National Silent Movie Day- The Freshman (1925)

Another September 29 is upon us which means that it is National Silent Movie Day! 2022 is the second official year of this film event. This year, I opted to watch The Freshman starring the hilarious Harold Lloyd. Lloyd is someone who is often remembered alongside Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton, but I always feel like he’s mentioned as an afterthought, like “the greatest silent film comedians were Chaplin and Keaton… and I guess we can throw Lloyd in there too.” Harold Lloyd deserves to be revered just as much as Chaplin and Keaton. His “glasses” character is inventive and unique. I like Harold Lloyd’s comedy and find him a delightful middleground between the more sentimental Chaplin and the more physical Keaton. Don’t get me wrong, all three men were very skilled when it comes to physical comedy and acting; but each one is very different from the other.

The Freshman which debuted in theaters in 1925, tells the story of Harold Lamb, a young man who has saved exactly $480-something dollars (~$8100 in 2022 money) to go to college–Tate University to be specific. He saved the money selling washing machines. Harold has watched his favorite film, The College Hero, practically on a loop and has based his entire personality on the one presented in the film. He even learns the jig that The College Hero performs as part of a greeting when he meets a new person. Watching Harold execute the jig throughout the film is adorable, he looks so happy every single time he does it.

Harold rides the train to Tate University. On the train, he meets Peggy (Jobyna Ralston), a young woman also attending Tate. However, unlike Harold, she does not have a substantial savings and must work to afford the tuition. The train arrives at the station and Harold introduces himself to his new classmates, including, The College Cad (Brooks Benedict). After Harold does his jig, The College Cad laughs and makes Harold the laughingstock of the school. However, because he is so naive, Harold misinterprets his classmates’ laughter and The College Cad’s mocking as a sign that they all like him.

The College Cad eventually convinces Harold to try-out for the football team, thinking that it’d be hilarious. He isn’t selected for the team (of course), but ends up being hired to become the football team’s tackling dummy. Harold damaged the school’s only tackling dummy during his audition. The football coach loves Harold’s enthusiasm, however, but admits to the captain of the football team, Chet Trask (James Anderson) that Harold’s lack of athleticism does not make up for his positive attitude. Chet suggests to his coach that he bring Harold onto the team to be the waterboy. The coach agrees and invites Harold to join the team–except Harold thinks he’s joining as a football player.

Harold emulating “The College Hero”

Later, Harold is convinced to host the annual Fall Frolic dance. It’s obvious that the other students just want to use the big event to make a fool out of Harold. The Fall Frolic scene is hilarious. Harold hires a tailor to make him a new suit for the dance, but when he arrives to pick it up, he learns that the tailor is late and has only barely started sewing it together. Only a few stitches are holding the jacket and pants together. Despite the sparse stitches, Harold wears it anyway, hoping for the best. The tailor offers to follow Harold around the dance, sewing the suit together should it start to fall apart. Almost immediately, the tailor is having to sew the arms back onto Harold’s jacket.

The scene of Harold trying to stay in front of a curtain and entertain his date while the tailor works behind the curtain frantically sewing his suit together is hilarious and one of the best scenes in the film. I love the part when one of Harold’s classmates approaches him to ask for $10. Harold’s right arm is busy being repaired, so the tailor offers up his arm in place of Harold’s. The tailor’s arm (posing as Harold’s arm) reaches into Harold’s pocket and pulls out $10. While Harold is shaking hands (left hand) with his classmate, the tailor’s right hand pick-pockets the $10 out of Harold’s classmate’s pocket and puts the money back into Harold’s.

Eventually, Tate University’s football team is playing in the big game. Harold sits on the sideline, anxiously, as if to say “put me in coach, I’m ready to play.” He and another player watch as one teammate after another are knocked out of the game. The team is running out of benchwarmers and will be at risk of being disqualified from the game if they can’t meet the minimum requirement for active players on the field. Harold soon gets his big chance.

Jobyna Ralston and Harold Lloyd in “The Freshman.”

Women’s hair always seemed so ratty in the 1920s–no wonder they bobbed their hair later!

The type of comedy presented at the Fall Frolic is one of the things I love about Harold Lloyd. He has a lot of sight gags like this that are not as broadly comedic as Keaton, but are still very funny. There’s another funny scene in Safety Last! where Lloyd pretends to be an overcoat hanging on the wall. Lloyd’s character is very affable and approachable to audiences. He seems like an everyman and seems to be loving his life. He doesn’t have a stoneface like Keaton or seems like a hopeful sad sack like Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Harold Lloyd’s gags are just as well-timed and well-executed as anything Chaplin and Keaton did.

During the big football game, the audience cannot help but cheer for Harold. We don’t want to see him on the bench. We want Harold on the field, making the game-winning touchdown. Frankly, we want him to make any sort of score because in the fourth quarter the game is only at 3-0 in the opposition’s favor. Only a field goal. What a boring game! Harold’s enthusiasm and determination is contagious. This guy deserves to become his hero–The College Hero.

Harold’s jig greeting is hilarious

Broadway Bound Blogathon- Stage Door (1937)

TERRY RANDALL: I see that, in addition to your other charms, you have that insolence generated by an inferior upbringing.
JEAN MAITLAND: Hmm! Fancy clothes, fancy language and everything!
TERRY: Unfortunately, I learned to speak English correctly.
JEAN: That won’t be much of use to you here. We all talk pig latin.

Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall” and Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland” in Stage Door (1937)

This is just one example of the snappy dialogue present in the 1937 RKO classic, Stage Door. MGM’s 1939 classic, The Women, is held-up as the ultimate women’s picture, mostly because of the all-female cast and it’s spectacular script full of witty one liners and innuendo. While The Women is great, I much prefer Stage Door, despite including men in the cast in addition to the spectacular female cast. The cast is more appealing to me, the story is more interesting and frankly, the film is shorter which makes it a lot more compelling. It is my opinion that The Women runs a little long and could stand some editing. But I digress. This blog entry is not about The Women, it is about Stage Door.

Stage Door, directed by Gregory La Cava, was released on October 8, 1937. As a big Lucille Ball fan, this film is notable for being Lucy’s big break and was her first decent supporting role in an A-list production–and you can’t get much more A-list than co-starring in a film with Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. In addition to Lucille Ball, this film also features Eve Arden and a 14 (!) year old Ann Miller. It is hard to believe that Ann is only a child in this film, she carries herself as a much older woman and more than holds her own dancing alongside Rogers in the film. Arden is awesome because she spends much of the film with a cat wrapped around her shoulders. Gail Patrick (playing a similar character to her “Cornelia” in My Man Godfrey) and Andrea Leeds also lend support as other women in the boarding house. Adolphe Menjou co-stars as producer Anthony Powell who is acquainted with the young women at the club and to whom the women look to for roles in upcoming productions. Look for a young Jack Carson as Judy’s lumberjack beau, Mr. Milbanks.

Three mega stars from left to right: Katharine Hepburn, Lucille Ball, Ginger Rogers

Stage Door starts with a raucous, chaotic scene inside the Footlights Club all-female boarding house. The inhabitants of the boarding house are all aspiring Broadway performers, mostly acting, but some dancing as well. Because it’s the Great Depression and because breaking into Broadway is definitely not a sure thing, the women are struggling to survive and make ends meet. One of the boarders, Linda Shaw (Patrick) doesn’t seem to be starving, and it’s implied that she’s a kept woman–often being “kept” by Powell. We see Jean Maitland (Rogers) and Linda arguing over Linda’s borrowing Jean’s stockings without asking. Then, Judy Canfield (Ball) is observed asking Jean if she’d like to double date. Eve (Arden) walks around with a cat draped around her shoulders. The boarding house maid, Hattie (Phyllis Kennedy), contributes to the cacophony by poorly warbling some indistinguishable tune. An aging experienced actress, Ann Luther (Constance Collier), dispenses advice. Later she’ll guide Terry in her performance in her big break.

The noisy scene comes to a halt when a new boarder, Terry Randall (Hepburn), enters the Footlights Club looking for accomodations. It is apparent from the get-go that Terry is not in the same destitute situation as the other women in the club. She has money. She is interested in pursuing theater as a lark, not because she has a passion for the performing arts. Her obvious advantage makes her an instant adversary to the other women, especially Jean. According to Stage Door, Kay Hamilton (Leeds) is the best actress in the club. Kay is desperate to land the lead in Powell’s upcoming play, Enchanted April. Despite being the Footlights Club’s best actress, I find Andrea Leeds to be the weakest part of the film. I think her scenes are too saccharine and frankly, Kay comes off as pathetic. I can see why Terry is getting roles over her.

Left to right: 14 (!) year old Ann Miller, Ginger Rogers, and Lucille Ball

The main conflict of Stage Door comes when Terry breaks the status quo and barges into Powell’s office to demand to know why he refuses to see any of her fellow colleagues, despite their trying day after day to audition. Terry eventually ends up winning the coveted role in Enchanted April, making her the persona non grata at the Footlights Club. Hepburn’s solo scene at the end of the film when she recites the famous “the calla lilies are in bloom again…” speech is heart wrenching and one of the highlights of an otherwise dialogue-heavy film. Hepburn and Rogers are fantastic as the sparring roommates, a situation not too far removed from real life. Apparently, Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers did not get along. I would probably chalk it up to personality differences and probably a professional rivalry at RKO. Lucille Ball and Eve Arden are fantastic as the sarcastic roommates and it’s easy to see why the two women eventually became huge stars.

Eve Arden is awesome and walks around Stage Door with a cat wrapped around her shoulders

I love the ending of this film. After a very tragic and tense third act, Terry gives the performance of her life. Much of her performance is inspired by her friendship with Kay and how much Terry knew that Kay wanted the role. While dialogue indicates that Terry is not delivering the correct dialogue for her opening monologue, it is forgiven because she is properly evoking the mood the author intended. Terry demonstrates that she is intuitive and is an actress. At the behest of Ann, Terry goes on stage despite being distraught–“the show must go on,” as we all know. Terry is forgiven by her roommates, presumably because of her heart-wrenching performance in Enchanted April. She finally wins approval of her roommates who no longer see her as someone who is just slumming it in their boarding house as a form of entertainment. Terry has demonstrated that she has the passion and skill to be an actress on the stage. At the end of the film, Terry is shown throwing out sarcastic barbs alongside her former foe, Jean. A new starry-eyed boarder moves into the boarding house and Terry is right alongside the other women, ready to welcome the newbie into the fold.

Despite the presence of the hugely talented cast, the star of this film is the dialogue. It must have been quite a undertaking for the cast to remember all their lines.

Ginger Rogers and Gail Patrick are at odds through most of Stage Door

(After Terry has spoken at length and eloquently about Shakespeare)
EVE: Well, I don’t like to gossip, but that new gal seems to have an awful crush on Shakespeare!
SUSAN: I wouldn’t be surprised if they got married!
MARY LOU: Oh, you’re foolin’! Shakespeare is dead!
SUSAN: No!
MARY LOU: Well, if he’s the same one who wrote ‘Hamlet,’ he is!
EVE: Never heard of it.
MARY LOU: Well, certainly you must have heard of “Hamlet” !
EVE: Well, I meet so many people.

Eve Arden as “Eve,” Peggy O’Donnell as “Susan,” Margaret Early as “Mary Lou” in Stage Door (1937)

JEAN MAITLAND: (yelling) OH LINDA!
LINDA SHAW: Maybe if you spoke a little LOUDER next time, everyone in the whole HOUSE could hear you.
JEAN: Oh I’m sorry, I forgot you’re old and deaf.

Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland” and Gail Patrick as “Linda Shaw” in Stage Door (1937)

JEAN MAITLAND: Do you mind if I ask a personal question?
TERRY RANDALL: Another one?
JEAN: Are those trunks full of bodies?
TERRY: Just those, but I don’t intend to unpack them.

Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland” and Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall” in Stage Door (1937)

JEAN MAITLAND: In some ways, you’re not such a bad egg.
TERRY RANDALL: As eggs go, I probably have my points.

Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland” and Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall” in Stage Door (1937)

KAY HAMILTON: It’s (her birthday cake) so beautiful, I hate to cut it.
JUDY CANFIELD: It’s one of Hattie’s cakes. Maybe you can’t cut it.
HATTIE: I resent that!
LINDA SHAW: Be careful you don’t drop it on your foot.
ANN LUTHER: Girls, I have the most wonderful news!
JUDY: Maybe the house is on fire.

Andrea Leeds as “Kay Hamilton,” Lucille Ball as “Judy Canfield,” Phyllis Kennedy as “Hattie,” Gail Patrick as “Linda Shaw,” and Constance Collier as “Ann Luther,” in Stage Door (1937).

EVE: I’ll never put my trust in males again
TERRY RANDALL: What happened to Eve?
JEAN MAITLAND: She’s brokenhearted. Henry’s in a cat hospital.
TERRY: An accident?
JEAN: He just had a litter of kittens.
TERRY: Well that’s easy to solve. Change his name to Henrietta.

Eve Arden as “Eve,” Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall,” Ginger Rogers as “Jean Maitland,” in Stage Door (1937).

TERRY RANDALL (in her play): The calla lilies are in bloom again. Such a strange flower, suitable to any occasion. I carried them on my wedding day and now I place them here in memory of something that has died.

Katharine Hepburn as “Terry Randall” in Stage Door (1937)

Van Johnson Blogathon- Van’s Friendship with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz

On May 2, 1955, Van Johnson appeared as himself in “The Dancing Star,” an episode of I Love Lucy. I Love Lucy was the pioneering and now-iconic television sitcom starring his old friends, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. In this episode, Lucy’s character, Lucy Ricardo, finally realizes her dream of show business success. Van Johnson is appearing in a show at the hotel where the Ricardos and Mertzes are staying while Ricky (Desi) makes his film debut. Van’s partner is sick and Lucy ends up getting the chance to fill in. In this episode, Lucy Ricardo is finally given the opportunity to perform in a musical number where she doesn’t screw it up, whether purposefully or inadvertently. For a more detailed synopsis about “The Dancing Star,” click here.

Van Johnson, front left, watches as Frances Langford rallies the co-eds at Pottawatomie College in Too Many Girls.

Van Johnson’s relationship with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz did not start with I Love Lucy. He actually made Desi’s acquaintance first back in 1939 on Broadway. Desi had recently arrived in New York City as part of Xavier Cugat’s touring orchestra. Previously, he’d lived in Miami after emigrating there from his birthplace of Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. Desi had been performing as part of the Siboney Septet. He was discovered by Cugat and hired as a singer and conga drum player. Desi’s natural charisma and talent as a showman led to him forming his own orchestra. He was discovered by director George Abbott who wanted to cast Desi as Manuelito, the Argentinian football player. Van was cast in the same play as a college student and also as an understudy for the three male leads. He later understudied Gene Kelly in the Broadway production of Pal Joey which eventually led to Kelly’s discovery and subsequent Hollywood stardom.

Desi Arnaz #24 top left and Van Johnson #41 bottom center, appeared together in the film adaptation of Too Many Girls.

In 1940, Van came out to Hollywood to appear in the film adaptation of Too Many Girls. Van’s role is very small. He has an uncredited role as a fellow college student and appears as part of the chorus in some of the musical numbers. Van is near Lucille Ball in the big celebratory conga number (led by Desi Arnaz and Ann Miller) at the end of the film when Pottawatomie wins the big game. Watch Lucy screw up the choreography, she very noticeably comes in early or late in every single one of the moves. However, Van’s role in Too Many Girls did not lead to any big breaks. Disenchanted, he was ready to return to New York and back to Broadway where he had experienced more success.

However, before Van left for New York City, he had lunch with Lucy at Los Angeles’ famed Chasen restaurant. She introduced him to MGM’s casting director who just happened to be sitting at a nearby table. This led to a series of screen tests at many of the big studios. He ended up scoring a $300/week ($5452/week in 2022) contract at Warner Brothers. Van made his debut as a leading man in 1942’s Murder in the Big House opposite Faye Emerson. Unfortunately for Van, this contract did not lead to big success at Warner Brothers and his contract was dropped after six months.

Irene Dunne, Spencer Tracy, and Van Johnson in A Guy Named Joe.

Eventually Van was signed to MGM where his friend, Lucille Ball, had recently signed with after leaving RKO. Van’s big break was in the 1943 film, A Guy Named Joe, which starred Spencer Tracy and Irene Dunne. During production, Van was in a car accident which left him with a metal plate in his forehead and numerous scars on his face. For most of his career, Van would hide his scars under heavy makeup. However, in 1954’s The Caine Mutiny, he opted to not wear the heavy makeup. His large forehead scar is prominently displayed in that film. MGM wanted to replace Van in A Guy Named Joe, but Tracy advocated for him. Thanks to Tracy, Van became a star after their film was a big success at the box office.

Van continued to appear in one hit film after another. In 1946, Van appeared with his friend Lucy in Easy to Wed, a remake of the 1936 hit, Libeled Lady. Van took on the role of Bill Chandler, which was played by William Powell in the original film. Keenan Wynn, Lucille Ball and Esther Williams take on the roles played by Spencer Tracy, Jean Harlow, and Myrna Loy, respectively. Bill Chandler is hired by Warren Haggerty (Wynn) to marry his girlfriend Gladys (Lucy) and then romance and woo Connie Allenbury (Williams), a socialite who is suing Warren’s newspaper for a large sum of money after they publish a false story about Connie being a homewrecker. To save the newspaper from financial ruin, Warren wants Gladys to charge Connie with alienation of affection after word gets about Connie’s romance with her husband, Bill. Curiously enough, perhaps in an instance of life imitating art, Keenan Wynn’s wife, Evie, married Van Johnson on THE DAY (!) of their divorce.

Van Johnson and Lucille Ball in Easy to Wed.

Easy to Wed is not nearly as good as Libeled Lady, but it is amusing. Lucille Ball is definitely the highlight and steps into Harlow’s shoes very well. Van asserts himself nicely as the straight man and is good at portraying the All-American young man. In the late 1940s and 1950s, Van continued to appear in films in every genre from war to film noir to musicals to comedy. At the time of his 1955 appearance in I Love Lucy, Van was at the height of his fame. In one of the episodes of I Love Lucy leading up to the big cross-country drive, Lucy asks her friend Marion Strong if she’d like Lucy to give a message to “the gang.” “The Gang” being Clark (Gable), Cary (Grant), or Van (Johnson), or Marlon (Brando)?” Later while the Ricardos are celebrating their wedding anniversary in Hollywood, Ricky name-drops Van and his wife Evie to a Hollywood newspaper about a (fake) party he’s throwing at the Mocambo. Van continued to appear in films and television. In 1968, he appeared in another film with Lucille Ball, Yours, Mine and Ours. Desilu had purchased the rights to the story in 1967, right before Lucy sold the studio to Paramount. Desilu had been founded in 1950 by Lucy and Desi. Desi retired in 1962 and sold his shares to Lucy.

Van Johnson, Henry Fonda, and Lucille Ball in Yours, Mine and Ours.

Van’s role in Yours, Mine and Ours is fun. He appears as Darrell Harrison, a fellow officer who works with and is friends with Frank Beardsley, played by Henry Fonda. Lucy appears as Helen North, a nurse who works in the dispensary at the base. Darrell thinks that Frank and Helen are perfect for one another, the only hitch being that Frank has 10 children and Helen has 8. To prove his point, he fixes Frank up with a young Hippie woman who is half Frank’s age and is very sexually aggressive. Frank is more modest and finds her sexual appetite off-putting. Darrell then fixes Helen up with a doctor who specializes in obstetrics and is at least half a foot shorter than she is. Darrell effortlessly brings the two characters together. For much of the rest of the film, he is used for comic relief and is delightful.

Van Johnson in Here’s Lucy in 1968.

Van continued to work with Lucy. He appeared as himself during the first season of her third sitcom, Here’s Lucy, in 1968. In the episode, Van plays himself and plays a Van Johnson doppelganger. In the episode, the Van Johnson doppelganger and Lucy (as Lucy Carter), talk about Yours, Mine and Ours. The fake Van Johnson, imitating the real Van Johnson, says that he loved working with the “kooky redhead.” Lucy Carter says that she thought that she (Lucille Ball) was much too young for Henry Fonda. Later, Lucy Carter compliments the real Van Johnson on his appearance in The Romance of Rosy Ridge, which was the film debut of Janet Leigh. Eventually, Lucy remarks that she was glad Van was court-martialed in The Caine Mutiny after he refuses to go along with her schemes.

Van and Lucy continued to appear in various specials together and remained friends. After Ball’s passing in 1989, Van continued to give interviews and appear in various documentaries and retrospectives about Lucy and Desi. He was one of the interviewees in PBS’ American Masters episode about Lucille Ball, “Finding Lucy.” It is apparent that Lucy, Desi, and Van all held each other in great esteem. It is obvious through their professional and personal collaborations and the way in which Van continued to talk about his friends long after their respective passings. Van Johnson passed away in 2008 and it is nice to think that he is now back with his friends.

“They (Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) were soulmates. They knew it. The whole world did.”

“I am the luckiest guy in the world. All my dreams came true. I was in a wonderful business and I met a lot of great people all over the world.”

Third Annual Esther Williams Blogathon–Dangerous When Wet (1953)

I first saw Dangerous When Wet last year when TCM featured Esther Williams during their annual Summer Under the Stars programming event. The entirety of August 8, 2021 was devoted to Esther in honor of her centennial. This was the first film that I’d seen that featured Fernando Lamas. Lamas is someone who I only knew about from his appearance as himself in an episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, “Lucy Goes to Sun Valley.” I didn’t even know what films Lamas had appeared in and assumed he was just one of those stars who was big at the time (1958). I think that is a fair assessment. Today, if Lamas is known for anything, it’s for being the father of Renegade star Lorenzo Lamas and being married to Esther Williams.

I, however, remember Lamas for being hot hot, especially in his episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and Dangerous When Wet!

While Dangerous When Wet was being cast, numerous leading men were suggested to partner with Esther. One of the qualities an Esther Williams-leading man needed to have was an ability to swim. Many of Esther’s leading men like Howard Keel or Peter Lawford weren’t the strongest of swimmers. To keep them afloat during filming, Esther would have to stealthily prop them up with her hand or foot while they swam. When Fernando Lamas was suggested for Dangerous When Wet, it was different. Lamas, however, was a champion swimmer from South America. Finally, Esther had a co-star who could keep up with her in the pool. She later said that it was a nice change to be paired up with someone who actually possessed real swimming ability. Lamas’ casting allowed for more rigorous swimming scenes to be included in the film. Esther must have enjoyed working with Lamas–the two would eventually marry and be together until Lamas’ passing in 1982.

Dangerous When Wet opens with the Higgins family marching out of their house while singing “I Got Out of the Bed on the Right Side” while they make their way to the nearby swimming hole for their morning ritual of calisthenics and swimming laps. Esther plays Katie, the daughter of “Ma” and “Pa” Higgins (Charlotte Greenwood and William Demarest). I recognized Greenwood from her appearances in two Betty Grable films, “Moon Over Miami” and “Down Argentine Way.” Demarest is probably best known as “Uncle Charlie” from My Three Sons, but to me, I know of him because he’s in every film ever made. Both Greenwood and Demarest have very small roles in this film. This opening number is very charming. We see Katie who is more interested in a book about dairy farming than she is in swimming. However, since it’s Esther Williams, she is swimming by the end of the scene.

Windy (Jack Carson) has his sights set on Katie (Esther Williams)

One day, traveling salesman Windy Weebe (Jack Carson) comes through town hawking his special elixir, Liquapep. Supposedly, Liquapep is a tonic that is supposed to make someone super peppy and fit. Windy is also instantly smitten with Katie. It also comes out that the Higgins family’s dairy farm is also in trouble. They need a bull to keep the farm running, however they cannot afford it. Because of his fondness for Katie and seeing a chance to promote Liquapep, Windy suggests that the family enter a contest to swim the English Channel. The cash prize would give the family enough money to buy the bull. Swimming the channel isn’t hard, it’s only 20 miles (more like 42 with the currents) across. No problem, right?

I can think of worst things than to be carried by Fernando Lamas

The Higgins family decides that Katie is the strongest swimmer in the family (obviously, because it’s Esther Williams) and their best chance to win the prize. Windy offers to coach her. One foggy afternoon, Windy loses sight of Katie during their practice. Katie becomes disoriented in the fog and but soon finds a rowboat, similar to Windy’s. She quickly discovers that the rowboat is not being captained by Windy, but rather by hot Frenchman, Andre Lanet (Fernando Lamas), a French champagne salesman. It seems that Andre is on his way back to his yacht. He also becomes smitten with Katie. Soon he finds herself in a love triangle between Andre and Windy. Gosh, who to pick?

Andre and Katie’s romance heats up as the impending swim across the Channel draws nearer.

This is a funny sequence when Esther is grabbed by an amorous octopus (voiced by Fernando Lamas)

Dangerous When Wet features a fantastic animated sequence between Esther Williams and Tom and Jerry. This is the second musical number I’ve seen with Tom and Jerry. Fans of classic movie musicals will remember that Gene Kelly danced with the duo in 1945’s Anchors Aweigh. Fernando Lamas has a funny appearance in the animated sequence as an amorous octopus. Fernando’s octopus performs a reprise of his “In My Wildest Dreams” number that he serenades Esther with earlier in the film. Fernando Lamas sings in this movie. I had no idea he was a singer and he does a great job!

There is a funny scene where Andre gifts Katie a tiny white and red polka dot bikini. She jokes about how small it is before going into her room to try it on. She breaks the fourth wall as she pulls a shade down to shield the audience’s prying eyes. We never do see what Katie looks like in that bikini. I’m sure she looked great. Later, Katie wears a great one-piece bathing suit that is made of black lace. This is the suit she wears during the swimming duet between herself and Andre. The duet takes place after Katie get a little tipsy drinking Liquipep on a picnic with Andre. To sober her up, Andre invites Katie for a nighttime swim.

Katie relaxes in an intertube during a romantic night time swim, but is soon in for a rude surprise.

The swimming duet is really fun to watch as Esther and Fernando are really swimming and going for it. Fernando did not like it when Esther would swim faster than he did, so even in the film, he’s trying to swim faster than her. The duo perform laps and swim the backstroke while flirting with each other and falling more and more in love. Katie and Andre’s love for one another is never more evident than it is in the climactic race scene at the end of the film. The end scene was based on a real-life event that happened when Johnny “Tarzan” Weissmuller dived into the water to help his student, Florence Chadwick (the first woman to swim across the English Channel), complete her race when she started to falter. Weissmuller was also Esther’s Aquacade swimming partner before she started appearing in films.

I very much enjoyed Dangerous When Wet. It’s one of my favorite Esther Williams films and Fernando Lamas strips to his skivvies at the end and I’m here for that scene. I also just discovered that my DVD has a flaw it in that causes the film to permanently pause right before the Tom and Jerry number. This is unacceptable and I’m shopping for a replacement copy.

Tom and Jerry swim with Esther Williams

Singin’ in the Rain Blogathon- Songs of Singin’ in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain is celebrating its 70th Anniversary this year. It is widely considered to be one of the best (if not the best) musicals of all time. I have seen this movie a million times. I’ve seen it in the theater multiple times. I own the huge box set. I love this movie. While it might be a cliche answer, considering its popularity, Singin’ in the Rain is my favorite musical. At the time the film came out however, it wasn’t thought to be anything special. It did turn a profit, but nothing remarkable. Even the origin of the film came from humble beginnings.

Don and Kathy eventually star in “Singin in the Rain” for Monumental Pictures

Arthur Freed, head of the “Freed Unit” and in charge of MGM’s musicals, wanted to develop a film based around the catalog of songs written by himself and composer Nacio Herb Brown. The only original songs written in 1952 for Singin’ in the Rain, were “Moses Supposes” and “Make ‘Em Laugh.” It is pretty clear however, that “Make ‘Em Laugh” is a rip-off of Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown.” There’s a pretty funny anecdote involving Freed showing Porter around the set during the production of Singin’ in the Rain. The cast and crew were rehearsing Donald O’Connor’s memorable “Make ‘Em Laugh” routine. Cole Porter heard the music and said “isn’t that ‘Be a Clown?'” Freed distracted Porter from the song before answering.

Gene Kelly performs the title song, “Singin’ in the Rain.”

The most memorable song in Singin’ in the Rain is the title song, “Singin’ in the Rain,” featuring Gene Kelly’s character, Don Lockwood, doing what else? Singing in the rain. Kelly’s song and dance in the rain is iconic and one of the most indelible scenes of Classic Hollywood cinema. In the musical number, Don is overjoyed after coming up with a plan to save his movie career and falling in love with Kathy Selden, played by the adorable and hugely talented Debbie Reynolds. There are some urban legends surrounding Kelly’s performance of the big title song dance number. One urban legend is that the water is actually milk, with the idea that milk would be more visible on screen. Co-Director Stanley Donen (Kelly was the other director), debunked this myth. One story that is true however, is that Gene Kelly was suffering from a horrible fever during production of his big dance number. It’s amazing that he was able to perform it so well and effortlessly, despite being so sick.

Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and Donald O’Connor sing “Good Morning” in Singin’ in the Rain.

“Singin’ in the Rain” was first heard in 1929, in the film Hollywood Revue of 1929. The song was performed by Cliff Edwards, who is best remembered now as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Disney’s Pinocchio. Edwards is seen wearing a raincoat and hat, while warbling this song in the rain. It was a big hit in its day, but Gene Kelly definitely added some life to the song in 1952. Another song from Singin’ in the Rain that was recycled, was “Good Morning.” In the 1952 film, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, and Gene Kelly sing the song after they realize that it’s past midnight after a disastrous film premiere. This song leads into Cosmo’s (O’Connor) brainstorm–turning Don and Lina Lamont’s (Jean Hagen) film, The Dueling Cavalier, into a musical. Judy Garland was heard singing “Good Morning” in her 1939 film with Mickey Rooney, Babes in Arms.

Donald O’Connor and Gene Kelly harass the poor elocution teacher in “Moses Supposes.”

After it is decided to transition The Dueling Cavalier into a musical, Don and Lina are ordered to attend elocution classes. Miss Lina “And I Can Stan’ it!” Lamont definitely needs all the help she can get. Don, on the other hand, speaks fine, but is forced to go through these classes as well. We see him learning how to pronounce his “A” vowel sounds and say tongue twisters like “Chester chooses chestnuts, cheddar cheese with chewy chives. He chews them and he chooses them. He chooses them and he chews them, those chestnuts, cheddar cheese and chives in cheery charming chunks.” Cosmo shows up he and Don and end up singing “Moses Supposes” with a lot of rhymes. This number is used as a showcase for Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, but you cannot help but feel sorry for the poor elocution teacher. “Moses Supposes” was one of the original songs written for the film.

Debbie Reynolds is front and center in “All I Do is Dream of You” in this adorable number.

After dropping Don Lockwood off at a Hollywood party, Kathy Selden (Reynolds) makes her big splash in Singin’ in the Rain with her adorable performance in “All I Do is Dream of You.” Kathy and a chorus line of girls are seen in cute pink outfits while doing the Charleston amidst a storm of confetti. Don is instantly smitten with her, and so is my husband. My husband finds Debbie absolutely adorable in this number. My favorite part of “All I Do is Dream of You” is when Debbie so effortlessly removes a piece of confetti from her face. Whether that was scripted, I don’t know, but she made it look so easy. What an amazing lead role film debut for Debbie. She was so talented. “All I Do is Dream of You” can be heard as an instrumental song in the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.

After Kathy sings “All I Do is Dream of You,” she unfortunately ends up hitting Lina in the face with a pie that she intended for Don. She runs out of the party in embarrassment. Lina reciprocates by having her fired. Don looks in vain for Kathy, but doesn’t have any luck. Eventually, Cosmo ends up performing a very acrobatic rendition of “Make ‘Em Laugh” in an attempt to cheer Don up. Let’s face it, this song is “Be a Clown.” There is no mistaking that. However, for all intents and purposes, it’s “Make ‘Em Laugh” in Singin in the Rain. Donald O’Connor’s solo dance is absolutely fantastic. I don’t know any other dancer(s), except for maybe The Nicholas Brothers, who could have performed the acrobatics required of this dance number. O’Connor is amazing.

If there’s one thing I love, it’s a random fashion show inserted into a film.

One of my absolute favorite things in a Classic Hollywood film is the random fashion show. Singin’ in the Rain does not disappoint and features a fashion show in the middle of the film during the “Beautiful Girl” montage. This section of the film is kind of random. My husband doesn’t like it because he feels like it is disjointed from the rest of the film. Me on the other hand, enjoy it because it features a fashion show and this section also serves as a way to get Don back with Kathy when we discover that Kathy is now working as a chorus girl in this musical number on an unnamed film. Singin’ in the Rain very effortlessly segues from the musical interlude to the story involving Kathy and Don. The other purpose that this section serves is that it shows how Monument Studios has had to adapt in face of the burgeoning technology of “talking pictures.” Now they’re producing musicals–a genre that wouldn’t have been possible during the silent era.

The “Beautiful Girl” montage opens with a mash-up of “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin,” “The Wedding of the Painted Doll,” and “Should I?” Images of flappers, women dressed as toy soldiers, and a man with a megaphone are seen. “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin'” debuted in 1936 in Broadway Melody of 1936. “The Wedding of the Painted Doll” was heard in another ‘Broadway Melody’ film, Broadway Melody of 1929. Finally “Should I?” was heard in Lord Byron of Broadway in 1930. The montage transitions into a man singing “Beautiful Girl” which was heard in the film Stage Mother in 1933. Kathy Selden is one of the chorus girls in the “Beautiful Girl” number. This scene then switches into an amazing fashion show–one of my favorite random fashion shows in film.

Cyd Charisse and Gene Kelly in my favorite number from Singin’ in the Rain.

The ‘Broadway Melody’ films provided a lot of music to Singin’ in the Rain. In the big closing number, Broadway Melody is presented as the imagination of Cosmo Brown and Don Lockwood as they pitch the revamped version of The Dueling Cavalier to Monument Pictures Studio head, RF Simpson (Millard Mitchell). The big “Broadway Melody” number was featured in Broadway Melody of 1929 along with “The Wedding of the Painted Doll.” “Broadway Rhythm” was also featured in 1936, in Broadway Melody of 1936, along with “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’.” I love this part of the film. Cyd Charisse as the flapper in that green, fringed dress is gorgeous. She and Gene together are sizzling hot. This is one of the sexier dance numbers during the Golden Age of Hollywood. I love the music. Charisse is seen later wearing a white version of the same dress and later, a white dress with her own hair, and an enormous, flowing white veil. This is a very dramatic number set to an original song, the “Broadway Ballet,” composed by Nacio Herb Brown. This number is fantastic and I love it.

In the Classic Hollywood era, it is easy to find costumes and songs recycled from other previous films. If you have a great costume, or a great piece of music, why not re-use it? Singin’ in the Rain is proof that you don’t have to develop an entire catalog of new songs if you have songs that will suit the purposes of the film. However, the caveat to this is that you have to have writers that are talented. Props have to be given to the writing team of Adolph Green and Betty Comden. They were given a stack of songs and told to write a story using these songs, and boy did they deliver!

LINA: I’m a shimmering, glowing star in the cinema firmament.

Jean Hagen as “Lina Lamont” in Singin in the Rain (1952)

No! No! No!
Yes! Yes! Yes!
No! No! Nooooooooooo!

The Other Than a Bond Girl Blogathon- Dame Diana Rigg in “The Great Muppet Caper” (1981)

I saw The Great Muppet Caper for the first time last year when Fathom Events was showing this film in honor of its 40th anniversary. ‘Caper’ was also my first introduction to the late Dame Diana Rigg who passed away almost two years ago in September of 2020. I had heard of her and knew that she was famous for her role as Emma Peel in The Avengers, but I’ve never seen the show. I also did not know that she was a Bond girl until I signed up for this blogathon. For the record, Rigg appears opposite one-time Bond and as far as I can tell, the least popular Bond, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). I know at the end of her life, Rigg was appearing in Game of Thrones. I am not a Game of Thrones fan, so I missed her appearance here as well.

Which leads me into discussing what is most likely Rigg’s greatest feature film, The Great Muppet Caper.

Dame Diana Rigg and Charles Grodin

In The Great Muppet Caper, identical twins Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear work as investigative reporters for The Daily Chronicle newspaper in New York City. While Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear don’t look like identical twins on the surface, when Fozzie puts on his hat, they look like mirror images of each other. Gonzo the Great works as their photographer. One day, the trio is fired after failing to report on a major jewel robbery. To get their jobs back, Kermit appeals to his editor to let the gang travel to London to interview the victim, Lady Holiday (Rigg).

(KERMIT is sitting on a bench as a girl and her dad walk by)

GIRL: Look dad, there’s a bear.

DAD: No Christine, that’s a frog. Bears wear hats.

The Muppets at the Happiness Hotel

Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo manage to scrape up $12 for their flight to London from New York. They aren’t even able to procure a seat in coach and are placed in the cargo hold with the baggage. The plane even won’t land for them and they’re thrown out of the plane above London. The trio manage to find free lodging at the Happiness Hotel where they meet Dr Teeth and his band–The Electric Mayhem, Scooter, The Swedish Chef, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker, Rowlf the Dog, Sam the Eagle, and many other recognizable Muppet faces.

Miss Piggy and Dame Diana Rigg

The next morning, we meet Lady Holiday. She is awaiting the arrival of her new receptionist, who turns out to be Miss Piggy. Kermit shows up and mistakes Miss Piggy for Miss Holiday. Of course, Miss Piggy becomes infatuated with Kermit. Later, Kermit takes “Miss Holiday” (aka Miss Piggy) out for dinner. To keep up the ruse, Miss Piggy gives Kermit the address (17 Highbrow Street) of a fancy pants townhouse in an affluent area of town. She breaks into the home before Kermit gets there so that she can answer the door. When Kermit arrives, Miss Piggy tries to give him the grand tour without the residents knowing. The residents are an older couple, Neville (played by John Cleese) and Dorcas. They live in the large estate alone, as their children are grown, the pets are dead, and the butler has been fired. After leaving the townhouse, Miss Piggy and Kermit go to the fancy nightclub, the Dubonnet Club.

(Lady Holiday explains the entire backstory to “The Great Muppet Caper”)

MISS PIGGY: Why are you telling me all this?

LADY HOLIDAY: It’s plot exposition. It has to go somewhere.

MISS PIGGY as “Miss Piggy” and Dame Diana Rigg as “Lady Holiday” in The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

While at the club, the real Lady Holiday is present. Then her necklace is stolen by her jealous brother, Nicky (Charles Grodin), and three of Lady Holidays models: Carla, Darla, and Marla. After the robbery, Miss Piggy’s jig is up and Kermit discovers her real identity. At the same time, Nicky falls madly in love with Miss Piggy. During this scene it is also revealed that Nicky, Carla, Darla, and Marla were also responsible for stealing Lady Holiday’s jewels during the first robbery as well. Despite his attraction to Miss Piggy, Nicky frames Miss Piggy for the necklace theft and she is arrested.

MISS PIGGY to NICKY: You! It was you! Kermit was right! You’re a phony. You’re a phony! Yes you are! And you know what, you can’t even sing! Your voice was dubbed!

MISS PIGGY as “Miss Piggy” and Charles Grodin as “Nicky” in The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
Miss Piggy, Charles Grodin, Fozzie Bear, Dame Diana Rigg, Gonzo the Great, and Kermit the Frog in “The Great Muppet Caper.”

Nicky comes up with his next heist to steal Lady Holiday’s Fabulous Baseball Diamond during her next fashion show. Unbeknownst to Nicky, Gonzo overheard the entire plot. He reveals it to Kermit and Fozzie who in turn recruit all their friends from the Happiness Hotel to thwart Nicky’s plot. Kermit explains the plot to Miss Piggy in prison while disguised as her lawyer. With all the wheels in motion, Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo and co. put their plan into action to hilarious results.

KERMIT THE FROG: But…Nicky why are you doing this?

NICKY: Why am I doing this? Because I’m a villain. It’s Pure and simple.

KERMIT THE FROG as “Kermit the Frog” and CHARLES GRODIN as “Nicky” in The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

While Diana Rigg isn’t the “star” of this film, she is the “good” human character in this film. She is absolutely gorgeous and always dressed to the nines in the most sophisticated haute couture fashion. She is hilarious, like when she blames her models for not making the dresses she designed, look good. The Great Muppet Caper is insane. Between the muppets’ hijinks and Charles Grodin being bonkers and infatuated Miss Piggy, Lady Diana Rigg is there as the straight-man. She remains stoic through the entire film and she keeps the film grounded. If her character was as crazy as everyone else in this film, I think it would have gone completely off the rails. However, despite her character being rather serious most of the time (in comparison with everyone else), she still manages to be funny with her one-liners and quips.

LADY HOLIDAY: And Marla. Too many frills and furbelows, I don’t think we should strive for the fan-tailed pigeon look, do you? And Darla, that outfit’s the pits. Loose where it should be tight and tight where it should be loose, like folds on a turkey’s neck. Why would I design such atrocious looking clothes?

DAME DIANA RIGG as “Lady Holiday” in The Great Muppet Caper (1981)
Miss Piggy imagines herself as a water ballet star with Kermit the Frog and Charles Grodin singing her praises.

Aside from the wonderful Dame Diana Rigg, my favorite part of The Great Muppet Caper is the Esther Williams-esque Miss Piggy musical number, “Piggy’s Fantasy.” In this musical number, Miss Piggy, while modeling a bathing suit, imagines herself as the star of a water ballet. We also see Nicky (in a bubble) singing about how much he loves Miss Piggy. Kermit shows up at the end of the number (also in a bubble) singing about Miss Piggy. What’s remarkable about this number is that they really shot it underwater. One thing I love about the Muppet films is how flawlessly they’re able to animate the muppets without any wires, strings, etc. being visible. Some of the scenes they’re able to pull off, such as Kermit riding a bicycle in the first film, The Muppet Movie (1979), is fascinating.

But my absolute favorite part of The Great Muppet Caper is this photo that is shown at the beginning of the film. It is a photo of identical twins Fozzie and Kermit’s father.

This picture is hilarious and it makes me laugh every time I see it. Kudos to whoever at Jim Henson Studios designed this photo. It is hysterical. It does make me wonder what Kermit and Fozzie’s mom looks like.

TRUCK DRIVER: What are you doing here?

OSCAR THE GROUCH: A very brief cameo.

TRUCK DRIVER: Me too

Peter Ustinov as “Truck Driver” and Oscar the Grouch as himself in “The Great Muppet Caper”

MGM Blogathon–Jean Harlow, the First Blonde Bombshell

Jean Harlow the original blonde bombshell

On Monday, June 7, 1937, Spencer Tracy made a very short diary entry– “Jean Harlow died. Grand girl.” Harlow’s tragic death at the young age of 26 devastated the entire MGM company. One MGM writer was quoted later saying, “The day Baby (Harlow’s nickname) died…there wasn’t a sound in the commissary for three hours.” Harlow’s fiance, William Powell, was devastated. He was in the middle of filming his latest film, Double Wedding, with frequent co-star Myrna Loy. Loy was also good friends with Harlow. The two stars asked for time to grieve and production was temporarily halted. Even after completing the film, both Powell and Loy felt like they hadn’t turned in their best performances. Clark Gable and Una Merkel were also good friends of Harlow’s and had been with her during her final days. Both Gable and Merkel appeared with Harlow in what turned out to be her final film, Saratoga (1937).

Unfortunately, Harlow’s passing at such a young age and rumors about her cause of death have overshadowed her legacy. A rumor persists that her death was caused by poisoning from the peroxide she used to achieve her trademark platinum blonde look. The truth is that Harlow unfortunately was not in the best of health throughout her short life. When she was 15, she contracted scarlet fever and it is thought that the illness permanently damaged her kidneys. Harlow also suffered bouts of meningitis, polio, and pneumonia during her youth. Healthwise, the poor girl was a mess.

Jean Harlow sported a more natural look towards the end of her life.

Watching Harlow on the silver screen however, one would never know that she suffered from so many various ailments. On-screen, Harlow’s beauty and effervescent personality are on full display. Her trademark platinum blonde hair lights up the screen. Unfortunately, Harlow’s hair suffered greatly from the treatment given to achieve this look. Harlow’s hairdressers came up with a concoction of hydrogen peroxide, sodium hypochlorite bleach, ammonia, and Lux soap flakes. Yikes. Last time I checked, one was not supposed to mix bleach and ammonia together. But this is what Harlow endured to be a star. However, her hair also started to fall out. Towards the end of her life, Harlow had given up the harsh peroxide treatment and returned to her natural hair color or wore wigs.

Despite all the issues the platinum blonde hair caused Harlow, it led to her breakthrough film, aptly titled, Platinum Blonde (1931). Prior to this role, she had appeared in small roles, usually as the floozy, but she did have a good role in James Cagney’s breakthrough film, The Public Enemy (1931). In Harlow’s earliest films, she’s not particularly good. It’s very obvious that she isn’t experienced in acting. However, she just has that je ne sais quoi, aka “that certain something,” aka “the ‘it’ factor,” aka “star quality.” In 1932, Harlow finally hit her stride and became a bona fide star when she appeared in Red-Headed Woman.

Jean Harlow in “Red Headed Woman.”

In Red-Headed Woman, Harlow plays Lillian ‘Lil’ Andrews, a young woman who lives in a small town in Ohio, in a home literally on the wrong side of the tracks. She desperately wants to improve her social standing and will stop at nothing, and I mean nothing, to do so. Curiously enough, in this film which is widely seen as Harlow’s star making role, her character dyes her platinum hair red. In my opinion, Harlow actually looks better with the darker hair. As Lil, Harlow sizzles on screen. There is a scene where she changes her top and for a brief second, the side of her right breast is visible. There’s another scene where Lil asks a store clerk if the dress she’s interested in is sheer and the clerk says that yes it is. That’s all Lil needs to hear and she gladly wears it. Throughout the film, Lil shamelessly seduces married men, older rich men, anyone who can move her to the other side of the tracks.

LIL: “Listen Sally, I made up my mind a long time ago, I’m not gonna spend my whole life on the wrong side of the railroad tracks.”

SALLY: “Well, I hope you don’t get hit by a train while you’re crossing over.”

Jean Harlow as “Lil” and Una Merkel as “Sally” in “Red-Headed Woman” (1932)
Clark Gable and Jean Harlow in “Red Dust.”

1932 was a big year for Harlow, after Red-Headed Woman, Harlow’s star status further solidified with the release of Red Dust, co-starring Harlow’s friend and frequent co-star, Clark Gable. Red Dust is mostly remembered today for Harlow’s famous scene where her character bathes nude in a rain barrel. However, Harlow’s performance in Red Dust is so much more than that one short scene. In this film, Harlow plays a prostitute, Vantine, who stumbles upon Gable’s rubber plantation in Vietnam. She’s on the run. Why, exactly? We don’t know, but we can assume that her occupation probably has something to do with it. While on the plantation, Harlow and Gable crackle and sizzle on screen. Their chemistry is off the charts, even in a ridiculous scene where they discuss their preferred type of blue cheese.

VANTINE [bathing in the rain barrel]: “What’s the matter? Afraid I’ll shock the duchess? Don’t you suppose she’s ever seen a French postcard?”

DENNIS: “You’ll let those curtains down if it’s the last bath you’ll ever take!”

Jean Harlow as “Vantine” and Clark Gable as “Dennis” in “Red Dust” (1932)

Harlow’s best roles were during the pre-code era, when her sexuality and sensual nature were allowed to be on display. 1933 was a banner year for Harlow as well, as she was re-teamed with Gable in Hold Your Man, and appeared as part of the all-star cast in Dinner at Eight. She has a particularly memorable scene with Marie Dressler, a fellow MGM star who couldn’t be more different than Harlow. She also appeared in Bombshell, playing a fictionalized version of Clara Bow. An argument could be made however, that Harlow was also playing a fictionalized version of herself. The success of Bombshell led to Harlow being declared a “blonde bombshell.”

KITTY: “I was reading a book the other day.”

CARLOTTA: “Reading a book?!”

KITTY: “Yes. It’s about civilization or something. A nutty kind of book. Do you know that the guy says that machinery is going to take the place of every profession?”

CARLOTTA: “Oh, my dear, that’s something you never need worry about.”

Jean Harlow as “Kitty” and Marie Dressler as “Carlotta” in “Dinner at Eight” (1933)
Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler in “Dinner at Eight.”

After the production code went into effect in mid-1934, Harlow’s on-screen image was toned down. She was still the brassy blonde, but she was no longer the sexpot. She didn’t slink around in silk bias cut gowns where it was very obvious she wasn’t wearing underwear. While she might have still been going commando under her costumes, the Harlow-character was now a different type of woman. In The Girl From Missouri, made in 1934 after the production code went into effect, had a storyline similar to Red-Headed Woman. Harlow’s character, Eadie, lives in Kansas City and desperately wants to leave her home, complete with an abusive stepfather, behind. She decides to move to New York City to search for a millionaire. If The Girl From Missouri had come out earlier, Harlow’s character would have probably acted more brazenly in pursuit of her millionaire. The production code version of this film features a tamer, more common rom-com plot.

TR: “You want to scratch me off your list. I’m not a ladies’ man.”

EADIE: “Oh, Mr. Paige. Don’t be such a pessimist.”

Franchot Tone as “TR” and Jean Harlow as “Eadie” in “The Girl From Missouri” (1934).

Both The Girl From Missouri and 1936’s Libeled Lady, feature a common production code Jean Harlow character, the sassy girl who is a bit gaudy and unsophisticated, but has charm in spades. Libeled Lady is the first film Harlow made where she does not sport her trademark platinum blonde hair. By this point, the harsh peroxide and bleach had led to Harlow’s hair resembling straw. It eventually started to fall out in clumps. Alarmed at her hair loss, Harlow understandably ceased the bleach treatments and reverted to her own hair color, or she would wear wigs. In addition to Harlow, Libeled Lady features three of MGM’s other big stars: Spencer Tracy, William Powell, and Myrna Loy.

WARREN: “Gladys, do you want me to kill myself?”

GLADYS: “Did you change your insurance?”

Spencer Tracy as “Warren” and Jean Harlow as “Gladys” in “Libeled Lady” (1936).
The cast of “Libeled Lady,” L to R: William Powell, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy.

In 1934, Harlow and Powell started dating. At some point they became engaged, but did not marry before Harlow’s death. Powell had gifted Harlow an enormous star sapphire ring and was truly devoted to her. Had Harlow not died so young, it’s interesting to think about whether Harlow and Powell would have married. Would their marriage have lasted? Sadly, we’ll never know because by the beginning of 1937, it was the beginning of the end for Harlow. She was cast in the film Saratoga again with Gable. She would not complete the film. In March, she developed sepsis after having her wisdom teeth extracted. After a brief hospitalization, she resumed filming.

In May, Harlow complained of symptoms–fatigue, nausea, fluid retention and abdominal pain, but sadly the studio doctor didn’t seem to think there were any issues (Really, doc?). He diagnosed her with a gallbladder infection and the flu. Whether Harlow’s life would have been prolonged or even saved were she diagnosed correctly, is hard to say. It is apparent though that she was already suffering from kidney failure and with dialysis not being a thing and antibiotics still in their infancy, most likely Harlow was doomed. At the end of May, she filmed a scene in which her character is suffering from a fever. Harlow did not need to act to do this scene. She was very very ill and had to lean against Gable for support. William Powell was called to escort Harlow home. She never returned to the set.

On the evening of June 6, 1937, Harlow slipped into a coma. She died the next morning just after 11:30am.

As a child, Marilyn Monroe idolized Jean Harlow.

Harlow’s death is tragic. Who knows what she could have done had she lived a long life? I would have loved to have seen Harlow continue with her more natural appearance. She would get rid of the pencil-thin high arched eyebrows. I could see her with longer hair. I would have loved to have seen Harlow in a film noir. Let’s hope that when she reached her 40s in the 1950s, that she didn’t adopt the awful poodle cut that so many of her peers did and aged them 15-20 years in the process. Perhaps in the 1950s, Harlow could have worked with a young actress who idolized her–Marilyn Monroe. Monroe worshipped Harlow as a child and tried to emulate her, complete with the platinum blonde hair.

I love Jean Harlow. She is a legend. While Harlow continues to end up on lists of stars who died tragically young, her legacy is so much more. Harlow is the original blonde bombshell. She established the blueprint for the sassy, sometimes brassy, va va voom blonde who inevitably will win the heart of the leading man of the film. After Harlow’s breakthrough in Platinum Blonde, many other platinum blonde starlets popped up: Alice Faye, Ida Lupino, Bette Davis, Joan Blondell, Ginger Rogers, even Joan Crawford sported the look for awhile! But only Harlow persists as the ultimate platinum blonde. Marilyn Monroe might share the platinum blonde mantel, but Harlow is the original.

“I wasn’t born an actress, you know. Events made me one.” -Jean Harlow

The Disaster Blogathon- “On the Beach” (1959)

Gregory Peck was vehemently against nuclear war and believed strongly that atomic weapons should not have been used against Japan during World War II. Peck’s strong beliefs were one of the main reasons why he agreed to appear in On the Beach. Even in the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan revealed his defense missile system, Peck did not hesitate to voice his opposition. He made it a point during his lifetime to advocate against the use of nuclear weapons.

The opening title card of “On the Beach.”

On the Beach is a film that demonstrates the devastation that nuclear weaponry can cause–even to those who weren’t the main targets. The folks depicted in this film are collateral damage, innocent bystanders, if you will. These people were just living their lives until World War III broke out in 1964. During this war, nuclear weapons were used, leading to the Northern Hemisphere being destroyed due to radiation. All the survivors fled to the Southern Hemisphere, mainly Australia, where the area was still habitable. Life seems to be going well for awhile, until it is discovered that the radiation is slowly making its way to Australia.

Gregory Peck portrays Captain Dwight Towers, an American who operates the USS Sawfish submarine. The USS Sawfish was submerged during the initial radiation fallout and emerges in Melbourne, Australia. Dwight begins to ingratiate himself into the Melbourne community. He quickly meets and befriends Royal Australian Navy Lieutenant Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins). He and his wife are trying to make a life for themselves in Melbourne with their newborn daughter, Jennifer. Dwight also meets the world weary, cynical, but romantic Moira Davidson (Ava Gardner). Dwight is quick to tell Moira that he’s married and has a son, but he is harboring a secret. Moira and Dwight attend a party where her ex-beau, scientist Julian Osborn (Fred Astaire), is drunkenly holding court.

Peter Holmes (Anthony Perkins) and his wife Mary (Donna Anderson) react to Julian Osborn’s (Fred Astaire) doomsday proclamation that they’re all going to die soon.

Up until the party, the film has an uncomfortable vibe. There is something going on in the community, something causing anxiety, fear, and worry. However, up until this point, nothing is explicitly said. Then a drunken Julian blurts out the bad news: the radiation is slowly creeping up on Melbourne and its citizens will be dead within months–there’s nothing that can be done. Everyone is doomed. Melbourne is one of the last places in the world where humanity can survive. This is an end of the world scenario. Humanity will cease to exist. As one can imagine, Julian’s doom and gloom outburst kills the party. Moira is drunk. Julian is obviously drunk. She explains to Dwight that they’re collectively known as the town drunks.

JULIAN: “Who would have ever believed that human beings would be stupid enough to blow themselves off the face of the Earth?”

Fred Astaire as “Julian Osborn” in On the Beach (1959)

Peter’s wife, Mary (Donna Anderson), understandably has a hard time coping and accepting the news. She is in denial and keeps trying to go about her day as if she had many more ahead of her. Peter on the other hand, is more pragmatic and manages to get a doctor to give him and his family (including his newborn) a lethal amount of sleeping pills so that they can commit suicide rather than face sickness from radiation poisoning. If this film wasn’t bleak enough, the idea that two parents would have to administer a lethal dose of pills to murder their baby is pretty dark. This is not a silly disaster film.

Fred Astaire, Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner in “On the Beach.”

Eventually, there’s a glimmer of hope when a faint signal is detected off the coast of San Francisco in the United States. Dwight, Peter, Julian, and the crew of the USS Sawfish embark on a journey to see if there is life somewhere else–another world that they and their loved ones can relocate to and thrive. However, the hope was just that, a glimmer. As the film wears on, the characters in the film begin to accept their fate and start being proactive to make the process as painless as possible.

This is a very bleak and depressing film. There are no funny monsters. No outrageous natural disasters. This is a man-made problem that could very well happen–which makes it more terrifying. Every character deals with their inevitable fate in their own way. However, the scene between Mary and Peter, when Mary finally accepts what is going to happen, especially what is going to happen to their newborn baby, is absolutely heartbreaking. It might be the saddest scene in the film which is saying a lot because this film is just one sad, painful scene after another. The action in this film is very relatable in anyone’s life. While it might not be the threat of nuclear annihilation, the idea that one person’s or a group of people’s actions could completely ruin or end (!) another person or people’s lives is a very real thing that can happen. It happens everywhere, everyday.

Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner dance the night away.

One scene that I enjoyed was the very bittersweet, romantic, yet mournful rendition of “Waltzing Matilda” juxtaposed with a scene of Moira and Dwight engaged in a deep, passionate kiss, while the camera twirls around them. In other films, this scene would be a sign of joy, of romance–not in On the Beach. The characters and the audience know that there will not be many more moments like this in Moira and Dwight’s future.

MOIRA: “There isn’t time. No time to love…nothing to remember…nothing worth remembering.”

Ava Gardner as “Moira Davidson” in On the Beach (1959)

Gregory Peck plays one of his usual stoic, strong characters who has to guide everyone through the film and provide support. However, his character’s personal trauma lends a layer of vulnerability, and hope, even if bittersweet. Anthony Perkins also plays one of his usual nervous characters; but in this film his character is just sad. He is trying to do his job, but it’s easy to see that his heart isn’t entirely in it, as he knows what fate awaits his family. The real revelations in this film were the performances of Fred Astaire and Ava Gardner.

Fred Astaire delivers a tortured performance.

On the Beach was Fred Astaire’s first foray into dramatic acting. This film is not a typical Fred Astaire vehicle. He doesn’t sing. He doesn’t tap. He doesn’t wear tails. The Fred Astaire in this film is bitter, reflective, angry, and tired. This is a tortured man. He’s tired of being blamed for the nuclear war because he’s a scientist. He regrets having helped design and build these atomic weapons. Throughout the entire film, Astaire’s character drinks excessively and chain-smokes. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Fred Astaire call someone “an ass.”

JULIAN: “The war started when people accepted the idiotic principle that peace could be maintained by arranging to defend themselves with weapons they couldn’t possibly use without committing suicide.”

Fred Astaire as “Julian Osborn” in On the Beach (1959)
Ava Gardner’s performance was fantastic in this film.

Ava Gardner’s performance in On the Beach was also fantastic. This is a cynical woman. She’s upset (as anyone would be, presumably) that she is going to die. And soon! She has so much life that she hasn’t lived yet. She’s not in denial about the radiation poisoning. She knows that it’s inevitable. However, in the meantime, she’s going to live it up. When Ava’s character, Moira, meets Gregory Peck’s Dwight, she falls in love with him. However, things are complicated at first when he says that he is married and has children. She doesn’t want to live out her last days as a homewrecker. However, when she learns the truth, she’s even more conflicted. Moira and Dwight though are the film’s great love affair. Both realize that if they’re going to die, they may as well go out on a high note. It’s bittersweet that Moira and Dwight have both finally found happiness, even if it will ultimately be short-lived.

I recommend On the Beach to anyone who wants to watch four great performances while also watching one of the most depressing films that I’ve ever seen. What makes this film even more depressing is that its premise is not inconceivable. While the film is fictional, nuclear weapons and radiation is very real. What would we do? How would we handle it?

MOIRA: “When a dentist is drilling your tooth, what do you think about? The nicest thing or sex or what?”
DWIGHT: “Fishing. Trout Fishing–in a clean mountain stream.”

The Corman-Verse Blogathon- “The Raven” (1963)

I have to admit that I don’t know a lot about Roger Corman. What I do know about him, is that he is very prolific and very influential. He was instrumental in producing and directing a lot of American International Pictures’ (AIP) best campy horror films, often starring Vincent Price. Other horror icons, such as Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Basil Rathbone also turned up in AIP’s horror films, with Price in the lead and Corman at the helm. In the 1960s, Cormon and Price brought seven different Edgar Allan Poe tales to the big screen. One of these films, is the very campy adaptation of Poe’s 1845 poem, “The Raven.”

The film opens as Poe’s poem does:

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary.

Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping.

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.

“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door.

Only this and nothing more.”

Edgar Allan Poe “The Raven” (1845), recited by Vincent Price in “The Raven” (1963)
Two legends of horror and Classic Hollywood: Peter Lorre and Vincent Price

The film takes place at the turn of the 16th century in 1506. Vincent Price’s character, sorcerer Dr. Erasmus Craven is mourning the death of his wife Lenore. She has been gone for over two years, and Erasmus’ daughter, Estelle (Olive Sturgess) wishes that her father would move on. One evening, Erasmus is visited by Dr. Bedlo (Peter Lorre), a wizard, who has been transformed into a raven. Dr. Bedlo begs Erasmus to help him transform back into his normal form. He gives Erasmus a simple list of ingredients: dried bat’s blood, jellied spiders, chain links from a gallow’s bird, rabbit’s lard, dead man’s hair, just your normal run-of-the-mill pantry staples. Erasmus looks at Dr. Bedlo in disgust.

ERASMUS: “No, we don’t keep those things in the house. We’re vegetarians.
DR. BEDLO: “And that calls himself a magician. Honestly, this is too much!”

Vincent Price as Dr. Erasmus Craven and Peter Lorre as Dr. Bedlo in “The Raven” (1963)

The magic fight between Vincent Price and Boris Karloff in all its glory

Erasmus ends up taking Dr. Bedlo down to his deceased father’s laboratory–a laboratory that has sat unused for over 20 years. As Dr. Bedlo waits patiently, Erasmus looks through his father’s old chemicals. This scene allows for the seemingly squeamish Erasmus to come across ingredients that are either repulsive (e.g. a box of eyeballs), and other funny ingredients that Dr. Bedlo scoffs at, as they don’t belong in his recipe. Eventually Erasmus ends up finding all the ingredients and concocts a very powerful looking potion. Dr. Bedlo, still in his raven-form, drinks the potion excitedly. However, Erasmus didn’t make enough and the potion only takes effect part-way. Dr. Bedlo only semi-transforms back into his normal form. It is in this scene where we get the delightful imagery of Peter Lorre wearing a raven costume. He has a human head and a bird body.

Father Peter Lorre and Son Jack Nicholson

Dr. Bedlo implores Erasmus to make more potion so he can complete his transformation. However, the two men discover that they have run out of a crucial ingredient–dead man’s hair. There’s only one thing to do of course–go to the cemetery and get more hair. Eventually Dr. Bedlo is transformed into his normal form. He then explains to Erasmus that he was initially transformed by Dr. Scarabus (Boris Karloff) in an unfair duel. Dr. Bedlo also tells Erasmus that he saw the ghost of Lenore (Hazel Court). Intrigued, Erasmus and Dr. Bedlo set off for Scarabus’ castle, with Estelle and Bedlo’s son, Rexford (Jack Nicholson). It is at this point when we can laugh at the idea of Jack Nicholson being Peter Lorre’s son.

Vincent Price takes his shot in the magic fight

The gang arrive at Scarabus’ castle. After a variety of mishaps and revelations, the visit culminates with an amazing magic fight between Erasmus and Scarabus. The scene of Vincent Price and Boris Karloff fighting each other with magic, using 1963 special effects, makes the film worth the watch.

Boris Karloff fires back with his magic

This film is so ridiculous. It is very funny and very campy. Do not go into this movie expecting something revelatory. Go into it expecting the absurd. Just go with whatever happens and you will not be disappointed. I absolutely love Vincent Price’s voice. He recites a few passages from Poe’s poem and it is mesmerizing. I wish he were around today to record audio books. He could make any story sound ominous and compelling. Can you imagine if Price had read something like “Little Women” or “The Great Gatsby” ? Peter Lorre also provides the dialogue for the raven. I love that it is just him talking and not someone trying to impersonate a bird’s voice. Lorre has some pretty funny lines.

ERASMUS: “Shall I ever see the rare and radiant Lenore again?”
DR. BEDLO (in raven form): “How the hell should I know?”

Vincent Price as Dr. Erasmus Craven and Peter Lorre as Dr. Bedlo in “The Raven” (1963)

Boris Karloff was excellent as the villain, but I cannot help but think of The Grinch every time he speaks. He has an amazing speaking voice as well, as does Peter Lorre. These three would have made an amazing team recording audio books. It is absolutely fascinating seeing a young Jack Nicholson in this film. His trademark grin is present, but his voice is completely different. If I hadn’t known that this was Nicholson, I’m not sure that I would recognize him. He definitely evolved as an actor by the time that Chinatown (1974) rolled around.

I recommend this film to anyone who loves campy horror movies, Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, Edgar Allan Poe, and/or wants to see a 26-27 year old Jack Nicholson, pre-Easy Rider, pre-Chinatown… and my personal favorite, pre-Tommy.

Quoth the Raven: “Nevermore.”

Aviation in Film Blogathon- “Dive Bomber” (1941)

Errol Flynn and Fred MacMurray bond over altitude suits and cigarettes.

I will just throw this out there right now, if Dive Bomber (1941) did not feature my man, Errol Flynn, it’s more than likely that I would not have watched this film. While I don’t mind WWII films, I’m not particularly interested in films that depict the war aspect of the war. I’m more interested in stories about the homefront, or at least a central story that takes place adjacent to the war scenes. And one type of war film, I’m especially not that interested in, are stories about planes, tanks, submarines, or other war-related machines. With that said, the central story of Dive Bomber is interesting, as it deals with the effects of being a pilot and the efforts taken to combat a common issue, altitude sickness.

However, let’s be real here. I watch Dive Bomber because it features Errol Flynn wearing a myriad of different uniforms, and I am here for it.

I am here for Dr. Errol Flynn.

Dive Bomber starts off with a plane crash. A Navy pilot, Lieutenant “Swede” Larson, is practicing dive bomb maneuvers over the US Naval Base in Honolulu. During a high speed dive (from a high altitude), Swede blacks out (presumably from altitude sickness) and crash lands at the base. At the hospital, Swede’s colleague and friend, Lieutenant Commander Joe Blake (Fred MacMurray), is concerned that his friend will not survive. The US Navy Doctor, Lieutenant Doug Lee (Flynn) convinces the senior surgeon to operate. During the operation, Swede dies. Blake, distraught over the death of his friend and convinced that the operation was done in haste, blames Lee for Swede’s death.

This incident convinces Lee to become a flight surgeon. He relocates to the US Naval Station in San Diego to start his training. He goes through a rigorous course and is trained by a myriad of different Navy personnel, including his nemesis, Blake. After completing the program, Lee is promoted to the position of Assistant Flight Surgeon to Senior Flight Surgeon, Commander Lance Rogers (Ralph Bellamy). Rogers is working on developing a solution for combating altitude sickness. We observe multiple pilots, including Blake, being grounded due to failing their recent physicals. The film makes it appear that pilots who regularly fly at high altitudes seem to have a shelf life of sorts, and there comes a point for every pilot when he’s no longer in good enough physical condition to fly. I’m not up on the technical aspects of aviation and military protocol, but that’s what I assumed.

Ralph Bellamy and Errol Flynn

Much of the film involves Lee, Rogers, and Blake performing various tests trying to determine the altitude at which pilots start to black out, and how the aircraft itself is affected when the oxygen level and temperature start to fall. The men develop a harness and later a flight suit that help to provide oxygen to the pilot when he starts his ascent into higher altitudes. I find the scenes of them testing the harness to be funny, because it basically looks like a rubber version of what sumo wrestlers wear. The flight suit resembles something a scuba diver would wear, which makes sense, since scuba divers would deal with oxygen and water pressure issues.

Fred MacMurray and Errol Flynn vie for Alexis Smith’s attention

Outside of the main storyline involving altitude sickness, the subplot of the film involves the rivalry between Lee and Blake. Aside from the grudge that Blake holds against Lee for causing the death of his friend (or so Blake thinks), Lee also seems to beat Blake to the punch when it comes to women. Blake meets a young divorcee, Linda (Alexis Smith), and thinks he’s found a hot number to date. However, Linda is already acquainted with Lee previously, so she’s excited to see him when he shows up at the same party Blake is attending. This incident only increases the tension between the two men, which at first affects their altitude sickness experiments. It was fun seeing Ralph Bellamy in a role where he isn’t just the schmuck boyfriend, cast aside by the leading lady for the more dashing leading man. Bellamy’s character plays a crucial role in the plot of this film. There is also an annoying sub-subplot involving Allen Jenkins’ character being hunted down constantly by his ex-wife. At one point, he fakes quarantine to get away from her. It’s not very funny though and completely unnecessary to the overall film.

While I don’t know entirely how accurate Dive Bomber‘s depiction of WWII, the Navy, altitude sickness, and all that is, I do find this film enjoyable as a whole. Though like I said, if the film did not star my favorite actor, Errol Flynn, I don’t know that I would have made a point to see this film. The film is worth watching however, if only to see the gorgeous Technicolor photography and to watch a unique war film that deals with the very real issue of altitude sickness. I also enjoy films that feature current technology, as it’s fun to see what was considered cutting edge at that time.

::Sigh::