When you think of birds in the movies, this image probably comes to mind:
Alfred Hitchock’s 1963 masterpiece, The Birds, tells the story of Bodega Bay, a small town near San Francisco, California that is dealing with violent and random bird attacks. Crows are inexplicably attacking people in their homes, in phone booths, outside, anywhere. The film never explains why the birds are attacking. Hitchock purposely eschewed the use of music in the film. The only sounds we hear aside from dialogue and natural sounds from the actions in the film are the sounds of the birds crowing. Each time the birds appear onscreen, we know that another attack is about to happen. The film ends with no resolution. In Bodega Bay, the birds are still out there and are to be feared.
In The Birds, there are two birds featured in the film who are not to be feared–the lovebirds that Rob Taylor wants to purchase from Tippi Hedren (who doesn’t actually work at the bird shop, but is shopping for a cage for her myna bird). People who own lovebirds typically purchase them in pairs, as a pair of lovebirds will bond for life. A solitary lovebird who doesn’t have a constant companion will be very sad. Owners can own just one lovebird, but they should be prepared to spend a lot of time with their bird. In The Birds, I believe that these lovebirds represent Taylor and Hedren’s characters.
Hedren’s character is a bit of a wild woman who somewhat lives in a gilded cage. She’s basically a rich socialite with little regard for others. Due to her behavior and attitude, she’s somewhat trapped by her lifestyle. The only reason she goes to Bodega Bay initially, is to use the lovebirds as a means to pursue Taylor. She’s rich and isn’t used to not getting what she wants. Taylor makes it clear to Hedren in the pet shop that she’s not interested in people of her type.
Lovebirds may represent the antithesis to the other birds in the film. Birds don’t have to be evil or be killers–they can be sweet, wonderful companions for humans and other birds. The lovebirds in The Birds demonstrate that maybe humanity and nature can restore harmony soon.
Aside from the birds in The Birds, there are other ways birds are represented in film:
Iago the Scarlet Macaw parrot in Aladdin, while an evil bird, he is a wiseacre and says what’s on his mind regardless of whether he’s talking to his master, Jafar, or mocking the Sultan.
Kevin in Up is a goofy bird and the comic relief of the film. Kevin is a made-up tropical bird who helps Carl and Russell make it to Victoria Falls. Kevin also provides the conflict of the film. Famed aviator Charles Muntz has been looking for Kevin’s species for years. Kevin is like many real birds in that when she (yes “she”) feels that someone is a friend, she will be kind and loyal. However, if she senses someone is a threat, or that person was mean to her, she’ll be hostile and combative. Also, like real birds, Kevin is very curious and gets into everything.
Hedwig in the Harry Potter series is Harry Potter’s loyal owl. She is a constant companion for Harry through all of his adventures. She would deliver Harry’s mail, but was also a faithful friend. Hedwig also demonstrated how smart and clever birds can be.
Zazu in The Lion King. Zazu is a hornbill who is not only Mufasa’s personal assistant and adviser, but he also takes care of Simba after Mufasa’s tragic death. Zazu’s allegiance is partially out of duty to the kingdom, but I also feel that he feels a sense of loyalty to the deceased Mufasa. Zazu also doesn’t want to see Scar in charge.
Maleficent’s black crow, who I don’t believe has a name, is as evil as evil gets. He keeps Maleficent informed on the goings on in the fairies’ cottage and is the first one to inform Maleficent of Princess Aurora’s location when he spies magic coming up through the fairies’ chimney.
Owl in Winnie the Pooh dispenses advise to Winnie the Pooh and the other residents of the Hundred Acre Woods.
Scuttle in The Little Mermaid, while definitely not smart like Owl, he lives above the sea and regularly watches and interacts with the humans. Mermaid Ariel, who desperately wants to live out of the sea meets up with Scuttle, often bringing objects from the ocean floor that she has found. She asks Scuttle as to what the objects are. While Scuttle is usually wrong (e.g. telling Ariel that a dinner fork is a “dinglehopper” and is used to comb her hair), he is very kind and tries to keep Ariel informed about what’s going on above the sea.
In The Maltese Falcon (1941) John Huston’s directorial debut and the first film noir, stars Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. While investigating the murder of his partner, Miles Archer, Bogart gets involved with a cast of characters who not only have something to do with Archer’s death, but who are searching for the elusive Maltese Falcon statue. This bejeweled statue has traveled the world and is apparently worth tens of thousands of dollars. When the statue is finally found, it is determined to be a fake. The criminals are angry and frustrated, but seek to continue looking for it. While holding the fake statue, a detective asks Bogart, “Heavy? What is it?” Bogart says, “The, uh, stuff that dreams are made of.” This faux bird represents the lack of loyalty the criminals displayed to one another during their journey. A bird, when treated with love and kindness, can be a loyal and generous friend. They’ll be by your side constantly and will give affection. They’ll also give you their dinner if you don’t pay attention, they want to make sure you eat. The criminals are so shady in this film, that they don’t deserve to succeed at the end.
There is much bird imagery in Psycho. It is mostly used in the scene between Norman (Anthony Perkins) and Marion (Janet Leigh) in the motel office. The birds in these scenes foreshadow Norman’s psyche and Marion’s eventual fate. Norman has a variety of stuffed birds: everything from the predator hawk to a small songbird. Norman mentions to Marion Crane (his eventual victim) that one of his hobbies is “stuffing things” i.e. taxidermy. This foreshadows the fact that he’s been perhaps practicing his taxidermy skills elsewhere, like on his mother’s corpse, for example (granted she is a skeleton, but he’s been preserving her). The birds are creepy as there are a lot of them. One could argue that the different types of birds are representative of the characters in the film. There is an owl and hawk, two predator birds, that are featured prominently on the wall. Norman’s mother is a predator, her personality has completely consumed Norman’s. There are also some small songbirds who represent Marion. These birds would be consumed in no second flat by a predator, just like it doesn’t take long for Marion’s demise at the Bates Motel. Birds are very fragile, just like Norman Bates’ psyche. Women are often presented as fragile and delicate, in which a bird could represent Marion. Norman even tells Marion that she “eats like a bird” as she picks at the bread on her sandwich. Birds actually eat a lot, a fact which Norman even mentions to Marion. There is so much going on in this scene that it would probably warrant its own blog entry.
Birds can also represent a variety of other themes: freedom, the feeling of being trapped, evil, arrogance, and mischievousness.
Other favorite birds of mine:
Donald Duck. Look for him in Donald Duck in Mathmagic Land(1959). Perhaps the only good math-related movie ever made.
Daffy Duck. His “Duck Amuck” (1953) cartoon is hilarious.
Woodstock from Peanuts. He doesn’t do much except be Snoopy’s companion, but he has his moments.
Roadrunner. He says so much by saying so little “beep beep” which roughly translates to “ha ha” when said to Wile E. Coyote after successfully evading yet another trap. Why does Wile E. Coyote want to eat him so much anyway? I doubt he’s got that much meat on him.
Piper from the Pixar short. This bird is just so cute!
This post was inspired by my bird, Buddy, a yellow-sided green cheek conure:
Picture it: Salem, Oregon, 1995. A beautiful peasant girl turns on her parents’ 15″ black and white tube TV. She comes across a show on something called Nick at Nite. She is instantly transfixed by the action on the screen. A redhead (we’ll have to take the characters’ word for it, it’s black and white after all), her Cuban bandleader husband, and their two friends were involved in some wacky scheme. The next day, the girl tuned into Nick-at-Nite again and watched another episode of this hilarious show about a woman whose only dream in life, it seems, is to be in show business, much to her husband’s chagrin. The show was I Love Lucy, and the beautiful peasant girl, was me, minus the peasant part–just tapping into my inner Sophia Petrillo.
I Love Lucy is rightfully considered one of the best, if not the best (which “best” is obviously subjective) television show in history. The show was groundbreaking, almost literally, and created the blueprint for all situational comedies to come. Every show, from The Dick Van Dyke Show, to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, to Cheers to Friends are indebted to I Love Lucy for inventing the situation comedy and engineering the way in which to perform in front of a live audience.
In 1950, CBS approached Lucille Ball with an offer to move her popular radio show, My Favorite Husband, to the new burgeoning medium of television. CBS wanted Ball, her co-star Richard Denning and the other cast members to make the move with her. However, Ball had other ideas. At this time, Ball had been married to her husband, bandleader Desi Arnaz for ten years. The couple’s marriage was faltering. Much of the strain on their marriage was caused by their differing schedules. Ball was in Hollywood filming her radio show and Arnaz was on the road, touring with his band. Ball, seeing an opportunity to work with her husband and keep him home, told CBS that she was interested in the offer, but only if Arnaz could star as her husband. CBS balked, thinking that the American public would not accept that their star, Lucille Ball, was married to a Cuban. Of course, CBS was completely wrong, but to prove it, Ball and Arnaz concocted a vaudeville routine and took their act on the road. People across the country loved them and soon CBS had to relent and give Ball and Arnaz the go-ahead.
In March of 1951, Ball and Arnaz filmed their pilot. It was filmed in kineoscope. Kineoscope was a method of filming a live performance. A camera lens would be focused on a video screen, which would record the performance as it was being recorded. This footage would later be re-broadcast to other markets. Typically shows were filmed in New York, as this is where a majority of the population lived in the late 1940s-early 1950s. If you have ever seen a YouTube video where someone has made a video of a movie, show, concert, etc. playing on their TV, you know that the sound is muffled and tinny and the picture is blurry. This is exactly what it was like to watch a kineoscope show if you didn’t live near New York.
To see a couple examples of Kineoscope, go to You Tube and search for: “I Love Lucy Pilot,” and “Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz on The Ed Wynn Show.”
Above is a screenshot from the I Love Lucy pilot episode. Ball wears a housecoat and big baggy pants for much of the episode because she was pregnant with Lucie Arnaz. The Ricardos live in a completely different apartment and the Mertzes haven’t been created yet. I Love Lucy episode #6, “The Audition” is essentially a re-do of the pilot. In the pilot episode, Ricky schemes with his agent, Jerry. In the I Love Lucy episode, Jerry’s lines are given to Fred Mertz. The pilot episode was a success and Ball and Arnaz were given the green light to start their series.
To produce their series, Ball and Arnaz formed Desilu Productions. Arnaz was president and Ball was vice-president. They hired the writers from Ball’s radio show, My Favorite Husband. Many of the crew members they hired were acquaintances from Ball’s radio program and from Ball and Arnaz’ movie and music careers, respectively. For the Mertzes, they originally wanted Bea Benederet (Betty Rubble in The Flintstones and Kate Bradley in Petticoat Junction) and Gale Gordon (Mr. Mooney in The Lucy Show and Harry Carter in Here’s Lucy). However, Benederet was under contract to The Burns and Allen Show and Gordon was on Our Miss Brooks.
One day, William Frawley, an old acquaintance of Ball’s from her movie days, called Ball and asked if there was room for him on her show. Leery of his reputation as a hard-drinker, Arnaz and Ball met with him and decided he was perfect. Ball later said: “William Frawley was ‘Fred Mertz,’ period.” Frawley was cast on the condition that he always show up to work sober. He would be fired on the spot if he ever showed up to work intoxicated. During all six seasons of I Love Lucy and the three seasons of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, Frawley kept his promise.
Casting Ethel Mertz turned out to be more of a chore. Ball originally wanted to throw the job to her old friend, Barbara Pepper (Mrs. Ziffel on Green Acres), but CBS said no. Much like Frawley, Pepper had a drinking problem too, but hers was much more severe. Then I Love Lucy director Marc Daniels (who directed the first season) suggested an actress he worked with in New York, Vivian Vance. Vance had a successful Broadway career and had spent twenty years on stage acting in various plays until re-locating to Hollywood in the late-1940s. She appeared in a couple films, but by 1951, she was still relatively unknown outside of the Broadway circle. She just happened to be appearing in a revival of Voice of a Turtle in La Jolla, California. Arnaz and head writer, Jess Oppenheimer, drove down to see Vance and hired her on the spot. Vance was reluctant to give up her stage career for the unknown medium of television, but friend Daniels convinced her it’d be her big break–and it was.
With all the pieces put in place, it was time to start producing I Love Lucy. Desilu purchased two soundstages and tore down the dividing wall to create one large room that could hold four separate stages. The Ricardos’ living room was the larger, permanent stage. The Ricardos’ bedroom was typically in the smaller stage to the left and the kitchen was the small stage to the right. The other stage would often be the Tropicana. The walls of the small stages had wheels that allowed them to move around. Oftentimes, when a scene with a large amount of action was filmed, the walls of the set would be rolled in front of the Ricardos’ living room set. Case in point, there is a blooper in the famous Vitameatavegamin episode (#30 “Lucy Does a TV Commercial”). When Lucy comes staggering out of her dressing room (plastered on Vitameatavegamin, alcohol 23%) and the stage hands are searching for Ricky, you can see the Ricardos’ living room between the Vitameatavegamin set and Ricky’s set where he performs.
CBS wanted Arnaz and Ball to use the cheaper kineoscope and to film their show in New York. Arnaz and Ball informed CBS that not only did they plan on remaining in Los Angeles, but they also wanted to film their program on 35mm film, the same film used by the motion picture studios. They wanted the whole country to see their program clearly, not just the East Coast and they wanted to have copies of their program–figuring that if it bombed, at least they’d come away with some “home movies” for their children. CBS complained initially about the increased cost of the film, but Arnaz, the shrewd negotiator he was, offered to deduct $1000/week from his and Lucy’s salaries in exchange for the right to use film and the rights to their show. CBS, figuring that this whole thing will never work, agreed.
Arnaz knew that Ball performed best in front of a live audience. To accommodate a live audience, Arnaz had to equip his soundstage with bleachers. He was also required by the fire marshall to bring the building up to code by adding bathrooms and other modifications required of a facility that is going to hold large groups of people. In order to ensure that the cameras didn’t block the audience’s view of the action, Arnaz, along with Academy Award winning cinematographer, Karl Freund, devised the three camera technique. This camera, nicknamed “the three-headed monster,” would film the action from three angles. Then after production, the editors would splice together the footage to create the final show. This technique is still in use today.
The very first episode of I Love Lucy, that aired, was actually the second episode filmed. Episode #2, “The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub” is the first of many “versus” episodes. In this case, it’s the men versus the women. Lucy and Ethel want to go to a nightclub for the Mertzes’ anniversary and Fred and Ricky want to go to the fights. Lucy and Ethel declare that they will find their own dates who will take them to the club. Ricky informs Lucy that he and Fred will do the same. Enlisting the help of an old friend, Lucy gets herself and Ethel set up as Ricky and Fred’s blind dates. Except, the girls aren’t just coming as themselves, they show up dressed as hillbillies. This is the first of many episodes where Lucy tries to pull a fast one on Ricky. Arnaz made it clear to the writers from day one that while Lucy can play tricks on Ricky, he didn’t want Ricky to look like an idiot. Ricky either needed to be in on the joke from the beginning or figure it out before Lucy succeeded. In the case of this episode, Lucy blows her cover by offering to go grab cigarettes for everyone, stating that she knew where they were. Ricky tells Lucy he knows it’s her and Ethel, they make up and all is well–except that the men end up at the fights with the ladies dressed to the nines. Let’s just hope that a compromise was reached and maybe they went to the fights and the nightclub that evening.
I Love Lucy was a success and was at the top of the ratings 4/6 years it was on television. In 1953, Ball found out she was pregnant (with Desi Arnaz Jr.) and she, along with Arnaz, thought it was the end of the program. However, it was decided that Lucy Ricardo would be pregnant too. Desilu hired a priest, rabbi and minister to read the scripts and highlight any objectionable content. All three religious leaders could not find any issues. CBS allowed Ball and Arnaz to go ahead with their plan and Lucy Ricardo was set to have a baby. The only stipulation being that the word “pregnant” could not be used on the show. They had to opt for the funnier ‘spectin coming from Ricky. Words and phrases like “infanticipating” and “having a baby” were used instead. The episode where Lucy gives birth to Little Ricky was the highest rated episode of any television show (at that point) and even got a higher rating than Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration that took place the following day after Little Ricky was born. During this time, Arnaz invented the re-run by re-airing old episodes of I Love Lucy. He wanted to give Lucy time to recover. To make the episodes “fresh,” he and Frawley and Vance filmed new flashback scenes to introduce the episodes. When these repeats garnered the same or higher ratings than the original airing, it was decided to forgo the new flashback footage and just re-air the episodes as-is.
I Love Lucy enjoyed huge success during its original six year run, winning multiple Emmy Awards and achieving high ratings. It ended its run #1 in the ratings. However, I Love Lucy has achieved even greater success in the decades since. It is estimated that I Love Lucy has never been off the air since its debut in 1951. Ball’s face is one of the most widely recognized faces in the world. There are new generations of fans discovering I Love Lucy each and every day. It is truly an indelible part of pop culture and television history.
My Top 5 Favorite Episodes of I Love Lucy:
1) Episode #114, “L.A. at Last!”
The Ricardos and Mertzes finally make it to Hollywood. After checking into their hotel at the Beverly Palms Hotel, Lucy and the Mertzes are on the prowl for movie stars. They decide to go to “the watering hole,” aka The Brown Derby for lunch and celebrity spotting. Ethel manages to embarrass herself in front of Eve Arden and Lucy ends up embarrassing herself in front of William Holden. The true gem of this episode is later, when Ricky, newly employed at MGM, meets Holden. Holden offers to give him a ride to his hotel. Ricky, unknowing about what transpired at the Brown Derby earlier that day, asks Holden if he’d mind coming in to meet Lucy. Lucy, understandably freaked out, but forced into meeting Holden, tries to disguise herself with a scarf, glasses and fake putty nose. The funniest part of the entire episode is the look on William Holden and Desi Arnaz’ faces when Lucy turns around after having re-shaped her nose.
2) Episode #147, “Lucy Gets a Paris Gown”
In Paris, Lucy makes it known to Ricky that she wants a Jacques Marcell dress. Ricky, not wanting to pay the huge price tag, says no. Lucy, not willing to give up, stages a convincing hunger strike in protest of Ricky’s decision. Ricky, feeling bad for Lucy, buys her the dress, but then discovers that Ethel has been sneaking food to her. The dress is returned and Lucy is fuming. To appease Lucy and “cure” her of her desire for high-end French fashion (which Ricky and Fred think is ridiculous), they find some potato sacks, a horse’s feedbag and a champagne bucket and have two Parisian original gowns designed and created: one for Lucy and one for Ethel. The funniest part of this episode is when Lucy and Ethel realize that they’ve been duped and attempt to hide under a tablecloth, that they apparently steal from the restaurant as they run away.
3) Episode #81, “The Charm School”
After an upsetting party where Lucy and Ethel feel ignored by their husbands, especially when the date of another guest attracts all their attention, Lucy and Ethel decide that their husbands are bored with them. Lucy finds out that the woman who came to her party the night prior had just finished a course at “Phoebe Emerson’s Charm School.” Lucy and Ethel sign up and are put through a charm regiment that involves learning to walk, speak and dress like a charming lady. The time comes for the big reveal and Ricky and Fred are speechless. The funniest part of this episode is when Lucy opens the door to let glammed-up Ethel in. As she opens the door, there’s Ethel leaning against the door frame, dressed in a one-strapped, skintight, leopard print dress with a cool snake-like thing around her arm.
4) Episode #23, “Fred and Ethel Fight”
The Mertzes are fighting (because Ethel said that Fred’s mother “looked like a weasel,” to which I say: “Fred’s mother is still alive?”) and Lucy decides to invite each one over for dinner without the other one knowing. She lets Ricky in on the plan. Ricky works with Lucy trying to get Fred and Ethel back together, but during course of conversation, he and Lucy end up getting in a fight. Now it’s Ethel and Fred’s turn to try and get Ricky and Lucy back together! The climax of the episode is when Ricky stages a fake fire in the apartment, so that he can “save” Lucy and be a hero. The funniest part of this episode is when Lucy wants to pretend like she was hit by a bus and has Ethel help her put on casts and a metal arm brace thing and then Ricky stages the fake fire which Lucy doesn’t know is fake. Lucy freaks out trying to grab things, casually tossing them out her 4th story window. She grabs some dresses and her huge jug of henna rinse. Then she makes a rope with a bedsheet and ties it around herself, but neglects to tie the other end to anything.
5) Episode #122 “The Star Upstairs”
Lucy discovers that she has met 99 movie stars and wants to meet one more so she can have an even hundred. She reads a blind item in the paper that a big star is staying in the penthouse of a local hotel for some rest and relaxation. Lucy instantly jumps to the conclusion that the star is in her hotel, and after pressing the bellboy for details, her assumption is confirmed–Cornel Wilde is staying in the penthouse right above the Ricardos’ hotel room! Lucy blackmails the bellboy into letting her borrow his outfit so she can deliver the paper. That scheme fails wholeheartedly. In the next attempt, Lucy hides under the bellboy’s cart. Through the course of events, Wilde ends up thinking that Bobby is a really talented ventriloquist who can throw his voice across the room. The scheme comes off well, but Lucy ends up being left behind in Wilde’s room. Desperate to get out, she attempts to climb down the balcony using a makeshift rope that she crafts out of a beach towel. The funniest part of the entire episode is Ethel trying to distract Ricky from seeing Lucy’s legs dangling from the balcony.
I kind of missed the boat on this blogathon, as my entry was due two weeks ago. Well better late than never, right? I thought I would write my entry even if ultimately it doesn’t end up as part of the official blogathon event. I will be better with my future events. I think I also over-commit because everything sounds so great!
Without further ado…
Joan Crawford and Clark Gable starred in eight, count ’em, eight films together: Dance, Fools, Dance, Laughing Sinners, Possessed (all in 1931), Dancing Lady (1933), Forsaking All Others and Chained (both in 1934), Love on the Run (1936) and Strange Cargo (1940). Prior to that, both appeared as extras (uncredited) in 1925’s The Merry Widow.
By the time the early 1931 rolled around, Crawford had become MGM’s top star and Gable had just been signed a short term one year contract by Irving Thalberg, MGM’s top producer who was famed for his youth and ability to select good scripts and find new stars. Gable’s first role at MGM was a small part as a villain in Crawford’s Dance, Fools, Dance. Thalberg, sensing that he had something special with Gable, ordered that the script be re-written and Gable be given some steamy scenes with Crawford. During their first clinch, sparks flew.
After Dance, Fools, Dance, Crawford and Gable made two more films together and many films apart. By the end of 1931, during the filming of Possessed, Crawford and Gable were involved in a full-fledged steamy affair. However, Crawford was married to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at the time and Gable was married to Maria Langham. Both couples’ marriages were stormy, but due to morality standards of the time, it was imperative that Crawford and Gable kept their relationship on the down low.
Crawford and Gable mostly kept their relationship contained to working hours. They’d arrive to work early and stay late. They rendezvoused in Crawford’s fancy trailer, which incidentally was a gift from her husband, Fairbanks Jr. He was still even making payments on it! They also occasionally lunched together in the commissary, but only a couple times a week as to not arouse suspicion among their co-workers. Any breaks Crawford and Gable received were spent in the bed of a local hotel room. As we all know, the more a couple attempts to hide their relationship, the more people that know about it. Despite Crawford and Gable’s attempts at discretion, their steamy affair was a well known secret around the studio.
Louis B. Mayer got wind of Crawford and Gable’s torrid romance and threatened their careers if they carried on. Gable was to have made Letty Lynton with Crawford, but was removed when news of their affair broke. He was replaced with Robert Montgomery. Crawford and Gable kept apart for awhile but still managed to appear in five more films together. They continued their romance despite being married to other people. Crawford divorced Fairbanks Jr. in 1933. She remarried to Franchot Tone in 1935. Gable remained married to Langham until 1939, when Gable fell in love with Carole Lombard and was forced to pay Langham a pretty penny in order for her to agree to divorce him so that he could marry Lombard. Apparently, Crawford was jealous of Lombard’s relationship with Gable (whom everyone said was the love of her life and vice versa). During the filming of Strange Cargo in 1940, Crawford would continually whisper things to Gable, presumably about Lombard, that irritated him. However, in 1942 when Lombard was tragically killed in a plane crash, Crawford and Gable seemed to bury the hatchet. Crawford was one of Gable’s closest confidants during his mourning.
After Gable’s marriage to Lombard, and even after her passing, his relationship with Crawford carried on, but was never as steamy as it had once been. They were good friends, perhaps “friends with benefits.” Both Crawford and Gable remarried to other people. They carried on until Gable’s death in 1960. Even in interviews later life, Crawford referred to Gable lovingly, referring to him as her favorite leading man. When asked why she found Gable so attractive, Crawford put it succinctly, stating: “…Balls! Clark Gable had balls.” Crawford herself also had “balls,” figuratively speaking, which is perhaps why she and Gable got along so well. In many ways Crawford and Gable were cut from the same cloth: similar meager childhood backgrounds, similar struggle to make it to the top of the heap in Hollywood, similar insatiable sexual appetites and so much more.
Today marks the 22nd anniversary of Gene Kelly’s passing at the age of 83. I remember hearing of his death in the sixth grade and feeling so sad. I was a few months shy of twelve at the time. I had just discovered Nick at Nite the year prior and had just discovered Gene Kelly by way of his appearance with Lucille Ball in DuBarry Was a Lady (1943). While ‘DuBarry’ wasn’t his best film, I liked Gene. He just had that je ne sois quoi about him. After seeing him with Lucy, I was hooked. I religiously checked the TCM listings (then in its infancy) for Gene’s movies and tried to set the VCR to record them. With each recording, I’d cross my fingers hoping that I’d set up the recording correctly and that the tape wouldn’t run out before my recording was complete. Between TCM and the ever reliable Hollywood Video, I managed to see a few of Gene’s films. When I heard that he had died, I remember watching Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The Pirate (1948)with my friend who also loved him.
While I love Fred Astaire, I would never compare him with Gene. Honestly, they’re like apples and oranges. Sure, they’re both dancers and both men, but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. In the end though, I think I have to give Gene the edge–if only because I love the fabulous elaborate dance numbers he put together in his films. Astaire, to his credit, did do some pretty fantastic numbers in his post-Ginger Rogers films. However, Astaire never put together such productions like the ballet in An American in Paris (1951) and the “Broadway Melody” number in Singin’ in the Rain–two of my favorite numbers of any musical ever made. Gene was a pioneer and an innovator not only in musicals but in the world of film itself.
Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly in “Ziegfeld Follies (1945)” Two fantastic, yet very different dancers.
Gene was born in Pittsburgh in 1912. As a child, he was reluctantly enrolled in dance classes with his brothers. Gene dreamed of playing shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team–not being a world renowned movie star, dancer, choreographer and director. At some point, Gene had a change of heart and gave up on his dream of being a professional baseball player. Lucky for us, he decided to dedicate himself to dancing. By the early 1930s, Gene was a teacher at his own dancing school. By the late 1930s, Gene had established a very successful dance studio and decided to move to New York City to find work as a choreographer. He didn’t find much success during his first stint in New York. By 1940, he was back in his hometown starring in and choreographing local theater productions. It was in one of these productions where he was discovered and given a larger part. That part led to an even larger part in a bigger production and so on.
By 1940, Gene was back in New York appearing on Broadway in Pal Joey–a play which was later made into a 1957 film starring Frank Sinatra, Rita Hayworth and Kim Novak. During Gene’s appearance in Pal Joey, he was approached by Hollywood mogul David O.Selznick for a Hollywood contract. By the time Gene made his film debut in 1942 in For Me and My Gal with Judy Garland, Selznick had sold Gene’s contract to MGM. During the next couple of years, Gene appeared in a few dramatic films and even appeared in a musical with Lucille Ball who had recently signed with MGM after a long stint at RKO as “The Queen of the Bs.”
Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Red Skelton, Virginia O’Brien, Tommy Dorsey, Rags Ragland and Zero Mostrel in “DuBarry Was a Lady.”
Gene’s big big break was when he was loaned to Columbia to appear with Rita Hayworth in Cover Girl (1944). It was this film where he finally started to show glimpses of what he would achieve later. One of the best dance numbers in this film is when Gene dances with his own reflection. For the next decade or so, Gene appeared in a remarkable series of films that gradually built upon one another and showcased the innovative film and storytelling techniques and dance routines that Gene would become known for. Gene was lucky to come around at just the right time–the Golden Era of the Hollywood musical from the mid-1940s through the mid to late 1950s.
By the late 1950s, the public’s tastes had changed and intense dramas and issue driven films were more popular. The musicals of the 1960s and beyond definitely have a different feel about them and feel gritty and grim–which is a definite contrast to the glamorous and sparkly looks of their predecessors. By this point in his career, Gene had mostly retired from dancing and turned into a director. One his biggest films was 1969’s Hello, Dolly! which was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning three. In 1980, Gene returned to the big screen in the musical Xanadu.
Gene Kelly and Olivia Newton-John in that cinematic classic, “Xanadu.”
Despite its reputation as one of those “so bad, its good” movies, I love Xanadu. It has everything you’d want in a film: Gene Kelly, Gene Kelly roller skating, Gene Kelly playing the clarinet, Olivia Newton-John singing catchy 80s pop songs, a big roller skating dance number, flashbacks, Greek Gods, magic, neon… This film has everything. When asked about why he made this film, Gene stated that the film had a great concept, it just didn’t quite turn out. I think it turned out great. This is truly one of the gems from 1980. After Xanadu, Gene was pretty much retired and spent the remainder of his life making the award show circuits (picking up a Cecil B. DeMille award in 1981, Kennedy Center Honors in 1982, AFI Lifetime Achievement Award in 1985, and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 1989, just to name a few of the honors he received). By the late 1980s-early 1990s, Gene’s health steadily declined until his passing in 1996.
My favorite Gene Kelly movies:
Words and Music (1948),”Slaughter on Tenth Avenue.” Gene and Vera-Ellen only appeared in a segment of this musical biopic starring Mickey Rooney and Tom Drake, however, they are definitely the highlight. “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” is definitely a sexy number, a trait that is unusual in the goody two shoes MGM movies of the 1940s. Vera-Ellen’s character is killed and she dies on the staircase, on her back, right in front of the camera. All we see of Vera-Ellen’s character is her chest and legs. This number also has great music that I really like.
Gene Kelly and Vera-Ellen in “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” in “Words and Music.”
On the Town (1949). This film is the final film that Gene made with Frank Sinatra and I feel that it is their best. I like Anchors Aweigh but cannot stand Kathryn Grayson, so that film pales a little bit in comparison with ‘Town.’ I thought Gene had a great rapport with not only Frank but love interest Vera-Ellen. My favorite number in this film is actually the “Prehistoric Man” number that mainly features Ann Miller, but Gene provides some amusing backup. However, for Gene’s best number in this film, that honor would have to go to “A Day in New York” where all his co-stars, save for Vera-Ellen (who had ballet training, which non of the actor cast members had). Vera-Ellen and Gene make a great duo–which is interesting because I don’t typically think of Gene as being part of a dancing team.
An American in Paris. This film is widely considered Gene’s masterpiece and won the 1951 Oscar for Best Picture over the likes of A Streetcar Named Desire and A Place in the Sun. While I like ‘Desire,’ and ‘Sun,’ give me ‘Paris,’ any day. This film is so much fun and such a delight to both the eyes and ears that it makes an enjoyable experience each time I see it. The best number in this film is of course the seventeen minute ballet at the end of the film. This was a huge gamble for Kelly, director Vincente Minnelli and producer Arthur Freed. Not only was the ballet expensive to produce, but it was unknown whether the audience would respond to it. Well the audience did and the film was a huge hit, winning six Oscars, including the aforementioned “Best Picture” Oscar. Gene was also given an Honorary Oscar for his versatility and achievement in choreography on film. My favorite part of the entire ballet is the Toulouse Lautrec part. Could anyone else but Gene Kelly wear a flesh colored leotard?
Gene Kelly’s flesh colored leotard in the Toulouse Lautrec part of the ballet in “An American in Paris.” I’m not going to lie, this gif was the whole reason for this post.
Singin’ in the Rain. This is probably Gene’s best known film and honestly, it is probably the best musical ever made. I love this movie. From the amazing cast (Gene, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Jean Hagen) to the great music, fun storyline, great costumes, everything. This film is almost perfect. The only thing marring this fabulous film, in my opinion, is the fact that Debbie Reynolds’ character has three different singing voices. O’Connor is hilarious and has his amazing “Make ‘Em Laugh” dance routine. Has there ever been a dance that looked so physically exhausting? Jean Hagen is hilarious as Lina Lamont, Gene’s delusional co-star and Hollywood-manufactured love interest. Lina has a horrendous voice that is fine in silent film (because obviously you can’t hear her), but in a talkie… ugh. And Debbie is just adorable as Gene’s love interest and the studio’s new discovery, threatening to supplant Lina’s status as top female star at the studio. Pretty much every number in this film is fantastic, but my favorite would be the “Broadway Melody” number toward the end of the film. It is colorful, has great dancing, a storyline, and fun music. My favorite part of it is the part where Gene dances with Cyd Charisse, who is wearing a fringed and beaded green flapper dress. The music is fantastic and Gene and Cyd just sizzle on screen. This is one of the sexier musical numbers during the production code era. The best part is when Gene lifts Cyd up with just one arm.
The most famous moment in Gene Kelly’s entire career, singing (and dancing) the title song from “Singin in the Rain”
Other favorite Gene Kelly films:
–Summer Stock (1950). “Get Happy” is probably one of the best numbers in Judy Garland’s career. On the flipside, “Heavenly Music” is probably one of the absolute worst numbers in Gene’s career. I loathe that number. The only good part is when the dogs run out on stage.
–The Pirate. This film failed at the box office in 1948, but it’s a great film. Perhaps it was ahead of its time. Gene has all kinds of great athletic numbers, including one where he dons shorty shorts and dances with fire. Judy is great and looks gorgeous and there is a fantastic number at the end where Gene dances with the amazing Nicholas Brothers. They sing “Be a Clown” which suspiciously sounds like “Make ‘Em Laugh” from Singin’ in the Rain. Cole Porter’s “Be a Clown” came before Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed’s “Make ‘Em Laugh.” However, both The Pirate and Singin’ in the Rain were produced by Arthur Freed. Hmm…
-Les Girls (1957). Gene dances with Mitzi Gaynor in a fantastic number called “Why Am I So Gone (About That Gal?).” Mitzi looks great and she and Gene have a great dancing chemistry.
Gene Kelly and Shirley MacLaine spoofing the big 1940s musicals in “What a Way to Go!”
–What a Way to Go! (1964) This film stars Shirley MacLaine as an inadvertent black widow who just wants to live a simple life, free of material possessions. The present day part of the film features her telling the story of how she met and married each of her husbands and how money led her husband to his eventual death–the kicker being that it was Shirley who in trying to help her husband’s psyche, ends up leading him to riches. With each death, Shirley inherited her husband’s fortune. She’s worth millions upon millions of dollars and just wants to give it all away. She’s sent to a psychologist (Robert Cummings) because who wouldn’t want all that money? In this film, Gene plays Shirley’s fourth husband, Pinky Benson.
When Shirley meets Gene, he is working as a two-bit clown in a small club. His act is lame and nobody in the club pays attention to him. She feels sorry for Gene because he’s a very nice man and she senses that underneath the clown getup, he does have some talent. One night, Gene is running late and doesn’t have time to put on the clown costume. She convinces him to go out without the costume and just perform his act. Well, Gene’s simple soft-shoe routine is a sensation and soon he’s off to Hollywood. We are then treated to a send up of the big flashy MGM musicals as Shirley describes her life with Gene to the psychologist (each of her stories about her different husbands is a spoof of a different genre of film). Shirley is up to the task of dancing with Gene and they do a really great and funny number together. Gene’s character eventually becomes a huge, egotistical star who lives in an all-pink mansion (his character’s name is “Pinky” after all), and by all-pink, I mean ALL-PINK. He eventually meets his fate when he is crushed to death by a stampede of adoring fans.
I’ll admit that Busby Berkeley isn’t one of my favorite figures from the classic era of Hollywood. While I recognize that his choreography is unique and very creative, sometimes I find it a little tedious when there is a lot of it present in one film. Some of the kaleidoscope numbers seem to just go on and on. However, in the terms of the modern movie musical, Berkeley is a pioneer. Not only for uniting song and visuals together, but also for his technical work when bringing the musical number to life on screen. As a choreographer, Berkeley didn’t just merely have the chorus girls tap out a syncopated beat and move left to right within the constraints of the stage. Berkeley had elaborate soundstages built to showcase his numbers. Other routines he created featured large winding staircases, large sets of risers to feature multiple layers of dancers, enormous fountains and more. Berkeley’s set pieces not only made use of the stage itself but all the vertical space above. The dance numbers are always over the top and very much in rhythm. Berkeley’s heyday was in the early 1930s, before the production code was enforced (this era is also known as “pre-code”). Many of Berkeley’s dance numbers can also feature some racy elements that many people may find surprising for an eighty-plus year old film.
One of Berkeley’s raciest pre-code films is undoubtedly 1933’s The Gold Diggers of 1933 and despite what I said about not being a huge fan of Berkeley, I love this film. Starring the usual Berkeley pre-code musical suspects: Dick Powell, Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers, Ned Sparks, and Joan Blondell, The Gold Diggers of 1933 features Powell as a songwriter who is hired to write the music for girlfriend Keeler’s new show. The opening number, “We’re in the Money” performed by Rogers, is pretty racy for a 1933 film as the girls appear to only be clad in a coin cape and bra with a large coin serving as a pair of panties. Rogers’ large coin is ripped off her after the number when the costumes and set pieces are repossessed. Despite the scantily clad dancers in this number, this is hardly the raciest production in the film–that honor goes to “Pettin’ in the Park.”
Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell are “pettin’ in the park.”
“Pettin’ in the Park” features Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler “on a date” with Powell reading an excerpt from the book, Advice to Those in Love. The main crux of the advice is that spending time outside with your partner is a sure-fire way to get them “in the mood.” Powell starts crooning a catchy tune while Keeler clomps around on stage (I don’t think she’s a good dancer, definitely not graceful). The song Powell is singing is a little ditty entitled, you guessed it, “Pettin in the Park.” Keeler joins in on some of the verses. It features immortal lyrics like this:
Pettin’ in the park…bad boy Pettin’ in the dark…bad girl!
First you pet a little
Let up a little, and then you get a little kiss!
Suddenly a box of animal crackers (that Keeler had on her person for whatever reason) transforms into a zoo with a park scene. There are dozens of couples on screen “petting” one another.
Then, this is where the musical number gets bizarre. Powell starts really taking the petting advice from his self-help book to heart, and he gets a little too “handsy” for Keeler’s taste in the back of a car. She bails on him, on a pair of roller skates no less, and heads home. Suddenly a whole line of roller skating policemen emerge, along with a “baby” played by Billy Barty. He is wearing a big bonnet and sitting in a baby carriage. He then rolls through the scene while shooting spitballs. Barty is absurd, because it’s obvious he’s not a baby–but rather a little kid (Barty was born a dwarf. His full adult height was 3’9). The cops then go after the baby. They try to grab him, he ducks and they roll past him and away.
“Baby” Billy Barty
Next, we’re treated to a scene of this park as it progresses throughout all the seasons. We first see the chorus girls sporting winter fashions while they brave a snowstorm. Then the scene progresses into the spring and summer. We see all the petting couples lying on benches. The women are wearing flimsy white dresses. Everyone’s in blissful “Pettin’ in the Park” glee, until oops, it’s fall now. A rainstorm breaks out and the women run for cover, hiding behind a series of dressing rooms located behind one large curtain–it looks like separate rooms though.
The women remain in silhouette as they remove their wet clothing and get into something more comfortable. This is probably one of the most risque scenes that has ever appeared in a pre-code film. It is obvious that most of the women are topless or maybe even nude, as they change into something more comfortable. Lecherous baby Billy Barty is back, this time sporting rain gear. With a mischievous grin and shifty eyes, he raises the curtain. The ladies’ bare legs slowly come into view and they are now sporting sexy new outfits. Except the outfits are not sexy at all. All the ladies emerge from the curtain wearing metal clothing. Almost a literal chastity belt, if you will– the perfect outfit for any “pure” woman.
One of the raciest scenes in pre-code
The men are understandably a little disappointed and perhaps are in a little bit of pain, physically. We’re back to Powell and Keeler, who is also now sporting metal clothing. Billy Barty is to the rescue however, as he hands Powell a can opener. The number ends with a suggestive shot of Powell cutting Keeler’s “dress” with the can opener.
This number would never be accepted today. With today’s intense focus on sexual harassment, consent, and women’s roles in society, this number would have probably spawned numerous boycotts, social media diatribes, statements from the filmmakers expressing regret for having ever conceived of the number, hashtags, and everything else that could be done to express rage or apologize. It is important to look at this number from a 1933 perspective, however. It is a perception that people used to be a lot more prim and proper “back in the day,” or at least until the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and subsequent Women’s Rights movement in the 1970s. However, it is obvious that even in 1933, the ideas about sexual roles were around even then–men are the pursuer and the women are the ones being pursued. Sex was also on the forefront of almost any romantic couple’s minds. Were the couples that were “pettin’ in the park” married? Probably not. Powell and Keeler’s characters were not, yet off goes the chastity belt (though they marry by the end of the film). One of the great things about “Pettin’ in the Park” is that the film is so delightfully indiscreet when it’s putting on the guise of being discreet–the perfect quality in any pre-code film, in my opinion.
Pettin’ in the park… bad boy! Pettin’ in the dark… bad girl! Dad and mother did it, But we admit it, I’m pettin’ in the park with you.
One of the best things about watching classic film is discovering new favorite performers. Sure, there are the well-known legends of classic film: Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Judy Garland, etc. and I love many of them too and can completely see how and why these men and women have endured decades after their last film; but there are a whole crop of other actors in these films that deserve to be just as well known. Many of my favorite performers were steadily working actors and were even stars in their day, but over the years, they’ve been all but forgotten. Thankfully, through vehicles like TCM, the internet, the TCM/Fathom classic film events and other film revivals all over the country, these actors are once again getting their day in the sun. It is my hope that through TCM and the classic film events that these actors will once again be in the limelight. Often for me, it is the films with the big name that leads me to discovering these other performers, many of whom are just as good as the big name to whom they’re lending support, or even sharing a star billing with them!
One such performer who was a star in her day and whom deserves more recognition is Ann Blyth.
My first exposure to Ann Blyth was her star-making turn as the daughter-from-hell, Veda Pierce in the 1945 classic, Mildred Pierce. ‘Mildred,’ starred Joan Crawford as the title character, a recently divorced mother who is determined to give her spoiled teenage daughter, Veda, everything she wants. This film was a comeback vehicle for Crawford whose contract at MGM had been terminated two years prior, after eighteen years with the studio. In 1945, Crawford signed with Warner Brothers and immediately embarked upon a string of hit films, mostly in the melodrama genre, where her career thrived for the next decade or so. As an aside, frankly, I prefer this short period of Crawford’s career. I’ve never been a huge fan of Crawford, but I absolutely love Crawford during her Warner Brothers era–plus I really love melodramas. But I digress…
Back to Ann Blyth.
Prior to ‘Mildred,’ Blyth was under contract with Universal, mostly appearing in musicals that took advantage of her singing talent. She was paired often with Donald O’Connor as Universal hoped that they could replicate the success of MGM’s Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musicals that were popular a few years prior. The Blyth/O’Connor musicals were successful enough, but Blyth’s star skyrocketed after she was loaned out to Warner Brothers to appear in ‘Mildred.’ Blyth was cast after Shirley Temple, Virginia Weidler, Bonita Granville, and Martha Vickers were considered. Frankly, the idea of Shirley Temple slapping Joan Crawford sounds intriguing. I believe Granville could also have done a pretty good job as she played a horrible child in 1936’s These Three. But after seeing Blyth’s performance (and having seen it multiple times as Mildred Pierce is one of my favorite movies of all time), it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the part.
Blyth’s portrayal of Veda, I believe, is one of the all-time most “femme-fataly” of all femme fatales in noir. On the surface, she looks harmless. She’s got a sweet face and a very nice sounding voice. However, under the surface, there lies one of the most shallow, despicable characters in classic film. Veda is brazen and unapologetic about what she wants and what she’s willing to do to get what she wants. In some ways, I find that admirable, because she knows what she wants and she doesn’t care what she has to do to get it. On the other hand, the way she goes about it is questionable. Veda can show moments of kindness and sympathy, but one has to wonder how genuine it is when the next scene has her saying/doing something awful to Mildred. My favorite moment of the entire film is Blyth’s “f-you” speech to mother, Mildred, which culminates with Mildred ripping up Veda’s windfall (in form of a check that Veda received after some mild extortion), Veda slapping Mildred, and Mildred kicking Veda out of the house.
VEDA (to MILDRED): “With this money, I can get away from you. From you and your chickens and your pies and your kitchens and everything that smells of grease. I can get away from this shack with its cheap furniture. And this town and its dollar days, and its women that wear uniforms and its men who wear overalls. You think just because you made a little money, you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can’t. Because you’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing. With this money, I can get away from every rotten, stinking thing that makes me think of this place or you!”
Damn. I’ll have to say that Veda deserves everything she gets in this film. Her monologue above pretty much sums up Veda’s entire character. There is nothing redeeming about Veda. Mildred does everything for her, even jumping into the incredibly difficult restaurant industry, and despite after much success, really has nothing to show for it at the conclusion of the film.
After ‘Mildred,’ Blyth appeared in a variety of different film genres. One such film was 1948’s Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid with William Powell. This fantasy film is a lot of fun. Powell portrays a middle-aged psychiatrist, Arthur Peabody, who is experiencing a bit of a midlife crisis when it occurs to him that his fiftieth birthday is quickly approaching (we’ll look past the fact that Powell already looks 50 and then some). While on vacation, Peabody hears some singing coming from a distant island. Taking his fishing boat, Peabody travels to the island and discovers the source of the singing. It’s a mermaid, Lenore, played by Blyth.
While Lenore is mute and does not speak, she does sing. Throughout the rest of the film, Peabody spends a lot of time with Lenore. Lenore is mischievous and charming which Peabody finds exciting as it is pulling him out of the rut he feels he is in. Lenore is also young and likes Peabody, which he also finds exciting as a man nearing fifty. Peabody even ends up teaching Lenore how to kiss. Much of the film involves Peabody trying to hide Lenore, first in the bathtub of his hotel room and later in the insanely large fish pond at the hotel. Other characters in the film, overhearing snippets of Peabody’s conversations with Lenore and seeing Lenore’s face (not her mermaid body obviously) immediately think he’s having an affair.
While Blyth has no lines in ‘Peabody,’ she is completely enchanting as the mermaid. Between her beautiful face and her gorgeous singing voice, it’s no wonder that Peabody is instantly smitten.
Blyth’s Hollywood career wasn’t incredibly long, though longer than some. Over the course of thirteen years (1944-1957), she appeared in about thirty or so films. While I believe Mildred Pierce represents the apex of her career, Blyth makes an impact in every films of hers that I’ve seen. In addition to the two films I mentioned above, I also recommend Blyth’s last film, The Helen Morgan Story. Despite her voice being inexplicably dubbed, Blyth’s performance as tragic torch singer, Helen Morgan, is excellent. She portrays a woman who was at the top of her career, only to lose it to alcohol addiction. While this may not be the best biopic, Blyth shines in a performance that was different than the many musicals that she made prior to this film.
Today Blyth lives near San Diego, California. At 89 years old, she still answers her fan mail and is known to journey up to Los Angeles occasionally to appear at film related festivals. In 2013, Blyth appeared at the TCM Film Festival to be interviewed by late TCM host, Robert Osborne. In this interview, she showed that she still had the charm and lovely demeanor that she showcased in all those films decades prior. Fortunately, the real Ann Blyth is nothing like her best known role, Veda Pierce.
I apologize that I haven’t updated for months. I didn’t want to be one of those people that abandoned their blog and then… I became one of those people. I think I overwhelmed myself by signing up for too many blogging events and suddenly, blogging became more of a chore than something that was fun. Well 2018 is here and I want to get back into blogging. I’ll admit that I am struggling with finding my voice and figuring out what I want my blog to be about, and while at the same time, try to create something different. There are a lot of Classic Film and Television blogs out there.
I decided that instead of trying to develop some sort of gimmick or shtick, I would just focus on what I like and what I enjoy about classic film and television. I do not want to focus on least favorite films, actors, etc. because that is not something that I enjoy reading about. Why focus on the negative?
I plan on starting a new feature on this blog entitled “Recently Watched…” where I will review a film that I just saw for the first time. This will hopefully be the result of one of my 2018 resolutions which is to watch a new film without any distractions, e.g. looking at stuff on the internet, playing games on my phone, etc. I find myself doing that almost absentmindedly. Another one of my 2018 resolutions involved reading more. I’m also signed up for the 2018 Reading Challenge on the Goodreads community. I am starting with a modest goal: 12 books, 1 book/month. Right now I am reading James M. Cain’s Mildred Pierce (1941), the novel that served as the source material for the 1945 classic film of the same name. I plan on starting another feature on this blog where I compare the novel with the film.