finding themselves falling for one another. Jilted spouses Bart and Helen, find themselves on the outside, looking in.
I love this movie. I love everything about it. I never tire of it and look forward to reading the novel. There is so much drama to savor. Sandra Dee, despite being saddled with the goody two-shoes virgin image, is definitely NOT living up to that reputation in this film. One of Dee’s best qualities, in my opinion, are her eyes. Her fantastic large, brown eyes imbue Dee with a vulnerable quality. She seems to always have a wanting in her eyes. She just needs someone to take care of, and someone to take care of her. For whatever reason, Troy Donahue, despite not being that great of an actor I really enjoy. I don’t know what it is about him, but he has a quality that I find interesting.
Sometimes, all that will provide comfort is some good old fashioned eye candy. Just something to ogle for a couple hours. One such eye candy (for me) is Errol Flynn. During his heyday, he looks amazing in pretty much everything. Even in the 1950s, when Flynn’s bad habits were definitely catching up with him, though looking older than his age, he still possesses the panache and charisma of his youth. For this entry, I’m going to discuss my favorite Errol Flynn film.
3) Gentleman Jim (1942) is a biopic that features Flynn as James J. “Gentleman Jim” Corbett. At the beginning of the film, Jim and his friend Walter (Jack Carson) are attending an illegal boxing match in 1890s San Francisco. The match is raided by the police. Jim and Walter find themselves in the paddywagon with Judge Geary, a prominent member of the board of directors at the bank that employs both Jim and Walter as tellers. Jim is able to think quickly and saves his boss from embarrassment.
Later, through a chance meeting at his bank, Jim meets Victoria Ware (Alexis Smith), the socialite daughter of Buck Ware, a wealthy upper-class member of the Olympic Club–the same club that Jim’s boss also frequents. Victoria has arrived at Jim’s bank to collect change for a local game at the club. After hearing Victoria state that she’s on her way to the Olympic Club, Jim charms her into letting him escort her and carry her heavy coins. Victoria, obviously interested in Jim (because duh! who wouldn’t?) and seeing his ulterior motives right off the bat, agrees to let him accompany her to the club. She even treats him to lunch and cigars. Later, Jim meets the Judge and other members of the upper class in the gymnasium.
Judge Geary and a renowned British boxing coach (who has been hired to evaluate prospects) see a lot of potential in Jim as a boxer. Both men are looking to make boxing respectable and plan to start a boxing club that use the Marquess of Queensbury rules (the same rules still in effect today in the boxing community). These rules were set up a few decades prior in London and were meant to make the matches more even and fair. The Judge and the British coach find Jim’s appearance and polished demeanor as the perfect image for their new fighter. And, if Jim’s good looks and charm weren’t enough, he’s also a good fighter!
Soon Jim gets to work training and quickly finds himself scheduled for his first fight, which he wins. Eventually, Jim gets a manager, Billy Delaney (William “Fred Mertz” Frawley) who books him into even bigger matches. After winning a series of fights, Jim finds himself booked for his biggest fight yet–Taking on the current heavyweight champion, John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond).
I love this movie. I love sports movies in general, and especially boxing ones. Flynn is so freaking adorable and hot in all of his scenes. The man even looks good in a union suit! The absolute best Flynn scene is when he falls into the San Francisco Bay and pulls himself out of the water. Ooh la la. Alexis Smith makes a great foil for Flynn’s brashness. Their love/hate relationship is one of the highlights of the film. One of the absolute best parts of the film though is Alan Hale as Flynn’s father. He is hilarious in this movie. Ward Bond is also excellent as John L. Sullivan.
Another type of film that I find comforting is something that is so adorable and so sweet, that you cannot help but feel better. Charlie Chaplin’s most famous character, The Tramp, is so sweet and kind, you cannot help but root for him. In The Kid (1921), even though the audience knows that Tramp’s “son,” belongs to someone else, you cannot help but root for the two of them to stay with each other. They belong together–even if the Tramp can’t provide financially. What he lacks in financial resources, he more than makes up for it in love and kindness. One of the absolute best examples of this is present in my favorite Chaplin film.
4) City Lights (1931). This film is so freaking adorable and sweet, I cannot stand it. Fortunately, I was able to see it in the theater prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The film was even better on the large screen. To make the experience even better, I got to view a 35mm print. Anyway, I digress.
The film opens with a bunch of dignitaries and citizens assembling for the unveiling of a new monument dedicated to “Peace and Prosperity.” When the veil is removed from the statue, the Tramp is revealed to be asleep in the lap of one of the figures. After a few moments of hilarity, the Tramp escapes the angry crowd and runs into the city. While in the city, the Tramp encounters a blind woman (Virginia Cherrill) selling flowers. The Tramp is smitten with her, even after figuring out that she is blind. The blind woman mistakes the Tramp as wealthy when she hears a door open and shut on an automobile right as the Tramp approaches her to purchase a flower. She assumes that he’s just emerged from a chauffered vehicle.
Later that evening, the Tramp saves a drunk millionaire from suicide. The millionaire is grateful to the Tramp and declares him his new best friend. The millionaire takes the Tramp back to his home for champagne, and then for a night out on the town. They have a raucuous good time. The next morning, the Tramp spies the flower girl at her corner as he’s driving the millionaire home. He gets some money from the Millionaire, takes the Millionaire’s car, and drives the girl home.
At this point, a running gag starts where the millionaire is the Tramp’s BFF when he’s drunk, but sober, he has no idea who the Tramp is and wants him out of his house ASAP.
The Tramp continues to visit with the blind girl. It is during one of these visits that he learns that she and her grandmother are one missed rent payment ($22… Oh to pay rent in the early 1930s) away from being homeless. At this point, nothing will stop the Tramp until he’s able to save the blind girl from losing her home.
This film is so freaking sweet and I don’t want to spoil it by describing the ending. It is perhaps one of the best endings ever in film and with so few words. The ending scene fully illustrates why Charlie Chaplin deserves every inch of recognition and acclaim that he ever received.
Finally, another of my favorite genres is film noir. Some film noir can be romantic in nature, like the Bogie/Bacall films and others can be super gritty (The Asphalt Jungle comes to mind). I love all of them. There’s something about the noir style, the narration, the way characters speak, everything.
5) One of my favorite noir, is probably one of the most famous film noir of all time: Double Indemnity (1944). Fred MacMurray stars as Walter Neff, a seemingly decent insurance salesman who makes his living selling all types of insurance. One day, he makes a house call to the Dietrichson household to remind Mr. Dietrichson to renew his automobile insurance. When Walter arrives, Mr. Dietrichson isn’t home, but his second wife Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) is. In one of the all time best character introduction scenes, Phyllis appears at the top of the stairway clad in a towel and her “honey of an anklet.” Walter is instantly smitten.
While flirting with one another, Phyllis asks Walter about taking out a life insurance policy on her husband, without her husband’s knowledge. Walter at first, wants no part of Phyllis’ obvious plan to murder her husband, but soon devises a scheme to write a policy that contains a “double indemnity” clause–which would double the payout, should the policy holder die in some type of accident.
At this point, I cannot decide if Walter is really that enthralled with Phyllis that he’s willing to commit capital murder, or whether he wants to try and put something over on his boss, Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson). Keyes is responsible for investigating claims on behalf of the firm, to reduce the amount of payments that need to be paid out. Keyes seems to believe that he knows anything and everything about probability of different causes of death and everything that would negate an insurance claim.
Walter inevitably ends up helping Phyllis commit the murder. Throughout the rest of the film, Phyllis and Walter try to cover their tracks as Keyes gets closer and closer to the truth.
I love this film. I love the way that Walter speaks, I love Phyllis’ hilarious wig, and Edward G. Robinson is fantastic. In the scene where Walter murders Mr. Dietrichson in the car, Phyllis has one of the most evil facial expressions in cinema.
May 16th is National Classic Movie Day. And what would be better to watch during these trying times than a classic film? This year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe’s annual blogathon is devoted to the 1960s. All participants have been asked to list their favorite films of this decade.
The 1960s are an interesting time for classic film as the Production Code and Studio System were all but gone. Sandra Dee, 50s/60s teen queen, was Universal Studios’ last contract star. Most of the classic film stars of the studio system were either retired, and unfortunately, many were deceased. Some of the younger stars of that era, e.g. Doris Day and Lauren Bacall, to name a couple, were still active, but even then their stars were waning. The 1960s brought a new crop of stars: Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Faye Dunaway, to name a few. Some child stars, like Natalie Wood, had successfully transitioned out of juvenile roles and into ones for adults.
This year, the Classic Film & TV Cafe has asked bloggers to name their six favorite films of the 1960s.
Without further ado:
I’m sure everyone is familiar with this film. The violent shower scene where Janet Leigh meets her demise is iconic. Norman Bates’ name is synonymous with “mommy issues.” The fictional Bates Motel is infamous. I love Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. This is probably my second favorite Hitchcock film after Rear Window. I am not a big horror movie fan, but this film is more psychological than slasher and in true Hitchcock fashion, there are even some funny, albeit, macabre parts as well.
Janet Leigh stars as Marion Crane, a secretary for a local real estate company in Phoenix. On a Friday afternoon, she meets with her boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), for a quickie during lunch. Their rendezvous is complicated when Sam announces that he cannot marry Marion because of debts he incurred after divorcing his first wife. Marion, disappointed, returns to work. When she arrives, her employer is in the middle of settling a large real estate deal. The client ends up giving Marion’s boss $40,000 cash as a down payment. Marion, seeing an opportunity to solve Sam’s money woes, so that they can marry, feigns a headache. Her boss, not wanting such a large sum of cash in the office over the weekend, asks Marion to deposit the cash on her way home. Marion absconds with the money instead and drives to California where Sam lives.
While enroute, there’s a fantastic scene (with Bernard Hermann’s amazing score) where Marion is driving and she imagines her boss’ conversation after he discovers that she’s stolen the money. Marion trades in her vehicle after a weird encounter with a police officer who keeps questioning her when she acts odd and suspicious after he wakes her up from a roadside nap. During a heavy rainstorm, Marion comes across a motel off the beaten path– The Bates Motel. The proprietor, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), is a little odd, but seems harmless.
Unfortunately, Marion is never seen again.
The remainder of the film deals with her sister, Lila (Vera Miles), Sam, and Detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam), trying to find out what happened to Marion. It becomes clear to all involved that Norman has a weird relationship with his mother. Lila and Arbogast decide that Mrs. Bates might hold the key to the whole mystery.
***SPOILER*** These are my favorite scenes:
Marion’s infamous shower scene
Lila tapping on the shoulder of “Mrs. Bates” and having the chair spin around only to see a skeleton wearing a wig.
“Mrs. Bates” stabbing Arbogast and him falling down the stairs.
Norman Bates’ reveal as “Mrs. Bates” That scene is funny, if anything.
The last scene featuring a close-up of Norman Bates’ face with “Mrs. Bates” providing the internal monologue. “He wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Cape Fear (1962)
I saw this film for the first time a couple years ago. Prior to that, my only experience with Cape Fear was the Simpsons parody with Sideshow Bob assuming the Robert Mitchum role. I saw Scorsese’s 1991 remake last year and while it was okay, I preferred the original. Scorsese’s version was too graphic and gross. I liked the subtlety of the original. Cape Fear, in my opinion, is very progressive for 1962. It might be one of the first sexual thrillers. This film is terrifying and Robert Mitchum deserves all the credit for imbuing the film with the creepy and uncomfortable atmosphere present through the entire film. In Scorsese’s 1991 remake, Robert DeNiro assumes Mitchum’s role, and in my opinion, Mitchum was much more effective. DeNiro was just creepy, gross, and a complete psychopath. Mitchum, on the other hand, was creepy, but also possessed that dreamy quality (which also makes him excel in romantic roles). He was believable as a man who could charm a potential victim into spending time with him–only for her to realize his true character when it was too late. DeNiro is just a creep from the start.
The original Cape Fear takes place in contemporary 1962 Georgia. Max Cady (Robert Mitchum), has just been released from prison. He has just completed an 8-year stint after being convicted of rape. What’s interesting in this film is that Max’s crime is never explicitly stated, but is implied. After leaving prison, Max travels to the hometown of Sam Bowden (Gregory Peck), a lawyer who assisted in delivering the eyewitness testimony that sealed Max’s case and got him convicted and incarcerated. Max is determined to get revenge on Sam. He promptly discovers where he lives. The remainder of the film deals with Max stalking both Sam and his family. It gets even worse when Max sets his sights on Sam’s 14-year old daughter, Nancy.
There is a terrifying scene between Max and a woman he picks up at a bar, Diane Taylor (Barrie Chase). This scene is made even more disturbing in the 1991 Scorsese version.
The highlight (and scariest part) of the film is the famous houseboat scene–parodied perfectly on The Simpsons. Sam’s family heads to their houseboat in Cape Fear, North Carolina, in an effort to lure Max. The scene between Max and Sam’s wife, Peggy (Polly Bergen) on the houseboat is so disturbing– it just gives me the willies thinking about it.
This film is fantastic and highly worth watching. I recommend watching it in the dark to get the full effect. In fact, I may watch this movie tonight in honor of National Classic Film Day.
Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968)
Full disclosure: I love The Brady Bunch. I can watch it all day long and I never tire of it. However, other family sitcoms, e.g. Full House, I can only take an episode or two at a time. Both sitcoms have overly sappy moments, both can be saccharine at times, there are lessons to be learned in each episode… so what’s the difference between the two shows? I have no idea, except the The Brady Bunch is superior.
In 1968, when Sherwood Schwartz was looking for a new project, he came across a newspaper column offering the statistic that 30% of marriages involve children from a previous marriage. He created a pilot for a series involving Mike Brady, a widower with three children, falling in love with and marrying Carol Martin, a divorcee with three children. Due to objections from the network, Carol’s marital status was made more ambiguous. Schwartz presented his pilot to all the major networks. Each network liked the project, but requested multiple changes. Then, two films about mixed families premiered– With Six You Get Eggroll (Doris Day & Brian Keith), and Yours, Mine and Ours (Lucille Ball & Henry Fonda), the latter film turning a major profit. The success of ‘Yours,’ served as the impetus for one network, ABC, to take a chance and greenlight The Brady Bunch.
Yours, Mine and Ours is based on the true story of Frank Beardsley and Helen North, two widowers who, between the two of them, have enough children to play an entire baseball game–defense and offense. They meet and marry and then try to unite their families and manage their massive household. Lucille Ball’s production company, Desilu, purchased the rights to Helen Beardsley’s (nee North) autobiography, Who Gets the Drumstick? Ball enlisted her I Love Lucy writing dream team, Bob Carroll Jr., and Madelyn Pugh to write the screenplay. Ball, of course, would play the role of Helen North. She enlisted her friend (and former beau), Henry Fonda, to play her husband, Frank Beardsley.
Frank works in the Navy and has recently left his post on the USS Enterprise. He has taken on a new role (one that presumably keeps him at home) working as a project officer. One day, at the commissary, he meets Helen North, a nurse on the base. They have a friendly, cordial meeting. But nothing comes of it. Later, Frank and Helen reunite when Frank has to bring 12-year old daughter Louise in for an exam. Frank and Helen hit it off and decide to go out on a date. The trouble? Frank and Helen are both single parents to a large number of children. Frank has 10 children, Helen has 8.
While on the date (at a VERY crowded club), there’s a funny scene where Helen practices nonchalantly telling Frank about her 8 children. Since she’s practicing out-loud, the men around her think that she’s coming onto them. Later, there is another funny scene where her fake eyelashes (courtesy of her daughters) keep falling off and later her pinned up slip falls down (her girls also shortened her dress, making her slip too long).
Finally, the truth comes out when Frank and Helen make their respective broods known to one another. After some funny scenes with the children including a manic Lucille Ball crying/drunk scene, and a near break-up, Helen and Frank marry and then work on combining their respective households–but not without help from Frank’s buddy, Darrel (Van Johnson).
My favorite scene is when Frank is doling out bedroom and bathroom assignments. Each bedroom is assigned a letter. The bathrooms are assigned a color. The children are assigned a number, based on their position within the group of children. There’s a funny quote when one of the younger children (11/18) walks down the hallway, repeating the mantra over and over: “I’m 11, red, A.” For the record, in my house, I’m 1, red, A. My husband is 2, red, A. My sister/boarder, is 3, red, B.
I’m not usually a big fan of children-centric movies/shows or actors (which probably makes my love of The Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours, even more bewildering)–but both The Brady Bunch and Yours, Mine and Ours are free of the annoying, precocious child with a catch phrase–so that’s probably why I like them. For the record: My favorite Brady kid is Marcia (close second: Greg), and my favorite Yours, Mine and Ours child is Phillip (perhaps the Jan Brady of the Beardsley household), close second: Veronica)
For the record, these are the children in their order of rank:
Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961)
I know that this is not the best movie in the world. It’s not even the best of the Gidget franchise. However, I love this movie. It’s so ridiculous in the best possible way. First of all, we’re supposed to believe that this is a continuation of 1959’s Gidget–just look past the fact that Deborah Walley (Gidget in Gidget Goes Hawaiian) looks absolutely nothing like Sandra Dee (the original Gidget in Gidget). The sequel even went as far as to film “flashbacks” of scenes from the first film, with Walley wearing some of Dee’s costumes! Gidget’s parents in the second film–Carl Reiner as Russ and Jeff Donnell as Dorothy, are completely different. Arthur O’Connell and Mary LaRoche assumed the roles in the Dee film. In the first film, only the surfer boys refer to Gidget by her nickname. Gidget’s parents refer to her by another nickname, “Francie,” based on her real name: Frances. In the second film, everyone calls Gidget by her nickname. The one constant in both films? And really the only constant that even matters? James Darren’s Jeff “Moondoggie” Matthews.
In Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Gidget and Jeff are still together. At the end of the first film, Gidget turns 17 and is entering her senior year of high school. Jeff is a college student, who is on summer break and planning to return to school in the fall. We can assume that Jeff is either a year or two older than Gidget. In Gidget Goes Hawaiian, the timeline is a little fuzzy. Presumably, this is a year or so after Gidget, based on the fact that Jeff is on summer vacation, returning to college again in the fall. At this point, Gidget is presumably at least 18, and perhaps Jeff is 20-21 (He’s still in college in 1963’s Gidget Goes to Rome. Super senior? Pursuing a MA?) He gives Gidget his pin at the beginning of the film, something that he did at the end of the Dee film. Is this a continuity error? I’m not sure. I choose to believe that perhaps Jeff got another pin and is giving it to Gidget. I really don’t know. Regardless, in Gidget’s world, Jeff has just proposed marriage, and they’re basically engaged now.
After an idyllic summer of surfing, bonfires on the beach and romantic dates, Gidget and Jeff reach their last two weeks of vacation together, before Jeff has to leave for school. Then Gidget’s dad drops a bombshell–he’s booked a two-week trip to Hawaii for the family. Most people would be ecstatic at this news, but not Gidget. She’s devastated, as two weeks is all she and Jeff have left together until he leaves for school. Her father is understandably both upset and bewildered at Gidget’s unhappiness. Gidget tries to get sympathy from Jeff, and he tells her that this trip is an opportunity of a lifetime (because it is) and that she’d be nuts not to go. Gidget, because she’s bonkers, takes Jeff’s encouragement as a sign that he’s indifferent to her leaving or not, gets mad, and breaks up with him. Meanwhile, Gidget’s parents have decided to turn their family trip into a romantic trip and cancel Gidget’s adjoining room. Gidget then announces that she’s coming on the trip after all, and her parents scramble to re-book her room. Her adjoining room is gone, but they’re able to book her a single room down the hall. Gidget and her family are on their way to Hawaii.
While on the plane, Gidget and her parents become acquainted with another family on board–Monty (Eddie Foy, Jr.) and Mitzi (Peggy Cass) Stewart and their daughter Abby (Vicki Trickett). Abby and Gidget are the same age. While seated on the plane together, Gidget and Abby get to talking. Gidget bares her soul to Abby about Jeff and how lost she is without him. The whole group is staying at the same Hawaiian hotel together. While at the hotel, Gidget and Abby meet Eddie Horner (Michael Callan), a dancer who is appearing at the hotel. The girls, Eddie and his friends all spend time together during the trip.
Gidget is miserable during the beginning of the trip. She just sits and mopes in the hotel, refusing to take in the sights of Hawaii. Her parents are understandably concerned. Gidget’s dad arranges to have Jeff fly to Hawaii as a surprise for Gidget. Between Gidget’s moping and Jeff’s arrival in Hawaii, she comes out of her shell and quickly wins over Eddie and the guys. Abby is jealous of Gidget’s popularity and appeal to the boys and quickly resents her.
I really like this film because it’s fun and has amusing moments. I do feel bad for Deborah Walley–only because I feel the costume team did her a real disservice. Gidget is presumably at least 18, but is dressed like she’s 12. Walley is not chubby by any means, but her tight, short waisted, twee dresses greatly undermine her figure. She looks best in her swimwear and when Gidget imagines that she’s a streetwalker. I also don’t know what’s up with the half up, half down hairstyle she sports–it’s not appealing. But I’ve seen it on other women during the early 60s, so I’ll assume that it was the style.
Where the Boys Are (1960)
If there’s one thing I love, it’s teen beach movies. I love all of them: Gidget, Beach Party, everything. One of the best films of this genre is Where the Boys Are. This film has more in common with the coming of age story in Gidget (1959) and less with the wackniess of the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies. Much like Gidget, this film is progressive in its discussion of not only teenage sexuality, but the sexuality of young, unmarried, women. Where the Boys Are tells the story of four young college women (Freshmen) who travel to Fort Lauderdale, FL for a two week spring vacation.
Merritt Andrews (Dolores Hart) is a young woman who talks a good game when it comes to young women being free to date, makeout and have sex (aka “backseat bingo”) with whomever she wants. This progressive attitude of course scandalizes the professor of the “Courtship and Marriage” class. It is obvious that the four main characters in the film attend an all-female university. Merritt’s outspoken views have her kept under close watch by the school’s dean. At the conclusion of the school day, Merritt and her friends Melanie Tolman (Yvette Mimimeux), Tuggle Carpenter (Paula Prentiss), and Angie NoLastName (Connie Francis) set off for Fort Lauderdale.
While on the road, the girls come across TV Thompson (Jim Hutton) who is looking to hitch a ride to Florida. After being impressed by his height and shoe size, Tuggle (who stands 5’10.5 and desperately seeks a taller man) invites him into the car. They arrive in Florida and check into their apartment. As the events of the film unfold, it becomes apparent that each girl has a different viewpoint when it comes to sex.
MERRITT: Outspoken advocate of pre-marital sex. Talks a good game, but might not be as experienced and confident as she lets on. She meets Ryder Smith (George Hamilton), a senior at Brown University. He’s wealthy and his intelligence is on-par with Merritt’s. It becomes clear that he probably actually has the experience that Merritt talks about and it seems that he may have been led on by her at first.
TUGGLE: Strives to become a wife and mother “the chaste way,” she says. Tuggle believes that her height and build has her destined to become the mother to multiple children. She is more traditional and doesn’t particularly share Merritt’s opinion about sex. She wants to meet a man, marry and then have sex after marriage. TV ends up becoming her beau throughout the film and at first seems to be upset about her wanting to be a “good girl.” However, TV seems like a good guy.
MELANIE: She’s insecure about her lack of experience and takes Merritt’s outspoken views to heart. Her main goal while in Florida is to meet a “Yale-ie” and lose her virginity. Unfortunately for Melanie, she might be dealt the worst hand in this film. She meets a couple Yale-ies in the film.
ANGIE: Angie is your classic tomboy. She’s a pretty girl, but isn’t tall like Tuggle, or blonde like Melanie and Merritt. She’s short and brunette and a little curvier than the other girls. Angie is the captain of her school’s field hockey team. Nobody worries what Angie is doing on vacation or while at school. It is implied that everyone just assumes that Angie won’t have to worry about pressure to have premarital sex. The one asset Angie does have is that she has a killer voice. Her voice attracts the attention of Basil (Frank Gorshin) a didactic jazz musician.
This film has some very funny scenes such as at the club when the gang watches Lola Fandango (Barbara Nichols) perform an Esther Williams-esque underwater number; and when Angie and Merritt attempt to save money by ordering hot water (and dipping in their own contraband tea bag) at a restaurant. I also love the scenes showing the mob at the beach and in their hotel room (the girls end up sharing their 2-bed room with 7 other girls). There are also some very serious scenes as well as some sweet ones.
This is an excellent film for anyone who loves coming of age stories, teen beach movies, or movies with killer title theme songs.
Valley of the Dolls (1967)
Last but not least, one of my other favorite films of the 1960s is the cult classic, Valley of the Dolls. This film is so ridiculous in all the best ways possible. Prior to watching this film, I was unaware that “dolls” was a term for pills. I always thought that the “dolls” in the title referred to the women in the film. Oh how I was wrong.
This movie is amazing. Everyone in this film has a million problems. The most sane person is probably Susan Hayward’s Helen Lawson, and even she’s a piece of work. Based on Jacqueline Susann’s 1966 novel of the same name, this film tells the story of Anne Welles (Barbara Parkins) a recent college graduate who takes a job as a secretary at a theatrical agency. Their number one client is Helen Lawson–an aging, and cutthroat Broadway star. Helen is appearing in a new show, which is featuring a young ingenue, Neely O’Hara (Patty Duke). Neely is very talented and Helen fears that Neely will overshadow her performance. In an effort to get Neely to quit the show, Helen orders for all of Neely’s best scenes, including her big musical number, cut. The ruse works and Neely is out. Anne is immediately disheartened with show-biz after witnessing Helen’s cruel behavior toward Neely, but is convinced by her employer to not quit and stay with the company.
Anne and Neely befriend another young woman, Jennifer North (Sharon Tate). Jennifer is gorgeous, but her talent is limited. Neely’s agent at the theatrical agency (which employs Anne) lands her an appearance on a telethon, which leads to a nightclub gig, and so-on. The audience is treated to an amazing 1960s montage of Neely’s rise to success. Neely is offered a Hollywood contract and off she goes. Unfortunately, the pressure of the business and instant success gets the best of Neely and soon she’s a glorious, alcoholic, doll-addicted disaster. In all honesty, Neely’s complete collapse and self-destruction is the highlight of the film. I know it’s campy, over-the-top, and absolutely absurd, but I love it. Neely O’Hara was my hero in this film. One particular highlight is when a drunk, drugged out of her gourd Neely goes to a bar. She plays her own song on the jukebox and plays the “don’t you know who I am?” card. Nobody knows who she is because she’s a shell of her former self.
Unfortunately, the other two ladies, Anne and Jennifer, don’t fare much better, though Anne’s plight lasts all of 5 minutes. I wish she’d self-destructed a little bit more.
The absolute best part of the entire film is the showdown between Neely and Helen. It is amazing and one of my all-time favorite movie scenes. I absolutely love this movie from start to finish. It is worthy of its status as one of the all-time best campy, cult films. Lee Grant has an appearance as the sister to Jennifer’s beau. Dionne Warwick sings the very melancholy theme song.
Now I want to watch this movie. Valley of the Dolls / Cape Fear double feature? Is that weird?
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.
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.
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.