CMBA Spring Blogathon, “Fun in the Sun”–Sandra Dee

Sandra Dee in “Gidget”

If there was ever someone that I would associate with summer, it would be Sandra Dee as Francie “Gidget” Lawrence in Gidget. Gidget is the film that served as the catalyst for one of my personal favorite subgenres–the teen beach movie. While some teen beach movies like Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello’s Beach Party movies can be pretty silly, formulaic, and ridiculous (though I enjoy them), others such as Gidget and Where the Boys Are (1960) strike a nice balance between silly and more serious topics. At its core, Gidget is a coming-of-age story about a young girl on the cusp of adulthood, learning about life and love during the pivotal summer between her junior and senior year of high school.

At the start of Gidget, we meet 17-year old Francie. She along with her friends (including a pre-Batgirl Yvonne Craig), are going on a “man hunt” at the beach. Francie’s friends pressure her to go along with them, stating that she doesn’t want to go into her senior year still a virgin (obviously they aren’t explicit in this point). The girls try hard to attract the boys, resorting to strutting around in bathing suits (including Craig’s horribly unflattering white bikini complete with granny panty bottoms), and tossing a ball around (which looks pretty dull to me, btw) while “accidentally” overthrowing it in the boys’ direction. For their part, the boys are watching the girls’ antics more as amusement than being seduced by them. They even laugh at poor Francie, who 1) is obviously less buxom than her friends; and 2) is clumsy and seemingly more childlike. Francie is only half-heartedly participating, as she is more interested in snorkeling than doing dumb things to attract the surfer boys.

James Darren, Sandra Dee, and Cliff Robertson in “Gidget”

Eventually, Francie insinuates herself into the group of surfer boys. She is immediately crushing on a college boy, Moondoggie (James Darren). She teaches herself how to surf and soon is just one of the “guys” in the surf gang. The boys bestow Francie with a new nickname, “Gidget.” Gidget is a portmanteau of “girl” and “midget.” While I don’t know if that’s entirely the most flattering nickname, it does demonstrate that the boys have accepted Gidget into their group. Moondoggie is charmed by Gidget’s innocence and sweet demeanor and becomes protective over her. Eventually Moondoggie asks Gidget to wear his college pin–essentially asking her to be his girlfriend. At the end of the film, Gidget’s friends are still single and Gidget has been pinned, solely because she chose to be herself and let her relationship with Moondoggie evolve naturally. Her friends on the other hand, were trying too hard and were unsuccessful. And while I think it’s safe to say that Gidget and her friends are all still virgins at the end, Gidget is the one who has ultimately prevailed in the “man hunt” and she’ll be entering her senior year as the girlfriend to a college man.

Sandra Dee’s dark brown eyes were one of her biggest assets

Dee was perfect casting for the wide-eyed, somewhat awkward Gidget. Her large, dark brown eyes conveyed so much vulnerability and innocence. While Dee might not have been outwardly glamorous or sexy, a la peers like Tuesday Weld or Ann-Margret, she very much fits the girl next door aesthetic. She seems approachable and someone with whom you can easily identify. However, Dee’s innocent persona also led to her being labeled as virginal and a goody goody, thanks to a popular tune from Grease (1978), in which bad girl Rizzo croons, “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee.”

Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee
Lousy with virginity
Won’t go to bed, ’til I’m legally wed
I can’t, I’m Sandra Dee.”

Stockard Channing as “Rizzo” in Grease (1978)

However, these lyrics aren’t fair to Dee. Much like the older Doris Day who was also similarly labeled as “virginal,” she regularly stepped out of this persona. Even in Gidget, Gidget laments to her mother that she’s still “pure as the driven snow” after her attempt to hook up with Moondoggie at the luau aka “the orgy” fails–though they do kiss, for what it’s worth. I found it interesting that Gidget would openly lament her virginity with her mother, because really, who wants to discuss that with their mom? In 1963, four years after Gidget, audiences would see Dee again lament to her parents that she was still a virgin, in the very sunny Take Her, She’s Mine.

Sandra Dee in “Take Her She’s Mine.”

Take Her, She’s Mine co-stars Dee with James Stewart, who by this time had transitioned into my personal favorite era in his career, “the fussy dad period.” Stewart plays Dee’s father, Frank, who laments that his daughter, Mollie (Dee), has grown up and become “a dish.” We see Mollie strutting her stuff in a bikini, preparing to dive into the family pool in front of her co-ed group of friends. The film then segues into the main plot–Mollie is going away for college and Frank becomes concerned about the perceived “grown-up” activities that she’s getting herself involved in.

Mollie attends two different colleges in Take Her, She’s Mine. At the beginning of the film, she’s taken to the airport where she’s flying across the country to the East Coast where she’s starting college. College seemingly starts well for Mollie, except that she’s still a virgin after being at college for a few weeks. She laments her lack of “action” to her parents in a letter home. Because it’s 1962-1963, Mollie gets heavily involved in activism–participating in sit-ins, protests, and other activities which get her arrested more than once. Mollie ends up being expelled from the college, presumably because of her grades. She spends her summer at home, working on her true passion, painting. We see “the dish” Mollie, out in the sun, decked out in her bikini and sun hat, painting an abstract depiction of her family’s home. Mollie’s art talents ultimately lead to her being granted a scholarship to study art in Paris. There is an amusing scene where Mollie interviews with the representative from the college while in her bikini.

Sandra Dee is a dish in “Take Her, She’s Mine”

Again, Mollie is off to college, this time to Paris. While in Paris, Mollie falls in love with a hunky Parisian, Henri. Frank is highly concerned about his daughter’s relationship with a Frenchman. However, Mollie and Henri make a cute couple. We see Mollie on the banks of the Seine River, working on her painting while Henri looks on. Henri and Mollie are genuinely in love. In this relationship, it is unknown how far their relationship has gone, but it is easy to imagine that they could have already consummated their relationship, seeing that they have a few makeout sessions. They marry by the end of the film, so it’s safe to say that Mollie is “all grown-up” at the end.

While Take Her, She’s Mine might not feature the sun in the same way that Gidget does, in this film, Dee has such a bright, sunny personality and vivacious demeanor, that it’s easy to see why father Stewart would be so nervous. In this film, Dee is a little more mature than she was four years prior in Gidget. By 1963, Dee was 21 years old, and had been married to Bobby Darin for 3 years and was mother to a 2-year old child. She’s a little less vulnerable in this film, she seems more worldly, more confident. This film serves as a coming-of-age story for both Mollie and Frank, as Mollie learns how to live as an adult in the world and Frank learns how to let his daughter live her life and make her own decisions. Mollie can’t always be protected by Frank and Frank won’t always be there to protect Mollie.

Both Gidget and Take Her, She’s Mine feature Dee as a young woman who wants to grow up and sees losing her virginity as a sign that she’s grown. In both of these films, neither of Dee’s characters seem all that concerned about the possible repercussions of losing her virginity. While there doesn’t need to be a punishment, of course, both Gidget and Mollie see the loss of her virginity in a more positive light, a rite of passage. However, during the same year that Dee played the innocent Gidget, she also played another young woman dealing with sex, another character named Molly in A Summer Place.

Sandra Dee and Troy Donahue in “A Summer Place.”

A Summer Place is an amazing film. I love it for the sheer melodrama. This film has everything. The crux of the film though, is the relationship between Molly and Johnny (Troy Donahue), two teenagers who fall in love. Molly, bless her heart, comes from two very different parents–the easygoing and progressive Ken (Richard Egan), and the puritanical shrew, Helen (Constance Ford). Ken is realistic that his daughter is growing up and it is inevitable that she’ll start having sexual feelings. Helen on the other hand, wants to obscure her daughter’s growing figure with restrictive undergarments. She is obsessed with protecting her daughter’s virtue and even goes as far as to force her to submit to a humiliating physical examination. Johnny and Molly spend the night together (chastely) on an island after their row boat capsizes. Helen is convinced that they obviously had sex. She enlists her doctor to inspect Molly, presumably to ensure her hymen is still intact.

If the humiliating and incredibly invasive physical examination weren’t enough, Helen is constantly on everyone’s case about the teenagers’ burgeoning relationship and obsessive assertions that they’re sleeping together. Molly and Johnny are very much in love and struggle to be together in spite of Helen’s interference. Eventually, they do have sex and Molly ends up pregnant. And while it’s definitely not fair that Molly is punished for engaging in premarital sex, it definitely lends to the drama. Molly has to deal with the shame of being an unmarried, pregnant teenage mother–a shame instilled in her by her mother and society. Eventually, Molly and Johnny marry, saving Molly the stigma of being an unwed mother, and also giving her baby a name.

Sandra Dee’s amazing hat with built-in sunglasses in “A Summer Place.” I’ll never miss a chance to post this photo.

In A Summer Place, Dee’s deep brown eyes give her this vulnerability. She’s a little more worldly than Gidget, but not quite as mature as Mollie in Take Her, She’s Mine. Dee’s Molly in A Summer Place, wants to explore these new sexual feelings, but has to live in an environment where sex is both treated as a sin and as a natural human urge. Molly is conflicted, she wants to act on these feelings with Johnny, a boy whom she loves. But she also doesn’t want to have to deal with her mother who has drilled it into her that sex is bad. The summer setting in this film only adds to the conflict. For whatever reason, summer seems to be the perfect setting for a love story–the beautiful sunshine, the beautiful ocean setting, all in all a very romantic setting. Add in the teenage hormones and two beautiful teenagers, and you have the perfect setting for an intense melodrama.

Between Gidget, A Summer Place, and Take Her She’s Mine, Sandra Dee’s virginal status runs the gamut between wanting to lose her virginity as a rite of passage to still wanting to lose her virginity, but because she’s an adult. In between, Dee deals with the physical and social repercussions of actually acting upon losing her virginity. For an actress seemingly synonymous with being virginal, Dee spent a lot of summers preoccupied with sex.

Molly’s loving mother in “A Summer Place”

National Classic Movie Day! Four Favorite Film Noir

Tomorrow, May 16, is National Classic Movie Day. Even though for me, everyday is National Classic Movie Day, tomorrow is “official.” It would be wonderful if the spotlight on classic film brings about a new crop of fans. While classic films still seem to be a bit of a niche interest, at least on Twitter, it feels like new classic film fans are made every day. I have always loved classic film, and it makes up about 90% of my “new” movie viewing. After all, on TCM’s Private Screening series, Lauren Bacall was quoted as saying, “It’s not an old movie if you haven’t seen it.”

This year, the wonderful host at the Classic Film and TV Cafe, has asked bloggers to discuss four of their favorite film noir. Along with musicals, pre-code, and melodrama (“weepies” if you will), if there’s another type of movie I love, it’s film noir. While many film noir may have a formulaic plot, it is the combination of actors, director, cinematography, music, editing, etc. that can set one movie apart from another. It is always so satisfying to discover a “new” film noir, or any classic film really, and be surprised by a plot twist or ending. Narrowing my list down to four will be difficult; but I will try. I definitely have dozens of film noir that I absolutely love.

In no particular order:

#1 Detour (1945)
Starring: Tom Neal and Ann Savage
Director: Edgar G. Ulmer
Studio: PRC Pictures

Synopsis: The film opens with Al Roberts (Neal) hitchhiking. He ends up at a diner in Reno where he drowns his sorrows in a cup of coffee. It is obvious that something is bothering Al. Al’s disturbed mental state becomes further evident when another customer plays a song on the jukebox that reminds Al of his former life in New York City–a life that while not great, must have been better than whatever he is going through now. Al’s voiceover serves as the device that brings the audience back to the beginning of Al’s story.

In New York City, Al worked at a nightclub playing piano. He laments wasting his talents playing in a shabby club; however he puts up with it because he’s in love with the club’s singer, Sue Harvey (Claudia Drake). One evening, she announces that she’s quitting her job and moving to Hollywood to try and make it in Hollywood. Al is depressed about Sue’s departure and eventually decides to drive to California to propose to her. However, not having any money, Al has to resort to hitchhiking across the country.

While in Arizona, Al meets Charles Haskell, a bookie on his way to Los Angeles. On their way to the City of Angels, Haskell ends up dying. Not knowing what to do, Al ends up taking Haskell’s identification and car and continues his trip. After crossing over the California border, Al stops for gas. It is at the gas station when he meets the amazing Vera (Savage). At this point, Vera’s in charge and Al’s just along for the ride.

Why I Love Detour: I love Detour purely because of Ann Savage’s performance. Her performance is absolutely amazing. I love how she is onto Al from the get-go and she will make sure to take advantage of him every opportunity she gets. Al is complete mincemeat after Vera gets done with him. Another reason I love this film is because we really don’t know Al’s story. Is he truly innocent of all the events in the film? Or is he just trying to convince himself that he is? For a film that is barely over an hour long, it is a trip from start to finish. There is not a wasted moment. This film is also very low budget which I think adds to the entire aesthetic and feel to the movie.

If you are not familiar with Tom Neal, I highly recommend reading about him. He was 1/3 of the infamous love triangle involving girlfriend Barbara Payton and her fiance, actor Franchot Tone. Despite her relationship with Tone, Payton and Neal carried on their affair for months in the early 1950s. It came to an end briefly when Payton became engaged to Tone, but then she quickly resumed her affair with Neal. It all came to a head on September 14, 1951 when Neal and Tone got into an altercation over Payton. To say that Tone lost the fight would be a gross understatement. Neal pulverized Tone. Tone suffered a smashed cheekbone, a broken nose, and a concussion which resulted in his hospitalization. Despite this, Tone inexplicably still married Payton. Their union lasted a whole 53 days when Payton left Tone for Neal.

I feel like knowing this drama surrounding Tom Neal really lends to his performance as the unreliable narrator, Al Roberts, in Detour. I also really wish we had a prequel just about Vera. I would love to know about her life leading up to the events of Detour.

My queen, Ann Savage, and Tom Neal in Detour

Favorite Quote:

VERA: “Say, who do you think you’re talking to… a hick? Listen mister, I’ve been around, and I know a wrong guy when I see one. What’d you do, kiss him with a wrench?


#2 The Locket (1946)
Starring: Laraine Day, Brian Aherne, Robert Mitchum, Gene Raymond
Director: John Brahm
Studio: RKO

Synopsis: The Locket is a film with a very interesting flashback within a flashback within a flashback narrative structure. The film starts with a wedding. Nancy (Day) is set to marry her second husband, John Willis (Raymond). Before the ceremony starts, Dr. Harry Blair (Aherne) arrives at the Willis home, requesting to speak with John. John acquiesces and the two men retire to another room. Alone, Harry tells John that he is Nancy’s first husband. He warns John that his bride is a kleptomaniac, murderer, and chronic liar. She has never been punished for any of her crimes.

The film then segues into a flashback featuring Nancy as a child. As a child, Nancy lived with her mother in the Willis estate. Her mother worked as a maid for the Willis family. Nancy’s best friend, Karen Willis, has a birthday party one afternoon, and her snooty mother does not invite the “low class” Nancy. Karen, feeling bad for Nancy, opts to gift her a locket. Mrs. Willis is outraged, stating that the locket was expensive and it wasn’t Karen’s place to give it away. Mrs. Willis takes the locket back. Later, the locket goes missing and Nancy is accused of its theft. Insulted, Nancy’s mother sticks up for her daughter. This leads to Mrs. Willis firing Nancy’s mother. She and Nancy move out. This incident is a formative event in Nancy’s life. From here on out, she steals anything she wants, rationalizing that it doesn’t matter because she’ll be blamed regardless.

Subsequent flashbacks involve Nancy’s relationship with an artist, Norman Clyde, and her marriage to Harry, and the events leading up to her wedding to John.

Why I love The Locket. This film has such an unusual narrative structure. I’ve read complaints about the complicated plot, but I like it. It’s such a unique film and I love seeing Laraine Day as an absolute sociopath. I love the ending scene. I felt that this film was adept at showing how childhood trauma can affect a person well into adulthood. I also love the vibe of this movie. What’s also fascinating about this film is that Nancy is set to marry into the Willis family–the very same family that treated her so horribly when she was a child and were the root cause of her childhood trauma. It’s never explained in the film whether this was a calculated movie on Nancy’s part, or just a coincidence. It’s another interesting layer to the film’s plot line.

This screenshot perfectly captures the character of Nancy

Favorite Quote:

NANCY: How could I ever have liked you, Norman? Arrogant, suspicious, neurotic…
NORMAN: It isn’t neurotic to be jealous.
NANCY: It’s worse than neurotic to be jealous of a dead man.


#3 Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
Starring: Harry Belafonte, Robert Ryan, Ed Begley Sr., Shelley Winters, Gloria Grahame
Director: Robert Wise
Studio: United Artists

Synopsis: Burke (Begley Sr.) is a former policeman who was fired from his job when he refused to cooperate with state crime investigators. Desperate for money and wanting to stick it to his former employers, Burke comes up with a plan to rob a bank upstate (New York). If pulled off successfully, Burke stands to make a mint. To help him, he recruits ex-con and racist, Earle Slater (Ryan). Burke promises Slater $50,000 if he helps pull off the heist. Slater’s incentive for helping is his pride. He is unemployed and living with his girlfriend, Lorry (Winters). Lorry works as a waitress and is supporting herself and Slater financially. Living in the same apartment building as Slater and Lorry is Helen (Grahame), who tempts Slater in to a tryst while his girlfriend is out. Finally, in addition to Slater, Burke recruits Johnny Ingram (Belafonte), an African-American jazz musician who is also in hock to bookies for about $7,000. Despite being an all-around decent man, Ingram is desperate for money. It is explained that his wife divorced him and he lost custody of his daughter due to his gambling. Burke, Ingram and Slater work out the details for the heist. They work through every detail. However, threatening to undermine the entire venture is Slater’s absolute contempt and bigoted attitude toward Ingram.

Why I Love Odds Against Tomorrow: This film has an amazing message without being preachy. The ending is absolutely fantastic, I don’t want to say too much more about it, at the risk of ruining it. But it is well worth the 95-minute investment to get to this point. I also love the on-location cinematography. The grittiness of the New York City streets works perfectly with this very gritty film. Robert Ryan’s performance as the disgusting racist Earle Slater is fantastic. You absolutely despise him throughout the entire film. He is such a worm–even Shelley Winters (who plays a disgusting racist in A Patch of Blue) doesn’t deserve him. Gloria Grahame’s part isn’t really consequential to the overall plot, but she’s always a nice on-screen presence in a film noir. Harry Belafonte was fantastic in this film. I wish he’d made more movies. I especially love the cool jazz song that he performs. This film has an overall cool jazz score as well.

Robert Ryan, Ed Begley Sr., and Harry Belafonte during the COVID pandemic–err, pulling off the heist in Odds Against Tomorrow.

Favorite Quote:

SLATER: What you doin’ with such a big ol’ dog in New York?

BURKE: Never had a wife


#4 Jeopardy (1953)
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Barry Sullivan, Ralph Meeker
Director: John Sturges
Studio: MGM

Synopsis: Doug (Sullivan) and Helen Stilwin (Stanwyck) and their son Bobby, are on a road trip driving to Baja California, Mexico. They are planning on traveling to a remote fishing spot on the coastline and will camp while there. Shortly after arriving, Bobby decides to venture out onto a derelict jetty that juts out into the water. His foot becomes caught in some of the planks and Doug rescues him. While walking back to the beach, the jetty collapses, causing the wood piling to fall on Doug’s leg. Making matters worse is that the tide is starting to come in. Doug will drown if he can’t free his leg. Helen and Bobby try a variety of tactics, including a car jack, to free Doug, but to no avail. Estimating that he has about four hours before the tide fully comes in, Doug sends Helen into town for some rope and/or help.

Helen leaves in the car, leaving Bobby and Doug on the beach. Helen finds the gas station that she and Doug passed earlier and tries to get help or a rope. She manages to get some rope. She also comes across a hunky man, Lawson (Meeker). She explains her predicament and he gets into the car. Thinking that he’s accompanying her to offer to help Doug, she has no qualms about letting this stranger, albeit a hunky stranger, into her vehicle. It quickly becomes clear that Lawson is a dangerous escaped convict and he’s using Helen as a means to escape. At one point during their “trip,” Helen tells Lawson that she’s willing to do anything to save Doug.

Why I Love Jeopardy: First off, Ralph Meeker is hot hot in this movie. I wouldn’t have blamed Barbara Stanwyck for one second if she’d abandoned Barry Sullivan to run off with Meeker. This isn’t as well known a film noir title, but it is well worth a watch. Stanwyck always plays the tough as nails woman so well. I actually really like Barry Sullivan, especially in film noir. He’s fantastic in Suspense (1946) and Tension (1949). Ralph Meeker is excellent in this film. I can’t describe what it is that I find so appealing about Meeker. He has this primal quality about him and he always sounds like such a thug when he talks. I loved him in Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

Barbara Stanwyck and Ralph Meeker in “Jeopardy.”

Favorite Quote:

HELEN: I’ll do anything to save my husband…anything!


10 Honorable Mentions (I know this is cheating, lol):

  • The Hitch-Hiker (1953) Edmond O’Brien, Frank Lovejoy, William Talman. Dir. Ida Lupino
  • DOA (1950) Edmond O’Brien, Pamela Britton. Dir. Rudolph Mate
  • Angel Face (1952) Jean Simmons, Robert Mitchum, Mona Freeman. Dir. Otto Preminger
  • Phantom Lady (1944) Ella Raines, Franchot Tone, Elisha Cook Jr. Dir. Robert Siodmak
  • The Spiral Staircase (1946) Dorothy McGuire, George Brent, Ethel Barrymore. Dir. Robert Siodmak
  • Lured (1947) Lucille Ball, George Sanders, Charles Coburn. Dir. Douglas Sirk
  • Deadline, USA (1952) Humphrey Bogart, Ethel Barrymore, Kim Hunter. Dir. Robert Brooks
  • In a Lonely Place (1950) Humphrey Bogart, Gloria Grahame, Frank Lovejoy. Dir. Nicholas Ray
  • Too Late for Tears (1949) Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Arthur Kennedy. Dir. Byron Haskin
  • Cry Danger (1951) Dick Powell, Rhonda Fleming, Richard Erdman. Dir. Robert Parrish

#PreCodeApril2022 Film #3: Queen Christina (1933)

Garbo from a deleted scene in “Mata Hari.” She looks amazing in this scandalous dress!

Believe it or not, this was my second Greta Garbo film. My first was only a few weeks prior when I watched Mata Hari (1931). I’d seen clips of Garbo before and I just didn’t “get” her. Every clip of her, she seemed to be playing the same person–Greta Garbo. But then, I saw Mata Hari. While that wasn’t the greatest film, Garbo was fantastic. I “got” her. You couldn’t take your eyes off this woman. Even if she wasn’t the central part of the scene, I still watched her. When she wasn’t on-screen, I wanted her to come back. Where was Greta? Anyway, I decided to follow up Mata Hari with Queen Christina.

Queen Christina was a film that I’d heard about, mostly in the context of the androgynous nature of Garbo’s titular Queen Christina, the kiss Christina gives her lady-in-waiting, and the very scandalous scene between Garbo and John Gilbert in their mountain hotel room. But this film was so much more. I loved this movie, it was fantastic. I loved this movie so much that I actually bought the Greta Garbo Signature Collection box set on Amazon, just so I could own Queen Christina and see more of Garbo’s work. Not only did this box set come with all of Garbo’s biggest “talkie” films, it also came with her silents as well. I look forward to seeing more Garbo.

Queen Christina, 1933
Starring: Greta Garbo, John Gilbert, Lewis Stone, C. Aubrey Smith, Reginald Owen
Director: Rouben Mamoulian
Studio: MGM

SYNOPSIS: At the beginning of the film, we witness King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden killed in battle during the mid-17th century. His six year old daughter, Christina, ascends the throne. Presumably, the adult members of Christina’s court act as ruling monarchy until Christina is old enough to understand her responsibility to her country. Fast forward a couple decades and a now grown Christina (Garbo) is a beloved ruler of Sweden. Her subjects adore her and respect her devotion to her country. She very much strives for peace for Sweden, and is happy when the Thirty Years’ War comes to an end.

However, like so many of these movies go, the men of Christina’s court are concerned that Christina does not appear to be in a hurry to marry and produce an heir. Despite Christina’s accomplishments and power in Sweden, she apparently isn’t anyone until she’s produced an heir. Presumably Christina is pushing 30 which heightens the anxiety surrounding her lack of husband and children. Christina however, doesn’t agree that she needs to marry, and she especially does not want to marry the suitor her court picked out. I don’t blame her, her male advisors want her to marry the heroic Karl Gustav…who is also her cousin. Christina is not interested in Karl, and there’s a funny part later in the film where she sees a photo of Karl. She laughs and says “is that what he looks like?” in a mocking tone. Obviously Christina and Karl are not well acquainted despite being cousins.

John Gilbert as Antonio and Garbo as Queen Christina. I could watch Garbo eat grapes all day–never have grapes looked so good.

Christina’s attitude toward marrying changes though when she meets a Spanish Envoy by the name of Antonio (Gilbert). One day, after tiring of her restrictive life, Christina decides to sneak out of her castle and take a relaxing horse ride to a neighboring town. However, it starts snowing and she seeks refuge in a small inn. Because Christina is dressed in masculine attire, the innkeeper assumes that Christina is a man. He gives Christina the last room at the inn. When Antonio shows up also looking for lodging, the innkeeper appeals to Christina, aka “the man” to whom he rented the last room. When Christina sees Antonio she agrees. Even the chambermaid is flirting with Christina, thinking she’s an attractive man. Antonio feels uncomfortable looking at Christina as he feels attracted to a person whom he thinks is a man. When Christina starts to change out of her clothing to get ready for bed, Antonio is realized to discover that he’s crushing on a woman, not a man.

Even dressed like a pilgrim, Garbo looks amazing.

Christina and Antonio’s lust for one another cannot be contained and it can be assumed what they do that evening. The next morning, Antonio is informed that the snowfall will cause them to be snowed in for a few more days. Devastated (::wink:: ::wink::) Antonio and Christina continue their tryst. There’s a funny scene afterwards, presumably post-coital, where they feed each other fruit. Christina walks around the room caressing bedposts, still in ecstasy. Throughout their sexy evening, Christina never lets on that she’s Queen of Sweden.

MY THOUGHTS: I absolutely loved this movie. Garbo is absolutely gorgeous. Even when she’s supposedly being mistaken for a man, she’s absolutely breathtaking. I loved the costumes in this movie. I also hadn’t seen John Gilbert in a film and I can see why Garbo was smitten with him. He was adorable in this movie and I also learned that that rumor that his talkie career bombed because of his voice was not true at all. Gilbert’s voice was fine. I would hands down watch this movie again and I’m happy that I own it.

The famous scene between Queen Christina and her Lady-in-Waiting

#PreCodeApril2022 Film #2: Blonde Crazy (1931)

I followed up The Public Enemy with another James Cagney/Joan Blondell feature. These two make a good pairing. This was also a very entertaining film–and it made one thing clear, Joan Blondell knew how to slap!

Blonde Crazy, 1931
Starring: James Cagney, Joan Blondell, Louis Calhern, Ray Milland, Guy Kibbee
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Studio: Warner Brothers

SYNOPSIS: At the beginning of Blonde Crazy, we meet Bert Harris (Cagney), a bellboy who works at a midwestern hotel. One day, a young woman, Anne Roberts (Blondell) applies for a job at the hotel as a chambermaid. Bert takes an instant liking to Anne, and after some finangling, he scores her the job. Anne excels at her work as the chambermaid, but between Bert’s constant advances, and the other creepy male patrons of the hotel, she learns that there is more expected of her than just bringing more towels. This is where we see Blondell show off her considerable slapping skills.

After one particular heinous encounter with a wealthy patron, A. Rupert Johnson (Kibbee), which culminated in him groping Anne. Because he has taken a fancy to Anne and because he is a con artist, Bert suggests to Anne that they get back at Johnson by scamming him. They can extort money out of him and pay him back for harassing Anne. Anne is reluctant at first, but ultimately goes along with the plan. She and Johnson go out on a date. Bert pays a pal to pretend to be a cop and “catch” Johnson and Anne in a compromising position. In an effort to protect his reputation and keep from going to jail, Johnson pays the cop $5,000. The $5,000 goes to Bert and Anne, which they split 50/50.

Blondell in the bathtub

Anne and Bert decide to move to the more glamorous New York City, where they live the high life. One evening, they meet Dan Barker (Calhern) and his date. After getting to talking, Dan takes a liking to Bert and offers to cut him in on his counterfeiting scheme. All Dan needs is a $5,000 investment from Bert. Bert ends up giving Dan his and Anne’s money. Meanwhile, Anne has fallen in love with Bert, but is turned off by his constant desire to scam people instead of earning money legitimately. She ends up meeting and falling in love with an Englishman, Joe Reynolds (Milland).

MY THOUGHTS: I loved this movie. It was fun to see Cagney playing such a wacky character, though his “Honnnnnn-ey” catchphrase got a little tiring after a while. This was a very precode precode. There is a pretty sexy scene of Blondell bathing. And there was a funny scene of Cagney looking for money in Blondell’s bra. The scene culminates with him putting her bra over his eyes like a big pair of lacy glasses. This was a very funny film and I liked the plot with Cagney and Calhern. Milland was kind of dull, but his character was needed for the third act of the film.

Blondell really knew how to slap


#PreCodeApril2022 Film #1: The Public Enemy (1931)

I started off this year’s #PreCodeApril event on Twitter with one of the all-time great pre-code films, The Public Enemy (1931). This film is also one of the premier gangster films, and is the film that made James Cagney a star. It was also one of Jean Harlow’s first big parts. With all the hype surrounding the film and its massive starpower, it is amazing that it has eluded me until now. Of course, I knew about the famous grapefruit scene between Cagney and Mae Clarke. I just hadn’t seen the scene within the context of the film.

The Public Enemy (1931)

The Public Enemy, 1931
Starring: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Mae Clarke
Director: William A. Wellman
Studio: Warner Brothers

SYNOPSIS: The Public Enemy takes place over about a twenty year (give or take) span of time. At the beginning of the film, it’s the early 1900s. We meet our main characters, Tom Powers (Cagney) and his best friend, Matt Doyle (Woods), as children living in Chicago. The two boys are troublemakers and are seen engaging in petty theft around town. They work for a gangster named “Putty Nose.” Putty Nose has the boys steal small items, then he pays them for the items. Putty presumably then sells them for a higher price to someone else. Putty Nose then invites the boys to participate in a robbery at a fur warehouse. The heist goes awry when Tom is startled by a stuffed bear and shoots at it. His gunshot alerts the police to their presence, who end up shooting one of the members of Putty’s gang. Tom and Matt gun the police officer down. When the boys go to Putty for help, they discover that he’s left town. This incident establishes a grudge that Tom carries with him to adulthood.

Time passes and the two boys grow up. By 1920, with Prohibition in full swing, Tom and Matt are enlisted by a bootlegger to help distribute his illicit liquor. Tom and Matt are living the high life as bootleggers. They eventually get girlfriends, Kitty (Clarke) and Mamie (Blondell). Tom and Kitty quickly tire of one another. Their relationship reaches its bitter end (literally) when Tom pushes a grapefruit half into Kitty’s face. Eventually Tom meets another woman, Gwen (Harlow), who admits that she’s been with a lot of men. As time passes, Tom’s illicit activity and relationships with other noted members of the underground makes him the target of a rival gang.

James Cagney and Jean Harlow in “The Public Enemy.”

MY THOUGHTS: This was such an amazing film. At first I wasn’t sure what to think of it, I was just anticipating the grapefruit scene. But Cagney was mesmerizing on screen. Apparently, he was supposed to have the supporting role as Matt Doyle, with Edward Woods in the leading role as Tom. However, when the first day’s rushes came back, director William A. Wellman realized what charisma and starpower Cagney had and switched his and Woods’ roles. And while Woods may have been the loser in the deal, the world is richer for Wellman’s insight. Cagney is fantastic in this film and with a less interesting lead (read: Woods), the film might have been average at best. Cagney elevates the material. The ending was truly gruesome. I was not expecting it. Joan Blondell was excellent, even in her small role. She and Cagney make a delightful team. Harlow had flashes of what made her a big star, but it is obvious that she is still very early in her career. Having watched a few of Harlow’s pre-codes, she really comes to her own a year later in 1932 with Red-Headed Woman and Red Dust.

William Holden Blogathon–“Force of Arms” (1951)

April 17th will mark the 104th anniversary of William Holden’s birth. Holden is someone who I first became acquainted with when he appeared as himself on my personal favorite episode of I Love Lucy, and perhaps the best episode (imo)–“L.A. at Last!” or “Hollywood at Last!” as it’s also known. Holden’s episode is hysterical. The expression on his face when Lucy turns around after “fixing” her putty nose (“The California sun certainly makes your skin soft,” Lucy says) is hilarious and still makes me laugh no matter how many times I’ve seen it. Throughout the rest of the Ricardo and Mertz’s trip in California and even later in the series, multiple celebrities make reference to Holden and his having warned them about Lucy’s antics. For whatever reason, the idea that William Holden was running around Hollywood warning people like John Wayne about Lucy Ricardo is hilarious. I Love Lucy and William Holden also brought about one of my favorite quotes from the series:

MAN (to ETHEL): Pardon me. Are you sitting on John Wayne?

ETHEL: Who, me? No!

MAN: Are you positive?

LUCY: Positive. She’s sitting on Bill Holden. She’s president of the Bill Holden Fan Club, and once a year she comes here to sit on his signature.

“Lucy Visits Graumans,” I Love Lucy. Season 5, Ep. 1. Originally aired October 3, 1955
William Holden’s face in this scene is one of the all-time funniest parts of the entire series. I will never miss an opportunity to post this screen grab.

Anyway, my point in saying all of this was that for the longest time, I was only aware of William Holden by his appearance on my favorite show, and the constant references to him in the episodes leading up to and after his episode aired. I’d never seen one of his films before. I only knew him from I Love Lucy. Having not heard much about him, in comparison to the *big* Hollywood stars like Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis, Cary Grant, etc. I figured he was one of those stars who was big in their time, such as Tennessee Ernie Ford, who made multiple appearances on I Love Lucy.

Oh how I was wrong.

After becoming fully obsessed with I Love Lucy as a middle schooler, I learned that Lucille Ball had appeared in a film with Holden–Miss Grant Takes Richmond. I borrowed the VHS from the library and watched it. I found that film pretty funny, especially Lucy’s role, but didn’t find anything remarkable about Holden. In the film, he played a character very similar to how Holden portrayed himself on I Love Lucy. Some time passed before I saw Holden in another film. He didn’t jump out to me as someone whose films I just had to watch.

William Holden and Nancy Olson in their first appearance together in Sunset Boulevard.

Then I saw Sunset Boulevard.

My opinion on William Holden did a complete 180. In ‘Sunset,’ Holden was cynical, sarcastic, romantic, conniving, weary, compassionate, etc. etc. His performance in this film was so fantastic that I was hooked. Soon I ended up watching a lot of Holden movies: The Country Girl (the film he was promoting on I Love Lucy), Sabrina, Picnic, The Moon is Blue, Apartment for Peggy, Paris When it Sizzles, Network, Born Yesterday, Executive Suite… But one film that I watched that I really loved was Force of Arms, which premiered in 1951.

(Woo! Finally I made it to the entire point of this whole post.)

Nancy Olson as Eleanor “Ellie” MacKay and William Holden as Joe “Pete” Peterson in “Force of Arms.”

Force of Arms reunites William Holden with his ‘Sunset’ co-star, Nancy Olson. This was the third film out of four films that they starred in together. One part of ‘Sunset’ that I really enjoy is the relationship between Holden and Olson’s characters. Holden’s cynical yet romantic Joe Gillis does not get off to a good start when he first meets Olson’s Betty Schaefer. Joe, a screenwriter, and Betty, a script reader both work for Paramount Pictures. Joe walks into the office of a producer just to overhear Betty harshly criticizing Joe’s script. Later the two reunite at a New Years Eve party, and start working together on a new screenplay after Betty pitches some ideas to Joe as to how they can salvage his story. Throughout much of the film, Joe meets in secret with Betty while his employer (and perhaps keeper), Norma Desmond, sleeps. Joe and Betty have a cute relationship. They laugh, they share stories, they appreciate each other’s intelligence, and eventually they fall in love. And while things don’t work out for Holden and Olson’s characters in ‘Sunset,’ they fare much better in Force of Arms.

You cannot help but root for these crazy kids to make it.

Force of Arms takes place during World War II in Italy. Holden plays another character named Joe, this time Lieutenant Joe “Pete” Peterson who is part of the American 36th Infantry Division. After a hard fought battle in San Pietro, Joe and his division are given five days’ rest in a small Italian town. One evening, while walking through a cemetery, Joe meets WAC Lieutenant Eleanor “Ellie” MacKay (Olson). Joe tries to better make Ellie’s acquaintance, but is rebuffed because she is in no mood to be picked up while in a cemetery. Later, Joe and Ellie are reunited when he and his friend go to the post office to see if they’d received any correspondence from back home. It turns out that Ellie works at the post office. Earlier in the day, Joe had received a promotion from sergeant to lieutenant, and Ellie offers to buy him a celebratory drink. He accepts.

Joe and Ellie begin to spend more and more time together and grow closer as the movie progresses. However, despite how much Joe wants to be with Ellie, she keeps him at arm’s length as she’s afraid to fall in love again. It seems that she was previously engaged to another soldier and was deeply in love, but then he was killed in the war. She is too scared to fall in love as she doesn’t want to experience heartbreak again. However, her mind is changed when Joe’s leave is cut short. Not wanting to lose him, she agrees to marry him when he returns on his next leave.

I read some criticisms online about how the love story seems to be contrived and shoehorned into the plot in place of some more battle or war scenes. But I don’t care about that. Make love, not war!

The film then transitions into a bunch of battle scenes which usually don’t interest me. I love World War II era movies (or in this film’s case, films that take place during the war), but I am more interested in the homefront aspect–or if it directly involves the war aspect, there needs to be another storyline interwoven with the battle scenes. Thankfully, Force of Arms has a romance that is intermingled between the gunfire and carnage. Despite being involved in the very serious situation that is war, Joe remains determined to see Ellie again. Even after falling into a deep depression after the death of a friend and not wanting to see anyone, even Ellie, we know that true love will prevail–Ellie and Joe will be together again. Otherwise, what was the point of this movie?

Nancy Olson was the perfect person for the part of Ellie. Her cherubic face, her sweet demeanor. She is what brings hope to Holden’s bitter, cynical Joe. Were a harsher woman cast, Joan Crawford, for example, or Ida Lupino, I don’t think this film would be nearly as heart wrenching. Ellie is the perfect compliment for Joe. She can provide sympathy and warmth to an angry man. Ellie represents hope and happiness for Joe. No matter how nasty he acts towards her, she remains in love with him. Ellie is what keeps Joe from giving up all hope. She makes him want to live. When Ellie receives some shocking news about Joe, she is in disbelief. She cannot believe what she is being told. Ellie’s anguish is palpable.

This scene could have easily become overly dramatic and ridiculous; but it didn’t.

William Holden plays the type of character he became best known for in this film. Joe is a handsome everyman, who is just angry at himself, angry at the world. However, despite his bitterness, he never once becomes mopey. Never is Joe mean. He isn’t an unbearable person. He’s just disappointed. Upset. Depressed. Tired. Despite how cynical and jaded Joe is, there’s always this glimmer of hope. He knows that things can get better. Joe just needs some luck or an opportunity. Holden always manages to bring a charm and vulnerability to his roles. You can’t hate Joe. You can’t hate Holden.

While this might not be the greatest World War II-set romantic drama ever made, I loved this film when I first saw it. But I’m always a sucker for a genuinely romantic film, free of most of the typical plot contrivances that malign the romance genre.

JOE: You mean you were a civilian once?
ELLIE: Oh, if you consider schoolteachers civilians.
JOE: You honest?
ELLIE: Mm-hmm
JOE: Well. And me without an apple!

Doris Day Centennial Blogathon- “Julie” (1956)

Doris Day would have turned 100 today. For years, I thought for sure she was going to make it, so I was very sad when she passed away in 2019 at the age of 97. Doris seemed eternal–one of the last remaining major figures of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Her sunny persona and girl next door looks I think led to her being unfairly labeled as “virginal” or goody goody. I even had this same perception of her until I actually started watching her films. Yes, she does have some sugary sweet roles, but those are only a tiny part of her overall body of work. One such departure from this image is Doris’ turn as the titular character in Julie, produced in 1956.

For years, when shopping the Warner Archive 4/$44 DVD sale, I would see Julie listed among the list of titles for purchase. Warner Archive for the most part, uses the original poster art for their film cover. The poster asks the question: What happened to Julie on her honeymoon? After seeing this film listed again and again during the sales, I just had to know: what did happen to Julie on her honeymoon? Eventually I purchased the movie to find out the answer. To put it simply, what happens to Julie on her honeymoon is that her husband tries to kill her.

Julie opens with a particularly haunting title track, with Doris singing the melody. Back-up singers continue to sing “Julie” in an eerie manner. Julie is an uncomfortable, tension-filled film noir–one of Doris’ few forays into this genre or style of filmmaking. The film opens with Julie (Doris, obviously) and her new husband Lyle (Louis Jourdan) arguing. The widowed Julie has just remarried the handsome and talented concert pianist Lyle, after her first husband commits suicide due to financial issues. The newlyweds had been attending a function at the country club when they got into a heated argument. Upset, Julie climbs into her car and drives off; but before she can get away, Lyle climbs into her car and continues the argument.

Doris and her bonkers husband, Louis Jourdan

To say that their marriage is not getting off to a good start would be an understatement. Lyle obviously has a screw loose which is indicative right off the bat when he slides over on the bench seat of the car and places his foot over Julie’s, causing her to continue to accelerate on the highway. She is careening all over the highway, nearly driving off the cliff on multiple occasions while trying to negotiate California’s curvy coastline. As Julie screams for him to stop and to not kill them both, Lyle finally relents by letting his foot off Julie’s, seizing control of the steering wheel, and bringing the car to a stop. Understandably, Julie is a complete wreck.

One of the few times that Doris is seen smoking on-screen in one of her films

Lyle continues to show himself for the abusive monster that he is, manipulating Julie into forgiving him for his actions. He says that he only did what he did out of love and that he needs her to help him get over his extreme jealousy. Lyle is a creep and things do not get better for Julie. Meanwhile, Julie has been speaking with her first husband’s cousin, Cliff (Barry Sullivan). Cliff is not convinced that his brother committed suicide, and if he had, it wouldn’t have been due to financial issues as Cliff had offered his brother money. Hearing this, Lyle at first plays it cool and actually seems sympathetic, but that soon goes by the wayside. He grows tired of repeatedly hearing Julie wonder outloud what could have triggered her husband’s suicide and tells her to leave her marriage to him in the past.

Doris takes control of the plane in the cockpit

Lyle continues to stalk Julie and Cliff throughout the film and eventually Cliff asks Julie, what if her husband hadn’t committed suicide? After all, Lyle was staying at their home when her husband died. The film culminates with a somewhat unbelievable scene in which flight attendant Julie is forced to take control of the plane’s cockpit to save the lives of the passengers onboard.

Overall, Julie is a very tense and interesting film. Louis Jourdan is terrifying. I like him much more in this film than I did in Gigi. What I find the scariest about Jourdan is that is portrayal of a jealous, hot-tempered spouse is that his portrayal is not too far off the mark. I could completely see someone acting in the way that he does in this film. Doris also found this movie nerve-wracking to make as the behavior of Jourdan was reminiscent of the abusive treatment she received at the hands of her first and second husbands. What I find fascinating about Jourdan and Doris’ performances in this film is that off-screen, they were friends and neighbors! I also like Barry Sullivan. He is never flashy, but he’s good and I find him interesting. He’s great in noir.

Doris and Barry Sullivan with the gorgeous Central California Coastline in the background

I wish that Doris had made more noir and grittier fare, because she was good in these types of roles. A year prior to Julie, Doris made Love Me or Leave Me where she played the real life Ruth Etting, a singer and dime-a-dance girl who just wants to make it in show business. She has to deal with her abusive manager/lover, James Cagney, who uses his position to make or break her career as a means to control her. Just before making Julie, Doris had appeared as a distraught mother whose son is kidnapped in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1956 remake of his 1934 film, The Man Who Knew Too Much. This role was also a departure for Doris who had to spend much of the film frantically looking for her child, but it did bring us her signature song, “Que Sera Sera.” In 1960, Doris would make her last dramatic film, Midnight Lace, where she plays a woman being terrorized on the telephone.

While Julie may not be the greatest film noir, nor is it even the best Doris Day film, it demonstrates that Doris Day was more than just a lightweight romantic lead and singer. She is excellent as a young woman who marries the wrong man, but has to keep her cool to survive. Later, it’s her calm demeanor that is needed to save the lives of dozens of passengers. If there was one thing that Doris Day was always good at, in every role she had, was being a calming presence on screen. Que Sera Sera. Whatever will be, will be.

Making “Julie” is when Doris Day was introduced to Carmel, California. Carmel is a beautiful coastal community on the Monterey Peninsula on California’s Central Coast. Day lived in this gorgeous yellow home from her retirement in the 1970s until her death in 2019.

The Bonnets and Bustles: Costume Blogathon–“The Private Lives of Elizabeth & Essex” (1939)

As much as I love Bette Davis (she’s my second favorite after Lucille Ball), I do not watch The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex for her. I watch for my man, Errol Flynn (portrays Lord Essex, obviously). Davis’ preparation for the role as England’s Queen Elizabeth I is legendary. To accurately portray the 60-something year old monarch (despite only being 31), Davis shaved back her hairline to mimic Elizabeth I’s reported hair loss. She even shaved off her eyebrows! Which Davis later admitted was a mistake, as her eyebrows didn’t grow back properly. Forever after the film, she had to pencil in her eyebrows. Davis performed a lot of research for her role, and came up with many of Elizabeth I’s quirks and mannerisms herself based off her studies. One such quirk that Davis inserted into the film was Elizabeth’s propensity to fidget with her beads or other things. It’s the fidgeting that drives me crazy. It’s very distracting. It’s the one thing that turns me off of this film.

Bette Davis and Errol Flynn. I don’t know about you, but give me Flynn over Olivier any day of the week!

‘Elizabeth and Essex’ got off to a very rocky start. Davis wanted Sir Laurence Olivier to appear as Lord Essex. However, he was unavailable. Instead Warner Brothers cast their big star, Errol Flynn, to appear alongside Davis. The film’s high production costs led to the decision to cast Flynn as the studio hoped to not only recoup their budget, but to make a profit as well (obviously). Davis was very unhappy about the decision and did not make a secret of her dissatisfaction with her co-star. She treated Flynn very poorly and didn’t hold back when criticizing his acting ability. In his (fantastic) autobiography, My Wicked, Wicked Ways, Flynn recalls their first dress rehearsal of the scene in which Essex makes his entrance into the film to answer to Elizabeth I re: his latest military defeat (and she slaps him across the face). Essex has to make a long walk, through the middle of the English court, towards Elizabeth I who is seated on her throne.

“Finally, they called the first real rehearsal, and I must say, that as Bette assumed her place on the throne, dressed as Elizabeth, with great big square jewels on her hands, and on her wrists big heavy bracelets, she was living the part. She was Queen Elizabeth. I started the walk down through the English court. The cameras were grinding, the extras were gazing at me or at the throne, and I reached the Queen…Then all of a sudden, I felt as if I had been hit by a railroad locomotive. She had lifted one of her hands, heavy with those Elizabethan rings, and Joe Louis himself couldn’t give a right hook better than Bette hooked me with. My jaw went out. I felt a click behind my ear and I saw all these comets, shooting stars, all in one flash. It didn’t knock me to the ground. She had given me that little dainty hand, laden with about a pound of costume jewelry, right across the ear. I felt as if I were deaf.”

Errol Flynn in My Wicked Wicked Ways (1959).

The tense situation on the set did not improve from there. In his book, Flynn acknowledges that Bette was a great actress; but it’s safe to say that they were never going to be bosom buddies. Flynn also asserts that Bette’s animosity towards him is due to his turning down her advances. Whether this is true or not, is hard to say. Either way, Flynn and Bette never worked together again after ‘Elizabeth and Essex.’ There is a famous anecdote about Bette and friend (and ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ co-star) Olivia de Havilland. Decades after the filming of ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ and even Flynn’s passing in 1959, Bette and Olivia attended a viewing of ‘Elizabeth and Essex.’ Bette was quoted as saying about Flynn: “I was wrong, wrong wrong. Flynn was brilliant.”

Elizabeth I worries that she’ll lose the super hot Essex because she’s twice his age and looks it.

The basic plot of ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ is that Queen Elizabeth I is having an affair with the much younger, Lord Essex. While she is in love with Essex, Elizabeth fears that his intentions are not entirely honorable. She is afraid that the much younger Essex, will use his youth, popularity, and influence to take over her throne. Her vanity worries continue throughout the film. Essex maintains that he is in love with Elizabeth, but at the same time he knows that there is no heir to her throne. It is hard to ascertain whether his motives are genuine, or if he just wants to insinuate himself into the accession line for the British throne. Elizabeth, I think, is in love with Essex, but struggles between her love for him and her duty to the English people. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s lady-in-waiting, Penelope (de Havilland), also lusts for Essex and uses her position to try and drive a wedge between Elizabeth and Essex.

Now onto the real point of this blogathon–the costumes. Obviously, Elizabeth’s costumes are the highlight of the film. Famed costume designer, Orry-Kelly, designed all the costumes for ‘Elizabeth and Essex.’ Elizabeth’s gowns were very extravagant and apparently weighed about sixty pounds. Poor Bette Davis regularly lost 2-3 lbs daily just from sweating under the heavy lights during film production. Bette wears an array of Elizabethan gowns. I’ll admit that I am not familiar with the actual terminology for the different parts of an Elizabethan gown. For the purposes of this blog, I googled “Elizabethan gown” to try and learn the correct names for the different components.

One of Bette’s elaborate Elizabethan gowns

Many of Bette’s gowns are what’s known as a “French gown” which is a dress with a square neckline, tight bodice, and a full skirt. Bette had to be put into a corset everyday in order to present the proper silhouette for her Elizabethan garb. According to some of the articles I read, buxom women would need to wear a corset in order for the gown to fit properly. Less-endowed women could get away with just some boning placed in the bodice of the gown. Bette no doubt had a bosom, thus the corset. Elizabethan gowns were outfitted with a device called a “Spanish Farthingale” which was essentially a hoop skirt, as to give the dress the correct Elizabethan look. Then, there was the “bumroll” (lol) which was a padded device that women wore around their hips to make the skirt pop out more. There is no doubt that Bette is also wearing a similar device to achieve the right aesthetic.

Then, there is another type of skirt, whether it is a petticoat, or something called a “kirtle” that will be a decorative skirt that will cover the spanish farthingale. Then, if that weren’t enough, FINALLY, the dress is put on. Bette’s costumes also include decorative elements, like the ruffs, which provide the more well known Elizabethan touches, like the big ruffled cuffs and high ruffled stiff collars. There were also ruffled collars that just went around the neck, but didn’t stick up half a foot from the neck. The kirtle is the contrasting part of the skirt that is visible. After this many different layers, which didn’t even include any sort of underwear or stockings that Bette might be wearing, no wonder the costume weighed 60 lbs.

Essex tries to reassure Elizabeth that he truly loves her

Many of Bette’s gowns in the film follow this same silhouette, but the gowns themselves all different from one another. The gowns are made of varying fabrics (brocade, silk, velvet to name a few) and colors. Her gowns are festooned with a variety of different decorative elements, like beading, lace, jewelry, flowers, and embroidery. Orry-Kelly would also change up the gowns by adding bunched sleeves, or extra ruffles, or what have you. Elizabeth’s costumes are very beautiful and elaborate. They truly are the highlight of the film.

Flynn’s costumes however, while not as elaborate, are still beautiful. Very few men could get away with tights and still look cool. But as Flynn proved in both The Adventures of Robin Hood and again in ‘Private Lives,’ is that he looks amazing in everything. Honestly, I pay more attention to Flynn than I do to Bette when I watch this film. When Flynn makes his grand entrance into the film as the defeated Lord Essex, he is dressed in a beautiful navy blue with gold trim doublet, with brown and gold breeches, brown tights, and knee-high brown boots. Nobody wore knee-high boots as beautifully as the 6’2″ Flynn. He is also wearing a black and gold breastplate with a red sash draped diagonally across it. And of course, because this film takes place during the Elizabethan era, he has on a tall, ruffed collar. For the sake of propriety, we will assume that Flynn’s Lord Essex is not outfitted with the codpiece that was custom during Elizabethan times.

Errol Flynn makes his entrance as Lord Essex

Flynn’s costumes follow a similar template, though the components are changed up based on the action of the scene. Obviously, he is not always dressed in battle armor, except when appropriate. There is another scene where Essex is dressed in a teal outfit, and he’s wearing a gold garter or some sort of decorative element around his leg, under the knee. He also wears a variety of short and long capes in this film. Flynn’s costumes are also adorned with a variety of embellishments, and the type of fabrics are changed up. While Elizabeth wears a lot of bright, bold colors, Essex for the most part is dressed in more neutrals, like dark blue, brown, and teal.

Olivia de Havilland’s Lady Penelope and Elizabeth’s other ladies in waiting, including chanteuse, Mistress Margaret Radcliffe (Nanette Fabray), wear costumes similar to Elizabeth I, but they are less ornate, less busy. Lady Penelope in particular wears quite low-cut costumes and overall appears sexier (as sexy as one can be in Elizabethan garb) than Elizabeth I. This was probably a purposeful choice as Lady Penelope is presented as a foe for Elizabeth I. She has the hots for Essex and seems like a more logical partner for him than the aging monarch.

Elizabeth wears a very busy dress as she plays chess with her foe, Lady Penelope

This is a wonderful film, in spite of Bette Davis’ constant fidgeting with her beads or whatever else is in her hands. There is no doubt watching this film that she studied and worked very hard to play Elizabeth I. In fact, she might have prepared a little too much as this performance seems a little more rigid than other performances of Bette’s that I’ve seen. Flynn of course is Errol Flynn. He is a great hero and a great lover. It is logical that Elizabeth and Penelope would both be in love with him. It is also logical that he’d use his good looks, popularity and influence to worm his way into Elizabeth’s confidence, so that she’d let her guard down as he keeps his eye on the prize (i.e. her throne). It doesn’t even matter that Flynn didn’t even attempt to not sound Australian. Flynn looks hot in his costumes. That’s all that matters to me. Poor Olivia de Havilland, was cast in this film right after finishing filming her role as Melanie in Gone With the Wind. Someone of her stature is wasted in the small part as Lady Penelope. However, it is nice to see her play a bad girl, a conniving type.

“I’m only a woman. Must I carry the weight, the agony of the world…alone?”

I hear you, Elizabeth.

Favorite TV Show Episode Blogathon- “Rhoda the Beautiful,” The Mary Tyler Moore Show

I love Mary Tyler Moore and her self-titled, groundbreaking sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show (TMTMS). It is my second favorite show after I Love Lucy. TMTMS is one of the best written sitcoms of all times. Usually shows with such large ensemble casts have at least 1-2 characters that are kind of lame, or irritating, or what have you. However, TMTMS is so well-written, so well-cast, that every character in the show is worthwhile. Every character is important. Even scenes not involving Mary Richards (Moore), the central character in the series, are worth watching. One of the best parts of TMTMS in my opinion, is the friendship between Mary and Rhoda Morgenstern (Valerie Harper).

Mary and Rhoda in “Today, I am a Ma’am.”

Mary and Rhoda are such opposites personality-wise, that they don’t even seem like they should be acquaintances, let alone friends. In the 1970 pilot episode, “Love is All Around,” Rhoda is first introduced to viewers as a potential enemy of Mary Richards. Throughout the entire episode, Rhoda is contentious towards Mary, as she thinks that Mary has usurped her apartment. Thankfully, by the second episode, the writing staff had given up on the idea of Mary and Rhoda being enemies. Rhoda’s character was changed into being Mary’s new neighbor and new friend.

It is in the second episode, “Today I am a Ma’am” where we are first introduced to Rhoda’s self image issues. After Mary is called a “ma’am” in the office, she begins to feel self-conscious about being 30. Both Rhoda and Mary begin to commiserate with one another about being 30 and still being single. To make themselves feel better, Rhoda suggests that she and Mary invite someone over to the house for a small gathering. Mary invites over the suffocating Howard Arnell. Rhoda takes a different approach and invites over Armond Linton, a man she ran over with her car. When the guests show up, we’re treated to a classic Rhoda line:

RHODA (to MARY): “How can you gorge yourself and stay so skinny? I’m hungry and I can’t stand it.”

MARY: “Why don’t you eat something?”

RHODA: “I can’t. I’ve got to lose 10 pounds by 8:30.”

Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern and Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards in “Today, I am a Ma’am” in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970).

Throughout the rest of the first season and all of the second, Rhoda continues to be self-deprecating about her body and general attractiveness. Many of Rhoda’s lines allude to her being envious towards the tall, svelte Mary Richards. For the record, while Mary is very pretty and definitely has a good figure, there was absolutely nothing wrong with Rhoda’s appearance. Rhoda is a very beautiful woman. Thankfully, in the season three episode, “Rhoda the Beautiful,” Rhoda finally accepts the fact that she is an attractive woman.

Mary helps Rhoda see how great her new figure looks.

“Rhoda the Beautiful” opens as many episodes do, with Rhoda walking into Mary’s apartment while Mary is doing some sort of household task. In this particular episode, Mary is washing dishes. She wonders aloud whether a pot that was only used to boil water needs to be washed. Rhoda, in her usual style says that she only uses paper pots. Rhoda announces to Mary that she learned that during her recent “Calorie Cutters” meeting, she had successfully met her 20-lb weight loss goal. Mary is ecstatic for Rhoda, but Rhoda in her usual self-deprecating way, won’t accept Mary’s compliments. Mary is frustrated that Rhoda will not allow herself to be happy and proud of herself for meeting her goal. To further compound Rhoda’s frustrations about her appearance, even her frenemy, Phyllis (Cloris Leachman), says that Rhoda looks fantastic. And Phyllis is being genuine.

Rhoda’s headshot for the Ms. Hempel Beauty Pageant.

In the second act, Rhoda visits her Calorie Cutter colleague, Murray (Gavin McLeod) for a healthy lunch. Murray compliments Rhoda and says she looks great. Rhoda reveals to Mary and Murray1 that she has entered the employees-only Ms. Hempel Beauty Pageant. Per usual, Mary and Murray are very supportive of Rhoda and are excited that she’s taking this chance. As an aside, I love how seamlessly the writers were able to integrate Mary’s home life (Rhoda and Phyllis) into Mary’s work life (Lou, Ted, and Murray). It is logical that Mary’s friends and co-workers would interact at Mary’s various infamously bad parties and become friends. Rhoda fits in perfectly with the WJM gang, even with Ted who thinks she’s Israeli and named Rita.

Murray and Rhoda compare their weight loss “maintenance” lunches

The third act opens with Rhoda, Mary and Phyllis trying to help Rhoda find a dress to wear in the pageant. We get to hear Rhoda express another semi-envious sentiment about Mary’s figure when she rebuffs Mary, who is offering her wardrobe. “Mary, you weigh three pounds,” Rhoda says. We also get to watch and listen to Phyllis deliver a hilarious rendition of “Ten Cents a Dance” while wearing an “endangered” Orlon coat. Mary and Rhoda are wandering in the background, looking for a dress for Rhoda. In one of my favorite parts, Mary and Rhoda imitate the contestant interviews during the Miss America pageant. Mary recalls the contestants always having a multi-part name. She re-christens Rhoda as “Miss Mary Jo Beth Ann Lou” and asks her some probing questions:

MARY (to RHODA aka MISS MARY JO BETH ANN LOU): “What are some of your favorite hobbies?”

RHODA (affecting a demure, beauty pageant contestant voice): “My favorite hobbies are cheerleading, liking people, and living in America.”

MARY: “And, uh, what…is your goal…in life?”

RHODA: “After I graduate from high school, I would like to become a brain surgeon… or a model!”

Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards and Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern in “Rhoda in the Beautiful,” in The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1972).

At the end of the third act, we see the dress that Rhoda finally settled on. Rhoda wears a black halter dress with a white scarf that drapes across her back. She looks fantastic. As an aside, Valerie Harper wore this same dress to accept her Emmy Award in 1971 and she looks fabulous there too. Rhoda announces to Mary and Phyllis that she placed a respectable third place. Mary and Phyllis congratulate her and the episode seems to come to an end. However, as Rhoda leaves, she somewhat lingers. Mary probes and Rhoda announces that she actually won the contest. This next moment is what I think is the most important part of the episode and is the catalyst for Rhoda’s character development. This is the moment when Rhoda finally accepts that she is an attractive woman. She no longer has the weight issue that she can hide behind and blame for her own perceived shortcomings.

RHODA (to MARY): “I sort of heard my name called, and uh… they were all applauding…for me. I couldn’t believe it.”

MARY: “Oh Rhoda. That’s so great.”

RHODA: “Me.”

MARY: “And you deserved it.”

RHODA: “Well… they gave it to me, and I, uh, took it. So I guess I really won it. How do you like that? I won! After 32 years! Me! Mary Jo Beth Lou Ann Morgenstern!”

Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern and Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards in “Rhoda the Beautiful,” The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1972).

This is such an amazing moment. Then we see Rhoda in her full pageant winner regalia, crown, cape, scepter and all. She looks silly but gorgeous. Phyllis, of course still doesn’t know the truth about Rhoda’s win:

PHYLLIS (looking at Rhoda’s crown and cape): “Boy, they sure make a big fuss over third place.”

RHODA: “I won, Cookie!”

Cloris Leachman as Phyllis Lindstrom and Valerie Harper as Rhoda Morgenstern in “Rhoda the Beautiful” Mary Tyler Moore Show (1972).

1 One thing I have always wondered about this show: Why did they give so many characters similar sounding names? This show has a Mary, Murray and Marie!

The Buster Keaton Blogathon- “The Great Buster” (2018)

Peter Bogdanovich passed away at the age of 82 this past January. Aside from directing such amazing classic films like The Last Picture Show (1971), What’s Up Doc? (1972) and Paper Moon (1973), Bogdanovich was known for being a fan of Classic Hollywood. In the TCM podcast, I’m Still Peter Bogdanovich, he talks about how he was a fan of the Golden Age from a young age, having been introduced to the silent comedians: Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton from a very young age. This love of movies eventually led to Bogdanovich keeping a file of 4″ x 6″ index cards where he’d record his thoughts about the movies he’d seen. When he was a young adult, he worked as a programmer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City where he’d schedule film retrospectives of Old Hollywood directors like Orson Welles, John Ford, and Alfred Hitchcock. He eventually developed a friendship with Welles.

Throughout Bogdanovich’s sometimes tumultuous career, he always maintained a love of Classic Hollywood. He was considered a film historian, having written multiple books and conducted many interviews with prominent figures in Classic Hollywood. One of his best documentaries is the one he finished toward the end of his career– The Great Buster: A Celebration, which premiered in 2018 and was distributed on blu ray by Cohen Media Group.

The Great Buster: A Celebration is a fantastic documentary. Bogdanovich’s narration is perfect for the subject. It is obvious that he loves Buster Keaton as much as we do. He also includes some wonderful interviews with people like Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and Dick Van Dyke. There are countless other interviews included, but the three I mentioned are my favorites. The documentary has a somewhat conventional narrative, the film starts with Buster’s birth on October 4, 1895 and concludes Buster’s story with his passing on February 1, 1966. However, Bogdanovich manages to change things up a bit by devoting a large portion of the documentary on the ten films considered to be Buster’s masterpieces.

I appreciate that Bogdanovich presented a balanced look at Buster’s life. He didn’t choose to only focus on the good, nor did he only focus on the bad. Buster’s rise to fame is covered, as well as the monumental career mistake he made in the late 1920s when he agreed to sign with MGM—against the advice of his contemporaries like Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. This decision killed Buster’s career because he lost his autonomy. The Cameraman (1928) is the first film that Buster made under his new MGM contract, and while it is funny and has its moments (I like it, I own the Criterion), and Buster was able to direct, it is nothing like the films he made previously. Bogdanovich gives some space to Buster’s subsequent alcohol issue; but doesn’t dwell on it. I loved that a fair amount of time was devoted to Buster’s childhood. The idea that Buster’s parents were big successes on the vaudeville circuit because their act literally involved throwing their child (Buster) around the stage is hysterical. Buster’s parents had a suitcase handle sewn into Buster’s shirt so he’d be easier to throw.

Buster in “Sherlock Jr.”

I loved seeing the footage of Buster’s later career–especially his appearances in commercials and on Candid Camera. I could watch Buster Keaton on Candid Camera all day. He was hilarious. I was happy to see that even late in life, Buster was going through a renaissance. His services were still in demand and people still found his work funny. Even now, almost 100 years after Buster’s films, he is still funny. I just saw The General in the theater a few months ago with a live organ accompaniment, and the theater was packed. The jokes in The General were still funny now as they were then. It was wonderful to see how many people still had an interest in not only classic film, but silent film, but most of all, wanted to see Buster Keaton. The fact that The General was filmed in my home state of Oregon and I saw the film at a theater in Oregon probably helped too.

I highly recommend Peter Bogdanovich’s documentary, The Great Buster: A Celebration to anyone who loves Buster Keaton, or loves a great documentary in general. It is funny, it is poignant, it is inspirational, and it’s just plain entertaining. Bogdanovich includes lots of great scenes of all of Buster’s funniest gags and even some funny pictures of Buster when he was a child in vaudeville. It is obvious from watching this documentary that it was made by someone who loves Buster Keaton and appreciates his brand of comedy.

Bogdanovich asserts that the 10 films that Buster made in the 1920s when he was his own production studio (Buster Keaton Productions) were his masterpieces. These 10 films are:

  1. Three Ages (1923)
  2. Our Hospitality (1923)
  3. Sherlock, Jr. (1924)
  4. The Navigator (1924)
  5. Seven Chances (1925)
  6. Go West (1925)
  7. Battling Butler (1926)
  8. The General (1926)
  9. College (1927)
  10. Steamboat Bill, Jr. (1928)

I haven’t seen all of Buster’s masterpieces, but I can say that of the ones I have seen: Our Hospitality, Sherlock Jr., The General, and Steamboat Bill, Jr., Buster Keaton’s films fully deserve the adjective “masterpieces.” Sherlock Jr., in particular is fascinating for the amount of practical special effects used in this film. Some of the special effects are still fascinating now, and it’s been almost 98 years!

The famous falling wall gag in “Steamboat Bill Jr.” How Buster Keaton didn’t get hurt is fascinating to me.