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Doris Day would have celebrated her 99th birthday on April 3, 2021. Miss Day passed away almost two years ago on May 13, 2019 at the age of 97. Up until the day she passed away, Doris had devoted the last half of her life to animal welfare–forming multiple non-profit organizations whose intent was to support both animals and other like-minded organizations. Through Doris’ non-profits, she also protected animals’ well-being through her Spay and Neuter program, and support at other legislation aimed to give animals the respect and dignity they deserve when facing illnesses and injuries that could potentially prolong their suffering and pain. With all that I’ve read about Doris and from what I’ve seen of her in interviews, I’m sure that she’s most proud of her animal welfare work and is what she’d like to be her legacy.
For major classic film fans like myself and others, Doris Day will forever be known for her pretty, perky girl next door persona, which later evolved into the persona of a sophisticated career woman. She ended her career playing mother roles. However, in all of these roles, no matter the setting, Doris Day was always a cute, personable woman with a gorgeous singing voice and effortless charm. She, much like the younger Sandra Dee, ended up being saddled with a reputation for being virginal–which really doesn’t make sense considering that she often played a mother toward the end of her career. This “virgin” label is often used as some sort of an insult, as if to discount Day’s work as being trivial or fluff. To this I say, what’s wrong with fluff?
I like fluff.
In a pair of my favorite fluffy films, On Moonlight Bay (1951) and its sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953), Day plays eighteen-year old, Marjorie Winfield. We’ll look past the fact that Doris was 29 and 31 in the two films. Day’s youthfulness and effervescent personality more than makes her believable as an eighteen-year old. She was also paired up with frequent co-star, Gordon MacRae, who is adorable in both films. On Moonlight Bay starts the Winfield Family’s story in the mid-1910s. The Winfields have just moved into a larger home in a more affluent neighborhood in their small Indiana town. Marjorie has recently graduated high school and since she’s not getting any younger, her father, George (Leon Ames), is eager to have her meet a suitor and marry. Much to his chagrin however, Marjorie is a tomboy and would rather play baseball than wear dresses and look for a suitable husband.
Lucky for Marjorie however, she soon meets neighbor Bill Sherman (MacRae), an Indiana University student. He is at home while on a break from school. Marjorie is smitten with him and soon is all about being a proper young woman, wearing dresses and the like. At first George is overjoyed, but soon is dismayed when Bill shares his unconventional thoughts regarding marriage and finances. Bill’s thoughts on finances is especially upsetting since George makes his living as a banker. Marjorie’s mother, Alice (Rosemary DeCamp), likes Bill as does Marjorie’s precocious younger brother, Wesley (Billy Gray). The Winfield’s maid, Stella (Mary Wickes), is too busy dealing with Wesley’s hijinks to be concerned about Marjorie and Bill’s relationship.
At some point, George tries to fix Marjorie up with his idea of a suitable suitor, Hubert, but Hubert is lame and dull. Nobody except George likes him. Marjorie reluctantly follows along, but Wesley has no qualms about making his opinions on Hubert known. By the end of the film, the US has entered WWI and Bill leaves to fight in the war. In the sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, it is 1918. WWI is over and Bill returns to his small Indiana town to pick things up with Marjorie. Thankfully, Marjorie has been waiting for Bill and the two resume their relationship.
Marjorie and Bill’s relationship really hits its stride. Except, the now nineteen/twenty-year old Marjorie is ready to marry Bill. However, Bill is reluctant to commit to Marjorie, because he has yet to find a good job. He does not want to marry Marjorie if he is not gainfully employed. Of course, because every movie needs to find a reason for the romantic couple to break up so that they can triumphantly reunite towards the end, Marjorie and Bill breakup over his not wanting to marry Marjorie. They are reunited thanks to one of Wesley’s schemes, which involves Bill disguising himself (with a fake mustache, of course) as a horse and carriage driver. There’s also an odd subplot involving the family thinking that father George is having an affair. Wesley also has a fantasy sequence where he’s a detective. Those sequences are fine, but honestly this film is all about Doris Day and Gordon MacRae.
On Moonlight Bay and By the Light of the Silvery Moon never seem to be mentioned among Day’s more well known titles like Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, Send Me No Flowers, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Calamity Jane, Love Me or Leave Me, etc. This pair of films deserve to be mentioned along Doris’ other wonderful films. Both films capture Doris’ wonderful girl next door persona, she’s cute as a button and it’s easy to see why Gordon would be so enamored by her. She is so cheery and charming. As is Gordon. Why that guy wasn’t a bigger star is beyond me. These films are very much in the same vein as Meet Me in St. Louis (even with the same dad), but they are different enough to not be considered a knock-off. I don’t even usually like child actors, but Billy Gray is able to imbue his character Wesley, with enough charm and personality that he comes off as funny, rather than obnoxious. At no point is Wesley cloying, or trying to manipulate the audience into feeling affection toward him. He is legitimately funny and sweet towards his sister in the film.
I know that I’m a couple weeks late with this one and missed the event. I also missed the Buster Keaton event. This was a very busy week/weekend for me and unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the time to write this article. I had to prioritize some writing for my job (I write work procedures and other technical documentation) over my hobby writing. But I wanted to get caught up on this and my other blogathons–including finishing my Doris Day article on-time. I also have an article I want to write about an event going on amongst the Classic Film community on Twitter–PreCode April.
For the Favorite TV Show episode blogathon, I wanted to pay tribute to the late Dawn Wells. Wells passed away on December 30, 2020 from complications from COVID-19 (curse you COVID!) at the age of 82. Wells is best known as Mary Ann Summers, the young, perky Kansas farm girl castaway on Gilligan’s Island. Mary Ann was also my favorite castaway. At the beginning of the series, Mary Ann (along with The Professor) was relegated to the “And the Rest” part of the credits. Fortunately, at the behest of star, Bob Denver (Gilligan), Mary Ann and The Professor were added to the credits sequence in season two, where they remained until the end of the series. AUTHOR SIDENOTE: Seriously Gilligan’s Island theme song writers? You named 5/7 castaways by name, what’s two more castaways?
Anyway, as everyone recalls, almost every episode of Gilligan’s Island involved the castaways tying to get off the island. They often got their hopes up when a random celebrity/lookalike/character would show up on the allegedly uncharted island. Seriously, for an uncharted island, EVERYONE seemed to know where it was. I would imagine that the news of the SS Minnow’s passengers failing to return from their three-hour tour would have been Hawaiian news, if not national United States news. The passenger list includes a movie star, two multi-millionaires, and a prominent college professor. And if anything, the Skipper and Gilligan’s employer would be looking for them. And presumably, Mary Ann’s family and boyfriend, Horace Higgenbotham, would be looking for her. With all these random people coming across the uncharted island, why didn’t word get back to Hawaii?
But I digress. It’s Gilligan’s Island. It’s not supposed to make any sense. And don’t even get me started on that radio!
One such random visitor to find the uncharted island, were the Beatles-esque rock band, The Mosquitos. Apparently The Mosquitos traveled to the uncharted island to escape their fans and get some peace and quiet. Unfortunately, the island isn’t deserted like they’d hoped and they find more fans in the form of Gilligan and Mary Ann. The castaways then learn that The Mosquitos aren’t planning on leaving the island for a month. To try and force the band to leave sooner, the castaways work to make life stressful for the band, so that they’ll want to leave. The Mosquitos do leave… but merely move to the other side of the island. They’re quickly discovered by the castaways. The band then informs the gang that they’re not planning on leaving for two months.
In order to make sure that The Mosquitos don’t depart without them, the male castaways form their own band, The Gnats. They are terrible. Then, the women make their own band, The Honeybees. As is to be expected, a band featuring Ginger is much better, and Mary Ann and even Mrs. Howell (!) are adorable. The Mosquitos are charmed by the ladies. However, this plan backfires as The Mosquitos leave in a hurry and without the castaways, because they don’t want competition from The Honeybees.
Does this plot make sense? No not really. But it doesn’t matter. The Honeybees’ song, “You Need Us” is completely charming, from beginning to end. The girls look great. Ginger looks gorgeous and shows off her dancing ability. Mary Ann is adorable. Mrs. Howell is a great sport and is much better than Mr. Howell at dancing and singing.
We just won’t think about how the record player is powered, why the castaways have a record player, and why do they have so many records to play? Why do they have three matching Honeybees’ costumes? Or Mrs. Howell’s wig?
Ah Errol Flynn. My boyfriend, Errol Flynn. While proved himself an adept actor in dramas, comedies, sports films, adventure… He’s best known today for his swashbucklers. Many of Flynn’s swashbuckler films involved him wielding a sword, such as in Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, The Adventures of Don Juan, Against All Flags, and his best-known film, The Adventures of Robin Hood. In Flynn’s films, he always played the rogue hero. A man who displayed massive amounts of bravado and heroism, but could also make women weak in the knees with one flash of his megawatt smile. Flynn could swagger into the room and cut the villain down to size with one cutting remark. He always played a charismatic leader, one whom others looked up to and wanted to support. In this article, I’m going to focus on Flynn’s pirate films, it is Pirate Week, after all.
Captain Blood (1935). This film was Errol Flynn’s big break. While he’d appeared in two films prior to Captain Blood, in one film, he played a corpse (The Case of the Curious Bride) and in another (Don’t Bet on Blondes), he had the small role as a boyfriend–nothing that was going to catapult him into stardom. For ‘Blood,’ Warner Brothers had wanted to cast Robert Donat, but he turned the film down, fearing that it’d be too strenuous for his asthma. Finally, the studio settled on the unknown Australian, Errol Flynn, and cast him alongside the equally unknown, 19-year old Olivia de Havilland. This would prove to be a monumental film for both actors.
In this film, Flynn plays the titular, Captain Peter Blood, a 17th century British doctor who is arrested and accused of treason against King James II after treating Lord Gilroy. The judge sentences him to death, but the King sees an opportunity for profit, and opts to transfer Peter and other rebellious men to the West Indies to be sold into slavery. After landing in Port Royal, the men are put up on the block to be sold to the wealthy landowners. When it’s Peter’s turn, he is purchased for 10 pounds by Arabella Bishop (Olivia de Havilland), the wealthy niece of the local military commander, Colonel Bishop. Arabella is charmed by Peter’s rebellious nature and let’s face it, he was the most attractive of all the slaves. Peter resents having been purchased like he was a piece of meat. To improve his situation, Arabella recommends Peter for the job of her uncle’s personal physician. It seems that Colonel Bishop suffers from the gout. The conflict of the film occurs when Peter puts together a plan for himself and his fellow slave men to escape. They do and thus begin their life of piracy.
The Sea Hawk (1941) In this pirate film, Flynn plays Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, a British subject of Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson). He and his crew capture a Spanish ship, helmed by the Spanish Ambassador, Don Alvarez (Claude Rains), who along with his daughter, Dona Maria (Brenda Marshall), were sent to Britain by King Phillip II of Spain, to quell Elizabeth I’s suspicions that he’s trying to put together an Armada Fleet. However, after Thorpe captures their ship, he takes Don and Dona to Britain with him. And because he’s ladykiller Errol Flynn, Thorpe wins the affections of Dona Maria by returning her jewelry that he and his crew had stolen. While Queen Elizabeth I doesn’t approve of Thorpe’s crew’s activities as it endangers Britain and Spain’s peace treaty, she hesitantly allows Thorpe to go forward with his plan to seize a Spanish Treasure Fleet.
At one point in the film Flynn and his crew are captured by the Spanish and made to work as slaves in the Galley. They are chained to each other and to the boat and forced to provide the ship’s power. Let me just get this out of the way: I am here for scantily-clad slave Errol Flynn. Of course, the men need to figure out a way to escape. Later, Flynn charms Queen Elizabeth I with his monkey (no, that’s not a euphemism. He really does have a monkey) and continues to woo Dona Maria. This is a really great film, probably Flynn’s best pirate film, in my opinion. I wish they’d cast a leading lady with a little more personality, as Brenda Marshall is a little bland, but over all, she is fine. Flora Robson is also much more effective as Queen Elizabeth I, than my personal Queen, Bette Davis. Yes, I said it.
Against All Flags (1952). This film features an older Errol Flynn. No he’s not has lithe as he was previously. He’s a little more haggard. He isn’t quite the same vivacious Errol Flynn of the past as his demons were quickly catching up with him; but because it’s Errol Flynn, he is still attractive and still has panache. In this film, Flynn plays Lieutenant Brian Hawke, who works aboard the British ship, The Monsoon. He volunteers for a dangerous mission to infiltrate the pirate’s base on the coast of Madagascar. He plans to pose as a deserter. When Hawke arrives at the pirates’ base, he immediately arouses suspicion in Captain Roc Brasillano (Anthony Quinn). Brasillano says that he will bring Hawke in front of a pirates’ council to decide his fate. If they don’t like him, he’ll be executed.
At the same time, because it’s Errol Flynn, he’s attracted the attention of Spitfire Stevens (Maureen O’Hara), the only female pirate aboard ship. She is one of the Captains of the ship and inherited the position from her father. At the council, Hawke ends up dueling one of the pirates and winning. He’s invited to join the pirates on a tentative basis, as he still needs to prove his worth. At some point, after taking over another ship, another woman is taken on board. She becomes immediately smitten with Hawke, much to the chagrin of Spitfire, even though she pretends not to like Hawke. Eventually, because it’s Errol Flynn, he ends up in a love triangle with himself, Brasillano and Spitfire, with an offshoot of a small triangle between himself, the other woman, and Spitfire. Hawke himself has no interest in the other woman, he only has eyes for Spitfire.
This is a beautiful looking film. One cannot go wrong with Maureen O’Hara. She was also known for her pirate films. It is definitely a treat to have two major figures of Pirate Cinema: Flynn and O’Hara, in the same film.
February is the month of Valentine’s Day. A month to celebrate romance. A month to celebrate love. Typically, in lieu of the regular romance movie routine, I personally like to watch movies about obsessive love, like Leave Her to Heaven, where the antagonist, Ellen Berent’s only problem is that “she loves too much.” That’s putting it mildly. For this blogathon however, I’m going to go the more traditional route with a salute to my favorite movie couples. No, it’s not the most unique idea, but I hope that my selections are unique. These are the couples you hope will end up together. Even if they don’t, if the relationship ends on a satisfying note, it can still be a relationship worth coveting.
#1 Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund- Casablanca (1942). This isn’t a unique choice. Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman) are often held up as one of Classic Hollywood’s greatest romances; but for good reason. Rick and Ilsa’s goodbye scene at the airport is iconic. Who can forget Rick lifting Ilsa’s chin as she sobs, then delivering the iconic line: “Here’s looking at you, kid.” Yes he’s repeating a line that he says to Ilsa in Paris, but it’s this moment where the line is the most poignant. It’s the final callback to the passionate romance they shared before World War II changed their lives permanently. Yes, Ilsa was married to Lazlo (Paul Henried) while they were in Paris and she’s married to him throughout the film. But who cares about Lazlo? This is Rick and Ilsa’s romance. They fell in love in Paris. They were torn apart by the war when Ilsa discovers that her “dead” husband, Lazlo, is actually alive. They’re brought back together in Casablanca when Lazlo’s work with the French Resistance takes him to Morocco. Rick and Ilsa’s feelings for one another come back and it’s such a passionate romance, it’s almost a shame that they don’t end up together. But the ending allows Rick to be the bigger man and to find his place in the world, with Louis Renault (Claude Rains) by his side. It’s the beginning of a beautiful friendship, indeed.
#2 Harry Morgan & Marie ‘Slim’ Browning- To Have and Have Not (1944). I’d be remiss to forget about Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall’s iconic first film together. For not being known as a matinee idol, Bogart found himself part of many classic on-screen romances. In this instance, it was his appearance as Harry Morgan (Bogart), a fisherman working in the French colony of Martinique, a Caribbean nation. Because this takes place right after the Fall of France to the Germans during World War II, the island of Martinique is a mish-mash of Germans (due to the control possessed by the Pro-German Vichy France), sympathetic French, and other people trying to escape their lives. One of these people that Harry meets, is “Slim” (Bacall), a young American woman who is a bit of a wanderer and has found her way to Martinique. The sparks between Harry and Slim are obvious, especially after Slim teaches him how to whistle. Bogie and Bacall’s on-screen chemistry leapt off the screen and into real life as Bogie and Bacall fell in love and became one of Classic Hollywood’s most iconic couples.
#3 Frances “Gidget” Lawrence & Jeffrey “Moondoggie” Matthews-Gidget (1959). If there’s one type of movie I love, it’s the teen beach movie and Gidget is the all-time best teen beach movie, in my opinion. Part of the reason I love this movie so much is for Gidget (Sandra Dee) and Moondoggie (James Darren). In this film, Gidget (nicknamed bestowed upon Frances by the surfer boys, it’s an amalgamation of “girl” and “midget”) is a 17-year old incoming high school senior who feels inadequate next to her more physically developed, boy crazy girlfriends. At the beginning of the film, we see Gidget and her friends try to attract the surfer boys at the beach, with Gidget failing miserably due to her awkwardness. But there’s something endearing about Gidget. She’s genuine. She can’t muster up the ability to try and attract the boys, because it seems fake. She just wants to swim. She doesn’t want to play stupid games trying to get their attention. She ends up catching the attention of one of the surfer boys, Moondoggie. At first Moondoggie is standoffish, but it’s obvious that he’s doing so because he’s trying to keep up his “cred” with the other boys. But through being protective of Gidget and later having a chance to spend time with her one-on-one, he realizes that he really does like her. Gidget’s liked him the whole time. When they have a chance to be together, they are smitten. Frankly, they are adorable and I love them. In the end, Gidget’s friends are still single and Gidget’s hooked herself a hot college guy by staying true to herself. Get it, girl!
#4 Connie Milligan & Joe Carter- The More the Merrier (1943). Connie (Jean Arthur) and Joe (Joel McCrea) are adorable. They’re brought together by the meddling, Benjamin Dingle (Charles Coburn), a retired millionaire who sublets half of Connie’s apartment during the World War II housing crisis. When Sergeant Joe Carter shows up to answer Connie’s ad, Mr. Dingle sees an opportunity to fix the uptight Connie up with a nice young man. Mr. Dingle sublets half of his half of the apartment to Joe. After learning about Mr. Dingle’s arrangement, Connie is upset. Especially when the men start razzing her about her fiance, Mr. Charles J. Pendergast. Despite trying to impress the two men with Mr. Pendergast’s good points (he makes $8600/year and has no hair), it becomes even obvious that she’s matched up with the wrong man. By this point, Joe has a crush on Connie and wants to spend time with her. Later one evening, Joe and Connie find themselves alone together on the front stoop of their apartment building. What unfolds on the front stoop is one of the sexiest, romantic scenes in Classic Hollywood, and nobody had to lose any of their clothes. I love them together and hope that they lived happily ever after… without Mr. Pendergast.
#5 Nick and Nora Charles, The Thin Man Series (1934-1947). Nick (William Powell) and Nora (Myrna Loy) Charles are the power couple that everyone wishes they were. They are part of society. They have a beautiful home. They have an amazing dog, Asta. And, they solve mysteries together, thanks to Nick’s background as a detective. Nick loves the thrill of the mystery and Nora desperately wishes to be a part of the thrill. Nick tries to keep her at home and safe from the danger, but Nora always manages to horn her way in, by finding a vital clue or having an alluring thought about a potential suspect. At the start of the film series, Nick had retired from his detective career when he marries socialite Nora. Nick and Nora have such an amazing rapport and chemistry with one another, that the mystery almost takes a back seat to their relationship. William Powell and Myrna Loy are so amazing together, that one wishes they’d been married in real life.
After World War II, the idea of the “nuclear family” was advertised to married couples as the “American Dream” and the way things are supposed to be to achieve a happy life. Women who’d found employment outside the home while the men were fighting in World War II, were expected to give up their jobs and return to “domestic bliss.” If couples weren’t already married, they married upon the man’s return from the war. Married couples had a million children. They bought a tract home in some newly-built subdivision in the suburbs somewhere. Women who during the war, had found personal enrichment in being a military pilot or working in manufacturing factory work were expected to find the same personal enrichment in the newest vacuum, fancy stoves, and being a shill for Tupperware. If a woman did not find happiness in these things, she was branded as “unfeminine” or a “bad wife” or any other negative labels. As one can imagine, secret pill and alcohol abuse was rampant among housewives in the 1950s and 1960s.
Despite what was really happening in America, the new burgeoning medium of television was continuing to perpetuate the image of the perfect nuclear family. Women like June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) were seen as content and happy, while vacuuming the home, perfectly coiffed, dressed in high heels and pearls. She watched after her children, Wally and The Beaver, but hesitated to dole out discipline. Husband Ward was expected to make the disciplinary decisions for the children. Other shows like Father Knows Best, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, and The Donna Reed Show all presented the husband and wives as asexual beings whose only concern involved their children, their home, and everything else needed to uphold the image of the perfect nuclear family.
Meanwhile in the movie world, the collapsing studio system and Production Code allowed filmmakers room to explore more controversial themes and ideas. Dysfunctional families found more and more screen-time. Rebel Without a Cause presented a family with a browbeaten husband and a domineering wife. Their inability to come together as a parental unit is tearing their juvenile delinquent son apart. All That Heaven Allows depicts a mother (and widow) trying to find love again with a younger man, an arborist, much to the chagrin of her college-age children. Her children don’t approve of her relationship and don’t even like that she’s trying to find another husband, as if she would be cheating on their father.
Aside from ‘Rebel’ and ‘Heaven,’ there are countless other films depicting a complicated family dynamic: Written on the Wind, There’s Always Tomorrow, Peyton Place, Imitation of Life, the list goes on and on. Despite differences in theme, the one commonality that all these films have is that they demonstrate how intense and volatile these familial relationships can be when other factors are involved: class differences and expectations, alcohol, infidelity, out of wedlock pregnancies, sexuality, divorce, sexual needs, race, etc. These are all issues that if they exist, tend to remain hidden within the family lore. Family members cover for each other’s mistakes. If a member of the family is known for being racist, family members learn how to tolerate it, but don’t let it be known outside of the confines of the family unit. It is only when the skeletons in the collective family closet become known, that drama erupts, or someone suffers consequences, or both. One of the best examples of this idea is depicted in one of my favorite melodramas–A Summer Place.
::Cue Percy Faith’s “Theme to A Summer Place” ::
A Summer Place starts with Sylvia (Dorothy McGuire) and Bart (Arthur Kennedy) Hunter receiving a telegram from Ken Jorgenson (Richard Egan). Jorgenson writes the Hunters to request accommodations for himself, his wife and their daughter at their Inn in the resort town of Pine Island, off the coast of Maine. About twenty years prior as a youth, Ken had worked as a lifeguard on Pine Island. He is now a successful chemist and millionaire. The Inn used to be Bart Hunter’s family’s mansion, but has since been converted into an Inn due to Bart’s squandering of the family fortune. Sylvia also has a history at Pine Island and had known Ken during his lifeguarding days. It is obvious that Bart and Sylvia have marital problems. Bart is an alcoholic and Sylvia has been forced to keep the Inn running so that she and their 17-year old son, Johnny (Troy Donahue), have a place to live and food on the table.
Bart, assuming that Ken wants to flaunt his wealth and hold it over Bart (who has lost all of his wealth) wants to deny the reservation request. Sylvia tells Bart that they have no choice but to accept Ken’s reservation. They need the money desperately. Bart reluctantly agrees. To give the Jorgensons the best accommodations possible, the Hunter family move into their guest house so that the Jorgensons can have Bart and Sylvia’s master bedroom suite.
Meanwhile, Ken and his shrew of a wife Helen (Constance Ford) and their 17-year old daughter, Molly (Sandra Dee), are sailing to Pine Island. We get a sneak peek at Helen’s awfulness when she and Molly get into an argument over what Molly should wear when she disembarks the boat. Helen wants Molly to put on constrictive support garments and juvenile clothing that obscures her developing figure. Helen finds Molly’s figure and interest in boys to be vulgar. Honestly, Helen finds almost everything vulgar. Ken is much more permissive and finds nothing wrong with Molly’s figure, her choice in clothing, or her interest in the opposite sex. It should not come as a surprise that Ken and Helen do not sleep in the same bed, they don’t even share a bedroom. Honestly, it’s surprising that Molly even exists.
When Ken, Helen, and Molly step off the boat, Johnny and Molly immediately spot one another and are smitten. They spend time together and Helen instantly assumes the worst–there’s a horrible scene where Helen forces Molly to submit to a physical examination from a random doctor she hires to check and make sure she’s still a virgin. At another point, Helen slaps Molly so hard, she takes a very dramatic tumble into the Christmas tree. Yes. This is the type of woman we’re dealing with. In spite of Helen, Molly and Johnny fall deeper and deeper into love with one another.
While Johnny and Molly are falling in love, Ken and Sylvia are reigniting their’s. It becomes obvious that Ken and Sylvia were lovers during their youth when Ken was lifeguarding on Pine Island–that is the real reason why Bart didn’t want Ken and his family on the island. Ken and Sylvia were deeply in love, but didn’t marry because Ken was a poor college student and couldn’t support Sylvia. They broke up and she married Bart, whom she didn’t love, but he was from a rich family with status. How Ken ended up with Helen, I have no idea. She could not have been a better option than being single. Regardless, Ken and Sylvia have stayed in their loveless, unhappy, sexless (except for at least one rendezvous) marriages for the sake of their children.
Ken and Sylvia begin an affair which comes to light after the island’s night watchman rats them out to Helen and tells her about their nighttime trysts in the boathouse. Helen first decides to play the silent, suffering wife (based on the advice of her horrible mother who tells her to catch Ken and Sylvia together so she can get a bigger divorce settlement). However, after she forces Molly to go through the embarrassing physical virginity exam (after Molly and Johnny spend the night together on another island after their boat capsizes), Johnny threatens to kill her. Through a fit of anger, Helen reveals Ken and Sylvia’s affair to everyone. It’s game over and the Jorgensons and Hunters divorce. Ken and Sylvia are free to marry.
However neither Helen nor Bart will relinquish custody of their respective children. Apparently, despite being horrible people, the courts don’t look kindly on Ken and Sylvia (aka the better parents) because of their adultery. Custody is granted to Helen and Bart. Ken and Sylvia are given visitation rights. Helen and Bart choose to send Johnny and Molly away to separate non-coed boarding schools. Johnny goes to Virginia and Molly goes to another school a few states away. Despite their distance however, they stay in touch via letters (which are of course read by Helen) and secret visits. It is during one of these visits where Molly learns that she’s pregnant and tells Johnny. Helen learns of Molly’s pregnancy and informs Ken.
A Summer Place is such an amazing melodrama. I love the over-wrought melodramas of the 1950s. I love them even more when they center on teenage melodrama. A Summer Place has two nuclear families: The Jorgensons and The Hunters. Neither family is happy. The Jorgensons are torn apart by Helen’s prudishness, hate, and intolerance. Ken has a spectacular monologue where he berates Helen for displaying yet another prejudice:
(After Helen alludes to Molly’s “Swedish blood” as the reason why she lets Johnny kiss her the first night they meet)
KEN: So now you hate the Swedes. How many outlets for your hate do you have, Helen? We haven’t been able to find a new house because of your multiplicity of them. We can’t buy near a school because you hate kids. They make noise. And there can’t be any Jews or Catholics on the block, either. And, oh, yes, it can’t be anywhere near the Polish or Italian sections. And, of course, Negroes have to be avoided at all costs. Now let’s see: No Jews, no Catholics, no Italians, no Poles, no children, no Negroes. Do I have the list right, so far? And now you’ve added Swedes. And, oh yes, you won’t use a Chinese laundry because you distrust Orientals. And you think the British are snobbish, the Russians fearful, the French immoral, the Germans brutal, and all Latin Americans lazy. What’s your plan? To cut humanity out? Are you anti-people and anti-life? Must you suffocate every natural instinct in our daughter too? Must you label young love-making as cheap and wanton and indecent? Must you persist in making sex, itself, a filthy word?RICHARD EGAN as KEN in A Summer Place (1959)
Helen has nothing to say. She just stomps out of the room. Helen sucks. She is a horrible, vile person. She has absolutely no redeeming qualities. She’s awful at the beginning of the film and she’s awful at the end. At least with Bart, I feel like deep-down, without the booze, he might be a semi-decent person. At least he isn’t full of so much hate. I think he mostly hates himself and how he’s squandered his family’s fortune and status. If this movie had been made pre-1950, Helen and Bart would have made some sort of turnaround to save their marriages and win back their spouses. However, in 1959, we are rooting for Ken and Sylvia’s adultery. These people deserve happiness. They should leave their spouses. Who cares that they’re cheating on their partners? Their partners aren’t worth keeping. Molly and Johnny’s love should be encouraged so they can save themselves from a fate like Ken and Sylvia’s. Being teen parents might not be the best thing in the world, but it’s not the end of the world either.
At the end of this film, two nuclear families have crumbled but two more are rising from the ashes. Johnny and Molly are starting their own family. Ken and Sylvia have found happiness with each other. Bart and Helen are left on the outside as they should be. True love prevails. Hate can kick rocks.
Here’s the story of a lovely lady. Who was bringing up three very lovely girls. All of them had hair of gold, like their mother. The youngest one in curls.
It’s the story of a man named Brady, who was busy with three boys of his own. They were four men, living all together. Yet they were all alone.
Till the one day, when the lady met this fellow and they knew it was much more than a hunch. That this group must somehow form a family.
And that’s the way [they] became:
So goes the iconic opening theme song and credits sequence that not only introduces the characters, but also provides the audience with all the information they need to enjoy the show. I love The Brady Bunch. Yes, it can be corny at times and overly sappy, but for me, it treads the fine line between being charmingly sappy and obnoxiously saccharine (looking at you Full House) that purposely manipulates its audience. Yes, episodes of the Brady Bunch can have lessons, but more often than not, there are repeating motifs that “kids” of all ages (yes, adults too) can identify with. Some common motifs are: boys/men against girls/women, younger versus older, big-head syndrome, and puppy love. Despite what setbacks and challenges the characters may face, the audience knows that all will be resolved by the end of the episode.
Much of the action of the series unfolds inside the Brady residence at 4222 Clinton Way in an unnamed city. However, based on references made throughout the series, we can safely assume that the Bradys live somewhere in the sprawling Los Angeles area. It is also established that the oldest son, Greg Brady, is the “Casanova of Clinton Avenue.” The Brady Bunch’s house is a character in and of itself. Their house, both the exterior and interior is iconic. Even the layman Brady Bunch fan, even someone only remotely aware of the Brady Bunch’s existence, knows what the house looks like.
Mike Brady, the patriarch of the Brady clan, and an architect, designed the Brady’s home. Despite popular belief, they have more than one bathroom in the house. Aside from the kids’ famous Jack-and-Jill bathroom, Mike and Carol also have a bathroom in their master bedroom. Where else would Carol hang her purple shower curtain that Greg and “Raquel,” Coolidge High School’s goat mascot, rip down? Finally, I think it is safe to assume that Alice has her own bathroom attached to her bedroom. Based on the amount of Brady Bunch that I’ve watched (and it’s a lot), I believe that Alice’s room is behind the kitchen nearby the service porch.
The Brady house is well-designed and decorated. The multi-level home has a small foyer that brings guests into the Brady’s living room and dining room. The living room seems to be a more formal space as this is frequently where Mike entertains his clients, like Senor and Senorita Calderon, who later see Peter aka “Phil Packer” and Greg entertaining some girlfriends in a supposed X-rated manner at Marioni’s Pizza. This room is where Marcia entertains Davy Jones who stops by to bring Marcia a copy of his new album after he overhears her lamenting to his manager that she promised to get Davy to appear at her prom. The living room is also where Marcia meets her “dream of dreams,” Desi Arnaz Jr. The living room is not without its drama however, this is also the room where Peter accidentally breaks “mom’s favorite vase” with a basketball, despite mom having said: “don’t play ball in the house.” The living room is also where Marcia holds slumber parties until they’re disrupted by itching powder, and where kids hold their parties. It is at one of these parties when Peter learns that he does have a personality after all, and that personality is “lady killer.” This room is not without heartbreak however, aside from the sad demise of “mom’s favorite vase,” this is the room where Marcia starts bawling after the boys completely ignore her speech when she runs for Class President (against Greg).
Later, in the dining room, mom’s favorite vase endures yet another humiliation when it starts leaking all over the table after having been filled with water for some flowers. It seems that the kids’ glue job wasn’t up to snuff. The dining room also serves as the location for the kids’ house of cards contest that would determine whether the boys or the girls would receive Alice’s bounty of trading stamps. The boys wanted to use their stamps to buy a rowboat, and the girls wanted a sewing machine. In the end, Tiger runs into Greg, causing him to fall into the house of cards. The girls make good though and use the stamps to get a color television set. Presumably, this is the set that goes into the family room. Poor Alice, despite doting on the family day in and day out, never gets to eat dinner with the family. She finally gets to eat dinner with them when Mike announces that he will be making a gourmet dinner for the family. The dining room also features an entrance to the Brady’s backyard with the famous, low-maintenance (though we see Marcia cutting it with scissors in an episode) Astro-Turf lawn.
The dining room is adjacent to the Brady’s kitchen. The Brady kitchen is iconic with its orange formica countertops and avocado green appliances. There is also an awesome double oven built into a brick column. There’s also a stovetop built into the counter. Over the years, much cooking goes on in the Brady kitchen, including, but not limited to: meatloaf, the girls’ horrible breakfast, pork chops and applesauce, strawberry preserves, Mike’s gourmet dinner, Marcia’s merit badge meal, spaghetti that tastes like metal when eaten with Marcia’s one-episode braces, Brady Kid lunch assembly line, Peter’s “Straw Split Fudge Short,” and countless other meals. This room is where Alice has the last apple, the last peach, and the last banana hidden. The tulip table and chairs (that I love, by the way) is where Marcia and Greg fight over Marcia’s date with Warren Mulaney and where Jan pretends to be an only child. This is where Mike, Carol and Alice sit over coffee at the table and discuss issues regarding the children. The kitchen also features an entrance to the backyard.
Through the saloon doors and passthrough of the kitchen is the Brady den. The den is where the family watch the latest sports game, movie, or family member(s) on television. This is where the kids “Can make the World A Whole Lot Brighter” with their Brady Six act. This is the room where Alice irons and listens to her soap opera. This is also the room where the kids, seated on the plaid couches, sometimes receive lectures. One such lecture they received involved the high phone bills they were racking up. To remedy the situation (or so he thought), Mike installed a payphone in the family room. This somewhat worked until Mike found himself without a phone and without a dime needing to take a call from an important client. In the den, Marcia practices her yoga for one of the dozen clubs she joins when she starts at Westdale High. The den has the most-used entrance to the Brady’s backyard.
The backyard is where Bobby and Cindy try to break the record for longest time teeter-tottering. This is where the kids, sans Jan, practice for the potato sack race. This is where Mike and the kids refurbish and paint the “S.S. Brady” a row-boat too small for the whole family to enjoy. The backyard provides room for all the kids’ school pursuits, such as a working full-size dunking booth (you can’t say Mike and Carol don’t go all-in for their kids and their kids’ educations. Money and time are no object, apparently) Greg’s re-creation of the Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock, and where the family puts on “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” as a benefit to pay for a gift for Mrs. Whitfield, a beloved teacher who is retiring. Later, in The Brady Bunch Movie, we will again see Mrs. Whitfield who has returned to teaching, but has apparently fallen on hard times in the 1990s and is busted for stealing school supplies. The backyard is where Bobby receives his first kiss, courtesy of the potentially mumps-infested Millicent. The backyard is not completely full of mirth and whimsy however, It is also the where Jan, not wearing her glasses (they make her look “positively goofy” she says), crashes into Mike’s anniversary gift for Carol, Peter risks potential murder (via Alice) for getting mud all over the patio, Greg brings home his lemon of a car, Peter is nearly killed by a falling ladder, but pushed out of the way by Bobby (who is covered in green paint in the process), Greg loses the pull-up contest to Bobby and has to become his slave, Greg announces to his parents that he will not attend college and will instead focus on becoming “Johnny Bravo,” and finally, poor Tiger’s vacant dog-house still stands as a reminder that Tiger hasn’t been seen since Season 2.
Above the backyard are the bedrooms. The girls’ room is the room that had the shutter Greg was painting before he dangerously climbs through the window from the ladder (that comes crashing down towards Peter’s head, before Bobby pushes him out of the way and is doused with green paint) to answer the phone. The girls’ room is where a lot of tears were shed: Marcia when she was removed as Juliet from her school’s rendition of “Romeo and Juliet,” Marcia when she has to get braces, Jan when she thinks she’s ugly, and poor Cindy when she endures frequent bullying by Buddy Hinton who mocks her for having a lisp. Buddy Hinton was such a loser, aside from being a bully, he’s obviously at least a 5th-6th grader picking on a 1st grader. But looking at his parents, especially his doormat of a mother, it’s no wonder. However, the girls’ room is also one of much happiness, this is where Marcia displays all her awards, where Jan finds her lost locket after looking for “The Little Bear” and where Cindy keeps her life savings (inside her doll’s head of course) that she happily contributes when the kids decide to form a singing group.
Adjacent to the girls’ bedroom, is the famous blue Jack-and-Jill bathroom. This room causes a lot of tension between the children, definitely fueling the misconception that it is the only bathroom in the house. The girls scatter their hair ribbons all over the place, much to the boys’ chagrin. Jan locks herself in the bathroom to scrub her freckles off with a lemon. Marcia tries to impress Cindy with her beauty routine only to have Cindy inquire about brushing her teeth with braces. Jan locks herself in the bathroom to try out the wig she purchased when she decides to change her whole look–“The New Jan Brady.” The drama over the bathroom reaches a boiling point in one episode, when Mike and Carol actually consider moving to a larger house with additional bathrooms. Thankfully, they reconsider after the kids proclaim their love for the house (and haunt it for good measure) when a potential buyer comes to look at the home.
On the other side of the bathroom is the boys’ room. Peter and Bobby share a bunk bed with Greg in a single bed on the other side of the room. Unlike the girls’ room which was re-decorated at least three times, the boys’ room stayed pretty much the same (can’t lose those scary clown paintings), except when Greg moves into the attic. The boys’ room is pretty basic however. This is where Peter locks Bobby in the closet after he tires of being his slave. Greg croons “Clowns never laughed before, beanstalks never grew,” lyrics from a song he’d written during happier times before he was busted for smoking. Greg has a reality-check when he realizes that he may never be as great a pitcher as baseball great, Don Dysdale, whom he’d met earlier in the backyard. This is also where Bobby meets Joe Namath, who comes to visit the “ailing” Bobby after Cindy writes him a letter talking about her brother’s illness. This is the room where Greg wants to talk to Mike “man-to-man, not kid-to-man man-to-man but man-to-man man-to man.” This is where both Greg and Peter start shaving their one whisker.
The hallway isn’t that exciting except that it features Carol’s favorite feature: a walk-in linen closet, that she shows off briefly when giving an impromptu tour of her home to her fellow Westdale High PTA members. This closet is also located directly below Greg’s attic bedroom and the kids can hear all his secrets: such as him stashing “Raquel” in his bedroom. The hallway also has two random chairs that I don’t understand. Who is going to just sit in the hallway randomly? Get these out of here, Carol! These are taking up precious walking room.
At another end of the hall, we have Mike and Carol’s master bedroom. This room was supposedly redecorated, when a decision was being made between striped or floral wallpaper. In the end though, they painted the room teal and it seemingly looked the same as it did before? I loved the floral architectural piece behind Mike and Carol’s bed. I also loved that this show actually featured parents who seemingly had a life and some romance outside of their six children. The more “romantic” side of their relationship is hinted to when the kids make Mike and Carol a “Do Not Disturb” sign for their bedroom. Mike and Carol’s closet, supposedly divided 50/50, but probably more 70/30 in Carol’s favor, is full of Carol’s frilly nightgowns, bags to match her shoes, and the different outfits she buys (skiing outfit for the mountains, bikini for the beach, cowboy outfit for the dude ranch, red flapper dress for the Charleston contest, country dress for the square dance). Nobody can accuse this woman for not dressing appropriately for the occasion.
Upstairs, in the attic (that Mike must have somehow retrofitted from its 2′ height clearance in season 2 to being at least 7′ if not 9′ at the end of season 4), is Greg’s bedroom. Greg’s moving into the room was a contentious affair, with Marcia wanting the room as well, but ultimately Greg won out. His “bachelor pad” so to speak, is pretty sweet. Greg has a patchwork carpet, a larger bed, an old-time radio, a coat rack, a dartboard, a beaded curtain that separated a sink from his bedroom, and a globe! Greg’s room looks like what a kid might decorate his own room with if he had unlimited access to random stuff in his parents’ attic. I only wish Greg had incorporated some of the things from his previous bachelor’s pad in Mike’s den, such as the plastic flowers, the lava lamps and the mattress on the floor. The most exciting thing to happen in Greg’s attic room is when he stole Raquel the goat mascot from his rival, Coolidge High. Greg then tried to keep Raquel a secret, but everyone quickly found out.
The famous Brady stairs were the focal point for many scenes. There are many moments with kids rushing excitedly up or down the stairs. Kids hid at the top of the stairs to spy, such as the kids spying on Marcia when she meets both Davy Jones and Desi Arnaz Jr. The Kids used the stairs to scare Alice when they send a “ghost” down a zipline to scare her when she walks in the door. Bobby slides down the stair railing in an episode. The Brady cast members regularly posed on the stairs, the kids in order by age, then the adults at the end. Then, of course, lest we forget, the stairs served as the vehicle in which Peter’s basketball traveled to take out mom’s favorite vase.
At the base of the stairwell is Mike’s den. For the most part, this room remained quiet and professional (except when Greg redecorated it) as this is where Mike often worked when a deadline was looming, or when he had to re-create plans, such as when delivery boy, Greg, lost Mike’s plans after setting them down to peruse a car magazine. This room was strictly forboden to the kids, as Marcia learned when she spilled correction fluid all over the plans, during some horseplay with Jan and Cindy. Marcia was in the office writing her article for “Father of the Year.” Carol was really the only other person Mike allowed to be in the den while he was working. Alice came into the den to clean and talk to Mike and Carol. The kids only seemed to come into the den to seek some advice, like Jan did when she was stressed out about Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. Mike’s den is very classic in its decoration and lacks some of the more dated decor of the 1970s.
Behind the stairwell, I believe is Alice’s room. Her room isn’t seen often in the series, but she is seen emerging from somewhere behind the kitchen. As a live-in maid, and someone whom the Brady’s value enough to take to the Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Cincinnati, and camping at Mount Claymore, it seems reasonable that she would have her own bedroom and bathroom. In the episode where Alice sprains her ankle tripping on Bobby’s Chinese Checkers (lying on the floor of the dining room), we see her in bed reading a book, All My Loves. Alice’s bedroom seems to be off-limits to the kids, except when they see her packing up her bedroom. After Mike and Carol’s marriage, Alice feels that her job is redundant, because Mike won’t need her after marrying Carol. The family puts on an elaborate ruse to show Alice how much she is needed.
Just off of Alice’s bedroom is the laundry room, or service porch. No doubt Alice’s room suffered water damage when Bobby decided to wash his suit (dirty after rescuing “Pandora,” a cat owned by the world’s worst child actress) with an entire box of Safe detergent. Speaking of Safe, the service porch must be where Carol is storing the 2000 boxes of Safe they received as payment for the commercial they filmed. The service porch isn’t seen much, but it does serve as the opulent entrance to Alice’s bedroom!
The Brady home is iconic. For fans like me, every room of the house featured some memorable moment. We experience these moments as if we also lived in the home with the family. As an oldest child (though definitely not of six), I always identified with Marcia and Greg. They were my favorite of the kids. I also could identify with the third oldest, Peter, to an extent. I loved that the kids weren’t overly goody goody like Wally and Beaver in Leave it to Beaver, and I liked that the parents were portrayed as intelligent people with lives independent of their children. Carol, while she didn’t work outside the home (though she’s a relator in A Very Brady Christmas made-for-TV movie), was shown as being part of different clubs and charities. She also had hobbies like embroidery and sculpture. I felt like the kids were well-rounded and realistic. They didn’t have annoying catchphrases like kids on 90s sitcoms had. Even if their problems were solved in 30 minutes, so what? Who wants to watch Marcia’s over-inflated ego over playing Juliet play out over multiple episodes? I would welcome an extension of the Family Night Frolics. Or any of the episodes where the kids sing. “Good Time Music,” indeed.
The Brady Bunch has always been one of my absolute favorite shows. It’s right up there with I Love Lucy and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. I have seen every episode, multiple times. I own the entire series on DVD and I have the two satire films: The Brady Bunch Movie and A Very Brady Sequel. It’s quotable, I can recognize the episodes within seconds, I love their clothes (well most of them), and I really love their house. I would live in that house today, orange formica and all. Long live The Brady Bunch!
And remember: “Mom always said, don’t play ball in the house!”
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945) was featured on TCM’s Noir Alley a couple weeks ago. I had heard of this film previously, after having seen Robert Siodmak’s amazing film noir, Phantom Lady (1944). Through this film, I discovered Ella Raines, an actress I’d heard about, but had never seen in a film. I loved her and thought she brought a new breed of leading lady to film noir. I liked that she took charge of the search for her boss’ (and secret crush) alibi. She did what she needed to do to find the truth and free her boss from an inevitable execution. Phantom Lady was produced by Joan Harrison, Alfred Hitchcock’s protegee.
After the success of Phantom Lady, Harrison and Siodmak teamed up for another film noir, The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry. They cast Raines again, as one of the leads in the film. With these pieces in place, plus the addition of George Sanders whom I loved in All About Eve, Lured, and Foreign Correspondent, made me want to see this film. I was so excited to see The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry on TCM’s schedule! After seeing the film… I liked it, but oy vey. The ending. The ending gets a big thumbs down. In fact, despite my liking the film as a whole, the ending was such a bummer that it completely ruined the third act of the film.
In The Strange Affairs of Uncle Harry, Sanders plays the titular “Uncle Harry (Quincy).” He works at the local textile mill designing patterns for their fabrics. His younger co-workers call him “Uncle Harry” as a term of endearment, but Harry implores them to stop–“Uncle Harry” makes him feel old. Harry is approaching middle-age and is very lonely. He lives at the Quincy Family’s large home with his two sisters. The Quincy Family were well-off at the start of the twentieth century; however they lost their fortune during the Great Depression. All that was left was the family home.
Harry’s older sister, Hester (Moyna MacGill aka Angela Lansbury’s mother), is a widow. She loved her late husband very much and it is obvious that she is unhappy living with her siblings. She desperately tries to help keep house, but is constantly at odds with their maid, Nona (Sara Algood), who doesn’t appreciate Hester invading her domain. Harry’s younger sister, Lettie (Geraldine Fitzgerald), is a spoiled, lazy, witch (with a capital B) who regularly feigns illness to keep Harry by her bedside.
One day at work, Harry meets Deborah Brown (Raines), a young designer from New York City. She is hired to work at the textile factory. She and Harry hit it off and suddenly Harry has a reason for living. He and Deborah fall in love and plan to marry–much to Lettie’s chagrin. Harry asks his two sisters to move to another home. Because she has no intention to leave Harry and move, Lettie continually finds fault with every single prospective home. I wondered why Harry and Deborah didn’t just move into another home, but apparently that was not an option–for whatever reason. Lettie then discovers that Harry and Deborah plan to elope in New York City and she goes to work to sabotage the marriage and Harry’s chance at happiness.
It is obvious from the get-go that there is more than meets the eye with Harry and Lettie’s relationship. They are unusually close for siblings and there is a weird, romantic undertone. In the original play, the incestual element was very obvious; however, this had to be played down for the movie version due to the production code. While I don’t need to see sibling incest in a film, the production code unfortunately had a bigger impact on the film’s ending.
The ending of the film is so absurd. My husband and I watched it and were like “Wait?! What?!” The ending is such a let-down and it completely undermines all the tension and drama built up in the third act of the film. Had the film just ended a couple minutes earlier, it would have been a completely different experience. The original play’s action ended where I wanted it to end, however production code dictated a different ending. Boo Joseph Breen! Apparently there were five different endings filmed for this movie and the ending with the best reaction from the test audiences was chosen. As a representative of a modern 2021 audience, I’d like to tell the 1945 audience that they chose a terrible ending.
I don’t normally like to waste time writing negative reviews and while I liked most of this film, the ending was such a bummer that I can’t get past it and have to spend my time venting about it.
Joan Harrison walked out on her Universal contract over this ending.
I don’t blame her one bit.
This is one of the ultimate classics that I should have seen by now, but hadn’t until a couple days ago. In this film, Greer Garson stars as Kay Miniver, who is referred to often as “Mrs. Miniver.” Mrs. Miniver is portrayed as a very kind, beautiful woman. She is very warm and welcoming and treats everyone the same across the board, regardless of class or status. She seems to be well liked by everyone in her English village, especially by James Ballard (Henry Travers), the local train engineer. He shows Kay a rose that he cultivated in his garden outside the train station–a beautiful red rose that he’s named “Mrs. Miniver” in honor of Kay. He basically says that he named it after her because of the kindness that she shows him again and again when she visits his station.
Anyway, Kay along with her husband Clem (Walter Pidgeon) live in a beautiful estate named “Starlings,” on the River Thames. Clem is also part of the River Patrol and is enlisted to help out in the Dunkirk evacuation at one point in the film. Kay and Clem live at the estate with their two young children. Their oldest son, Vincent aka “VIn” (Richard Ney) attends Oxford. He comes home as Germany’s invasion into England is imminent during WWII. He announces his intention to enlist in the Royal Air Force because he wants to do his part. Kay of course doesn’t want her son in the war, but knows that they’re all in the fight with Germany together.
At the same time, Vin meets Carol Beldon (Teresa Wright), the granddaughter of the very wealthy Lady Beldon (Dame May Whitty). Lady Beldon is very much “old money” and resents the lower classes trying to acquire the same material possessions that she and her fellow rich folk enjoy. She basically doesn’t want the middle class trying to be upper class. Anyway, there is a conflict when Vin and Carol fall in love and want to marry. Meanwhile, during all of this, Germany officially invades England and the Minivers are right in the midst of all the “action” (so to speak).
This was a heartbreaking film. I’m not one to cry at movies and I didn’t at Mrs. Miniver, but I can see how someone would. There are so many emotional scenes, some tragic and some happy. The scene of the Minivers hunkered down inside of their shelter while bombs blasted all around them was very suspenseful and scary. I cannot even imagine being confined to this small little bunker while bombs are literally falling down all around you, shaking your shelter. I can just imagine how scary it would be knowing that you could possibly emerge from the shelter and your home is leveled to the ground. I thought the scene with Kay and the German soldier was very suspenseful and also showed the strength of Kay’s character. She remains so stoic throughout the entire scene and throughout the film.
I loved this film. It was fantastic. I loved this film so much in fact, that I bought the Blu Ray right after seeing it. I love wartime dramas and this is definitely one of the best. I wish I had seen it earlier. I also forgot how much I liked Greer Garson. I think I have a bunch of her films on my DVR that I’ll need to prioritize.
It’s a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street are often listed as “must-see” films every year on various lists of classic Christmas films. And these films are fine. But they hardly rank on my list of films that I have to watch each year. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy these films, I own these films; but honestly, they’re usually at the bottom of my pile when I exhaust all other possibilities and decide to not re-watch my absolute favorite Christmas film–White Christmas (1954) for the millionth time during the season. I usually end up watching White Christmas at least 3-4 times during the season. One year, I think 2018, I even saw it in the theater! That was amazing.
I absolutely love White Christmas. It is funny, it has great music, a great cast, a great plot, and great dancing! And, if that weren’t enough, it was also filmed in gorgeous Technicolor and presented in Paramount’s revolutionary (for 1954) VistaVision widescreen format. There were other technological innovations used in the production of this film including using larger negatives and prints that I don’t really understand, nor do I care. What’s important is that this film is absolutely gorgeous to watch.
The film opens on Christmas Eve, 1944 during World War II. Former Broadway star, Bob Wallace (Bing Crosby) and aspiring Broadway star, Phil Davis (Danny Kaye) are entertaining their fellow soldiers of the 151st Division. Bing (Bob) sings the perennial Christmas standard for which Bing Crosby will forever be associated and all other Christmas songs will be judged against–Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” “White Christmas” was originally introduced in 1942 for Holiday Inn, also starring Bing Crosby. In this film he co-stars with Fred Astaire. While “White Christmas” was introduced ten years prior, I believe that it is more associated with the 1954 film of the same name.
After Bob finishes singing, the troop receives word that their beloved General Waverly (Dean Jagger) is being relieved of his command. General Waverly arrives and says goodbye to his men. The men send him off with a song and then are bombed. Phil saves Bob from being crushed by a falling wall; but his arm is wounded in the process. This sets off a funny running gag throughout the film where Phil uses his arm injury as a means to guilt trip Bob into following his plan. Bob asks Phil what he can do to repay him for saving his life and Phil responds with the idea that he and Bob should team up as a Broadway duo. Bob is hesitant, but agrees.
PHIL: “My dear partner, when what’s left of you gets around to what’s left to be gotten, what’s left to be gotten won’t be worth getting whatever it is you’ve got left.”
BOB: “When I figure out what that means, I’ll come up with a crushing reply.”National Treasure Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby in “White Christmas” (1954)
After the end of World War II, Bob and Phil go on the road and are a huge sensation. After a string of successes as performers, Bob and Phil turn to producing their own shows. They develop a new musical, called “Playing Around” and set off to cast it. One day, Bob and Phil travel down to Miami, FL to view “The Haynes Sisters,” a sister-act starring Betty (Rosemary Clooney) and Judy (Vera-Ellen) Haynes. It seems that the Haynes Sisters’ brother, Ben “Freckle Face” Haynes (Carl “Alfalfa” Switzer) was an old Army buddy of Bob and Phil’s and he wrote to them asking them to check out his sisters’ act.
After watching Betty and Judy sing “Sisters,” both Bob and Phil are smitten. Bob has his sights set on Betty and Phil has a crush on Judy. Phil, liking to play matchmaker, notices that Bob is ogling Betty. After the sisters’ performance, he arranges for the four of them to meet. Phil and Judy hit it off immediately and sing and dance a gorgeous duet, “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing.” It also comes out that it was Judy who wrote to Bob and Phil, not her brother.
PHIL (Looking at the Haynes’ Sisters’ brother’s photo): “How can a guy that UGLY have the nerve to have sisters?”
BOB: “Very brave parents, I guess.”National Treasure Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby in “White Christmas.”
Between sets, the sisters’ landlord shows up and announces that he is suing them for the cost of a damaged rug. The sisters claim innocence, but the landlord isn’t having it. He’s even gone as far as to get the police involved. To get Betty and Judy away from the police, Phil gives them his and Bob’s train tickets (in a compartment, naturally) to New York. However, Betty and Judy need to perform one more set at the club. Bob and Phil go on in their places in a very funny, lip-synced rendition of “Sisters.” One can’t help but see how much fun Danny Kaye was having hitting Bing Crosby with the feather fan. At this moment, I am going to start referring to Danny Kaye as “National Treasure Danny Kaye” because imo, he is what holds this entire film together.
Bob and Phil escape to the train, where Bob discovers that Phil has not only given away their train tickets, but he’s also given away their beds. Much to Bob’s chagrin, he and Phil will have to spend the evening in the club car. Bob, Phil, Betty, and Judy reunite on the train. Betty and Judy inform Bob and Phil that they’re on their way to Vermont to perform at a ski lodge over the Christmas holiday. The girls invite the boys to come along. The boys agree and the foursome sings about snow.
When they arrive at the Inn, they discover that Vermont has received exactly 0″ of snow. So much for skiing or tourism. For me personally, I welcome any winter without snow, but I can understand how the lack of snow would hinder people’s ski holidays. Bob and Phil are shocked to discover that their beloved General Waverly is the proprietor of the Inn and sunk his entire life savings into it. If he can’t turn a profit on it this holiday season, he will go bankrupt. Seeing their friend in trouble, Bob and Phil set off to save the Inn.
BOB: “We came up here for the snow. Where’re you keepin’ it?”
EMMA: “Well, we take it in during the day!”Bing Crosby and Mary Wickes in “White Christmas” (1954)
I can’t get enough “White Christmas.” I’ve seen it at least two dozen times and I never tire of it. All the music is fantastic. Aside from the title song, “White Christmas,” I also really love Rosemary Clooney’s solo number, “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me” and the Haynes Sisters’ song, “Sisters.” And though I detest snow, I love the “Snow” song that the group sings on the train. And like many of these films where they put together a show, none of the musical numbers seem to make any sense in the context of the show that they’re supposedly putting together.
In rehearsals, we see a Minstrel show with Vera-Ellen dancing to “Mandy.” Later, we see National Treasure Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen dance to a song called “Choreography” where Kaye is some sort of flamboyant choreographer. Vera-Ellen dances to an instrumental version of the controversial “Abraham” song from “Holiday Inn.” Finally, we see the foursome perform “Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army” behind oversized, exaggerated cutouts of people in typical professions. All of these lead us into the fantastic, emotional finale where we hear a reprise of “White Christmas.”
None of these songs could possibly fit together into any sort of cohesive narrative. But it doesn’t matter. Because all the songs are fantastic and the dancing is fantastic.
PHIL (After kissing Judy): “You know, in some ways, you’re far superior to my cocker spaniel.”National Treasure Danny Kaye in “White Christmas” (1954)
This film is so much fun to watch. It is funny, emotional, sad, happy, romantic, this movie has everything. I love National Treasure Danny Kaye and Vera-Ellen. Rosemary Clooney has such a beautiful singing voice and such a great style. I love Bing’s singing as well and I especially love his musician slang that he incorporates throughout the film. I love when he asks Betty to “bring the cow” (grab the pitcher of milk) over to the table where they are sitting. Mary Wickes, who plays General Waverly’s housekeeper, Emma, is hilarious. She’s often seen eavesdropping on phone calls and spreading misinformation.
EMMA: “Oh, my word. If I wasn’t such a mean old biddy, I’d break down and cry.”Mary Wickes in “White Christmas” (1954)
Now excuse me, I’m off to watch “White Christmas” and National Treasure Danny Kaye.