What a Character! Blogathon–Elisha Cook Jr.

WILMER COOK: Keep on riding me and they’re gonna be picking iron out of your liver.

SAM SPADE: The cheaper the crook, the gaudier the patter.

Elisha Cook Jr. as Wilmer Cook and Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade in “The Maltese Falcon.”

HELEN: I must warn you though, liquor makes me nosy. I’ve been known to ask all sorts of personal questions after four cocktails.

MARTY: ‘s alright. I’ve been known to tell people to mind their own business. Cold sober too.

Claire Trevor as Helen and Elisha Cook Jr. as Marty in “Born to Kill.”

GEORGE PEATTY: This couple, sittin’ in front of me, oh, they weren’t young, exactly. I guess the woman was about your age.

SHERRY PEATTY: A little senile, you mean? With one foot and a big toe in the grave?

GEORGE PEATTY: You want to hear this or not? Do you or not, Sherry?

SHERRY PEATTY: I can’t wait. Go ahead and thrill me George.

Elisha Cook Jr. as George Peatty and Marie Windsor as Sherry Peatty in “The Killing.”
“Well Wilmer, I’m sorry indeed to lose you. But I want you to know I couldn’t be fonder of you if you were my own son. But well, if you lose a son, it’s possible to get another. There’s only one Maltese Falcon.”

Elisha Cook Jr. carved out a very unique niche for himself in Hollywood. He often played a villain, but never a outwardly scary villain. He was no Tommy Udo (Richard Widmark) in Kiss of Death or Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) in Cape Fear. Cook Jr.’s portrayal was much different. He was mild-mannered, timid even, but was still able to make the action of the film seem uncomfortable. To me, he comes across as someone who seems like they could crack any time now. In The Maltese Falcon, he trails Sam Spade all over San Francisco and makes threats along the way, but Spade never takes him seriously. Even at the end of the film, Cook Jr.’s boss, Kasper Gutman, sells him out and makes him the fall guy. Kasper does this to save his own neck.

When I first learned about Elisha Cook Jr., I did what I always do for every new film and new actor I discover: I looked up his Imdb and Wikipedia pages. I was astonished to learn that Cook Jr. was born in 1903! 1903! In ‘Falcon,’ he looks like a kid compared to Bogart and company. However, he was only four years younger than Bogart! Save for Sydney Greenstreet, Cook Jr., was older than the other members of his gang: Mary Astor and Peter Lorre. This was insane to me. He had such a baby face that it was astonishing that he was almost 40 when he appeared in ‘Falcon.’

It is partially Cook Jr.’s baby face that lends to his ability to play these meek, timid characters who provide a duplicitous nature to his characters. He didn’t always play the villain, but he often played someone who was pretty much on the up-and-up, but got in over his head due to his naiveté and inability to stand up against a stronger personality. In The Killing, Cook Jr., works at a large horse track as a cashier. He is married to the very domineering (physically and personality-wise) Marie Windsor, who treats him like garbage because he hasn’t provided her with the lifestyle to which she feels accustomed. To make his wife like him better, Cook Jr., gets involved with criminal Sterling Hayden who wants to pull off one last heist. Cook Jr., offers to use his position as an employee of the horse track to help Hayden pull off the heist. In exchange, he is supposed to receive a large sum of money. Unfortunately, Cook Jr. ends up paying for his involvement with his life.

Probably the most action Elisha Cook Jr. ever got in one of his films–Phantom Lady.

In contrast to his wimpy weaklings, Elisha Cook Jr., did turn in a very uncharacteristic (yet entirely typical) performance in Phantom Lady. In this film, Ella Raines is trying to prove the innocence of her boss who is sitting on death row for murdering his wife. He has an alibi, but the alibi cannot be located. Raines is trying to follow the clues to find the alibi and exonerate her boss before it’s too late. Nightclub drummer Cook Jr., is one of the people who can help lead her to the alibi. To convince him to give her the details, Raines tries to emulate the type of woman that a musician would be interested in. Donning fishnet stockings, a slinky dress, and stilettos, hepcat Raines’ ruse works. Cook Jr., invites her to this seedy private club away from the nightclub.

Here’s where Cook Jr.’s uncharacteristic performance comes in. Obviously wanting to seduce Raines and “make it” (as they say in old movies back then) with her, he presents the most erotic, sexually charged drum solo ever committed to celluloid. This is as close as filmmakers could get in having characters have sex on screen in 1944. Cook Jr.’s drumsticks hit the drumheads with such an intense, rhythmic beat. Close-ups of his sweaty face, eyes widening, smile tightening are juxtaposed with shots of the drumsticks. As the beat intensifies, so does the intensity in Cook Jr.’s face until the scene climaxes, and he and Raines slink out the door when she offers a come hither look. Like in most of his films, Cook Jr., doesn’t survive Phantom Lady, but at least he had some fun before his murder.

Elisha Cook Jr. is one of my favorite character actors. He brings such a unique presence to screen and you never know what you’re going to get, while knowing exactly what you’re going to get when he’s on screen.

My favorite Elisha Cook Jr. performances:

  • The Maltese Falcon
  • The Killing
  • Born to Kill
  • Phantom Lady
  • House on Haunted Hill
  • The Big Sleep
  • The Gangster
  • Don’t Bother to Knock
  • Love Crazy
  • I Wake Up Screaming
  • Ball of Fire

WATSON PRITCHARD: They’re coming for me now… and then they’ll come for you.

Elisha Cook Jr. as Watson Pritchard in House on Haunted Hill

The Distraction Blogathon- “Casablanca” (1942)

“Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”

“We’ll always have Paris.”

“Play it Sam, play ‘As Time Goes By.'”

“I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on here.”

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”

“Everybody comes to Rick’s.”

Humphrey Bogart (Rick), Claude Rains (Louis), Paul Henreid (Victor) and Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa) in “Casablanca.”

These are just some of the amazing quotes from Casablanca. Casablanca is considered one of the greatest films of all time, and for good reason–it is a fantastic movie. Almost every line of dialogue is quotable. The characters (especially Rick, Ilsa, and Louis) are iconic. The last scene between Rick and Ilsa at the airport and later, the ending scene with Rick and Louis walking off into the fog are forever symbolic of Classic Hollywood. Between the quotes, the scenes, the music, Rick and Ilsa’s romance, Louis’ corruption… there is so much to remember about Casablanca. However, does anyone remember the object that plays a central role in the film? 1

1 Obviously a rhetorical question, because duh, we’re all Classic Hollywood film fans, OF COURSE we know the answer to this question; but roll with it.

Answer? The letters of transit. The letters of transit are introduced in the film as a piece of crucial documentation that refugees must present to leave Casablanca, Morocco. These refugees are hoping to obtain a letter of transit so that they can travel through German-occupied Europe to Lisbon, Portugal (which is neutral), then board a ship/plane to head to their new life in the United States. These documents are the objects that motivate the main characters’ actions in the film. The audience is first introduced to Peter Lorre’s character in the film, Ugarte, as he races through town and into Rick’s (Humphrey Bogart) club, Rick’s Cafe American. Ugarte boasts that he murdered two German couriers to obtain these precious letters of transit. He wants to sell them in Rick’s club. In the meantime however, Ugarte asks Rick to keep the letters of transit safe.

Later, Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) and Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) arrive in Casablanca and head over to Rick’s. Victor is the leader of the Czech Resistance movement. Because of his activity, Victor ranks high on the Germans’ list of persons to not allow to leave Casablanca. Thanks to Rick’s business rival, Signor Ferrari (Sydney Greenstreet), Rick is suspected of having the letters of transit in his possession. This suspicion is what leads Ilsa and Victor to Rick’s. Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains), the corrupt prefect of police, also suspects Rick has the letters of transit. He is a subject of the German-controlled France and is supposed to be preventing Ilsa and Victor’s escape.

Dooley Wilson (Sam) attempts to comfort Humphrey Bogart (Rick) as he laments Ilsa walking into his gin joint.

But does the audience care about the letters of transit? No. Not really. As the audience, we are immediately captivated by Rick’s sour reaction to Ilsa’s showing up at his club. What’s the story there? That’s what we want to know. Judging from Ilsa’s acquaintance with Sam (Dooley Wilson), Rick’s pianist and friend, and her asking him to play “it,” we know that there’s a story there. Sam knows what “it” is and reluctantly agrees to play the song when Ilsa persists. When Sam acquiesces to Ilsa’s request and begins playing “As Time Goes By,” (i.e. “it”), Rick angrily emerges from his office, demanding to know why Sam is playing *that* song. He spots Ilsa and oof. If looks could kill. Rick’s reaction, combined with Sam quickly grabbing his piano bench and scurrying out of the way, is what we need to know about. What is the story behind Rick and Ilsa?

The story of Rick and Ilsa provides the main framework of the story and the main conflict. Add in the fact that Ilsa is married to Victor, and a love triangle develops. Rick and Ilsa’s romance is re-kindled and soon it’s up in the air as to whether Ilsa will want a letter of transit to leave Casablanca. A different side of Rick emerges. He was a cynical, world weary ex-pat living in Casablanca, seemingly impervious to everything. Then Ilsa shows up (unexpectedly) and the romantic side of him emerges. Louis is there, kind of playing both sides, both as an ally of Rick’s but also wanting to follow through on his “duty” and prevent Victor’s escape. He knows Rick knows where the letters of transit are, but he doesn’t really work too hard to look for them. Louis, a French police officer, is stuck in the middle between duty to his country and duty to the corrupt Nazi regime who had taken over Vichy France. At the end of the film, Louis tosses the full bottle of Vichy water into the trash, symbolically showing that he is severing his ties with the Nazis. Louis, like Rick, becomes a patriot.

At the end of the film, Rick makes the ultimate sacrifice and sends Ilsa off with Victor. He hands over the letters of transit very casually. There is no big fanfare, no big build up when Rick hands off the coveted documents. Instead, we are treated to Rick’s very self-sacrificing monologue, the monologue in which he finally severs ties with Ilsa and closes this chapter of his life. This is closure to the romance that we’ve been captivated by since the beginning of the film. We’re finally finding out the resolution of the love triangle. Which man will Ilsa end up with? The man she fell in love with after her husband was thought to be dead? Or her husband, whom she reunited with (and abandoned Rick in the process) after learning that he was still alive? Does she stay with the man who escaped the war to live in Casablanca? Or does she stay with the man who is conducting very important, but also dangerous work on behalf of the Resistance? The letters of transit are essentially irrelevant in the context of the real crux of the film.

Humphrey Bogart (Rick) and Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa) in the iconic airport scene from “Casablanca.”

RICK: “Last night, we said a great many things. You said I was to do the thinking for both of us. Well, I’ve done a lot of it since then, and it all adds up to one thing: you’re getting on that plane with Victor where you belong.”

ILSA: “But Richard, no… I… I…”

RICK: “Now you’ve got to listen to me! You have any idea what you’d have to look forward to if you stayed here? Nine chances out of ten we’d both wind up in a Concentration Camp. Isn’t that true, Louis?”

LOUIS: “I’m afraid Major Strasser would insist.”

ILSA: “You’re only saying this to make me go.”

RICK: “I’m saying it because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”

ILSA: “But what about us?”

RICK: “We’ll always have Paris. What we didn’t have, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”

ILSA: “When I said I would never leave you.”

RICK: “And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t have any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

(ILSA lowers her head and begins to cry)

RICK: “Now…now…”

(RICK gently grabs Ilsa’s chin and raises it, so they can look into each other’s eyes.)

RICK: “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Humphrey Bogart (Rick), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa), and Claude Rains (Louis) in one of the most iconic scenes in Classic Hollywood.

The final scene between Rick and Ilsa is one of my absolute favorite scenes in any film. Who knew that a scene where two people are breaking up could be so romantic and heartbreaking. It was beautifully written and acted. After taking in the emotional gravitas of this scene and the absolutely heart-wrenching ending to this romance, who is still thinking about the letters of transit?

Rick, hide me! Do something! You must help me, Rick!”

CMBA Fall Blogathon: Laughter is the Best Medicine- “My Man Godfrey” (1936)

In today’s world, especially during the midst of a once in a century event (e.g. a global pandemic), laughter can be just the cure. A good comedy allows one to disappear into the world presented by the film. For the duration of the film, the viewer can forget about his or her troubles. In the film’s world, the viewer’s tax problems, health issues, financial struggles, relationship woes, etc. do not exist. A good comedy will endure, continue to entertain and remain funny, no matter how many times it has been seen by the viewer. One comedy that fits this bill is My Man Godfrey. I have seen this film at least a dozen times and it never fails to make me laugh.

Carole Lombard (Irene) and William Powell (Godfrey) in “My Man Godfrey.”

My Man Godfrey tells the story of the wealthy Bullock family, prominent figures of the New York social set. This family is completely insane. At the beginning of the film, we meet the grown Bullock daughters, Cornelia (Gail Patrick) and Irene (Carole Lombard). Cornelia and Irene are taking part in a scavenger hunt, an event put on to entertain the rich for the evening. This scavenger hunt requires the participant to locate all the items on the list and return them to headquarters. Each wealthy family makes up one team and the members of the team work together to locate each object on the list. Cornelia and Irene are in search of a “forgotten man” (i.e. homeless, destitute man). They come across Godfrey (William Powell).

Cornelia instantly makes an enemy of Godfrey when she offers him $5, making it seem like she’s doing Godfrey a favor. When she informs him that it is part of a scavenger hunt, he is irritated and Cornelia ends up in an ash pile. Irene, on the other hand endears herself to Godfrey when she reveals herself to be of a much kinder temperament to Cornelia. Enchanted by Irene and wanting to help her beat the snobbish Cornelia, Godfrey agrees to return to the scavenger hunt’s headquarters as Irene’s forgotten man. With Godfrey’s help, Irene wins the scavenger hunt.

Godfrey gives an amazing speech at the scavenger hunt headquarters. He chastises the rich for using the less fortunate as a form of entertainment, and does not mince words. After making his contempt for the rich folks’ activities clear, Godfrey leaves in a huff. Feeling bad for upsetting Godfrey, Irene chases after him and offers him a job as her protégé and family butler. Godfrey accepts the position. The next day, Godfrey arrives for his first day of work and quickly learns what he has gotten himself into.

Alice Brady (Angelica), Eugene Pallette (Alexander), Cornelia (Gail Patrick) and Carlo (Mischa Auer) in the Bullock living room

The Bullock family is bonkers. The matriarch of the family, Angelica (Alice Brady), has her own protégé, Carlo (Mischa Auer). Carlo is supposedly a musician, however we never hear him play more than one part of one song. Alexander (Eugene Pallette), the patriarch of the Bullock clan, is exasperated by Carlo, whom he sees as a mooch and drain on the family’s finances. There is a hilarious scene where a fed up Alexander asks Carlo to accompany him. We then hear glass breaking. Alexander returns and states that Carlo “had to leave very suddenly.” Alexander is the straight-man to the family’s antics, but even he has his moments of insanity. Cornelia is a snob and very much resents Godfrey’s presence in the family’s home. She does not hide her contempt for him. Irene however, is in love with Godfrey and does not hide her feelings for him whatsoever. Finally, Molly (Jean Dixon), the wise-cracking maid is Godfrey’s experienced counterpart whose sassiness is perfect for showing Godfrey “the ropes” of handling the various temperaments of the members of the Bullock family.

One particularly funny moment in the film has Irene hosting a party for her friends while experiencing a moment of depression after being rebuffed by Godfrey. She walks around the party in a dramatic moment saying things like: “life is but an empty bubble,” and “what is food?” Carole Lombard’s Irene is the key to the film’s comedy. She is so hilariously wacky, but at the core is just a sweet young woman who wants someone she can love. Godfrey is that person with whom Irene is completely smitten. However, the trick is to win over Godfrey. William Powell’s portrayal of Godfrey brings a steady, calming influence to the film. Without the straight-man Godfrey character, this film would be completely off the rails and would probably be really irritating. Godfrey’s looks of exasperation and sheer surprise make him a very funny character in his own right.

I love this movie. Irene, Godfrey and Angelica make me laugh and never fail to make me feel better. My Man Godfrey is one of my all-time favorite screwball comedies. This movie is a riot with each scene funnier than the last. I can imagine myself living in the Great Depression, scraping up some change to see this film in the theater. I can imagine myself laughing hysterically at this film and feeling better because I was able to forget about standing in the breadlines for just a few minutes. This is the power that movies have–escapism. A film that can whisk the viewer away and capture their imagination is a film that will endure for generations. My Man Godfrey is one such film that has endured for 85 years and will continue to last because it is hilarious. It never fails to make me feel better through its power to make me laugh.

Forgotten Man William Powell is “rescued” to Carole Lombard.

Some of my favorite quotes from the film:

GODFREY: My purpose in coming here tonight was two-fold: firstly, I wanted to aid this young lady. Secondly, I was curious to see how a bunch of empty-headed nitwits conducted themselves. My curiosity is satisfied. I assure you it’ll be a pleasure to go back to a society of really important people.

Godfrey telling off the rich folk for using the less fortunate as entertainment fodder

GODFREY: These flowers just came for you, miss. Where shall I put them?

IRENE: What difference does it make where one puts flowers when one’s heart is breaking?

GODFREY: Yes, miss. Shall I put them on the piano?

Godfrey dryly reacting to Irene’s over-the-top dramatic behavior

CARLO: Oh Money! Money! Money! The Frankenstein monster that destroys souls!

ANGELICA (to ALEXANDER): Please don’t say anything more about it! You’re upsetting Carlo!

Carlo reacting to Alexander’s rant about money and Angelica trying to protect her mooching protégé.

IRENE: What is food?

Irene is dramatically moping around the house and trying to sound philosophical.

The Biopic Blogathon: “Gentleman Jim” (1942)

The real James J. “Gentleman Jim” Corbett

James John “Gentleman Jim” Corbett was a competitive boxer best known for beating the famed heavyweight world champion, John L. Sullivan. Despite having only fought in about twenty matches, Corbett went up against the best fighters the sport had to offer. He was famous for his technique, which involved actual skill and practice, in lieu of sheer brute force. His refined conduct inside and outside the boxing ring led to the media referring to Corbett by the nickname, “Gentleman Jim.” At the end of the nineteenth century, boxing was still illegal in about half of the states in the union. The brutal nature of the sport led to it being considered immoral. However, Corbett’s genteel behavior and adoption of the Marquess of Queensbury Rules 1 (still in use in boxing today) led to the sport becoming more acceptable, especially among the women who flocked to his matches in droves. Corbett was one of the first modern sex symbols in the sports world.

1 The Marquess of Queensbury Rules were drafted in 1865 and established a code of ethics that fighters must follow at all times during a match. It wasn't enough to win, a fighter also had to play by the rules. There are a multitude of rules, including boxing ring regulations, proper gloves and shoes, 10-count before declaring KO, referee given power to end bout, and other rules. 
Despite what the poster might have you believe, Flynn does not have a mustache in this film.

In 1942, about ten years after Corbett’s passing, Warner Brothers set out to create a biopic of his life after having purchased the rights to his story from his widow. To star in the film as the first sex symbol of modern day boxing, Warner Brothers cast (who else?) Errol Flynn. Of all the stars in their stable, Flynn is the perfect choice to appear as the refined, lithe, attractive “Gentleman Jim.” Flynn himself was a boxer before Hollywood and was a natural athlete. To hone his boxing skills and to properly portray the real-life Corbett’s footwork technique, Flynn took extensive lessons. He rarely used a double during filming.

Flynn’s James “Jim” Corbett is presented as a brash young man with a “cock of the walk” type attitude. Working as a bank teller in San Francisco alongside his best friend, Walter (Jack Carson), he very easily ingratiates himself into the Olympic Club, a very elite club and gym for the upper crust. A young woman, Victoria Ware (Alexis Smith) comes into the bank one day to get some change for her father’s card game and meets Jim. Hearing that she’s on her way to the Olympic Club, Jim very graciously (lol) offers to accompany her to the club. Soon he manages to invite himself on a lunch date with Victoria and before he knows it he’s in the club showing off his boxing technique to the members of the club. The members are impressed and much to Victoria’s chagrin, Jim is invited to become a member of the club.

Alexis Smith and Errol Flynn as Victoria Ware and Jim Corbett. This picture nicely sums up Victoria and Jim’s relationship throughout most of the film.

Victoria and Jim have a very funny love-hate relationship throughout the film. Victoria finds Jim’s cockiness and forward behavior very off-putting. On his first day as a member, Jim has himself paged all over the club, “Paging Mr. Corbett,” to make him appear important to the other members of the club. His arrogant behavior irritates the other members of the club, but they put up with it because of his ability. Victoria heckles Jim throughout the film. She cheers for his opponents, boos him when he enters the ring, and mocks his behavior. Victoria’s dad looms in the background laughing at Victoria and Jim’s flirtatious, yet faux contemptuous behavior toward one another. “You two are the funniest couple” he says. However, despite how much Victoria pretends to be irritated by Jim, there’s a definite vibe that she’s got a crush on him. And who wouldn’t? Look at the man.

Jim also has a hilarious Irish family who provide some comic relief for the film. His father, Pat (Alan Hale) and mother, “Ma,” are both Irish immigrants who run a stable in the working class area of San Francisco. After a few prominent boxing matches, Jim’s star rises and he arranges for his family to move to the upper crust Nob Hill neighborhood. Pat and Jim’s brothers run a saloon that Jim purchases for them. The family is hilarious. One of their running gags is their heated arguments, which culminate with them taking the fight outside–“The Corbetts are at it again!” is heard a few times in the film. It is interesting how Jim is the only member of the family to speak with an Australian accent, but we’ll let that slide.

Alan Hale as Pat Corbett and Errol Flynn as his son, Jim.

Much of the film involves Jim’s power growing as he takes down one acclaimed boxer after another. During his first major bout, there’s a funny scene where his opponent’s son asks his mother why his dad doesn’t look like [Jim] in his underwear. The mother responds, “he did, once.” Jim wins the match and attends a party in his honor. However, he learns about the snobbery of the upper crust when his friend Walter is kicked out of the party due to not following dress code and drunkenness. My favorite part of this scene is where Walter starts drinking a man’s cocktail and the man says “hey that’s my drink!” Walter says, “it is? Then this must be mine!” as he grabs another drink and knocks it back. Upset over the treatment of his friend, Jim bails and they continue the celebration.

Jack Carson, William Frawley and Errol Flynn as Walter, Billy Delaney, and Jim Corbett

The celebration ends the next morning in Salt Lake City when Jim and Walter wake up. They discover that during their drunken evening, Jim had won $10 in a fight and gained a manager, Billy Delaney (William Frawley). Delaney is “strictly big time” (he says) and is soon booking Jim into more prestigious fights. Jim’s prizefighting career culminates with a huge 60+ round fight against the reigning heavyweight world champion, John L. Sullivan (Ward Bond).

Ward Bond and Errol Flynn as John L. Sullivan and Jim Corbett

At the risk of spoiling the film, Jim emerges as the victor of the huge Corbett vs Sullivan match. At his celebration party, a humbled Sullivan shows up unexpectedly to cede his title to Jim. The scene is very poignant as Sullivan has to admit defeat and face the fact that he is no longer the greatest in the world. Jim, who idolized Sullivan when he was younger, gives the man a boost as he says that he’s grateful that he wasn’t the same Sullivan a decade prior. This moment humbles Corbett as he knows that there’s always someone waiting in the wings that is better. Soon Corbett will be humbled, just like Sullivan was that evening.

Finally, Victoria and Jim’s contentious relationship reaches its climax. Victoria continues to feign annoyance at Jim’s arrogance and he finally calls her out on it. He makes her admit that she doesn’t hate him as much as she lets on.

Alexis Smith and Errol Flynn as Victoria Ware and Jim Corbett– Geez, kiss already.

(After Jim kisses her while she berates him for being a “tin-horned, shanty Irishman”)

VICTORIA: Fine way for a gentleman to behave

JIM: Oh darling, that gentleman stuff never fooled you, did it? I’m no gentleman.

VICTORIA: In that case, I’m no lady.

(Jim and Victoria kiss again, this time as two people who have the hots for one another)

Errol Flynn and Alexis Smith as James “Jim” Corbett and Victoria Ware in “Gentleman Jim” (1942)

Like most biopics, Gentleman Jim strays from the truth a bit. The real “Gentleman Jim” was soft-spoken as he considered that more dignified. However, the casting of Errol Flynn brought about the “cock of the walk” attitude that definitely makes for a much more exciting film. Gentleman Jim was Errol Flynn’s favorite film of his career and it shows. This film is the peak of Flynn’s popularity and good looks. This film makes the best use of Flynn’s athleticism, good looks, charisma, everything. Alexis Smith was perfect casting. She’s formidable enough both in stature and personality to face Flynn. He is at his best when he has a strong leading lady to play against.

Swoon

My favorite parts are:

  1. When Jim falls into the San Francisco bay during an illegal fight and he completes the match in wet boxing pants.
  2. When Billy Delaney tries to maintain a quiet, relaxing environment for his prizefighter in the days leading up to the John L. Sullivan fight and his family bursts in and soon they’re singing and dancing an Irish jig. Billy Delaney says: “Look at those maniacs! What do you mean barging in here like a herd of wild elephants?” I love how Jim looks on in the background in amusement while Billy and Pat scuffle.
  3. When Ma Corbett corrects her family, saying “John *L* Sullivan,” emphasis in the L.
  4. The ending romantic scene with Victoria and Jim where they finally kiss. It’s about time, you know she’s been wanting to hook up with him since the beginning of the film.
  5. The very sweet scene between Jim and Ma where she worries about him fighting.

Now, time for my swoon moment:

YES!

Errol Flynn. Errol is my #1 favorite actor and this is the film that cemented that. He is hot hot in this film and is fantastic. He is one of the few leading men who take attention away from the leading lady. He is so gorgeous in this film and is just so much fun to watch. Aside from the film being genuinely a good film, he also provides plenty of opportunities for ogling.

In this film, we get to see:

  1. Flynn in wet, tight pants
  2. Flynn in short shorts
  3. Flynn in a tuxedo and top hat
  4. Flynn in a form-fitting union suit. HE EVEN MAKES A UNION SUIT LOOK GOOD.
  5. Flynn in tight pants
  6. Flynn with no mustache
  7. A lot of shirtless, Flynn action
“Give ’em room!”

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” 1970-1977: A Tribute

The original 1970 cast of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Front (left to right): Gavin MacLeod, Mary Tyler Moore, Ted Knight. Back (left to right): Valerie Harper, Ed Asner, Cloris Leachman

Ed Asner passed away this morning at the age of 91. He was the last surviving cast member of the original cast of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (My #2 favorite show). 2021 has been a particularly tough year for fans of ‘Mary Tyler Moore,’ as we lost Cloris Leachman in January and Gavin MacLeod in May. 2019 marked the loss of Valerie Harper. 2017 was particularly heartbreaking, in that we lost Mary Tyler Moore. Ted Knight sadly passed away from cancer in 1986. During the fourth season of the series, we were introduced to Georgia Engel and Betty White who played Georgette Franklin and Sue Ann Nivens, respectively. Ms. Engel passed away in 2019. Betty White and John Amos (who played Gordy the Weatherman in a few episodes throughout the series, but was never a regular) are the only surviving cast members of the series. Betty White is also the only surviving cast member of “The Golden Girls” (my #3 favorite show).

Lou Grant hates Mary Richards’ spunk in the first episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”

The characters of Georgette and Sue Ann were intended to serve as replacements to Rhoda (Harper) and Phyllis (Leachman) whose characters were spun-off into their own series. With the departure of Mary Richards’ (Moore) two best friends, the focus of the show switched from Mary’s home life to her work. Georgette’s role as Ted Baxter’s (Knight) girlfriend and later wife, and Sue Ann’s job as “The Happy Homemaker” made sense to shift the show’s attention to life at WJM. With this increased focus on WJM, Mary’s relationship with her co-workers deepened. Much like a real job where co-workers have spent a lot of time (and years) together, you become like a family. Mary regularly went to Lou Grant (Asner) for advice or solace. She also had touching moments confiding in her work BFF Murray (MacLeod). Mary even had some wonderful moments consoling Ted and Sue Ann. WJM was a family. The real heart of the show though was the relationship between Mary and Lou Grant.

Mary and Lou Grant’s relationship was very much like a father/daughter relationship, even though I believe that Lou was really only like 15 years older than Mary. We’ll ignore the episode toward the end of the series where they tried going out on a date, that was just awkward. Thank goodness that Mary and Lou did not become an item at the end of the show. A romantic relationship was not what Mary and Lou were about. Mary was able to confide in Lou about her deepest insecurities, her toughest problems. Lou was there to give her advice and his opinion, whether she wanted it or not. At the same time, Mary was a source of comfort for Lou. When he separated from wife Edie and later when Edie remarries, Mary is there as a shoulder to cry on–though she’s the one who ends up crying. Even after WJM fires Mary and Lou, and the two of them presumably go their own ways, we know that they’ll remain friends to the end.

As a tribute to my second favorite show with one of the all-time greatest ensemble casts ever assembled, my top five favorite episodes:

#1 Put on a Happy Face. Season 3, Episode 23. Originally aired February 24, 1973.

Mary’s look for the Teddy Awards. This is “ready,” Ted.

Summary: Poor Mary is having the worst week ever. It starts off with her coffee cup having a crack and dribbling coffee all over her new sweater. She then learns that her date, Dan, has made plans to attend a basketball game instead of being her plus-one to the annual “Teddy Awards.” Needing a date, Ted promises to hook her up with a “good-looking version of Robert Redford.” At first, Mary turns down his request, but relents after she’s unable to secure a date on her own (it seems that every man in her address book is unavailable or married). The next day or so, Mary’s hair is being unruly and she has a big “hair bump.” While trying to walk to the bathroom to fix her hair bump, Mary slips and sprains her ankle on the newly waxed floors. Now at home, Mary ends up catching a cold from having to soak her ankle in water. Throughout the week, it’s one thing after another for Mary: she drops her phone in her foot water, the dry cleaner ruins her Teddy Awards gown, her hairdryer breaks, and she has a run in her stocking while getting ready for the Teddy Awards. Then of course, it’s raining when Mary has to leave for the award show. And, if things aren’t bad enough, her “good-looking version of Robert Redford” ends up being none other than Ted!

Why I Like This Episode: I love this episode because it finally shows Mary having some bad luck. I very much identify with Rhoda while watching this series and it seems that everything works out in Mary’s favor. To see Mary having a bad week, with one minute thing happening after another, it makes it so much fun to watch. And of course, Mary Tyler Moore delivers a tour de force performance, culminating with her having to go on stage in front of everyone to accept her Teddy Award. Mary Richards’ comedy very much stems from the fact that she hates embarrassment and hates making a scene. At the Teddy Awards, this is probably the one time that Mary hopes that she doesn’t win. But of course, nothing else that week is going right, so why should it now? Poor Mary has to go on stage with one wet slipper, her hair a mess, her fake eyelashes all askew, sniffling and sneezing because of her foot-water cold… all leading up to her starting off her acceptance speech with, “I usually look so much better than this.”

Favorite Quote:

RHODA (to MARY): You’re having a lousy streak. I happen to be having a terrific streak. Soon the world will be back to normal again. Tomorrow you will meet a crown head of Europe and marry. I will have a fat attack, eat 300 peanut butter cups and die.

#2 Angels in the Snow. Season 4, Episode 2. Originally aired September 22, 1973.

Mary and Rhoda feel horribly out of place at Stephen’s party with other 20-somethings. My favorite person is the girl on the end who says, “Why do you ask that now?” When Mary asks her how she is.

Summary: Mary meets and picks up (!) a young man, Stephen, from the market. They end up spending the day together, cavorting in the snow. When Rhoda meets Stephen, she’s instantly concerned about the age difference between Mary and Stephen. It turns out that Stephen is 25 to Mary’s 33. From the way that Mary and the rest of the gang talk about her age, you would have thought Mary was 70 dating an 18-year old. Anyway, Mary is unconcerned about the age difference. When Lou, Murray and Ted meet Stephen, they are also concerned about the age difference. Lou says to Mary, “Your young man, he’s a YOUNG man.” And of course, Ted babbles on about how he and Mary are both carrying on “Autumn/Spring” relationships. Anyway, Mary is determined to prove all the naysayers wrong. Stephen invites her to a party at his place. Wanting to fit in and look younger, Mary and Rhoda go shopping in this ridiculous store, “Shot Down in Ecuador Jr.” She puts on a hideous pair of pants with patches on them, that would look terrible on a 5-year old. Thankfully, Mary gives up on the clothes and wears her own wardrobe. When Mary and Rhoda go to Stephen’s party, they discover that they are completely out of place and it becomes apparent to Mary that she and Stephen are not compatible.

Why I Like This Episode: I like this episode purely for the “Shot down in Ecuador Jr” scene and the ridiculous party where Mary and Rhoda talk about “hitching to Europe” and “staying in one of the funkier rooms” in Amsterdam. There’s just something about this episode that I find it fun to watch–even the awkward voice-over in one scene where Mary obviously re-records her line, “Maybe I’ll see if Rhoda wants to come to the party.”

Favorite Quote:

BECK (Stephen’s friend at the party): Hey Rhoda, don’t go yet. We could go downtown and goof on people.”
RHODA: Goof on people? What’s that?
BECK: You know. Walk around, act weird, hope somebody notices.
RHODA: That’s my life, kid.

#3 The Lars Affair. Season 4. Episode 1. Originally aired September 15, 1973.

Sue Ann chews out Phyllis for ruining her chocolate souffle who “never did [her] any harm.” In response, Phyllis tells Sue Ann that she’s “bananas.”

Summary: Mary is throwing a party, which surprisingly isn’t terrible–except that Lou and Edie have an offscreen argument. But that doesn’t matter. The real story is Sue Ann and Phyllis’ never-seen husband, Lars. This episode introduces the hilarious Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White) who hosts “The Happy Homemaker Show” at WJM. Sue Ann regularly gives unsolicited household tips and can be very catty while continually keeping a smile plastered on her dimpled face. It seems that Lars has offered to give Sue Ann a ride home. Hours later, Lars still hasn’t returned home and calls Phyllis with the absurd story that their car broke down and he has taken it to an all-night body shop for repairs. In the days following, Phyllis reports that Lars and Sue Ann are continuing to see each other. Ted even sees them having lunch together. Upset, Phyllis goes down to the studio to confront Sue Ann. Mary gets pulled into the middle.

Why I Like This Episode: This episode is absolutely hilarious. From Phyllis’ monologue about the mating rituals of bees and trying to compete with Sue Ann and bake a pie, to Sue Ann’s collapsed chocolate soufflé, this episode has everything. Mary’s speech telling off Sue Ann is hilarious. Phyllis trying to talk Sue Ann out of an affair with her husband, by discussing his irrational fear of swallowing hair is hilarious. This entire episode is a riot from beginning to end. The funniest moment of the entire episode though might be when the supposedly prim and proper Sue Ann shuts the oven door with her knee after removing the collapsed chocolate soufflé from the oven.

Favorite Quotes:

PHYLLIS: “Do you know how hard it is to make an apple pie? My beautiful hands, hands that once touched the notes of Chopin. This is what that woman has driven me to to save my marriage! Cooking a damn pie!”

PHYLLIS: “I was reading this wonderful book called ‘The Life of the Bee.’ Maybe you’ve read it. Did you know that the male bee is nothing but the slave of the queen? And once the male bee… uh, how should I say… um, has serviced the queen, the male dies. All in all, not a bad system.”

#4 I Was a Single For WJM. Season 4, Episode 24. Originally aired, March 2, 1974.

The WJM gang scares everyone out of the singles bar

Summary: Lou wants to do a location feature as something different on WJM. Murray suggests covering the new singles’ bar, Valentino’s. However, Murray’s wife isn’t keen on Murray covering the goings on in a singles bar and he’s unable to cover the story. Being single and wanting to prove that she can handle the assignment, Mary offers to perform the reconnaissance work at the bar solo. Wanting to make sure that Mary is okay (not that she can’t handle the assignment), Lou also goes to the bar, but mostly to make sure Mary doesn’t get into trouble. Mary is irritated but continues to talk to the regulars and find out some information for their story. However, when it comes time to film, the bar-goers find out about Mary and WJM and their cameras, and flee for a neighboring bar. On camera, Lou, Murray and Mary have to report the story from an empty bar. The funniest part of the entire episode is when Ted asks Mary the reporter how she found about about Valentino’s. Mary points at Murray and says, “he told me.” And Murray has a deer in headlights look on camera.

Why I Like This Episode: I love the entire scene at the singles bar, with Big Dino, and Penny Marshall and Arlene Golonka (who just passed this year as well). But the funniest part is the part at the end with the WJM staff reporting from an empty bar, trying to salvage their story. From Mary’s discussion of “remnants of people,” and Murray’s hilarious “deer in headlights” face, to Lou’s very poignant, stoic speech that falls four minutes short, to Ted’s four minutes of silence for the closing of the Auto show, it’s very funny.

MY FAVORITE QUOTE:

LOU (on camera, trying to salvage the story by giving it a poignant closing): “There’s nobody here tonight. Our camera crew scared them off. Uh…we…uh…we wanted to tell you, something new about a singles bar. We didn’t find anything new. Uh, the people here, got what they came for. They met each other. Maybe that’s all we found out. I guess, it’s our blessing, and our affliction, that people, need people. My name is Lou Grant.

CAMERAMAN: Lou, we still have four minutes to fill.

LOU: And back to you, Ted.

#5 The Square-Shaped Room. Season 2. Episode 13. Originally aired, December 11, 1971.

Lou’s newly redesigned living room in “one burst.”

Summary: While Edie’s away, Lou wants to redecorate their living room as a surprise. He plans to get his buddy who designs bus stations to help with the design, because he doesn’t want to spend a lot of money doing so. Mary, not liking the idea of Lou’s living room being decorated by someone who decorates bus stations, helps to find him an inexpensive (but not cheap) decorator. Mary decides that the perfect candidate for this job would be Rhoda, who makes her living designing window displays at Hemple’s. Rhoda is excited about the opportunity, feeling that this might help her break out of the window decorating business and get into something more prestigious. To secure the job, Rhoda even offers to let Lou pay her after the job is done, so he can decide a fair price. Lou agrees and Rhoda has the job. However, Lou is a tough client, as he has no ideas about how he wants the room to look, only that it has to include his crappy chair, a doorknob, and he doesn’t want antiques. Rhoda goes to town collecting catalogues and re-doing his room. When it is finally revealed in one burst, we see an all white, blinding contemporary room that is very clean and minimalist but is not Lou’s style whatsoever.

Why I Like This Episode: Rhoda’s redesigned living room is everything. It is so bright and blinding and does not take into account Lou’s character at all. It’s so 1970s that it’s amazing. Parts of it are actually kind of cool, but all together, it’s completely unusable. It looks like a showroom rather than someone’s actual living space. But Lou’s tirade about the living room is hilarious as his is flip-flopping and saying “I love it” when he obviously hates it. And seeing the room in one burst, is really what makes the entire episode.

Favorite Quote:

LOU: “Mary, you may not have noticed, but I don’t live in a window.”

I DEMAND THAT NICK AT NITE CIRCA 1994-1998 COME BACK!

The Mary Tyler Moore Show was my second favorite show to watch back in the day on Nick at Nite (I Love Lucy was #1). Nick at Nite is where I discovered this show and it was one of my must-see programs. Even if I didn’t get all the jokes initially as a 10-11 year old, there was something endearing about the program and its characters. Mary Richards was and still is one of my role models and I was truly devastated when Mary Tyler Moore passed away. Now everyone is gone, and slowly as the years pass, so many of my Nick at Nite favorites are gone. Thank goodness for ME-TV and other channels devoted to classic television, streaming services, and physical media. In some form or another, all the classic shows from my childhood (albeit, I wasn’t old enough to have seen them during their first run) will live on.

Who’s up for petitioning Viacom to bring back the 1990s iteration of Nick at Nite? Surely the graphics and jingles must live on somewhere and obviously, they can be re-created with today’s computers.

Van Johnson Blogathon- I Love Lucy “The Dancing Star”

Van Johnson isn’t a name that often comes up when people think about figures from the Golden Age of Hollywood. However, that isn’t to say that he wasn’t a star. He co-starred alongside many of Hollywood’s more legendary actors; but he never got that one film that would catapult him into the echelon of “legend.” Some of the “legendary” actors Van co-starred with: Gene Kelly (Brigadoon), Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (State of the Union), Judy Garland (In the Good Old Summertime), Humphrey Bogart (The Caine Mutiny), and Elizabeth Taylor (The Last Time I Saw Paris). However, despite not ever making “the film” to propel him to legend status, Van was a big enough star to appear as himself alongside two of television’s biggest legends: Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, on an episode of I Love Lucy.

A young Van Johnson watches on as Frances Langford serenades the crowd in Too Many Girls.

The I Love Lucy episode, “The Dancing Star,” was not Van’s first experience working with Ball and Arnaz. In 1939, while trying to make it as a young actor in New York, Van scored a gig as understudy to the three male leads of George Abbot’s hit Broadway play (featuring the music of Rodgers and Hart), “Too Many Girls.” One of the main cast members (whom I’m going to assume that Van did not understudy) was the young 23-year old Cuban musician, Desi Arnaz. The play was a smash hit and Arnaz along with co-star Eddie Bracken were brought out to Hollywood to reprise their roles in the RKO film adaptation of the play.

In Hollywood, Van joined the cast as an uncredited part of the chorus. He can be seen in the background of a few scenes, but most prominently in the front of the crowd dancing during Desi Arnaz’ big conga number. Another new member of the cast of the RKO production was Lucille Ball. Ball was the star of the film and would play the role of the ingenue college student, Connie. Ball and Arnaz were introduced prior to the start of filming. However, their first meeting did not go well as Ball was still wearing the makeup and costume from her current film, Dance, Girl, Dance, which co-starred Maureen O’Hara. Ball’s makeup and costume was a black eye and a torn gold lamé dress that she wore while shooting a catfight scene with O’Hara. Looking at Ball’s black eye and torn gown, Arnaz could hardly envision her as the virginal ingenue of Too Many Girls. Later that evening, Arnaz and Ball were re-introduced. During this meeting, Ball had cleaned herself up and sported her own clothing and makeup. It was love at first sight for Ball and Arnaz and the rest, as they say, was history.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz met during the filming of “Too Many Girls”

Anyway, back to Van. After Too Many Girls, he got more understudy work, including as Gene Kelly’s understudy in the Broadway play, Pal Joey. Kelly would soon be starring in his first Hollywood film, For Me and My Gal, with Judy Garland. Discouraged, Van was about to quit Hollywood when friend Lucille Ball took him to the famous Chasen’s restaurant to meet an MGM casting director. This meeting led to Van getting a screen test at Columbia and Warner Brothers. Columbia didn’t pan out, but Van scored a few roles with Warner Brothers. After his contract with Warner Brothers ended, Van was signed to MGM. MGM is where Van finally got a break and soon was appearing in films. In 1943, Van got his big break when he appeared in A Guy Named Joe with Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne. He continued to appear in many quality films throughout the 1940s.

Van and Esther Williams in Easy to Wed.

In 1946, Van was re-teamed with friend Ball in Easy to Wed which also co-starred Esther Williams and Keenan Wynn. Through the remainder of the 1940s, Van continued to appear in many great MGM films. By 1950, Van was freelancing, which freed him up to appear in films in other studios. During the 1950s, Van also started appearing in shows on the burgeoning medium known as television. In 1955, Van was invited to appear in a guest spot as himself on his friends’ (Arnaz and Ball) sitcom, I Love Lucy. By 1955, I Love Lucy was a massive hit and big stars were willing to appear on their show for free just to get the chance to be part of the program.

Van appears during the Hollywood story-arc of I Love Lucy in the episode, “The Dancing Star.” Ricky Ricardo (Arnaz) has been offered a role as Don Juan in Hollywood. He along with wife, Lucy (Ball), and their best friends Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance) all head to California. While in California, wacky Lucy has various run-ins with stars (William Holden, Hedda Hopper, John Wayne, Harpo Marx, Rock Hudson, Sheila MacRae, Eve Arden, and CORNEL WILDE IN THE PENTHOUSE), often with disastrous results. One such star who did not suffer at the hands of Lucy however, was Van Johnson.

In “The Dancing Star,” Lucy’s old frenemy, Carolyn Appleby (Doris Singleton) shows up unexpectedly to pay Lucy and Ethel a visit while she’s on her way to Hawaii to meet-up with husband Charlie. Carolyn says that she’s going to stop over for a couple days so that she can meet all the stars Lucy’s been hobnobbing with per the postcards Lucy’s been sending out to her friends in Hollywood. Obviously, Lucy didn’t expect her friends to show up wanting to be part of the action. As Lucy is panicking, Ethel tells her that Van Johnson is appearing in a show at their hotel, The Beverly Palms. Ethel spots Van sleeping next to the pool and tells Lucy to go down there and pretend that she’s talking to him. Ethel will then casually bring Carolyn up to the window, point out Lucy and Van and all will be well.

Lucy Ricardo begs Van Johnson to dance with her in “I Love Lucy”

The plan goes off, somewhat, except that Carolyn has forgotten her glasses. Apparently Carolyn Appleby must wear contact lenses and has lost them, because in her previous appearances on the series, she’s had no issues with her eyesight. However, when Carolyn is in California, she’s blind as a bat. Carolyn can only make out two red-headed blurs and just has to assume that that is Lucy and Van. Of course, Lucy can’t leave well enough alone and brags to Carolyn about all the other stars that were also down at the pool. She then further ups the ante by telling Carolyn that she’s throwing a big soiree tomorrow evening where tons of stars will be in attendance. Conveniently, Carolyn’s flight to Hawaii is supposed to depart tomorrow evening. Aw shucks.

And because it’s Lucy and she has to be the object of envy of The Wednesday Afternoon Fine Arts League (who usually meets on Tuesdays, never on Thursdays, but occasionally on Fridays), she tells Carolyn that she’s “chummy” with Van. Lucy’s fib is based on the fact that Carolyn can’t see and that Van’s partner is a tall red-headed woman. With Carolyn’s blurred vision, she won’t be able to tell that Van’s partner is not Lucy. However, Lucy’s “great” plan is foiled when Carolyn’s airline finds her glasses and returns them to Carolyn at the hotel. Desperate, Lucy approaches Van and begs him to dance with her. She finally gets him to agree when she flatters him by saying that she’s seen his show 14 times and knows it backwards and forwards. Ethel and Carolyn see Lucy dancing with Van and all is well.

(VAN JOHNSON in response to LUCY RICARDO’S constant proclamations of not having much time and that “she’s” going to be here any minute)

VAN JOHNSON: “Who’s going to be here any minute?”

LUCY RICARDO: “Carolyn Appleby! Who do you think?!”

Van Johnson and Lucille Ball (Lucy Ricardo) in “The Dancing Star,” I Love Lucy
Lucy Ricardo finally gets her chance to be in the show. Screenshot from CBS’ colorized version of “The Dancing Star”

Later that evening, Lucy gets her big chance: Van’s partner is sick and he needs someone to replace her last minute. Seeing that Lucy knows the routine, Van thinks that she’s the perfect choice. And with this set-up, we finally get to see Lucy Ricardo in one of her rare performances where she’s allowed to perform a dance number without purposeful or accidental mishaps. In the “How About You?” number, Lucy and Van perform a beautiful, simple song and dance number. Lucy looks beautiful in her feather-covered gown. She and Van are a sensation. Ricky watches his wife dance this wonderful number with a deep adoration. Ethel and Fred watch their friend, proudly. And Carolyn is overjoyed.

Wait? Carolyn?! Wasn’t she going to Hawaii?

Apparently, Carolyn has decided to put off her flight to Hawaii one more day to attend Lucy’s big Hollywood party. Yikes.

Cue the famous “Lucy Meets Harpo Marx” episode, the unofficial second part of “The Dancing Star.”

“Gotta little laryngitis, baby!”

100 Years of Esther Williams Blogathon- “Million Dollar Mermaid” (1952)

August 8, 2021 marks the 100th birthday of MGM swimming superstar, Esther Williams. Williams’ remains one of the Golden Age of Hollywood’s best known musical stars, despite her stardom only lasting about a decade or so. I’ll admit that I used to not be a huge fan of Williams’. Not that I disliked her, but I thought she was stiff and somewhat bland. However, I think that I watched the wrong film as my introduction to Williams–Take Me Out to the Ballgame (1949). I had originally watched ‘Ballgame’ to see Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra. In this film, Williams plays the owner of a baseball team who does not initially get along with Kelly. Her character in this film is somewhat a stick in the mud and we’re only treated to a shoehorned-in swimming scene.

However, as someone who likes to give everyone another chance, because honestly as a classic film fan, I want to like everyone and everything. Luckily, my second introduction to Esther Williams was in the biopic, Million Dollar Mermaid, one of Williams’ best-known films.

The real Annette Kellermann, modeling her innovative one-piece swimming costume

In Million Dollar Mermaid, Esther plays real-life Australian swimming star, Annette Kellermann. We’ll look past the fact that Esther does not even attempt an Australian accent. The film starts in the late 19th century with polio-stricken Annette expressing her desire to swim as a means to improve the strength in her legs and overall health. Her father, Frederick (Walter Pidgeon) runs a music conservatory. We’re then treated to a montage of the young Annette taking swimming lessons, and later winning competitions. The montage also serves as a means to advance the timeline. Finally, we see a grown Annette (Esther Williams) accepting her latest trophy in the regional championship.

Later, Frederick accepts a teaching position that will take he and his daughter to England. While on board the steamer, Annette meets American promoter James “Jimmy” Sullivan, who is taking a boxing kangaroo to England. Thinking that Annette’s swimming talents will net them more funds than the boxing kangaroo, Jimmy begins to schmooze Annette and talks her into allowing him to promote her skills. As a promotional stunt, Jimmy announces that Annette will make the six-mile swim across a body of water. Annette ups the ante and announces that she will swim for 26 miles. Word gets around about Annette’s swim. However, she is unable to complete the swim.

Esther Williams as Annette Kellermann sporting a fantastic gold sequined one-piece swimming costume

Determined to figure out a way to market Annette’s skills, Jimmy suggests that they go to New York City to perform in an aquatic show in the famed Hippodrome. However, the owner of the Hippodrome does not see Jimmy’s vision and he is unable to get the deal. Annette then tries to go for a swim in Boston, but her “scandalous” one-piece piece bathing suit (versus the baggy dress with bloomers bathing suit that was worn at the time). The beachgoers are irate at seeing Annette’s body and repeatedly declare their disgust with being able to see her legs and shoulders. Annette ends up being arrested and goes to trial for indecent exposure.

In court, Annette pleads her case, stating that the one-piece men’s racing suit that she wears is much more practical for swimming than the big baggy things that women at the time were expected to wear. Annette’s occupation as a competitive female swimmer was unusual for the time as well. In the trial, Annette pleads not guilty to the indecent exposure charge. However, she offers a compromise: She has augmented her short, one-piece bathing suit by adding leggings to the bottom, thus covering her legs. Her new bathing suit basically looks like a cross between footie pajamas and a leotard. The judge is convinced and all charges are dropped. Annette is permitted to wear her custom swimwear.

Annette and Jimmy’s aquatic show is given the greenlight and is a big success. As these films typically go, Annette begins to fall in love with Jimmy, leading to amazing dialogue like this:

(Annette has finished her show and is drying off. Jimmy enters and pulls her into an embrace)

ANNETTE: Please, I’m soaking wet

JIMMY: Good, maybe it’ll put the fire out

Esther Williams and Victor Mature in “Million Dollar Mermaid.”

And like how these films often go, Annette and Jimmy have a misunderstanding which causes their romance to fizzle out… at least temporarily. During her separation with Jimmy Annette’s star begins to get bigger and bigger as her Hippodrome shows get more extravagant. Busby Berkeley directed the large, insane and extravagant water sequence, complete with Esther being dropped 50-feet and then rising above the surface on a platform.

Esther Williams performs in Busby Berkeley’s water routine

After my lukewarm introduction to Esther in Take Me Out to the Ballgame, Million Dollar Mermaid proved to be a much better initiation into Esther Williams’ stardom and filmography. I’ve found that no matter how corny, contrived and/or formulaic Williams’ movies can be, they are first and foremost entertaining. I love the spectacle of her films. Her underwater ballet sequences are fascinating and Esther’s dives and stunts are also impressive. Now, I find myself enjoying Williams’ films–even yes, Take Me Out to the Ballgame.

Claudette Colbert June Star of the Month Blogathon–“The Palm Beach Story” (1942)

Claudette Colbert made a series of romantic comedies throughout her storied career. She is most well known for her Oscar-winning role in It Happened One Night (1934). She also made a series of romantic comedies with frequent co-star Fred MacMurray. However, my favorite film of Claudette’s is The Palm Beach Story, co-starring Joel McCrea and directed by Preston Sturges.

The Palm Beach Story starts off with a series of manic images showing a bride and groom racing to get to the church and random objects crashing around them. From the beginning scenes, we really have no idea what’s happening, only that Claudette Colbert and Joel McCrea marry at the end of the sequence and that the year of the marriage was 1937. Fast forward five years, 1942, and we meet Geraldine “Gerry” Jeffers (Colbert) who is dealing with back bills and possibly losing her apartment. I am unsure exactly what Tom Jeffers’ (McCrea) occupation is, but when we meet him in 1942, he is meeting with an investor about funding is idea to build an airport that is suspended over a city.

“I’m twice your age and only half as big, but I’m mighty handy.” -The Wienie King to Tom.

Meanwhile, back at the Jeffers’ apartment, Gerry is watching “The Wienie King” (aka the greatest character in the film) touring the apartment. The Jeffers owe back rent and their landlord is thisclose to evicting them. The Wienie King is hard of hearing, which makes his two scenes even funnier. He also makes sure everyone knows that he’s The Wienie King and that’s how he made his wealth:

THE WIENIE KING: I’m The Wienie King! Invented the Texas wienie. Lay off ’em, you’ll live longer

The Wienie King, “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)

Gerry ends up sharing her’s and Tom’s financial troubles and how they’re about to lose their home. The Wienie King, not interested in her apartment anyway, pulls a thick roll of bills out of his pocket and hands Gerry $700 ($11,560 in 2021 dollars). She accepts it and uses the money to pay their back bills and buy herself a new outfit. When Tom arrives home, Gerry lets him know that their financial troubles are alleviated for now. Tom is suspicious of The Wienie King’s financial gift and also his pride is wounded that another man had to pay his bills. Gerry then admits that she fully used her womanly wiles to get money from The Wienie King.

TOM: Oh, is that so? He just–seven hundred dollars? Just like that?

GERRY: Just like that.

TOM: I mean, sex didn’t even enter into it?

GERRY: Oh, but of course it did, darling. I don’t think he’d have given it to me if I had hair like excelsior and little short legs like an alligator. Sex always has something to do with it, dear…you have no idea what a long-legged woman can do without doing anything.

Joel McCrea (Tom) and Claudette Colbert (Gerry) in “The Palm Beach Story” (1942)

The next day, Gerry packs her bags and leaves Tom. She believes that she and Tom are better off separately and they’re just holding each other back. She plans to take a train from New York to Palm Beach, FL. She ends up getting onto a train with the craziest passengers I’ve seen in a movie. Gerry ends up onboard with “The Ale and Quail Club,” a boisterous hunting (and drinking) club led by William Demarest (aka Uncle Charlie in “My Three Sons” and Ann-Margret’s father in “Viva Las Vegas”). The Ale and Quail Club is absolutely insane. Every member is drunk and partying heavily. They are even having a shooting contest IN THE TRAIN. When the members meet Gerry, they declare her their mascot. Eventually, the noise gets to be too much for Gerry. She borrows a pair of pajamas from one of the members and tries to sleep. The party then gets really out of hand, and Gerry leaves, not wanting to get caught in the crossfire.

The Ale and Quail Club is insane.

The Ale and Quail Club traincar, now riddled with bullets and missing all of its windows, is disconnected from the rest of the train and abandoned. Gerry finds an empty upper berth and crawls in, while standing on millionaire John D. Hackensacker III’s (Rudy Vallee) face, breaking his glasses in his eyes (yikes). But Hackensacker doesn’t mind and quickly takes a shine to Gerry. The next day, Gerry fashions herself the greatest dress made from men’s pajamas and a Pullman blanket. She and Hackensacker order two .75 ($12.39 in 2021) breakfasts.

Has anyone ever looked so stylish in men’s pajamas and a train blanket?

When Gerry and Hackensacker finally arrive in Palm Beach, Hackensacker offers to buy Gerry some clothing due to Gerry’s suitcase disappearing. Gerry accepts, thinking that he’ll buy her an outfit. Hackensacker has other ideas. We are next treated to a Pretty Woman-esque (once she goes to the store with Richard Gere’s credit card) montage with Claudette modeling one fancy dress after another. Close-ups of Hackensacker painstakingly marking each and every purchase in his small notebook are also amazing. Who knows what the final bill ends up being, but I’m sure it’s in the tens of thousands. Gerry and Hackensacker then go out on his yacht.

Meanwhile, Tom has arrived in Palm Beach and somehow knows that Gerry is at the yacht club. He’s waiting for her on the dock. Also arriving on a yacht is Hackensacker’s sister, Princess Maud Centimillia (Mary Astor). Her companion is her latest protegee, Toto, who barely speaks English and really has no idea what is going on. However, once the Princess spots Tom, she drops Toto–who unfortunately doesn’t understand that the Princess has no interest in him. He keeps showing up and the Princess sends him away. When Gerry introduces Tom to Hackensacker, she introduces him as her brother, “Captain McGlue,” much to Tom’s chagrin.

PRINCESS CENTIMILLIA: Who is McGlue?

GERRY: There is no McGlue.

PRINCESS CENTIMILLIA: Well thank heavens for something. That name!

Mary Astor (Princess Centimillia) and Claudette Colbert (Gerry) in “The Palm Beach Story.”

Soon, Hackensacker falls in love with Gerry. The Princess falls in love with “Captain McGlue” (Tom). And Tom and Gerry wonder if their marriage is worth saving.

This movie is absolutely hilarious especially “Captain McGlue” and Princess Centimillia. Joel McCrea is such an underrated star in Hollywood. He was adept at delivering lines with a dry, sarcastic humor. Such as in The More the Merrier when Charles Coburn asks McCrea what he does for a living. McCrea asks Coburn what his occupation is. Coburn says: “retired millionaire.” McCrea then answers Coburn’s occupation question by saying, “Same.” I love the scene of Rudy Vallee serenading Claudette Colbert with “Goodnight Sweetheart.” Every scene with the Princess’ protegee, Toto, is hilarious.

I know that Sullivan’s Travels and The Lady Eve are more revered as director Preston Sturges’ best film; but for me, The Palm Beach Story is his best. This film is perfect from start to finish.

Captain McGlue/Tom (Joel McCrea), Princess Centimillia (Mary Astor), John D. Hackensacker III (Rudy Vallee), and Gerry (Claudette Colbert)

Swashbuckbucklaton Blogathon- “The Sea Hawk” (1940)

Errol Flynn is synonymous with the Classic Hollywood swashbuckler. While many other stars (Tyrone Power, John Barrymore, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Burt Lancaster, Basil Rathbone, to name a few) made swashbucklers, it was Flynn who is the most recognized of the genre. It could be argued as well that Fairbanks Sr., was also a well known swashbuckler, though his career was in silent film. In 1935, Flynn picked up where Fairbanks Sr., left off when he was cast in the titular role in the star-making Captain Blood.

Flora Robson as Elizabeth I and Errol Flynn as Captain Geoffrey Thorpe in “The Sea Hawk”

By 1940, Flynn was a major star, having appeared in his most iconic role, Robin Hood, in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Flynn would begin the new decade with another iconic role, that of Captain Geoffrey Thorpe in The Sea Hawk. In this film, Flynn plays the British captain of “The Sea Hawks,” a group of British pirates or “privateers.” Thorpe and his men operate on behalf of Elizabeth I (Flora Robson), Queen of England. Elizabeth I is concerned that the Spanish are preparing to invade England with the armada they are building. And Elizabeth isn’t wrong. Spain’s King, Phillip II, has designs on conquering England. He sends Don Alvarez (Claude Rains) as his representative to speak with Elizabeth I and soothe her worries–even though obviously he does want to conquer England.

Don Alvarez and his niece, Dona Maria (Brenda Marshall) board one of the Spanish ships and are soon captured by Thorpe and his fellow Sea Hawks. The Sea Hawks rob Don Alvarez and Dona Maria of their riches. But of course, since this is an Errol Flynn movie, he quickly falls for Dona Maria and returns her jewels. However, this capture of Don Alvarez and Dona Maria does not sit well with Elizabeth I and she scolds Thorpe for potentially endangering the peace between England and Spain. Thorpe then suggests that they capture a Spanish treasure fleet that is returning from the Americas. Elizabeth I is wary, but allows them to continue. However, one of Elizabeth I’s ministers, Lord Wolfingham (Henry Daniell) doesn’t believe Thorpe and starts to investigate where the Sea Hawks are truly headed.

The makeup department went to town making Errol Flynn look like hell for the slave scenes.

This is a really great movie. I would argue that Brenda Marshall is a little weak as Flynn’s leading lady in this film. While she’s fine and is pretty, Marshall always comes across as a little bland to me. I much prefer Flynn with a leading lady with a stronger personality, like Olivia de Havilland, Alexis Smith, or Ann Sheridan. I always love Claude Rains. He’s amazing in any film he appears in. Flora Robson’s Elizabeth I, for me is a standout. As much as I love my queen, Bette Davis, I prefer Robson’s portrayal of The Virgin Queen. Davis’ interpretation of Elizabeth I in The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (also co-starring Flynn) is excellent, but she’s so fidgety and not subtle in her portrayal.

Flynn and the best actor in the entire film.

My favorite part of the film is the part when Flynn and the Sea Hawks are captured and forced to work as slaves on the galley. This entire scene is preceded by a sepia tone segment that was reused footage from a 1924 version of The Sea Hawk. I *would* say that I love this scene because I love the suspense and the men planning their escape… but I’d be lying. I really love this scene because, even though he looks a little rough around the edges, Flynn plays the whole scene in just a pair of raggy shorts 😉

The real star of the film however, is Thorpe’s monkey, played by Flynn’s real life pet monkey. In my opinion, every film is improved by an actor monkey–especially a monkey wearing a costume.

Spring CMBA Hidden Classics Blogathon- A Girl, A Guy and A Gob (1942)

It’s not a secret that I love Lucille Ball. She’s been my favorite actress since I discovered her on her now iconic sitcom, I Love Lucy, playing the titular character, Lucy Ricardo. I Love Lucy not only made Lucille Ball a household name, it also forever cemented her identity as “Lucy.” Mention “Lucy” to almost anyone (at least those worth associating with) and Lucy Ricardo comes to mind. I was roughly 10-11 years old (circa 1994-1995) when I discovered Lucy and I Love Lucy. I began to borrow books about I Love Lucy and Lucille Ball during my family’s monthly trips to the library. As an 11-year old, I was able to read the biographies in the adult section, making it very easy to learn about my new favorite actress. In 1996, Lucy’s autobiography was published–7 years after her death. Apparently her daughter found her mother’s manuscript while going through her things and went forward with having them published. I may have been the only 12-year old who desperately wanted Lucille Ball’s autobiography.

Throughout my trips to the library and reading books about Lucille Ball, I learned about the movie career she had prior to finding stardom on television. Lucy appeared in over 70 movies prior to switching gears to the small screen. Her film career began in 1933 when she came to Hollywood to appear as a slave girl in Eddie Cantor’s Roman Scandals. Not one to turn down any offer of paid work, figuring that every job offered her the chance to learn and hone her craft, Lucy appeared in at least a couple dozen uncredited roles before building up her momentum enough to score small, speaking roles. By 1937, Lucy scored a juicy part in the A-list ensemble drama, Stage Door, co-starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. In 1938, Lucy was offered her first starring role in The Affairs of Annabel. Lucy plays Annabel Allison, an actress forced to carry out insane publicity schemes by her agent, played by Jack Oakie.

At the library, I managed to borrow every single Lucille Ball VHS that my library had. I was lucky in that my library seemed to have a large amount of the films in the “Lucille Ball Signature Collection.” This collection is how I saw many of Lucy’s movies, including the aforementioned The Affairs of Annabel, The Big Street, Dance Girl Dance, Too Many Girls, Seven Days Leave, and others. TCM had just come on the scene as well and I scoured the TV Guide (insert in newspaper, not the magazine) to review the upcoming week of programming. Any Lucille Ball movies were circled and set up to record on the VCR. Throughout my years of recording and watching Lucille Ball’s films, there was one film that I’d always wanted to watch and it seemed to elude me for years: A Girl, A Guy and A Gob.

Mercifully, TCM finally saved the day and aired A Girl, A Guy and A Gob at a time when I was able to see it. Then, Warner Archive went above and beyond and released the film on DVD. I have since built up a very decent sized collection of Lucille Ball’s films. Anyway, I digress.

Back to A Girl, A Guy and A Gob

In this film, Lucy plays Dorothy ‘Dot’ Duncan, a young woman who has recently began work as a secretary to Stephen Merrick (Edmond O’Brien) a shipping magnate. Dot is obviously the “Girl” in the title. Stephen is the “Guy.” Playing the “Gob” is George Murphy. Murphy plays Claudius J. Cupp aka “Coffee Cup.” When I first watched this film, I had no idea what or who a “Gob” was. I learned that the term “Gob” refers to a sailor. Coffee Cup is a sailor in the United States Navy and it is established that he loves being in the Navy and regularly signs on for new missions after the previous one ends. It is also obvious that Dot and Coffee Cup have been together for quite some time, but I get the sense that Dot tires of waiting for Coffee Cup to settle down and somewhat resents being expected to stand idly by and wait for him to return over and over again.

Edmond O’Brien, Lucille Ball, and George Murphy in “A Girl, A Guy, and A Gob.”

The film opens with Dot and her family settling down to watch a play from inside a box seat at the theater. This is a big deal for the Duncan Family. It’s Mr. and Mrs. Duncan’s anniversary and their children have (seemingly) purchased box seats at the theater as a gift. Meanwhile, out in the lobby, Stephen and his horrible fiancee Cecilia and her equally horrible mother are impatiently waiting for Stephen to locate their tickets. Stephen’s tickets are for their box seat, the seats where he, Cecilia and her mother sit every night at the theater. Dot figures out that her brother “Pigeon,” didn’t actually buy these seats. In reality, he gambled away the ticket money (that Dot gave him) and just happened to find Stephen’s tickets. Dot and Stephen get into an argument that ends with Stephen, Cecilia and her mother having to sit in ::gasp:: the regular section of the theater. After Dot realizes how her brother happened to come away with the box seat tickets, she is embarrassed and leaves but not before accidentally dropping her purse (with a giant “D” monogram) on Stephen’s head.

The next day, Dot shows up for a secretary opening at the Herrick and Martin shipping company, unaware that the “Herrick” in the company’s name is Stephen Herrick whom she’d hit with her purse at the theater the night prior. Stephen recognizes Dot’s purse (with the very obvious “D” monogram) and identifies her as the woman from the theater. They get off to a poor start, obviously. Later that day, Coffee Cup shows up, home from another Navy “hitch” (as he calls them). Coffee Cup and Dot take a walk and Coffee Cup spots his friend Eddie, a fellow sailor who has a shtick where he bets onlookers that he can stretch himself and grow four inches. Coffee Cup and Eddie gather a crowd in front of a pet store, much to the owner’s (Franklin Pangborn) chagrin. Stephen happens to walk by, Dot spots him, and borrows five dollars from him to bet on Eddie. The contest ends in a brawl and Stephen ends up being knocked out.

When Stephen awakens, he finds himself lying on the couch in Dot’s family’s apartment. The scene is so chaotic with people dropping in, Mrs. Duncan delivers the neighbors baby and delivers the results of the bet that the family had over the weight of the new Liebowitz baby (#9). The scene is so boisterous, but full of so much love, Stephen finds himself captivated. Stephen has a date with Cecilia, but ends up dancing the night away with Coffee Cup and Dot at the Danceland Dance Hall. Cecilia ends up spending the night all dressed up, but with nowhere to go. Whoops. Cecilia is the typical fiancee of the lead–boring, snobby, a real stick in the mud.

Heartthrob (?) Edmond O’Brien and Lucille Ball

Throughout the remainder of the film, Stephen and Dot find themselves growing closer and closer together. Dot finds herself less enthusiastic about a future with Coffee Cup, despite admirably trying to carry on with him, because he is genuinely a nice guy. However, it is easy to see that a life with him may lack the stability that Dot may need. I get the idea she isn’t crazy about Coffee Cup leaving all the time. He’s also very much about having a good time, all the time and can be irresponsible. Stephen is a nice guy, but is also professional and runs a company. Stephen also realizes that a life with Cecilia would be stodgy and miserable. It is obvious that Cecilia is with Stephen for the material goods that he can provide and presumably the boost to her social class that he provides. Stephen also finds Dot’s spontaneity exciting and makes his day-to-day routine more fun.

Henry Travers who seems to be in everything, plays Stephen’s business partner, Abel Martin. Martin, who obviously dislikes Cecilia and sees through her true intentions, plays matchmaker in this film. He casually tries to convince Stephen that Dot is the woman for him and throughout the remainder of the film, he insinuates himself into their social group to try and get Stephen and Dot together.

This is such a fun and entertaining film. I love movies with love triangles. I love seeing such a young Edmond O’Brien. This was his third film. Dare I say that I thought O’Brien was somewhat cute in this film? George Murphy is always personable and of course Lucille Ball was fabulous. Harold Lloyd produced this film and his brand of physical humor is present throughout. Lucille Ball was able to show off both her skill for acting and physical humor. It isn’t often that we get to see O’Brien in a light-hearted film as he primarily made a lot of more intense films like White Heat and The Killers. George Murphy is affable and great. It’s easy to see how his enthusiasm and zest for life would make him the ideal candidate to join the boisterous Duncan family. However, this is Ball and O’Brien’s film and they convince me of their budding romance.

If you’re looking for a fun, light-hearted romantic comedy, I wholly recommend A Girl, A Guy, and A Gob.

Why was everyone kissing the bride a custom back then? I wouldn’t want to be kissed by all these random people. Ick.